Fifteen Dogs is a hard book to sell. In words, its premise sounds silly: a bunch of dogs are given human intelligence via a wager between two Greek Gods. The wager? If dogs have the same intellect as humans, would they live happier lives? Typically “what if dogs were as smart as humans” is a hypothetical scenario more fit for Disney than literary adult fiction. But Canadian author André Alexis takes a more philosophical approach, exploring morality, depression, and our perceived “places” in society. Oh yeah, and there’s lots of doggy deaths, too.
Although there are fifteen dogs in the book, the novel focuses on just a core handful: Prince, the poet; Majnoun, the fair leader; Atticus, the religious enemy; and Benji, the conniving Beagle. The fifteen initially start off as a pack, even inventing their own language that only they can understand. But when a rift splits the pack in two sides, the dogs quickly realize that this new consciousness might be more a curse than a blessing.
For dogs lovers expecting some kind of fictional look at behavioral theory, this book is not for you. However, for those who like experimental fiction, particularly ones that gut punch you in your dog-loving heartstrings, Fifteen Dogs is a novel quite unlike any other.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Wednesday, July 27th, 2016||No Comments »|
The Swans of Fifth Avenueby Melanie Benjamin, the author of Alice I Have Been, tells the story of Truman Capote and his New York socialite friends, especially highlighting his relationship with Babe Paley. This whole novel is a gossipy delight, especially since I was mostly familiar with Truman Capote through In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and this story reveals a whole new side. I love manners novels, and this has wonderfully cutting accounts of which social activities are acceptable (sleeping with friends’ properly pedigreed husbands) and which are embarrassing faux pas (touching up one’s lipstick in public).
After years of gossiping, traveling, and dining in all the right places, Capote publishes a short story, “La Côte Basque 1965,” about the scandals of thinly-veiled Manhattan socialites. Predictably, Manhattan society is outraged by Capote’s publishing of deep secrets and dirty laundry, not to mention his terribly unflattering descriptions of very recognizable characters. Swans of Fifth Avenue shows Capote’s affection for Babe Paley, his closest friend among the “swans,” but even her secrets slip out and appear in his work. Or did they slip out accidentally? The novel also covers Capote’s decline from witty new writer to a drunk and drugged out hedonist, and by the end, it’s hard to know just how much of Capote’s public airing of friends’ secrets was thoughtless, calculated, or just self-destructive.
|Recommended by Meg Stivison||Wednesday, February 17th, 2016||No Comments »|
Menna van Praag’s stories, The House at the End of Hope Street, The Dress Shop of Dreams, and her newest novel, The Witches of Cambridge, all invite readers to a Cambridge where magic lurks around every historical corner. These three novels are not a series, although it makes perfect sense that an enchanted bakery, dress shop, and rooming house would all coexist perfectly with the tourists and academics of Cambridge, so readers can start with any book without confusion.
The House At The End of Hope Street might be my favorite. This is the story (or rather, one chapter of a long history) of a Cambridge boarding house that takes in women who need ninety days to transform their lives. When Alba, a brokenhearted and disgraced academic, becomes the newest resident, the house creates a library of fiction and perfect reading spots to take her mind away from her failed research. For Greer, a struggling actress, the house creates a costume closet for her, nudging her away from giving up hope and becoming a waitress. With the comfort of a snarkily magical home behind them, all the women of Hope Street begin to make changes in their lives. But, as the resident housemother warns, the house also has some terrible failures…
|Recommended by Meg Stivison||Thursday, February 4th, 2016||No Comments »|
By the end of Roadside Picnic “the Zone” is no clearer than it was from the beginning. Despite having gone through it various times, its expanse escapes complete definition, though some, like the gritty red-haired anti-hero Redrick “Red” Schuart, excel more than others at navigating into its unknowns. It is perhaps somewhere between an industrial wasteland and an alien planet, a fitting landscape considering it’s one of several areas “The Visitors” decide to land and pack up and go without even the slightest communication.
Roadside Picnic is the tale of an alien visit without the aliens. A genre novel that is an entirely different kind of science fiction, one that focuses on the crude, raw reality of society, one with its fantastic elements numbed, wiped by the tangible corporeal ground the novel writes from. There is less here to take one away than there is to bring one crashing face to face with humanity’s perversions, its ego, and its failings.
|Recommended by Rhys Dipshan||Wednesday, December 30th, 2015||No Comments »|
If there is anything certain about screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s The Dionaea House: Correspondence from Mark Condry, initially written as a web pitch to a yet-unmade movie, it is that piercing horror best takes hold through evocative fragments, through investigating the silent dead ends and meticulously stirring a sense of authenticity.
The tale begins with emails from Eric’s adolescent friend Mark, who writes of receiving an unsolicited newspaper clipping naming one of their former friends as the culprit in a gruesome public murder of a married couple in Boise, Iowa.
The circumstances of the shooting are peculiar, and after Mark’s investigation into his friend’s murders leads to his ultimate disappearance, Eric posts all the emails on the web, “in hopes that you’ll better understand why he did what he did.”
|Recommended by Rhys Dipshan||Thursday, November 12th, 2015||No Comments »|
Julianna Baggott’s heartbreaking novel Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders merges a hunt for a missing manuscript and family secrets that define three generations of women.
Years after the famous novelist Harriet Wolf died, her loyal fans are convinced that there’s still a seventh manuscript out there. Harriet had a turbulent relationship with her daughter Eleanor, which in term affected the lines of communication with Eleanor’s children Ruth and Tilton. After running away from home at the age of 16, it is not until her mother is hospitalized that Ruth and the family reunite to come to terms with Harriet’s legacy.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Wednesday, September 30th, 2015||No Comments »|
The short stories of Helen Ellis’ upcoming collection, American Housewife: Storiesare all wildly improbable and instantly relatable. In each story, Ellis invites readers into a unique setting, like a sinister book club of traded favors, a child star fleeing the pageant circuit for a new life with a new family (“Drop the ma’am and the sassy walk to blend in in New York,” she’s advised by the woman who connects ex-pageant queens with childless couples seeking pretty white daughters), or a haunted–but terribly clean–Manhattan co-op. Descriptions of Southern manners and Manhattan evenings are both pitch-perfect, which is probably what makes the murder, kidnapping and revenge all seem perfectly realistic.
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|Recommended by Meg Stivison||Monday, August 31st, 2015||2 Comments »|