“Contrary Motion” is a novel with a perfectly metaphorical title that perfectly encapsulates the book. As defined by narrator and harpist Matt, it refers to “tricky sequences of notes that trend either up or down the scale but that involve some notes that move the opposite direction—a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ arrangement that require some acrobatic right hand fingerings.” The term reflects Matt’s complicated life, which pulls him in contradictory directions. After the sudden death of his father and decades of flailing musical ambitions that cost him his marriage, Matt prepares for a make-or-break audition for a permanent position with the St. Louis Symphony. The opportunity would satisfy him professionally, but he would have to leave his emotionally precocious six-year-old daughter Audrey in Chicago. His love life is equally compromised: a promising new relationship with Cynthia, a lawyer, flags due to his impotence, but he can’t quench his lust for ex-wife Milena. He covets her despite their mutual post-divorce relationships.
Rita Indiana’s novel, “Papi,” translated by Achy Obejas, is entering the American literary scene at a ripe moment for fiction in translation. A famously cited statistic says that only three percent of the books published in the United States are translations, compared with sixteen percent in France or a colossal thirty percent in Poland. However, works of literary fiction in translation have been appearing regularly on the bestseller lists since the 2012 publication of the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series and its intimate, visceral description of women grappling with male-dominated violence and class struggle. Read the rest of this entry »
This family saga, Gary D. Wilson’s second novel, centers around three middle-aged siblings from Kansas. In “Getting Right,” the youngest, Connie, develops terminal lung cancer. She requests her unnamed middle sibling, a writer who left Kansas for Chicago and beyond, to record her life story. Ostensibly, that’s what he sets about doing, along with the life of their elder, stroke-stricken brother Len along the way, but at the heart of the novel is the narrator’s own story, of his departure from Kansas and his separation from the people he once called family.
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A Mark Twain-like adventure based on the author’s memories of five seasons spent in Chicago right after college, Brian Doyle’s “Chicago” is a loving, lingering look at the indelible mark the city left on him. It beautifully, sometimes nostalgically, captures the narrow window of early adulthood when there is no limit to exploration and discovery, the grace period before time fills up with multiple responsibilities and entrenched habits.
By Hugh Iglarsh
Like all fine novels, Elizabeth McKenzie’s “The Portable Veblen” is more than a story. It’s a guidebook to our own moment, pointing out both the sights of real interest and the tourist traps to avoid. McKenzie, author of “Stop That Girl” and “MacGregor Tells the World,” and editor of the Japanese poetry anthology “My Postwar Life,” mingles whimsy and satire in her tale of the courtship of Veblen Amundsen-Hovda and Paul Vreeland. The two are hippie-raised California kids trying to find connection and meaning in an absurd world.
I recently spoke to McKenzie about her life and work. The senior editor of Chicago Quarterly Review, McKenzie has deep Chicago-area roots on both sides of her family. But “The Portable Veblen” is pure California, where high-tech meets pop-psych. The time and place-heavy novel is set in gleaming Palo Alto, near where the real Thorstein Veblen—author of “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” coiner of the phrase “conspicuous consumption” and scourge of the Gilded Age one percent—had his homemade cabin. The curmudgeonly Norwegian-American philosopher (who also wrote “The Higher Learning in America: A Study in Total Depravity”) is Veblen Amundsen-Hovda’s hero as well as namesake, serving as the ethical center of the novel.
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Chicago native Lorraine Evanoff lived in France for years and now works in film finance. We discussed by email her debut novel, “Foliage.”
This is a fast-paced, plot-driven suspense novel. Did you write it with a view that it could make a film?
I didn’t consciously write my novel with the view of it becoming a film. Since I worked in the film industry for so long, it’s possible that my writing style is just naturally geared that way. Interestingly, the original opening of the novel was different, with a more gradual setup, but after a few edits, I decided to jump right into the action. It seemed more exciting that way. Read the rest of this entry »
By Christine Sneed
Fiction writer and former DePaul English Department faculty member Amina Gautier recently published her third book, “The Loss of All Lost Things,” winner of the Elixir Press Award in Fiction. Among many other honors and prizes, Gautier won the Flannery O’Connor Award for her first book of stories, “At-Risk,” and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize for her second book, “Now We Will Be Happy.” Gautier, a resident of Miami and Chicago, is a fiction writer of uncanny insight into the human heart and a master of the short story form. She discussed her new book by email. Read the rest of this entry »
Scotland-born Chicago author Irvine Welsh, renowned for “Trainspotting,” now gives us his tenth novel, “A Decent Ride.” Named his “funniest, filthiest book yet,” it’s definitely a book for lovers of the bawdy and a rollicking good time, not for the faint of heart.
Edinburgh cabbie “Juice” Lawson returns from Welsh’s 2001 novel, “Glue.” It’s now 2011 and he continues as an incorrigible womanizer and boozer. When Hurricane Bawbag comes to town—a symbol of chaos and disruption—mayhem ensues. All is topsy-turvy. Those who ordinarily hold sway are outwitted by fools. Reality TV and business mogul Ronnie Checker finds himself at the mercy of his lowly cabbie. The bullies at The Pub With No Name are injured by Wee Jonty MacKay. Interactions occur between unlikely combinations of people: upper classes and lower, young and old, parents and children, siblings, the living and the dead. Eccentric behavior prevails and sacrilege abounds. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicagoan Abby Geni’s “The Lightkeepers” opens with nature photographer Miranda joining a crew of six biologists on the isolated Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. Overrun with rodents and bats, pummeled by waves, prodded by winds and bound in all directions by sharks and jagged rocks, the setting doesn’t suggest menace so much as insist on it. The threats materialize one night when Miranda is attacked in her bedroom. Afterward, paralyzed by the community’s insularity, she battles with how to proceed, until nature intervenes.
Miranda narrates her experiences through letters to her dead mother. This epistolary attempt to contact someone she’s already lost strands her voice more wholly, exaggerating her isolation as a resident of this deserted island and as a silenced assault victim. Read the rest of this entry »
Science-fiction novels are often about society-shaking changes with worldwide implications. Chicagoan Jessica Chiarella’s debut novel “And Again,” focuses on less-lofty, but no less significant, aspects of this premise. While the topics of identity, transhumanism, and possible immortality are all raised ever so briefly in this novel about cloning, “And Again” is an intimate work that explores the personal repercussions of an FDA trial for a medical procedure that transfers the minds of four terminally ill patients into new, genetically perfect bodies.
Chiarella focuses largely on questions of character. How should the artist Hannah react to a boyfriend who was absent in what might have been her last days? What does she think when she finds her new body has none of the skills of her old one? Can David, the cheating Republican congressman, reform himself and be a faithful husband when he no longer has a brain tumor to worry about? These questions are fascinating, but the most intriguing parts of the book involve Linda, who had an accident that left her immobile and mute for eight years. Read the rest of this entry »