Category Archives: New fiction

* Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Temporary People are migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates, disposable workers who are treated harshly and expected to comply wordlessly. The stories are universally awful tales of exploitation and told in a dreamy style that put me off. If you like surrealist stories, you may feel differently.

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*** A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Some books are so good that you stay up all night to finish them. With others, like A Gentleman in Moscow, you want to ration yourself so they never end. The unpromising theme of the novel is the assignment to residence in a luxury hotel by the Bolsheviks of a  Russian aristocrat — for decades. And yet, within the walls of the single building, the author transports us and the hero not just through Proustian remembrances of things passed, but new adventures in waitressing and even raising an adoptive daughter, all under the watchful eyes of the police and the wicked manager. There is communist intrigue, of course, but also plenty of love, lilacs, and good food. The ending may be a little too fanciful for my taste but what a delightful ride.

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** The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky

The heroine of The Red Car has an abusive husband and a job she could apparently do in her sleep when an old mentor dies, leaving her the famous red car. So she flies across the country and tries to find herself again, in what I thought were rather cliched northern California moves. Still,  her self-talk is well-observed and the first half of the (short) story hangs together quite well.

 

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*** The Crossing by Andrew Miller

The Crossing is the portrait of a strong woman who makes her own way, regardless of custom, betrayal, or tragedies. It will eventually put her on a small boat crossing the Atlantic — by herself. This is not a happy-ever-after story, or even a temporarily-happy story, but the heroine is dogged, strong, unforgettable.

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** Selection Day Aravind Adiga

This time, still in Mumbai, Aravind Adiga tackles the great Indian passion that is cricket. Selection Day focuses on two talented brothers and their rival and friend who, unlike them, comes from a privileged background. The story also stars their obsessed father, who has trouble relinquishing his overbearing iron grip on his sons to their coach, a love interest, and multiple intermediaries in the cricket world, all expecting a little black money from the deals.

There are some wonderful observations of sibling rivalry,  the seven kinds of Jain truths, and how decisions that are good for the family may not be so good for the individual — but too many pages describing the second day of cricket matches with 256 runs did me in.

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** The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

 

The Barrowfields is the story of a young man who grows up in a small Appalachian town with an ambitious but depressed father who disappears midway through, causing the man to flee, but then return. It’s a pretty standard coming-of-age story but well written and with wonderful secondary characters, especially the younger sister, so it manages to stay with you.

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** Teeth by Mary Otto

Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America is an expose against the dental care system in America, which leaves a sizable minority of Americans without care, and with awful toothaches and infections. The author exposes how dentist associations have fought to keep the equivalent of nurse practitioners banned while allowing Medicaid coverage for dental work to be pretty much useless since few dentists take Medicaid patients at all, and most only a few.

The book is somewhat repetitive and often overly sensational but does a good job of exposing a sad corner of America.

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