Category Archives: New fiction

** The Aunt that Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

It’s ghost week! The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die features the ghost of an elderly aunt, who spent most of her life in the unhappy position of a widow that’s just tolerated by her family. But she owns vast amount of gold, which she manages to pass on to her niece, secretly, before her death. Said niece starts a successful business to save the family fortune, and the story ends with her daughter who…  doesn’t do much, and the book ends! It feels a little abrupt, but the story is charming in its own way.

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* Lake Life by David James Poissant

Lake Life manages to combine an unbelievable constellation of disasters packed in just a couple of days (a drowning, two emergency room visits, an orgy, and a couple of near-overdoses) with a family saga that is little tired (affairs, lost child, jealousies, depression, secrets). It just did not work for me, although bits and pieces were just perfect, as when the father wants to warn the family of the drowning victim that the body has been found, having seen that the police has not been too kind, but gets there too late.

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** Members Only by Sameer Panda

In Members Only, the hero, Raj, has a very bad week. He makes a racist comment at his (very white) tennis club and he is attacked by students who feel that he is anti-Christian. And instead of  apologizing, taking the high road, and backing away from controversy, he loses it and soon finds himself on administrative leave, banned from the club, and in a serious health crisis. It could be an apt parable but I found it hard to believe that a middle-aged man would crumble like this. Perhaps that’s the whole point?

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** Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Tokyo Ueno Station is the story of a ghost, told in an ethereal and sometimes confusing manner, in small touches. The man who became a ghost had a tough life, eventually ending up homeless and estranged from his family after many losses. I loved the little details outsiders would not know about, as when the police periodically sweeps the park but politely requests that the residents bundle up their belongings and mark them appropriately to be retrieved later.

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* The Last Flight by Julie Clark

The Last Flight starts with a great idea: a woman, fleeing from her controlling husband, swaps lives with a stranger, who happens to have quite a few skeletons in her closet as well. Sadly, the author never quite accomplishes what she sets out to do, and the overall tone is too breathless for my taste. Also, the Southern California vibes in the description of the Berkeley setting grate a bit.

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*** Euphoria by Lily King

Euphoria is a (very) fictional interpretation of the lives of Margaret Mead, her husband, and one of their “close friends”, also an anthropologist studying one of the tribes of Papua New Guinea. Sounds like a recipe for a boring story, but it’s just the opposite.  The story alternates between her notes and those of the friend (the husband appears to be doing very little, apart from trying to make a name for himself by engaging in often unsavory practices). Along the way, we get to reflect about how we judge other cultures, how cultures shape, in an essential way, what individuals can and cannot do, and how difficult marriage can be.

Don’t be discouraged by having to learn whose voice it is in each chapter. Just like a good anthropologist, you will learn the language fast enough.

 

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*** Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. tells the story of the wife, soon to be widow, and grown children of a man who questions police officers as they rough up a dark-skinned man, and who gets beaten so badly he eventually dies. One of the children wants to find out what really happened. One is mostly concerned about her mother’s behaving “correctly”, by her, the daughter’s, standards. Anther daughter is mostly jealous of the first one. A third daughter is in the wrong job and the wrong relationship, while the remaining son seems to be most attuned to his mother’s real needs, even as the others dismiss him as marginal.

The complicated interactions of large families are perfectly captured.

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** New Waves by Kevin Nguyen

There are many interesting and well-observed themes in New Waves, and in particularly the special craziness of technology startups. The first-time, young CEO of the startup where the heroes work is captured perfectly in his obsession with the business, his limited social skills, and his hurried and botched technical moves. The way the non-white or non-male employees are treated is eerily exact. And the way the surviving hero peers into his departed friend’s social media accounts is also pitch perfect.

That said, I found the incessant navel gazing, stream of consciousness  discoveries slow and rather boring.

 

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** When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson

 

When Will There Be Good News investigates a missing-person case that has ties to a long-ago family massacre so it’s not entirely surprising that it contains an avalanche of corpses, too many for my taste. But the plot is complex as are the characters.

 

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** How Much of These Hills Is Gold by Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills Is Gold follows two orphans in the Gold Rush years of the American West who pick their way through a hostile climate and even more hostile residents who can’t abide their Chinese origins. Dreams and symbolism figure strongly along with tigers (really!), which made it difficult for me to get into the  well-crafted family story but it felt arms-length to the end, which is not ideal for a novel.

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