A harrowing and emotionally cleareyed vision of one woman’s ordeal during and after her kidnapping in Haiti.
Gay’s remarkable debut novel is mostly narrated by Mireille, who, as the story opens, is visiting her native Haiti from Miami with her husband and infant son when she’s forcibly abducted by a gang and held for 13 days. She was a target because her father heads a highly profitable construction firm, and his resistance to paying ransom baffles Mireille’s U.S.-born husband, Michael; meanwhile, she’s repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted by her captors. Gay’s characters are engineered to open up conflicts over gender, class (Mireille’s family is wealthy in a poor country) and race (Mireille is black and Michael is white). But Gay’s dialogue complicates rather than simplifies these issues. As a prolific essayist and critic, Gay (Writing/Eastern Illinois Univ.) has developed a plainspoken, almost affectless style, which serves her heroine's story well: The more bluntly Gay describes Mireille's degradations, the stronger the impact. Gay’s depiction of Mireille’s emotional trauma after her release is particularly intense, precisely capturing her alienation from her own identity that followed the kidnapping and the self-destruction that spilled out of her sense of disconnection. The novel alternates between past and present, and flashbacks to Mireille's childhood and marriage underscore the intelligence and emotional ferocity she accessed to survive her ordeal. (She persistently supported in-laws who were initially inclined to dismiss her.) The closing chapters suggest that Mireille is on the path to recovery, but it’s also clear that a true recovery is impossible; many of Gay’s scenes deliberately undermine traditional novelistic methods of resolution (baking bread, acts of vengeance, acting out sexually). Among the strongest achievements of this novel is that Mireille’s story feels complete and whole while emphasizing its essential brokenness.
A revelatory and occasionally hilarious memoir by the New Yorker cartoonist on helping her parents through their old age.
Few graphic memoirs are as engaging and powerful as this or strike a more responsive chord. Chast (What I Hate, 2011, etc.) retains her signature style and wry tone throughout this long-form blend of text and drawings, but nothing she’s done previously hits home as hard as this account of her family life as the only child of parents who had never even dated anyone else and whose deep bond left little room for this intruder in their midst. Yet, “the reality was that at 95, their minds and bodies were falling apart,” and these two people who had only relied on each other were forced to rely on a host of caretakers, their daughter in particular, and to move from the Brooklyn apartment that had been home for half a century into a series of facilities that provided fewer and fewer amenities at escalating expense. Chast rarely lapses into sentimentality and can often be quite funny, as she depicts mortality as “The Moving Sidewalk of Life” (“Caution: Drop-Off Ahead”) or deals with dread and anxiety on the “Wheel of DOOM, surrounded by the ‘cautionary’ tales of my childhood.” The older her parents get, the more their health declines and the more expensive the care they require, the bleaker the story becomes—until, toward the end, a series of 12 largely wordless drawings of her mother’s final days represents the most intimate and emotionally devastating art that Chast has created. So many have faced (or will face) the situation that the author details, but no one could render it like she does.
A top-notch graphic memoir that adds a whole new dimension to readers’ appreciation of Chast and her work.
A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.
Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.
Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.
(Fiction. 14 & up)
A searing tale of racial hatreds and redemption in the modern South, courtesy of Southern storyteller extraordinaire Iles (The Devil’s Punchbowl, 2009, etc.).
Natchez didn’t burn in the Civil War, having surrendered to the Yankees while its neighbors endured scarifying sieges. It burns in Iles’ pages, though, since so many of the issues sounded a century and a half ago have yet to be resolved. Some of Natchez’s more retrograde residents find it difficult to wrap their heads around the idea that men and women of different races might want to spend time together, occasioning, in the opening episode, a “Guadalcanal barbecue,” as one virulent separate-but-unequal proponent puts it. The Double Eagles, an even more violent offshoot of the KKK, has been spreading its murderous idea of justice through the neighborhood for a long time, a fact driven home for attorney/politico Penn Cage when the allegation rises that his own father is somehow implicated in the dark events of 1964—and, as Iles’ slowly unfolding story makes clear, not just of that long-ago time, but in the whispered, hidden things that followed. As Penn investigates, drawing heat, he runs into plenty of tough customers, some with badges, some with swastikas, as well as the uncomfortable fact that his heroic father may indeed have feet of clay. Iles, a longtime resident of Natchez, knows his corner of Mississippi as well as Faulkner and Welty knew theirs, and he sounds true notes that may not be especially meaningful for outsiders—for one thing, that there’s a profound difference between a Creole and a Cajun, and for another, that anyone whose first three names are Nathan Bedford Forrest may not be entirely trustworthy when looking into hate crimes. His story is long in the telling (and with at least two more volumes coming along to complete it), but a patient reader will find that the pages scoot right along without missing a beat.
Iles is a master of regional literature, though he’s dealing with universals here, one being our endless thirst to right wrongs. A memorable, harrowing tale.
These nine stories from fiction and memoir author McCracken (An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, 2008, etc.) excavate unexplored permutations of loss and grief.
The volume starts and ends with bookending wallops. The opener, “Something Amazing”—combining a not-quite-ghost story about a grieving mother “haunted” by her dead child with the unfolding story of a mother unaware she is about to suffer her own loss—taps into every parent’s worst fears. The final story, “Thunderstruck,” follows a family in which the mother and father react in very different ways after their joint efforts to be good parents disastrously backfire. The rest of the volume deals with various forms of sorrow and coping. “Property” considers the stuff of grief as a newly widowed man moves into a rental house full of what he considers junk left by the house’s owner. In “Some Terpsichore,” a woman remembers an abusive former lover with horror and nostalgia. Memory also plays tricks in “The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston”: A store manager’s memory of helping a young boy he once discovered being starved by his grandfather sustains him through his own losses, but the boy, now grown, remembers the incident differently. In “Juliet,” the murder of a library patron causes a series of off-kilter reactions among the librarians, showing that guilt is not limited to perpetrators or sorrow, to those officially bereaved. In “The House of Two Three-Legged Dogs,” a foolhardy expat in rural France realizes his son, whom he’s raised with outrageous carelessness, has betrayed his trust and left him broke. “Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey” describes a different kind of betrayal when a dying man attempts to visit the former friend who ruined his life. In the surprisingly tender “Hungry,” about a woman caring for her granddaughter while the girl’s father (the woman’s son) lies in the hospital, food and a patriotic speech serve as metaphors for the power and limitations of love.
McCracken’s skewed perspectives make this a powerfully if quietly disturbing volume.
A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.
Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.
Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.
A tour de force of character, point of view and especially atmosphere, Prose's latest takes place in Paris from the late 1920s till the end of World War II.
The primary locus of action is the Chameleon Club, a cabaret where entertainment edges toward the kinky. Presiding most nights is Eva “Yvonne” Nagy, a Hungarian chanteuse and mistress of the revels. The name of the club is not strictly metaphorical, for Yvonne has a pet lizard, but the cabaret is also famous as a place where Le Tout-Paris can gather and cross-dress, and homosexual lovers can be entertained there with some degree of privacy. One of the most fascinating denizens of the club is Lou Villars, in her youth an astounding athlete and in her adulthood a dancer (with her lover Arlette) at the club and even later a race car driver and eventually a German spy in Paris during the Occupation. Villars and Arlette are the subjects of what becomes the era’s iconic photograph, one that gives the novel its title. This image is taken by Hungarian photographer Gabor Tsenyi, eventual lover (and later husband) of sexual athlete Suzanne Dunois. Tsenyi is also a protégé of Baroness Lily de Rossignol, former Hollywood actress, now married to the gay Baron de Rossignol, the fabulously wealthy owner of a French car manufacturing company. Within this multilayered web of characters, Prose manages to give almost every character a voice, ranging from Tsenyi’s eager letters home to his parents, excerpts from a putative biography of Lou Villars (supposedly written by Suzanne’s great-niece) entitled The Devil Drives: The Life of Lou Villars, Lily de Rossignol’s memoirs and further reminiscences by Lionel Maine, Suzanne’s lover before she was “stolen away” by the photographer.
Novelist and nonfiction author Dyer (Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, 2012, etc.) goes to sea for an immersive, sometimes-sobering ride aboard an American aircraft carrier.
What's a fussy eater who's averse to sharing a room, too tall for cramped corridors and who bears an abhorrence for anything to do with engines or oil aboard the USS George H.W. Bush? From the moment he arrived on the flight deck, there was never a dull moment, which also meant there was never a moment’s peace. But the crash and thunder of jets taking off competed with a stultifying muddle of military acronyms, which Dyer tried futilely to comprehend. Of course, this British writer noted for subverting genres is much more interested in the people. He describes a Whitman-esque quality of a “fulfilled and industrious America, each person indispensable to the workings of the larger enterprise,” finding himself happily “surrounded by American voices, American friendliness, American politeness.” Dyer also locates an unexpected poetics of carrier life, the terrible beauty and lyrical maneuvers of a machine of war (and the self-perpetuating requirement of oil to make the machine go). The author rejects the microminutiae beloved of many reporters, instead capturing a broader canvas with painterly precision. Though he explodes a few persistent myths, more than once, Dyer was moved by a promotion ceremony, an act of consideration, honor or devotion to duty. Ultimately, even as mere observer, he felt privileged to be there yet just as eager to resume his normal life back on “the beach.” Though respectful, generally admiring, of those in military service, Dyer remained ambivalent; he fires broadsides against numbing (if necessary) routine, the simplistic thinking of religious conservatism prevalent on board and the inherent contradictions of having a military presence off the coasts of other lands in a way that would never be countenanced near American shores.
As usual for Dyer, eccentrically intriguing, occasionally dipping into boyish wonder and spasms of sentiment.
In trademark Lewis (Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, 2011, etc.) fashion, a data-rich but all-too-human tale of “heuristic data bullshit and other mumbo jumbo” in the service of gaming the financial system, courtesy of—yes, Goldman Sachs and company.
That stuff you see on TV about dinging bells and ulcer-stricken traders pacing the floor of the New York Stock Exchange? It’s theater. The real speculative economy lives invisibly in little wires that go to nodes in out-of-the-way places, monitored by computer, shares bought and sold by algorithm. If you send a sell order, it might get intercepted for a fraction of a second by an intermediary that can manipulate the order to squeeze off one one-hundredth of a penny in profit—small on the individual level but big when you consider the millions of trades made every day. Both the system and that process are considerably more complex than that, but this fact remains: It dawned on someone that a person could grow rich laying ever faster optic cables to selected clients, cutting deals with the governments of towns and counties “in order to be able to tunnel through them,” all perfectly legal if not exactly in the spirit of the market. Lewis follows his tried-and-true methods of taking a big story of this sort and deconstructing it to key players, some on the inside, some on the outside, at least one an unlikely hero. In this case, that unlikely hero is an exceedingly mild-mannered Japanese-Canadian banker who assembled a team of techies and numbers nerds to track the nefarious ways of the HFT world—that is, the high-frequency traders and the firms that engaged in “dark pool arbitrage” as just another asset in their portfolios of corruption.
If you’ve ever had the feeling that the system is out for itself at your expense, well, look no further. A riveting, maddening yarn that is causing quite a stir already, including calls for regulatory reform.