An outlandish but absorbing meditation on being alive among the dead.

DINNER

Leave it to the avant-garde Aira (The Musical Brain, 2015, etc.) to combine a meditation on relevance with a full-on zombie apocalypse.

In this characteristically slim but linguistically cagey story, Argentinean novelist Aira combines a comically observant depiction of an awkward dinner with a truly bizarre account of the dead returning to life. The unnamed narrator is a 60-year-old confirmed bachelor who finds himself bankrupt, depressed, and living with his caustically judgmental mother. One night the man and his mother are invited to dinner by a friend, who regales them with stories of his travels, a tour of his fantastical trinkets, and over-the-top vignettes. “All the stories he told us could have been illustrated with story-book pictures,” says the narrator. “Even those he told in parentheses or as digressions, as when he explained why he couldn’t use the sage he grew in his own garden for the meal. It turned out that an 88-year-old dwarf had fallen on the planting bed from a great height and had crushed his delicate herbs. Was that not astonishing?” Returning home, his mother retires to bed while our narrator descends into his usual unemployed habit of surfing the television.  “It didn’t even have the charm of the ridiculous,” Aira writes. He lands on a channel showing a young woman and her cameraman chasing adventure through the late night when they stumble upon reports that the dead are rising from the grave. The narrator plays out the gruesome scene, which only ends when the village’s elders start calling out the names of the dead, who return quietly to their graves. What does this mean? The author is coy on resolution but he does offer up a resounding note of hope. “You have to know how to see beyond the interests of survival and make the decision to give something to the world, because only those who give, receive,” he writes.

An outlandish but absorbing meditation on being alive among the dead.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2108-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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