Memorable and very strange: Latin American magical realism taken far beyond the bounds of the genre’s usual whimsy and...

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WITH MY DOG EYES

A slender, surrealism-tinged tale of fear, loathing and transformation, the third novel to be published in English translation by Brazilian writer’s writer Hilst.

Born near São Paolo in 1930, Hilst, who died in 2004, was an odd character indeed: trained as a lawyer, obsessed with Marlon Brando, a lover of dogs and devourer of libraries, hermit and alcoholic. She also had a sticky memory, and everything she read and observed, it seems, found a way into her writing, though often with absurdist shadings: In Letters From a Seducer, published in English translation by Nightboat Books in March, she speculates that the police hunt down and kill the disappeared “in order not to give them more work later on.” (Come to think of it, given Brazil’s recent history, that may not be so absurd after all.) The present book scarcely qualifies as a novella, but its pages are densely packed with meaning. “Whorehouse Church Government University. They all looked alike”: So grumbles the protagonist, Amós Kéres, a professor whose mind rattles with visions, images and loose quotations from Bertrand Russell and Elias Canetti but who wants to be otherwise engaged, it seems: “There are books all over the place,” he says, “and I can’t interest myself in them any longer.” Thus, in appropriately Kafkaesque fashion, does Amós begin a transformation that puts him “[b]eyond the other side of the mirror” and finds him in distinctly different form, though not without a few troubling, adult-rated visits (“Get drunk every night, and vicious, sputtering, shake my dick timetotime for Amanda’s friends…”) to points of interest in his biography and personal geography. Conceived in the early 1980s, as translator Morris documents in his lucid introduction, this novel speaks to the nexus between genius and madness—and it gets off a few growls at the state of things as they are.

Memorable and very strange: Latin American magical realism taken far beyond the bounds of the genre’s usual whimsy and pushed into the territory of nightmares.

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61219-345-8

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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