As part of Barth’s challenging postmodernist corpus, the short stories offer smaller doses of the odd pleasures and strains...

COLLECTED STORIES

A monumental assemblage of this antic author’s short fiction, most of it steeped in the literary history and postmodernist contortions of “that peculiarly American species, the writer in the university.”

Each of the four collections gathered here has stories closely related by characters, themes, and stylistic high jinks, accommodating the preference Barth (Every Third Thought, 2011, etc.) notes in his introduction for the long form of the novel. They also reflect the writer’s constant parsing and playing with narrative conventions in metafictional outings that began with the Borges-influenced, multilayered confections of his first collection, Lost in the Funhouse (1968). “Menelaiad,” for tortuous instance, retells some of the Troy legend with mind-boggling embedding of multiple narrators like matryoshka dolls. On With the Story (1996) dials down the meta moments while including a Barth avatar who alludes to Funhouse. The story titled “ ‘Waves,’ by Amien Richard,” is fairly straightforward as two travel writers seek a good snorkeling site while painfully avoiding a shared tragedy. The Book of Ten Nights and a Night (2004) nods to all Barth’s favorite tale-tellers—Homer, Scheherazade, and Boccaccio—while a writer named Graybard and his Muse discuss “narrative” in sections linking the book’s actual narratives—including four pages that look like musical notations for a song containing the one word “help.” That the 11 nights are those following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 shows Barth venturing out of the ivory ziggurat and contemplating a “nation in shock.” More conventional are the stories of a Maryland gated community in 2008’s The Development. They have a comic take on community and an intimate sense of aging—Barth was almost 80 at that time. Still, he can’t resist his bookish japes, as with a writing student who presents one project in text written all over her young flesh.

As part of Barth’s challenging postmodernist corpus, the short stories offer smaller doses of the odd pleasures and strains of a restless intelligence and its relentless gaming of the literary system.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62897-095-1

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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