Anyone contemplating writing a plotless novel will want to study this curious, beguiling yarn.

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IN BLACK AND WHITE

An enigmatic mystery that, serially published and thereafter forgotten until now, cements Tanizaki’s (The Maids, 2017, etc.) claim to be a lost forerunner of postmodernism.

This belongs to a group of three novels that Tanizaki (1886-1965), much rumored in his day to be a candidate for the Nobel Prize, started writing in 1928. As translator Lyons notes in a most helpful afterword, that was just after Akutagawa Ry?nosuke, Tanizaki’s sometime friend and all-the-time rival, committed suicide, an event that both depressed Tanizaki and left him free to take the lead as a writer of stories that, had Alfred Hitchcock been aware of them, might have become internationally renowned films. This is a case in point. A writer, Mizuno, working against hard deadlines, slips up: he uses the name of a rival as the victim of a murder story he’s crafting. Now, if Cojima really turns up dead, suspicion will naturally fall on Mizuno—yet the temptation to do the other writer in on the page is irresistible. A third figure enters into play: the mysterious Shadow Man, who haunts Mizuno as he’s both working and desperately trying to concoct an alibi that involves, among other things, faking an STD (“Between then and around ten he went to the bathroom twice. But it wasn’t easy to pretend he had gonorrhea”). As all this unfolds, the already self-referential story, with life imitating art and art imitating life, begins to chase its own tail in earnest: one of Mizuno’s pages is titled “To the Point of the Murder of the Man Who Wrote ‘To the Point of Murder.’" Tanizaki’s novel ends with a strange thud—it went on well past the planned end date for the serial, he writes, “so I’ve decided to end it here.” One suspects, however, that he’d gotten lost in a hall of mirrors, and so will the reader, all to good ends.

Anyone contemplating writing a plotless novel will want to study this curious, beguiling yarn.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-231-18518-9

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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