Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession.

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THE HOUSE OF WRITERS

After societal, economic, and technological collapse rocks Britain, authors stubbornly ply their (mostly obsolete) trade crammed into a high-rise in the north.

In this debut novel, set in the mid-21st century, digital culture has proved ruinous for writers.  First, publishers dictated that only the simplest, bottom-line pablum be produced. Second, a socioeconomic meltdown, precipitated by widespread tech failures (bad screws in the motherboard cooling fans), left Britain a wasteland, roamed by artificial intelligence appliances gone feral and starving digi-pets. While the principal economy and infrastructure center on the lone surviving big business, a Scottish call center (itself just a minor subsidiary of a U.S.-based, Rupert Murdoch-like multinational), authors stubbornly pursue their craft and egos in a communal high-rise, sometimes for just a couple of paying readers. Cal McIntyre, a narrator perpetually working—or not—on a “meta-novel” called The House of Writers, compiles formidable lists of silly, nonexistent books and offers a tour of the building, with different genres on each floor. There are name-dropping details of a “Farewell Authors Conference”; lists of fictitious sexual positions; descriptions of flash-in-the-pan literary movements seeking relevance (the gender-bending Anti-cis-heteronormativists); and entire catalog entries oriented toward Scottish shortbread. Real-life, dust-jacket celebrities (Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Jodi Picoult, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, graphic designer Chip Kidd) blend with the invented scribblers and cranks, who still follow their muses and remain vain and self-centered loons, despite conditions wherein their products serve practically no purpose. Comedian and writer Spike Milligan would certainly approve of Glasgow author Nicholls’ novel, a piece of literary goonery (or, to Yanks, Monty Pythonism) that lacks a particularly strong plot. As with Monty Python and The Goon Show, the audience either gets the dense barrages of absurdist humor or not. At one point, Jesus even returns, but, after being largely ignored by House of Writers occupants, the Savior departs, leaving an angry, obscene note behind (though Cal theorizes the message could have been one author’s idea of a practical joke). The encouraging theme beneath the satire seems to be that, no matter what, writers and writing (and all the attendant aggravations and pretensions) will persist. Perhaps Cal’s meta-novel will turn out to be the Best Book That Ever Existed. 

Cascades of absurdist, knowing nonsense about the writing profession. 

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944697-06-8

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2017

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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