Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.

LATE STORIES

Dixon's new collection explores the heart of an aging man's life.

Why isn’t Dixon a household name? The author of more than 30 novels and collections of short stories, he is regarded, when he is regarded, as a “writer’s writer,” which is about as backhanded as a compliment can get. Yet his writing, which is plainspoken and deceptively straightforward, is the sort that sticks with you, because it cuts to the uncertainty of life. His new collection is a case in point: 31 linked stories about a writer named Philip Seidel, who is wrestling with the depredations of age. Seidel’s chronology and Dixon’s overlap—both live and work in Baltimore (Dixon taught writing at Johns Hopkins for many years) and both are recently widowed (Dixon’s wife, the poet and translator Anne Frydman, died of complications from multiple sclerosis in 2009). But don’t let that confuse you into thinking these efforts are thinly veiled autobiography. Rather, they offer moment-by-moment deep dives into longing and despair and forgetfulness, memory and fantasy. In the opening story, “Wife in Reverse,” Dixon traces the dynamic of a marriage in a page and a half, beginning with the death of the protagonist’s spouse and ending with their first meeting three decades before. In the second, he imagines the paralyzing loss of an adult child. What he is evoking is possibility, conditionality, the sense that everything could change, or fall apart, in any given instant. That this is the essence of fiction goes without saying; it has been the impetus behind Dixon’s project all along. And yet, in this stirring and heartfelt book, Dixon goes beyond loss into the kind of preservation that only literature can provide. That’s not to say his stories traffic in illusion; perhaps projection is a better word. “Remember” delineates, in excruciating detail, the slow forgetting of its aging protagonist (“He feels his fly. It’s open; forgot again. Makes him even more worried about himself”), while the stunning “Just What Is” and “Just What Is Not” investigate two sides of an affair that never was, highlighting the tension between inner and outer life. In the end, nothing happens, although, of course, everything does. Or, as Dixon observes in the transcendent “Missing Out,” which imagines an alternate life in which Seidel never met the wife who has left him widowed: “Nothing. I told you. It was all in my head. Was I in dreamland? You bet. Not that she would have been interested in me.”

Dixon is a master of the minor moments, the dreams and the disappointments, that transfigure every one of us.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940430-87-4

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Curbside Splendor

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more