Short Story Spotlight: Sheherazade by Haruki Murakami

Featured in today’s The New Yorker, Scheherazade is a scintillating example of the peculiar and fanciful imagination of its author, Japan’s preeminent peddler of fictive absurdities, and possible contender for this year’s Nobel Prize being announced tomorrow, Haruki Murakami.


The other thing that puzzled him was the fact that their lovemaking and her storytelling were so closely linked, making it hard to tell where one ended and the other began. He had never experienced anything like this before: although he didn’t love her, and the sex was so-so, he was tightly bound to her physically. It was all rather confusing.


 

As ever Murakami’s141013_r25575-877 unadorned prose surprises in all the best ways. The characters, in this case a Mr. Habara, 31 and housebound, though we are never quite sure why, and his caretaker/contracted lover, a 35-year-old housewife whom he dubs Scheherazade for her penchant, much like that fabled queen from ‘A Thousand and One Nights’, for spinning fantastical yarns post coitus. The casual manner in which these characters pivot the story in unexpected directions is the real beauty of reading Murakami. In the hands of a master like this, the reader never quite knows what might be coming, but always senses, as one who has been repeatedly struck by lightning, that the air is charged for another bolt.

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The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

download (1)Holly Sykes, precocious, headstrong, a girl who hears voices, is the tie that binds in David Mitchell’s ominously titled sixth novel, The Bone Clocks. Like a few of his previous works, The Bone Clocks serves up a dizzying and sometimes disorienting ménage of stories-within-stories unwinding over long spans of time, across many continents (among other, less earth-bound locales) and then attempts to re-ravel the variegated threads into a unifying whole. Mix in a dash of fantasy – warring factions of immortal beings – and you have a novel quite unlike any other.

Mitchell possesses an uncanny ability to draw his readers quickly into a scene which, given his modus operandi, serves well to bridge the transitions between vignettes less jarringly than one might expect from a novelist with lesser powers. This is not a new revelation for fans of Mitchell. After Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas, two of his previous novels which employ similar feats of digressive storytelling to great effect, his readers have come to expect these surprising forks in his narrative road, trusting him to lead where he will. In The Bone Clocks Mitchell seems at times to revel somewhat cheekily in this unwritten compact between he and his readers, as when the crusty ‘Bad Boy of British Letters’, Crispin Hershey, reads a scathing review of his latest novel by the critic Richard Cheeseman (who also appears in an earlier vignette as a student-friend of Hugo Lamb at Cambridge–twists and turns, threads weaving):


 “The fantasy subplot clashes so violently with the book’s State of the World pretensions, I cannot bear to look… What surer sign is there that the creative aquifers are dry than a writer creating a writer-character?”


These meta comments, the awareness and anticipation the characters (and Mitchell himself) seem to possess about the reception of The Bone Clocks, has the unsettling effect that whatever the reader thinks he thinks is all somehow part of Mitchell’s grand plan. (more…)

Word Arsenal 7

Occasionally in this dirty business of war, we must resort to confusion. When the battlefield lies strewn with the corpses of our brothers-in-arms, and the legions of the ignorant continue to advance unimpeded in spite of our superior weaponry, we must slow them and bide time for another assault. That’s where this latest word comes in. Employ this baby when all else fails.

maxresdefaultLike a flash grenade, it will leave them stunned and befuddled. With its sheer redundant complexity in describing something so simple and common, they’ll scratch their heads and tear their hair out wondering why? Why? Why does such a word exist?

I ask you, fellow warriors, why not?

Without any more preamble then, here it goes:

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Short Story Spotlight: Invasive Species by Jacob Appel

110112-walter-reeves_3I’m not sure how exactly I stumbled onto this story, but I am thankful I did. Invasive Species, winner of the New Millennium Writings Awards #32is one of those quiet, unassuming stories that, with each perfect sentence, slowly wends its way into your soul.


The late afternoon sun makes her pale, hairless scalp appear practically translucent, exposing the latticework of slender blood vessels that carry the metastases through her body like a miniature plumbing system.


 

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The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth

In the case of Paul Kiwake cover_illustrationngsnorth’s extraordinary first novel, The Wake, which has been long-listed for the Mann-Booker prize, the effort is most definitely worth the reward.


One of the most unique and fiercely beautiful novels written in any language.


Set during the Norman invasion and occupation of England in 1066-68, the book is written in a “shadow-tongue”, the author’s imagined amalgamation of Old and Modern English, which proves slow-going for the first several pages and may scare off all but the most intrepid of readers. Which is a shame—the readers’ shame, not the author’s—because they may prematurely close the covers of one of the most unique and fiercely beautiful novels written in any language.

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Short Story Spotlight: “Proving Up”, by Karen Russell

I’ve been on somewhat of a binge diet of short stories lately, consuming a few collections a week on average, as well as nibbling from the sundry literary journals floating around the house. The idea was to keep my reading sessions brief and uninvolved in order to maintain focus on my own novel, while at the same time absorbing and learning new styles and voices from writers of the highest caliber. But as I’ve progressed in my reading (everything from the classics – Gogol, Chekhov, Hemingway – to highly lauded contemporary collections – George Saunders, Karen Russell) I’ve stumbled upon some astonishingly brilliant, profound, mesmerizing stories that pack more punch in 20 pages than many novels do in 200. Some of these have left me awestruck, dizzied, unspeakably jealous. They’re too good not to share, to shout from the rooftops, “Read them! Read them! It takes less time than a rerun of Seinfeld!”

So in this new section, The Short Story Spotlight, I will do just that. No in-depth reviews – I don’t want to spoil these babies. Part of the magic of a great short story is that it sneaks up on you, often being buried in a collection without a blurb of its own or appearing in a journal without fanfare or press.


This first story I’ll feature is Karen Russell‘s, “Proving Up”

This story, first featured in Zoetrope under a different title, “The Hox River Window“, won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, and I now know why.  (more…)

Word Arsenal Special Edition – The Only Dictionary Site You’ll Ever Need

Greetings, noble scribes! I interrupt the regularly scheduled Word Arsenal programming with news of the greatest significance. In my relentless and fevered pursuit of le mot juste, my epic and endless peregrinations over the vast wasteland of interweb hooey, I have stumbled onto a tool that threatens to tip the scales of balance in our ongoing war. I daresay it could make poets of us all! (more…)

Word Arsenal 6

Ladies and gentlemen, round six is upon us! There’s been a lull in the fighting of late, and the enemy has grown complacent. Across the field, beyond the bloated corpses of the fallen, we can see the lambent light of fires hovering over their trenches, hear the singing and laughter of their soldiers. They mock us. They think our words incapable of harming them, of breaching their redoubt of ignorance.  (more…)