Books Read and in Progess: Smith Henderson, Evie Wyld, and More

Jeff VanderMeer • July 14th, 2014 @ 12:44 pm • Book Reviews

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So far this year I’ve had a chance to read and review a handful of novels for the NYTBR, LA Times, and the Guardian—here are some links and info, along with, first, my current reading—very excited about everything I’m reading now.

CURRENT READING (in progress)

Right now, I’m on the road and am reading the following, all of which I’m really enjoying thus far. I don’t know why, but I’ve been going back and forth between them without it destroying my immersion in any of them.

–After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (magnificent author—such a sharp, sharp writer)

–McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (out in October; profane, ‘orrible in the best way, and brilliant style for the protagonist)

–Idiopathy by Sam Byers (so far a spot-on critique of every aspect of our modern post-industrial existence)

–Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin (most excellent biography of the wonderful writer and artist, lovingly written and with copious illos and photographs)

–The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948—2013 (the best from the Nobel Prize-winner; I’m making this one last, reading a couple of poems every day)

THE BEST

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: “Early in the story, Pete observes that “We’re all animals. Just dancing bears in tutus and monkeys with cigarettes. Painted up and stuffed into clown cars.” Henderson is committed to showing us unhappy and unstable people existing at the edges of any safety net. But they’re also people struggling to find a kind of truth, and they’re portrayed with compassion and humanity, in a voice that crackles and lurches with the intensity of a Tom Waits song.”

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld: “Wyld’s also not afraid to just give the reader the blunt, brutal truth. There are aspects of Whyte’s past—because of what’s been done to her and what she herself has done—that you get full-on, in detail…some level the rest of All the Birds, Singing is nothing but exploration of her character, a kind of clear-seeing that creates empathy even through the most disturbing sequences.” (Granted, this one’s a cheat—I posted this review on my blog, but it’s a favorite read of the year so far and if I’d found it earlier would’ve pitched it for review.)

The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil: “Yet Weil’s earnest, deep commitment to a portrait of brothers in crisis means that these issues recede into the backdrop. There’s pathos and tension in how Yarik becomes trapped in his relationship with Bazarov. There’s breathtaking brilliance in Weil’s portrayal of Dima as an outcast estranged from society, especially in one astonishing scene in which Dima walks around in a reverie of dissolution.” (Note: I had some negative things to say about this novel, but it’s the kind of book that I think a good many readers will enjoy a lot and a fair number of reviewers may not have the same caveats I did. I’ve now ordered his story collection and awaiting it eagerly.)

THE REST

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun [outtake from the published review:] “Chase hits the road with a truck full of sheep and his erection. This leads to the epic lines ‘He finished quickly…His readiness persisted. It was as though he had told his cock an incredible story and it had laughed and cried, then turned to him and said, Then what?’ It’s unfortunate, but the long scene doesn’t work as drama, and any comedic intent is lost to sloth-like pacing and poor taste. Calhoun’s descriptive powers tend to undermine his scenes as well. Apparently unaware of what vultures are, he describes them as ‘like trash bags in a dirt devil.’ Lila is ‘beautiful’ with ‘full lips’ and ‘smooth contours,’ whatever that means. Does she have no arms?”

California by Edan Lepucki [outtake from the published review: ] “When August later rescues the two from a predicament and then confesses to a terrible crime, Cal speculates that August might’ve done it from ‘loyalty or self-interest, desperation, or fear.’ Cal settles on ‘compassion as the motive, although, really, it is unclear why August does any of the things he does or why he listens to any of the people he listens to. Nor is it clear why the novel contains so many useless flashbacks.”

4 Responses to “Books Read and in Progess: Smith Henderson, Evie Wyld, and More”

  1. horses for sale says:

    Good post. I certainly love this site. Keep writing!

  2. Books Learn and in Progess: Smith Henderson, Evie Wyld, and Extra | JanNews Blog says:

    […] Books Read and in Progess: Smith Henderson, Evie Wyld, and More initially appeared on Ecstatic Days on July 14, 2014. […]

  3. Clay Scott Brown says:

    I checked out All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and am going to read it, thanks for these suggestions! I love hearing about a book that has ‘touched’ another writer. But still I’m waiting for Acceptance to come out!

    I think your 3 Southern Reach Novels were the publishing event of the year, not that my little voice will matter!

    I’m not Stephen King after all!

  4. PhilRM says:

    Thanks for posting these reviews, Jeff. You convinced me to rush out to buy “All the Birds, Singing”.

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