Wild Nights!: Stories About the Last Days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James, and Hemingway

In this unsettling volume of stories, Joyce Carol Oates imagines the last days of six American writers as they consider their legacies. The writers are alternately vain about their work and unsure of its value; they regard their writing persona as a monstrous appendage whose fame colors their every interaction with the outside world. Edgar Allan Poe, holed up in a lighthouse after the death of his wife, is a meek vegetarian paradoxically given to both grandiose prose and a bloodlust against creatures both real and imaginary. Samuel Clemens, a doddering old man, starts up emotionally manipulative friendships with young girls under the disapproving eye of his only living daughter. Henry James attempts to make up for a perceived life of useless comfort and privilege by volunteering at an army hospital where he hopes to attain a vigor he believes he never had. Papa Hemingway, never one to shy away from a corpse in his writing, imagines himself a life-long captive of women, and prepares his shotgun for its final action. The sole woman in this collection is literally a captive and, in a plot device reminiscent of George Saunders, not even technically the poet Emily Dickinson. As EDickinsonRepliLuxe, part manikin, part computer, she becomes the victim of her resentful master, who does exactly what one would expect from a man in a Joyce Carol Oates story who has been assured a woman is his property. The author herself will turn 70 in June; her collection suggests a pretty grim prognosis for the outcomes of a literary life.

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.