Displaying articles for: April 2008

The Delirious Fictions of William Klein

William Klein, now 90 years old, lived some kind of fantasy life. As an American G.I. stationed in Paris during WWII, he stayed after the war to study painting at the Sorbonne with Cubist painter Fernand L‚ger, became a celebrated fashion photographer, married Belgian model Jeanne Florin, and made several off-beat feature films. Some of Klein?s movies did well in France, but have received few screenings in the U.S. This may have as much to do with the Brooklyn native?s quirky formalism as his critical stance toward his home country. Criterion's The Delirious Fictions of William Klein brings together Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966), Mr. Freedom (1969), and The Model Couple (1977), a trio of Klein?s narrative features, if one can use that adjective, as opposed to the documentaries and shorts he concentrated on in following years. Magoo is a stylish, moody black and white film centered around a vapid American model in France, grappling with existential questions clearly beyond her reach. The Model Couple is the best of the three, a clever, prophetic mockumentary about a French couple so remarkably average that they become demographic exemplars, scrutinized by the media while living in a model home and testing out state-of-the-art products. Their ambivalence about the project fuels the drama, as things gradually go more and more hilariously wrong. Mr. Freedom, Klein?s Vietnam-era psychedelic kiss-off comedy, sports fabulous costumes and a wacky, anarchic energy in the crowd scenes. But the film, alas, aims clumsily at American foreign policy, lampoons Communism, and winds up looking like what might happen if Ed Wood remade Dr. Strangelove.

Sex and Bacon: Why I Love Things That Are Very, Very Bad For Me

A bacchanalian celebration of food and sex, Sarah Katherine Lewis? second memoir is rife with brazen declarations ("Who am I trying to kid? My whole life has been an ?experimental? phase, both sexually and culinarily.") A bisexual former porn star and model in Seattle, Lewis, 36, now transcribes business documents, work she equates to living in a Cathy cartoon, but her passion remains the pursuit of sybaritic pleasures. "I have eaten well," proclaims the size-12 peroxide blonde, seen brandishing a skillet on the cover, "and I have loved well, and I will joyfully do every bit of it again, over and over, until I am consumed." In between X-rated accounts with male and female lovers, she encourages women to relish fattening foods, take pride in their bodies, and to love completely. One chapter declares her fondness for Britney Spears, demonized for craving junk food when "every single one of us fights the same war, attempting to forge a tenuous d‚tente between what we want (everything) and what we?re supposed to want (nothing)." The book?s limitation, which she pinpoints, is its lack of plot; Lewis doesn?t render a story, but a portrait. Luckily, her personality easily fills 300 pages, and even at her most offensive, she is a spirited narrator. It was poet George Herbert who wrote, "You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat," and 400 years later, it?s Lewis, in between devouring family packages of bacon by herself, who describes wanting to bite into her boyfriend?s lip "like a Ball Park frank." Her exuberance turns her musings into an oddly addictive, if lowbrow, polemic. In Lewis? company, it?s hard to deny that her enjoyment of what she?s eating looks awfully good.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year-History of the Human Body

I wish I had chanced upon Neil Shubin?s captivating guided tour through "the 3.5-billion-year history of the human body" while recovering from my hernia-repair operation. The pain might have been momentarily mitigated by Shubin's revelation that the tendency of the human male to herniate "results from taking a fish body and morphing it into a mammal." In short, whereas the gonads of our ancestor the ur-shark were safely tucked away in its torso, evolution prompted those of humans to drop down, resulting in a congenital weakness in the abdominal wall. Shubin?s simple yet powerful method is to trace the intricate marvels of the human body as it currently exists through a survey of all those creatures whose DNA contributed to our own Darwinically-mandated creation. As a paleontologist and professor of anatomy, Shubin is the ideal person to bop back and forth from fossils to genes, from the Devonian swamps to the genome-deciphering laboratories of today. The mechanics of evolution, inheritance and bodily structures and organs are elegantly laid out, as Shubin draws on both milestone scientific research and his own considerable fieldwork. Aided by his facility for sprightly metaphors (cartilage is memorably described as a piece of Jell-O banded by collagen ropes), Shubin's prose goes down as smoothly as that of Stephen Jay Gould, as he earnestly conveys his appreciation for the often phantasmagorical and ironic results of Darwin?s dead hand on our kludged-together organisms. But the crucial subtext is more profound: all artificial and troubling distinctions and divisions among humans disappear in light of our common heritage. Our intimacy with the rest of creation, he implies, should always be uppermost in our minds.

The Welcome Arrival of Rain

Wit, learning, curiosity, irony, ingenuity, amusement -- it?s not often that one gets to hear these qualities in performances of contemporary chamber or orchestral music, but all emanate palpably, dressed in a striking aural loveliness, when the scores of Judith Weir are played. Born in 1954, the Scottish Weir has composed a piano concerto, three operas (A Night at the Chinese Opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom, and Blond Eckbert), and dozens of memorable chamber and vocal pieces informed by her interest in storytelling, folklore, and theater. As critic and composer Robert Hugill has aptly written, Weir "writes beautifully constructed, essentially tonal music, but there is something deeply complex and ungraspable about her pieces. On the surface they are elegant, melodic and approachable; but on first acquaintance her music has elusive depths which can only be teased out." Such is certainly the case with the pieces collected on this disc. The title work, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, lets us listen as brilliantly scored branches sprout from a few simple melodic seeds; it?s a layered and beautiful evocation of nature, an evocation that continues in the compositions for orchestra and voices that follow (Natural History, composed for soprano Dawn Upsahw and sung by Ailish Tynan here, Moon and Star, a setting of a poem by Emily Dickinson, and Forest, for orchestra). Delighting both ear and spirit, The Welcome Arrival of Rain is a welcome arrival indeed.

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.

Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules are the opening words of the most famous military song in English: the march known as ?The British Grenadiers.? The pairing of the greatest general of antiquity and a mythical hero is quite appropriate; for while Alexander the Great actually lived, he had passed into myth even before his death in 323 B.C. In his short life of little more than three decades, Alexander mastered the largest empire yet known to man and, as his deeds were remembered and retold, they took on the shape of stories like Hercules? labors. Within a century, an entire body of fantastical literature had been collected, now known as the Alexander Legend, and its influence was felt across three continents. Translated and reinterpreted, Alexander appears in everything from the Bible (Book of Daniel) to the Qu?ran (as Dhu?l-qarnain, the "Two-Horned One") to the Persian national epic, the Shahnameh (as Sekandar). It is this generation and transmission of lore that Richard Stoneman surveys in Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend. His thematic book opens a brilliant window into the afterlife of ancient myth, ranging over classical, medieval, and Renaissance sources with passing references to Borges, Proust, and even Thomas Bernhard. Alexander may have failed in his dreams of conquering Rome and Carthage, but he achieved immortality nonetheless. Greek fishermen still know what to do when a two-tailed mermaid roils the sea crying out "Where is Alexander the Great?" Only shouting "He lives and reigns and keeps the world at peace" will stay the mermaid from plunging the ship to the bottom.

Tapestry: Legacy Edition

1971 was a good year for female singer-songwriters. Make that the year, as the release of Joni Mitchell?s Blue and Carole King?s Tapestry -- the quintessential albums of the nascent genre -- made clear. Blue remains a touchstone for all pop poetesses who followed, yet Tapestry was nothing less than a commercial and cultural phenomenon. The question of why the latter touched the hearts (and pocketbooks) of so many listeners is raised once again by the new double-disc Legacy Edition of the classic recording. The answer may lie in the album's dual nature. King tapped brilliantly into the zeitgeist, merging the confessional, feminist, and psychological/spiritual ruminations of a nation in flux ("You?ve Got a Friend," "Beautiful," "Way Over Yonder," and the blatantly personal title track.) Yet Tapestry is also characterized by the seductive musical craftsmanship that had already established King as a legendary Top 40 composer. "I Feel the Earth Move," "Where You Lead," "So Far Away" are examples of gorgeous pop at its most polished and accessible. And it didn?t take a radical politico to parse the lyrics, or feel the earnest tug of the album?s doggedly optimist nature. Not to beg comparisons, but King was not about to spill blood or ponder the abyss as willingly as Mitchell did on her opus. But when has America been anything other than a dual-natured animal, its people longing for idiosyncratic expression and well-made comfort in equal measure? In that regard, King had her finger firmly on the nation?s pulse.

Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America

You?ve come a long way, baby, as this illustrated timeline highlighting the achievements of women in America demonstrates. The book, which grew out of a traveling exhibit of the same name, consists of brief descriptions of more than 900 women, both famous and forgotten, who have impacted the nation, mostly through politics, academe, business, technology, or the arts. The most stirring entries involve those who dared to defy the gender norms of their day, like the women who took up arms in the Revolutionary War, spoke out against slavery, and marched for suffrage. A number of entries provide interesting trivia, including the fact that women invented paper grocery bags (Margaret Knight, 1870) and Kevlar (Stephanie Kwolek, 1965). Many describe females who were firsts in their fields, and some of these are more momentous than others -- I appreciated reading that Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, for The Age of Innocence, but can?t say I felt edified upon learning that Margaret Petherbridge Farrar was the first woman to create a crossword puzzle book. While this unabashedly celebratory book is feminism at its softest and fuzziest, it?s enjoyable to flip through and would make a fine Mother?s Day gift, certainly sparking more interesting conversation than another bouquet of flowers.

Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005

The last Luciferian doom-spiral of Rudy Giuliani?s presidential campaign, its crashing and its burning in the swamps of Florida, will have likely been greeted with a growl of approval and a raised glass in the household of Luc Sante. For this ex-New Yorker, who came of age as a writer in the fertile wreckage of pre-Giuliani Manhattan, the city?s former mayor was a killjoy and an empty vessel; even Rudy?s heavily-retailed heroism on 9/11 was a sort of historical trompe d?oeil. "He played the part of embattled leader rather well," writes Sante in "The Sea-Green Incorruptible," one of the essays collected here, "the enormity at hand being sufficient to make his choleric personality seem reasonable by contrast." Only Sante could pull off a line like that. In literary terms he is a missing link, the quiet powerhouse of his style incorporating the old New Yorks of Joseph Mitchell and Elizabeth Hardwick with the perceptual rigors and penetrations of 70s/80s punk rock. Whether grouching through Woodstock ?99 like a droll pessimist uncle, or flaneuring in the fringes of a squatter riot in Tompkins Square Park; whether writing about Victor Hugo or Bob Dylan, Tintin or heroin, Sante surveys the matter at hand with undefeated elegance. "Kill all your darlings," said William Faulkner. "Murder your darlings," said Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. "Read over your compositions," said Dr. Johnson, "and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." Vanities mastered, tics unwound, hobbyhorses put out to pasture: is it possible? If you?re Luc Sante, it appears to be very possible indeed.

Wolves of the Crescent Moon

This 2003 novel from Saudi Arabia has already garnered comparisons to Gabriel Garc¡a M rquez and the school of magic realism but, delivered in a poetic translation by Anthony Calderbank, the effects produced by Al-Mohaimeed?s tale more closely resemble the shaggy metaphysical surrealism of Haruki Murakami. Cosmic coincidences insusceptible to logical parsing, along with life-or-death choices for the protagonists result in spiritual transformations. But here the supernatural events always prove to have mundane explanations. A woman hangs her laundered underwear out to dry beneath the gaze of the full moon, and thereafter immaculately conceives a daughter. Or so family and neighbors believe, not being privy to the photo of a handsome man she secretly weeps over. This modern reduction of the miraculous to the commonplace, abetted by the assaults of contemporary civilization against human nature, drives the novel as both thesis and complaint. Even the streets of the city declaim injustice: "?the quarter of al-Mazlum, an old name that means 'he who has been severely wronged.'" The sufferings of the three protagonists are exemplary: Turad, a Bedouin exiled to modern Riyadh, was once a daring desert bandit --but now must serve as coffee boy to jeering office workers. Tawfiq was stolen from his idyllic Sudanese village to become a eunuch and slave. And orphaned Nasir Abdullah, enjoys a brief mansion idyll before being kicked back to the streets. The lives and fates of these three intertwine in eerie synchronicity. Despite an attempt at uplift in the final chapter, Al-Mohaimeed?s novel paints a disturbing picture of a Middle Eastern society suffering from anomie and resentment: not the freshest news, but boldly delivered.

Elegy: Poems

Nothing has inspired so much bad poetry as loss. The ineffability of grief, after all, is part of what makes it so awful. The bereft are cruelly left a voice full of recycled sentiments which can only belittle a beloved. But the opposite proves true for Mary Jo Bang's beautiful Elegy, as she chronicles the death of her son with truly stereophonic horror. Here is the insomnia, the spooky dejavu, the pharmacology, the amnesia, the nightmares and the white noise of loss. Bang pours it all into a lyric poetic line that is blunted down, burnished as obsidian.

You left nothing
Left to say and yet there is this
Incomplete labyrinth

Of finished thought, this
Wash of days over energy?s uneven rock. This
Vault door?s hollow closing

Crash behind which I say, Stop,
To the accidental.
Uncle, to the twisty wrist.

No matter how she beseeches, Bang cannot get her wish, and bitter lament follows. "The role of elegy is/to put a death mask on tragedy...To look for an imagined/Consolidation of grief/So we can all be finished/Once and for all and genuinely shut up." But loss lets loose a syntactical virus; a supercharged ontological magnet. It warps our sense of time, cruelly fooling. "He lived in her mind/As a limited aspect where time kept circling." And so it is perhaps no solace -- but worth saying, anyway -- that the much-loved son has become immortal in these essential, powerful poems.

My Unwritten Books

One of the last grand European men (or women) of letters, George Steiner seems positively out of historical time. He writes with the dandy flair of an eighteenth-century stylist and with the inflection of personal experience, Montaigne-like, without descending into the confessional (which he loathes). In this set of seven essays, each lays out a feline argument for a particular book that Steiner ultimately decided not to take on. His apologies for book-length studies of the quixotic sinologist Joseph Needham and the forgotten Cecco d?Ascoli -- a vanquished rival of Dante -- are moving historical essays-cum-exercises in self-critique. Elsewhere, Steiner turns to his two great themes-language and Judaism -- to explore the relation of language and sexuality ("The Tongues of Eros" gives new meaning to the phrase oral sex), his vexed relationship to Zionism, his proposals for a new sense of literacy that acknowledges the archaisms of the classical education he received, and his admittedly irrational attachment to dogs. In "Begging the Question," the last essay in the collection, Steiner notes the paradox of dwelling in the personal -- treasuring private and solitary moments of writing, reading, and thinking -- and the necessary self-betrayal of publication. "The adult believer seeks to be alone with his God. As I strive to be with His sovereign absence. Already I have said, I have failed to say, too much."

The Konkans

Surely, this is the age of fact disguised as fiction in Indian writing in English. When Arundhati Roy dedicated The God of Small Things to her mother, "who taught me to say 'excuse me' before interrupting her in public" -- a line repeated in the novel -- Roy let the reader know that her protagonists Rahel and Estha had more to share with herself and her brother than fiction often allows. In Tony D'Souza's The Konkans, the origins of narrator Francisco D'Sai pointedly mirror the mixed heritage of the author, the Chicago-raised son of an Indian father and American mother. Francisco's tale builds on the dual perspectives of his own father, Lawrence -- propelled by family industry and ambition first to a white-collar job in Bombay and eventually out of "the noise, the crowd, the filth" of India -- and his American mother, Denise, enraptured by her own view of India as exotic spectacle and spiritual destination. Their uneasy compromise of visions takes them back to an America Denise cannot see as home, and brings to join them Lawrence's two brothers, Sam and Lesley, with results that put Lawrence and Denise's bond into question. The resulting family saga plays out in a sprawling fashion, suggestive of the large history to be discovered within a small community. The Konkans of the title are a close-knit Catholic community in India, who, as a character in the book recounts, "had been waiting" for the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama "since the beginning of time" -- a mythic perspective containing a typical mixture of truth and semi-truth. While the Konkans indeed converted to Christianity, the process was brutal, and involved outlawing Hindu sacred texts, music, clothing, and foods. In The Konkans, D'Souza enmeshes the complexities of the historical with the urgency of the personal, to fashion a courageous story of identity and the timelessness of love. -

Lizka and Her Men

Lots of books have been written about young women whose beauty and terrible taste in men lead them to withered destitution. A less common story is of a heroine whose insatiable appetite for romantic entanglement becomes a source of discovery rather than shame. For Lizka, a 17-year-old in perestroika-era Russia, one scandal follows the next, with no apologies for the heartbreak she causes, the windows she breaks, and the lovers she leaves behind. What Lizka most values is the future. Her conviction that relationships create opportunities is what makes Ikonnikov's first novel a narrative greater than the sum of its emotional parts. After being chased out of her parent's house in Lopukhov for rumored salacious behavior (she was raped), Lizka moves to a new town, enrolls in school, and works as a yard keeper. She meets her first boyfriend during a short stint in jail and, unsurprisingly, the much older Misha, a notorious gambler, turns out to be a losing proposition. During the next two years, living with a Party official named Victor, Lizka studies to become a typist, earning $100 a month. She abandons Victor for Artur, a trolley bus driver, and then leaves Artur for a poet named Max. None of these men make her happy; finally, Lizka screams, "I want to be alone! I'm going to buy myself a dog!" Soon after, of course, she falls in love with someone new. This preoccupation with dead end romance provides a perfectly skewered backdrop for the swirling chaos of 1989 Russia, when it isn't at all clear what direction the country will take. Ikonnikov's style is marked by a close to the ground quality; as his characters obsess over the future, he keeps them tethered with humdrum tasks and absurdities out of their control. The final chapter is written from the perspective of another of Lizka's paramours, and it's a disappointment to lose her spirited voice. Even at her most vulnerable, she makes decisions without equivocation, knowing that all endings allow room for fresh starts. -

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

Ask an intelligent question, and the universe will respond. This is the fundamental credo of all science. Questions, in the form of experiments, produce answers, in the form of replicable results. But how volubly and usefully nature will speak is a direct function of the elegance and insight manifested by the experimenter. These are the criteria that journalist George Johnson seeks in his passionate and discerning quest to chronicle The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments. With a connoisseur's eye, like some Robert Hughes of the laboratory, he sifts the past four centuries of modern science (after briefly considering the not-insubstantial accomplishments of the Classical era) for boldness of hypothesis, aesthetic arrangement of workbench materials, keenness of interpretation, and importance of results. The surprising assortment of milestone experiments he assembles derive from figures both famous (Galileo, Isaac Newton, Ivan Pavlov) and less well known (Luigi Galvani, James Joule, Robert Millikan). But in each case, Johnson absolutely convinces the reader of the seminal beauty and importance of each man's probe into the unknown. Although each chapter remains a fine independent read -- Johnson's prose is always captivating -- the accounts build on each other, so that a reference to Galileo in the chapter on Victorian scientist A. A. Michaelson brings a sharp burst of recognition at the interconnectedness of all science. Johnson's unstated theme is that of Thomas Kuhn's famous "paradigm shift." In every instance, old ways of thinking (brilliantly articulated by Johnson through inhabiting the antique mind-sets) fall, with no small amount of controversy and bitterness, beneath the new results. Phlogiston, the aether, and vis viva all end up on the rubbish heap, thanks to new worldviews that garner their power from the stunning elegance of their experimental proofs. -

The Man Who Made Lists

Apart from Webster, few people have had more impact on English syntax than Peter Roget. At this very moment, tattered copies of Roget's International Thesaurus are sitting on the desks of thousands of writers, but how many know the story of the man behind the words? In his biography of Roget, Joshua Kendall shows how the indispensible reference book -- which first rolled off British presses in 1852 -- sprang from the mind of an obsessive-compulsive. Modern psychoanalysts would have a field day with Roget's upbringing by a domineering mother and his family history of insanity and suicide. Kendall's biography opens with a dramatic, and very bloody, scene: Roget's uncle commits suicide by slitting his throat, then dies in the arms of Roget, a successful doctor at the time. The account of Roget's life that follows never quite achieves that level of intensity -- though Kendall tries to hold our interest with scenes where he appears to have invented dialogue (or patched it haphazardly from diverse extant sources), with artificial, stilted results. Some of the difficulty might lie with Roget himself, who led a repressed, controlled life. In addition to synonyms and antonyms, his other lists charted his personal life through "Dates of Deaths" and "List of Principal Events." The lifelong annotations provided an emotional haven for the shy, awkward man. "He became a daydreamer who easily got lost in the contents of his own mind," Kendall writes. Creating the thesaurus was "both a moral calling and a welcome distraction from his turbulent inner world." More than a wordsmith, Roget also invented a user-friendly slide rule, had breakthrough discoveries in the science of optics (which Kendall links to the invention of motion pictures), and participated in early experiments with laughing gas. However, his legacy remains the thesaurus, and that impact continues right up to this moment, when someone, somewhere is searching for just the right word. -

Lost Highway

Charged with synopsizing Lost Highway, David Lynch's 1997 near-masterpiece, more than one commentator has turned to topology: the film is a M”bius strip, opening and ending with the Everyman ressentiment of Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), an aging free-jazz saxophonist -- only in David Lynch's Los Angeles! -- who regards his wife, Renee, with equal parts jealousy and revulsion. Renee is found bludgeoned to death, and Fred is convicted of murder; on Death Row, Fred quite literally metamorphosizes into Pete (Balthazar Getty), an apparently unconnected neighborhood tough soon to sink into the seedbeds of Valley porn. Renee (a cloying brunette Patricia Arquette) reemerges as femme fatale Alice (a cloying blonde Patricia Arquette), and the movie accelerates gleefully off the rails. A decade on,
Lost Highway,
available for the first time on DVD, feels more crucial than ever. Released as perhaps Lynch's most mainstream effort -- witness the A-minus-list cast, '90s-metal soundtrack, and Marilyn Manson cameo -- it's since become the M”bius kink in an oeuvre that spans Eraserhead (1977) and Inland Empire (2007), aggressively obscure career bookends seemingly unhinged from all commercial exigencies.
Lost Highway is, in this sense, a most necessary film: it sleekly culminates Lynch's thematic vivisection of midcentury Americana (see Blue Velvet, 1986) and commences a late-period critique (see
Mulholland Drive, 2001) of the Hollywood dream factory itself. Rigorously bound to the formal expectations of a big-budget thriller, it may also, paradoxically, be the purest evocation of that peculiarly Lynchian frisson: that gnawing mathematician's dread that space and time are always twisting irrevocably out of joint. -

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).