Displaying articles for: October 2010

X'ed Out

When discussing the eerie, enigmatic, and creepy work of master cartoonist Charles Burns, the obvious comparison is to the cinema of David Lynch.  In fact, if you Google the names of the two creators together, you'll get nearly ten thousand shared hits.  And it's true that both artists employ transgressive characters and events, odd juxtapositions, surreal segues, meticulous contemporary naturalism, arcane symbolisms, dream logic, and primal tropes of violence and sex.   But in Burns's newest, X'ed Out—which is the first 56-page installment in a longer tale of indeterminate length—I found myself thinking of earlier models for the type of story Burns seems bent on telling.  Namely, two great fantasists at either end of the Victorian period:  George MacDonald and David Lindsay.

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Toasting the Babies

Mark Twain's half-century as a public speaker can be divided into two very different categories. His organized tours, undertaken to promote a recent book or reprise a trusted lecture, were business ventures, and he grew to hate them. His club and after-dinner talks, delivered for no or little fee, were a type of social theater, offering the sort of spotlight he found irresistible. His talent and stamina for such occasions created a steady flow of invitations, whether to toast dignitaries and tycoons, to enlighten the Little Mother's Aid Association, or the Organization for the Prevention of Unnecessary Noise, or to regale the Stomach Club of Paris or the Yorick Club of Melbourne.

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Fall of Giants

Despite frequent analogies between writers and other crafters—let's choose fine woodworkers as the second half of the equation—we immediately encounter one major difference that renders such comparisons ultimately inutile. 

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Aurorarama

 Aurorarama is a toothsomely sweet serving of Baked Alaska that conceals an anarchist's time bomb inside.  Melding the droll, rococo politesse of Jack Vance with the phantasmagorical realpolitik of China Miéville, Jean-Christophe Valtat conjures up an exotic, polychromatic world too real not to exist somewhere, if only in a luckier, more delirious and glorious universe adjacent to ours.  Exemplifying Italo Calvino's mandate for "lightness" in fiction—Valtat's bold and capricious direct-to-English prose, not translated from his native French, dances across the page like Saki's or Firbank's—while also embodying Mark Helprin's nostalgic moral seriousness—think Winter's Tale on ecstasy—this opening salvo in a snowball cannonade of fantasy promises to attract discerning and sophisticated readers galore, those fans of the fantastical who are tired of second-hand visions and stale conceits.

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Barbs in Boston

Mark Twain's "Old Times on the Mississippi," a series of sketches about his days as a cub river pilot, were published by the Atlantic in seven monthly installments beginning in January, 1875. Though not quite his debut there, the Atlantic sketches are regarded as Twain's entry to the East Coast literary establishment. Immediately pirated by the major newspapers, they also helped consolidate Twain's fame across the U.S., as they did across England when published there in 1877 as Mark Twain's Mississippi.

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

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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.

Pastoral

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).