CategoryReviews

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND — Rumaan Alam

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I eagerly awaited my opportunity to read LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND, by Rumaan Alam, a novel that has received a lot of attention and hype this season. I have mixed feelings. First, what I really liked. Some of the writing is stellar, the novel moves briskly along, and it clocks in at a trim, bloat-free 241 pages. The premise itself is powerful and promising: a white Brooklyn family heads out to the...

A PALE VIEW OF THE HILLS–Kazuo Ishiguro

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Delicate, elegiac, mysterious, haunting. If those words describe the kind of novel you like, A PALE VIEW OF THE HILLS is for you. It’s on my list of The Most Important Novels in My Life, which I’ve been revisiting during the coronavirus pandemic, and a recent rereading of Ishiguro’s first novel reminds me that it belongs. I first came to this novel in 1993, while I was working on a...

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

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I love the opportunity to read a novel and see the film adaptation in a back to back sequence. This was the case with The Queen’s Gambit, which I thank Owen for bringing to my attention. This novel, written in 1983 by Walter Tevis (The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth), centers around Beth Harmon, a young female chess prodigy who is orphaned, discovers her talent at chess by playing the janitor...

CULTS: The Girls, a novel, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, a film

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Sometimes I do a two-for-one, packaging a thematically-linked novel and film review, such as the novel The Revenant and the film 1917. Today’s theme is cults, which I’ve become interested in recently, although I have no interest in joining or starting one. The two works of art: The Girls, by Emma Cline (2016), and Martha Marcy May Marlene, written and directed by Sean Durkin (2011). Apparently...

A FAREWELL TO ARMS: Ernest Hemingway

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I first read A FAREWELL TO ARMS many years ago when I was going through what the narrator, Frederic Henry, is going through in the novel: not the part about the war on the Italian front, but the experience of great love. This personal experience of love surely colored my impressions of the novel, yet its standing as one of the Most Important Novels in My Life remains assured. If you can...

Tim O’Brien and Facing the “Moral Emergency”

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During the pandemic, I’ve compiled a list of the “The Most Important Novels in My Life,” then started re-reading to see if they maintained their esteem over time. Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” made my list for its haunting narrative of the author’s Vietnam experience and its structure as a series of connected stories. The piece I remember the most, and still cuts me every time I read...

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, Milan Kundera

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What was once light, has now become heavy. I’m continuing to reread from the list of The Most Important Novels in My Life. I just finished THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, by Milan Kundera. This novel was published in English in the mid-eighties when I was just starting out as a writer. I wrote and read voraciously and when I discovered Kundera’s unique, philosophical novel I was, to put it...

THE NICKEL BOYS, Colson Whitehead

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I’ve taken it upon myself to participate in Black Lives Matter. I’ve attended a BLM protest, explored my own experience with racism, made financial contributions, and tried to become more educated and empathetic to the systemic plight of Black Americans. Within this context, I read Colson Whitehead’s THE NICKEL BOYS with high expectations. First, there was the high standard that any Pulitzer...

THE EXORCIST, William Peter Blatty

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I first read THE EXORCIST when I was still in high school, late at night, in bed. One more chapter before turning out the light. It was sometime before the movie came out, because I was able to frame my own images and let my imagination take over, and not see only Linda Blair. This might be the original paperback version. Like everyone else, I sped through the novel. I can’t say I remembered...

LEGENDS OF THE FALL, Jim Harrison

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I’m only going to write about one of the three novellas in this collection, “The Man Who Gave Up His Name.” The other two, “Revenge” and “Legends of the Fall,” are worthy, but neither impacted me the way “The Man” did. I first came to this novella (89 pages) years ago when I was still in my twenties and starting out as a writer. It was...

SMILES ON WASHINGTON SQUARE, Raymond Federman

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In 1985 I went to the University of Buffalo to finish my graduate degree in creative writing. Raymond Federman headed up the program and that year “Smiles on Washington Square” was published. This novel was my introduction to metafiction, or experimental fiction, or whatever you want to call it–and I was blown away. My world expanded. The definition of a novel expanded...

THE HOURS, Michael Cunningham

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In my first graduate fiction writing workshop, I submitted a story called “Landscaping.” It was about a woman who lives largely inside her head and her stream-of-conscious voice narrates the day that a landscaper comes to her house to plant a garden. The professor asked the class, “Who’s writing does this remind you of?” Immediately someone responded, Virginia Woolf. I said, “Who’s she?” I was...

THE PLAGUE, Albert Camus

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No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all. I probably would not have chosen to read “the Plague” if we were not in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic and had I not found the novel on a bookshelf. But it seemed an appropriate read, tucked between my rereading of the most important novels in my life. I had just...

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, John Irving

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During the period of COVID-19, I’ve been re-reading novels from a list of twenty-five of The Most Important Novels in My Life. Next up: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Published in 1978, when I was in college, the first time I attempted to read Garp I put it down. A few years later I started reading it again, and this time I couldn’t put it down. What changed? Sometimes you’re just...

THE ACCOMPLICES, Georges Simenon

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I recently made a list of the 25 most important novels in my life and have been rereading them to see how well they’ve stood the test of time. I had included this short, harrowing crime novel on my original list. I must have first read it when I was a teenager or in my early twenties, and the impression it made on me was indelible. The novel’s protagonist — Joseph Lambert, a...

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

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