With Your Crooked Heart

With Your Crooked Heart Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802137708
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Published: Grove Press - January 2nd, 2001

British novelist and poet Helen Dunmore has acquired a devoted, even passionate, following among Northshire area readers for her novels Talking to the Dead and Your Blue-Eyed Boy. In her latest work,With Your Crooked Heart, she once again displays her trademark seductiveness and her keenly observant eye for telling detail. Dunmore's prose is rich and incisive, with a dreamlike, off-kilter intensity. Her characters are complex, and, though not necessarily admirable, invariably fascinating. The reader becomes equal parts clinical observer and guilty voyeur as the lives of these people unfold -- or fold, as the case may be. It is an intoxicating combination. 

With Your Crooked Heart is a kind of civil and uncivil war played out on the battlefield of a complex thermonuclear family. Louise is the once-beautiful, now slowly going-to-seed alcoholic ex-wife of Paul, an entrepreneur who has made a fortune developing contaminated land. In addition to having custody of his young daughter, Anna, due to Louise's problems, he spends a great deal of his time, money, and effort keeping his brother, Johnnie, out of trouble. 

Paul, however, is not being considered for sainthood by anyone. 

There are lingering questions that mercilessly haunt this multi-dysfunctional clan. Who is Anna's real father? Why does Johnnie have a natural self-destruct button implanted in his soul that threatens to bring down those he loves as quickly as those he does not? Is there any hope at all for a child entangled in this emotional underbrush? 

At this stage, readers unfamiliar with Dunmore's work may be inclined to turn away from this page feeling that an overdose of pathos is the last thing they need. If this were a mystery novel, the mystery would not be who killed whom, but how do they avoid killing each other and/or themselves. What separates Dunmore's work from mainstream emotional dystopian fiction, however, is the sheer power of her voice. Her narrator's tend to be wounded and moody, but also intelligent, cynical, and as sharply observant as their creator. 

Simply put, Helen Dunmore is a good read. 

Although only three of her books have been published in the U.S., Dunmore has written five novels as well as poetry and short story collections. In 1996, her novel A Spell of Winter won the first annual Orange Prize for an English-language novel written by a woman. ~ Reviewed by Bob Gray

The Ladies' Man

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The Ladies' Man (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375707315
Availability: Special Order
Published: Vintage - May 9th, 2000

"The Inn at lake Devine" is the only one of Elinor Lipman's novels to be set in Vermont, but we offer her honorary Vermonter status based upon her association with Bennington College's writing program and her visits to the bookstore. Lipman's work is suffused with intelligence, humor, and a keenly felt and realized perception of human strength and frailty. She is, in other words, a good read. ~ Reviewed by Bob Gray


Cosmopolis: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780743244251
Availability: Special Order
Published: Scribner - April 6th, 2004

"Time is the only narrative that matters," wrote Don DeLillo in The Body Artist, and in his new novel,Cosmopolis, which takes place over the course of a single, almost surreal, day, the author proves his theory. He also shows that time is utterly relative, elastic at one moment and condensed at another, and he illustrates this concept by creating a protagonist for whom time is, literally and figuratively, running out ("Nothing existed around him. There was only the noise in his head, the mind in time.")

Imagine this: Eric Packer, an incredibly wealthy New Yorker, sets off on a limousine odyssey along 47th St., voyaging from his East Side, forty-eight-room penthouse triplex apartment to the barbershop of his childhood years near Tenth Avenue ("He didn't know what he wanted. Then he knew. He wanted to get a haircut.").

Sounds simple enough, but of course this is DeLillo territory, which means that a presumably straightforward limo trip turns into what can only be described as post-apocalyptic novel set in everyday manic Manhattan. As the trip becomes more and more extraordinary, and, eventually, more dangerous, we observe Eric's precipitous and apparently longed-for fall from the sky, a globally influential Icarus plunging almost suicidally into a sea of urban blood and chaos.

DeLillo inches his readers forward through the dense city traffic (the crosstown trek, avec ou sans limo, can sometimes feel this long in real life, so it's not hard to imagine. "You will hit traffic that speaks in quarter inches," Eric's driver says. "Barriers will be set up....Entire streets deleted from the map."). The car is stalled again and again by everything from a presidential motorcade to a funeral procession for a Sufi rap star to a frenzied globalization protest. As the limo creeps along like some kind of asphalt canal barge, Eric moves in and out of it at will, going about his day as if this were the only logical way to live in such a place and at such a time. Inside the car, he holds meetings with employees like his chief of technology and his currency analyst, and submits to his daily complete physical exam by his personal doctor. Outside, he has breakfast with Elise, his wife of twenty-eight days, followed by sex with the woman who acquires his art works (He's only half-joking when he tries to convince her to help him buy the Rothko Chapel in Houston), followed by another accidental meeting with Elise further along 47th Street. They have lunch, then it's back inside the limo again for a meeting with his enigmatic chief of theory, Vija Kinski ("Money has lost its narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to itself.").

As the globalization protest heats up in tandem with an apparent threat on Eric's life, the novel darkens and intensifies, its atmosphere becoming almost as anarchic as the anarchists on the streets would like it to be.

It is intriguing, and logical, that DeLillo dedicates Cosmopolis to Paul Auster, since the reminds me of Auster's novel In the Country of Last Things, which contains a sentence I committed to memory long ago because it so perfectly summed up my own approach to living in this world (Auster describes a character as having a "pessimism so deep, so devastating, so fully in tune with the facts, that it actually made him cheerful").

Certain lines in Cosmopolis still resonate for me:
"He liked spare poems sited minutely in white space, ranks of alphabetic strokes burnt into paper."
"The street was an offense to the truth of the future."
"He liked paintings that his guests did not know how to look at."
"The noblest thing, a bridge across a river, with the sun beginning to roar behind it."
"What did he want that was not posthumous."

That last line is from a paragraph near the end of the novel, when Eric ponders life after wealth as he sees that gambling his fortune against the value of the Japanese yen will fail. ("Maybe he didn�t want that life after all, starting over broke, hailing a cab in a busy intersection filled with jockeying junior executives, arms aloft, bodies smartly spinning to cover every compass point.") How can you resist those junior executives, spinning like dervishes for yellow cabs?

I'll read Cosmopolis again because I'm sure I missed much the first time through. The story line is deceptively straightforward, a thin layer of icy prose barely concealing vertiginous depths of emotion and intelligence. The art, literature, and music references are ubiquitous (everything from Eric Satie's piano music playing in Eric's personal elevator to spectral intimations of mortality out of Dickens's Xmas Carol to Bruegel's silently plunging Icarus (with a mischievous spin, given the global financial havoc Packer is wreaking, on Auden's lines "About suffering they were never wrong...")), but always laid in like seasoning rather than on like heavy sauce. The story transcends all the usual showoffy cultural hyperreferencing (see anything by McSweeney's crowd) to stalk bigger game.

If I have any quibble with the novel, it is that not for a moment did I believe the protagonist was twenty-eight years old. Though the narrative is told in third-person, it is an intimate third, and the world-weariness, cynicism, and fatalism seem much more in tune with its middle-aged author than his character. This is a significant shortcoming, though not so significant as to tarnish my overall positive reaction to the book. I had not read DeLillo before Cosmopolis, but have since read Underworld andThe Body Artist, and I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know what I was missing. DeLillo's narrative voice is confident and often lyrical. As I read him, I kept thinking of the way painters use color - a touch here, a flick there - to make the world come alive on canvas. DeLillo has that touch, that sense of what to say and what to leave out. He writes as if he knew that his readers were intelligent enough to read him. ~ Reviewed by Bob Gray

Zeno's Conscience

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Zeno's Conscience: A Novel (Vintage International) Cover Image
By Italo Svevo, William Weaver (Translated by), Elizabeth Hardwick (Preface by)
ISBN: 9780375727764
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - February 4th, 2003

A fresh, irresistible new translation of a classic novel that is as mischievous as it is entertaining, as intelligent as it is idiosyncratic. I've never read anything quite like it.  ~ Reviewed by Bob Gray


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Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385318228
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Delta - April 7th, 1997

Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire is an extraordinary novel. Because its focuses on tradition and family and, in particular, the relationship between mother and daughter, the novel transcends its subject matter and aspires to a universal message. An excellent reading group choice, this book is written in the form of letter from a mother in Zimbabwe to her daughter, a student at Harvard University. The mother hopes in these pages to give her daughter, who has so many possibilities before her, some sense of where she comes from, of "the lyrical, the romantic, and the tragic that have shaped us as Africans." ~ Reviewed by Bob Gray

The English Patient

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The English Patient (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679745204
Availability: Click Title for IN STOCK Location
Published: Vintage - November 30th, 1993

This is one of the best novels I have ever read. Beautifully crafted, lyrical, and multilayered, it is a story that will haunt you long after you've finished reading. And if you haven't read it for a few years, read it again. ~ Reviewed by Bob Gray


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