New Books Report: August 2007

Caspian Rain by Gina B. Nahai

A new novel about a Jewish family in Iran called Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer has been getting some good reviews. I hope there’s room for another novel about Jewish families in Iran this fall, though, because Gina Nahai’s Caspian Rain should not get lost in the shuffle.

Caspian Rain begins with one rich family, one poor one, and two lovestruck kids who cross the socioeconomic lines to marry. Interestingly, the discrimination young Bahar faces as a Jew in Iran is nothing compared to the discrimination she faces as a poor girl marrying into a wealthier family. The wedding party is rife with slights to the bride’s family, and a trip to the best tailor in town for her wedding dress turns into a painful humiliation. It’s not an unfamiliar setup (in any country, in any religion), but Nahai’s plainspoken prose brings out the emotion in the tale.

Continue or not? Yes, I’m intrigued enough to continue reading this book.

Dead Boys by Richard Lange

Richard Lange, an expert author of tough-skinned and realistic stories about people living on the edge, has chosen Los Angeles as his fictional domain. The back cover blurbs compare him to Nathaniel West, Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, and the first story in the book is about a married salesman who loves his wife and slowly faces the realization that his sister is a hopeless drug fiend. Lange clings closer to life’s complex richness than most writers; his characters are never fully likable or unlikable, and even when they have secretly taken up bank robbery as a dirty little habit the details of their lives are so carefully drawn as to make them seem entirely real and three-dimensional.

Lange has a great touch, and if I have any complaint with this book it’s just that the hyperbole of all the quotes on the back cover and frontpaper (by, let’s see, T. C. Boyle, Michael Connelly, Scott Smith, Daniel Woodrell, Chris offutt, Janet Fitch, Scott Wolven, and Anthony Doerr) add up to overkill. One swooning blurb after another sets this book up to be so miraculous that it has a hard time living up to expectations even though the two stories I read were quite good.

Continue or not? Tough call. I enjoyed both stories I read, but I feel I’ve had enough of a first taste of this author for now. I’ll look forward to hearing more about him, though.

The Night Climbers by Ivo Stourton

Like Prep, like The Secret History, Ivo Stourton’s The Night Climbers is unabashedly a collegiate novel. We’re at Cambridge, and a lonesome, self-conscious brainiac is interrupted by an older, wealthier student walking on his roof. The “night climbers” are a group of Cambridge pranksters, and apparently the story gets weird from there.

Continue or not? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll continue. Will this turn out to be great like Donna Tartt’s Secret History, or is it another hype-y Prep? I guess I’ll have to read a few more chapters to find out.

Wall Street Noir edited by Peter Spiegelman

This collection of stories involving denizens of downtown Manhattan’s famed financial district is a nice surprise. My eyes were first caught by a clever little comic, Feeding Frenzy by Tim Broderick, which delivers a smart and completely unexpected payoff. I then turned to a short story by former superstar stock analyst Henry Blodget, a man familiar with the seedier side of Wall Street (he admitted to violating regulations by lying about the values of certain dot-coms during the go-go days). His Bonus Season turns out to be a snappy tale. I still blame Blodget for the paper million I lost in 2000 (it happens I worked for one of the companies whose stock prices he inflated), but I won’t deny that the guy can write a competent short story.

Continue or not? I think I’d rather take a horizontal than a vertical journey through Akashic’s Noir series. I’m impressed enough to persevere with the series, but two Wall Street stories are enough for today.

A Journey into Ireland’s Literary Revival by R. Todd Felton

This illustrated guide to Ireland’s literary golden age (1890’s to 1920’s, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, Sean O’Casey) is rich with information and a pleasure to browse through. There’s Joyce’s River Liffey, of course, but there’s also the wild County Mayo on the Irish coast, where the real life patricide that gave John Millington Synge the idea for Playboy of the Western World took place.

Continue or not? This is a “coffee table book”. I don’t have a coffee table, but I’ll keep it somewhere where it’s easy to grab for a quick browse. Good stuff.

2 Responses

  1. continue or not?I find that I
    continue or not?

    I find that I don’t continue reading a book unless I find it absolutely enchanting. Too old, too tired, too busy to do otherwise.

  2. As for me, Dan, I became much
    As for me, Dan, I became much more selective once I started getting ten review copies in the mail every week.

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