Adventures in Reading

Fiction: More Best American Short Stories 2008

Best: x American: ? Short: 12 Story: ?
From The New Yorker, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s “Nawabdin Electrician” is a biographical tale of Nawab, a Pakastani electrician trying to make a living for his large family in the 1970s. Through imaginative cajoling, Nawab talks his employer into giving him a motorcycle, which leads Nawab into both trouble and danger.

Is this American? Is this a story? As it was originally published in The New Yorker, Rushdie counts this as American, which I think is completely appropriate. But more interesting this is the first piece that I had to wonder whether or not it was a “story.” The tale is based off of a family friend of the author, and is based on real happenings. In that sense it’s biographical and nonfiction; it’s also worth considering how much of an author’s own life flourishes in his work. What is fiction if not a reinterpretation of reality?

Best: x American: ? Short: ? Story: x
From Harper’s Magazine, Alice Munro’s “Child’s Play” is an enthralling story of Canadian childhood, children’s experience with disability and otherness, and the dark cruelty that children are capable of.

Dear Alice Munro: Where have you been all of my life? Though this is my first experience with Munro, she is a prolific writer, which I’m looking forward to reading. “Child’s Play” was one of the longer pieces in the collection and deviates from the standard 20ish pages of the rest of the book. In contrast though, Munro had the shortest snippet of commentary out of all the author’s comments.

Best: x American: x Short: 12 Story: x
From The Southern Review, Miroslav Penkov’s “Buying Lenin” is a multi-generational story of an Eastern European grandson moving to the U.S.A. for school and leaving his grandfather behind. What unfolds is a beautiful and amusing dialog between grandfather and grandson, communism and capitalism.

Penkov is a young writer in both age and experience, (Seriously, Munro is a tough one to follow!) but “Buying Lenin” is such a brilliant story and I had one of those lovely and embarrassing moments while reading it as I laughed out loud in a room full of quiet people.


Fiction: Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi

“Secrets are my currency: I deal them for a living. The secrets of desire, of what people really want, and of what they fear the most. The secrets of why love is difficult, sex complicated, living painful and death so close and yet placed far away. Why are pleasure and punishment closely related? How do our bodies speak? Why do we make ourselves ill? Why do you want to fail? Why is pleasure hard to bear?”

I picked up an advanced reader’s copy of Hanif Kureishi’s Something to Tell You on a whim and found myself quite pleased as I became increasingly drawn into the narrative. Jamal, the son of Pakistani immigrants, is a psychoanalyst in London and now at middle-aged with a son and a divorced wife. Jamal has a secret in his past and when he faces a long lost love he’s forced into concern over past actions. In a novel of increasing complexity and layers, Jamal’s life comes to a near absurd stage as his past, present, and future collapse in on each other.

Kureishi’s work is one of the most beautifully textured novels I’ve read in a long time. The author moves back and forth easily through the decades utilizing complex ideas of psychoanalysis, politics, etc. to give his characters a rough edge. Like Nelson Algren’s novels, Something to Tell You is peopled with characters (directors, prostitutes, welfare mothers, and even a visit from Mick Jagger) you won’t always like because they can be mean, vindictive, selfish, and careless. But throughout the book these characters passions and problems provide for rich and stirring reading. In the reader/character relationship you get to become the analyst and watch all of these characters queuing for the figurative couch.

The energetic plot has made me want to pick up Freud and it’s a valuable depth in a book that encourages the reader to expand horizons and in a minor way to step into the text. Kureishi previously published The Buddha of Suburbia and is also has two movies My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.

Some stuff on Kureishi from the Bookninja and another take from Asylum.

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