Pitch-perfect from start to finish.

I DON'T EXPECT ANYONE TO BELIEVE ME

A grad student gets caught up in a world of gangsters.

Villalobos (I’ll Sell You a Dog, 2016, etc.) is known for experimental novels that tangle the absurd with the grotesque, the poignant with the foulmouthed. His latest novel to appear in English might be his best yet. The story follows a Mexican literature student, conveniently named Juan Pablo Villalobos, who travels to Barcelona to work on his dissertation and, by way of his cousin, gets caught up in a world of gangsters and thugs. He has to do what they tell him to do, or else. He finds himself casting his girlfriend aside, pursuing a Catalan lesbian named Laia, and, possibly worst of all, changing his dissertation topic. The narrative alternates between his point of view, his enraged girlfriend’s diary entries, and long, rambling letters from both his now-deceased cousin and his passive-aggressive, guilt-tripping mother, who refers to herself in the third person (“would it have killed you to call her on Christmas Eve?”). Villalobos’ narrative style is so propulsive it’s nearly impossible to stop reading. There’s certainly a mystery—or two or three—buried under all this, but where the red herrings end and the mysteries begin could be anyone’s guess. Along the way, Villalobos has a lot to say about racism, colorism, tensions around immigration, literary theory—oh, and the nature, uses, and limits of humor in literature. This is a hilarious novel, and it’s brilliant and it’s bittersweet, too, in surprising ways. The mixture is uneasy and also just right.

Pitch-perfect from start to finish.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-911508-48-9

Page Count: 356

Publisher: And Other Stories

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

Did you like this book?

more