Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

This evening marks the beginning of the two-day Jewish holiday of Shavuot, the “forgotten festival,” as Michael Carasik describes it at Jewish Ideas Daily. Early the next morning, I am loading my twin eight-year-old sons into the car for a month-long cross-country excursion (California beaches, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon). Despite my better judgment, I have loaded up my Kindle with new novels. I’m traveling light. My blog will be in hibernation for the duration.

In July, when regular book-blogging resumes, you can expect a major announcement about the future and provenance of A Commonplace Blog. Until then, a short summer reading list of recent American and British fiction:

• David Bezmozgis, The Free World (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March). I am not convinced that Bezmozgis is nearly as promising a writer as his publicity would lead you to believe, but his first novel—part of a new wave of immigrant fiction in America—is readable and intrinsically interesting. The inter-generational friction between an old Communist Party official and his son, trained by Western culture to pursue sensual adventure, is nicely done. The Jewish stuff, not so much. A good “case,” though.

• Jim Krusoe, Toward You (Tin House Books, March). For those who read Charles Willeford’s Shark-Infested Custard on my recommendation and liked it, another memorable amoralist with an unforgettable voice. The death of a stray dog leads a man to confront his mistakes (not that he cares).

• Linda Grant, We Had It So Good (Scribner, April). The author of When I Lived in Modern Times returns with her fifth novel. In the same vein as Zoë Heller’s Believers, Grant’s energetically written novel follows the lives of a couple from the Flower Generation as they age into a realistic appraisal of their times.

• Bharati Mukherjee, Miss New India (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May). Mukherjee’s eighth novel is not her best, by any means. (Jasmine [1989] holds that honor.) But her latest returns to the theme that Mukherjee has copyrighted—the bloody cultural crossroads between traditional and new India. Here she takes on the rise of the great Anglophone country to which America “outsources” so many of its customer-service jobs that the very idea has become the source of humor. Mukherjee does not play for laughs, although her touch is light and humorous.

• Francine Prose, My New American Life (Harper Collins, May). Like her fifth novel, Household Saints (1981), her latest is completely foreign to Prose’s personal experience. This time around she tells the story of an Albanian immigrant. Her ventriloquy does not make for her best writing, but anything by Francine Prose is better than almost anything by almost any other American novelist now writing.

Enjoy your summer, everyone! Talk to you again in July.