Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Novel’ Category

The Deer Park by Norman Mailer

In Fiction, Novel on February 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Mailer proves you don’t have to utter a word to lie to a lover. Plenty, however, is said. We are in Desert D’Or, Mailer’s fictional get-away town for Hollywood’s royalty and wash-ups, set in the fifties. The royalty are haughty, the wash-ups are manic-depressive, all are loquacious; they perform the drama of their every-changing minds as if a civic duty.

There is a story here about the red scare and the blacklist, the politics and corruption of movie making. A story, also, of our narrator’s search for identity, written in prose that reads like Somerset Maugham if he’d had Hemingway’s sexuality. (Both get a nod from Mailer.) Yet what’s most interesting, as always, is what happens in the bedroom.

Eager to love and be loved the characters act with a reckless sensuality that is heartbreakingly human. Couples go to bed drunk, make it and profess love undying while instantaneously savoring details of an ongoing affair; or quarrel heinously then, forgiving everything and nothing, convalesce with tender caresses. All the while their internal ambivalences are captured in knuckle-biting clarity, and we see the common lie is that everyone fucks and everyone loves with one foot planted for escape.

-Ryan Kraemer


Lush Life by Richard Price

In Fiction, Novel on December 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Book Punch has enjoyed its collaboration with the students in the creative writing program at Butler University. It’s exciting to end this semester with the book that started Book Punch back in March, 2009. Check out the original punch here.

You’re a slick-talking, cock-walking gangster, aren’t you? Spent time in the joint? No? Shit, we’ll be here all day if we have to. And you may wanna stick around. Richard Price’s novel Lush Life makes your life look like a cakewalk through Blowjob Valley. Reading it won’t make you an expert though—it won’t make you tougher, stand up straighter on the walk back to your car alone at night (just far enough away from the last streetlight). Though authentic and authoritative, this work is only a snapshot of life on the Lower-East-Side. Manhattan, man. Enough exposition and imagery to paint the sidewalk with your brain. Drive past: sex shop, tea shop, synagogue, corner. Boulangerie, bar, hat boutique, corner. Bar, school, bar school, People’s park, corner. You can see it all. You’ll read Lush Life as though it were happening right outside your window, certain you heard gunfire. Always up to no good—never knows best. Deadbolt the door. Even use the latch no one’s touched in God knows how long. Just in case. There’s a world of crime out there and Price is kicking down your door, bringing it right to you à la flambé.

-Eric Ellis

Paper Towns by John Green

In Fiction, Novel, Young Adult Literature on November 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Have you ever driven beneath the electric, orange glow of streetlights in the middle of the night and felt invincible? The openness of the road both comforted and alienated you as you slowly glided to your destination a light-year away. Can you recall the delightful panic that swept over your body when you found yourself somewhere you shouldn’t have been? Words became whispers while footsteps turned treacherous. And you must remember that whirlwind of a person who carved themselves upon your soul yet dissolved at your touch? Such is the story of Q, the well-raised son of two well-raised therapists, who has the (un)fortunate circumstance of living next to Margo Roth Spiegelman. The perfect girl. Just out of reach. Until she the night she climbs through his window and is suddenly tangible. But what happens when the dawn comes and the fairytale ends and the particles which compose her body disperse into the atmosphere? What will be paper, and what will be reality? Paper Towns is a romp through the last few weeks of a high school education. At its center sits Q, a detective in love, hypnotized by an enigma. And with his incredibly colorful friends, he makes the journey to find the town made of paper and the girl who is not.

-Maddie Eckrich

The Motel of the Stars by Karen McElmurray

In Novel on September 30, 2011 at 1:03 am

A lost son. A pained man. A dissolving marriage. Jason Sanderson floats through life like the smoke of a midnight bonfire, a blooming residue of combustion. He is a father haunted by a regret that spills like ink into the fabric of the narrative, staining and seeping through every surface and page. He is eternally coupled with contradiction. Hope and disappointment. Love and emptiness. Truth and meaninglessness. These heavy moments are handled with grace. The plot advances in a slow weary daze reflective of the subject matter. McElmurray deals with grief and the ugliness of misunderstanding in an intimate way, very often giving the reader access to her characters in rich detail. Sanderson’s journey is lonesome. He seeks what every animal must to survive: light. A man searches for the brightness he once had. His love. His starlight. His son. But instead he is left tragically broken in his despair, surrounded by reminders of his past, unable to leave them behind. The novel is filled with raw and earthy imagery: mountains, clouds, lightning, fire, ash, and bones. “Celestial bodies moving one note to the next via the sound of the universe. What word for this sound?” A haunting realization: there is no sound in space.

-Chris Noel

A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living by Michael Dahlie

In Fiction, Novel on June 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

The cold fact is that we do judge a book by its cover. We judge a man by his clothes. We judge a meal by its server. We’re generally cruel and simple and obvious. Good for us. At first, it seems like this title is all wrong—ridiculous—but then, fuck it. It ends up being kind of hilarious and ironic. Demographics and reactions and subtle assumptions. It fits. Arthur Camden is like that friend you’ve had forever, who seems so utterly different from you, and then every once in a while, exactly the same. It’s hard to classify this story—the premise almost seems like comedy: import/export business collapses, wife of 32-years leaves for her teenaged crush. But there’s a lot going on here. Big issues like class and status are dealt with in a really digestible and personal way. There is no guide, obviously—that’s not a riddle—and because of that, we’re free to see the humanity in the fact that we’re all basically the same. Who would any man be without doubt? Who would any man be without going through the steps of self-actualization and coming out with no clear answers, but a life, lived.

-Micah Ling

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

In Fiction, Novel on May 27, 2011 at 12:51 am

Stieg Larsson is a hack. Popular, yes. But compared to Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø, Larsson’s books are mildly entertaining, mostly boring, and completely tedious.

Even in translation The Redbreast is electrifying. It’s a thriller for the mystery novel averse. It’s complex and sophisticated, populated by a rich cast of characters – detective Harry Hole chiefly among them.

What you need to know: In a book not yet available in English, Harry Hole screwed up. He’s haunted and looking for redemption. Instead, he screws up again – accidentally shooting an American Secret Service officer during the President’s trip to Norway. His punishment? A “promotion” out of active duty – a promotion that pulls Harry into an assassination plot reaching back into Norway’s troubled World War II history. Two-faced cops, neo-Nazi thugs, arrogant politicians, and a motley group of Norwegian soldiers shivering on the Eastern Front all orbit Harry as he works to piece it all together.

Many mystery novels fizzle in the third act, but this one escalates with break-neck fury. Forget the dragon tattoo. The Redbreast is tremendous, and waiting behind it is a series upping the ante with every book.

Especially if the last thing you want to read is a mystery.

-Jay Cullis

Kockroach by Tyler Knox

In Fiction, Novel, Novel (Guest Punch by Steven Woods) on March 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Imagine waking one morning to discover that you’re human.  Two legs instead of eight – tough armor replaced with flesh. What do you do? Adapt. Fear and greed remain the two primary drivers of life. Consider whether or not desire for something outweighs the fear of getting it. Consider risk. Now you’re thinking like a cockroach. Learn English from the hustlers, whores and people on the street. Self-preservation is much easier in this world – there isn’t a shoe big enough out there to crush you. And what happens after base needs are met? Back to greed, baby! More. More! MORE! But don’t be fooled, Kockroach is more than kitschy “tip of the hat” to Kafka. It’s a retelling of “the prodigal son”…an exercise in defamiliarization…a sociological commentary on the current state of leadership. Every rise needs a first step. The instinctual life of hiding by day, eating and fucking at night is replaced with societal nuance, posturing and formality – all utterly foreign to the insect you once were. And maybe, it’s not such a big change.

-Steven Woods

Nemesis by Philip Roth

In Novel on October 27, 2010 at 3:14 pm

In Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1940’s, the war is on the back of everyone’s mind; but at the forefront is polio. At center stage is Bucky Canter–a playground director for the (Jewish) neighborhood. As Roth seems to reflect on what it’s like to not know how a disease spreads or what the cure is, it becomes clear that he’s actually articulating the human process of fear. Time and place do not change certain human behaviors–fear is perhaps most constant. Suddenly, when Roth’s characters are talking about polio and where it comes from and how to deal with it, you realize they’re talking about the war, and eventually AIDS and cancer and terrorism. Death and destruction and things we can’t control or understand or stop. Suddenly this is about God, with a capital G, the one we’re so quick to thank when something goes the way we want. But here, when children are fine one day and dead the next, God becomes something to abandon. In the midst of this, Bucky is living his 23-year-old life: leaving the city, chasing a girl. Life goes on in the midst of fear–we find cures, we end wars, we discover something else to be uncertain of.  

Bound by Antonya Nelson

In Novel on October 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm
Wichita, Kansas, like most of the Midwest, doesn’t tend to have a reputation as an especially interesting place: certainly not where people long to escape to. It tends to be thought of as boring, with fairly boring people. Catherine Deplaines grew up there, and did everything she could to add some excitement to her life. She ran around with Misty Mueller–the girl your parents hope you don’t become friends with. Misty lived right near the scene of a serial killer’s latest strike. Catherine and Misty got drunk, tried drugs, stayed up all night. They became good at being bad. Now, Catherine is 40 and married to an older man–Oliver, and Misty is lying dead in her car, having flown off of a snowy Colorado road. As it turns out, in her will, Misty has left her teenaged daughter, Cattie, to Catherine (yes, named after the friend). Also, Oliver is maintaining a relationship with a “sweetheart,” and he’s doing it well. And the serial killer has made a re-appearance. There’s a lot going on here. What’s remarkable is that Nelson makes this all seem pretty normal—pretty easy to relate to. You realize that really, we all just need a “normal” to break free from.

-Micah Ling

Room by Emma Donoghue

In Novel on September 22, 2010 at 11:43 am

In creative writing classes, even early on, one of the firm rules is, no child narrators. It tends to be too difficult to genuinely achieve the right balance between curiosity and inaccuracy in a way that comes off as unique rather than simply annoying. Donoghue pulls it off in a way that changes everything: the way Harper Lee did back in 1960. Jack is five; he and Ma live in an eleven by eleven foot room. The situation isn’t entirely clear, of course, and if it were, the story would be horrific. Every thing in the room is a character; every task of the daily routine an adventure. The circumstances are lovely and creepy at once. Old Nick visits weekly, sometimes several times a week, to bring groceries and necessities. And to do other things. Jack climbs into the wardrobe each night, in case Old Nick stops by; if he doesn’t come, Jack gets to sleep the rest of the night in bed with Ma. Jack counts things: teeth, creeks made by the bed, seconds, everything, even when he doesn’t want to. This story causes discomfort, but in a muted way. This life makes isolation and confinement fully realized.       

-Micah Ling

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