Dogfish Memory: A Memoir

Joseph Dane probably didn’t know that he was injecting valuable life-blood into the languishing memoir form when he wrote this. He was just trying to come to some kind of peace with the fog of memory; to stake a defiant pose against death and faithlessness and see if he could hold it. Even as he wrote this the readers of the world grew more weary of the form; more skeptical. Everyone with a challenge or a fond memory felt emboldened to fake up a narrative; pretend they actually understood their lives (often from the ripe old vantage point of twenty-five). And here comes Joseph Dane, angry, uncertain, trying (with no sense of heroicism, no nobility, just abject irritation), to either sweep his life clean of half-truths or embrace, once and for all, the ambiguity of hindsight.

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The Girl in the Blue Beret

Stories of the French Resistance have history’s blessing. Impossibly romantic, filled to the brim with courage and selflessness, they rise above the bleak condemnation of human nature that is the predominant legacy of all wars, perhaps especially World War II. We hear them and think there might, there just might, be such a thing as heroes.

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Disaster Was My God

When Bruce Duffy’s debut novel, “The World As I Found It,” based on the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein was published in 1987, the response was almost hysterical. “Dazzling language,” “dizzying speculation,” said the New York Times, “an astonishing performance,” said Newsday, “It is hard to know which is more outsized,” said the Los Angeles Times, “the talent of Bruce Duffy or his nerve.” 

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Down From Cascom Mountain

Ann Joslin Williams’ father, Thomas Williams was born in Minnesota but grew up inand into a citizen of New Hampshire, living there until his death at 63, in 1990, of lung cancer. Almost all of his work is set in New Hampshire, in particular the small fictional town of Leah, in which his best-known novel,  “The Hair of Harold Roux,” is set. Ann Williams was also raised in New Hampshire and now teaches, like her father before her, at the University of New Hampshire. She was a Wallace Stegner fellow and has won many prizes for her shorter fiction. This is her first novel and it is, like the work of her father, steeped in the New Hampshire landscape and the New Hampshire sensibility.

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State of Wonder

If you believe in fate, the novel is the perfect art form, especially big, juicy novels with plenty of plot. After all, plot is fate—characters follow narrative paths like refugees from the land of human will. They do what they’re told (despite writers’ protestations to the ethereal contrary) and in truly satisfying novels they sew up loose ends, reconcile, forgive, fulfill dreams and generally move toward wholeness (as we say on the West Coast) or adulthood (as they say on the East Coast).

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Ten Thousand Saints

“Ten Thousand Saints” is a whirling dervish of a first novel—a planet, a universe, a trip. As wild as that may sound, wonder of wonders, the book is also carefully and lovingly created, taking the reader far into the lives and souls of its characters and bringing them back out again, blinking in the bright light. 

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To Be Sung Underwater

You can often tell where a musician has trained or with whom a painter has learned technique. In the case of European masters (sculptors, painters, printmakers etc.), art historians, looking at a particular work, can trace the lineage to a region, a studio, a teacher. Oenologists, of course, taste the terroir in a wine. It is no different for literature—you get a whiff of McPhee in the descriptive passages here, a bit of Ron Carlson in the mysterious interplay of humans and landscapes there, a smidgeon of Jayne Anne Phillips in the historic context, a taste of Raymond Carver in the curve balls, or Gordon Lish’s tough-love New York workshop-style in the sentence structure or the lack of sentiment.

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Untold Story

Fairy tales are the Euclidian geometry of fiction. Reading them, having them read to us is when we first divide reality. We teach our imagination to leap, hit the ground and keep on running like a happy hobo in the Land of Oz. We leap, children and adults and everything in between carrying that tiny grain of disbelief in the “real” world, in facts, in the things our very own senses tell us must be true. 

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