by Sven Birkerts
In the absence of constraint, I have decided to do this [recommendation] in casual form, suggesting a few works of fiction that I have found better than very good and which have not, either recently or ever, found the kind of response/acclaim I would have imagined for them.
Let me start with two Canadians. Novels. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, a very witty, well-paced, informative and generally absorbing account of one politicians long career in Newfoundland politics. Sounds deadly, right? But there is a keen ironic edge, a wonderful tormented relationship, and superb writing throughout. Then, just very recently, I read a novel called Summer Gone by David Macfarlane. A moody, atmospherically thrilling (for me) account of one mans life memories unfolding during a canoe trip he takes with his teenage son. The thrill in this one has everything to do with the space-time jumps, the utterly credible ambushes of memory and revelation. A sophisticated stylista book that takes you to the dark heart of summer nostalgias.
Other much enjoyed books of recent provenance: Ward Justs A Dangerous Friend (very Graham Greene-ish, set in Vietnam in the era of the French occupation, quick with moral insight about loyalty to self, place, country, etc. Sharply paced.) David Gates Preston Fallsvery funny about disaffected aging 60s males, just as Francine Proses Blue Angel is deadly good on the hypocrisies of academic life and the choke-hold of p.c. thinking.
How about some under-acknowledged oldies? Italo Svevos Confessions of Zeno (hilarious pre-Portnoy send-up of psychoanalytic process), Max Frischs Im Not Stiller (modern masterpiece of betrayal and the torments of identity), Alejo Carpentiers The Lost Steps (undervalued classic from Latin America), David Maloufs Remembering Babylon (beautiful writeranything by Malouf is good), and finally, because literary friends have been urging him on me relentlessly, Fernando Pessoas The Book of Disquiet. I read five pages and had to admit, grudgingly, of course (not really) that they were absolutely right.
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