Johns Hopkins, $15.75
When asked where he would like to be, Stuart Goodpasture, cleaning houses on the Vineyard for the summer, answers, "Beyond irony." A reasonable request if your mother's affair with a navy pilot may prove that you are in love with your half-sister, or if you and your siblings are suing your father because he has stolen your inheritances to finance the "Tree of Life Ministries." In this novel-in-nine-stories, Chenoweth employs multi-viewpoints that create, at times, an imbalance in his storytelling. But Stuart Goodpasture is the central narrator, dominating six out of the nine stories, and his voice shines. Struggling with his identity—ashamed of his "fiscal pipsqueakery," and the loss of his third job in two years—Stuart must "get out of these backwaters and reach the great wide ocean of the truth—silly as that may sound." Revisiting the half-heard conversations of his childhood with compassionate clear-sightedness and wit, he tries to reconcile the discrepancy between appearances and reality, between his Arcadian past and the conflicts plaguing him and his family in the present. While he does not escape irony completely, Stuart discovers a more puzzling and promising future, which he claims full responsibility for and commands.
-Terence P. Mickey
A Strange and Sublime Address, the first novel in this collection by Amit Chaudhuri, propels the reader into the world of Calcutta, India, where the main character has arrived, once again, to spend summer vacation with his family. Like most children, he is enthralled with the magic of the everyday, and Chaudhuri brings this sense of wonder to life with his unusual, almost musical, literary style. Through innovative metaphors and images, he brings the simplest aspects of life-a bath, a drive, an illness—to a new, level. In the second novel, Afternoon Raag, Chaudhuri moves from third—person to first, detailing the life of a young student at Oxford, entranced by music, and enraptured by dreamlike memories from his childhood. The reader is constantly shown what it means to be in a foreign land, the curious and lonely character of student life, and the relations—with lovers as well as friends—that one has at that stage. Once again, Chaudhuri displays his insight into human nature, though here his style is more refined, weaving these observations more smoothly and naturally into his text. The form of the novel is constant motion: just as a raag is constantly flowing, with different features blending together, so too is this text. Memories of his life at home in North India are intermingled with the protagonist's current scene at university. The glue for all is precisely the music alluded to in the title. The raags provide a link to a different time and place, which is at once so different from England, yet connected still to it. Freedom Song, the final selection, centers on the lives of two Calcutta families, linked by a brother and sister. Through a backdrop of religious conflict and political change, Chaudhuri depicts the quintessential moments of daily life, along with the big questions of growing up and growing old. The stories of the characters—some leading ordinary lives, others controversial ones—are interwoven throughout, though at times the shifts seem a bit too abrupt. Nonetheless, Chaudhuri uses his talent for the written word to bring these characters to life, and create a vivid picture of postcolonial India.
The Daiquiri Girls
University of Massachusetts, $24.95
We aren't to believe Victoria's father, for whom the daiquiri is "what a lady should drink": mercifully, ladylike behavior is of little interest to the four swilling, libidinous women who take turns holding court in these 16 smart, funny tales of transition and vice. Recently widowed Jane, who notes that the neighborhood has "gone gay" and that street people "are not called bums anymore," finds solace under her bed. Magda, divorced and awaiting a hysterectomy, never thought she would become "the kind of woman who has to take a taxi to the hospital." Zoë finally stops sleeping with her ex, who wears earplugs to bed so he won't have to listen to her say "I love you." And Victoria, tales of whose floundering marriage comprise half of this collection, falls in extramarital love with Phillip because "[n]aturally vicious myself, I admire his restraint." These women are all wildly engaging, but occasionally their self-absorption is tiresome, their unblinkered addiction to men troubling. The brilliant "Endings," a taut, episodic litany of possible outcomes of Victoria's infidelity, is the collection's finest ante because, like the reader, Victoria grasps the absurdity of her mania: in her fantasy, she and Phillip "are so in love they forget how stupid it is to have babies."
Threads of Time
Peter Brook is one of the truly visionary directors of our time. His productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, Marat/Sade, and the Mahabharata provocatively changed the face of contemporary performance. Brook's autobiography, Threads of Time, vividly captures a life of travel and theater, without veering off into the quasi-philosophical domain of such earlier works as The Empty Space and The Open Door. With every recollection of the past, there is a keen sense of a writer engaging with himself not only as a professional, but as a person. Returning throughout to his love of the cinema, this movie director manqué nonchalantly slips in and out of the events of his life, relishing his mistakes as well as his triumphs. Matching stylish poise with vague irreverence, Brook takes us on a theatrical journey around the world. Pausing in 1950s Germany, Brook recalls the unwieldy grace of Berliner Ensemble rehearsals under Brecht, before moving to Paris to reprimand actress Jeanne Moreau for tardiness and enlist Salvador Dali's designing expertise. Influenced by the mystic ritual of Africa and Asia, and by contemporary occidental culture, Brook's autobiography paints as much a picture of its author as it creates a sense of the intercultural face of late-twentieth-century theater.