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For a moment or two during the first flurry of working on this new story I’m wrangling, I thought, “is this a novel?” Reading Gob’s Grief concurrently to writing this thing, I realized pretty fast that no, no it is not. Gob’s Grief is a NOVEL. It’s three hundred and fifty pages long, is set against the aftermath of the Civil War and has WALT WHITMAN as a protagonist. And Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Caflin as antagonists. There is a five story machine meant to make death obsolete and a mystical child sprung from the aborted fetus of a real-life adulterous couple. There is Lincoln’s hat and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a big, big piece of work.

My favorite section of Gob’s Grief was the first, in which the title character’s eleven year old twin brother, Tomo (these sons are fictional–Victoria Woodhull had only one in reality and he is neither of these) runs off to join the Civil War as a bugler. Gob balks at the last minute so Tomo is alone. Read the rest of this entry »

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As I say every August, I can hardly believe another year has gone by. As I scroll through the books I’ve read and written about this year, there have been some real gems. We the Animals! Buddha in the Attic! Sweet Talk! 

I also read all of Tayari Jones’s books, so I was excited to see her read last week in Brooklyn. Excited enough, in fact, that I sat in an extraordinarily crowded, sweltering bar through three readings and a break that stretched nearly forty minutes long waiting for her turn. She assumed the microphone with her usual warmth and humor (when she stumbled over her words early in her passage, she said that the problem with reading late is that you’ve been having cocktails the whole evening…) and read a chapter from her latest, Silver Sparrow, which is my favorite of her books. I was sitting at a table with strangers who had never heard of her; after she read, they were all fans.

She wasn’t the only reason I stuck out that reading, though–Victor LaValle closed out the evening and I was eager to see him, too. He wasn’t on my radar before a few weeks ago, which is a little shocking / embarrassing because he’s a pretty successful writer from QUEENS. Read the rest of this entry »

If I hadn’t read this book on a Kindle, I know what I would do with it. I’d get a knife and cut out the three brilliant stories and rebind them into a new volume I’d keep for a long time. I’d recycle the other five stories.

Two of the three wonderful stories were ones I’d read before, either in the New Yorker or anthologized. The first is the title story, which to me, is the best of the bunch: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.” Read the rest of this entry »