Monday, August 27, 2007

The Savage Quiet September Sun

It's hard to believe that the sixth anniversary of 9/11 is just about upon us. For the survivors or those who lost loved ones, it must still seem like yesterday. The world of film and literature has had a few big-name entries that deal with the subject: Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, Adam Sandler's Reign Over Me were recent films, and Don DeLillo's new novel Falling Man, which got a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

But there is also a smaller book on the subject, a collection of twelve stories written by New Yorker Victor Lana. Lana's bio says that he "lost a family member and friends on 9/11" and you can tell by the honesty of the writing how much it hit home. Lana's characters deal with 9/11 and its aftermath: the confusion, anger, grief, guilt, paranoia, and overall coping that were results of the tragedy. I don't know how autobiographic some of the stories are, but it must have been cathartic for him to write these tales.

Some of the highlights for me: In "Nisa," a divorced man's new friendship with a young Middle Eastern woman prevents him from slipping into an all too easy prejudice against Arabs, and helps him realize what's important in his life. In "Dust to Dust," a seemingly harmless office prank has serious repercussions for several of the people involved. "From the North Tower to Eternity" has a still disgruntled ex-worker show up in his former boss's office on the morning of 9/11 with the intent to kill him. But fate has other ideas. In "Our Flag Was Still There" a man who co-owns several beach cottages in Long Island with his brother is convinced the three men who rented one of the cottages are terrorists. No one, including his brother, believes him. So he takes matters into his own hands.

This book is available on Amazon. New Yorkers also can pick it up at New Voices Bookstore, located in the East Village in Manhattan.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Deford Hits a Dinger

Technically, and according to the subtitle ("A Tale of Modern Baseball"), The Entitled is a baseball novel. But calling this just a baseball novel is like saying The Road is just a post-apocalypse novel. There is so much more to it. It's literature.

The lead character of The Entitled is an old-school lifetime minor leaguer, Howie Traveler, who finally gets his shot to manage in the big leagues with the Cleveland Indians. His lifelong dream is compromised, though, when he catches his star player Jay Alcazar (possibly) raping a woman. Now Howie has a moral dilemma. Does he protect his player and his job, or does he come out against the player and jeopordize his career in the process?

This is also the story of Alcazar. It would have been easy to have him be a cartoon character, the selfish, "entitled" superstar modern ballplayer. But Deford gives him a complex character, too, and there is a nifty subplot with Alcazar returning to Cuba to locate family that was left behind when his parents escaped with the infant Jay.

Deford does an excellent job of mixing up the chapters, changing the POV, and feeding the reader the background on the individual characters in a non-linear fashion. And Deford's baseball knowledge and observations are spot-on. You can understand what he's saying, and the nuances of baseball even if you are not a fan. That is the beauty and the art of his writing.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Be Cool

American Cool is a fantastic collection of Susan DiPlacido's best short stories. Many of these stories have appeared in other noted publications, such as the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 6, Caramel Flava, and Rebellion: New Voices of Fiction. But to have them all together in one volume is a very special treat. ("I, Candy" won the Spirit Award at the 2005 Moondance Film Festival, and "Bloodlines" was nominated for a 2008 Pushcart Prize award.)

DiPlacido's writing is fast, fun, sexy, and humorous. The stories just fly by as you read them, and before you know it you've started another one. From the bright lights of Vegas in "Neon Nights" and "Shuffle Up (And Deal) to the dusty desert of "Coyote Blues" to the softball fields of "Like a Girl" to the romance of Italy in "Found in Translation," DiPlacido plops you right into the lives of her characters, into their heads, lets you eavesdrop on their lively conversations, their jokes, their wants and disappointments. Whenever I finish a DiPlacido book I feel like I've said goodbye to some close friends.

One last thing—this book has a very fitting cover! I felt cool reading it on the train. Be cool too and get this book.


Don't forget to read an interview with Susan here.