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'Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel' conjures a new literary form

It's tempting to frame Anya Ulinich's "Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel" in terms of its antecedents: Bernard Malamud and Anton Chekhov, on the one hand, both of whom are referenced in the narrative, and on the other, graphic novelists such as Marjane Satrapi and Harvey Pekar, whose work is rich,...

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  • In 'White Beech,' Germaine Greer finds a forest with a view
    In 'White Beech,' Germaine Greer finds a forest with a view

    Like the rain forest it describes, Germaine Greer's 'White Beech' can be dense, less a memoir than a piece of natural and cultural history, but that sense of engagement is also one of its charms.

  • Edouard Levé's 'Works' is charged with wit and wonder
    Edouard Levé's 'Works' is charged with wit and wonder

    Edouard Levé's 'Works' is a slim volume of big ideas for artwork across a wide range of media. It's the least autobiographical of the prankster's books; nevertheless, a portrait of the artist emerges.

  • 'The Hundred-Year House' a juicy, gothic tale of art and love
    'The Hundred-Year House' a juicy, gothic tale of art and love

    "The Hundred Year House" is a big-hearted gothic novel, an intergenerational mystery, a story of heartbreak and a romance, all crammed into one grand Midwestern estate. Laurelfield, as it's called, has gone from family home to artist colony and back again. The people who stay...

  • 'Song of the Shank' gives poetic voice to a unique American musician
    'Song of the Shank' gives poetic voice to a unique American musician

    "Song of the Shank," Jeffery Renard Allen's epic and brilliant new novel about slavery and musical genius, is not an easy book to read. There is, for starters, the book's odd and sometimes confounding protagonist, based on a real man who is most often referred to in...

  • Bob Stanley's 'Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!' is crazy in love with pop music
    Bob Stanley's 'Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!' is crazy in love with pop music

    In 1954, Bill Haley shook, rattled and rolled. In 2003, Beyoncé went crazy in love. That's two pop stars, among the biggest of their time, using similar language (and similar grooves) to describe more or less the same thing.

  • A grave new world awaits in Edan Lepucki's 'California'
    A grave new world awaits in Edan Lepucki's 'California'

    In Edan Lepucki's debut novel, "California," young married couple Frida and Cal must navigate a post-apocalyptic landscape in a broken-down near-future. Lepucki focuses on the complexities of basic human emotions, testing allegiances and letting secrets unravel even the most...

  • Alex Tizon sizes up his masculinity in memoir 'Big Little Man'
    Alex Tizon sizes up his masculinity in memoir 'Big Little Man'

    You have to wait until the eighth chapter of Alex Tizon's remarkable memoir, "Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self," for confirmation that his title is the reference you've been hoping it isn't and fearing it is. All of the book has been leading up to this big...

  • 'West of the Revolution' charts the 1776 American frontier
    'West of the Revolution' charts the 1776 American frontier

    As America's founders gathered in Philadelphia in 1776, two Franciscans named Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Francisco Silvestre Velez de Escalante began a journey west from Santa Fe, N.M., hoping to find a way to the Pacific Coast. Negotiating with Native Americans and faltering over...

  • 'Liberty's Torch' reveals a statue with a storied past
    'Liberty's Torch' reveals a statue with a storied past

    Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is an all-but-forgotten figure in American history. He was, however, responsible for one of the most enduring symbols of the United States: the Statue of Liberty. A Frenchman from Alsace, he conceived, designed, sold and persisted until Liberty stood on...

  • Mixed verdict on Supreme Court in 'Uncertain Justice,' 'Court of One'
    Mixed verdict on Supreme Court in 'Uncertain Justice,' 'Court of One'

    The U.S. Supreme Court is majestic, immensely powerful and deceptively fragile. It commands by the power of reason, and its justices are, as the great Robert Jackson once observed, not "final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final." And yet...

  • 'The Quick' taps a tired vampire vein in gothic lit
    'The Quick' taps a tired vampire vein in gothic lit

    Vampires have become so prevalent in fiction and film that it's increasingly difficult to wring any new changes on such a hoary supernatural trope. A few recent writers have successfully risen to the challenge — among them the Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist with "Let the Right...

  • J.D. Salinger fascination drives two new books
    J.D. Salinger fascination drives two new books

    The famously reclusive J.D. Salinger wouldn't allow himself to be known. And yet assorted authors continue to probe his life. Inevitably, they are forced to reiterate the same few scattered facts other scribes have pored over before. That's the fate Thomas Beller tries to avoid,...

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