I have just discovered Bernard Malamud's great "Complete Stories," thanks to my senior literature class teacher, Lillian Burton. Everyone has favorites in this collection of 55 stories. Mine are "The Jewbird" and "The Magic Barrel." I love to reread them. Malamud's always on my night stand.
I don't believe in reincarnation, but . . .
If I had not read the book jacket and seen the photograph of the author (an Englishman of Japanese descent), I would have sworn I was holding a book by Franz Kafka. Here was the ambiguous atmosphere, characters who are both believable and unbelievable, a story that shifts from realistic to nonsensical. I refer to "The Unconsoled" by Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of "Remains of the Day."
Written in the first person by the mysterious protagonist Mr. Ryder, the narrative immediately sucks us into a world so fascinating that we never want to extricate ourselves. What city is this man in? What is his mission? Is Sophie his wife or his girlfriend? Is Boris his son or his stepson? You want the answers, urgently.
If there's a better horror novelist than Bentley Little working today, I don't know who it is. "The Store," the new novel by this author from Southern California, is a timely and pertinent book that is frightening, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time.
It tells of Bill Davis, a telecommuting technical writer living happily in a small town with his wife and two teenage daughters. When a chain retail store opens in their community, their idyllic life starts to fall apart. And when the proprietors of other businesses start to die or disappear mysteriously, when the Store begins dictating what people read and wear and listen to by the choices it offers consumers, and when his own daughters begin working for the Store, Bill realizes that something evil is afoot and that he has to do something to stop it.
Little tells a terrifyingly allegorical tale of the corporate-merging '90s, when big conglomerates ruthlessly put independent entrepreneurs out of business. He excels at well-crafted menace, and his writing is so visual, his characters so likable and believable, that you can clearly see in your mind everything that occurs. Like "The Exorcist" before it, this is one adult horror novel that would make a powerful movie. Sophisticated, sharp, scary and satiric, "The Store" is a perfect summer read.
"The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn" by Robin Maxwell is one of the most extraordinary pieces of historical fiction I have ever read. Unlike so many of this type of book, it is a page-turner, bringing the characters of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and their daughter, Elizabeth I, vividly to life, and adding a unique twist to an often-told story.
I could not leave the presence of this work and was so enthralled by it that I shared it with my students. I now have a turned-on history class! The Tudor period has come to life in the 'hood!
Sheenway School and
"Every day of my life," says Cleo, "I have traveled to the unknown, and have often found welcome and astonishment there." That's exactly what I found when I picked up Jean Brody's novel "Cleo" and began to share the protagonist's serendipitous journey.
Cleo is born in 1912 in Oklahoma. At 15, she craves to go not just beyond the garden gate but all the way to Lhasa. She leaves home with the egg money, her trumpet and a heart full of lust. "The way to contain the itch in the privates," she says, "is to cultivate the itch in the brain."
It's a circuitous trip to Lhasa, one that looks as though it might take a lifetime. Cleo's sense of humor keeps her moving on. She falls once in love, once in lust, bears two children and survives tragedy. Back in Oklahoma, she begins to recover, then moves on to Los Angeles to find even more trouble, which for Cleo has become synonymous with passion.
In the end, she finds that life never loses its power to astonish. Make the journey with Cleo and things will look different when you get back home.
* What's that book in your beach bag (or carry-on, or on your night table)? Is it any good? Send us a review! We're especially interested in hearing about fiction that you don't find reviewed in The Times, but feel free to send us your opinions of whatever it is you are reading. Keep the reviews short (200 words, tops) and send them (with your phone number) to READERS REVIEWS, Life and Style, The Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles CA 90053, or fax them to (213) 237-0732. We'll print the most interesting ones every month. Sorry, but no submissions can be returned.
Next week: Cathy Curtis on art books.