“Any writer who attempts comedy has considered the maxim, ‘Being funny is never enough.’ They have, likewise, considered the corollary, ‘Until it is.’ As a writer, you can be funny enough—accepting the innate subjectivity of humor—that little to nothing else matters. You can make your reader forget holes in character, plot, and story by achieving the comic writer’s Holy Grail of making them laugh again and again.
But simply being funny isn’t enough for literary comedy (or its subcategories satire and black comedy). The balance between comic and serious is crucial in literary comedy. Stray too far in either direction and you fail, becoming simplistic on one hand, boring on the other. While a perfect balance is admittedly impossible, never mind a matter of taste, Leland Cheuk does an admirable job in his latest, No Good Very Bad Asian, achieving a true synthesis of heart and humor highlighted by the fluidity of his first-person voice and a steady diet of sharp turns of prose.”
Read the rest at The Brooklyn Rail.
Beatty’s everything men try to reclaim their oppression and the result is a breakthrough
Few novelists write characters as improbably multitudinous as Paul Beatty. In The White Boy Shuffle, Gunnar Kaufman is a poet, a basketball player, and a messiah. In Tuff, Tuffy Foshay is a drug-slinger, a competitive eater, a sumo-wrestling enthusiast, and a candidate for city council. In Slumberland, Ferguson “DJ Darky” Sowell is a sax player, a jukebox sommelier, a porn film composer, and an expat. Beatty’s men are everything men – Renaissance dudes in protest of a world that forces them to be defined by their race.
In Beatty’s fourth novel The Sellout, the titular protagonist is a farmer, an ostrich-breeder, a weed dealer, and ultimately a self-made social scientist. He’s known only as “The Sellout,” because he is derided as such by his late father’s friends, who congregate in a Dum Dum Donut in Dickens, California, a fictional Los Angeles town modeled after Compton. Dickens is about to be wiped off the map by real estate moguls to prop the property values of the surrounding areas. After the signs welcoming people in and out of Dickens are removed, The Sellout decides to help put the town back on the map. Like his father, who subjected his son to race experiments that included painting Barbie black so he wouldn’t prefer white women, The Sellout begins conducting race experiments of his own.
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Charles Bock’s cancer novel is at its best when it’s not about Alice or Oliver
It would be easy to characterize Charles Bock’s Alice and Oliver as just another cancer novel. The book is inspired by Bock’s late wife, Diana Joy Colbert, who battled AML (acute myeloid leukemia) in her thirties. She underwent two stem cell transplants and passed away two-and-a-half years after diagnosis. As a stem cell transplant patient myself (twenty-one months later, I still hesitate to even consider uttering the word “survivor”), I was tempted to read Alice and Oliver as a detailed chronicle of the rigors of enduring one of the most harrowing and risky medical procedures in existence — just to connect with someone else who went through it.
As such a chronicle, Bock’s novel does not disappoint.
Read the rest here.
This urban conspiracy meta-thriller relives the pop of the early oughts
Why are works about pop ephemera not considered literary? Perhaps MFA programs are brainwashing writers into tackling only what is ‘timeless,’ for the fear that work will become dated and easily forgotten. But what if a work is actually about one’s love of pop ephemera? Isn’t love timeless?
Catie Disabato’s novel, The Ghost Network, doesn’t shy away from peppering the reader with many, many pop culture references that conjure what it’s like to live in the 21st century in all its social-media-saturated, Pitchfork-reading glory. Famous pop singer Molly Metropolis (think: Lady Gaga, M.I.A., Sia) disappears, and a journalist named Cyrus Archer pens a manuscript about the search for her, only to disappear himself.
Read the rest over at Alternating Current.
Fiction writers are often told by agents, editors, and even fellow writers that contemporary readers are not interested in short story collections, and that if one intends to write stories and assemble them into a book, they must be linked and resemble a novel. What is lost in this stampede towards the novel-in-stories is breadth. The great short story writers demonstrate range—exploring themes through an array of characters from a multitude of backgrounds, ethnicities, social classes, and education levels without having to grasp the handrails of a unifying narrative throughline.
Amina Gautier is fast becoming one of those great short story writers. Her first collection about troubled teens, entitled At-Risk, won the Flannery O’Connor Award. Now We Will Be Happy, a collection about the lives of Afro-Puerto Ricans, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. And now, Gautier returns with The Loss of All Lost Things, the winner of the Elixir Press Fiction Award. The most impressive aspect about the collection is not its theme, or the deftness with which it’s handled—it’s Gautier’s range.
Read the rest at The Rumpus.