Category Archives: Fiction

Marilynne Robinson Talks About Home

Marilynne Robinson has another novel, Home, and talks about it with Newsweek.

The new book seems less like a sequel than a sort of Faulknerian return to Gilead. How conscious were you of the notion that the town itself is a central character to the story? Was that the intention?

To me it seems true that towns are always characters and that landscapes are as well. Gilead has resonance for me as a repository of a certain history, and as the kind of commonplace, self-forgetful little town you might find anywhere and not even bother to wonder about. These places are full of history and full of meaning. I am not particularly interested in creating my own Yoknapatawpha, but Gilead is where these characters live, and that was the reason I returned there.

The New York Sun’s Benjamin Lytal reviews Home here, opening his article with this: “Marilynne Robinson is an anomaly in the great tradition of American literature. One of our few novelists at peace with religion, she isn’t interested in the post-Puritanical game of unmasking hypocrisy, of entering into darkness.”

Paul of Dune

Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, Dune, ends with young Paul Muad’Dib having beaten Voldemort, keeping from him the stone of life, and when the next book opens he is taking exams at Hogwarts several years later. Fans have been wondering what happened in the meantime.

Well wait no more. Authors Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson who have written several stories in the world of Dune are taking up the action at the close of the first book and asking probing questions about Paul Muad’Dib’s moral core in the book, Paul of Dune, available later this month.

Review: So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger

From what I’ve seen of readers’ reactions to So Brave, Young, and Handsome, Leif Enger’s second novel, I think most people liked it, but found it a little less wonderful than his first book, Peace Like a River.

It seems to me it should be noted that trying to write a better book than Peace Like a River is a little like trying to produce a better flavor than milk chocolate.

If Peace had never been written, I think readers would hail this book as the work of a masterful new novelist, and it would immediately go on many favorites lists.

It’s not so much a fantasy as Peace was. I think there are fantasy elements, but they’re buried, running beneath the surface like secret rivers. There’s symbolism in plenty, and the gospel permeates every chapter.

Intriguingly, the second book question is really central to the story. I think Enger’s use of it in the narrative enriches the whole project. Continue reading Review: So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger

Announcement

A while ago I told you I’d come to an agreement with a publisher, and promised more details to come. Since then I’ve been silent on the subject, and you’ve doubtless assumed that a) I’m delusional, or b) the deal had fallen through.

In fact it simply took a while to work out the details.

Yesterday I signed a contract with Nordskog Publishing of Ventura, California to publish the next volume in the Saga of Erling Skjalgsson. The book is titled (for now) West Oversea, and it ought to be released in very early 2009.

Nordskog is a new publishing house with only a handful of books on its list so far. I’ll be one of its first fiction authors. I hope that this will enable them to give my book more attention in terms of promotion and distribution than has sometimes been my experience in the past.

I’ll keep you posted as the process continues.

Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

With the sequel to Auralia’s Colors coming in mid-September, I will post an overdue review of Overstreet’s first book. I keep thinking I should give a plot summary up to a point, but I won’t. I’ll give you my original loop the loop review. Perhaps you will find it readable, if not enlightening.

Many will remember that the Bible states “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil,” but the sacred text goes further than that. “Some by longing for [money] have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Change that warning to the love of colorful things, and you have a fair summary of Jeffrey Overstreet’s debut fantasy, Auralia’s Colors.

The people of Abascar live in browns and grays. Many years ago they gave up every bit of color they had to please the Queen, whose idea was to collect and mature the beauty of the kingdom before returning it to the people, royally blessed by her. In this way, the whole kingdom would be glorified over the other kingdoms of the Expanse. But the Queen never returned the promised honor to her people, so anyone making or finding something beautiful is required to give it to the king for storing in the vast royal vault.

Enter an orphan with enchanting spirit and eyes for nature’s color. Continue reading Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

Repost: Hunting Down Amanda, by Andrew Klavan

(And another Klavan review recycled tonight. Have a good weekend. I’ll be playing Viking for a Sons of Norway youth event at Danebo Hall in Minneapolis on Saturday. I’ll let you know how it goes, if I live.)

Hunting Down Amanda is a masterful book. It’s fascinating in its own right, as a brilliantly crafted, smart, moving thriller.

It’s also fascinating to the Christian reader as an artifact of the conversion process. Because Klavan, who was not a Christian when he wrote it, was clearly on the way, and his growing interest in matters eternal informs the whole product.

The Amanda of the title is Amanda Dodson, a five-year-old girl who, when the story begins, witnesses a terrible air crash. She wanders to the crash site, and is carried out by a man. Her mother, who has been searching for her, sees this and says, “Oh God. Oh God. Now they’ll come after her.” Continue reading Repost: Hunting Down Amanda, by Andrew Klavan

Repost: Damnation Street, by Andrew Klavan

(Tonight, another reposted Klavan review.)

One-line review of Andrew Klavan’s Damnation Street: “Woo-hoo!”

I got a Barnes & Noble gift certificate for Christmas, and Damnation Street was one of the books I chose to get with it. I don’t generally buy hardbacks, but I felt this was a special case.

It was, in fact, a more special case than I knew. Because it appears that Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop books (the previous ones are Dynamite Road and Shotgun Alley) are not going to be an ongoing series, but a trilogy (unless I read the ending wrong). Continue reading Repost: Damnation Street, by Andrew Klavan

Repost: Shotgun Alley, by Andrew Klavan

(Mark this down as a good day. I got an e-mail from somebody I’d been waiting to hear from, who’s sending me a FREE BOOK ABOUT VIKINGS [more information on that later]. I got going on a project I’ve been putting off in the library, and actually found it engrossing. Time flew. Also my doctor told me I could go off the iron supplement she’s had me on, which means I ought to have a lot less heartburn in my life. Below is another Klavan review, this one from October, 2006.)



Hard-boiled detective stories are one of my favorite genres.
So it was good news for me when I learned that Andrew Klavan, my favorite contemporary author, had begun a detective series (I love series! It’s almost like having real friends!).

And I wasn’t disappointed. If Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop series isn’t moving Hard-boiled into fertile new territory, it’s at least discovering new treasures in the old fields.

You gotcher tough-guy protagonist. You gotcher smart-guy protagonist. You gotcher psycho killers and your dangerous dames. You gotcher dead bodies and threats and violence. You gotcher subtextual deconstruction of postmodern philosophy. What’s not to like? Continue reading Repost: Shotgun Alley, by Andrew Klavan

Most Boring Book Ever?

Sherry can’t hack Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer. “Now I get it,” she writes. “This narrator, Binx Bolling, is nuts. But of course, he speaks truths in the midst of his madness. (Whoops, Eldest Daughter says I don’t get it at all. I’m Prufrock: ‘That is not it at all. That is not what I meant, at all.’)” Heh, heh. If I could, I’d go on a Walker Percy reading binge just to pique Sherry’s interest in reading more of his work. Probably wouldn’t work.

Fiction readers have better social skills?

Jackie Gingrich Cushman over at Townhall reports on a study from the University of Toronto which concludes that readers of fiction develop betters social skills than readers of nonfiction, because they learn vicariously about the results of various kinds of human interaction.

Funny, it never worked for me. But then my tombstone will say, “Here lies an outlier.” In fact, they’ll probably bury me across the street from the cemetery, so I can outlie some more.

It’s an interesting theory in any case.

Repost: The Uncanny, by Andrew Klavan

An Israeli newspaper somehow obtained the slip of paper that Barack Obama slipped into a crack in the Wailing Wall during his recent visit, according to this report. It’s traditional for visitors to leave such slips with prayers written on them. The newspaper printed the text of the prayer today.

I have very little time for the Democratic candidate, but that’s just beyond the pale. Shame on them.

Yesterday I panned Andrew Klavan’s The Animal Hour. Today I shall soften the blow to his ego (since I’m sure he follows this blog) by praising his horror novel, The Uncanny.

I kept thinking as I read The Uncanny, “This book is almost perfect. I wish I’d written it.”

I’d like to see it done as a movie, but only if they respected the text. Obsequiously. Because this book is like a fine Swiss watch, all its parts rotating and ratcheting together, making a small, regular “tick-tick” sound (which, by the way, is a recurring theme in the book).

The book begins with a short story called “Black Annie,” a note-perfect pastiche of a Gothic horror tale. The reader then discovers that it is being read aloud by Richard Storm, a Hollywood producer who has made a pile of money with a series of horror flicks, but has moved to England due to a personal setback.

He reads it at a London party, and when he finishes it a woman drops a glass. That brings about Storm’s first sight of Sophia Endering, a lovely, lonely, emotionally damaged heiress and art-gallery owner, with whom he falls immediately in love.

But Sophia has other things on her mind. A man spoke to her one night in the street, imploring her to watch to see who will buy a certain obscure painting at an auction. The man who buys it, he says, is the devil. He can’t do it himself, he says, because he’s going to be murdered. Which prediction comes true.

And Sophia is deeply troubled, because her own father has instructed her to buy the painting for him. “At any price.”

Richard is advised in his assault on Sophia’s romantic defenses by Harper Albright, the proprietress of a magazine devoted to supernatural phenomena. Harper is an interesting character, a resolute skeptic whose life is centered on a kind of affirmation of faith.

As he gets embroiled in Sophia’s perils, Richard finds that his own dreams—even his movies—seem to be entwined with the diabolical plot he uncovers, bit by bit. Other old stories, a ballad, and a memoir punctuate the story, and it all comes together in a climax worthy of Hollywood (as Richard can’t help noticing).

It’s a thriller and it’s a parable (a Christian book, I think, though there are no Christian characters). Women will enjoy the love story; guys will enjoy the adventure and thrills. I loved it.

Repost: The Animal Hour, by Andrew Klavan

(I’m bummed tonight. I stopped for groceries, and not only has my usual store rearranged the sections again [for the sole purpose, I’m convinced, of trying to get us to look at stuff we’ve already decided we don’t want to buy], but Banquet TV Dinners appears to have discontinued their Yankee Pot Roast meal. The things that made the Yankee Pot Roast irreplaceable were not only that it tasted surprisingly good, but it was only 210 calories. Oh yeah, and it was cheap. I’ll never stay on my diet now, and it’ll be all Banquet’s fault.

(Another Klavan review, this one from June, 2006. It has the distinction of being the only book of his that I’ve panned. It’s a stinker.)

I’ve been gushing over the books of Andrew Klavan recently (found one I hadn’t read in the store tonight—hurrah!). However, I feel obligated to warn you about one of them.

I finished The Animal Hour the other day. It’s one of Klavan’s earlier books, and I get the impression it was a kind of an experiment.

In my opinion, the experiment didn’t succeed.

It starts out with a great hook. A young woman in New York City goes in to her job and starts to settle down at her desk, when another woman comes into her office and asks her what she’s doing there. The conversation becomes a confrontation, and soon a number of employees have gathered. It quickly becomes clear that no one there has ever seen her before.

That’s a terrific start. Unfortunately, at least to my taste, the rest of the book doesn’t live up to it.

The mechanics of a great thriller are all there. Suspense mounts, and mysteries abound.

The problem is with an element that’s usually Klavan’s strong suit—the characters. There were very few characters in this book who raised my sympathy much. Most of them were creepy in one or several ways.

Also the gore level was high.

Also Christianity didn’t come off looking very good.

I’d skip this one.

Repost: The Scarred Man, by Keith Peterson (Andrew Klavan)

(My original plan was to repost all my previous Andrew Klavan reviews before addressing Empire of Lies, but I got carried away. So I’m picking up the reposts now. This is second in the series, and like the previous repost, comes from May 2006.)



Oh, by the way,
I forgot yesterday the first Andrew Klavan novel I read (actually it was written under the Keith Peterson pseudonym)–The Scarred Man. This is a psychological thriller with one of the best hooks I’ve ever read.

I love a great “book hook.” Perhaps my favorite is the beginning of The Man Who Wasn’t There by Roderick MacLeish (a much underappreciated novelist). That book (as I recall–I don’t have a copy) began with the main character, who was something of a celebrity, being recognized by a stranger sitting beside him on a plane. Instead of admitting to his identity, he played a trick he liked to play in such situations, claiming to be his own (non-existent) non-famous twin, whose story he made up on the spot.

The next morning he got up and read in the paper that this imaginary twin brother had been killed in a plane crash.

That’s a great book hook.

But the hook in The Scarred Man is almost as good.

Michael North is a young New York reporter who accepts an invitation to spend Christmas in Connecticut with his boss. There he meets the boss’s daughter, Susannah, and falls hopelessly in love in about a nanosecond.

To entertain themselves, the party members agree to tell ghost stories (I thought of you here, Phil). Michael makes up a story on the spur of the moment, telling a tale of a murderous, undead psychopath with a scar down the center of his face.

Susannah goes hysterical, shouting “Stop it! What are you trying to do to me!” She flees back to school before he can discuss it with her.

Later, when he drives up to Susannah’s college to talk to her, he pulls into the entrance and sees, in his headlights–the scarred man. When he finds Susannah, she tells him she’s been having nightmares about this man all her life.

The great thing is, this isn’t a supernatural novel.