April 28, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Light rain shower 11°C
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Fiction

Leaving the Atocha Station

Ben Lerner's 2011 debut set a fine tone for postmodern irony, but it grows repetitive.

The Underground Man

Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer endures as a detective ahead of his time.

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's brilliant stories eviscerate families seeking Communist-era roofs.

I Refuse

In a novel with autobiographical hues, Norwegian Per Petterson considers friendship and lost time.

The Dream of My Return

A paranoid Salvadoran expat in Mexico City dreams of going him — but conspiracies come first.

As Good As Dead

Elizabeth Evans' new novel is a powerful look at women friends "reunited" in name only.

Aquarium

David Vann's vision of family redemption starts magically, but grows foul with rage.

My Documents

Chilean Alejandro Zambra's stories move from fictional autobiography into handsome melancholy.

Nonfiction

The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon's poignant memoir falters when family tragedy becomes its focus.

Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal

American writer Michael Mewshaw generously recalls Gore Vidal and his tumultuous times.




BOOK REVIEW
The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels
By Leonard Michaels
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2007. 403 pages

Reading Leonard Michaels' first collection of stories "Going Places" (1969) is — to borrow an image from the poet Yehuda Amichai — like banging one's head against a door and screaming, "My head, my head!" With razor precision, Michaels scouts out the psychological underbelly of late '60s New York. These early stories have a tough sexual edge and a nervousness that is never resolved, but only adds a sense of desperate urgency. Every dialogue is fragmented into near incomprehensibility as the situation comedy spins out of control, despite the fact that not much actually happens. An aged Talmud scholar slips on the ice ("What's-a-matta, fuckhead, too much vino?" quips a police officer); a rabbi's daughter is raped by a Turkish student, then hangs herself; Phillip escapes his girlfriend's father's ire by fleeing naked into the subway; discovering he has gonorrhea, the narrator vomits in his own shoe ("I yelled; she ran in; I pointed. Why is it green?") then hops the downtown express at 3 a.m.

It's tempting to say that, after "Going Places," it's smooth sailing. But Michaels' second collection, "I Would Have Saved Them If I Could" (1975), is no less informed by a kind of gun-to-the-temple psychoanalysis. The stories get longer and less compressed; the narrative style smoother, less frantic. Sex is always in the foreground and explicit (and often hilarious), though never quite spirals into literary voyeurism. The sentences sometimes reach 20 words or more.

The only section of the book that seems onerous is "Journal," a 50-page performance that is, despite a few deft passages, what it advertises. Readers who make it to the final Nachman stories — left uncollected at the author's death in 2003 — will find a wise, mature storyteller telling the best tales of his career.

Reviewed by Marc Alan Di Martino
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

Everything you need to know about visiting or moving to Tuscany, Italy.