Lydia Davis has a problem: she can't not display her ingenious bravura.
What's most impressive about Teju Cole's debut is its modulated darkness.
Irish writer Keith Ridgway is beautifully uncompromising in his pitch-perfect thug chronicles.
Amos Oz's interlocking stories are parables for a brilliant, haunted nation.
Irishman Flan O'Brien managed to introduce Disney to Swift in a comic vision of death.
Ben Lerner's 2011 debut set a fine tone for postmodern irony, but it grows repetitive.
Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer endures as a detective ahead of his time.
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's brilliant stories eviscerate families seeking Communist-era roofs.
Swiss novelists Peter Stamm, most at ease with uneasy peace, creates characters to suit that mood.
Aleksandar Hemon's poignant memoir falters when family tragedy becomes its focus.
Gentlemen of the Road
By Michael Chabon
Ballantine Books, . 204 pages
Clocking in at a scant 204 pages, it would be inaccurate to call "Gentlemen of the Road" Michael Chabon's second published novel in six months. In fact, "Gentlemen" reads more like a novella, something to be read with the lights out or around a dying campfire. Surely this was Chabon's intention, as he is the reigning master of High Genre Fiction.
But unlike his truly masterful "Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" and nearly masterful "Yiddish Policeman's Union," both of which used genre-play as a template for serious fiction (does the term make us cringe?), "Gentlemen" lacks a convincing plot and well-drawn characters. The action is set in Khazaria, a mythical Jewish kingdom wedged in between the Caspian and Black Seas, around the year 900 C.E.
The heroes — or "gentlemen of the road" — are a pair of horse-thieves, a huge black African named Amram and a wiry Frank called Zelikman. The book is almost nonstop action (knife fights, chases, cursing by humans and animals in various languages), although one gets the impression Chabon himself had only a vague idea of where it was headed as he was writing. The reader is left boggled by illustrious locutions like, "…despite his protestations of senescence, which were universally regarded as gamesmanship…" Chabon, one of our great novelists, could have benefited from a re-reading of the Elements of Style.
Reviewed by Marc Alan Di Martino