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.
Aleksandar Hemon's poignant memoir falters when family tragedy becomes its focus.
American writer Michael Mewshaw generously recalls Gore Vidal and his tumultuous times.
By Mario Bellatín, translated from the Spanish by Kurt Hollander
City Lights, 2009. 63 pages
The narrator of Bellatín's slight but insidious parable is a cross-dresser who runs a beauty salon-turned-hospice in a never-named city as a plague gradually decimates the population. In his place appropriately called the Terminal, he offers a "quick death under the most comfortable conditions," absolutely no priests or nuns allowed.
His fascination is with fish, which he assembles in many aquariums, doting on the idiosyncrasies of different species. They seem easier to care about than his wounded patients.
But then the fish begin to die. At the same time, their illness keeps them safe from predators. "The sick fish attacked by fungus became sacred and untouchable" and "sick fish were always respected." For Mexican novelist Bellatín, a self-styled minimalist who once attended seminary school in Peru, disease levels the playing field. Gay, poor, religious and frivolous are anonymously pooled together. "Death has long believed it has the liberty to do as it pleases in the beauty salon…" As well it should. The secular leveling of the playing field makes for deep helplessness but also creates pride; an odd couple that Bellatín insists must learn to live (and die) together.
Reviewed by Book Staff