The Race Pervert

The Sellout

FA review tag

Near the beginning of Jurassic Park, the scientist played by Laura Dern plunges her arms into a gigantic pile of triceratops shit. When I first saw this, I had a gut reaction: “Ew, no! Don’t touch that! It’s shit!” But as the scene goes on, Laura Dern makes it clear that her character is a professional. She studies shit for a living. This is her milieu. We viewers are—like the triceratops shit itself—in good hands.

The Sellout is a novel about racism. Huge, steaming, stinking piles of racism. Racism so ugly and insidious that you want to shiver and walk away. But as readers we are in good hands, because Paul Beatty is a professional—knowledgeable, passionate, and easygoing. Characters in Beatty’s novel call his protagonist a “race reactionary” and a “race pervert.” But you and I might call Beatty the world’s foremost connoisseur of racism.

The Sellout has a plot, which I will describe for you because plots are an important way to begin a conversation about a story, but honestly, the plot of The Sellout is a shambles. It’s a wreck. Scan any page of The Sellout and, if you’re lucky, you might find a couple of paragraphs with topic sentences that mention the overall plot. Everything else will be the kind of extended, wisecracking riff that has characterized Beatty’s fiction ever since his first foray into prose (he started out as a slam poetry champion) with The White Boy Shuffle. But with The Sellout, surely, Beatty’s style of back-talking his own story has found its apotheosis—if this novel were any more digressive it would crumble like the clumps of lint in your dryer.

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A New Heart

In the Heart of the Heart of the Country

FA review tag

NYRB Classics has just released a new edition of William H. Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. Gass, one of the greatest prose writers of the past century, only has one short story collection, this one, which was originally published in 1968.

Of the five stories, written over the course of a decade or more, three—“Mrs. Mean”, “The Pederson Kid”, and the title story—are among the best you will ever have the chance to read. Masterpieces of language and introspection, the stories have a unique cadence and complete aesthetic that, once you pick it up, carries you, like Beckett, like Faulkner, like Shakespeare (the Murderers’ Row of language lovers), through its idiosyncratic passages to the end.

Gass is, hands down, the greatest living essayist in the English language. He writes essays like poets write poems: not a word out of place, not a phrase unpolished, still thematically taut and as swift and adhering to the logic of argument as any. Continue reading

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Did You Hear? Tell Him

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

Esperanza Spalding is such a talented musician and performer that it always seems a little unfair. Check her out in this incredible rendition of Lauryn Hill’s “Tell Him” performed at the White House.

Now, the nice thing about performances at the White House is that they are all available to download. There’s some great stuff on their site, in between horrendous press briefings…

Check out Esperanza Spalding’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” here.

- Brook Reeder

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The Boomstick Film Club: Devil in a Blue Dress

FA Feb 26

The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix, Hulu

Read it with us: Powell’s

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) is a great example of a genre I’m already a sucker for: detective stories. It pays loving homage to its predecessors but doesn’t feel derivative or tired.

Denzel Washington plays Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, a recent WWII vet who finds himself out of work and with a mortgage to pay. Easy gets a job offer from a shady character (Tom Sizemore) that’s too good to pass up, even though he knows it’s trouble.

One of the eternal problems of the detective story is how to account for your protagonist’s involvement in whatever shady dealings are about to unfold. The easiest route is to make him or her a cop or a private investigator. There are other options: I’m partial to the amateur sleuth, even though that device has more or less gone out of fashion; or you can tell the story from the point of view of the criminal, but that takes away the most obvious locus for suspense since we already know whodunit. Once in a while you get a story in which a regular guy (or gal) gets drawn into a mess and has to untangle it and save the day, which is what happens here. Coen brothers fans will recognize this device from The Big Lebowski, where it heightens the absurdity of the hero’s situation rather than his humanity, as it does here. The trick is to convince your viewers that your hero or heroine is the perfect person for the job, whether or not they have any formal training.

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Is This the Best Blurb of All Time?

Signs Preceing the End of the World

In case the praise from Francisco Goldman on the front cover isn’t enough (“Yuri Herrera is Mexico’s greatest novelist.”) this book has what is possibly the best blurb of all time, and it comes from the brilliant Valeria Luiselli:

“Yuri Herrera must be a thousand years old. He must have travelled to hell, and heaven, and back again. He must have once been a girl, an animal, a rock, a boy, and a woman. Nothing else explains the vastness of his understanding.” — Valeria Luiselli, author of Faces in the Crowd

Who cares what the book is about? We have to read it now.

- Brian Hurley

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Pay-What-You-Will Literature

Full Metal Jhacket

The University of Michigan is launching a new book series called 21st Century Prose.

It’s legit — authors in the series have also contributed to Pank, Tin House, McSweeney’s, Guernica, and The Believer.

And you can read every book in the series online for free.

American Homes by Ryan Ridge

A Heart Bleeding Hard by Lauren Foss Goodman

Settlers of Unassigned Lands by Charles McLeod

Full Metal Jhacket by Matthew Derby

Or, you know, you could also pay for them. Your choice!

- Brian Hurley

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Benny & Jenny

Book of Ages

FA review tag

Jane Franklin raised twelve children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in colonial America. She lived in poverty for most of her life, stitching bonnets and managing a boarding house to make ends meet. Her brother Benjamin was one of the most successful men of his generation, a printer, postmaster, essayist, inventor, newspaper publisher, writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac, the most famous scientist on the planet, signer of the Declaration of Independence, representative in France during the Revolutionary War, and a participant in the creation of the Constitution of the United States, among many other things. Although their two lives diverged dramatically, they each remained one of the other’s closest friends, or as Jill Lepore puts it in Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, “He loved no one longer. She loved no one better.”

By the time I first learned that this book was being written I was already a big fan of Lepore’s (see, for example, her work in the New Yorker), and also already something of a Ben Franklin obsessive. It is a pleasure to report that Book of Ages is a strange and remarkable accomplishment. In less than 270 pages, Book of Ages does quadruple duty. (1) It tells the tale of Jane Franklin, her experiences through the American Revolution, and the views that she developed through her difficult, often tragic life. (2) It explores how Benjamin Franklin’s work was influenced by his lifelong relationship with his sister. (3) Even more, Book of Ages ends up being about the colonial world inhabited by people like Jane Franklin, common folk neither rich, nor famous, nor advantaged, nor fortunate. (4) More still, it is a book about history writing itself. Given how little remains of Jane Franklin’s correspondence, it is fascinating to watch Lepore weave together what does exist into a full narrative.

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The Moscow Times

The Moscow Times

We’re in the news!

In Russia.

The Moscow Times has printed an excerpt from USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov.

Read it here.

We’re celebrating by giving you a discount on the paperback. Order USSR directly from Fiction Advocate using the button below and we’ll give you $3 off.

Za vashe zdorovie!

ussr 120

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