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The Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None was simultaneously one of my best and worst reading experiences of all time. I was thirteen and it was my first murder mystery—I had purchased it through my school’s book order, if I remember right. I settled in to read it before bed and ended up staying awake until 2 a.m. so I could finish it, completely out of my mind with terror. It was such an unnerving experience that I didn’t go near a murder mystery again for a couple of years. The premise is uniquely effective: ten people arrive at a mysterious house on a deserted island, and one by one they begin dying off. Now that it’s been twenty-plus years and I have somewhat recovered my wits since that night in seventh grade, I couldn’t wait to see how René Clair’s adaptation of this pivotal (for me) novel capitalizes on the book’s structure. Continue reading
“Mord destroyed and reimagined our broken city for reasons known only to him, yet he also replenished it in his thoughtless way.” So thinks Rachel, the protagonist of Borne, as she climbs the side of Mord, a giant bear, braving his “ropy, dirt-bathed fur, foul with carrion and chemicals” in search of food or biotech treasure that’s stuck to him. Those are the thoughtless replenishments he provides. Instead, she finds a fist-sized organism that resembles a sea anemone. She takes it back to the crumbling apartment building where she lives, deciding on the way home that it’s a he and its name is Borne. Her partner and lover, Wick, is unhappy about Borne’s presence—an outcast biotech scientist, Wick recognizes a threat when he sees one—but he grudgingly allows what he’s powerless to stop. Borne already has a hold on Rachel’s heart. Continue reading
My novel, The Last Neanderthal, imagines a year in the life of a young, female Neanderthal who is among the last of her kind. A parallel modern story is about a pregnant archaeologist named Rose, who finds two skeletons buried in an embrace—one a Neanderthal and the other a modern human.
I wanted to write a story about Neanderthals that was rooted in the fairly recent finding that people of European and Asian descent have between 1-4% Neanderthal DNA. To make the story plausible, I did a lot of research. Here are some of my sources. Continue reading
Brian Eno told the Los Angeles Times in 1982, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground Record sold only 30,000 copies… I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” The same could be said of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, a slim collection of short stories that had the same effect on hundreds, if not thousands, of burgeoning writers.
I encountered Jesus’ Son at twenty, on break from college and wandering around a massive old bookstore. I saw that cover in the remainders section, bought it for $4.98, and promptly left it in the bag on my floor, only to discover it again, a couple of weeks later. I read it on breaks from my landscaping job (filthy, mulch-stained fingerprints litter the pages) and would go back to whacking weeds and edging beds with Johnson’s electric language pinging in my brain. I marked lines and passages I loved at that time with a stubby green pencil engraved with the name of a golf course I’d never been to, and bite marks in the wood that weren’t from my teeth: Continue reading
The Changeling by Victor LaValle: “When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, all he left his son were strange recurring dreams and a box of books stamped with the word IMPROBABILIA. Now Apollo is a father himself—and as he and his wife, Emma, are settling into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. This captivating retelling of a classic fairy tale imaginatively explores parental obsession, spousal love, and the secrets that make strangers out of the people we love the most.”
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera: “In the court of the King, everyone knows their place. But as the Artist wins hearts and egos with his ballads, uncomfortable truths emerge that shake the Kingdom to its core. Part surreal fable and part crime romance, this prize-winning novel from Yuri Herrera questions the price of keeping your integrity in a world ruled by patronage and power.”
The Parthenon Bomber by Christos Chrissopoulos: “‘Blow up the Acropolis’ was the 1944 call to action by the surrealist circle the Harbingers of Chaos. Sixty years later, a young man obliges. The Parthenon has been destroyed, the city orphaned. Is it still Athens? This provocative tale reveals the unique dilemma of a country still searching for an identity beyond its past as the birthplace of Western civilization.”
Also this month: We’ll interview Mary Mann, we’ll hear from Claire Cameron about The Last Neanderthal, and we’ll review Borne by Jeff VanderMeer.
I’m an idiot. I know this. I was even more of an idiot back in college and I don’t like being reminded of this fact. So I admit I was hesitant when I picked up a copy of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot. I feared the narrator Selin and I had too much in common for us to ever get along. Like Selin, I’d fallen for a man via email while in college. Like her, I’d gone on to teach English in another country. Like her, I was trying (“doomed”) to be a writer. Unlike her, I didn’t go to Harvard. We were off to a shaky start.
I wasn’t entirely wrong. In some ways, following a year in the life of Selin was like reliving the prime of my idiocy, the crème de la crème of my naivety.
It’s strange how much I enjoyed it. Continue reading