Archives For Novels

 

Though the goal of most literature is to tell a good story, it is not always the only thing that the author sets out to do. Sometimes, what is equally important is innovation, a blending with the unusual to tease readers into a new way of thinking.

Here’s a list of favorite post-modern, experimental, or otherwise unconventional novels for your enjoyment.

Compiled by Sarah Lyons.

 

These are novels of unusual voice, whether they sport a first-person plural as the first two on the list, or are written, in some part or in their entirety, in the second person.

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Today is the birthday of the Inkling Charles Williams…

 
T.S. Eliot called Williams’s novels “supernatural thrillers.”

 
For some background on Williams, read Caleb Crain’s wonderful essay in The New Yorker earlier this year

Writes Crain:

“The jacket copy [of WAR IN HEAVEN], credited Williams with having written The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church, which—I learned when I got home to the Internet—Auden claimed to have re-read once a year. A resort to our bookshelves turned up more data. In the critical study ‘Later Auden,’ Edward Mendelson relays Auden’s report that he felt sanctified in Williams’s presence: ‘I felt transformed into a person who was incapable of doing or thinking anything base or unloving.’

 
Fortunately for readers, all of Charles Williams’s novels except one (The Greater Trumps) are available at bargain prices for Kindle!!!


 


 

(In the order they were written. Descriptions via Wikipedia)

  • $1.99 – War in Heaven, 1930 —
    The Holy Grail surfaces in an obscure country parish and becomes variously a sacramental object to protect or a vessel of power to exploit.
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Like mystery novels?  Have you read the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers?

Dorothy Sayers is a writer often associated with C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, who wrote many books for Christian audiences. She considered her best work to be her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

We recently posed the question of where to start with her mystery novels to David Neuhouser, who is Scholar in Residence at Taylor University’s Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends (and Professor Emeritus at TU). Neuhouser has taught courses on Sayers, Lewis, Wendell Berry and perhaps his favorite, George Macdonald.


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Strong Poison: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery with Harriet Vane

Start here…

“It is in Strong Poison that Lord Peter first meets Harriet Vane, an author of police fiction. The immediate problem is that she is on trial for her life, charged with murdering her former lover. If Lord Peter does not prove she is innocent, he will lose her before he even persuades her to accept his proposal of marriage. But all the clues point to Harriet as the one who gave Philip Boyes the arsenic that killed him.” (Wikipedia.com)

 

“Manhattan, The City that Never Dies”

A Brief Review of

Zone One: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead
Hardback:  Doubleday, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Chris Enstad

Zombie fiction has been experiencing something of a, ahem, rebirth in the last few years… if it was ever really dead at all.  From the monster movies of the 50’s to the Sam Raimi classic of 1981, Evil Dead, to the Woody Harrelson film Zombieland to the recent bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or the latest runaway AMC TV show The Walking Dead there is just something about zombies that seems to resonate in our blood.

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“Man Versus Human Nature”

A Review of

The Wilding: A Novel.
By Benjamin Percy.

Reviewed by Greg Schreur.

The Wilding - A novel by Benjamin PercyThe Wilding: A Novel.
Benjamin Percy.
Hardback: Graywolf, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon: Hardback ] [ Amazon: Kindle ]

Regardless of your views on evolution, there is no denying that humankind has evolved since the days of hunting and gathering—or even if you prefer, since the days of our great-great-grandparents. As history marched on, as civilizations developed and sought to regulate human behavior and as technologies developed and separated us more and more from the daily grind of basic survival, we became more and more domesticated.

Our shampoos smell pretty and come with directions. Our food is stuffed into grocery carts or ordered from menus. Our experiences with nature are as likely to occur in IMAX theaters as not. In our litigious, urbanized, technologized, cellophane-wrapped society, we’ve placed a lid on human nature. And just like the animals we’ve taken into our homes, our more basic instincts lurk beneath a civilized façade and tend to emerge only in more extreme or focused situations.

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“Forming, and Being Formed By, Culture

A Review of

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:
A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace
.

By David Lipsky
and
The Broom of the System: A Novel by Dav id Foster Wallace.
CD Audiobook Read by Robert Petkoff.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:
A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace
.

David Lipsky

Paperback: Broadway Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The Broom of the System: A Novel
Dav id Foster Wallace.
CD Audiobook Read by Robert Petkoff.
Hachette Audio, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

[ Read an excerpt from ALTHOUGH OF COURSE…  ]

Although Of Course You End Up...I have been familiar with the name of the late American writer David Foster Wallace for several years now and have read several shorter pieces by or about him, but had never tackled any of his books.  Thus, when I saw earlier this year that two books with his name on them were being released – one a biography of sorts and the other an audiobook of his first novel The Broom of the System – I figured that they would provide me with a great opportunity to immerse myself in his work.  Having found myself intrigued by The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani eulogistic description of Wallace as one who “used his prodigious gifts as a writer — his manic, exuberant prose, his ferocious powers of observation, his ability to fuse avant-garde techniques with old-fashioned moral seriousness — to create a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification” (14 Sept. 2008), I was eager to learn more about Wallace and to engage his work.

BROOM OF THE SYSTEMIn March 1996, Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky joined Wallace for the final leg of his Infinite Jest book tour, and recorded much of their conversation over a five day period.  That conversation has now been published as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, and is the closest thing we presently have to a biography (or autobiography) of Wallace.  Not surprisingly the book reads like an extended Rolling Stone interview, and given the context of the conversation – unfolding over several days and interrupted by various events related to the book tour – the book tends to wander from one topic to the next, often circling back to topics discussed earlier in the conversation.  Along the way, we get a good chunk of Wallace’s life story, growing up with parents who were academics, and learning to love reading but at the same time very much loving television and popular culture.

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545442: Resurrection in May

A Review of

Resurrection in May: A Novel

By Lisa Samson
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith.

Lisa Samson belongs to the newer (but welcome!) generation of Christian authors who write honestly and believably about people’s struggles with faith in the real world. Samson often deals with big topics—alcoholism, psychosis, murders—and Resurrection in May is no different.  In fact, Samson deals with so many big issues (e.g., genocide, drug addiction, PTSD, the death penalty), that the book is almost overwhelming.  May,  a recent college graduate, who is partying away her young life, meets Claudius, an old farmer who has never lived away from his birth home, when he picks her up, drunk and abandoned, from the side of the road.  Claudius is able to see through May’s recent bad choices to who she really is—a bright, talented, but pampered child who makes very bad choices when it comes to romance.  They strike up an unlikely friendship—May moves into Claudius’s home while she waits to go on a mission trip Rwanda; there she plans to work in a small village, while also exercising her journalistic skills.  But May’s trip to Rwanda overlaps with the atrocious genocides of the 1990s, and May witnesses and experiences rage and hatred she can not find words to express.  After barely living through the genocide, May returns home scarred literally and figuratively. Unable to deal with anyone of her former acquaintance, she moves back into Claudius’s home.  There she stays for years, her world quickly becoming just the farm and those people who visit it.  After dealing for years with pathological fear, May is encouraged to reach beyond the farm by writing to a former friend who is awaiting execution on death row.  As the friendship grows through letters, both May and her friend wrestle with the issues of forgiveness and redemption.

Samson’s books are always enjoyable as well as challenging.  Resurrection in May is no exception, however, because of the over-crowding of big issues and the rather sudden shifts in time and perspective, it doesn’t stand up to her best work.  While Samson deals realistically with disappointed dreams and mental illness, Resurrection in May is brimming so full with interesting characters and potential sub-plots, one wonders why no one suggested making it into a series.

 

A Brief Review

SPRAWL: A Novel.
Danielle Dutton.
Paperback: Siglio Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Thomas Turner.

The suburbs have been the subject of ire for many years now, but recently the recession has turned up the heat on the cynical yet attractive institution. The recession has led to what many see as the slow death of the suburbs. Rows of foreclosed homes in the Sun Belt, bastions of wealth and status symbols now boarded up or secretly lived in by squatters, these are the new suburbs.

There has been a flurry of art and critique about these places of limbo between city and country. GOOD Magazine published their Neighborhoods issue which tackled issues ranging from neighborliness to how to stop building developments around golf courses and start building them around farms. The Arcade Fire came out with a blisteringly cynical album entitled, most appropriately, The Suburbs, complete with an interactive isolation-inducing music video to go along with it. Channeling the zeitgeist, Danielle Dutton’s new novel Sprawl chronicles every waking thought of a suburban woman.

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“What Could Become of our
Current Fixation with Reality TV
?”

A Review of

Mockingjay.
By Suzanne Collins.

Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith.

Mockingjay.
Suzanne Collins.

Hardback: Scholastic, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Mockingjay - Suzanne CollinsThroughout Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins delivers a fierce, believable and engrossing end to a series that introduced a new level of unflinching violence in the Young Adult (YA) market.  Collins delves into the issues of war and peace, as well as the wisdom in questioning what is “presented for our viewing pleasure” as truth.

The Hunger Games, the first book in this series,  shocked some and delighted others because of its graphic storyline.  Pandem, a future country made up of 12 Districts and a Capitol is a place of tyranny and oppression.  Every year the people of each District are reminded of their inferior positions by being forced to participate in The Hunger Games.  Two young people from each district travel to the capitol, where they are made-over and glammed up, only to be dropped into a stylized, horrifying arena, where they must fight to the death.  The winner is the one who survives.  All people are forced to watch; everyone must see the children kill and be killed.

In the first book, Katniss Everdeen learns to play the Game, providing the pampered, oblivious people of The Capitol with the entertainment they desire, while still surviving.  She achieves something so shocking that she becomes a hero of the whole District, a symbol of their ability to fight back.   In Catching Fire, Katniss must deal with the fallout from winning the games.  She must face head on the hurt of both Peeta, whose love she took advantage of in order the win the game, and Gale, her best friend and hunting partner, who took care of her mother and sister during her absence.  She also must deal with the anger of the President, and a vengeful act that catches the entire nation by surprise.  After again thwarting the desires of her President, Katniss’s District is destroyed and in her rescue, she is forced to leave Peeta behind.

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“Not Made to Be God

A Review of
Light Boxes: A Novel.
By Shane Jones.

Reviewed by
Joshua Neds-Fox.

Light Boxes: A Novel.
Shane Jones.

Paperback: Penguin, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Light Boxes by Shane JonesIn Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard relates her childhood encounter one January with the Polyphemus moth, “…beautiful… one of the few huge American silk moths…,” which her classmate brings to school, still in its cocoon. She and her peers pass it around, feel it jump inside its “spun silk and leaf”; look it up in a book to see what it will be when it emerges. Finally, they put it in a mason jar to mature. The heat of their hands has woken it to its purpose, and it struggles out, “a sodden crumple,” and breathes, still, under their gaze.

“He couldn’t spread his wings. There was no room. The chemical that coated his wings like varnish, stiffening them permanently, dried, and hardened his wings as they were. He was a monster in a Mason jar. Those huge wings stuck on his back in a torture of random pleats and folds, wrinkled as a dirty tissue, rigid as leather. They made a single nightmare clump still wracked with useless, frantic convulsions. (Pilgrim… 62)

The children and their hapless teacher would be benign lords to the doomed creature: they want only to see it become everything it is created to be. Yet by their very attention they consign the moth to a short life characterized by suffering and unfulfilled potential. Despite their intentions, they succeed in ensuring that it will never fly.

Shane Jones, too, has coaxed a creature from its cocoon — his debut novel, Light Boxes, 500-or-so copies of which were published in 2009 by the tiny Publishing Genius Press. Jones promoted his fledgling work relentlessly by every meager means available, till the unthinkable occurred: Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich) optioned it for film, and Penguin Books picked up a second printing for the national market.

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