Maureen Corrigan, writing for The Washington Post, says
“[The] grim yet undeniably fascinating last act of Fitzgerald’s life is the subject of Stewart O’Nan’s gorgeous new novel. . .West of Sunset is a pretty fine Hollywood novel, too, but it’s an even finer novel about a great writer’s determination to keep trying to do his best work.”
And George Saunders says
“O'Nan is an incredibly versatile and charming writer. This novel, which imagines F. Scott Fitzgerald's troubled time in Hollywood (with cameos by Dorothy Parker, Bogie, and Hemingway), takes up (like much of O'Nan's work) that essential conundrum of grace struggling with paucity. One brilliant American writer meditating on another--what's not to love?”
Monologue topics: paranoia, pregnancy, fear, hovering, mail.
Halle Butler is the guest. Her debut novel, Jillian, is available now from Curbside Splendor.
Lindsay Hunter says
"This book is incredible. The deadpan way it nails what it is to be a human who lies to herself and tells different lies to everyone else makes me want to laugh and scream. It is hilarious and weird, my two favorite qualities in a book."
And Kirkus Reviews says
"[Jillian] offers up its characters for hatred and ridicule with such energy, obsessive detail and hopelessness that the reader can't help but read on, through exasperating flinches of sympathy and recognition. A novel that reads like rubbernecking or a junk-food binge, compelling a horrified fascination and bleak laughter in the face of outrageously painted everyday sadness."
Monologue topics: thanks, worry, sleeplessness, corporate pitchman fantasies, idealism, crazy people, Starbucks, Valentine's Day, my dog, jokes that fail to land.
Porochista Khakpour is the guest. Her novel The Last Illusion is now available from Bloomsbury.
Claire Messud says
“Utterly original and compelling, Porochista Khakpour's The Last Illusion weaves Iranian myth with very contemporary American neurosis to create a bittersweet poetry all its own. This ambitious, exciting literary adventure is at once grotesque, amusing, deeply sad—and wonderful, too.”
And Kirkus, in a starred review, calls it
"An audaciously ambitious novel that teeters along a tightrope but never falls off."
Monologue topics: big news, superstition, not wanting to be dominated by superstition despite demonstrably being dominated by superstition by knocking wood repeatedly.
Kitty is the guest. She is a rapper/musician whose latest EP, Frostbite, is now available.
"Love is pain, and nobody understands that quite like this suburban teen-rap every-girl. Pryde went viral with ["Okay Cupid"]...a homemade mumblecore hit, in the voice of a bored kid from Florida. It's full of wit ("It's my party, couldn't cry if I wanted to") and mall-rat ambience, as she waits for her boyfriend's drunk-dials at 3:30 a.m."
And The New York Times says
"She doesn’t rap because it’s funny or novel, but rather because it’s simply the best and most comfortable tool available to her. The results so far, while almost no one has been watching, have the intimacy and comfort of private recordings. They transfix."
The Washington Post raves
“I’ve read many variations on this theme, some quite good, but never one as powerful as Tim Johnston’s Descent . . . The story unfolds brilliantly, always surprisingly, but the glory of Descent lies not in its plot but in the quality of the writing. The magic of his prose equals the horror of Johnston’s story; each somehow enhances the other . . . Read this astonishing novel. It’s the best of both worlds.”
And Mary Roach says
“Descent is the best novel I've read in a long time. Unlike most books that fall into the category of Page Turner, this one also falls in the category of Writing So Good You Can't Even Believe It. Johnston has a superhuman gift for watching and listening to the world and rendering, on the page, its beauty and savagery with such detail and power that the story feels almost more like memory than something read. I was so absorbed in the final incredible fifty pages that I missed my flight to La Guardia.”
Monologue topics: Ann Bauer, Salon, writing, writers, money, class, privilege, honesty, The Struggle.
Alexis Coe is the guest. She is the author of Alice + Freda Forever, available now from Pulp/Zest Books.
Peter Orner says
"Alexis Coe rescues a buried but extraordinarily telling episode from the 1890's that resonates in all sorts of ways with today. That in itself would be an accomplishment. But this is a book that is truly riveting, a narrative that gallops. Lizzy Borden eat your heart out. Here's a real crime of passion. Or was it? 'And so Alice carried the razor around every day in her dress pocket, just in case Freda came to town…' I dare you to pick this one up and try, just try to put it down."
And Vol. 1 Brooklyn says
"Though the history recounted in Alexis Coe's Alice + Freda Forever is captivating in its own right, Coe also provides a larger context for it, elevating this to the level of a societal indictment. This story of a star-crossed love with a violent ending at times reads like a microcosm of Memphis at the end of the 19th century. As Coe's narrative delves into perceptions of sexuality and the ways in which the case touched on different aspects of daily life, it never loses sight of the tragic romance at its core."
Monologue topics: mail, Chelsea Hodson, prurience, sex, manners, gender.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn says
"Whether he's describing a grandmother who gets pulled into a watery grave by an almost mythological fish or telling the creepy story of a creature that wouldn't be out of place in an H.P. Lovecraft story, Pierce constantly pulls together concepts from the outmost edges of outré fiction and the kind of unassumingly profound storytelling that made authors like Flannery O'Connor and George Singleton household names."
And Beach Sloth says
“Black humor has never been darker than this; this is the absolute pitch black of humor."
Monologue topics: war, war on terror, word usage, Charlie Hebdo, terrorism.
Chelsea Hodson is the guest. Her chapbook entitled Pity the Animal is available now in print from Future Tense Books at Powells.com, and electronically from Emily Books as a Kindle Single.
Tobias Carroll calls it
“One of the best literary works I’ve encountered this year... much of its power comes from the way it juxtaposes seemingly unrelated elements: a retrospective of Marina Abramović’s art, scenes from Hodson’s life, economic musings, and considerations of adventure. The way these eventually coalesce is immeasurably powerful; the accumulated effect is devastating, and hits harder than many works ten times its length.”
And Bitch magazine calls it
"Pointed, scathing, and suspenseful. This critical yet intimate essay is not to be missed."
Monologue topics: leafblowers, chainsaws, suffering.
Kate Zambreno says
"In Mark Gluth's beautiful family gothic No Other, the reader encounters a landscape of mood and mystery, burning with a stripped-down pain. Gluth's sentences devastate in their raw economy, attempting to penetrate the everyday, tracing abbreviated existences struggling to survive through bare seasons."
And Blake Butler says
"In clipped, incantatory verse shined from whorls somewhere between Gummo and As I Lay Dying, Mark Gluth's No Other invents new ambient psychological terraforma of rare form, a world by turns humid and eerie, nowhere and now, like a blacklight in a locked room."
Monologue topics: the holidays, Santa, mail, answering questions with questions.
Luke B. Goebel is the guest. His new novel, Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours, is now available from Fiction Collective Two.
Kirkus Reviews says
“If Kerouac were writing today, his work might look something like this—and despite the title, many of the stories are indeed ours, as they focus on love and loss, pain and yearning.… This is a fierce, untamed, riotous book—and from the first page you’ll know you’re not reading Jane Austen.”
And Lidia Yuknavitch says
"I'm in love with language again because Luke B. Goebel is not afraid to take us back through the gullet of loss into the chaos of words. Someone burns a manuscript in Texas; someone's speed sets a life on fire; a heart is beaten nearly to death, the road itself is the trip, a man is decreated back to his animal past--better, beyond ego, beautiful, and look: there's an American dreamscape left. There's a reason to go on."
Monologue topics: holidays, Santa Claus, lying, shattering my daughter's dream.
Lynn Lurie is the guest. Her new novel, Quick Kills, is available now from Etruscan Press.
Kirkus Reviews says
"Prepare to be disturbed by this slim but disquieting novel about the perils of youth and the trespasses committed against a young girl. This second novel by Lurie (Corner of the Dead, 2008) is purposefully vague in its descriptions but nevertheless carries with it a feeling of dread for its unnamed female narrator. As the book opens, she is roughly 13 years old and engaged in an unsuitable relationship with a photographer who tells her that young girls fill canvasses and who takes many, many nude photographs of her. She also has a rough-and-tumble brother, Jake, and a fragile sister, Helen. Their father, a hunter, also seems to represent an omnipresent threat. In one scene, Helen arrives with smeared eyeliner, trailing blood: "As she passes me in the foyer, she says to Mother. I had nothing to do with this. Why don't you ask Daddy?" The mother in question is equally guilty of the crimes of this household, emotionally absent and quick to overlook the obvious damage being done to her daughters. As the narrator indulges her own interests in photographing the world around her, readers should experience these flashes of imagery much as she does—the grotesque and the beautiful, all wrapped up in one another. By the end of the book, it becomes a story of survivor's guilt as the narrator invests her hurt in brief, broken and unwise liaisons. "By having done nothing all these years I didn't protect the others that must have come after me," she admits, in the end. As a bildungsroman, the story is lacking in detail, emotional depth and character arc, but it nevertheless leaves a frightening and lingering restlessness in its wake that may be hard for readers to shake."
Monologue topics: moving, freezing, rain, 24-hr grocery stores, the dirty heart of LA, cosmically significant accidental verbal puns.
The Washington Post says
"This beautiful, devastating little book is quite unlike anything else I've ever encountered, and if you grew up in a small town in the 1980s feeling even remotely marginal, it's specifically engineered to break your heart."
And the BBC calls it
Monologue topics: the move, exhaustion, the new home studio, schedule changes.
Mike Bushnell is the guest. His latest poetry collection is called OHSO, and it's available now from Scrambler Books.
Scott McClanahan says
"OHSO is revolutionary. It has seen death. Mike Bushnell is a ghost of the classics."
And Beach Sloth says
"Mike Bushnell is a tornado of a person. Everything around him gets sucked into his vortex. What comes out are some of the single best lines I have encountered. The energy he possesses with live readings translates extremely well into the written word. OHSO has been a long time a coming but thank goodness it is finally here."
Monologue topics: moving, schedule changes.
Dmitry Samarov is the guest. His new memoir, Where To?, is now available from Curbside Splendor.
Rick Kogan calls it
"Funny, touching, observant, philosophical, sad, world-weary, artful and wonderful are the stories that pepper this book. There has never been a cab driver like Dmitry Samarov and, since he's given up for keeps late-night for-hire driving, there never will be."
And Wendy MacNaughton says
"With his gorgeous pen and ink drawings and funny, tragic, and all too true stories, Samarov's chronicle of his adventures as a Chicago taxi driver is by far the best ride you'll ever take in a cab."
Monologue topics: mail, recent episodes.
Dorothea Lasky is the guest. Her latest poetry collection, Rome, is available now from Liveright.
Maggie Nelson says
“Dorothea Lasky is one of the very best poets we've got. Her poems radiate weirdness and raw power; you can feel your mind grow new folds as you read them. They lay waste to milquetoast notions of poetic longing or melancholy, and instead go in for the vibrating, bloody facts of sadness, anger, desire, bare life, all returned to us more intensely, strangely, and sometimes comedically, by her words. The line is Lasky's measure, and she wields it like an axe she's been carrying through several lifetimes, that kind of wisdom. Her Rome is huge and intrepid and perfect, a total gift.”
And Fanny Howe says
“Rome is a trip with the wheels engaged to land at every line ending, then flipped up again. A wholly open-hearted book bringing me back to Bernadette Mayer, Maureen Owen and the suffragettes. True life.”
Monologue topics: holiday gift ideas, support the show, Dorothea reads a poem.
William Giraldi is the guest. His latest novel, Hold the Dark, is now available from Liveright Publishing.
The New York Times Book Review calls it
“[F]ierce, extraordinary…. Hold the Dark is an unnerving and intimate portrayal of nature gone awry. It’s all but bereft of levity, spectacularly violent and exquisitely written.”
And the Boston Globe says
“Maybe it all began with Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock in 1938, but there is a variety of modern thriller, created these days by Robert Stone and Denis Johnson at their best, that delivers narrative thrust and beautifully composed sentences by the pageful even as it peels away the thin membrane that separates entertainment from art, and nature from civilization. Here’s Boston writer William Giraldi adding to the slender ranks of such masterly fiction… [Hold the Dark] certainly stands out as one of the decade’s best books of its kind, and one that deserves, because of its stylish flaunting of some of our darkest fears, a future readership.”
Monologue topics: holiday gift ideas, the holidays, capitalist orgies, bad attitudes.
The New York Times calls it
“Perhaps the finest and most unsentimental love story of the new decade.”
And Joy Williams says
"So much of American fiction has become playful, cynical and evasive. Preparation for the Next Life is the strong antidote to such inconsequentialities. Powerfully realistic, with a solemn, muscular lyricism, this is a very, very good book."
Monologue topics: TNB Book Club, mail, transcribing this podcast, Dear Sugar, advice.
Meghan Daum is the guest. Her new essay collection, The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, is available now from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
Hilton Als says
“I think it’s fair to say that I can’t tell you what Meghan Daum’s remarkable book means to me—the exceptional often denies verbalization. Her diverse subject matter aside—Mom, Joni Mitchell, the fetishization of food—it’s Daum’s galvanizing energy that one finds so attractive; nowhere in her work is there evidence of the ‘trance’ that Virginia Woolf said characterized so many women’s lives. Instead, Daum builds her various worlds out of great presence and imagination, and who wouldn’t want to live in her new city?”
And Geoff Dyer says
“The Unspeakable is a fantastic collection of essays: funny, clever, and moving (often at the same time), never more universal than in its most personal moments (in other words, throughout), and written with enviable subtlety, precision, and spring.”
Monologue topics: mail, dead animals, sleep, naps.
Hannah Pittard is the guest. Her new novel is called Reunion, and it is available now from Grand Central Publishing.
Emily St. John Mandel calls it
"A nuanced and intriguing study of family and love, money and debt, failure and success, starring one of the most likeable flawed narrators to come along in some time."
And Publishers Weekly calls it
"Emotionally astute...When this family of sorts gathers in Atlanta for the funeral, there is tension, pain, comedy, and finally, some healing and resolution. Kate is a winning narrator, whose insights into herself and her family keep the pages turning."
Monologue topics: wheat, internet holes, movies, Birdman, Gone Girl.
Bich Minh Nguyen is the guest. Her new novel, Pioneer Girl, is available now from Viking.
The San Francisco Chronicle calls it
"[A] sincere and moving novel... a surprising synthesis of the personal and the public, the intimate and the epic, the historical and the fictional. Nguyen takes two disparate strands of our national mythology and weaves them into a powerful and wholly original American saga."
And Kirkus Reviews says
"Nguyen has a perceptive understanding of the tension between mothers and daughters and the troubling insights to be gained from digging into the past. An unexpected pleasure, with a well-drawn and compelling narrator."
Monologue topics: Las Vegas, pot, gambling, losing, winning, ethics.
Frederick Barthelme is the guest. His latest novel, There Must Be Some Mistake, is available now from Little, Brown & Co.
David Shields says
"Very nearly alone among his peers, Frederick Barthelme has, over the last thirty-five years, written fiction about what it actually feels like to live in contemporary post-religious, hyper-mediated America. And—even more of a rarity—he works hard to find a way to somehow tolerate/celebrate, with enormous subtlety and without an ounce of sentimentality, our bare-bones existence. In There Must Be Some Mistake, Barthelme has distilled his brutal, crucial vision into useable essence."
And Publishers Weekly says
"Barthelme, a master of minimalist suburbia-set fiction, returns with a buoyantly offbeat murder tale that doubles as a meditation on everything from contemporary art to Google to mortality... Throughout the novel, his narration provides punchy, wry commentary on the banality of pop culture, but the tone is, ultimately, infectiously optimistic."
Monologue topics: mail, food, animal rights, Sarah Gerard, not voting, apathy, George Carlin.
Elizabeth McCracken is the guest. Her latest book is a story collection called Thunderstruck & Other Stories, and it is available now from The Dial Press.
The New York Times Book Review says
“Elizabeth McCracken knows how loss can melt reality, forever altering a person’s sense of time....In her new collection, McCracken gives brilliantly splintered life to just that kind of story....The fact that there is nothing depressing about the ubiquity of accident and disaster in Thunderstruck & Other Stories is a powerful testament to the scratchy humor and warm intelligence of McCracken’s writing....Her wisdom and wit have a moral dimension that deepens our sympathy for her straying souls.... [A] restorative, unforgettable collection.”
And Nick Hornby says
“Elizabeth McCracken is one of my favorite writers. Or, to put it another way: I’ve read everything she’s written...and there’s nothing I haven’t liked and admired enormously...She writes with acuity, soul, and a kind of easy grace that probably kills her, about characters she has created to love.... Thunderstruck showcases all the things this remarkable writer is so good at: the eccentric but illuminating metaphors, the deft characterization, the heart-lurching narrative development, the tenderness, the fantastic aphorisms....Anything new by her is an excuse for wild, drunken celebration.”
Monologue topics: mail, Christianity, Jesus, God, confusion.
Sarah Gerard is the guest. Her debut novel, Binary Star, is due out from Two Dollar Radio in January 2015.
Kate Zambreno says
"I felt a breathless intensity the whole time I read Sarah Gerard's brilliant Binary Star. I sped through it, dizzy, devastated, loving all of it."
And Jenny Offill calls it
"A bold, beautiful novel about wanting to disappear and almost succeeding. Sarah Gerard writes about love and loneliness in a new and brilliantly visceral way."
Monologue topics: Legoland, fear, masks, chaos, exhaustion, fire alarms, meth, cops, neighbors, pandemonium.
Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, calls it
"[A] masterfully told Western reinvention of Homer’s Odyssey...Set against a backdrop of beauty and danger, this is the moving story of a man coming to terms with his past. In its narrative simplicity and emotional directness, it is reminiscent of John Ford’s classic The Searchers."
And Library Journal, in a starred review, says
"Moving through the High Divide--'the rough country between the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers'--even as its characters move through important divides, or turning points, of their own, Enger's novel is told in beautifully exact, liquid language that wastes no time, just as one cannot afford to waste time when making a journey such as the Pope family's. Highly recommended."
Monologue topics: exhaustion, going to the doctor, Legoland, fear, loathing.
Diane Cook is the guest. Her debut story collection, Man V. Nature, is available now from Harper Books.
Tea Obreht says
"Man V. Nature is as close to experiencing a Picasso as literature can get: the worlds in Diane Cook’s impressive debut are bizarre, vertiginous, funny, pushed to the extreme-but just familiar enough in their nuances of the human condition to evoke an irresistible, around-the-corner reality.”
And the Boston Globe says
“Here’s a good rule: If Diane Cook wrote it, read it…Safety is tenuous, if not an illusion, in her thoughtful, unsettling, and darkly funny collection.”
Monologue topics: Kathleen Hale, Blythe Harris, don't feed trolls, Goodreads, stalking.