Book Review: The Throwback Special

The Throwback Special

The Throwback Special: A Novel by Chris Bachelder (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016. 213 pp) Chris Bachelder is the author of Bear v. Shark, U.S.!, and Abbot Awaits. His fiction and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s, The Believer, and the Paris Review. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Cincinnati, where he teaches at the University of Cincinnati. Rhythms and Rituals We are a species addicted to rhythm and ritual. In college, we sit in the same seat day-by-day and class-by-class. At work, we grab the same coffee order and check our emails around the same time. As parents, we do our best to create rhythms and rituals for our children. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner… Read More →

Book Review: The Twelve

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The Twelve: A Novel by Justin Cronin (New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. 608 pp) Justin Cronin is the author of The Passage, The Twelve, Mary and O’Neil, and The Summer Guest. His work has earned him a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Stephen Crane Prize, Whiting Writer’s Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Houston, Texas with his family. *Spoiler Alert for the Previous Books* Let’s Talk Plot and Structure Even though narratives can take many forms and stylistic flourishes, I tend to enjoy the prologue. This excerpt at the beginning of a story allows the author to set the stage and make statements about the overarching themes to come. When I think of the… Read More →

Book Review: The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead (New York: Doubleday, 2016. 320 pp) Colson Whitehead was born in 1969 and raised in Manhattan. He attended Harvard College and afterward he began working as a reviewer for The Village Voice. Out of the gate, Whitehead’s fiction gained acclaim when his first novel, The Intuitionist, won the Quality Paperback Book Club’s New Voices Award. His work has earned him the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the PEN/Oakland Award, and a Whiting Writers Award. Also, Whitehead has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. Victors Write History History: Written by the Victors. We discuss such a phrase most often around our… Read More →

Book Review: Home

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson (New York: Picador, 2008. 336 pp) Born in Sandpoint, Idaho, Marilynne Robinson earned her B.A. at Pembroke College and her Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington. She currently teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has received numerous awards, notably the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Pulitzer Prize, and a National Humanities Medal. True to Identity Marilynne Robinson gets all the props. In her small, fictitious town of Gilead, Robinson conjures the truth of humanity in all its frailty and detail. When considering a story, plot often represents the easy portion. A death propels the protagonist toward the end… Read More →

Book Review: Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist: A Novel by Sunil Yapa (New York: Lee Boudreaux Books, 2016. 320 pp) Sunil Yapa is a Sri Lankan American author. He holds a BA in economic geography from Penn State University and an MFA in Fiction from Hunter College, where he was awarded the Alumni Scholarship & Welfare Fund Fellowship and was twice selected as a Hertog Fellow. He is the recipient of the 2010 Asian American Short Story Award and has received scholarships from The New York State Summer Writers’ Institute, The Norman Mailer Writers’ Center and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Yapa’s writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Margins, Hyphen Magazine, The Tottenville Review, and… Read More →

Book Review: The Making of the Zombie Wars

The Making of the Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon

The Making of the Zombie Wars: A Novel by Aleksandar Hemon (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015. 320 pp) Aleksandar Hemon is the author of The Lazarus Project, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; The Book of My Lives, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and three other works of fiction, including Nowhere Man, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. He lives in Chicago. Enough Already The world has no need for more zombie stories. Luckily, Aleksandar Hemon’s latest novel, despite its title, is not about zombies. The Making… Read More →

Television Show Review: Master of None: Season 1

Master of None Season 1

Master of None: Season 1 created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang (3 Arts Entertainment, Netflix, Universal Television) Starring Aziz Ansari, Noël Wells, Lena Waithe, Eric Wareheim, Kelvin Yu, and Todd Barry. Literary Comedy Upon hearing the question, “What is it about?” how often are you able to give a concise summary of a show? The plot, more often than not, drives such a discussion. The chemistry teacher turns to cooking meth. A handful of families wage war against each other to take hold of the iron throne. Comedy, though, tends to abstain from plot-heavy storytelling. Some shows tell stories in long narrative arcs, but many also use a handful of situations to generate comedy. These sitcoms remove character complexity,… Read More →

Book Review: The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage: A Novel by Justin Cronin (New York: Ballantine Books, 2014. 912 pp) Justin Cronin is the author of The Passage, The Twelve, Mary and O’Neil, and The Summer Guest. His work has earned him a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Stephen Crane Prize, Whiting Writer’s Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Houston, Texas with his family. The Politics of Story Portion a story into its disparate parts. If you dive deeply enough, you’ll find political positioning no matter the plot and structure. Dissect the story and throw it under a microscope. You’ll find a tendency toward conservativism in plot-heavy action narratives and liberalism in literary fiction. The forward motion of many action… Read More →

Television Show Review: Fargo: Season 2

Fargo Season 2

Fargo: Season 2 created by Noah Hawley (MGM Productions, FX Productions) Starring Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Jesse Plemons, Jean Smart, Ted Danson, Jeffrey Donovan, Rachel Keller, Nick Offerman, Brad Garrett, Kieran Culkin, Bokeem Woodbine, Angus Sampson, Cristin Milioti, and Zahn McClarnon. Layers and Layers The best stories blend a gripping narrative with intriguing themes that ride underneath the surface. While the plot piques your interest and encourages you to tune in next week, the themes in the undercurrent provide a rich tapestry of human experience. I recently read an article on Kendrick Lamar that explores this very concept. In his tune, “King Kunta,” Lamar frequently references a yam. On the surface, the yam flows with the rest of the lyrics… Read More →

Book Review: Plot & Structure

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell (Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2004. 240 pp) James Scott Bell attended the University of California, Santa Barbara and studied writing with Raymond Carver. He graduated from the University of Southern California law school. He teaches novel writing at Pepperdine University and has published numerous articles and books in many genres. New Year’s Resolution While many will wake up on January 1, emerging slowly from the drunken revelry surrounding the final day of 2015, they’ll don some running shoes and get to work at that weight loss resolution. The changing calendar offers opportunity for something new. When better to enact… Read More →