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Book Reviews

Maile Chapman’s Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto contains all the ingredients for a splendid gothic mystery. It features a cast of strange and secretive characters, a setting of chilly natural beauty (the story takes place in rural Finland) and an air of implicit violence. It is too bad, then, that the book snuffs out every whiff of suspense hinted at in its premise, offering instead a plodding narrative punctuated by missed opportunities.

“It is never said, but it is clear that it is over, that our lives, bound together for so long, will now be lived apart. Everything that we were, the whole magical, horrible opera, is now over. We are only a table apart but we’re in different worlds. He seems less like a person and more like a fragment from a dream I once had, some nocturnal wonder I cannot revive after sleep, only remember.”

In Imperial Bedrooms, Clay buys two escorts –– a teenaged boy and girl –– and brings them to a house in Palm Springs. The boy is from down under, Australia. The girl from the Bible Belt, Memphis. At one point, Clay is “smeared in shit” and pushes his fist into the girl. She shrieks with shock until the boy stuffs her mouth with his cock, gagging her. Shortly thereafter, Clay tells us that “the devil was calling out to [the girl] but it didn’t scare her anymore because she wanted to talk to him.” All the while, in the background, a group of crickets buzz and hiss incessantly.

The stories all have a Seinfeldian quality, in the best sense of that adjective. The humor is observational, the plots are subtly intricate, and each piece is populated by monsters masquerading as regular people. An anorexic and kleptomaniac roommate prompts Crosley to consider moving into a former brothel populated by the ghosts of dead hookers.

The list of contributors, some names long forgotten, others alive in legend, is as eccentric and eclectic as the recipes themselves: Elizabeth Arden, Christian Dior, Charlie Chaplin, Clare Boothe Luce, Laurence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn, Salvador Dali, Tallulah Bankhead. It’s a real early twentieth century celebrity parade.Specialites is more than just a fun book to read. It is an historical document of some content and value giving a real sense of the state of American cuisine before World War II…

The publication next month of a monograph on Birgit Jürgenssen marks the first in-depth consideration of the career of the Austrian artist published in English. The book arrives six years after her death and on the sixtieth anniversary of her birth—significant recognition for an artist many English-speaking audiences know little, if anything, about. Jürgenssen, like her better-known compatriot Valie Export, is part of the pioneering generation of feminist artists.

Eleanor Catton’s first novel centers on an affair between a 17-year-old pupil at an all-girls school and her thirty-something male music teacher, but the novel is really about everyone else: the students, parents and teachers who help to turn the albeit taboo relationship into a scandal. The gossip extends beyond the perimeters of the campus of the school, Abbey Grange (which the girls call “Scabby Grange” or “Abbey Grunge”), into newspapers, homes…

When I found Nothing Happened on the new books table I was, I think, justifiably skeptical: the subtitle, “A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction,” immediately suggested a publishing industry gimmick; and the cover with two pictures creating a sequential narrative, one of a barren desert landscape, the second that same landscape now dotted with red balloons, suggested something unbearably corny.

Too proud to request help, he performs some amateur corrective measures and gets back on his motorbike, groin stinging. Disaster strikes: Beard’s penis falls off and lodges itself above the kneecap of his snowsuit. (“The hideous object, less than two inches long, was stiff like a bone. It did not feel, or it no longer felt, like a part of himself.”) In a panic, still aboard the motorbike, he contemplates the possibility of microsurgery for reattachment.

Stannard gives us a Spark who personifies demonic energy and the Calvinist flintiness of the Scots. He tells us that she saw herself as “Lucrezia Borgia in trousers.” She let no one – editor, publicist, accountant – sell her out or tell her what to do…Publishers feared her, shrank from confrontation, and rarely asked her to go on publicity tours or give readings.

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