How the Dead Dream, by Lydia Millet, Portland, Oregonian, February 24, 2008. For Millet, novel writing is not an exercise in tying together the loose ends like in a genre mystery or Steven Spielberg film. Rather it's more of a poetic act of pulling the carpet out from under the reader's intellectual and emotional belief systems. "Did you ever have a dream so real it felt like you were awake?" one of the novel's characters asks, and the question itself is an apt description of the experience of reading "How the Dead Dream."
Laura Warholic, by Alexander Theroux, The Believer, Nov-Dec 2007. The beauty of Laura Warholic is that Theroux pulls it off. Its charms are its perverse humor— which cannot be taken as seriously as the book takes itself— its ability to capture its characters at their worst, and Theroux’s encyclopedic, kitchen-sink writing style. It is hot-button literature, an argumentative and smug know-it-all of a book; it makes you want to talk back to it, hurl it out the window, and deny the plausibility of the cultural decadence it depicts. It treads on ground where authors and readers are reluctant to go, and it is bad company worth keeping.
The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland, Portland Oregonian, November 4, 2007. "The Gum Thief" is the Canadian Coupland's twelfth book of published fiction since 1991, and over his career, he has honed a clear-eyed and straight ahead writing style. His new book is filled with characters more recognizable from day-to-day life than recent fiction. The novel also abounds in catchy turns of phrase and personal observations from the characters' points of view on topics ranging from asteroid belts to the colors of the Italian flag. Many of the funniest passages include ruminations about office supplies, those who buy them, and the outlets where they are sold.
Michael Tolliver Lives, by Armistead Maupin, Portland Oregonian, July 1, 2007. In its beginnings, "Tales of the City" mixed elements of satire, suspense and melodrama, set among an ensemble of residents of a San Francisco apartment complex, all brought together by matriarch/patriarch Mrs. Madrigal. The series quickly evolved as Maupin lost the satirical impulse and seemed to grow to like his characters as much as his characters began to like one another. Villains fell by the wayside, and the 28 Barbary Lane crew became one of the most endearing in contemporary American fiction.
You Don't Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem, Portland Oregonian, March 18, 2007. In many ways, "You Don't Love Me Yet" gives off more of the air of a new CD release by an established band than the newest work by one of the most artistically successful novelists born in the post-Beatles era. (Lethem was born days after the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in 1964.) . . . Yet just as the finest rock groups can take on a new direction that leaves their fans shaking their heads, in "You Don't Love Me Yet," Lethem ventures away from his traditional strengths. In his new book, you won't find the Tourettic buddhist noir of "Motherless Brooklyn." Nor will you find the swirl of comic books heroes, funk and punk, and Brooklyn childhoods from "Fortress of Solitude" that established Lethem as much more than a one-hit wonder.
Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon, Portland Oregonian, November 26, 2006. Whether or not Pynchon writes future novels, "Against the Day" can be seen as his "Brothers Karamazov." It ties up the loose ends of his career and shows that his past successes were not a fluke. It stands on its own and will enhance the reputation of his previous books. With a writer as publicity-shy as Pynchon, there is no way if with this novel he is calling it a day. If he is, then he's going out with a bang louder than an obliterating asteroid screaming across the Siberian sky.
Only Revolutions, by Mark Danielewski, Portland Oregonian, September 17, 2006. Danielewski's past success has made "Only Revolutions" one of the most anticipated novels of 2006. While the author could have played it safe by writing a sequel to "House of Leaves," he instead veered in another direction, writing an alienating book that defies its audience to read it and then rewards those who do. "Only Revolutions" projects an air of self-confidence in its form and content and appears destined to become a classic or a curio depending on which direction its ride takes it.
Apex Hides the Hurt, by Colson Whithead, Portland Oregonian, April 2, 2006. Colson Whitehead is one of the smartest writers around, but he doesn't flaunt it. Instead he honors his readers' intelligence rather than building up his own. "Apex Hides the Hurt" is a breezy, engaging read with as many complex undertones as there are skin shades in the novel's Apex adhesive bandage product line.
Temple of Texts, By
William Gass, Portland
Oregonian, March 12, 2006. William
H. Gass can be thought of as the Charles Grodin of American
letters. Gass' career has been long, distinguished and often devoted to
making others look good. At the same time, it has taken until recently
for him to receive over-the-top mainstream recognition. You can even
say that after recent features in The Believer, Bookforum, and The
Review of Contemporary Fiction, the octogenarian Gass has become hip.
Europe Central, by William Vollmann, Portland Oregonian, April 17, 2005. "For Vollmann's devoted fan base, Europe Central could well be seen as a work of considerable research and skill if not the pinnacle of the writer's career. For the uninitiated, however, Europe Central might seem less an opus of cutting edge fiction than an 800-page war novel written in a Darth Vader prose style with long passages that resemble the kind of writing you would find in a college history textbook.
White Like Me, by Tim Wise, Willamette Week, March 2, 2005. Wise's arguments are aimed less at starting a street movement than promoting personal change in his readers. He tells of growing up in Tennessee, as red as a red state gets, and joining the campaign to defeat neo-Nazi David Duke. Wise's style is matter-of-fact, if not eloquent, and his anecdotes have been field-tested after years on the seminar circuit."
Stencil Pirates, by Josh MacPhee, Willamette Week, December 8, 2004. The risk in creating a book like Stencil Pirates is that by researching and documenting the phenomenon, you might lessen its shock value and street appeal, rendering it passé. MacPhee sidesteps this by maintaining his outsider enthusiasm. It helps that stencil art doesn't always photograph well and its message is often lost when removed from its immediate context. To get the full picture, you need to go and see for yourself, and any urban environment will do. Stencil Pirates provides the impetus.
Vortex, by Matt Love, Willamette Week, November 3, 2004. Pieced together from interviews and rambling primary-source materials, the book at times resembles a box of dishes crashing down a staircase, which is appropriate because the most intriguing elements of Vortex I are its loose ends. The book zags and zigs among narratives ranging from the FBI's infiltration of Portland anti-war groups to the event that could well have signaled the dawn of the hippie-fest movement.
Other published reviews include Harbor, by Lorraine Adams (Portland Oregonian); As Smart As We Are, by One Ring Zero (2Gyrlz Quarterly), and The Legend of Wild Man Fischer, by Dennis P. Eichorn and J.R. Williams (Too Much Coffee Man).