27 April 2014

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, by C├ęsar Aira

This is a deceptively slender book: traversing its scant 87 pages is like crawling through a narrow tunnel and emerging inside an underground cathedral, brilliantly illuminated. It's a stunning work, absolutely enthralling. The story of a landscape painter traveling across Argentina, it becomes a lyrical reflection on landscape, painting, vision, literature, literature, humanity, life... It's completely incredible. You must read it.

08 April 2014

Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi

Retellings of fairy tales can easily feel somewhat gimmicky, but this one is absolutely dazzling. Snow White re-imagined as a story about a black family passing as white in the American 1950s. What? you think. How? Indeed. And yet, in Oyeyemi's telling, it makes sense. 

What is particularly wise about it, I think, is the way it handles -- and even becomes a reflection on -- the problem of evil. Often, when we're hearing the story from the villain's side we're being asked to see that they were actually kind of justified, that it really wasn't their fault, that the good guy wasn't actually that good, etc. Oyeyemi indeed humanizes the characters, but retains a chilling possibility of something absolutely dark and seethingly alive. Whether it is in the characters themselves or the world they inhabit is a question left open in this fascinating and utterly engrossing book.