More than ever, we need literature that gives Westerners a compelling entrée into—a way of better understanding—the lives of war-and-terrorism fraught regions. Over at Bloom, T.L. Khleif, recent recipient of a Rona Jaffe award, writes about Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon, a collection that immerses readers in the tribal areas of Pakistan prior to the rise of the Taliban. Among other notable honors, Ahmad joins the pantheon of late-blooming male authors who would not have ever published were it not for the stubborn encouragement of their wives.
To give a brief, vague summary, this book is about a girl born into a diseased situation — literally and metaphorically — and how she uses her sexuality to cope with it. The sentences remain broken and inarticulate throughout the novel, even after the narrator is born, grows up, and comes of age. This novel does not shy away from the world’s cruelty. There were times when I had to look away from the page despite the opaque-ness of the prose. There were times when I was worried for the physical well being of the narrator. There were times when I had to disengage from the story, because the scenes of abuse and violence were too harsh. It’s not the kind of book that makes you cry; it’s the kind of book that shakes you up. While reading this novel, I had several dreams about terrible things happening to my son. Yes, this book actually gave me nightmares. And yet I did not want to stop reading it.
We have a lot of prizes that honor well-crafted first novels. But what about the second novel, which is far more likely to be ignored? Herewith, Dan Kois announces that Slate is teaming up with the Whiting Foundation to produce We Second That, a list of under-recognized second novels from the past five years. You could also read our own Bill Morris on the golden age of the second novel.
For years, one of the best ways to make a living as a writer (if you didn’t want to go into academia) was to become an ad copywriter. They heyday of print was flush with opportunities to make bank off billboards and publications. At The Paris Review Daily, Dan Piepenbring looks back on the ad copy of Fay Weldon, who gave the UK, among other things, the slogan “Vodka makes you drunker quicker.” (Related:Hope Mills on working for a creative agency.)
French has said that she would shamelessly hang around bus stops and shopping centers to listen to teenagers talk to each other, and my strongest impression of the book is how she used realistic teenage vernacular to convey enormous complexity. I’m a fan of YA books, but the characters in them are frequently aspirational (unless all the super hot, sensitive, artistically-inclined boys in my high school were hiding somewhere). The girls in The Secret Place are very recognizably obnoxious teenagers, and yet their lives and relationships are intricate and compelling — to the extent that I thought they were all idiots, and at one point or another I thought all of them capable of murder.
I also enjoyed thinking about how being a teenage girl is a bit like being a detective, for both roles require a near-constant behavioral accommodation in order to get what you want: from a suspect or witness, or from a friend or a teacher. Dang, Tana, that’s good.
Over the course of a half-century, Vladimir Nabokov wrote hundreds of letters to his wife Vera, which are being published in book form this week for the first time. Among other things, they reveal the absurd pet names he invented for his (such as Goosykins and Monkeykins) and display Nabokov musing over whether or not to borrow a friend’s castle for the summer. Also worth reading: our own Garth Risk Hallberg on Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor.