Friday, January 28, 2011

Vonnegut, Toibin, and Newton

While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut
Here are stories of men and machines, art and artifice, and how ideas of fortune, fame, and love take curious twists in ordinary lives. An ambitious builder of roads, commanding an army of bulldozers, graders, and asphalt spreaders, fritters away his free time with miniature trains--until the women in his life crash his fantasy land. Trapped in a stenography pool, a young dreamer receives a call from a robber on the run, who presents her with a strange proposition. A cruster newspaperman is forced onto a committee to judge Christmas displays--a job that leads him to a suspiciously ostentatious ex-con and then a miracle. A hog farmer's widow receives cryptic, unsolicited letters from a man in Schenectady about "the indefinable sweet aches of the spirit." But what will she find out when she goes to meet him in the flesh?

The Empty Family by Colm Toibin
These stories are set in present-day Ireland, 1970s Spain, and nineteenth-century England and are about people linked by love, loneliness, and desire. "Silence" is a brilliant historical set piece about Lady Gregory, widowed and abandoned by her lover, who tells the writer Henry James a confessional story at a dinner party. In "Two Women," an eminent Irish set designer, aloof and prickly, takes a job in her homeland, and is forced to confront devastating emotions she has long repressed. "The New Spain" is the story of an intransigent woman who returns home after a decade in exile and shatters the fragile peace her family has forged in the post-Franco world. And in the breathtaking long story, "The Street," Toibin imagins a startling relationship between two Pakistani workers in Barcelona--a taboo affair in a community ruled b obedience and silence.

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Beneath a dying red suit sits the proud and ancient city of Villjamur, capital of a mighty empire that new sits powerless against an encroaching ice age. As throngs of refugees gather outside the city gates, a fierce debate rages within the walls about the fates of these desperate souls. Then tragedy strikes--and the Emperor's eldest daughter, Jamur Rika, is summoned to serve as queen. Joined by her younger sister, Jamur Eir, the queen comes to sympathize with the hardships of the common people, thanks in part to her dashing teacher Randur Estevu, a man who is not what he seems.

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