06/22/11 4:00am
06/22/2011 4:00 AM |

The Curfew

Jesse Ball


The third novel from Jesse Ball, a poet-turned-novelist with a penchant for stunning complexity, hones in on an ostensibly simple but marvelously gripping tale about a violin-virtuoso-turned-epitaph-scribe named William and his mute but precocious daughter, Molly. The Curfew is set in a vaguely dystopian city where creativity has been prohibited and a shadowy war rages. We meet William and Molly as they’re struggling to stay below the sinister regime’s radar after Molly’s mother, Louisa, disappears.

When William goes out past the titular curfew, possibly to join the fomenting rebellion, Molly and the retired puppeteer who lives across the hall craft an insomniously imaginative marionette play that layers another, even more allegorical metafiction atop the minimalist plot, one taken up with the same survivalist sense-making and memorializing as William’s elegiac gravestone poetry. At one point, Molly instructs the old puppeteer with notes on paper: “There will be no magic, whatsoever. Magic is either a poverty-stricken necessity or a wealthy fantasy. We are in neither of those straits, and what cannot be explained will be left unknown.” This is clearly more than a little girl’s preference; it is also a treatise on magic realism and its metaphysical diversions. In The Curfew, at least, fiction, imagination, and old-fashioned storytelling—as coping mechanisms and catalysts for hope—are magical and mysterious enough.

Ball’s poetic proclivities are on display throughout his prose. The novel is arranged in short vignettes, deploying linguistic and typographic playfulness, and each page brims with enchantment. Molly is a font of wide-eyed but sophisticated profundity, putting forth such ruminations as “What remains of a tree in a violin?” Throughout, Ball eschews preciousness in favor of mythical whimsy in league with Calvino or Erickson or Ball’s clearest antecedent, Borges.

In the end, The Curfew is a spellbinding and wistful meditation on familial love, sacrifice, the exigency of imagination, and the honoring of those lost. It’s a book that leaves the heart both wrenched and warm.

08/04/10 3:00am
by |
08/04/2010 3:00 AM |

Local and small-press books from the shelves at WORD (126 Franklin St), picked by the staffers who know them best.

Mad Men Unbuttoned:
A Romp Through 1960s America

By Natasha Vargas-Cooper

Collins Design
As the fourth season gets underway, Vargas-Cooper focuses on the real-life inspirations for the show, from stewardesses to the real Maidenform campaign to The Group by Mary McCarthy, and her approach is ultimately more effective than any straight-up recap could be.


By Julia Holmes

Small Beer Press
Holmes, a Brooklyn resident, makes her debut with this stunning, thoughtfull novel. Limning an alternate world where men have a limited space of time to find a wife (and if they don’t, are killed or made civil servants), her writing is funny, strong, and dark in all the right places.

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran: One Young Man’s Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut

By Rob Sheffield

A new book from the Greenpoint-based author of the much-loved Love Is a Mix Tape, this one set to an 80s soundtrack. As hysterically funny as you’d expect, making all the tender and awkward sections even more powerful.

07/21/10 2:00am
by |
07/21/2010 2:00 AM |

Local and small-press books from the shelves at Greenlight Bookstore (686 Fulton St), picked by the staffers who know them best.

A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both
By Ben Greenman

MacAdam Cage

Eleanor says: The introduction to this collection is written by one of the author’s former substitute teachers, and begins with an arresting story that he composed in response to an essay topic she assigned to his tenth-grade class. The following stories have more developed characters and plot lines, but retain the same haunting style of his high school work.

The Flying Troutmans
By Miriam Toews


Eleanor says: Not only is this book by one of my favorite authors (check out A Complicated Kindness if you enjoy this), it also contains one of the best characters I’ve ever met in a book. Her name is Thebes, and she is a wonderful, precocious preteen with purple hair. She refuses to shower, is permanently coated in a layer of glitter, and is unfailingly kind and understanding. Thebes alone is reason to read this book.

The Great Game
By Peter Hopkirk

Kodansha International

Alexis says: From 1992, an excellent and engaging history of British and Russian rivalry and competition in Central Asia. Beginning with a grim execution in Bokhara, Hopkirk takes us on a journey covering 150 years of brinkmanship and illuminating the history of an embattled region.

06/23/10 2:00am
by |
06/23/2010 2:00 AM |

Local and small-press books from the shelves at Greenlight Bookstore (686 Fulton St), picked by the staffers who know them best.


Natalie says: I stumbled across this while browsing the library shelves in Dallas, and ended up loving it. I then went to my local bookstore (yes, in Dallas) and bought a copy because I liked it so much. I then spent quite some time trying to put this book into words for my recommendation here. Everything I wrote read like a commercial for women’s hygiene products (flowery and silly). So, if you’re into love stories, identity, East Coast, West Coast, a dead bohemian artist that haunts, and really good writing by a young author… then this book is for you.


Daryl says: I’ve got crazy cravings for this Melville House Art of the Novella series. So simple and cute, they’re practically edible. Am I the only one who’s trying to line them up on my shelf in color order? I picked Tales of Belkin because I am a cheesy, sentimental sap and the brief stories here are SO ROMANTIC I COULD DIE. They talk about love the way no one can talk about love anymore (at least not with a straight face), and since it’s Pushkin, it’s not cheap in the least. Just treat yourself, it’s a NOVELLA.


Rebecca says: A pictorial exploration of New York City public school libraries via the Robin Hood Foundation, this book is a celebration of how we must never forget to invest in our children, their education, and how we must always encourage children to read. It has the best dang dedication I’ve seen in ages: “For New York City, whose subways are mobile reading rooms.”