THE SHORT LIST: The Road, You Are A Little Bit Happier Than I Am 

The Road
By Cormac McCarthy
Knopf • Available Now

As dark and troubling as any previous Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road is an uncharacteristically simple story: A father and son have survived an event of apocalyptic proportions and make their way south through a burned-out America that’s been overrun by violent scavengers. Like 2005’s No Country For Old Men — a contemporary western whose plot was as web-like as The Road’s is linear — the novel is linguistically rich, every word deceptively simple yet heady. Even as the main characters are losing the nomenclature of the old America, the names of products, cities and historical figures, a purer and more direct love between father and son becomes apparent.
By concealing his characters’ names (we know them only as “the man” and “the boy”) and refusing to explicate the details of the apocalypse, the author has sidestepped many of the trappings of contemporary fiction. He offers us no overt sexual tension or historical asides, no loaded political subtext or burdensome exposition. McCarthy’s seamless marriage of narrative simplicity and terse, measured language proves that he is a writer who can still cut us deeply and surprise us completely.          
Nate Brown

You Are A Little Bit Happier Than I Am
By Tao Lin
Action Books •  November

For a book of poems, there’s very little poetry in Tao Lin’s new collection, You Are A Little Bit Happier Than I Am.  The very first poem is titled “some of my happiest moments in life occur on AOL instant messenger,” and the mundane nature of Lin’s subjects remains unchecked as the book progresses. The writing reads as more resigned than probing (“your philosophy of life is that drugs are cool/you are so nihilistic that you don’t care about the environment”), and much of the self-referentiality is exasperating (“if my literary agent doesn’t call me within ten minutes saying he sold my book i think i might do something/whatever i do it might be against the law and the police will want to handcuff me”). Though the poet’s anxiety about modern life is understandable, his incuriousness about the possibilities offered by self-expression is perplexing.           
Dan Feder

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