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Binge read
November 10, 2017
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Although we’re not lucky enough to be treated to a new Jeffrey Eugenides novel quite yet — they only come along once a decade and it’s just six years since his last, The Marriage Plot — he has provided us with a short story collection (his first) to tide us over in the meantime.

The collection comprises 10 tales that span the breadth of his career. The earliest, the Ireland-set Capricious Gardens, was written back to 1988 (that’s five years before he published his debut, The Virgin Suicides); while those that bookend the collection, Complainers and Fresh Complaint, are new, dated this year. It is overall a welcome reminder of both the potential excellence to come and the joys of Eugenides’s previous achievements.

Fans of his novels will recognise a couple of the characters herein. In Air Mail, The Marriage Plot’s Mitchell Grammaticus, a young American student, is struck down with amoebic dysentery while searching for enlightenment on a remote Thai island. Meanwhile, Dr Peter Luce, the sexologist from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, takes centre stage in The Oracular Vulva — a tale that resonates with echoes of Hanya Yanagihara’s unsettling first novel The People in the.

It’s a theme that resurfaces again in the final story — that from which the collection takes its title — in which Matthew, an academic who’s married and the father of two, has no idea that the supposedly spontaneous tryst between him and a (much) younger, beautiful student is actually a carefully planned seduction by a girl looking for a way out of the arranged marriage her Indian parents have planned for her.

Although admittedly there’s nothing in Fresh Complaint to rival the fineness of his novels — they undoubtedly remain Eugenides’s uncontested superior form — there is much to enjoy and admire; notably the fact there’s not a dud in the collection, an achievement that’s harder to pull off than it might seem.

The Independent

by Daniel Alarcón

In the last of 10 stories included in Daniel Alarcón’s dark and incisive The King Is Always Above the People, one of the collection’s many drifting men recalls a city park to which he used to take his stepson. He knows he’ll never visit it again — just as he knows his stepson will never see it again with the “magical imagination” he’d possessed as a child. These stories — many set in an unnamed Latin American country resembling Alarcón’s native Peru, with a few unfolding in the United States where he’s lived most of his life — are filled with young men who’ve lost their innocence and their way. Many of them would be right at home in the 1930s world of John Steinbeck.

by John Grisham

The Law School Scam, a 2014 investigative article in The Atlantic, was the inspiration for John Grisham’s latest novel, The Rooster Bar. Grisham’s tale is a thoroughly engaging, seriocomic caper that satirises and exposes unsavoury for-profit law schools, along with banks that exploit students with loans they’ll never be able to pay off, unfair United States immigration policies — and, for that matter, the entire legal profession in the country.
In the novel, Mark Frazier, Todd Lucero and Zola Maal are third-year law students in D.C., enrolled in a bottom-of-the-line, for-profit institution called Foggy Bottom Law School. This is the set-up for Grisham’s wild, hard-to-put-down romp. It’s no surprise that the author’s writing should be brilliant, nor that his far-fetched plot is compelling from chapter to chapter. It appears light and funny, but his characters’ travails reflect those of a significant number of real-life American millennials duped by unscrupulous banks and businesses.

by Michael Connelly

The truth should be an unshakeable constant that cannot be maligned. But the truth is it can be manipulated to suit different agendas. Detective Harry Bosch knows all too well about the truth, which plays a major part in Michael Connelly’s exciting 20th outing with his perennial hero. As Bosch muses, “ … there were two kinds of truth in this world. The truth that was the unalterable bedrock of one’s life and mission. And the other, the malleable truth of politicians, charlatans, corrupt lawyers and their clients, bent and moulded to serve whatever purpose was at hand.” Connelly is one of the few authors who can use the idea of truthiness as a springboard for a gripping thriller about corruption, opioids, politics and the minutiae of a police investigation as he does in Two Kinds of Truth.

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