Events Manager at Lake Forest Park
Sam has been a bookseller long enough to know better, and too long for him to remember how to do anything else. He likes Dorothy B. Hughes and Dorothy Parker, Barbara Tuchman and Emily Carr, strong coffee and off-brand guitars. If it’s weird, dark, mildly unsettling fiction, or immersive history, chances are he wants to read it. He knows more than you would expect about classic cars, early twentieth century cast iron skillets, and the Drive By Truckers discography.
Like if George Saunders re-wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang. Only, you know, better.
Hot with violet urgency, and shrouded in the moss and fog of the rural Northwest, Vera Violet opens with the eponymous Vera on the run someplace deep in Montana, and does not let up until the final page. In between is something like the root system of a tall cedar, or the wiring Harness on an old pickup: tangled at first glance, but intricate as soon as you start to trace it. This is an unforgettable novel.
Brian Doyle spoke more or less exactly the way he wrote, a fact that I always found kind of remarkable. It's easy to imagine him reading - performing, really - any of the short, poignant essays collected here. Doyle died way too soon, in 2017, but he left us with an incredible body of work - sublime, hilarious, tragic, beatific - the very best (non-fiction) examples of which are collected in this volume, with help from David James Duncan. Keep these close and read (and re-read) them frequently - as meditation, as comedy, as guiding beacons in dark times. Thanks, Brian, for everything.
Thrilling adventure story? Unexpected coming-of-age? Near irresistable siren song of restlessness and the bittersweet pleasures of solitute? Whatever Rough Magic is, I tore through it in an afternoon. So will you.
This may be a very funny novel about art and idealism. Or it may be a very serious novel about how our work defines us - albeit one that will make you laugh uncontrollably and at random. Either way, the joke's on us: gleeful, satirical and disarmingly sincere, profound and bombastic in equal measure, and so, so familiar to anyone who has been in their twenties, or nursed a beer in the corner at the party and watched their friends hold court, or contemplated the big questions about whether we are what we create or whether, maybe it's the other way around, Loudermilk is refreshing and incisive.
A compelling, unflinching portrait of Spain in the early 20th century, this autobiographical trilogy is at once a charming coming-of-age saga and a chilling study of the rise of a fascist state. Not convinced? Admittedly, it's long...but this prose is as rich and as satisfying as an Andalusian feast.
This stunning debut novel has been described by countless other reviewers as a parable, and the label fits. But it's also so much more – an investigation of the differences between yearning and greed, a testament to the lengths we'll travel for love, and a compelling, sparse, salt-soaked epic.
One part pitch-perfect observation, one part razor-sharp wit and one part punk rock attitude: this is the simple but effective cocktail that makes Sean Beaudoin's first adult story collection undeniably great. Abrasive, hilarious and wise, Beaudoin will make you laugh hysterically, right up until the moment you realize that you're laughing at yourself. Heads up, George Saunders fans: your new favorite writer has arrived.
“We believed, America.” Thus, the voice of Evel Kneivel – or, at least, some infalliable, omniscient version of him – begins Daredevils. It's 1974 in Gooding, Idaho, and two teenage kids - both from Mormon families but in starkly different situations - are about to put their faith in earthly saviors, dangerous heroes and, ultimately, each other. Which means, of course, that they are about to learn how heroes can disappoint us, how saviors turn out to be just as bad as the things they save you from, and how incredibly hard and lonely it is to be free. But they're also about to learn that in the end, we've all got to believe in something. Daredevils won the 2017 Washington State Book Award for Fiction.
Petterson's novel is a literary punch in the gut, a book as alluring and ambiguous as life itself. When two estranged childhood friends meet accidentally one early morning, each is struck by a wave of memories. Before the day is done, both men will be forced to grapple with the ghosts of their families, the far-reaching consequences of long-ago actions, and the realities of their divergent paths. This is a stark, earthy portrait of two people facing the specters of the past and the maw of the future.
This slim novel is one powerful piece of magic, and demands a place at the top of the later-twentieth-century western canon. A lush, dark, mystical story of homecoming and reclamation.
Delicate and brutal, this understated and very human little novel illuminates the unexamined lives of simple people swept up in a tragedy. Three German reservists, hoping to escape the executions they are asked to perform, head into the desolate Polish countryside in search of new prisoners - and end up faced with a moral quandary far more tangled than the one they were running from.
For my money, this is among the finest American short story collections of the past twenty years. ZZ Packer's taut, snarky, understated stories of race, culture, family ties, and youth in a country on the brink of the present are each like perfectly measured pipe bombs, timed to go off right when you start thinking there's nothing to worry about.
It's like One Hundred Years of Solitude. Except in Denmark, and with boats.
When Franz Nicolay quit his job playing keys in The Hold Steady, he did exactly what any sensible, accordion-toting folk-punk would: he went to tour the former Soviet Bloc on his own, sleeping in strangers' apartments and on venue floors, and traveling via overnight trains with dubious schedules. With Rebecca West as his literary guide, Nicolay visited some of the darker, stranger corners of the Balkans and the former USSR, met a tight-knit community of rockers, artists, dreamers, and all-around nutjobs, drank a quantity of Vodka, and played some great shows – all while witnessing firsthand the disturbing resurgence of nationalist movements and the renewed spread of Kremlin control in the region. A fascinating travelogue, a political study of an increasingly relevant corner of the world, and a rare rock and roll tour memoir that manages to be engaging and intimate without feeling self-indulgent, all wrapped up in one excellent package.
Heartbreaking and wryly amusing in equal measure, All My Puny Sorrows is probably the truest rendering of a family grappling with the realities of mental illness that I have ever read.
Lotto and Mathilde met at a party. Lotto took one look at Mathilde and proposed; Mathilde took one look at Lotto and accepted. They eloped, much to his mother's chagrin. They struggled, together, through the poverty of their twenties. They became famous, became legends. They were glamorous. They had it all. They had no secrets, especially not from each other. Or did they? This powerfully conceived novel – full of sharp edges and complicated truths – is among the finest pieces of new fiction I have read in recent years. Lauren Groff (The Monsters of Tempelton, Arcadia), has delivered a stunning piece of work.
Many writers have tried to capture the contemporary refugee crisis, but few have been as effective, or as poignant, as Hamid, who nudges the boundaries of realism aside in order to focus not so much on the danger of the journey as on the relationships forged by strangers in new lands.
A supremely weird, supremely good collection of short stories and vignettes. Voltaire Night left me instilled with a bizarre and almost unsettling feeling of gratitude. The First Full Thought of her Life took my breath away. The sense of what I can only describe as casual foreboding - the nonchalant acknowledgment that in the end, whether literally or metaphorically, we're all just ticking bombs - that permeates Wait Till You See Me Dance gave me pause again and again. Which is a long way of saying that it's just an excellent, odd, exciting book, one that will stick with me for a long time.
It's our instinct for survival - the most universal, the most animal part of each of us - that makes us capable of both surprising cruelty and gut-splitting love. From where, exactly, do those instincts spring? A Loving, Faithful Animal is a novel about war and about peace, about violence and tenderness, about loyalty and betrayal, and about what we learn and what we're born knowing, which is to say that it's a novel about family. What a fine novel it is.