Norman Rush’s most recent novel is Subtle Bodies. (October 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

A Masterpiece from the Muck

Gathering almonds in the Valencian town of Guadalest, Spain, September 1971; photograph by Guy Le Querrec

On the Edge

by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Afterword by Valerie Miles
Poverty in the West is suddenly, inescapably, around. It’s turning up as a deep problem here and there, even in electoral politics, and, clearly, dealing with poverty by the practice of ignoring it is reaching the limits of its usefulness. People at all levels are forced to deal with poverty …

He Sees Through Left and Right

Horacio Castellanos Moya, 2015

The Dream of My Return

by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
Horacio Castellanos Moya’s latest novel, The Dream of My Return, presents in compact and indelible form his tricks, his daring, his disgust, his humor.

Very Evil Guys in Africa

Richard Mosse: Triumph of the Will, 2011; infrared photograph of Congolese soldiers standing on a Belgian commando training structure at Rumangabo military base, North Kivu, eastern Congo

The Laughing Monsters

by Denis Johnson
The Laughing Monsters is a curious novel. Denis Johnson describes it as a “literary thriller,” which it technically is. A tale of derring-do, chicanery, and treason, it feels particularly apposite in the immediate geopolitical moment. Its main characters are parasites on the frenzy accompanying the current scramble for Africa. But …

A Utopia of Friends

Caleb Crain, Round Pond, Maine, June 2013

Necessary Errors

by Caleb Crain
One of the rarer pleasures that comes with reviewing works of fiction is happily losing one’s place, falling inadvertently into reading for personal pleasure and not as a proxy for potential readers. That’s what happened to me as I got into Caleb Crain’s debut novel, Necessary Errors—a bildungsroman, very well put together, polished, dry but tender, ferociously observed.… What gives Crain’s novel its appeal and force as a work of art? The question is worth asking, because certain qualities of the book stand counter to fashions prevailing in successful contemporary literary fiction.

The Evil Flies in Africa

From Paul Theroux’s novel The Lower River

The Lower River

by Paul Theroux
Paul Theroux’s new novel, The Lower River, is set in contemporary Malawi. It’s a notable creation, but one that sits oddly in the Theroux oeuvre. At this point in Theroux’s long and prodigious literary career, each new work necessarily arrives against an established backdrop displaying familiar scenes from the author’s …

Naipaul’s Mysterious Africa

A sangoma, or traditional healer, with her apprentices, Soweto, South Africa, 1981

The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief

by V.S. Naipaul
It’s hard to be fair to V.S. Naipaul. Fans who have gotten pleasure and enlightenment from the work of this supremely gifted literary artist face a daunting prospect. Here’s a new book, The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, the latest of his exercises in forensic tourism in the …

Fever Dreams of Your FBI

James Ellroy, 1990s; photograph by Richard Mildenhall

Blood's a Rover

by James Ellroy
James Ellroy’s astonishing creation, the Underworld USA Trilogy, is complete. Its concluding volume, Blood’s a Rover, has just been published. The three long thrillers that make up the trilogy (American Tabloid, 1995; The Cold Six Thousand, 2001; Blood’s a Rover, 2009) present a brutal counterhistory of America in the 1960s …

Vietnam: Portraits from a Tragedy

Tree of Smoke

by Denis Johnson
Tree of Smoke is an ambitious, long, dense, daunting novel sited at the heart of a great American evil, the Vietnam War. It’s unusual—a gripping yet essentially plotless novel consisting of intercut segments of the lives of people caught up in the war, concentrating on four American men and a …