It's hard to review the latter, but here's a summary of the rest....
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton in 100 words:
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower in 100 words:
This debut short story collection got reviewed by the New York Times, twice. Any S.S. collection that can make such a splash deserves a look, and this book certainly rewards the effort.
The first four stories feature middle-aged near-loser protagonists, all successful in their own ways, the language sparkling at the right frequency. The stories then veer into wider waters, often sounding like George Saunders (‘Leopard’, ‘Wild America’, ‘Everything Ravaged…’), but they don’t quite kick like Saunders.
Tower is clearly a writer who understand the form, and isn’t afraid to take a risk. I look forward to what comes next.
---“… I’d hunt. Chop wood. Work with my hands. Reconcile the mind-body split, you know? I’m just fucking tired, Matty. I’ve been pushing for twenty years, and what have I got? I filled out this dating thing on the computer a few weeks ago. One thing they ask you is, ‘If you were an animal, what would you be?’ I wrote, ‘A bumblebee trying to fuck a marble.’ It’s true. Just grinding away at this goddamned thing that never gives back. Pointless.”
Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon in 100 words:
A collection of short stories sharing the same narrator, a Sarajevan who spends the war in Chicago. He’s a bookish sixteen-year-old to open, a fully fledged writer by the close.
There’s clearly some autobiography going on, but the lives of the narrator, his family and passers-through are rendered so richly, one soon leaves distinctions like fiction and autobiography behind.
The collection properly takes off at story three (‘Conductor’), which happens to be the first that directly deals with “the war”, and apart from a technical (point of view) gripe in ‘Smurza’s Room’, I was rapt the rest of the way.
---“So how do you like Sarajevo?”
“Haven’t seen much of it yet, but it reminds me of Beirut.”
But what about the Gazi Husrevbegova fountain, whose water tastes like no other in the world? What about all the minarets lighting up simultaneously at sunset on a Ramadan day? And the snow falling slowly, each flake coming down patiently, separately, as if abseiling down an obscure silky thread? What about the morning clatter of wooden shuters in Baščaršija, when all the old stores are opening at the same time and the streets smell of thick-foamed coffee?
[from ‘The Noble Truths of Suffering’]