Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Year-end Round-up

I've been neglecting things here for quite a while. Here's the stuff I've been reading since the last time I mentioned the stuff I've been reading:

Lush Life by Richard Price--I think Price is the current master of crime fiction in the U.S. Lush Life touches on all facets of life on the Lower East Side with the best dialogue being written today.

Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot--Great explanation of the current state of the music business and how we got here. It's mostly stuff you already knew about if you follow the scene closely, but Kot puts it all together and adds some good inside info.

Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball--An epistolary novel that follows a man's descent into depression and suicide by recounting letters he writes to everyone he's ever known in his last days. Some are very effective, ranging between humor and pathos, while some fall flat and feel a bit too forced. One of those books that I thought I would like more than I did.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby--I generally like Hornby's books, but this one felt like he should have gone right to the screenplay and skipped the novel altogether. And it's a movie I don't think I'd pay to see.

Invisible by Paul Auster--I liked Auster's early novels, then I grew tired of his lazy style. I read somewhere that Invisible was a return to form. It wasn't.

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker--Probably my favorite novel that I've read this year. Baker's story of a poet trying to write the introduction to a volume of rhyming poetry and relating a history of poetry in the process. It's got all the writing you love if you love Nicholson Baker and if you don't, you should.

Jernigan by David Gates--The relentless downward spiral of an alcoholic widower trying to raise his teenage son and failing miserably at everything. Funny, bitter, brutal and not a word out of place. I'm now a David Gates fan.

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan--The narrator recounts the story of his in-laws marriage against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The well-crafted writing we expect from McEwan with the big payoff at the end. The only problem for me was knowing the payoff was going to be there and feeling like the rest of the novel was like wading through the shallows to get to the big waves.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Grumble on the Rumpus accepted my write up on Carpenter's Gothic for their "Last Book You Loved" series. Check it out here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Our Noise

Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small is a must for indie rock fans. Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance started Merge Records back in the late eighties to release 7" singles of their band, Superchunk, and other bands from the Chapel Hill scene. The label grew with the popularity of bands like Spoon, Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel and The Magnetic Fields. John Cook conducted interviews with McCaughan and Ballance and numerous musicians and locals from the Chapel Hill scene to put together this interesting peek into the world of indie music. Great photos and stories throughout--especially if you were a Superchunk fan back in the day. No Pocky for Kitty was a staple in six-disc cd changer and I had a crush on Laura Ballance, just like every other indie rock fanboy. For a long time, though, I thought she was the one singing in that thin, raspy voice buried in the mix.

Carpenter's Gothic

William Gaddis is one of those writers I've been hearing about for years, a writer's writer of difficult but rewarding fiction, a post-modern master. The Recognitions is considered his masterpiece, but it's a huge, intimidating book, so I picked up Carpenter's Gothic not long ago with no idea what to expect.

The story involves a married couple, Paul and Elizabeth, renting a house (the Carpenter's Gothic of the title) from a mysterious divorced geologist. Paul, who once ran some shady business dealings for Elizabeth's late father, is trying to get started as the media consultant for a southern evangelist while Elizabeth wanders and frets around the house. The action never leaves the house and mainly follows Elizabeth as other characters come and go. Gaddis' genius (for me) is in the dialogue. Ninety percent of the writing is dialogue--the fragmented, digressive speech of a hyperkinetic group of characters. Characters ramble on for paragraphs, changing direction in mid-sentence, jumping to phone conversations without warning and occasionally Gaddis will even insert a stage direction without separation into the midst of a chunk of dialogue.

And it all works brilliantly. Gaddis has captured the feverish way people talk to each other, especially those closest to us who don't ever seem to require context. He also manages to touch on subjects like Christianity, colonialism (and the relationship between the two), sexuality, politics--all without ever leaving the confines of the carpenter gothic house in suburban New York.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Icelander/Last Night in Montreal

I'd come across a reference to Last Night in Montreal somewhere online and when the name came up again later, I decided to check it out. The story revolves around Lilia, who has spent her life as a child abductee on the run with her father until she ventures out on her own as a young adult. She still has trouble settling in one place for too long, and when the novel opens, she has just disappeared from her boyfriend's apartment.

Emily St. John Mandel writes in a comfortably lyrical style, handily conjuring the American Southwest or a noirish frozen Montreal, where the boyfriend has gone to search for Lilia. He's led to Montreal by the daughter of the private detective who has spent much of his professional career tracking Lilia. The daughter, Michaela, has watched her parents' marriage crumble as her father spends weeks and months on the road and she eventually develops her own obsession with Lilia. This is where the novel ran into trouble--the private detective and his daughter never felt like they had much depth. Their back stories felt contrived and their dialogue never rang true. I never believed that the man would abandon his own daughter to continue his search.

St. John Mandel's flashback scenes between Lilia and her father, however, do an excellent job of evoking a growing relationship between a young girl and a father she doesn't know (he abducts her from his estranged wife's home). St. John Mandel also deftly handles the secret behind Lilia's abduction to keep me reading even though the frustration of the private detective scenes nearly drove me to bail out on the book.

Icelander is billed as an Agatha Christie mystery novel as written by Nabokov. A better comparison, I thought, was to John Barth. Dustin Long uses some of the same metafictional trickery to adorn a conventional plot line. I always felt that Barth's strength was his ability to play games with the reader and the narrative structure, yet put it within a plot dynamic enough to be a page turner. Long's approach involves a nameless heroine pulled into solving a murder mystery she has no interest in, a secret kingdom beneath the surface of Iceland (as well as its incestuous royal family), masters of disguise, anagrammatic names, doppelgangers, and even a character named Connie Lingus. Long is very good at creating a whole fabricated world of culture, complete with footnotes and asides. At times, the jokey names and winkwinknudge tricks grew tiresome, but some of the characters were intriguing enough (e.g. the dimwitted actor recounting his visit to the secret kingdom of Vinlandia) to keep the plot interesting. Long handles a variety of styles with a skilled touch--I look forward to reading something else from him.

Strength of Materials!

Finished The Dog of the South this morning and now I'm scheming to get hold of everything Charles Portis has published. What a twisted genius. I can't wait.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dr. Reo Symes

From Dr. Reo Symes in Charles Portis' The Dog of the South:

The kind of people I know now don't have barbecues, Mama. They stand up alone at nights in small rooms and eat cold weenies. My so-called friends are bums. Many of them are nothing but rats. They spread T.B. and use dirty language. Some of them can even move their ears. They're wife-beaters and window peepers and night crawlers and dope fiends. They have running sores on the backs of their hands that never heal. They peer up from cracks in the floor with their small red eyes and watch for chances.

I had heard that Portis' novels were very funny, but when I started The Dog of the South, I expected something like the madcap, almost slapstick, sensibility of The Confederacy of Dunces. It's very different from that, with a more demented and subversive kind of humor. Portis has a sharp writing style that is perfectly attuned to the narrator, Ray Midge, and his random, weightless existence on the trail of his wife and her ex-husband, Guy Dupree, in the British Honduras.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Welcome Back

I have been horribly negligent to the grumbleblog faithful (Hi, Mom!) and there's no way I can recap all of the books I've read and shows I've attended since (yikes) April. I don't know what the hell's wrong with me--I have no excuses. Well, I do, but I won't go into them here.

I will at least try to list some of the highlights that I can remember. I know I read the excellent Home by Marilynne Robinson and now that I've finished off all of her fictional offerings, I just have to sit back and wait for her to complete another novel. I've read Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love (good, but didn't leave a lasting impression), Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies (excellent stories), Graham Swift's book of essays, Making An Elephant (good enough to make me want to go read some of his novels) and the first volume of War and Peace. I will get back to it eventually--the drawing room scenes can be a bit of a slog, but the battle scenes are pretty amazing literary accomplishments.

The shows are more of a blur. There was the impressive Conor Oberst at the Ottobar and the amazing vocals of Neko Case at the Ramshead as well as a smattering of shows by local bands that I just can't seem to recall right now.

Oh, and this week I read The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, the story of Philadelphia Eagles fan Pat Peoples' attempt to assimilate back into society after a long stint in a Baltimore mental facility. His comic and heartbreaking return to his parents' house, therapy, a manic depressive new girl friend and Eagles season tickets made for a hilarious read. Highly recommended (especially for Eagles fans).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Outta Here

The death of Phillies' announcer Harry Kalas yesterday affected me more than the passing of any celebrity I can remember and today I've been thinking about it and trying to figure out exactly why that is. I grew up listening to Kalas and Richie Ashburn calling games and part of going home to my parents' house is walking in the door and hearing Kalas' voice drifting in from the den.

When I was a teenager, my father and I, like many fathers and teenage sons, were often at odds. We could go for weeks at a time where we barely spoke a word to each other. I would often slink in the door late those summer evenings and my father would be the only one in the house awake, parked in his seat at the end of the sofa close to the television watching the Phillies game. I would plop into the chair farthest from him. We might or might not acknowledge each other's presence and the only sound in the room would be that rich baritone of Harry Kalas sharing an anecdote with Whitey Ashburn or providing the soundtrack to a Michael Jack Schmidt long, deep drive to left-centerfield.

Bye, Harry.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I. by Stephen Dixon

I feel like I'm on speed whenever I read a Stephen Dixon book. His chapter-length paragraphs and run-on dialogue propel the narrative forward so effectively that I feel as if I can't stop. And he captures the sometimes brutal realities of everyday life in such a deceptively simple language it only adds to the amphetamine rush of words. This book, more than the other Dixon works I've read (Frog, Long Made Short, Gould) appears to be more about the act of writing--the constant sense of revision inherent in every action we make, every line we speak.

Dixon's novels and stories are strangely compelling, but I'm always exhausted by the time I finish one and feel like I need a break before tackling another one. I picked up I. bundled with End of I. from McSweeney's, but I'll be saving End of I. for later in the year. Right now I need to take a breather.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Life as a Fake

This is the first of anything I've read by Australian writer Peter Carey and I'll definitely be returning to his work--True History of the Kelly Gang is supposed to be excellent. My Life as a Fake reimagines the events of the Ern Malley hoax, in which two poets created a fictional character, Ern Malley, and passed him off as a poet savant to the pretentious editor of a literary magazine. With very authentic-sounding letters attributed to Malley's sister, she laments her deceased brothers genius that seems to have gone unnoticed (the two poets cast Malley as a mechanic).

In Carey's version, the fake poet, named Bob McCorkle, has come to life to torment his creator. Carey's narrator, the editor of a British literary magazine, has traveled to Malaysia at the request of the famous poet, John Slater, an old family friend and nemesis (she believes Slater is somehow responsible for her mother's suicide). Once there, she meets Christopher Chubb, a strange white man living a meagre existence among the Malaysians. Chubb turns out to be the perpetrator of the infamous "McCorkle hoax" and relates the story to the narrator, enticing her with a glimpse of some brilliant poetry supposedly written by the hoax come to life, Bob McCorkle.

Carey manages to weave themes of identity and the artistic process through a riveting tale that takes the reader around the Pacific Rim with a plot that involves kidnapping, murder and exile.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sam Roberts at the Rock n Roll Hotel

After the tight, new wavy sounds of Mother Mother settled and the equipment for Sam Roberts' band was being setup, a strange smell wafted through the crowd, an aroma I haven't been subjected to at a show for quite some time. A fog curled its way through the room and some of the people near me looked at each other quizzically. "Dry ice?" someone said. Yep, good old-fashioned dry ice. And a light show thrown in for good measure.

Sam Roberts had the showman thing down pretty well, with the hook-drenched songs to back him up, but there's a part of that "C'mon let's all put our hands together!" business that feels disingenuous to me. Maybe I'm just old. Roberts certainly knows how to bring a band to a blazing crescendo, but those assaults were moderated by so many breakdowns that they drained the energy from the room. Roberts' Canadian stardom worked against him in the small club setting, though a good chunk of the crowd bought the package entirely. But they seemed pretty young.

Monday, February 23, 2009

M. Ward Goes to Temple

M. Ward's saturday night show at the Sixth and I Synagogue started out well enough. The acoustic set that he started the evening with worked well in the cavernous sounding room--Ward's velvety croon resonated up into the balcony. 'Fuel for Fire,' 'Let's Dance,' and the instrumental 'Duet for Guitars, No. 3' were great examples of how one guy and one guitar can be mesmerizing. When the full band came out, the acoustics of the Sixth and I took over. It's probably great to carry the voice of a cantor to the cheap seats, or for one guy and one guitar, but for a full, amplified band it was too much. Some tracks, particularly ones where Ward's voice is on prominent display, pushed through the muck, but many, like 'Magic Trick' and 'Chinese Translation,' suffered. We couldn't help but wonder how this show would have been in a sweaty, beer-smelling, sticky-floored club.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

I've been hearing for years what a great novel Housekeeping is and after reading Gilead recently, I had to check out Robinson's first novel.

Marilynne Robinson is a master. I think she may be the finest writer working in America today (I'll be reading Home, her latest, soon enough and that may clinch it). Every description, every metaphor she wields feels absolutely fresh in this story of two sisters being raised by an aunt who is slightly off-kilter.

Here's a passage from the girls skipping school and wandering near the glacial lake that their town of Fingerbone rests against:
The woods themselves disturbed us. We liked the little clearings, the burned-off places where wild strawberries grew. Buttercups are the materialization of the humid yellow light one finds in such places. (Buttercups in those mountains are rare and delicate, bright, lacquered, and big on short stems. People delve them up, earth and all, and bring them home like trophies. Newspapers give prizes for the earliest ones. In gardens they perish.) But the deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house. We would walk among those great legs, hearing the enthralled and incessant murmurings far above our heads, like children at a funeral.

It's the kind of book that you find something worth quoting on nearly every page. The story moves toward heartbreak when one sister decides she's had enough of the quirky household and grows more independent, more attuned to society, while the other sister, the narrator, slips into the reclusive, transient lifestyle of her aunt.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

M. Ward in the NYT

Nice article in Sunday's New York Times about M. Ward: A Four-Track Guy in a Digital World. I'm listening to the new album right now and it feels like vintage, tuneful, endearing-as-usual M. Ward.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

Joseph O'Neill writes a damn good sentence. His novel of post-9/11 New York has been lauded in all of the right places, most notably the cover the New York Times Book Review, and by all of the right people (James Wood, Michiko Kakutani) for good reason.

The narrator, Hans, has been displaced, along with his wife and son, from his Tribeca apartment to the Hotel Chelsea by the attack on the World Trade Center and later abandoned by the wife and son, who return to London unable to come to grips with a post-9/11 Gotham. Suffering through the loneliness of not seeing his son except for bimonthly trips across the Atlantic and his ever more distant (both literally and figuratively) wife, Hans eventually discovers a network of cricketers who play almost unnoticed at various parks around the city. He is befriended by Trinidadian Chuck Ramsikoon (Hans is usually the only white player among the cricketers) whose dream is to build a cricket stadium in Brooklyn and restore the sport to the prominence it once enjoyed in America.

Throughout Netherland, O'Neill explores the meanings of loneliness in the midst of a teaming city, relationships involving friends, race and spouses and the effects of familial memories on all of these things. And he does so with exquisitely wrought sentences that manage to never sound convoluted or pretentious.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Joyce Misremembered

Not long ago, something I read prompted me to pull my old copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man off the shelf and read through a bit. After reading a dozen or so pages, I was thinking that none of it sounded very familiar and once I came to the excellent dinner scene with the political argument, I was sure that I had never read that far into the book before. It's one of those books that I'd always figured I'd read and then promptly forgotten everything about when, in fact, I hadn't read it at all. At least not past the first ten or twelve pages.

I was surprised to find so much discussion of Irish nationalism and politics from a writer I had always counted as apolitical. The aforementioned dinner scene and the frequent mentions of Parnell and his downfall are part of what makes up Stephen Daedalus and his journey to becoming an artist. Stephen has to cast off this troublesome Irish nationalism as well as the Catholicism that insinuates itself throughout everything in the country in order to complete his transformation.

I think anyone who was raised in the Catholic church can appreciate the desperate panic Stephen experiences when he fears dying before he can make it to confession and be absolved of his sins. Of course, Stephen adds to the tension by feeling the need to go to a church outside of his parish because the sins he must confess are so humiliating, he doesn't want his parish priest to hear them. Amen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rabbit at Rest

From Rabbit, Run:

Rabbit comes to the curb but instead of going to his right and around the block he steps down, with as big a feeling as if this little sidestreet is a wide river, and crosses. He wants to travel to the next patch of snow. Although this block of brick three-stories is just like the one he left, something in it makes him happy; the steps and windowsills seem to twitch and shift in the corner of his eye, alive. This illusion trips him. His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.

Goodbye, Mr. Updike . . .

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø

Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø's taut thriller about neo-Nazis and the link to Norwegians that fought for their German occupiers in World War II was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I don't read a great deal of crime fiction (the occasional George Pelecanos, Kate Atkinson) so when I come across a well-done crime novel, I get completely wrapped up in it. Nesbø's hero, Detective Harry Hole, finds himself enmeshed in a potential assassination plot, but doesn't know who, when or where the target is, only the type of rifle (a German Märklin) to be used.

Nesbø deftly mixes in a WWII plot from Norway's Eastern Front involving Norwegians that joined the Waffen SS and were later branded as traitors when the war ended. Some of the surviving members of the unit figure into the contemporary plot as Hole scrambles to discover the details of the assassination.

Despite a few overly used phrases (characters repeatedly "pull a face" to signify displeasure) that may or may not be the result of translation slip-ups, Nesbø's writing style is sleek and well-suited to a fast-paced thriller.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bill Frisell in the New Yorker

An article about Bill Frisell is in this week's New Yorker and the online edition has a video clip with a bit of an interview and some performance from the night before we saw him. Link to the video is here and a link to the article here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Frightened Rabbit at the Talking Head 1/20/09

Excellent show at the Talking Head last night for the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit. The Hutchison brothers, Scott and Grant, brought a furious energy to the room--Grant pounding the drums with a ferocious abandon and Scott delivering his emotionally taut, intelligent lyrics with passion and keeping time with a steady, pulsing guitar strum. They covered much of the material from their latest album, The Midnight Organ Fight, as well as a couple of songs from Sing the Greys, including "Behave!"

Scott Hutchison came out on his own after the first set to do an acoustic version of "Poke" sans amplification (it's a pretty small room), casually incorporating the rumbling of the heating unit that kicked on halfway through the song. His impressive guitar work and strong, lilting vocals were the highlight of the show.

Opening bands were Baby Aspirin, featuring strong female vocals and lead guitar work, and Arc in Round, a nice combination of layered guitar and keyboards backed by solid drumming.

(Apologies for the crappy cellphone photo.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Los Campesinos y Titus Andronicus @ the Ottobar 1/15/09

Opening act Titus Andronicus launched into a full-throttle set that seemed to die between songs, such as when lead man knocked over a tower of equipment (some of which belonged to Los Campesinos apparently) and they waited on help to restack and evaluate damage. The set was sprinkled with a couple of excellent songs that made full use of the band's Stones-y riffs and caterwauling vocals, culminating in a topnotch cover of the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner." The caterwauling vocals grew tiresome in some of the songs, but with the right amount of energy for context, like in the their self-titled, final song, it works.

Los Campesinos responded with a similar energy level, but with a sound that's both more compelling and more innocent. The adrenaline level increased throughout the set (despite the absence of the violinist, who was too ill to make the trip from Wales on this first date of the US tour). The great, building intro to "You! Me! Dancing!" was one of those magical, can't-wipe-the-smile-off-your-face show moments that make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bill Frisell, Paul Motian, Ron Carter

We made a quick dash to New York last Saturday night to catch Bill Frisell's trio with Paul Motian and Ron Carter at the Blue Note. Though I prefer the more driving style of the Frisell trio manifestations I've seen with Ken Wollesen on drums, I liked Motian's ability to play give-and-take with Frisell and Carter, and Carter's bass playing was mesmerizing.

Frisell, as always, amazed me. That distinct sound and style that somehow stays taut and plays loose at the same time. He kept the loop effects to a minimum--I like the effects, but holding them in check did make them even more powerful.

A Sunday morning train ride got us back down to the Philly area to watch the Eagles' game at my parents' house--NFC Championship Game, here we come.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Realm of Perfection

In Steven Millhauser’s essay, “The Ambition of the Short Story,” he pits short story's David against the novel’s Goliath in a paean to the perfection of smallness. “Large things tend to be unwieldy, clumsy, crude; smallness is the realm of elegance and grace. It’s also the realm of perfection.” After reading his essay over and over again the week it appeared in the New York Times Book Review, I put his latest collection of short stories, Dangerous Laughter, on my to-be-read list.

Millhauser divides his collection into three sections (plus a cartoon!). The stories fit so perfectly into these groups, that it’s almost as if Millhauser planned his collection out before the stories were written. His repetition of themes and various visual motifs add to the notion. In the first section, Vanishing Acts, he conjures a number of shy, withdrawn young women, like the title character in “The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman,” the sister who never leaves her darkened room in “The Room in the Attic,” and Clara Schuler, an unassuming, quiet girl who catches onto the fad of ecstatic laughter in the title story.

Millhauser also likes to contrast the sunny new ranch houses of a coastal New England town against the dark, multi-story homes in the established older neighborhoods across town. Everything on the new side, including the beach, seems to glisten with a technicolor shine, as if it just fell out of a David Lynch movie. In two different stories, Millhauser shows us a bright soda bottle tilted in the sand, it’s liquid appearing slanted against the glass as it seeks a new level. On the gloomy side of the town, the resemblance is closer to a Poe story. The brother and sister of “The Room in the Attic” could easily be stand-ins for the ill-fated brother and sister from “Fall of the House of Usher.”

Millhauser uses a stylized, miniature fly in the same manner in stories of the second and third sections. The miniaturist of “In the Reign of Harad IV” places a fly on the dollhouse-scaled model of an apple and becomes so enthralled with working at that scale that he begins making smaller and smaller creations until they are invisible to the naked eye. The notion of the inexhaustible attention to detail reflects Millhauser’s ability to pinpoint such precise details in his stories. Like the tactile descriptions of objects placed in the narrator’s hand in both “The Room in the Attic” and “The Wizard of West Orange.” Or this description from “The Other Town:”
the DeAngelo yard, say, with its flowered beach towels hanging over the back-porch rail and its coil of green hose next to the dented garbage cans, or the Altschuler yard with its tall sugar maple, its yellow Wiffle ball bat lying half in sun and half in shade, and its aluminum chaise lounge with strips of orange and white vinyl on which a blue eyeglass case is resting, or the Langley yard with its grass-stained soccer ball, its red-handled jump rope, its tin pie-dish for home plate, and its bags of peat moss and fertilizer leaning up against the side of the detached garage.

Several of the stories are, in fact, about details. In “The Other Town,” a small town maintains an identical, unoccupied, second town just beyond its limits in the woods. Every quotidian detail of the original town is duplicated by a team of “replicators.” In “Here at the Historical Society,” a New England town’s historical society begins to concentrate its efforts on documenting every aspect of the most recent past, with the understanding that “recent past” can refer to minutes ago.

As a fan of more realistic fiction, I found the lack of dialogue in some of Millhauser’s stories oddly disconcerting and the effect made them more memorable to me. Stories such as “A Change in Fashion” and “The Tower” and “The Dome” are presented more like tales, some strange fable from a Twilight Zone era.

Millhauser’s themes and interests of details and the vibrancy of all of the senses culminated in the final story of Dangerous Laughter, “The Wizard of West Orange.” A librarian in Thomas Edison’s West Orange Invention factory, finds himself involved in a secret experiment to test the haptograph, a machine that mimics the tactile impressions made on the body by stimulating the skin. The journal entries of the librarian’s obsession with the machine describe the experience with the devotion of a religious experience.

I found myself thinking about the stories in Dangerous Laughter days after I’d read them, wondering what part of my surroundings had triggered the connection, what detail I'd noticed that I hadn’t before. I have Millhauser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Martin Dressler on a shelf somewhere. It’s moving into the top of the to-be-read pile.