The Golden Gate
The first novel skewering starry-eyed young adults in Silicon Valley was written in 1986…in sonnets. Vikram Seth took the publishing world by storm before he’d even made his official debut: Gore Vidal dubbed The Golden Gate “the great California novel” (sorry, John Steinbeck), and bootlegged copies of Seth’s text passed from hand to hand like contraband. Not too shabby, considering he was dusting off a rare, rather weird form last popular in the mid-19th century. Seth’s writing is unquestionably lyrical—even his table of contents is in verse, and his descriptive style recalls both Alexander Pushkin and Greek epics—but his rhythmic vertebrae form the spine of what is very much a novel, and a modern one at that. Thirty years later, the men and women he introduces feel archetypal.
Many an otherwise rational consumer would describe big-box-store shopping and the subsequent assembly of furniture as reminiscent of a midnight movie plot. If you’ve ever wondered if Old Scratch wrote the instructions for your flat-packed bookcase, you’ll recognize the dark thoughts that plague employees at the Orsk furniture superstore, where something is happening after everyone leaves for the night. This horror-comedy comes in the form of an all-too-familiar Scandinavian catalog, with photos and product descriptions that evolve as the story does (per its caption, for example, the Bodavest chair “confines the penitent and opposes the agitated movement of blood toward the brain”). If you like your scares packaged with affordable solutions for modern living—and who doesn’t?—Horrorstor could be just the retail experience you need.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Dave Eggers has been so prolific for the past few decades that it’s easy to forget his Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoir—his first book—landed like a water balloon dropped from a highrise. By his own admission, his account of his parents’ abrupt deaths and the beginning of his post-college life with his 8-year-old brother is improvised, spectacular, and more than a bit self-indulgent. Consider his “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book,” not to mention the memoir title itself, which delivers on its promise and the meta-cockiness of its promise: Eggers knows his story is a good one, that you know his story is a good one, that he knows you know his story is a good one…and so on. A memoir about a memoir could easily be insufferable, but this one is the opposite.
Tricia Lockwood is a “human loophole”: she and her siblings were born before her father, a Lutheran minister, received a dispensation from Rome to become a Catholic priest. She is also a child bride, as she’d say, since she left her family at 19 to marry a man she’d met online. Priestdaddy is the story of an unexpected homecoming, bursting with the slippery poetry that carried her away in the first place. She implores her father for an excuse to exalt him: “Please give me something,” she thinks, “anything: a crumb of the bread that you stand in front of the people and change, a word of the absolution that flows out of you toward anyone who needs it.” Her profanity, like his sacrament, gives the rest of us permission to be human.
Some reads are wonderful because they greet us like old friends: Raymond Chandler fans know they’re in for gruff, pithy imagery when they crack a Philip Marlowe mystery; Jane Austen’s admirers can anticipate sharp social observation and drawing-room drama in her novels; and Haruki Murakami’s repeat customers settle into dreamy tales of cats, jazz, and pasta. These books, on the other hand, are fabulous mutants: their hearts and limbs aren’t where you think they’d be, and plucking one from the shelf is a bit like encountering a new species. Expect the unexpected when you pick up one of these titles that bend genre and resist classification.
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