Author

Margot Mifflin

Dive into this lavishly imaginative story collection and you won’t want to climb out. Homes brings yearning suburbanites to life with high drama and killer comic dialogue. ”Georgica” follows a woman who inseminates herself with condoms collected from the beach. In ”The Weather Outside Is Sunny and Bright,” a shape-shifter uses her ability to ”read the inanimate” to explain building collapses (shades of Sept. 11), sometimes by transforming into animals.

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Hauser – an author still at work in her 90s – writes with pathos and irony. In this stinging novella charged with oedipal conflict, an artist named James does psychic battle with his aging father, a CEO and armor collector. When Father attends one of James’ openings for the first time and sees what he contemptuously calls ”my son’s…er…objets d’art,” James is both grateful and humiliated. But through his father’s letters to his mother, James gets an unprecedented view of the old man, whose botched boyhood dreams and thwarted homosexuality made him the empty shell he is.

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Latifa, My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman's Story

A 22-year-old afghan now living in Paris, Latifa grew up in Kabul with war raging outside her window. On her sister’s wedding day, 300 rockets rained down on her city. Still, she and her family lived a bustling if uneasy urban existence: Her father ran an import business, her mother worked in a hospital, and Latifa grew up listening to rock music and dreaming of being a journalist. But the violence of war, from the Soviet invasion to the civil upheavals, was nothing compared with the calculated perversions of the Taliban, which seized control when Latifa was 16.

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”We made it. We can make it go away,” says Smith, whose Junk English is a compendium of all that’s bloated and blighted, redundant and ridiculous, in contemporary language. Using examples from various media, Smith explains why sloppy metaphors kill an idea (”the platforms on which the candidates ran were as calculated and artificial as plastic topiary”), strung-together nouns strangle a sentence (”focus group feedback analysis methodologies”), and the euphemisms of war are dishonest (”friendly fire=being shot at by your own troops”).

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Baby boomers have been called smug, self-indulgent, prone to sarcasm, and clever but shallow – and Queenan is their unintentional mascot. In this cut-rate collection of essays, Queenan rants about boomer fashion, music, and cultural pretensions. But the book’s scant political or historical analysis reduces it to a collection of snide asides, making Queenan part of the problem, not the solution.

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”It’s not only what the French eat that sets them apart from so many other nationalities,” says Peter Mayle (Encore Provence), ”but how they eat it.” In this essay collection, the world’s best-known British Francophile chronicles a smorgasbord of food-related French festivals, from ”the greatest chicken show on earth” to a church service devoted to truffles to a costume marathon through the vineyards of Bordeaux during which runners stop to sample entrecote, cheese, and 15,000 different kinds of oysters.

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Don’t touch that dial. Of the many contributors to the well-loved Public Radio International program This American Life who have recently leaped into print, David Rakoff leaps highest. Combining journalistic tenacity, literary smarts, and a talent for gut-busting one-liners, Rakoff reports on his wilted salad days as a publishing assistant, his soggy soap-opera acting stint, and the stunning hypocrisies of a Buddhist retreat led by Exit Wounds holy man Steven Seagal.

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A worthy shelf-mate to Denis Johnson and Tobias Wolff, David Means writes dark, sinewy stories set in New York’s Hudson Valley and in Michigan. The protagonists in his second collection, Assorted Fire Events, are often widowed, dying, or marked for death, and their compelling digressions drive some powerhouse narratives. ”The Gesture Hunter” portrays a man whose memory of a lost son has driven him to ”collect” the random physical gestures he sees strangers make.

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