Monday, December 10, 2007

NY Mag - The Year in Books

Junot Díaz and Roberto Bolaño among the New York Magazine's "Culture Awards" choices.
Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead)
Among the abstract categories routinely killed off by doomsaying cultural critics (cf. irony), the novel has long been a favorite target. Often overlooked in such forecasts, however, is that—at least when it’s done right—the genre is invincible. For 400 years, it has laughed at, then absorbed, every threat. Díaz’s novel, which tells the story of Oscar (a monstrously fat, occasionally suicidal Dominican-American “ghetto nerd”), ingests such an overflowing bucketful of poison pills that any other book probably would have died: anime, role-playing games, comic books, the Internet. But Díaz finds a miraculous balance. He cuts his barn-burning comic- book plots (escape, ruin, redemption) with honest, messy realism, and his narrator speaks in a dazzling hash of Spanish, English, slang, literary flourishes, and pure virginal dorkiness. By the end, his geek references—“Don’t misunderstand: our boy wasn’t no ringwraith, but he wasn’t no orc either”—take on solid weight, like Milton dropping allusions to Dante and Greek myth.

Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
The book begins with a diary entry in which the narrator tells us that he’s joined a radical school of poets called the “visceral realists.” In the next entry, he admits that he doesn’t really know what visceral realism is. The novel was published in Spanish in 1998, and this translation seems to have ushered in Bolaño’s American moment. An English version of 2666—the alleged career-capping masterpiece he was working on at his death—is already one of the most anticipated novels of next year.
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