Short stories

March 04, 2010
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Occupied City

David Peace

Knopf, $25.95/hardcover

Even in 1948 occupied Tokyo, it's an unimaginable crime: A man, pretending to be a public health doctor, enters a bank after hours. He claims the bank employees have been exposed to dysentery and administers a "vaccine." It's poison. Twelve die and four survivors are near death as he robs the bank. Based on this true crime, David Peace's novel Occupied City is literary detective fiction, infused with poetry and a Rashômon-like vision, so thick and fast-paced that it reads like Toni Morrison on speed. Each of 12 chapters is based on an occult ceremony, with a different narrator's version of events. Were American occupation forces too quick to cover up Japanese intelligence experiments with biological weapons? Can an occupied city ever recover? The setting might be post-World War II Tokyo, but it's as contemporary as human nature, especially given current occupations and war crimes. — Kel Munger

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Secrets of Eden

Chris Bohjalian

Shaye Areheart Books, $25/hardcover

Author Chris Bohjalian is probably best known for Midwives, which was an Oprah Book Club selection in 1998 and hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Secrets of Eden, his 12th novel, intertwines issues of domestic violence, adultery and religious faith. Set in Bohjalian's home state of Vermont, this story opens with an apparent husband-wife murder-suicide. The reader follows the resulting introspection and investigation through the eyes of four successive narrators, each of whom has a connection to the deaths: Stephen Drew, the small-town pastor; Catherine Benincasa, the deputy state attorney; Heather Laurent, an author who writes about angels; and Katie Hayward, the now-orphaned teenaged daughter of the deceased. Bohjalian's strength in Secrets of Eden lies in making readers continue to question what they think they know from chapter to chapter, all the way to the very last line. — Kirsten Akens

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The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid From Chicago Fights Hezbollah

Joel Chasnoff

Free Press, $25/hardcover

As a memoir, Joel Chasnoff's journey through basic training, tank school and a tour in Lebanon is peerless. Mainly because the author is a stand-up comedian first, and employs hilarious methods for relating the most minute details of his story. Even — actually, especially — when he's talking about terrorists, the Holocaust and the colossal fuckim (Hebrew slang for "mistakes") that are routine inside the Chosen People's military. The 24-year-old Chasnoff emigrates from Chicago to Israel to fight in its army of 18-year-olds, because ever since he was a Torah-studying, nerdy Jewish kid, he thought fatigue- and Ray-Ban-clad IDF soldiers were cooler than life. Through the humor, the tone dips deep into tenets of Judaism, Middle East politics, discrimination, racism and more. Ultimately, the author offers a poignant account of attitudes and policies that are bound to fail the region. And sadly, it's funny as hell. — Matthew Schniper

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

Jaron Lanier

Knopf, $24.95/hardcover

Jaron Lanier is often referred to as "the father of virtual reality." In You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, the computer scientist at the forefront of computing breakthroughs that have changed our lives asks us to slow down and evaluate those changes. He points to the tendency of software to "lock in" a particular way of doing things that may not always be best. For example, the MIDI standard for music files, designed by a keyboard-playing geek, doesn't work as well for other types of music — but now we're stuck with it. He also talks about the mess created by the online anonymity standard (bane of many a blogger), and the way that social networking templates have actually reduced our individuality by standardizing our identities. Lanier's not a Luddite by any means; he just says we should be conscious that the choices we make today have long-term consequences. — Kel Munger

Persistent Voices

Philip Clark & David Groff, editors

Alyson Books, $15.95/paperback

It's surprising that the number of those gifted poets lost to AIDS can still shock; it's also a good thing, if it means we never forget the missing generation of artists who died too young. Persistent Voices: Poetry By Writers Lost to AIDS contains the famous: James Merrill, Paul Monette, Essex Hemphill, Tory Dent, Reginald Shepherd. But what stands out in this volume is the work of the lesser-known poets, many of whom died in the first wave of AIDS deaths and so never reached the productive middle-aged years. Take, for example, these lines from "Between Us," by David Matias, who died at 35: "You are older, I am ill, and we want / someone to hold at night. We want a history. / Tree blossoms might also fall in a puddle of rain, / keeping them afloat, alive much longer." This anthology from Alyson Books doesn't make up for the loss — nothing can — but makes it easier to bear. — Kel Munger

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