UNDERAPPRECIATED IN 2003
BRAVE BOOKS THAT MIGHT HAVE ESCAPED YOUR NOTICE
Trouble with the Machine
by Christopher Kennedy
Kennedy’s book is the prose counterpart to David Berman’s Silver Jews lyrics. These short pieces (like, half a page) feature titles such as “The Drunken American Winter Boat Club” and “God Is a Frail, Chain-Smoking Woman Named Jean.” Also like Berman, Kennedy spins the skewed American cultural landscape into a profoundly sad, empty, and yet somehow fortifying experience. (How do they do that?)
The Long Haul
by Amanda Stern
A nameless protagonist follows her musician boyfriend, The Alcoholic, as he plays gigs, drinks copiously, and is, generally speaking, a humongous screwup. Extrication is the end, but the torrid means make for a funny, bleak, doggedly spirited novel about codependence and the grungy rock-and-roll life.
The Iron Wagon
In 1909, Norwegian author Sven Elvestad published The Iron Wagon under his detective-fiction pen name, Stein Riverton. Though never translated into English, his tale of murder in the country merits a crime-lit footnote for anticipating the eureka found in one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels, the title of which it would be unsporting to reveal. Now mononymed countryman Jason offers this admirable graphic-novel version, giving voice to his menagerie of bird- and rabbit-faced bipeds (deployed in his previous, wordless comic books) and admits just enough off-red to seep into his sturdy panels to create a well-balanced sense of menace. His transitions are efficiently poetic: a buggy driver declares of a glorious day, “One should have been a painter!”; a framed picture of the countryside follows; then we see the picture as a picture, hanging on a wall behind the suspect.