Front Table 10/20/23

October 20th, 2023

On This Week's Front Table, savor four remarkable works of fiction, including a new novel from Jon Fosse, winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature; new work from award-winning author Bryan Washington that focuses on loss, love, and friendship; a hidden gem of 20th-century literature by Elsa Morante that explores the lives of three generations of Sicilian women; and a Co-op staff recommended collection of stories from the great Nelson Algren. In our non-fiction selections, delve into the annus horribilus of Germany 1923, unlock the secrets of visual thinkers, and find fresh perspectives on that protean philosopher of power, Niccoló Machiavelli. 

A Shining
(Transit Press) 
Jon Fosse, tr. Damion Searls

*Winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature*

In Fosse's first novel since his critically acclaimed Septology, a man starts driving without knowing where he is going. He alternates between turning right and left, and ultimately finds himself stuck at the end of a forest road. It soon grows dark and begins to snow. But instead of searching for help, he ventures, foolishly, into the dark forest. Inevitably the man gets lost, and as he grows cold and tired, he encounters a glowing being amid the obscurity. Strange, haunting and dreamlike, A Shining is the latest work of fiction by National Book Award-finalist Jon Fosse, “the Beckett of the twenty-first century” (Le Monde).

Family Meal
(Riverhead Books)
Bryan Washington

From the bestselling, award-winning author of Memorial and Lot, an irresistible, intimate novel about two young men, once best friends, whose lives collide again after a loss.

Cam is living in Los Angeles and falling apart after the love of his life has died. Kai’s ghost won’t leave Cam alone; his spectral visits wild, tender, and unexpected. When Cam returns to his hometown of Houston, he crashes back into the orbit of his former best friend, TJ, and TJ’s family bakery. TJ’s not sure how to navigate this changed Cam, impenetrably cool and self-destructing, or their charged estrangement. Can they find a way past all that has been said – and left unsaid – to save each other? Could they find a way back to being okay again, or maybe for the first time?

Lies and Sorcery
(NYRB Classics) 
Elsa Morante, tr. Jenny McPhee

Elsa Morante is one of the titans of twentieth-century literature and yet her work remains little known in the United States. Written during World War II, Morante’s celebrated first novel, Lies and Sorcery, is in the grand tradition of Stendhal, Tolstoy, and Proust, spanning the lives of three generations of wildly eccentric women.

The story is set in Sicily and told by Elisa, orphaned young and raised by a “fallen woman.” For years Elisa has lived in an imaginary world of her own; now, however, her guardian has died, and the young woman feels that she must abandon her fantasy life to confront the truth of her family’s tortured and dramatic history. Elisa is a seductive, if less than reliable, spinner of stories, and the reader is drawn into a tale of secrets, intrigue, and treachery, which, as it proceeds, is increasingly revealed to be an exploration of a legacy of political and social injustice. Throughout, Morante’s elegant writing—and her drive to get at the heart of her characters’ complex relationships and all-too self-destructive behavior—holds us spellbound.

The Neon Wilderness
(Seven Stories Press) 
Nelson Algren

*Staff Recommendation*

Nelson Algren's classic 1947 short story collection is the pure vein Algren would mine for all his subsequent novels and stories. Among the stories included here are "A Bottle of Milk for Mother," about a Chicago youth being cornered for a murder, and "The Face on the Barroom Floor," in which a legless man pummels another man nearly to death—the seeds that would grow into the novel Never Come Morning. Also collected are the World War II stories that found their final expression in the novel The Man with the Golden Arm, as well as “So Help Me,” Algren’s first published work, and "The Captain Has Bad Dreams," in which Algren first introduced the character of the blameless captain who feels such a heavy burden of guilt and wonders why the criminal offenders he sees seem to feel no guilt at all. And then there is "Design for Departure," in which a young woman drifting into hooking and addiction sees her own dreaminess outlast her hopes.

Germany 1923: Hyperinflation, Hitler's Putsch, and Democracy in Crisis
Volker Ullrich, tr. Jefferson Chase

As the great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig confided in his autobiography, written in exile, “I have a pretty thorough knowledge of history, but never, to my recollection, has it produced such madness in such gigantic proportions.” He was referring to the situation in Germany in 1923. It was a “year of lunacy,” defined by hyperinflation, a political system on the verge of collapse, and separatist movements that threatened Germany’s territorial integrity. Most significantly, Adolf Hitler launched his infamous Beer Hall Putsch in Munich—a failed coup that nonetheless drew international attention and demonstrated the Nazis’ ruthless determination to seize power. In Germany 1923, award-winning historian Volker Ullrich draws on letters, memoirs, newspaper articles, and other sources from the time to present a captivating new history of those explosive twelve months.

Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions
(Riverhead Books)
Temple Grandin

A quarter of a century after her memoir, Thinking in Pictures, forever changed how the world understood autism, Temple Grandin— “an anthropologist on Mars,” as Oliver Sacks dubbed her—transforms our awareness of the different ways our brains are wired. Do you have a keen sense of direction, a love of puzzles, the ability to assemble furniture without crying? You are likely a visual thinker. With her genius for demystifying science, Grandin draws on cutting-edge research to take us inside visual thinking. She also makes us understand how a world increasingly geared to the verbal tends to sideline visual thinkers, screening them out at school and passing over them in the workplace. Rather than continuing to waste their singular gifts, driving a collective loss in productivity and innovation, Grandin proposes new approaches to educating, parenting, employing, and collaborating with visual thinkers. 

On Niccolò Machiavelli
(Columbia University Press)
Gabriele Pedullà 

Five hundred years after his death, Niccolò Machiavelli still draws an astonishing range of contradictory characterizations. Was he a friend of tyrants? An ardent republican loyal to Florence’s free institutions? The father of political realism? A revolutionary populist? A calculating rationalist? A Renaissance humanist? A prophet of Italian unification? A theorist of mixed government? A forerunner to authoritarianism? The master of the dark arts of intrigue This book provides a vivid and engaging introduction to Machiavelli’s life and works that sheds new light on his originality and relevance. Gabriele Pedullà—a leading Italian expert and acclaimed writer—offers fresh readings of the Florentine thinker’s most famous writings, The Prince and the Discourses on Livy, as well as lesser-known texts. 

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