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Guide to Contemporary Fiction

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Contemporary Fiction is my area of specialty. Although I will read almost anything, contemporary fiction has always intrigued me the most. A lot of these authors are vastly talented, as well as unique, and I don't feel as though they receive adequate levels of recognition.

 

I will utilize this thread to provide all of you with my personal recommendations (for those that are interested, of course). However, I encourage all of you to at least give one of these authors a chance. In my opinion, a lot of these books will eventually be considered classics. And hopefully, one day, they will have the benefit of being studied in a classroom environment, but who knows.

 

 

 

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

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Synopsis:

"Keith Neudecker, a lawyer and survivor of the 9/11 attack, arrives on his estranged wife Lianne's doorstep, covered with soot and blood, carrying someone else's briefcase. In the days and weeks that follow, moments of connection alternate with complete withdrawl from his wife and young son, Justin. He begins a desultory affair with the owner of the briefcase based only on their shared experience of surviving: "the timeless drift of the long spiral down." Justin uses his binoculars to scan the skies with his friends, looking for "Bill Lawton" (a misunderstood version of bin Laden) and more killing planes. Lianne suddenly sees Islam everywhere: in a postcard from a friend, in a neighbor's music--and is frightened and angered by its ubiquity. She is riveted by the Falling Man. Her mother Nina's response is to break up with her long-time German lover over his ancient politics. In short, the old ways and days are gone forever; a new reality has taken over everyone's consciousness. This new way is being tried on, and it doesn't fit. Keith and Lianne weave into reconciliation. Keith becomes a professional poker player and, when questioned by Lianne about the future of this enterprise, he thinks: "There was one final thing, too self-evident to need saying. She wanted to be safe in the world and he did not."

 

Through all the terror, fire and smoke, De Lillo's voice is steady as a metronome, recounting exactly what happens to Keith as he sees friends and co-workers maimed and dead, navigates the stairs and, ultimately, is saved. Though several post-9/11 novels have been written, not one of them is as compellingly true, faultlessly conceived, and beautifully written as Don De Lillo's Falling Man."

 

 

 

The Contortionist's Handbook by Craig Clevenger

 

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Synopsis:

"John Vincent was born with an extra ring finger on one hand. To his constantly broke, jail-bound father, this was just something John had to live with. After years of ridicule by other children, his father gave him a magic book through which he learned some slight-of-hand tricks that helped him conceal his disfigurement from others. That, together with a sharp mind and a knack for replicating signatures and official documents, started John on a path of petty crime. Then he started getting inexplicable and untreatable migraines, which led to a history of drug abuse. As John started going in and out of hospitals for drug overdoses, he deftly learned how to change identities. This life of identity theft, drugs, and crime continues in a downward spiral, until he falls in love and meets his match. He starts to question his own identity, after rejecting it for so long, which eventually leads to some redemption. Clevenger cleverly creates a modern-day Mr. Ripley."

 

 

 

Kiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer

(The first novel in the trilogy)

 

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Synopsis:

"In his extremely dark but very effective first thriller, former cabdriver and homeless counselor Will Christopher Baer takes that old urban legend of the man who wakes up in a hotel bathtub full of ice to discover that somebody has removed one of his kidneys and whips it up into a modernized Edgar Allan Poe nightmare. Baer's hero is in fact called Phineas Poe--an ex-cop who spent six years digging up dirt in and on the Denver P.D.'s Internal Affairs Division. On his first night out after a nervous breakdown and a six-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, Poe is picked up by a prostitute named Jude who drugs his drink and deftly removes his kidney.

 

Poe heads for the Witch's Teat, a sex shop where his friend Crumb works. "Crumb isn't really a doctor. He does cheap abortions and gunshot wounds and even dental work for the mad and desperate," Baer writes in deceptively plain present-tense prose, which quickly mesmerizes like electronic music. Poe learns that his kidney has been replaced by a bag of heroin--which could kill him if it dissolves. Intent on retrieving his stolen organ, he traces Jude to a bowling alley called the Inferno. Strangely enough, with Jude he reluctantly discovers the chance of love and family that he thought was gone forever when his wife died. In lesser hands, this flash of light in a roomful of noir could easily have spoiled everything. But Baer makes it all seem as natural as whistling in the dark."

 

 

 

Syrup by Maxx Barry

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Synopsis:

"Lampooning corporate "ethics," sexual politics and the marketing and film industries, this clever debut satire by 25-year-old Australian writer Barry will have readers nodding in agreement and quoting it to their friends. Ingenuous new marketing graduate Scat (he feels that his full name, Michael George Holloway, just won't do for a career in marketing) moves to L.A. hoping to become rich and famous. After he gets a million-dollar idea for a new cola product, cheeky and arrogant Scat approaches a beautiful, ruthless marketing manager named 6 at Coca-Cola. The new product's name is, hilariously, a "dirty" word, spelled unconventionally and in stylish font on a black can. But before Scat's cash cow can be milked, his roommate Sneaky Pete steals the idea, is hired by Coke, and soon holds the purse-strings for Coca-Cola's biggest marketing undertaking ever, a $140 million movie. The infuriated Scat joins forces with 6 to create their own, better movie, with a measly $10,000 budget. With Scat's creative ideas, 6's business acumen and the help of 6's film-major roommate Tina, and Scat's actress ex-girlfriend Cindy, they set out to beat Sneaky Pete at his own game. Scat and 6 have an affectionate, wary bond (even though Scat's crazy for her and she claims she's a lesbian), and together they nimbly dodge the clever, ever-surprising political landmines that Sneaky Pete sets in their path."

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Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn

(Yes, this is a memoir)

 

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SYNOPSIS:

"Poet Nick Flynn was either fortunate or unfortunate enough to live a life so ripe for a good memoir. The events in Another Bullshit Night are extraordinary enough to spur critical debate about whether the story would be better served in fictional form. In fact, the story is so enlightening that Flynn

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I enjoyed American Psycho earlier in the year and love the sound fo

Kiss Me, Judas by Will Christopher Baer - I think I'll look out for that one!

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Strictly speaking it's a guide to contemporary American literature if we are just using the term to describe "now". Not unsurprising as I tend to think the best writers today are American. British novels, like British films seem at times very "kitchen sink" compared to US novels. I mean by that that themes & plots are more mundane in comparison.

 

I'm reading Lunar Park at the moment and enjoying it immensely. The Don DeLillo one sounds interesting. So does Kiss Me Judas.

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I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds a lot of modern British literary fiction to be very kitchen sink and parochial, and if it's trying to explore big themes it seems to do so in a dreary, small scale way, looking at normal peoples' lives in a polite middle class existence. It doesn't do much that's brave. There are exceptions, of course, like JG Ballard or David Mitchell or even Will Self and Martin Amis despite them being deeply annoying. But on the whole there's a focus on the small and domestic rather than the big picture or the discordant or abnormal. The US at the moment tends to do that stuff better.

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As for British films - apparently its very hard for British film makers to get financial backing for more mainstream 'commercial' type films, I guess because the grittier stuff has more of a track record. I think it's changing a bit.

It was very difficult when Peter Howitts "sliding doors" was made and they almost had to give up half way through due to lack of finance. I think things are changing though, albeit slowly. I'm sure we have some great talent, just not enough investors.

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