Garan Holcombe

15 posts

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

The novel is narrated by August Brill, a writer, a widower, an old man. Brill is recovering from a car accident and sharing a house with his daughter and granddaughter, who are both grieving their own losses. Brill can’t sleep and so tells himself a story about a man called Owen Brick, who wakes up to find himself in another America, an America at war, but with itself rather than Iraq. An America in which the Towers stand while all around them falls apart.

Mania: A Short History of Bipolar Disorder by David Healy

He refuses to accept the dominance of money over medicine and the alarming diagnoses of bipolar disorder in infants. ‘We now have a system that inhibits our abilities to find cures while encouraging companies to seek short-term profits by co-opting bipolar disorder for the purposes of increasing the sales of major tranquilizers to infants. Giving major tranquilizers to children is little different from giving children cancer chemotherapy when they have a cold.’

The Flawless Skin of Ugly People by Doug Crandell

Hobbie suffers from acne vulgaris, which has forced him into a retreat from life. ‘Other than work, I rarely go out, avoiding people as much as possible. I shop the 24-hour Wal-Mart, rent movies from the Internet, and basically stay hidden as much as I can. Having to endure people’s stares is what has made my jobs so tortuous. Sometimes I dream about pulling on this magical mask that makes my face flawless.’

Noogie’s Time To Shine by Jim Knipfel

One day, a young boy scares Noogie when he is the middle of restocking a machine in Fast Eddie’s Drug Hut by shouting ‘bang’. Noogie drops four thousand dollars in twenties all over the floor, screams at the kid and then gathers the notes up. It is only when he has loaded them all into the ATM that he finds a stray twenty under his shoe. It is then that the idea for the ‘perfect slow-motion heist’ occurs to him.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

The childishness, the pettiness, the jealously, the nitpicking, the backstabbing, the politicking, of all this is delicious, authentic, accurate and brilliantly realised. Ferris’s office is one of pranks and games; sushi rolls find their way behind people’s bookshelves, things go missing from desks, and chairs are mysteriously swapped. There are the customary shifts and swings of popularity and power; endless arguments about who deserves to go, and who deserves to stay; and regular colloquies about some of the more unusual behaviour of the staff. But Ferris’s novel is as much about the way we act when thrown together with strangers, as it is office life.

Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk

The Arlington Park of the title is a ‘green, ruminative, inchoate suburb’ with ‘avenues and well-pruned hedges’. We follow five married women who live there, all of whom, we are to imagine, are in early middle-age. They have young children and live in nice, comfortable houses. They do not want for money. But each is beset by worries as to the nature and meaning of their domesticated, suburban lives.

So Many Ways To Begin by Jon McGregor

David and Eleanor’s story is an unremarkable one. But their ordinary disappointments and frustrations are precisely what make the novel memorable. McGregor generates great poignancy by naming each chapter after various fragments of the characters’ lives, a letter, a photograph, an old wooden boat. Like Roddy Doyle, McGregor takes uncelebrated lives and invests them with dignity and depth.