Litchfield reviews ‘Let Us Now Speak of Extinction’ for the Colorado Review

Let Us Now Speak of Extinction by Michael C. Keith

“Let Us Now Speak of Extinction marks an unexpected but welcome departure for Keith from his usual compendiums of supernatural fiction. Absurd, provocative, philosophical, and idiosyncratic, these markedly varied, darkly amusing pieces of condensed prose are as engrossing and satisfying as they are surprising and thought-provoking.”

American media historian, author, and professor emeritus at Boston College, Michael C. Keith strikes a humorous note as he dwells on death and the human condition in this comical, quasi-philosophical collection of microfiction. Keith, the author of nearly two dozen books on electronic media, including The Radio Station (a widely used textbook) and Waves of Rancor (featured on President Clinton’s 1999 holiday reading list), has also written a notable memoir that was praised by Larry King and Augusten Burroughs. Over the past decade, he has primarily focused on speculative fiction, frequently contributing to the Lowestoft Chronicle and other literary magazines. He has also authored a young adult novel and fourteen story collections. His latest, Let Us Now Speak of Extinction, is an epic assortment of diverse and weighty topics that have been whittled down to brilliant, bite-sized narratives.

Containing over two hundred and thirty exceedingly short works of fiction, with very few exceeding a page in length and most no longer than a paragraph, Keith consistently manages to make each story distinctive and fully formed. He also delights in poking fun at death and human suffering, injecting his pieces with a virulent strain of dark humor.

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Michael C. Keith’s collection Let Us Now Speak of Extinction.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Litchfield reviews ‘Mademoiselle Bambù’ for the Colorado Review

Mademoiselle Bambù by Pierre Mac Orlan

Mademoiselle Bambù is an unexpected pleasure. Rich with dark humor, fertile imagination, and eloquent, intelligent reflection, it offers an admirably unique, disorienting, hallucinatory approach to storytelling.”

Merging crime, espionage, and absurdist fiction, French author Pierre Mac Orlan (born Pierre Dumarchey in 1882)—a prolific writer of adventure novels, erotica, songs, essays, and memoirs—constructs a compelling novel of intrigue set in the murky shadows of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Written in stages over the course of decades, Mademoiselle Bambù comprises several pieces of writing, revised and consolidated into a single volume and reprinted in English with exquisite, original, sketch-like illustrations by Orlan’s friend, Gus Bofa, an artist who is best remembered for his book illustrations of French literary classics and his collaborations with Orlan.

Aaron Peck, in his afterword to the book, emphasizes the importance of Bofa’s contributions to Mademoiselle Bambù in serving to complement Orlan’s moody work and underline the obscure and shadowy characters who populate the story. “His drawings suggest the existential darkness that overtook a Europe defaced by war and modernization,” remarks Peck, noting that “his style is dark, almost resembling the aesthetics of film noir, though at times it is also goofy or playful.”

This handsome edition also features an enlightening introduction by Chris Clarke, responsible for translating the text into English, who describes the author’s particular take on the spy novel as a “poignant example of Mac Orlan’s blending of the social fantastic with the adventure novel and a dark and latent surrealism.” Opting to confine the main narrator’s role to “the odd polite interjection and occasional comments,” Mademoiselle Bambù—which examines the life of Signorina Bambù, a double agent in the service of France, and the diabolical career of sinister spy Père Barbançon—is told through wistful confessions by Captain Hartmann, an adventurer and accidental spy, and through the “observations and fabrications” of Paul Uhle, the odious proprietor of a boarding house in Brittany where Barbançon spends his final days. Philosophical, darkly humorous, and highly original, much of the book’s pleasure is derived from Orlan’s astute, comic observations and his colorful, if sometimes derisive, depictions of the larger-than-life main characters.

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Pierre Mac Orlan’s admirably unique, disorienting, and hallucinatory spy novel Mademoiselle Bambù.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Book review: ‘Sleeping Dragons’ for the Colorado Review

“At times, the open-ended nature of Baudoin’s stories has the effect of making a narrative seem unfinished and crying out for resolution. Argentine-born writer, translator, and editor Alberto Manguel addresses this issue in his introduction, writing: “We come to the last page of a Baudoin story and we ask ourselves, what exactly just happened?” Time and again throughout the collection, you find there is always more to the story than Baudoin is willing to reveal, and by the end, we are left with an unclear take on things, a feeling that, as Manguel notes, something essential seems to have escaped us.

That said, what makes Baudoin’s atypical writing so distinctive and so critically appealing is her eloquence and subtlety, and her willingness to leave things unsaid and allow readers to interpret a story for themselves. Largely ominous and somber in tone, the concise, intelligent fiction contained in Sleeping Dragons will move, intrigue, and not fade quickly from memory..”

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Magela Baudoin’s slim but impactful story collection Sleeping Dragons.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Litchfield Reviews Petites Suites by Robert Wexelblatt for the Colorado Review

Colorado Review - Petites Suites by Robert Wexelblatt

“Thought-provoking, entertaining, and eloquent, like so many of his stories in Petites Suites, you can’t help but marvel at Wexelblatt’s ability to move and enchant in just a few concise pages. This inspired and truly original story collection is an exquisite joy, offering the equivalent beauty and charm a fine symphony might accomplish.”

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Robert Wexelblatt’s highly inventive story collection Petites Suites, a collection that pulsates with melody, harmony, and rhythm. Wexelblatt, whose novel Zublinka Among Women won the Indie Book Awards first-place prize for fiction in 2008, is the author of three previous story collections. I’ve read a lot of Robert’s stories over the years and his work is always worthwhile. You can read one of his recent excellent stories (“Hsi-Wei and the Good”) in issue #31 of Lowestoft Chronicle.

Read the full, in-depth book review here.

BOOK REVIEW OF BEHIND THE MASK EDITED BY TRICIA REEKS AND KYLE RICHARDSON FOR THE COLORADO REVIEW

Colorado Review - Behind the Mask: An Anthology of Heroic Proportions by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson, editors

“Rocketing into speculative fiction territory, Behind the Mask, a strikingly entertaining anthology of short stories focused on the everyday lives of those in possession of superhuman abilities, sparkles with vibrant luminosity and star-spangled hipness.”

The Colorado Review features my review of the latest book from Meerkat Press, Behind the Mask: An Anthology of Heroic Proportions, edited by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson.

BOOK REVIEW OF THE PHANTOM OF THOMAS HARDY BY FLOYD SKLOOT FOR THE COLORADO REVIEW

Colorado Review - The Phantom of Thomas Hardy by Floyd Skloot

“American memoirist, novelist, and poet Floyd Skloot nimbly crosses the gorge between fact and fiction in his uniquely inventive The Phantom of Thomas Hardy. Part travelogue, part memoir, part novel, this semi-autobiographical and semi-biographical endeavor is multifaceted and blends the various categories so thoroughly that the result is comparable to a rich, smooth-textured cocktail with a faintly peculiar flavor.”

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of the latest novel by American memoirist, novelist, and poet Floyd Skloot.

Read the full, in-depth book review here.