Monday, 25 August 2008


'You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing. But instead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins, and Hiroshima orphans—and New York painters with haemorrhoids.'

I'm not sure if this is an accurate decsription of the contents of Nam Le's debut collection, The Boat, but I do know that 'the Vietnamese thing' is very much to the fore in at least one of the stories in the book. 'Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice' (from which the quote is taken) was first published in Zoetrope: All-Story, and is a beautifully layered meditation on the nature of memory, identity and creativity. The author's biography on the Zoetrope website applies equally to his narrator, who is also called Nam: 'Nam Le was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia. He practiced as a corporate attorney before coming to America to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop.' (Keen-eyed readers may even spot a reference in the story to Yiyun Li, a fellow Iowa graduate, and subject of a previous blog post.)

The story begins with the narrator dreaming about a poem he is working on; Le himself writes with the precision of a poet. Take this perfectly wrought sentence: 'On Washington Street, a sudden gust of wind ravaged the elm branches and unfastened their leaves, floating them down thick and slow and soundless.'

The Bridge has just been published in the UK by Canongate. I am looking forward to investigating the rest of the collection, lesbian vampires or not.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


Joshua Ferris may not be a new name, but it's taken me until now to catch up with his work, thanks to a story in last week's New Yorker called The Dinner Party. This reminded me to check out his debut novel, Then We Came to the End, for which I'd seen glowing reviews when it appeared last year. Good comic writers are rare, but Ferris is a painfully acute observer of everyday rituals, and genuinely funny with it. Read the first chapter of his novel in the New York Times.

Tobias Wolff, on the other hand, is a writer I have long admired. The publication of his latest collection, Our Story Begins, is an excellent excuse to link to Awake, which is in the current edition of the New Yorker. Wolff is arguably the finest living exponent of the short story form. If you are discovering him for the first time, you have a treat in store.

Monday, 11 August 2008


'To me, I just feel that always the most interesting or exciting thing about a story is not the drama, but people who watch that drama happen. . . I'm always very much more interested in, I guess, the onlookers. I wanted to write about these people who watched everything without doing anything.'

This is Yiyun Li speaking in an interview in Saturday's Irish Times, ahead of her event that evening at the Kilkenny Arts Festival. She is appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today.

Li has won major awards for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, her debut short story collection. Two excellent examples of her work can be read via the Gettysburg Review and the New Yorker magazine. In What Has That to Do with Me and A Man Like Him the themes of passive and covert complicity in tyranny reminded me of Orwell's 1984 and the recent film The Lives of Others. Li's achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that she is writing in English, a language she could barely speak when she moved from Beijing to the United States in 1996.

Friday, 8 August 2008


The Roving Editor's researches have taken him to the above locations this week, or at least to the websites of the literary reviews that bear their names. The common denominator is that they have all recently published stories by Glen Pourciau, a writer new to me. Pourciau appears to specialise in short, unsettling fictions set in a world where Larry David intersects with David Lynch. I highly recommend sampling Claim, Window and The Dangerous Couple. And a little Cake for afters.

Pourciau's debut collection, Invite, is coming out in the States in October. If there are any enterprising UK publishers reading this, you know what to do. . .

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


The idea behind the Roving Editor is to do for new writing what the best mp3 blogs do for music — to seek out quality, keep the commentary to a minimum and let the work speak for itself. There are enough critics out there as it is. What is harder to come by is the opportunity to read a sample of the work of a writer whose name you may have come across in a review somewhere.

By way of illustration, I recently read good things in the Guardian about an American author called Donald Ray Pollock, whose first book, Knockemstiff, has just been released in the UK. I was intrigued enough to take a look online and discovered that one of the stories from the collection has been published by the Barcelona Review. This in itself is a sign of quality, as the Barcelona Review is one of the best outlets for new fiction on the internet. The story is called Pills, and is a beautifully observed account of a teenage boy's doomed attempt to escape from small-town America.

Monday, 4 August 2008


Dublin resident Irvine Welsh is the latest author to contribute to a weekly series running in the Irish Times. The paper is publishing stories and essays to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Welsh has fun with the notion of Mark Renton cut adrift from his Trainspotting cohorts and consigned to a rehab clinic in the depths of Fife. Enjoy.

The series is a collaboration between the Irish Times and Amnesty International and has so far featured new work by the likes of Colm McCann, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright. Enright's deadpan surrealism can be savoured in her story Grace in a Tree.