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  • Micro-Review #111: Moon of the Crusted Snow
    by Waubgeshig Rice

    As winter sets in at a first nations reserve in northern Ontario, the power goes out. Something dire is happening down south. Civilization is dying. Society is unravelling. The Anishinaabe survivors are left alone to endure the winter and plan for the future. Public order is an issue, as are food and heating. Soon outsiders show up, and they don’t all have honorable intentions. Survival will mean more than simply enduring. Hard choices have to be made.

    Rice’s spare prose and active storytelling make for a compelling tale. Despite the severe subject matter, the book is a joy to read. It steers clear of the hackneyed tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre. The journey is believable precisely because it lacks lurid action and melodrama. It also provokes thought without preaching or vilifying. You don’t have to be partial to the genre to enjoy it.

  • Micro-Review #110: The Lieutenant of Inishmore
    by Martin McDonagh

    This play, by the man who gave us The Banshees of Inisherin, has all the subtlety of a steel-toed kick to the groin. “Mad” Padraic is an Irish National Liberation Army psychopath who will kill any man who so much as looks sideways at his beloved cat, Wee Thomas. That’s a problem, because Wee Thomas appears to meet with a fatal accident while in the care of Padraic’s underlings.

    Violence ensues—loads of it—along with McDonagh’s unique brand of humor, which relies on distinctive dialogue and characters who some readers are sure to see as reductive or over the top. The story may be a satire on violence and other elements of the culture, but it’s primarily a high-octane piece of entertainment. If you disapproved of Brendan Gleeson’s life choices in Banshees, then maybe stay away. This play makes the movie look pink and furry.

  • Micro-Review #109: Fifty Fifty
    by James Patterson and Candice Fox

    My first visit to the James Patterson thriller mill is likely to be my last. This novel about a gruff female cop in Australia who has to catch a serial killer and save her unjustly imprisoned brother contains no positive surprises for anyone who has ever read a good thriller.

    The book is as close to TV as a written story can get, with fast-paced action, minimal internal dialogue, and distractingly short chapters that cater to stunted attention spans (with many scenes cut in half in order to stay under three pages). The writing is capable enough, but it doesn’t aim for the stars. Disbelief has to be suspended again and again. Maybe the next book will be better. Patterson’s many writers have probably churned out three more titles in the time it took to write these two paragraphs.

  • Micro-Review #108: This Is Our Youth
    by Kenneth Lonergan

    On first glance, this is a play about rich kids who refuse to grow up. On closer inspection, it’s a moving and shrewdly humorous tale about two friends in 1980s New York who are terrified of life and loss in the big, cold world. Dennis and Warren are aimless uptown kids who are into dope, sex and avoidance. They guard their youth jealously, but the clock of adulthood ticks. Long-avoided bills must soon be paid.

    The date with responsibility arrives in the form of a woman who is equally as lost. This isn’t a triangle so much as three bad swimmers flailing about in weedy waters. The drifters know there’s more than monied ennui going on; they do suspect they might be their own worst enemies. Whether they’re equipped for a journey to self-awareness isn’t certain, but they have our sympathy. Because their struggles are our struggles—people fighting to get through life without a roadmap—only cynical readers won’t want them to make it.

  • Micro-Review #107: Flights
    by Olga Tokarczuk

    In BAMBI VS. GODZILLA, David Mamet notes that the secret to writing compelling female characters is to approach them unsentimentally. The same rule seems to apply to just about everything Tokarczuk writes in this book. The Nobel laureate gives us a loosely connected deluge of short story fragments that largely steer clear of obvious emotion while somehow creating a lasting emotional effect.

    Flights is jammed full of cool discourse on human anatomy and random-seeming streams of consciousness about travel in eras past and present. If you’re after splashy conflicts or a commercial plot, read something else. If you take nourishment from brilliant writing and keen reflections on smart, unselfaware people, you won’t find a better work of fiction. This is a slow, cerebral work that’s also absolutely at the heart of things. It hits you unawares.

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