Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Odds: A Love Story

By Stewart O’Nan

(Penguin, $25.95, 192 pages

Who is this author?

Connecticut’s literary community lost an important member when Stewart O’Nan moved from Avon back to his hometown of Pittsburgh. O’Nan, known for novels that explore extraordinary emotions arising from ordinary life, was a repeat winner of the Connecticut Book Award for fiction, not quite what you might expect from a guy who earned a degree in aerospace engineering. In 1996, he was named one of America’s 20 top young novelists by Granta, the literary magazine.

He set several of his novels in Connecticut: “Last Night at the Lobster” takes place in a chain restaurant in New Britain and “The Night Country” is set in the Farmington Valley. His first non-fiction book, “The Circus Fire,” (2000), chronicles the tragic 1944 circus conflagration in Hartford, and it drew on more than 500 responses from local people who answered his ad in The Courant seeking survivors to interview.

His other non-fiction book, “Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season,” was written with Stephen King.

Here are some things O’Nan revealed in a Barnes & Noble interview:

“The library is still my favorite place in the world.”

“I’d rather be reading than doing anything else, including writing.”

“The Odds” is O’Nan’s 13th novel.

What is this book about?

Suppose you were in a long, frayed-at-the-edges marriage and facing the likelihood of going bankrupt and getting divorced. Where would you go for one last, hail-Mary attempt at getting things back together? Counseling? Church? Your CPA’s office?

How about Niagara Falls?

That is where Art and Marion Fowler head, hoping literally to gamble their way back to solvency as well as betting  they can re-ignite their relationship over a Valentine’s Day weekend at the place where they spent their honeymoon.

Art has devised a system he is sure will allow them to win big at the casino. As the weekend progresses, the book takes the reader back in time and returns to the present, fleshing out the Fowlers’ marriage and the things they have done to strain it to the breaking point. Can they recoup what they once had, or are they fated to crash, like a barrel going over the Falls? O’Nan’s novel will keep you wondering until the very end.

Why you’ll like it:

I won’t tell you if Art and Marion manage to achieve their miracles, but I will say that O’Nan is peerless at creating real-life dialogue and situations that capture his readers. His previous novels, such as “The Good Wife” (2005), which is NOT the basis for the TV series, but instead ABOUT a woman’s life as she faithfully waits for her husband to serve a long prison sentence; or “The Night Country,” which zeroes in on the poignancy and perplexities of teenagers and their families struggling with the aftermath of a gruesome accident, were masterpieces of that kind. O’Nan really knows how to create regular people dealing with the unpredictability of life, leading to books that you cannot, and do not want to, put down.

What others are saying:

“At his best, O’Nan nails the persistence of betrayal long after wrongs have actually been committed; their desperation has become as routine as ordering dinner,” says Publishers Weekly.

“There is a clarity to O’Nan’s prose: It doesn’t call attention to itself, doesn’t flaunt dazzling sentences or stunning descriptions. This may undersell his work, which is delightful. There is something movie-like in it — not that this should be a movie, as his novel “Snow Angels” was — but it’s movie-like in its easy immersion. Cracking open “The Odds” is like settling back to watch a film as the theater lights come down: It plays out, brightly, before your eyes,” says Carolyn Kellogg in the Los Angeles Times.

“O’Nan, writing about love in a time of recession and hope as eternal as falling water, celebrates in The Odds “the high not of money but of sheer possibility” — a wager few can resist,” says Heller McAlpin for NPR Books.

Says Ron Charles in The Washington Post: “But it’s O’Nan’s attention to the murmurs of exasperation and smothered ardor that will unsettle you. I read “The Odds” over my 27th anniversary, and I defy any long-married husband to make it through these pages without feeling the bracing wind of exposure. Our neediness, our brittle impatience, our loony sense that sexual satisfaction redeems the universe: It’s all laid out here in prose that’s deceptively modest. A few hours with this witty, sad, surprisingly romantic novel might be a better investment for troubled couples than a month of marriage counseling.”

When is it available?

It’s a sure bet that the Hartford Public Library has added “The Odds” to its collection.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Boys and Girls Like You and Me

By Aryn Kyle

(Scribner, $14, 225 pages)

Who is this author?

She grew up in Colorado and attended the writing program at the University of Montana, so Aryn Kyle’s name may not be familiar to you. But it should be: she is a promising young writer who has already achieved notable success. Her debut novel, “The God of Animals,” which began as a short story, won a 2004 National Magazine Award for fiction, and in 2005, she won the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, which goes to emerging women writers “who demonstrate exceptional talent and promise.” Her work has been published in many top literary journals, including The Georgia Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New American Voices 2005 and Ploughshares.

Her second book, “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” is now out in paperback.

What is this book about?

The book is a collection of 11 short stories whose theme is the struggles – not always successful – of girls and young women (and in one case, a boy) to navigate the tricky waters from childhood to adulthood. The opening story, “Brides,” exposes the dark underbelly of teen theater, a place “High School Musical” and “Glee” don’t go near. In “Nine,” a girl with an alarming propensity for making stuff up tries for an alliance with her dad’s girlfriend. “Sex Scenes from a Chain Bookstore” explores employer-employee relations in a hilarious, if disturbing way. In “Allegiance,” a British émigré gets a crash course in becoming a “mean girl.” All these stories “probe the frequently wrongheaded choices girls and young women make to feel happy and loved,” says Publishers Weekly.

Why you’ll like it:

Kyle, who is 34, is close enough in age to her protagonists to fully understand how their need for love and acceptance can often lead down dangerous paths. She writes about them with affection and bittersweet humor, making them believable and touching in their vulnerability. You’ll wish you could warn them away from their bad choices, while appreciating the needs that drive them to make their mistakes.

What others are saying:

“There is an almost perverse artistry at work here, however, and at least two of the stories—“Nine” and “A Lot like Fun”—are near-perfect exercises in persuading readers that the hallmark of human nature is imperfectability and that truth is its ultimate falsehood,” says Michael Cart for Booklist.

-Caroline Leavitt, author of “Girls in Trouble,” says:  “In this absolutely knockout collection, Kyle channels girls (and women) on the verge—of making big mistakes, tumbling into the wrong kind of love, and reevaluating everything they ever thought they knew about themselves and the world. Brilliantly funny and moving, Kyle shocks and surprises in a voice that’s indelibly her own. Loved, loved, loved this book.”

“No one captures millennial adolescence quite like Aryn Kyle…”Boys and Girls Like You and Me “features young women making their way in an America of stultifying suburban sameness…who go to ruthless lengths to get what they want…Kyle, a wonderfully mordant and unshowy writer who clearly remembers what it’s like to be simultaneously too young to know better and wise beyond one’s years, gives voice to their floating malaise,”   says Vogue

When is it available?

It’s available now for readers like you and me at the Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!


By Charles Frazier

(Random House, $26, 272 pages

Who is this author?

Charles Frazier was teaching literature part-time when he realized that the story of his great-great uncle’s life would make a great basis for a novel. He blended this tale of a Confederate soldier who goes AWOL with the classic story of Ulysses on his wandering journey home to his wife and came up with the smash debut novel, “Cold Mountain,” a best-seller that won a National Book Award in 1997 and became a movie with Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Rene Zellweger.

Frazier followed that with “Thirteen Moons,” another best seller that won critical praise. Now the author, who grew up in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and lives in Asheville, is back with another novel set in Appalachia, but this time in the 1960s.

What is this book about?

The central character is a woman named Luce who has chosen to retreat from society in a rambling, empty hotel called the Lodge in the North Carolina mountains. Her solitary existence is upended when her sister, Lily, is brutally murdered by her husband, Bud, and their emotionally damaged young twins are sent to live with their unprepared aunt. The kids don’t speak and are fascinated by fire, two traits that the reader knows must lead to trouble. What Luce doesn’t know is that their father, who has escaped justice, is on an implacable search for money he believes Lily once had and Luce and the twins have now. Luce’s only friend is a man named Stubblefield; her only mission is to connect with the kids, and slowly, things brighten. But when Bud arrives to complete his violent quest, the tale turns dark indeed.

Why you’ll like it:

Frazier is known for creating compelling characters and vividly depicting the settings of his novels. The magnificent Blue Ridge mountains give him plenty to work with, and he knows the territory by heart. He’s also gifted at portraying relationships, which he does well in this story of tenderness threatened by cold violence.

What others are saying:

“Nightwoods is no typical thriller….its dazzling sentences are so meticulously constructed that you find yourself rereading them, trying to unpack their magic…the unhurried, poetic suspense is both difficult to bear and impossible to shake,” says Entertainment Weekly.

“…[A] taut narrative of love and suspense, told against a gritty background of bootlegging and violence. The characters are rich and unforgettable, and the prose almost lyrical. This is Charles Frazier at his best,” says Booklist

“Fantastic … an Appalachian Gothic with a low-level fever that runs alternately warm and chilling,”  saysThe Washington Post.

The Bioston Globe calls it “astute and compassionate . . .a virtuoso construction . . . with wickedly wry dialogue reminiscent of the best of Charles Portis, Larry Brown, and Cormac McCarthy.”

When is it available?

The Hartford Public Library has it now.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Bohemian Girl

By Terese Svoboda

(University of Nebraska Press, $14.95, 208 pages) 

Who is this author?

Terese Svoboda wears many literary hats: She has published five poetry collections, six novels, a memoir, a book of translation and more than 100 short stories. Yet her name was unknown to me, and, I am betting to you as well.

In addition to her work as a writer, Svoboda has produced videos for the Columbia Translation and the PBS Voices and Visions series, as well as poetry videos, and wrote the libretto for a chamber opera for Death and five voices titled WET.

In 2007, Svoboda won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize for her memoir, “Black Glasses Like Clark Kent,” which was about her uncle. He had been a military policeman in Japan after World War II and kept a devastating secret – and after the Abu Ghraib horrors in Iraq, he killed himself.

She also has won an O. Henry Award, has taught at many universities and has been published in The New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly,, Bomb, Lit, Columbia, Yale Review and The Paris Review.

What is this book about?

“Bohemian Girl,” not to be confused with Willa Cather’s novel, “The Bohemian Girl,” is a novel set in Nebraska just as the Civil War is beginning. Its heroine is 12-year-old Harriet, given by her ne’er-do-well father to a mound-building Indian to pay off a debt. The story, which has been called a blend of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “True Grit,” follows young Harriet as she escapes from bondage to the mound-builder and works her way east to find her father. Her picaresque travels include encounters with a Jewish peddler, a saloon singer and a balloonist, and she is locked in a stockade and then freed, becomes a surrogate mother and helps runaway slaves. The book captures a turbulent era of American history from the point of view of a brave and determined girl.

Why you’ll like it:

Critics praise Svoboda’s deft use of language in all her various writings, and this book is no exception. As Publisher’s Weekly puts it: “Harriet’s observations of the world and her small place in it are insightful and often touching. And Svoboda  often displays a poet’s touch with language and imagery.”

Furthermore, well-told stories of young people who must make their way in a hostile world are always engrossing, and when the central character is an adventurous girl, they can be even more exciting.

What others are saying:

“Creating a western world as raucous and unpredictable as any imagined by Larry McMurtry, and teeming with characters as tragically heroic as those created by Willa Cather, Svoboda offers a vividly distinctive tale of the American frontier,” says a Booklist starred review.

Foreword says: “Hollywood has handed us an American West of cowboys, cattle, train whistles, and Indian wars, but Terese Svoboda offers a different glimpse of history, from the perspective of a young girl abandoned by her own father to make her way in a world that has mostly cruelty to offer. . . .An eloquent exploration of the Wild West from the perspective of one of its victims who refuses to be victimized.”

“We never doubt Harriet will seize as much satisfaction as this hard life can spare. . . . A marvelous heroine with an iron will and a unique voice,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

It’s expected to be on the shelf at the Hartford Public Library as of Jan. 18.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff

By Calvin Trillin

(Random House, $27, 368 pages)

Who is this author?

Let me begin this by saying that Calvin Trillin is a very nice guy. How do I know? Well,  when I was the arts and entertainment editor at The Hartford Advocate, I had the pleasure of interviewing him about his hilarious novel “Floater,” which was about the shenanigans at a newsweekly very much like Time magazine, where Calvin – or Bud, as his friends call him – had worked.

He was already known as a clever writer and excellent reporter, and I was pretty much a nobody. Yet he gave me tons of his time on the phone, answered my questions thoughtfully and proffered many delightful quotes. All authors should be that nice. Over the years, as he grew even more famous as a New Yorker staff writer, political light verse “deadline poet” and columnist for The Nation  and best-selling author, I had the occasion to interview him again. He was just as forthcoming and nice as before.

Trillin is a New Yorker by way of Yale and Kansas City, who calls Greenwich Village “a neighborhood where people from the suburbs come on weekends to test their car alarms.”

He has written brilliantly and quite often humorously about food, politics, crime marriage, children and countless other topics. But “funny” is not the only string in his bow. He wrote a thoughtful memoir about a Yale friend who died young, his New Yorker crime reporting is serious and smart and his touching and tender “About Alice,” written after the death of his wife, Alice Stewart Trillin, is a beautiful tribute to the woman who was his muse and the love of his life.

What is this book about?

The subtitle says it all: It is 40 years’ worth of funny stuff: a compendium of Trilliniana from the 1970s to the present. “Quite Enough” is a wonderful collection, drawn from his New Yorker essays, Nation doggerel verse, his syndicated column and more.

Here’s a sample, in which Trillin explains his notions about geography (and the business of sports):

“The way I divide up the country, the first region is the part of the United States that had major league baseball before the Second World War. That’s the Ancien United States, or the Old Country. The rest of the United States is the rest of the United States – or the Expansion Team United States.

For those of you who didn’t follow baseball closely in 1948, there’s an easy way to know whether you’re in the Old Country or the Expansion Team United States. In the Old Country, the waiters in an Italian restaurant have names like Sal or Vinnie. If you’re in an Italian restaurant and the waiter’s name is Duane, you’re in the Expansion Team United States.”

Why you’ll like it:

Because it will make you laugh at its dry, droll wit and it will make you think about the absurdities of life. You really cannot ask for much more. And because it is a collection of short pieces, you can consume it all at once or keep going back for more tasty morsels, like enjoying a Chinese banquet, as Trillin himself has often done (and described).

What others are saying:

“A classic American humorist,” says The New Republic

 “I spent my college years deep into the great humorists: Benchley, Perelman, Woody Allen. Calvin Trillin is up there with any of them,” David Brooks wrote in The Daily Beast.

People says, “Trillin may be the funniest columnist in America—bemused, amused, wry and right on the mark.”

Jonathan Yardley] once wrote in The Washington Post:  “Calvin Trillin is like an old shoe. Whatever he may be writing about, he always makes you want to slip into it and get comfy. This may seem like a modest compliment, but it is a high one indeed. Few tricks are more difficult for the journalist to pull off than being consistently likable and engaging, making oneself and one’s little world interesting and appealing to others.”

When is it available?

The Hartford Public Library has it now.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Angel Esmeralda

By Don DeLillo

(Scribner, $24, 224 pages)

Who is this author?

“Don DeLillo makes some people’s brains ache,” says a reviewer for The Guardian. That may be true, but reading him is worth taking that chance, say his many fans and literary prize juries, who have awarded him such honors as the National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, PEN/Faulkner Award, American Book Award and many others.

A Bronx boy, Fordham University graduate and erstwhile advertising copywriter, DeLillo has been writing for more than 40 years, and his novels (some would say masterpieces) include “White Noise,” his 1985 breakthrough book about a college professor and his family in the Midwest after a toxic accident, “Libra” and “Underworld.” He’s also a playwright and essayist.

His explorations of contemporary life pinpoint how banal our culture can be, and his work has been acknowledged as influential by such admired younger writers as David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen.

What is this book about?

DeLillo sets these stories everywhere from Manhattan to the West Indies to outer space, but they all have to do with people feeling trapped: on an island in the Caribbean that visitors cannot leave, in a spaceship orbiting earth before launching their weapons — “the banning of nuclear weapons has made the earth safe for war” – and in the violent world of the South Bronx. They show the development of his style from jazz-inflected flights in the early work to the spare and powerful expression of his more recent stories. His characters include astronauts and terrorists, athletes and nuns, teenagers obsessed with a stranger and stranded tourists.

Why you’ll like it:

DeLillo’s big novels are amazing works, but if you are a newcomer to his writing, “The Angel Esmeralda” offers you what amounts to a crash course in his style and subjects and a chance to find out whether you’d like his longer books. If you are already a fan, it offers short but powerful explorations of the themes you found compelling in his novels.

What others are saying:

 “His prose is masterly and austere, he has a deconstructionist’s obsession with the arbitrariness of language, and his interest in human beings often seems less a matter of passionate engagement than of clinical detachment,” says the Washington Post.

“All of these pieces possess the same cunning, grace and laser-guided prose of his novels, and touch on the great DeLillo themes,” says author Sam Lipsyte.

Says the Los Angeles Times: “It’s as if in putting together “The Angel Esmeralda” DeLillo had decided to construct a primer, a guidebook to his literary life. More to the point is that in this collection, as in his novels, DeLillo challenges us to see a world defined by our projections, a world in which the only reality is the one we create. “

When is it available?

It’s available now at the Hartford Public Library. 

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Ghost Lights

By Lydia Millet

(Norton, $24.95, 256 pages) 

Who is this author?

Lydia Millet, one of America’s admired younger fiction writers, was born in Boston, grew up in Toronto and now lives in the desert near Tucson, Ariz. In 2010, she was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists, for her short story collection “Love In Infant Monkeys,” which imagined encounters between famous people and other species. Her novel, “My Happy Life,” won the 2003 PEN-USA Award. In 2000, she published “George Bush, Dark Prince of Love ,” a comic novel about a woman who lives in a trailer and is obsessed with the 41st president.

With the publication of “Ghost Lights,” Millet is now two-thirds of the way into a trilogy of novels that began with “How the Dead Dream.”

What is this book about?

Another obsessed woman figures prominently in Millet’s trilogy. She is Susan, wife of an Internal Revenue Service bureaucrat, and the mother of their accidentally paralyzed daughter.

Susan is infatuated with her real estate developer boss, known as T.  Her husband, Hal, understandably resents the younger man as a rival for his wife’s affection, but after getting drunk at a party, Hal volunteers to find T., who has vanished into the jungles of Belize, where he had a project underway.

 Hal is not the heroic type – mild-mannered is more like it – yet off he goes on a quest that is nominally about rescuing T. but also about finding himself. In a tale that has echoes of Conrad’s classic “Heart of Darkness,” Hal discovers a strange landscape and surreal experiences.

Why you’ll like it:

Millet employs dark humor to reveal her characters’ inner lives. As she explained in an interview with Eclectica Magazine:

“It seems to me that adult lives are not chiefly lives of discovery but of calcification and sedimentation: we become more rigid and we become more passive, buried in the sand that blows over us… And rarely, punctuating these long plateaus of sameness and non-learning, there are moments of rapture. In such moments we feel how near we are to touching truth, but how far away truth is, and how always and forever it will hover there beyond our reach… Many of my characters are caught up in moments of rapture and recognition, indeed such moments pop up like jack-in-the-boxes, because what else is worth the price of admission, finally? Myself, I live for those moments.”

The San Francisco Chronicle says Millet is fascinated by the nature of privacy – “the terrible and wonderful loneliness of the individual, the luxurious solitude of the mind.”

What others are saying:

“Millet is a gifted writer, often dropping droll and sardonic throw-away lines of surprisingly smart humor,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“Millet… skillfully interweaves the personal and the political, making Hal’s journey both specific and universal,” says Library Journal.

The New York Times Book Review says: “At her best [Millet] exhibits the sweep and Pop-Art lyricism of Don DeLillo, the satiric acerbity of Kurt Vonnegut, the everyday-cum-surrealism harmonics of Haruki Murakami, and the muted-moral outrage of Joy Williams… Strange, alternately quirky and profound… Millet is operating at a high level in Ghost Lights, and the book provides a fascinating glimpse of what can happen if the self’s rhythms and certainties are shaken.”

When is it available?

You can borrow it now from the Hartford Public Library. 

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

I’ve just learned that  some comments on my blog entries were never posted, which is why  I did not post responses. My apologies!

From now on, I will respond promptly to your comments, and I encourage you to post them often.  Let me and the other readers know if you have read books by the featured authors and what you thought about them, or ask any questions you may have about the authors or their books. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Let’s use Under the Covers to get a good conversation going about books. 

Hope to hear from you soon!


Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home

By Susan Hill

Profile Books paperback, $15.95, 240 pages

Who is this author?

Susan Hill is a British author of 44 fiction and non-fiction works, including children’s books. Her novels include “The Woman in Black,” a suspenseful ghost story similar in its style to Daphne Du Maurier’s chillers, which was adapted for the theater and has been running since 1987 in London’s West End. Other novels include “The Mist in the Mirror” and “I’m the King of the Castle,”  which won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1971. In1972, her “The Bird of Night” won the prestigious Whitbread Novel Award. Her latest is “The Small Hand” (2010).

Hill also is known for he Simon Serrailler crime novels: “The Various Haunts of Men” (2004),  “The Pure in Heart” (2005), “The Risk of Darkness” (2006),  “The Vows of Silence” (2008),  “Shadows in the Streets” (2010) and “The Betrayal of Trust” (2011).

Here’s what she says about the series: “… the crime novel has become a serious literary genre over the last few decades and I realised that it presented the sort of challenge I wanted.

My aim was to look at issues in the world around me and contemporary life – which I have not done in my novels before. I also wanted to know not ‘who dunnit’ but much more importantly, WHY? What motivates a criminal? Why does someone murder and perhaps not only once?

What is this book about?

In “Howards End Is on the Landing,” the riddles to be solved are not about crimes but instead are related to reading.

Why do we collect books but fail to read them all? Why do we fail to recall the contents of some books that we actually have read? Have we got the time and stamina to pick up each and every book on each and every shelf to find out what we have in our home libraries? How do we decide which ones are worth reading again? If we could keep only 40 of them, which ones would we pick? To answer these questions, she spent a year reading, re-reading and assessing books from her personal collection and not buying any new ones.

Why you’ll like it:

Hill answers those questions for herself in this charming memoir about browsing through her many books, and her account is sure to inspire readers to assess their own collections and choose their own list of must-haves. Her selections may also encourage readers eager for good advice about books to add her choices to their own shelves. The Times of London says studying her list is “the equal of any degree course.”

What others are saying:

Says the Wall Street Journal: “…So skilled is Ms. Hill at bringing her books, and their authors, vividly before us that by the end of her year of reading we come to feel that her book-brimmed house is itself a lively presence, not so much haunted as animated by these familiar spirits.”

“…Delightful bibliophile’s memoir…Just try to read this book without nosing around your own shelves,” says Booklist.

When is it available?

It’s on the shelves, with thousands more, at the Hartford Public Library.

God Bless America

By Steve Almond

(Lookout Books, $17.95, 211 pages)

Who is this author?

Steve Almond, who lives near Boston but grew up in California, is a writer of many talents. His nonfiction book, “Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America,” was a history of candy-making in America, a celebration of entrepreneurship by small companies and  a confessional memoir. Many, many readers found it yummy.

Almond also writes biting, brilliant essays about American life – politics, commercialism, sports mania, movies and more — from a progressive point of view, and he’s not afraid to ladle on the snark when it serves his purpose. He’s also an accomplished writer of fiction, including a novel told in letters, “Which Brings Me to You,” with co-author Julianna Baggott, and several story collections, which mix humor with a poignancy that can break a reader’s heart. His stories have appeared in many top-notch literary journals and he also writes newspaper op-ed articles.

What is this book about?

His latest collection, “God Bless America,” combines his acid take on life, as demonstrated in his essays, with his skill at creating fictional characters who leap right off the page.

In its 13 short stories, it introduces us to a motley crew of characters. A guy who drives a Duck boat and participates in re-enactments of the Boston Tea Party sees the U.S. as a “land of opportunists” and turns out to be right on the money. An airport security guard encounters a kid who’s not what he seems. A mother and son get entangled with a disturbing stranger on a train. A cemetery caretaker tries to help a young mother embrace life amid the stone emblems of death. The stories are a blend of humor, pathos and tragedy, mixed with a sure hand.

Here are some insights from Almond himself:

 “I didn’t consciously set out to write about America. But like every other sane person in this country, I’ve watched in a kind of horror as our country has descended further and further into moral ruin. So obviously, that concern crops up in the work. But I’m mostly interested in particular Americans, and the way in which people seek to cope with their loneliness and regrets,” he told the website Art & Literature at  “To me, the comic impulse always arises from tragic circumstances. Comedy is how we survive our sorrow. I never set out to be funny. That doesn’t work. What I do is force my characters to confront some dark stuff, and allow them to have a sense of humor about it.”

Why you’ll like it:

Almond, who has appeared many times at Real Art Ways in Hartford and also at The Courant’s National Writers Workshops, is funny enough to do stand-up comedy, and that talent infuses his writing. He can be wry, sad, thoughtful, outrageous and provocative, often all at the nearly same time. He also has the ability, not common in male authors, to write movingly and utterly believably as a female character.

What others are saying:

“Steve Almond is one of our most prolific-fearless-political-hairy-intelligent-sexy-hilarious writers. He makes me shake my head with sadness one page, snort coffee out my nose the next. And he makes me care deeply about his characters, so many of them wrong in the head and right in the heart, down on their luck but clinging to the desperate hope that the next hand of cards will turn up flush,”  says Benjamin Percy, author of “The Wilding.”

“These wonderful, wickedly hilarious stories have forgiveness at their core. Steve Almond’s characters are sons and fathers, inveterate gamblers, thwarted dreamers, the mothers of children gone astray, and God Bless America teaches us how to love every one of them. Almond always has an ear to the ground for the ‘dumb throb, the frantic seep’ of human hope, which his prose transmutes into music,” says Karen Russell, author of “Swamplandia! “

“Almond hears America singing, and the country is way off-key, at least in this collection of 13 irony-laden short stories,” says Publishers Weekly, adding, “Almond is writing in the American grain, but the wood has become so warped that this collection about disaffected characters who can barely articulate their needs and fears defines a new American gothic.”

When is it available?

It’s waiting for you now at the Hartford Public Library.