Tag Archives: Serpent’s Tail

The Summer House by Philip Teir (transl. Tiina Nunnally): A smart piece of summer reading

Cover imageI reviewed Philip Teir’s debut, A Winter War, back in 2015 when I described it as the perfect winter read, a book to tuck yourself up with. It may seem a little lazy but it’s hard to resist describing The Summer House as the perfect summer read. Set against a backdrop of a long holiday spent in the Finnish countryside, Teir’s second novel explores the dynamics of modern family life.

While Julia packs up the car ready to drive to Mjölkviken, she wonders where Erik has got to, idly trying life as a single parent on for size. They drive off later than planned with ten-year-old Anton and twelve-year-old Alice, each with their own expectations and worries. Erik plans to find his way back into fatherhood after long hours spent working in the IT department of a Helsinki department store; Julia is intent on making headway with her second novel while the children fret about phone reception and how many new people they will be expected to meet. After an uneventful first week, with nothing more troubling than a bad smell emanating from the drains and the constant sound of a bouncing tennis ball, they’re invited to a midsummer party by a neighbour. Much to Julia’s surprise, Chris turns out to be the partner of her close teenage summer friend Marika who plays a starring but not very flattering role in her first novel. While Chris expounds his doomsday views on climate change, Julia frets about whether Marika has read her book and admires the couple’s apparently liberated lifestyle. Before the end of the summer, the lives of everyone at the party will have changed and Julia will have come to a realisation about her safe, secure marriage.

The Summer House offers a neat seasonal counterpart to A Winter War. Marriage, family tensions and coming-of-age are all handled with the same sympathy and deftness. Teir shifts smoothly from character to character as he unfolds each of their preoccupations and stories: Alice constantly worries about the way she looks; Julia is convinced other people’s relationships are more exciting than hers; Erik keeps his worries about work and losing Julia to himself. A violent thunderstorm brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion, complete with a dramatic revelation and the resolution of that troubling smell. With its adroitly managed characters and involving story, The Summer House is well worth thinking about if you’re after an intelligent summer read.

The Accusation by Bandi (transl. by Deborah Smith): Please read this book

Cover imageIt’s rare for me to feel that I owe it to a writer to read their book but the anonymous North Korean author of The Accusation risked his life to get it published, and continues to do so. Bandi, which translates as firefly, still lives and works in North Korea. Should he be unmasked he would undoubtedly be executed. His short story collection was first published in South Korea after being smuggled out of his own country. As the Afterword urges: ‘This work should be heard as an earnest entreaty to shine a spotlight on North Korea’s oppressive regime’

The Accusation comprises seven stories, each based on a real situation occurring between 1989 and 1995. In ‘City of Spectres’ a family faces dire consequences after the mother’s attempts to hide their toddler’s hysterical terror of Karl Marx and Kim Il-Sung’s images which adorn Pyongyang’s main square in celebration of National Day. ‘Life of a Swift Steed’ sees an old man who once championed the idea of a Communist North Korea where all is plentiful reveal his shattered illusions the day he receives yet another medal commemorating his service. In ‘So Near, Yet So Far’ a man, desperate to see his dying mother, flouts draconian travel regulations and pays a brutal price for it while ‘Pandemonium’ sees a grandmother’s choice of myth to entertain her granddaughter after a surreal meeting with the Great Leader neatly mirror her own country’s plight. I could describe all seven, but you should read them for yourself

Bandi’s stories reveal a world ruled by the whim of a capricious all-powerful regime in which guilt by association is punished for generations and the slightest perception of disrespect is met with harsh retribution. Unquestioning obedience is demanded, the smallest transgression provoking vengeance. Shortages are endemic: bean paste is made from acorns, stoves fuelled by sawdust. Officialdom’s callousness in the face of loss and pain contrasts with the compassion and concern of ordinary people for their friends and family, even for acquaintances despite the constant threat of spies in their midst. Almost as if in defiance of their dour subject, these stories have a rich vein of humour running through them, a sharp satirical wit: Died at her new place of residence, from resentment toward her husband’s punishment declares one man’s file sourly.

The collection’s Afterword provides a little context for both its author and his country. Reading it makes me shiver. Long may this brave man’s identity be preserved. He’s risked so much to shine a light into his strange, frightening country. We owe it to him to read his stories and take note.

Let Us Be True by Alex Christofi: A story about love

Cover imageAlex Christofi’s Let Us Be True is one of those books I’m delighted was sent my way. I’m not sure I would have happened upon it otherwise but it turned out to be absorbing, insightful and beautifully written. Largely set in Paris during the middle of the twentieth century, it’s the story of Ralf who becomes smitten with Elsa and remains so for decades after their brief affair ends.

In 1958, Ralf spends his evenings drinking at Jacques’ bar and shooting the political breeze with his Algerian friend Fouad. He and his mother fled Germany for London in 1933 after the death of Ralf’s Jewish geneticist father. His mother still lives in London but Ralf left to study in Paris, distracted by easy ways to make money tutoring language students. One evening, rifling through an apparently abandoned handbag, trying to find details of its owner, he’s punched in the face by a woman. This seemingly unpromising meeting marks the start of Ralf and Elsa’s affair in which she apparently blows hot and cold, rarely telling him anything about herself until Ralf decides to find out who she is. What he discovers is hardly a surprise but it’s far from the entire story. When Elsa leaves Paris, Ralf stays, occasionally involving himself in the Algerians’ protests against French oppression alongside Fouad and later becoming caught up in the student protests of ’68 before moving back to London. Ralf’s is a life lived alone, continually buffeted by the events that marked both the century and the countries in which he lives, adopted or otherwise.

Christofi explores the way political events can shape ordinary lives through the framework of Ralf and Elsa’s love affair: both are Germans who survived the war which ripped apart their childhoods; Fouad fought for the French but finds himself without rights as an Algerian; Ralf’s dulling of his pain leads him into the student protest against French political stalemate in 1968. All this is done with a light touch, a vivid background to Ralf and Elsa’s stories, told from both perspectives before and after they knew each other. The striking opening sentence sets the tone for the rest of the novel which is pleasingly uncluttered, letting its characters and their histories speak for themselves. It’s an engrossing, thoughtful novel with important things to say exemplified by Ralf’s reflections on his solitary life after the death of his mother: ‘How easily one might neglect those one loved by chasing the big story, the big lie that history was a matter of ideals and not compassion’. It ends, I’m pleased to say, on a hopeful note.

The Hidden Keys by André Alexis: A hugely enjoyable, sophisticated caper

This is the first book I’ve read by André Alexis. His last novel  was narrated in the voices of its titular dogs which brought back memories of Paul Auster’s Timbuktu, and not happy ones. That said Fifteen Dogs went on to win the Scotiabank Giller prize in 2015 so what do I know? This latest novel is entirely different: a funny, clever and intricately plotted piece of storytelling full of puzzles within puzzles involving an honourable thief, a rich beyond imagining junkie and a treasure hunt.

Tancred Palmieri is a complex character brought up by a single mother whose deathbed wish was that he change his thieving ways. He’s known Willow Azarian for a little while. She’s a junkie, drawn to telling Tancred her story, impressing upon him that she’s an heiress and eventually presenting him with an intriguing challenge. Her stupendously rich father has left each of his five children a memento, something which is of particular significance to them. Willow’s is a beautiful facsimile of a Japanese screen, one panel left blank but for an inscription. She’s convinced that her father has set a puzzle which can only be solved by examining all the artefacts together. Tancred is to steal each one, quietly returning the item once Willow has scrutinised them all. He will, of course, be recompensed. Reluctantly, Tancred agrees and has hardly begun his exacting task when Willow dies. Having given his word, Tancred has no choice but to continue only to find that his best friend is the detective investigating the burglaries and his bête noir, Willow’s dealer, has got wind of what he’s up to together with the reward it might bring. As each piece of this elaborate puzzle painstakingly slots into place, another mystery opens up until finally Tancred is left face to face with himself.

This is a hugely enjoyable novel, a good old-fashioned caper which twists and turns in a baroque fashion as its many conundrums are unfolded. It’s very funny at times – Castle Rose whose designer took his inspiration from M. C. Escher is a particular delight. Alexis excels at elaborate yet flawless plotting, smoothly switching perspective from character to character. The book’s premise reminded me of Scarlett Thomas’ The Seed Collectors and its style of Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, both favourites of mine. If there’s any disappointment at the resolution its matched by Tancred’s own and offset by the development of his character. Altogether a delight – packed full with colourful detail and characters, each with a story to tell or be told, and funny with it. I think I should try Fifteen Dogs after all.

Broken River by J. Robert Lennon: Literary mashup

Cover imageI’ve been a fan of J. Robert Lennon’s fiction since reading The Funnies, way back when. I reviewed his last novel, Familiar, in the very early days of this blog and enjoyed it despite its rather messy conclusion. He’s a writer unafraid to take risks, a point that Broken River proves with its mashing together of genres, from gothic to noir, twisted love story to coming-of-age novel, set in upstate New York.

Karl and Eleanor have moved from Brooklyn in a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage, taking their precociously bright twelve-year-old, Irina, with them. The derelict house in Broken River that Karl has had renovated has been empty for twelve years since the unsolved murder of the Gearys which left their five-year-old daughter an orphan. Karl’s had a studio built for his work although little of that gets done. Eleanor is struggling with her novel, worried about her persistent back problems and wondering if her cancer has returned. Irina spends her time on her own novel when not chatting on Cybersleuths about the Geary murders. To spice things up a bit, she’s posted a picture of the young woman she’s convinced herself is Samantha Geary, unwittingly setting in train a series of events that will devastate her family. Meanwhile Joe has contacted his unwilling accessory, Louis, and coerced him into tracking down the dealer who’s stepped onto his Broken River patch. As Karl predictably fails to remain faithful, Eleanor spends much of her writing time on Cybersleuths, unaware that she’s feeding her daughter information. A web of coincidence and misunderstandings finally unravels watched with interest by the Observer who views the motivations, actions and behaviour of the rest of the characters with increasing interest and amazement.

There’s much to enjoy here. The family thread and its noir counterpart are absorbing and entertaining, their many coincidences deftly handled cleverly bringing them together. Lennon can be very funny at times – both Irina’s precocity and Louis’ increasing horror at Joe’s shenanigans are amusing, as is Eleanor’s heartfelt exchange with her agent on delivering something other than her customary chick lit. Irina is a particularly endearing character, caught between a philandering stoner of a father and an increasingly distracted mother. What didn’t work for me was the role of ‘the Observer’ who becomes all-seeing and all-knowing if increasingly puzzled at human irrationality. I’m not entirely sure of its point although at times it seemed almost to be a description of the writing process. That said, the Observer’s sections are short and infrequent, their slightly jarring effect compensated for by the rest of the novel. Not an unalloyed success, then, but it won’t stop me reading Lennon’s next novel.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: A surefire prize winner

Cover imageRegular readers may have gathered by now how I feel about Twitter hype. All too often it leads to disappointment. Having already read and admired After Me Comes the Flood, though, it seemed likely that at least some of the love being poured on Sara Perry’s second novel was entirely genuine, and so it proved to be. It’s now joined the select band of the best books I’ve read in 2016. Set in 1885, it’s the tale of a small group of people each of whom comes to their own conclusions about a winged serpent, first seen in 1669 and now thought to be roaming the marshes around the village of Aldwinter.

On New Year’s Eve, a young man – somewhat the worse for wear – staggers home from the pub and wonders about taking a dip in the Blackwater River. Next morning, he’s found with his head twisted round a hundred and eighty degrees, drowned in the mud. Soon rumours circulate about the Essex Serpent, back stalking the marshes and wreaking havoc, killing a goat here, drowning another young man there. Will Ransome, the local parson, refuses to preach from the pulpit about this monstrous apparition, despite the increasing collective hysteria taking hold of his congregation. A man of faith, he’s well acquainted with current theories of science and rationality, convinced there’s a perfectly logical explanation. To preach about it would be to taint God with superstition. In London, the newly widowed Cora Seagrove hears of the serpent and thinks it may be a ‘living fossil’. Liberated from the constant cruelty of her husband she decides to take her son and his nanny – Cora’s dear companion – to Colchester where she bumps into old friends who suggest she stays with the Ransome family in Aldwinter. Unbeknownst to her, Cora has already met Will, although hardly in the best of circumstances. When they meet again, it’s as if there’s a flash of understanding between them. So begins a passionate friendship in which these two will debate all manner of things.

The Essex Serpent is a novel of ideas all wrapped up in a stonkingly good bit of storytelling and gorgeously vivid prose. All those nineteenth-century themes are present, correct and deftly woven in: science, religion, medical advance, philanthropy, education and above all, women’s place in society. Distant echoes of our own world sound throughout – veterans of another Afghan war on London’s streets, a chasm between the rich and the poor. Perry’s characters are vividly drawn: Cora is a triumph with her constantly questing curiosity, her openness to the world, uncaring about what others think of her tramping across the marshes in her mannish clothes. The relationship between Cora and Will could easily have descended into melodrama but Perry is far too clever for that, neatly avoiding a clichéd ending. The opening chapter with its repetition of ‘time’ calling to mind ‘fog’ in Bleak House feels like a nod to Dickens as do several characters – Charles Ambrose, the rich benefactor who assuages his guilt but has no wish to sully his hands with the poor, and Thomas Taylor, the beggar who carefully composes his face so as to best rook passers-by – but while comparisons with Dickens seem apt there’s nothing of the caricature about Perry’s well-rounded characters, nothing simplified about the ideas Will and Cora debate. It’s hard not to gush about this novel. It’s a glittering, thought-provoking and marvellous piece of fiction. Surely impossible for it not to be garlanded with prizes.

Hotels of North America by Rick Moody: On the road again

Cover imageI try to avoid TripAdvisor – I’ve spent far too much of my life on it – but a quick visit when checking out somewhere to stay seems almost inevitable these days. Admittedly it can be useful and I’m grateful to the reviewers who include practical information but so often the reviews are rants, often unreasonable as rants tend to be, or so effusively positive that you wonder if the reviewer has been paid or is part of the family. They do, however, sometimes offer an insight into a reviewer’s character – I still remember the person who complained bitterly about the dullness of breakfast at one hotel I stayed in: I wish I came down to a buffet of fresh fruit, yoghurt, muesli, croissants and pains au chocolat every morning. All of this is by way of introducing Rick Moody’s new novel largely made up of the reviews of Reginald Edward Morse, a motivational speaker and top ten reviewer for RateYourLodgings.com, entirely fictional and absolutely nothing to do with TripAdvisor at all.

Moody’s novel opens with a preface from the director of the North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers explaining why he has decided to publish a series of books made up of reviews. Morse’s contributions follow beginning with Dupont Embassy Row, Washington in 2010 and ending with The Guest of Honour, Connecticut the same year. Sandwiched in between are reviews which range all over the States, from a smart New York hotel recalled from Morse’s childhood to an IKEA car park where he and his lover, K, find themselves sleeping in their car. As Morse’s story unfolds it becomes clear that despite the confidently assertive tone of his early reviews, his is a precarious, lonely existence brightened by meeting K who accompanies him to many of his lodgings. After the final review when we learn how they met, there’s an afterword from Moody in which he speculates about what has happened to Morse who appears to have vanished off the face of the earth.

It was Moody’s intriguing structure that attracted me to his novel, that and The Ice Storm which I read and admired a long time ago. It’s a tricky idea to pull off but on the whole it works –  the preface seemed a little strained to me despite Moody’s tongue being firmly in his cheek. Morse’s reviews are very funny at times – his scathing description of a design hotel in Milan is particularly amusing and the rant about bed and breakfasts is spot on. Moody reveals Morse’s character and circumstances through hints and anecdote, skewering Morse’s state of mind in his review of the Sun Trap Inn, Oregon booked after overhearing a group of ‘men who had dreamed big when young and failed more spectacularly to develop these dreams’. The vitriol and oddness ever-present in some parts of the internet is nicely captured in Morse’s waspish responses to his commentators’ outlandish or intrusive remarks. It’s an enjoyable read, wisely kept short, with a memorable and aptly named, protagonist.

Almost three days in Nice and one book

View from our windo, NiceWe’d booked our weekend in Nice long before I was felled by the flu but the timing couldn’t have been better. Four weeks after the first aches and shivers we were on the plane. It always lifts my spirits to see palm trees after a British winter and this time even more so. Nice turned out to be the perfect place for a recuperative few days: sun, an elegant esplanade to amble along – as long as you make sure to keep your back turned to Le Méridien – and lovely food.

Our apartment was in one of the old town’s winding narrow streets lined with tall buildings to keep out that forty degree summer heat which makes me quail just to think about it. Given my feeble state not much was got up to but we did visit the St Nicholas Russian Orthodox church on our first day and it’s quite fabulous. Owned by the Russian Federation, it’s in pristine condition outstripping Helsinki and Riga in its rather more restrained splendour by quite some distance. From the mid-nineteenth century Nice was firmly on the Francophile Russian nobility’s map which explains its rather surprising location. Given that the upper echelons of society spoke in French to each other, a Russian church in Provence makes perfect sense. That and the weather.St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Nice

Our only other bit of culture was a visit to the Matisse museum which charts his artistic development from the first rather gloomy still lifes to his vibrant cut-outs, although ironically many of those are currently on loan to Tate Modern for an exhibition due to open this weekend. We did see a sample of the stained glass which he designed for the windows of Chappelle du Rosaire de Vence, an ambitious project begun late in life which looks quite stunning.

Other than that we wandered around in the sun, climbed the wooded Chateau hill for lovely views of the city and its gorgeous bay (twice) and generally loafed about. Just what the doctor ordered! Many thanks to Allison Coe for her excellent blog which both whetted our appetites in the week before we took off and pointed us at La P’tite Cocotte – one of the few restaurants open on Sundays and just round the corner from us – where we had an excellent lunch before heading for the airport.  If you do find yourself in Nice, I advise you to do your damnedest to avoid using taxis – unless, of course, money’s no object.

Cover imageAnd the book? It was Attica Locke’s Baileys longlisted Pleasantville, picked because I was still feeling worn out and wanted something absorbing but not too taxing. Told from the point of view of the recently widowed Jay Porter, a black lawyer who first appeared in Locke’s Black Water Rising, the premise is a little reminiscent of The Killing with its missing girl coupled with political intrigue but the writing is far too cluttered for me: too many adjectives, too much description, too many similes. A shame, because the story itself is a gripping one. It’s published by the lovely Serpent’s Tail whose Under the Visible Life was one of my wishes for the Baileys longlist but sadly the judges disagreed with me just as they did over Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, an astonishing omission from Monday’s shortlist.

I’m typing this listening to the sound of rain hammering on the skylight. Hard not to wish I was back in sunny Provence thinking about sauntering off into town for a café crème.  Back to books in a few days when I’ll be reviewing yet another thriller, this one beautifully clipped and succinct in its writing.

Under the Visible Life by Kim Echlin: Friends forever

Under the Visible LifeKim over at Reading Matters has decided to devote her reading life to OzLit this year and I’m looking forward to discovering some Aussie writers hitherto unknown to me. We in the UK tend only to read the headline acts such as Peter Carey and Tim Winton, I suspect. The same could be said of Canadian fiction but a visit to Naomi’s Consumed by Ink will introduce you to a whole bunch of vibrant writers, although if you’re like me and have long sworn off Amazon you may have trouble in tracking some of their books down. Not so with Kim Echlin I’m pleased to say. Under the Visible Life is the first novel of hers I’ve read but if this engrossing tale of female friendship set against a backdrop of tumultuous social change and cultural difference is anything to go by I’ll be hoovering up her entire backlist shortly.

In 1950 Mahsa’s Afghan mother ran away with her American father, finding sanctuary with an uncle in Karachi. Mahsa’s is an idyllic childhood, music running through it like lifeblood as her parents dance and sing caught up in their love for each other and their daughter. When the uncle dies Mahsa’s parents are left without protection from the half-brothers intent on avenging their sister’s honour and the inevitable happens. Mahsa becomes the ward of a much stricter uncle, one who has no truck with the idea of independent women. When she wins a scholarship to study in Montreal, she reluctantly leaves her young lover for the freedom she knows she’ll never have in Karachi. There she finds liberation, fulfilment and adventure, eventually meeting Katherine with whom she shares a musical affinity. Katherine is the child of a white mother, jailed in 1940 when her baby daughter was a mere three months old for ‘incorrigible’ behaviour. Deserted by her Chinese father, life is tough for Katherine and her mother but, like Mahsa, music offers an escape. She carves out a place for herself, playing piano in a jazz band, pursuing music, love and family with a passionate determination. When these two meet, an indissoluble bond is formed which endures through love lost and won; marriage, arranged and otherwise; and raising children in the most difficult circumstances. Music is the breath of life to Katherine and Mahsa, running through their story like a constant yet ever-changing refrain.

Echlin takes her time, unfolding Katherine and Mahsa’s stories using alternating narratives to round out these very different characters through their distinctive voices: Katherine’s sharp, passionate and frenetic; Masha’s gentle, quietly determined, almost poetic at times. Race and identity inevitably flow through a novel in which each narrator is of mixed race but perhaps the strongest theme is the friendship to which they form a backdrop. This is an intensely romantic novel at times – there are four love stories running through it but the most powerful is the platonic fifth. It’s a complicated, nuanced portrait of a friendship between two strong women, able to withstand all that’s thrown at them from forced marriage to a philandering junkie husband, always finding their way to each other through music even when one fails to understand the other’s behaviour. There’s so much to admire about this novel, not least Echlin’s beautifully polished writing: marriage could be ‘playing solos at the same time and ending up together’ observes Katherine while ‘teenage boys are warriors without armour’ and her mother’s last days ’haunt me like a dark, unfading bruise’. So many striking phrases to quote but my favourite is Katherine’s pronouncement to Mahsa, still locked into her forced marriage: ‘The most radical thing a woman can do is live.’ Amen to that!

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg: ‘Queen of the Bowery’

Cover imageI wasn’t particularly keen on Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins so you may wonder why Saint Mazie caught my attention: Mazie was the subject of a short essay by Joseph Mitchell first published in The New Yorker and included in his excellent collection Up in the Old Hotel. Like many of Mitchell’s subjects Mazie’s story is a fascinating one – an ordinary working-class New York woman who did something extraordinary. Attenberg has taken Mitchell’s essay and re-imagined Mazie’s life using fictionalised interviews and autobiography extracts with her diary as the novel’s backbone.

Mazie and Jeanie come to live in New York with their sister Rosie and her husband Louis when Mazie is ten. She’s a girl who likes a bit of excitement, wandering off whenever she can, staying out late into the small hours as soon as she’s old enough. Jeanie loves to dance and sets her sights on a career on the stage. All this is a source of terrible anxiety to Rosie, desperate for a child and consumed by obsessive cleaning. At Rosie’s behest, Louis sets Mazie up in the ticket booth of his movie theatre, safely tucked away from trouble. Mazie calls it her cage but it’s where she will spend her working life, sating her lust for adventure by walking the streets at night, visiting the local speakeasy in the Prohibition years and enjoying passionate encounters. She’s always noticed the down-and-outs, moved to lend a hand when children are involved, but as the Depression bites, her nightly wanders gain more purpose. Handing out change and soap, Mazie listens to the stories of the men on the street. Thoroughly acquainted with the humanity and inhumanity, she’s not a woman to be conned but she’s deeply compassionate and sees no difference between many of these men and herself.

Attenberg’s re-imagining brings Mazie vividly to life. She’s a passionate woman who’s seen enough of her parents’ dysfunctional marriage not to want it for herself. She’s bright, clear-eyed and sharp but she won’t turn her back on anyone in need. In the words of one of the interviewees she ‘led a very big life for someone who barely left a twenty-block radius’. By interspersing interviews with the diary entries Attenberg fleshes out a picture of Mazie’s family and neighbourhood, careful to have her characters tell us that their memories are unreliable or that they’re reporting rumours and suppositions. Fictionalisations can often seem clunky, weighed down by meticulous research, but Attenberg’s is executed with a light touch. It made me reach for my copy of Up in the Old Hotel, and I’m pleased to report that she’s remained trueCover image to the spirit of her source although, despite her interest in Catholicism,  I’m not sure Mazie would have liked being dubbed a saint. No doubt she’d have had something sassy to say about that: ‘Queen of the Bowery’ would have been much more up her street.

Mitchell’s own story is an interesting one. He had a talent for seeking out eccentric characters and getting them to tell him about themselves but, sadly, he was struck by writer’s block. Hired by The New Yorker in 1938 he remained employed by them until his death in 1996 but never wrote anything of note after 1964. His last book was Joe Gould’s Secret about the eponymous author’s own writer’s block. He continued to attend The New Yorker office where they kept a desk for him until his death. Almost worthy of inclusion in his own book, which is highly recommended.