Let's begin. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Mad Max meets Dogma meets Road to Perdition. Wildly imaginative. Very dark. Dramatically upping the ante, Gaiman takes off from British castles and atmospheric passages leading into alternate realities to cross the Atlantic in one Paul Bunyan-like step.
Anti-hero Shadow has spent the last three years in the clink and simply wants to return to a normal life. Three days before release, his wife is killed in what might be an accident. Whatever hopes he had to return home, and whatever tether he had on a rational world, are abruptly cut as off-stage deities pinball him across the map.
En route to the funeral, Shadow hooks up with a metaphysical grifter, Mr. Wednesday.
From that point forward, nothing and no one is what or who they seem. A picture-perfect town maintains its veneer only by offering up a mortal price paid by the town's teen-agers. Some of the time characters are called Mad Sweeney, Mr. Nancy and Mr. Town. At other times they're known as Death and his confederates. Oh, and it turns out Shadow's wife isn't dead all the way yet. She is the beacon that leads him into the mighty storm on the horizon, an epic battle that will determine the future of all humans.
Gaiman folds into the mix virtually every myth that's been spoon-fed to three generations of Americans, peopling the action with modern-day Brothers Grimm characters to play out the wild chain of settings (a final end-of-the-world clash pitched in a roadside tourist attraction) and issues (morality, mortality, give me an M, give me an O).
The Origins of the World by Pierre Michon, translated by Wyatt Alexander Mason, is the minimalist played against Gaiman's maxim. Posted to a remote French town to teach elementary school, the unnamed narrator wanders up and down the cobblestone streets, searching for meaning in the first step of his adult life. What unexpectedly weds him to this outpost is the siren-like woman who sells him cigarettes at the drugstore. Cool, ravishing and silent, she fills his daydreams and sweaty night dreams as he thinks up a thousand things to say to her, a hundred ways to engage her ... and ultimately does none of them. Distracted by the scenes playing out in his head, he virtually ignores his current girlfriend who visits on weekends.
Origins is not really a full-blown novel, more like a glimpse, but the sensibility and mood are visually and emotional arresting. If David Lynch went abroad for his junior year in college, this is the sort of fiction he would have created. Origins will echo in your head like déjà vu, but it's all so very continental and different that you'll be grateful for the daydream. Since the novel never really resolves itself in the traditional way, in time you will come to an ending of your own.
Finally, The Frog Prince: A Love Story. Summer can be an awful time to be stuck in a job you hate. Your mood turns sarcastic; your office hours are tortured and endless. You forget what it was that made you pony up for that entry-level job in a field you once loved. At least it's that way for Harry Driscoll.
Author Adam Davies has pulled off a sly review of a disaffected newbie so consumed by wanting to find perfection in publishing that he shuts himself off to everything that's right — all which happens to be in front of him. The right girl loves him, yet he still plays the field. It's the means to get out of his dead-end job and ultimately do right by her. Also in front of Harry is the manuscript that would catapult him into being an editor. And although his masterwork first novel sits in a closet at home, he can't quite believe no one has noticed his abundant talents yet, that no one else has recognized that he's a young man destined for greater things.
Written by an industry insider, this is a cheeky romp into the world behind the world of books. Although a cautionary tale, it's also just plain fun, filled with zingers and come-uppances, and enough episodes of making-the-beast-with-two-backs to feel like a Sex in the City contemporary. ©