Too often, the blues are treated like a section of the Library of Congress; concerns over preservation and authenticity have mingled with an obscurity fetish among listeners to create the notion that the blues have already happened. But Reed and Hamlet press forward with the evolution of their own style of music. They’ve even adopted a new genre terminology: “kudzu boogie,” a more collaborative and layered sound than traditional Hill Country blues. Still driving and every bit as slide-focused as Hill Country blues, kudzu boogie is marked by a crafted density that the traditional model of bluesman-and-backups doesn’t provide for.
Karen Russell's collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, her newest book after the 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist Swamplandia!, is a procession of unlikely scenarios. A vampire in the title story experiences immortality through the lens of an endless relationship with his wife; a young boy hoping to help his homesteading parents prove their claim on the land is met by a grimly familiar stranger; a massage therapist finds herself shifting a veteran's combat memories by manipulating his tattoos. Over and over again, Russell places her characters in contact with a literal manifestation of their fears, desires, and dreams. The internal is made external, the surreal imbued with the reality of sincere feeling.
Most Americans are now entrenched in something like a partisan apathy toward the Iraq War, which is as woven into the absurdity of the twenty-four-hour news cycle as any other inanity, indistinguishable from the deluge of background noise. It's a stiff task to expect any novelist to thrive in so crowded an imaginative space, so it was a relief to this reader that 2012 saw the success of two major Iraq War novels.
The novel’s strength lies in Kang’s skillful unspooling of Philip’s inner life. Like most hard-bitten ironists, Philip nurses a persistent, low-frequency grief, and Kang fills in the particulars with a deft hand. Two corridors of Philip’s psyche lead to the novel’s most potent passages: his recollections of his adolescence in Chapel Hill, and—in the most ingenious, surprising motif of the novel—his fascination with Cho Seung-Hui, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre.
It is through his looping and learned cadence that the painful moral problem of the novel is dramatized: Readers are forced to parse Nat’s mortal outrage and lethal delusions to determine whether his rebellion was the inevitable outcome of the peculiar institution or the work of a singularly warped mind.