Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on All Things Considered since the 1980s. His challenge is to make each two-minute review as fresh and interesting as possible while focusing on the essence of the book itself.

Formally trained as a literary scholar, Cheuse writes fiction and novels and publishes short stories. He is the author of five novels, five collections of short stories and novellas, and the memoir Fall Out of Heaven. His prize-winning novel To Catch the Lightning is an exploration of the intertwined plights of real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis and the American Indian. His latest work of book-length fiction is the novel Song of Slaves in the Desert, which tells the story of a Jewish rice plantation-owning family in South Carolina and the Africans they enslave. His latest collection of short fiction is An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories. A new version of his 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club will appear in March, 2015 as Prayers for the Living.

With novelist Nicholas Delbanco, Cheuse wrote Literature: Craft & Voice, a major new introduction to literary study. Cheuse's short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. His essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University, spends his summers in Santa Cruz, California, and leads fiction workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University.

Book Review: 'Skinner'

Jul 8, 2013

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Charlie Huston is a Los Angeles-based writer known for his superhero comic books and crime novels. Alan Cheuse couldn't wait to get his hands on Huston's latest thriller called "Skinner." Here's his review.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Our book reviewer Alan Cheuse is excited to introduce the work of Rabee Jaber. He lives in Lebanon, and his novel "The Mehlis Report" takes place there. In Beirut, the characters await the real Mehlis report, which analyzed the watershed moment in Lebanon, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Reading always turns any season into summer. Maybe it's because I associate my first bouts of time with books with time out of school, with summer afternoons on the back porch when the weather made it too hot to play, and the air seemed just quiet enough that you could focus your early reading skills on the page before you and make a story emerge from the shapes and squiggles printed there. Even for someone as fortunate as I am, someone who reads for a living, summer always feels like a special time.

Borrow from Stephen King a house with a wormhole that somehow allows for time travel, re-create the monstrous chilliness of scenes between a serial killer and his female victims in The Silence of the Lambs, and you could easily end up with a pretty derivative thriller. But talented Cape Town writer Lauren Beukes has managed to turn such borrowing and theft into a triumph in her new novel, The Shining Girls. It's her third book, and a marvelous narrative feat that spans the history of Chicago from the 1930s to the 1990s.

Many novelists aim to transport readers to another time and place, but Canadian writer Annabel Lyon has a special gift when it comes to time travel. Her new novel, The Sweet Girl, carries us back to the world of Aristotle and his student Alexander the Great. It's a sequel to The Golden Mean, Lyon's earlier novel about the everyday lives of the ancients; I loved that book and was eager to see where The Sweet Girl would take us.

A sad tale's best for winter, Shakespeare tells us. I'm wondering if perhaps poetry, both lyrical and narrative, isn't best for summer. I'm thinking of how Keats, in "Ode to a Nightingale," describes that wonderfully musical bird as singing "of summer in full-throated ease"; and how, say, in three-time Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky's poem "Ralegh's Prizes," summer "turns her head with its dark tangle / All the way toward us" and however drowsy-making the weather, we pay attention.

All this wonderful poetry, it's filled up my throat as well:

Some novelists interest us because they turn the light of a style we enjoy on whatever subject they take up. Some novelists we enjoy because they have found a great subject and work it well and lovingly. John le Carre seems to belong to the latter group, having found his vein of fiction gold in the world of Cold War espionage.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The writer J.M. Ledgard leads multiple lives. He's a journalist and covers East Africa for the Economist, but Ledgard is also a novelist. Here's Alan Cheuse with a review of his latest book, "Submergence."

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: James More, a British secret agent, has been captured by a Somalian affiliate of al-Qaeda, a peripatetic fringe group that keeps moving him back and forth across the mostly barren terrain of northeastern Africa, trying to hide from drone attacks and make jihad at the same time.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Our book reviewer, Alan Cheuse, has just traveled to Brazil and back in an 800-page novel. The book is called "Where Tigers Are At Home." It's by a French novelist named Jean-Marie Blas de Robles and it's just out in English. Here's Alan's review.

Novelist Mohsin Hamid lives in Lahore, Pakistan, quite some distance from the Long Island of Jay Gatsby. But his new novel — his third and, I think, best so far — reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald's quintessential American work. As I read this novel about the dark and light of success in a world of social instability, I kept asking myself how much I might be inflating the value of Hamid's novel by rating it so highly. After all, this story takes the form of a gimmick, and gimmicks usually work against real quality.

A friend of mine, with more than half a lifetime in the business of writing and a following of devoted fans, some years ago nailed a sign on the wall above his writing desk.

TELL THE [Expletive] STORY!

How I wish Percival Everett looked up every now and then from his keyboard to see a sign like this.

From Swift to Orwell, political satire has played a major role in the history of European fiction. Much of it takes on an allegorical cast, but not all. The Fall of the Stone City, an incisive, biting work by Ismail Kadare — one of Europe's reigning fiction masters — refines our understanding of satire's nature. Kadare's instructive and delightful book takes us from the 1943 Nazi occupation of a provincial Albanian town, the ancient stone city of Gjirokaster, to the consolidation of communist rule there a decade later.

It used to be a truism among critics of British poetry that Keats and most of his fellow Romantic poets worked in the shadow of John Milton. I'm not making a perfect analogy when I suggest that most contemporary Japanese writers seem to be working under the shadow of Haruki Murakami, but I hope it highlights the spirit of the situation.

Two years have gone by since I first suggested to President Obama that he create a new Cabinet post, and appoint distinguished fiction writer Jim Harrison as secretary for quality of life. The president still has not responded to my suggestion, and meanwhile Harrison has gone on to publish his latest book of novellas, which deepens and broadens his already openhearted and smart-minded sense of the way we live now, and what we might do to improve it.

It's that time of year again — the leaves have fallen, the dark comes early, the air brings with it a certain chill — and I've been piling up books on my reading table, books I've culled from the offerings of the past few months, which because of their essential lyric beauty and power stand as special gifts for you and yours.

More than a dozen short-story collections since Canada's Alice Munro published her first book, and she now seems as much an institution as any living writer. We count on her for a particular variety of short story, the sort that gives us so much life within the bounds of a single tale that it nourishes us almost as much as a novel does.

"My aim," writes English novelist Guy Ableman to his agent, "is to write a transgressive novel that explores the limits of the morally permissible in our times."

Sounds quite serious, even brow-wrinkling, doesn't it? A dangerous act of experimental writing, perhaps something Norman Mailer might have tried, or Henry Miller before him?

New York, New York, it's a wonderful town! And Mark Helprin's new near-epic novel makes it all the more marvelous. It's got great polarized motifs — war and peace, heroism and cowardice, crime and civility, pleasure and business, love and hate, bias and acceptance — which the gifted novelist weaves into a grand, old-fashioned romance, a New York love story that begins with a Hollywoodish meet-cute on the Staten Island Ferry.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Now to the 16th Century and the Spanish port of Cadiz. It's the setting for "God Carlos," a new novel by Jamaican-born writer Anthony Winkler, who takes us on a voyage to the New World. Alan Cheuse has this review.

Head to the bookstore or pick up your Nook or Kindle or iPad, and prepare, if you will, to make some decisions about your summer reading life. My suggestions this year tend to be fine new fiction, the kind that not only flows on the page but also makes a sort of music in your mind. So, word music it is! Strike up the orchestra! It's going to be a big summer for big broad American literary voices, voices that leap from the page and linger with you, echo through your summer and perhaps even beyond.

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