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    One great short story to read today:
    Kevin Barry’s “Finistère”

    Drew Broussard

    May 22, 2024, 10:30am

    According to the powers that be (er, apparently according to Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network), May is Short Story Month. To celebrate, for the second year in a row, the Literary Hub staff will be recommending a single short story, free* to read online, every (work) day of the month. Why not read along with us? Today, we recommend:

    “Finistère” by Kevin Barry

    I discovered Kevin Barry just before his third book (Dark Lies the Island) came out and immediately fell in love with his particular lyrical Irish voice and vibe and spirit. He is, for my money, one of the best writers working today. He’s like a really good drummer or bass player: he knows when to let the rhythm take over, and when he can put on a firmer hand to guide it where he wants it. His sentences practically demand to be spoken aloud. This is his latest (come for the puckish voice, stay for the cultural references) but the man hasn’t written a bad story yet—and his next novel, out this summer, should be a stunner too.

    The story begins:

    The big man was in a condition of thrilling remorse. He was brokenhearted again at fifty-five and loving it. He leaned against the rail on the top deck of the Cork-Roscoff ferry and shook woefully from side to side his heavy, handsome ginger head and the cries of a seal pup rose softly from the hollows of his chest. Sylvia had been abandoned that morning in County Clare and would get over him before the leaves were off the trees; Cian John Wynn would never get over himself. He raised his head and wiped away the tears and watched Ireland recede into the afternoon haze and he prayed that it would stay there. He knew it would be a long time before he went home again.

    Read it here.

    *If you hit a paywall, we recommend trying with a different/private/incognito browser (but listen, you didn’t hear it from us).

    The Grub Street Diets of your favorite fictional characters.

    Brittany Allen

    May 22, 2024, 10:00am

    Fiction and fine dining are having a moment. In April, New York magazine put out a nostalgic ode to scene-y restaurants known for their literary patrons. And seemingly on the same tide, the novelist Gary Shteyngart wrote a much-circulated New Yorker piece about his quest for the perfect martini (among other vittles).

    But appetites and art regularly collidefor a certain milieu anywayin the Grub Street Diet. For the uninitiated: in this vertical, celebs who are Having a Moment painstakingly narrate a week’s worth of their edible intake. Some Diets are flexes, hinting at lives of epicurean splendor on par with Shteyngart’s. Others may bum you out with their commitment to a leftovers-based naturalism. Either way, the Diet’s a pretty fun slice of life.

    Inspired by the trends (and a recent high density of writers accepting the Grub Street challenge), I’ve been dreaming up some hypothetical food diaries for the fictional. Bon Appétit!

    The Grub Street Diet of William Stoner (from Stoner

    Woke up with the sun, but lingered in bed this morning due to a sense of looming dread. Edith boiled me an egg, which was unusually kind of her. I chased that with some too-bitter black coffee and dry toast. She watched me eat in a grim, charged silence, but did not partake herself.

    Was teaching back to back sessions all day, so couldn’t get much of a munch in. I did manage a few cups of campus coffee at my desk, and my new colleague Lomax dropped in to offer a handful of sustaining peanuts just as I was getting lost in a book. Lomax reminded me of the faculty party we’re meant to throw this evening, which I’d completely forgotten about. I called Edith, who tensely informed me that it had all been taken care of. All I had to do was pick up a few bottles of gin from the bootlegger on my way back.

    I arrived home to a fine display of “sliced cold ham and turkey, pickled apricots, and [a] varied garniture of tiny tomatoes, celery stalks, olives, pickles, crisp radishes, and little raw cauliflower ears.” All great snacks, but without a centerpiece I feared our guests would leave hungry. My colleagues trickled in, and many did get soused. But Lomax took the (metaphorical) cake. He and I wound up talking deep into the night about everything under the sun: our lonesome childhoods, our body shame, our senses of looming dream. I felt a bolt of kinship. But in the morning, the portal is closed. For my friend was gone.

    Edith was also in a foul mood when the sun rose again, so did not make me eggs.

    The Grub Street Diet of Fermina Daza (from Love in the Time of Cholera)

    Jumped out of bed well before dawn, because 1) I have chores and 2) it’s my birthday!!! Decided to start the day off with some trusty favorites: chamomile tea and soup. But then my husband insisted I let him take over the day’s meal prep, because he wanted to treat me. This was very moving, but also concerning? Because before this morning, I was not sure he knew how to boil water on his own.

    The good doctor wound up exceeding my expectations in the kitchen. He whipped up a huge brunch of eggs and cafe con leche. I was so moved by the gesture I didn’t see the need to remind him of my lactose-intolerance. For dessert, we had guavas, which were sweet and evocative, but not as sweet as I remembered them being when I ate them straight off the tree, in childhood. But I suppose this is the way of getting older. The second time around never tastes as sweet…

    The rest of my birthday was pretty dull. I did chores, beginning with cleaning up the mess Dr. Urbino left me in the kitchen. And then I prepared our dinner, which is always a taxing prospect. (My husband is great, but in addition to being a non-chef, he is a very finicky eater. He claims to be able to tell when a meal has been prepared “without love,” and has a weird thing for out-of-season vegetables.) But as it was still technically My Day, I decided to make this eggplant dish, because I went to a gala last week where they served this amazing pureed eggplant, and now it’s all I can think about. Which is very funny, because I used to really hate the texture.

    We ate our mains on the terrace, then followed dinner with brandies and some “little imperial cakes and candied flowers.” The doctor fell asleep before me, as usual. But I had stranger dreams.

    The Grub Street Diet of David (from Giovanni’s Room

    Woke around 3 p.m., hungover. The holy trinity of coffee, cigarette, and cognac for breakfast did the trick.

    Took a late lunch with friends at a “rather nice restaurant on the rue de Grenelle.” Had a vin chaud and some good bread. I think we also had a piece of fish? But I was distracted from the main course, because I was preoccupied with finding the most polite way possible to ask my host for another 10,000 franc loan. Sweet Jacques complied, of course; we went to the bar after, to celebrate my staying in Paris. There, cognac followed cognac followed cognac followed another vin chaud; I lost track, to be honest. But I made a diverting acquaintance in our waiter, who joined us at the end of his shift. He insisted on drinking a Coca-Cola while I had another cognac. (Just because.)

    Our set was kicked out of the joint at five o’clock in the morning. But by then we’d gotten hungry again, so we piled into a taxi towards Les Halles. The morning streets were bare and dingy. I saw the greengrocers setting up their fruit stalls. We wound up facing the dawn at a dreadful, chic place. One of those overhyped, expensive tourist joints where young Americans guzzle wine at a zinc counter. I ordered my holy trinity, but this new friendGiovanniinsisted on a new kind of breakfast, for champions. Champagne and “a few dozen oysters.” He claims “that is really the best thing after such a night.”

    From the next day’s perspective, I’m not sure if I believe him. (Woke up hungover. And with very bad breath.) But I plan to see Giovanni again. You know, to test the theory.

    See the cover for Sally Rooney’s next novel.

    Emily Temple

    May 22, 2024, 8:25am

    This morning, FSG revealed the US cover for Sally Rooney’s forthcoming novel, Intermezzo, which be published on September 24. It brings back that trademark Rooney yellow (c. Conversations with Friends) updated with some mature gray and an old-school Big Book font, which makes it look like something you might discover under a large stack in a used bookstore, which would then go on to change your life. Also, chess.

    Without any further ado, here’s the cover, which was designed by June Park:

    sally rooney intermezzo

    And here’s the publisher’s description of the book:

    Aside from the fact that they are brothers, Peter and Ivan Koubek seem to have little in common.

    Peter is a Dublin lawyer in his thirties—successful, competent, and apparently unassailable. But in the wake of their father’s death, he’s medicating himself to sleep and struggling to manage his relationships with two very different women—his enduring first love, Sylvia, and Naomi, a college student who doesn’t take life too seriously.

    Ivan is a twenty-two-year-old competitive chess player. He has always seen himself as socially awkward, a loner, the antithesis of his glib elder brother. Now, in the early weeks of his bereavement, Ivan meets Margaret, an older woman emerging from her own turbulent past, and their lives become rapidly and intensely intertwined.

    For two grieving brothers and the people they love, this is a new interlude—a period of desire, despair, and possibility; a chance to find out how much one life might hold inside itself without breaking.

    Sound like your kind of game? You can start reading (albeit barely) right here.

    Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos has won the 2024 International Booker Prize.

    Drew Broussard

    May 21, 2024, 6:12pm

    Today, Jenny Erpenbeck became the first German writer to win the International Booker Prize for translated fiction for Kairos, her affecting novel about a love affair in the waning days of a divided Berlin. She shares the £50,000 prize equally with her translator, Michael Hofmann, who is the first male translator to win the prize.

    Eleanor Wachtel, this year’s judging Chair, had this to say about the novel and its translation:

    In luminous prose, Jenny Erpenbeck exposes the complexity of a relationship between a young student and a much older writer, tracking the daily tensions and reversals that mark their intimacy, staying close to the apartments, cafés, and city streets, workplaces and foods of East Berlin. It starts with love and passion, but it’s at least as much about power, art and culture. The self-absorption of the lovers, their descent into a destructive vortex, remains connected to the larger history of East Germany during this period, often meeting history at odd angles.

    Michael Hofmann’s translation captures the eloquence and eccentricities of Erpenbeck’s writing, the rhythm of its run-on sentences, the expanse of her emotional vocabulary.

    What makes Kairos so unusual is that it is both beautiful and uncomfortable, personal and political. Erpenbeck invites you to make the connection between these generation-defining political developments and a devastating, even brutal love affair, questioning the nature of destiny and agency. Like the GDR, it starts with optimism and trust, then unravels.

    For a taste of the novel, here’s actress Eleanor Tomlinson:

    And for something a bit more conversation, here’s a chat between Erpenbeck and Hofmann (gosh, the Booker always has the best videos):

    Kairos was first published in German in 2021 and the English translation was previously longlisted for the 2023 National Book Award for Translated Literature. Erpenbeck was also longlisted for the International Booker in 2018 for Go, Went, Gone. And while these things are never certain, it’s a pretty safe bet to expect her name to increasingly be in the mix for a Nobel in the coming years.

    I think about the food in the Redwall books way too often.

    James Folta

    May 21, 2024, 12:37pm

    Image from Youtube

    If you were the kind of young reader that I was, you devoured the Redwall books by Brian “allowed to smoke indoors” Jacques as fast as you could. The medieval-inspired fantasy books about mice, otters, hedgehogs and other forest heroes defending their Abbey against weasels, rats, and stoats were one of my earliest literary obsessions. I read every one of Jacques’ 20+ books I could find, and noticing the similarities in plotting and character arcs across the books were early lessons in craft and taste.

    Before we go any further with Redwall, an important clarification: the characters are animal-sized and their world is scaled down. Some poor, misguided folks will tell you that these books are filled with human-sized animals, but the issue has been settled by scientific polling. We’re talking about a world of whimsy here, not a freak show where some rodents fell into the Toxic Avenger ooze. And yes, I know Jacques said in a Q&A that, “the creatures in my stories are as big or small as your imagination wants them to be.” We can all agree that this is a polite smokescreen for younger readers. But we’re all adults here—the characters are small.

    What seems to be most enduring about Jacques’ books for me and other readers, though, are his descriptions of food and drink. If you’ve read the books, you know what I’m talking about—no one ever just eats food in Redwall. The descriptions of food unfurl in long lists, cataloged here in impressive detail. The mice food has inspired memes, a Twitter bot, a drinking game, and a cookbook.

    Jacques is sumptuous, even gratuitous in his descriptions of food and drink. In the first book, Jacques writes of “tender freshwater shrimp garnished with cream and rose leaves, devilled barley pearls in acorn puree, apple and carrot chews, marinated cabbage stalks steeped in creamed white turnip with nutmeg.” The Bellmaker has dishes of “turnovers, trifles, breads, fondants, salads, pasties, and cheeses alternated with beakers of greensap milk, mint tea, rosehip cup and elderberry wine.” Even a simple breakfast at the cave of a mouse named Bobbo in Mariel of Redwall is lavished with description: “Now, you will find a small rockpool outside to wash in, and I will prepare wild oatcakes, small fish, and gorseflower honey to break your fast.”

    A pet theory I have about fantasy is that to work, the fantastical, invented elements can’t feel goofy. Bad fantasy names are easy to parody because they feel like clunky stand-ins for something that’s meant to be evocative. There’s a very thin line between a description that conjures plausible textures and one that reads like “cool thing TK.”

    Jacques’ foods are so memorable and convincing because they pass that test. He combines real foods—fresh cream, cakes, herbs, pies, mint tea, and juices—with more archaic and invented terms—pasties, trifles, meadow cream and barkbrew beer. Just enough real to feel close at hand, but just enough fantasy to feel transportive.

    As a kid, I was always looking for berry cordials in the grocery store, imagining something refreshing and effervescent. Imagine my disappointment to discover that they’re actually syrupy boozes favored by Renaissance Faire enthusiasts and home-brewing dads.

    The tiny feasts make Jacques’ world believable. They imply the labor and love of mouse bakers rolling out dough, fields of wheat to be ground in tiny mills, and squirrels making cheese from non-dairy milks. (Side note: with little exception, everything’s apparently vegan. According to Jaques on redwall.org: “The sap of many plants can be used to make vegetarian versions of milk, cream, butter and cheese… If you squeeze a green plant you can extract sap. Thus, greensap milk.”)

    It all sounds so damn good, too. There’s never any sawdusty survival food or weightlifter-fuel hunks of meat. Each dish is delicious and lovingly crafted, a little Martha Stewart dollop of the finer things in life.

    Putting this delight in the pleasures of food on the page was Jacques’ goal, as both a fantasy and corrective. Among a collection of quotes about his food writing, Jacques writes about his “frugal childhood” filled with shortages:

    …apart from Red Cross parcels sent to families who lost a father abroad, I never tasted chocolate or candies until I was almost seven years old!! I also never tasted any fruit but an apple. I had heard of bananas and thought that they were something that someone made up for a story!

    He would turn to cookbooks to sate himself, but found none of this in the other books he read:

    It used to drive me completely bonkers when I would read in some story or book “and the King gave a great feast for all his people.” And I would think “Hang on now! What did the King serve? Was there enough for everybody? What did they eat? What did they drink? And just what is ‘mead’ anyway? Were there tons of pastries for everyone? Was there music and singing? Did they all have a great time?” So when I wrote my stories, I made sure that I described, in minute detail, the feasts at Redwall Abbey.

    It’s Jacques’ update on the old adage of writing something that you would want to read: write what you want to eat, and make sure there’s enough for everyone.

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