Rotter relies heavily on black street slang for comic effect in his zany debut, starting with chizapter 1. Wally Moscowitz, a self-described frumpy, kinda chubby little boring man living in Los Angeles, writes lyrics for rapper Oral B, the current star of Godz-Illa Records. When not penning lyrics full of four-letter words for Oral, Wally also writes dirty bedtime fables for adults, examples of which are sprinkled throughout the novel. Godz-Illa CEO Abraham Dandy Lyons has assured Wally that if anyone ever discovers that Oral B isn’t writing his own lyrics, Wally will end up in a ditch. Soon, Wally’s dog gets ‘napped, goons are trying to kill Wally and everyone rushes to and fro against a backdrop of glitzy L.A. bizness thuggery. Rotter’s a talented writer, though readers who find variations of the same joke funny enough to support the silly plot will be most rewarded.
Sometimes sad, often poignant and always painfully honest, the stories in this fiction anthology do away with the rose-colored glasses that grown-ups often employ to make memories of adolescence bearable, drawing them back into the bewildering fog of youth. Beyond a talented group of writers-including George Saunders, Jennifer Egan, Stacey Richter, A.M. Homes and Nathan Englander-author and editor Poirier has gathered a happily diverse set of sad-sack stories. Julie Orringer produces a “Note to Sixth-Grade Self,” in which she advises an awkward 12-year-old how to get through excruciating dance classes (“Do not think about Zachary Booth’s hand warts”); Mark Poirier contributes the story of an unhappy boy whose compulsive lies hide an unspeakable secret; and Amber Dermont posits a convincing tale of a teenage girl learning to understand her abhorrent mother. For adult readers, this rich, candid collection is bound to stir memories of their own growing pains, and more than a few words of thanks that they’re in the past; for those in the thick of it, these stories will, if nothing else, take a little of the sting out of teenage loneliness and confusion.
Schrefer weds fluid prose to a trashy/sexy plot in his fun second novel, revisiting the corrupting world of the rich (his debut, Glamorous Disasters, featured an SAT tutor caught up in the dirty doings of his wealthy clients). Fifteen-year-old Humphrey Baxter, recently relocated with his down-on-their-luck parents to Florida, has trouble adjusting to his new digs (a motel), and though initially Humphrey’s narration strikes a familiar YA tone, Schrefer throws in a welcome wrinkle with two bizarre friendships (with a jock and the jock’s hot mom) that lead to Humphrey being savagely beaten. With Humphrey hospitalized, Schrefer cuts to Humphrey’s half-sister, Gretchen, who has found love with Rajan Lansing and surrogate parents in Rajan’s wealthy folks, Gita and Joel. After Rajan dumps her, Gretchen follows Gita and Joel to Rome to get Rajan back. During the luxurious, curiously intimate summer, Gretchen hears of Humphrey’s troubles and the Lansings enthusiastically invite Humphrey to join them. The Lansings handle all expenses, but there is a price to pay as the two Baxters become disturbingly (and not entirely unwillingly) entangled with philandering Joel and increasingly unstable Gita. Aside from the Hollywood thriller ending, the combination of smart writing and a decadent world make for a genuine if guilty pleasure.
In the foreground of this fabulous, satirical, subterranean story is the crunching discomfort of fighting a war on the cold, windswept hillsides of the Falklands. Here, however, the campaign is seen from an Argentine perspective, where the Brits are efficient, well-paid, confident supermen eager to wipe out confused, hungry, half-trained peasant conscripts. Amid the carnage, the dillos live by getting food from the Argentines in exchange for kerosene and cigarettes. The kerosene and cigarettes they get from the British in exchange for information about Argentine positions. There is no overt morality except for the unspoken commentary provided by the image of the dillo with a thumb up its backside, an endlessly adaptable symbol for General Galtieri buggering up Argentina, inefficient officers screwing up helpless squaddies, and idiotic life messing up everyone.
Had Borges written All Quiet on the Western Front, it might have come out something like this. Amid the snow and slush, death arrives from mines buried in the ground, bullets fired from the hillsides and rockets from the air. But permeating the carnage, black-cowled nuns float into view, sheep explode in slow motion, Harrier jets hang silently in mid-air, and dead pilots swing by beneath orange parachutes, while burrowing deep into the earth the dillos cling desperately to life and pass time away with fantastical stories about the nature of the world above them.