Books by the Bay: James D. Houston award winner Keenan Norris scores with a lyrical novel "Brother and the Dancer"
12/02/2013 12:00:00 PM PST
12/06/2013 03:42:24 PM PST
Bay Area writer Keenan Norris makes a fine debut this month with a coming-of-age novel set in California. Also on the list of new releases by Bay Area authors: novels by John Burley, Martin Cruz Smith and Richard Kadrey; a reissue from the 1960s from Beat poet Michael McClure and an experimental novel co-authored by Juliana Spahr and David Buuck. "Brother and the Dancer" by Keenan Norris (Heyday, $25, 280 pages) This month, the big news on the Bay Area literary scene is the debut of Keenan Norris, the East Bay-based winner of the 2012 James D. Houston award for emerging writers. Norris' novel, "Brother and the Dancer," is the story of Toussaint and Erycha, African-American kids growing up in Highland, a small town in the San Bernardino Valley. Although they live just minutes apart, their circumstances are very different; Toussaint, the central character, is the son of a doctor, while Erycha, a dancer, lives in a part of town where flaring violence and grinding poverty are part of the landscape. Norris follows them from childhood to young adulthood; as they make their ways through these formative years, the author considers what it means to be young and black in America. Lyrical and affecting, "Brother and the Dancer" introduces an original voice. "The Absence of Mercy" by John Burley (William Morrow, $14.99, 352 pages) Santa Cruz author John Burley is an emergency room physician, and his hospital experience informs this taut first novel, a psychological thriller set in Wintersville, Ohio. Dr. Ben Stevenson is the local medical examiner who turns detective on a case involving a high school boy fatally stabbed on his way home from school. As Stevenson finds himself further ensnared in the case -- and attacks on teens continue to rock the bucolic town -- Burley explores the disturbing pathologies behind the crimes. He's a strong writer, and "The Absence of Mercy" is a page-turner all the way to the end. "Tatiana" by Martin Cruz Smith (Simon & Schuster, $25.99, 293 pages) In his latest novel, the Bay Area's own Martin Cruz Smith returns to one of his greatest creations, Russian investigator Arkady Renko. The story begins when Tatiana Petrovna falls six stories to her death from an apartment building scheduled to be razed by developers. Tatiana's body disappears, and as questions about her recent activities surface, the story introduces Russian mobsters, double-dealing government officials and a mysterious notebook filled with clues. Renko's on the job. Smith, a master of plotting, based the title character on Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006. "Dead Set" by Richard Kadrey (Harper Voyager, $22.99, 320 pages) Richard Kadrey, who specializes in the supernatural, sticks with what works in this creepy new novel. His heroine is teenager Zoe, who wants more than anything to connect with her dead father, a major player on the early punk-rock music scene. She makes contact in a used-record store, which houses a weird machine and the even weirder proprietor who operates it. It's not for the squeamish, but zombie fiction fans will eat it up. "Ghost Tantras" by Michael McClure (City Lights, $13.95, 120 pages) Michael McClure is a Bay Area legend, a poet who participated in the Six Gallery reading that featured the public debut of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." In 1964, he self-published "Ghost Tantras," written in a mix of muscular free verse, sensual lyricism and an elemental "beast language" that includes roars, growls and other preverbal sounds. Now, 50 years after it first appeared, City Lights has reissued the book; "Ghost Tantras" remains an essential volume for Beat Generation aficionados. "An Army of Lovers" by Juliana Spahr and David Buuck (City Lights, $13.95, 150 pages) Authors who co-write often produce two halves that refuse to coalesce, but East Bay poets Juliana Spahr and David Buuck fuse with fantastic results in this short experimental novel. It's the story of Demented Panda and Koki, two poets united by a desire to write politically engaged works. Wounded, bored, inspired and skeptical, they soldier on through a landscape of toxic spills, consumer excess, odd juxtapositions and trance states.
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