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.

You may have read about an imaginary Southern piece of turf where the past presses on the present with such force that characters find themselves transformed with the pressure of it, where the landscape comes alive, where human beings seem sometimes like gods and sometimes like devils, and the language of the story lights up your mind: William Faulkner's half-historical, half-fabulized Yoknapatawpha County, yes?

Former Dublin newsman Paul Lynch made his debut as a novelist a few years ago with a book called Red Sky in Morning, set in mid-19th century County Donegal, where a rage-driven farmer has committed a murder with devastating results. The Black Snow, Lynch's second novel, returns us to Donegal, though at a later date, and he's working at an even higher level of accomplishment than before.

When Edna O'Brien's first novel, The Country Girls, was published in 1960, her family and neighbors in the small Irish village where she was born tossed copies into a bonfire expressly set for that horrifying purpose. Nearly 60 years later, the country girl herself has long since moved to London, but her fiction still blazes (if only in metaphor). That's what I found while reading my way through The Love Object, a newly published selection of more than 30 of O'Brien's short stories.

Beautifully made fantastic tales such as Steven Millhauser writes don't begin from nothing. As in the tradition of Nikolai Gogol, Italo Calvino and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (to name a few revered creators of fiction that carries us beyond the normal), most of them grow out of everyday incidents and lead us right up to the line between the ordinary and the magical. And sometimes they help us to cross over.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One of Scandinavia's leading crime novelists, Jo Nesbo, has a new book out about a contract killer who worries about money and his own shortcomings. It's called "Blood On Snow." Alan Cheuse has this review.

Pages