(Harper Perennial, 288 pp., $14.99)
Richard Yates, author of the archetypal account of marital discontent in the suburbs, Revolutionary Road, once said, “If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.” Ben Greenman, whose new novel The Slippage chronicles a marriage beset with infidelity and isolation, could easily say the same.
Mr. Greenman deftly renders his protagonist William’s faltering connection to his wife Louisa, and the reader feels as helpless as he does in the face of her curt, inscrutable remarks and irrational behavior. As she closes herself off both physically (locking herself in the spare room during parties) and emotionally (guarding more than a couple secrets), William consoles himself with a series of distractions—a fraught affair with a pretty (and pregnant) neighbor, an attempt at mentoring a fatherless child—but they ultimately only make him more acutely aware of his own loneliness.
An editor at The New Yorker and the author of several short story collections, including Superbad, and the novel Please Step Back, Mr. Greenman conjures the world of his characters in transporting detail, from the appearance of William and Louisa’s claustrophobic cul-de-sac to the minor horrors of a backyard party (illicit flirtations, a white dress ruined by orange punch). These keen descriptions, coupled with Mr. Greenman’s wry wit and inventive turns of phrase (a bird song is “an exclamation point with feathers, a sharp whistle that went straight up”), are antidotes to the bleak narrative and make this novel difficult to put down.—Zoë Lescaze
(New Directions, 346 pp., $16.95)
When Leonid Tsypkin’s Summer in Baden-Baden was published by New Directions in 2001, the imagined account of Dostoyevsky’s life in Germany was hailed as a new classic, with Susan Sontag writing in its introduction that the novel would “fortify your soul and give you a larger idea of feeling, and of breathing.”
His was the era of the samizdat, but even that was too high-profile for Tsypkin, a Moscow doctor who feared the KGB and died in 1982. The Bridge Over the Neroch: And Other Works, then, bears a resemblance to Kafka not only in tone but also in how it was published; consider this a collection of haunted scraps from the bottom of a drawer.
The star is the titular novella. The narrator, who is the same narrator from Baden-Baden and is most likely Tsypkin himself, depicts four generations of an anonymous Jewish family he knows, their time in the war—before, after and during. Chronology alternately stutters and leaps through the speedy, single-paragraph chapters, lending everything a cool ephemerality.
“Could that really be very the same woman I walked around Leningrad with recently?” Tsypkin writes, after he’s described how the boy in the family was deflowered. The word “liquidated” appears a few times, once in reference to a statue of Stalin, once in reference to a house that would later catch fire during the war.
The word “Jewish,” as translator Jamey Gambrell points out in the introduction, appears rarely for how often the story concerns otherness within one’s own country and family. The narrator’s son is beaten up, held down in front of the girls during a jokey teenage gathering because he is Jewish, though the reason is never made explicit. That’s the book for you—the surreal treated as commonplace and vice versa until it’s all the same.—Dan Duray