On February 20, 1862, Abraham and Mary Lincoln lost their eleven-year-old son Willie to what was probably typhoid fever. Some twenty years ago, George Saunders learned about a rumor that had circulated at the time—that Lincoln several times visited the crypt where Willie was temporarily interred, removed the body from its coffin and, in his great grief, cradled his dead child in his arms.
A new Charles Baxter book is always cause for celebration. As a writer, I always learn a thing or two about craft while being provoked, moved, entertained, and unsettled. Baxter’s latest collection of stories, There’s Something I Want You To Do,serves his usual range of social commentary, humor, wisdom, and good yarn in multiple structures.
Baxter begins this one with an epigraph from Primo Levi’s The Reawakening about the Ten Commandments, also known as The Decalogue:
“…Nobody is born with a decalogue already formed… everyone builds his own… everybody’s moral universe, suitably interpreted, comes to be identified with the sum of his former experiences, and so represents an abridged form of his biography.”
Baxter has called this ten-story collection his decalogue, and it feels like his own deeply personal digest of experience.
Olivia ZhengReview: There’s Something I Want You to Do
Book by ANN HOOD, ELIZABETH STROUT, PETER FARRELLY, BRUCE DESILVA, MARIE MYUNG-OK LEE, ROBERT LEUCI, DAWN RAFFEL, LUANNE RICE, THOMAS COBB, JOHN SEARLES, TAYLOR M. POLITES, PABLO RODRIGUEZ, AMITY GAIGE, LASHONDA KATRICE BARNETT, HESTER KAPLAN Reviewed by SUSAN TACENT
Noir is not my regular genre. But I have read my fair share of Raymond Chandler, and I’ve seen The Big Sleep more than once. I’m from Brooklyn originally—Noir Central—and I’ve lived in Rhode Island for over 20 years. So I jumped at the opportunity to review Providence Noir, Brooklyn-based Akashic Books’s latest entry in its 11-year-old Noir series, atmospheric story collections set in cities all over the world.
Part of the fun of reading the series is imagining familiar landmarks in a sinister light. The appropriately mysterious cover photo of Providence Noir looks out on a deserted Dorrance Street, in the city’s old center, from an alley behind the Union Trust Company at night. The sidewalk looks wet where the streetlight falls. Might be rain, might be blood. We also see Coffee Exchange, Central High, Trinity Rep. Benefit Street, Adler’s Hardware, India Point Park. These are the places where we Providence folk overcaffeinate, or teach, or take our kids to watch A Christmas Carol. Places where we try to find parking for jury duty, pick up paint to brighten the kitchen, buy freshly made pasta, enjoy one more late summer picnic. Turned by the writers ofProvidence Noir into sites of intrigue, mayhem, and death, they make the little reptilian hairs on the back our necks rise, as if suddenly we find ourselves inside the fiction on the page.