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.

No book I've read all year underscores the distinctions between the long form and the short story more than the award-winning story writer Anthony Doerr's new novel All the Light We Cannot See.

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In Syria, the 1980s were marked by a bloody civil war between the Sunni majority and the minority Alawite Muslim government. That's now the setting for a novel titled "In Praise of Hatred." It's by Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa. It's now available in the United States and a translation by Larry Price. And Alan Cheuse has our review.

Over the course of his long and distinguished writing career, Peter Matthiessen — who died this past weekend at the age of 86 — chased numerous demons, from Florida outlaws to missionaries and mercenaries in South America. In his latest novel, which the ailing writer suggested would be his last, takes us back to a week-long conference held at Auschwitz in 1996. Here, as autumn shifts toward winter, Jews and Germans, Poles and Americans, rabbis, Buddhists, European nuns and slightly crazed survivors of Nazi genocide stand witness to the atrocities of some of the greatest demons of history.

San Francisco in the summer of the 1876, between the Gold Rush and the smallpox epidemic, is the setting for Emma Donoghue's boisterous new novel, Frog Music.

There's real frog music in these pages, the riveting cries of the creatures hunted by Jenny Bonnet, one of the two main characters. She's a pistol-packing, pants-wearing gal in a town where pants on women are one of the few cardinal sins, and she scratches out a living catching frogs and selling them to local restaurants.

I am a mortal reader; I have my flaws. I don't usually enjoy prose poems or novels written in lines of poetry, and when I see character types with names in capital letters like the ones that appear in Israeli writer David Grossman's new Falling Out of Time — The Walking Man, the Net Mender, the Midwife, the Town Chronicler — I tend to prepare to pack up, close the book, and turn to something less allegorical.

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The woe that is marriage, the subject of the Wife of Bath's prologue in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" has long been a rich subject for stories. Susan Rieger has just published a novel on the matter called "The Divorce Papers."

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"Falling Out of Time" is the name of a new novel by Israeli writer David Grossman. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse calls it a dramatic meditation on grief, reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The book was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.]

The "woe that is in marriage," the subject of the Wife of Bath's Prologue in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, is a great old subject. Susan Rieger's smart and wonderfully entertaining domestic comedy, with all its shifts of tone from the personal to the legal and a lot in between, takes up this old problem and makes it fresh and lively — and in some places so painful, because it has to do with a child torn between two parents, you don't want to go on. But you do. The power and canniness of this bittersweet work of epistolary fiction pulls you along.

The thing about historical novels is that above all else, they must stand as good fiction. If not, the reader's supposed trip back into the past isn't worth the time or the token. The writer must give the feel and flow of the time in question in a manner that seems natural; characters on a street corner shouldn't remark to themselves about all of these 1922 motor cars rolling past, nor Roman legionaries point out that an axe is bronze when it should be steel.

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Spring 1958, the poet Edward Estlin Cummings, or E.E. Cummings as most of us know him, was a passenger in writer John Cheever's car. Cummings had just spoken at the school of Cheever's teenage daughter and she was sitting in the back seat. Well, that day kicked off a fascination that led to Susan Cheever's recent biography "E.E. Cummings: A Life." Alan Cheuse reviews the book and shares the origins of his own fascination with Cummings.

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Shanghai in 1936 was on the verge of Japanese occupation. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it makes a terrific setting for new novel by Nicole Mones. It's called "Night in Shanghai." The book showcases the multicultural and moneyed scene of Shanghai's prewar heyday.

There are eight stories in Lorrie Moore's new collection, but only two of them really stand out. Moore's one of the country's most admired writers – and maybe I was so dazzled by the brilliance and power of the two longest stories in these pages that I couldn't read the other pieces — which I found either a little off-kilter or too subtly played — without feeling a certain amount of loss. But my possibly cock-eyed view of Bark is that it's a book, or at least half a book, that anyone who loves contemporary fiction should have a go at.

Book Review: 'Bark'

Feb 25, 2014

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Writer Lorrie Moore is known for her clever word play and incisive wit. Now, she's out with a new collection of short stories, her first in 16 years. It's called "Bark." Alan Cheuse has our review.

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It's been nearly 70 years since the end of World War II, but Croatian writer Dasa Drndic makes the war and its countless horrors feel fresh and urgent in her latest novel "Trieste." Ellen Elias-Bursac translated the book into English.

Alan Cheuse with our review.

For the historical novelist, the past sometimes seems like one great filing cabinet of material that may lend itself to successful novelization. And in the case of France's so-called "Belle Epoque," the gifted English writer Robert Harris seems to have opened the right drawer. His latest novel, An Officer and a Spy, is set during this period of peace and prosperity between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the lead-up to the First World War.

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