Inside River Run

RIVER RUN, by Francesca Vera (Pandolf Press). This ambitious novel is essentially a mystery story about a man who loses his memory and personality and must find a way to survive life on the streets before he can embark on a quest for self-discovery that takes him from San Francisco to the small Vermont town of the title. Adventurous in form, the book combines a gripping narrative along with other genres of writing. The author’s insight into the male psyche is particularly noteworthy, captured in stylish prose with a ear for humor and irony. Beneath it all is a meditation on identity and the nature of “nothing.” In what may be an important innovation in the novel as a literary genre, the book is expanded upon on in a remarkably rich website that that allows readers to explore other aspects of the story, including alternative endings. As readers descend deeper into this material, the navigation becomes labyrinthine—a kind of treasure hunt to discover the “enigma of zero.”

CALL ME BIP, by Buster Bippé (Random House). This often amusing, often infuriating autobiography by the self-styled “bad boy of American poesy,” chronicles the poet’s tumultuous life growing up in Hollywood as the son of famed theatrical agent, Braxton Buppé, followed by a search for spiritual enlightenment in Tibet, a stint of “solemn contemplation” in a shipping container in the mountains of New Mexico, and finally “blissful domestication” with six wives on a llama ranch near Sasquatch, Utah. Admitting frankly that “I have battled satyriasis my entire life,” Buppé graphically recounts his sexual exploits, beginning at the age of ten with a “threesome of A-list ingénues.” Neither Tibetan gurus nor enforced celibacy and isolation in the wilds of New Mexico were of any use until a Mormon hiker named Shirleen Cassidy stumbled upon his rustic home and changed his life. Conversion to Mormonism, marriage, and an ever-increasing family followed. “Poems are orgasms of the mind,” Buppé famously stated in his first collect of poetry, The Rutting Life.

MY NAME IS HOPE KUNTZMACHER, by  Frieda Buckholst (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). All of this transcendently unsentimental novel takes place over a twenty-four-hour period in a New York hospital where Hope Kuntzmacher, the narrator, is dying from colon cancer. Her estranged mother, a schizophrenic who may have murdered her husband, keeps her company with a thermos of tea that she believes will cure her daughter’s cancer. Also there is her sister Charity, an adherent of a Pentecostal sect who has come to save her sister’s soul. A third sister, Faith, having committed suicide as a teenager (Smith & Wesson), is a presence in the frequent reminiscences of the other characters. Buckholst who specializes in the ways and byways of familial love, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for her novel, “My Name is Jemima Gluck,” a novel that might have been more widely read but for the fact that it was written in Jamaican pidgin—a literary strategy Buckholst has wisely foresworn this time around.

ALL THE SPOUSES, by  Odessa Malagon (Harper). This exuberant romp through a tony suburban enclave of Houston is reminiscent of John Updike’s Couples, as it follows the lives of several frisky Hispanic families and their often raucous amours. With adultery having become a neighborhood affair, one character, has to create an org chart to sort things out, a hopeless task, given the every-changing permutations. Malagon deftly explores the ramifications of what happens when deceit has become so transparent that it no longer matters, except when it does. In one tragi-comic scene, both Mariana and Uvaldo Ochoa set out to meet their separate lovers at the designated motel room only to find that, owing to a mix-up, they both arrive at the same place. Uvaldo, expressing outrage that he’s caught his wife cheating on him, shoots her on the spot, screaming. “You have betrayed my trust and the honor of the Ochoa name!”