Friday, Jan. 13
Since it thrives on candor and the imaginative input of the reader, the novel stands as the only medium to portray sex as anything like what sex is actually like. In Ellis Avery's The Last Nude, the sex — between painter Tamara de Lampicka and the model who posed for her 1927 work La Belle Rafaela — feels ripe and real and vital, the very element that artist, model, and masterwork together create, inhabit, and flourish within. Avery likewise summons ecstasy from brushstrokes and fabrics, and, toward the novel's end, from memory itself. This all takes place in Paris, so there's some rote Shakespeare & Co. cameos to get through (Joyce is described as a bit of a sitcom neighbor, popping in to behave ridiculously), but the novel is for the most part too tough-minded to fall into nostalgia for the Malcolm Cowley crew. The no-big-deal way that young Rafaela, the narrator, slips into prostitution in the opening chapters reveals something of Avery's vision: a gorgeous Parisian love story, but not a polite or idealized one. Avery reads tonight at the Castro Books Inc., 2275 Market (at 16th St.), 7:30, free; 864-6777 or www.booksinc.net.
Saturday, Jan. 14
The prose that critics call "luminous" tends to be of the light-reflecting-on-the-water variety: It shimmers prettily but doesn't illuminate much. Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife has been dubbed "luminous" by the New York Times, and the novel — her first, a National Book Award finalist — at times gets caught up in inconsequential beauties, birdspotting its own war-torn settings and fawning over the herbs of a grandmother not even in the chapter. But when Obreht gets down to actual storytelling, mining myth and memory to examine life in a freshly split Balkan country, that the shimmering becomes steady, revealing light. The new century hasn't brought us great war novels, but the post-war novel — fractured and skittish, like this one — probably has more to tell us anyhow. Obreht's fairy stories can lift your heart into your throat; her tiger, freed by the war from its zoo but now unable to live as it had before, can seize that same heart and break it. Obreht reads tonight at Bookshop West Portal, 80 West Portal (at Vicente), 7, free; 564-8080 or www.bookshopwestportal.com.
Monday, Jan. 16
Daniel Gross' preface to Rebel Voices — PM Press' newly reprinted treasury of stories, testimonials, songs, and jeremiads from the heyday of the Industrial Workers of the World — was penned recently enough to celebrate the labor-led seizure of the Wisconsin capital but just long enough ago that there's not a word in it about the Occupy movement. The contrast is fascinating: The Wobblies dared direct action to enact clearly defined changes in the lives of a membership rather than undefined changes for the benefit of all society. That all society itself benefited from those specific changes is a point made again and again in Rebel Voices. Other highlights include theater (a description of a powerful funeral "pageant" at mills in Paterson, N.J., in 1913), satire (Chazzdor's scathing 1957 fiction "Parable of the Water Pump"), and the rabble-rousing of Ralph Winstead's "Chin-Whiskers, Hay-Wire, and Pitchforks," which concerned the radicalization of lumberjacks. Gross will undoubtedly address Occupy when he discusses Rebel Voices tonight, but Wisconsin — or the port shutdown — might be the stronger parallel than the camps: a reminder that the collective action most likely to win the hearts of the public is that in response to specific, conquerable injustices. Gross speaks at Green Arcade at 1680 Market (at Gough), 7 p.m., free (donations accepted); 431-6800 or www.thegreenarcade.com.
Wednesday, Jan. 25
"He could pull this off. He was sure of it. It would have been one thing to protect Anne Frank from the Nazis; he was pretty sure he couldn't have managed that. But to protect his family from Anne Frank? How difficult could that be?" So goes the sharpest gag in the first 50 pages of Shalom Auslander's Hope: A Tragedy, a motor-mouthed stand-up routine of a novel based on the notion — nicked from Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer — that maybe Anne Frank survived, after all, and maybe that's her right in front of our narrator. In this case, she's hiding out in his attic, old and pecking away at a manuscript, calling him a jackass for not knowing Auschwitz from Bergen-Belsen. ("Did you even read my diary?" she snaps at Kugel, the narrator. "I read Night," he responds, "When Oprah had it.") Auslander's work lacks The Ghost Writer's restraint and gravity, and it's hit or miss when it aspires to moral seriousness, but it is funny as hell, a rant that keeps topping itself as Kugel and family strive to make sense of the history they're burdened with. By the end, Hope reads something like Lenny Bruce re-writing Bernard Malamud — which, come to think of it, is what people used to think of Roth himself. Auslander is a writer to watch, both in the future and tonight at the Jewish Community Center, 3200 California at Presidio, 7, $10-$20; 292-1200 or www.jccsf.org.