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Mark Slouka is a Contributing Editor at Harper's, and the author ofThe Woodcarver's Tale and God's Fool.
Reviewed on Richard & Judy on Wednesday 20 February 2008.This is a gripping novel split distinctly in to three parts. The first tells of the narratorâ€™s childhood growing up in the US, the son of Czech immigrants, trying to balance life as an American while trying to understand his Czech heritage. The second part finds the narrator moving to Prague to find out more about his parents and what happened in their past, with the third part being told as â€œfictionâ€ as the narrator forms his ideas of what happened in his parents past. Sensitively written and a joy to read.
In fifteen beautifully wrought stories-ranging from occupied Czechoslovakia to California's Central Valley to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest-Mark Slouka explores moments in life when our back is to the wall. One of the most forceful American writers of his generation, Slouka captures the depth and emotional range of an array of characters-from a young boy attempting to shield his father from painful memories in The Hare's Mask to a lonely man whose beloved dog inexplicably begins to sprout razor blades from her skin in Dog. Whether battling the end of desire, the fact of injustice, or death itself, the men and women in these stories are doing everything possible to tighten their grip on life. In Crossing, a father hoping to compensate for his failures finds himself facing his past while fording a river with his young son on his back; in Conception, a young couple frozen by the possible end of their marriage is offered an unexpected way back; in Half-Life, a proud, aging shut-in finds her resolve tested by an extraordinary visitor determined to shatter her solitude. Like its title, All That Is Left Is All That Matters consoles us with life's tender humor and unexpected moments of redemption in the face of heartbreak, tragedy, and dislocation.
As an infant, Jon Mosher tragically lost his older brother to a freak accident - something that could have happened to any family. There's nothing he could have done to prevent it, but there it is anyway, that loss echoing in every room and painted on the faces of his parents - German Jews who'd escaped the war - as if to say: you weren't, and aren't, enough. Saddled with this absence, Jon's life has been defined by what's missing and what he lacks; that is, until in high school he befriends wisecracking Ray, a reckless boy with a volatile father. Against the backdrop of the Summer of Love and the encroaching Vietnam War, Jon dreams of ultimately leaving his grey, blue-collar town, but is set on an irrevocable course as the escalating violence of Ray's home life threatens to shatter their bright-eyed plans to escape. Torn between obligation and desire, Jon's faced with the impossible decision of whether to help, or run. In this magnificent, haunting novel, Slouka brilliantly captures the polarising forces of a working class, hardscrabble ethos and the hopeful vibrancy of the sixties and early seventies. With concise, wise prose, Slouka weaves together a tapestry of family, fate, friendship, and the impossibility of ever, really, leaving home.
Set on the shores of Lost Lake, in upstate New York, these twelve tales tell of three generations of the small Czech community who have made their homes there, beside the water's edge. Both land and lake feature large in their lives - shaping events, individuals, relationships: in the dead of night, a woman unhitches a boat and rows across the darkness to meet her lover; a young soldier sees hope for the future reflected in the water's rippled surface; a boy recalls a catch of fish and learns to question the past as later presented. Characters emerge and re-emerge, time moves on, yet through it all the lake remains central, significant, symbolic. Haunting, poetic and elegiac, Slouka's stories are about people who inhabit the margins of space and place, about home, history and humanity, about myth and memory.
The acclaimed first novel from the author of The Visible World Chang and Eng are twins. The cries that herald their entrance into the world are clear and piercing, but the loudest screams belong to the midwives. The two boys look perfect in every way - except for the skin joining them at the chest. For Chang and Eng are not only twins; they are also the first ever Siamese twins. Their journey through adulthood takes them from Asia to Europe and from there to America; they are granted audiences with kings, and paraded in salons and drawing rooms; later - starving and penniless - they trawl the doss-houses of London and, after a chance meeting with Phineas T. Barnum, join his travelling band of bearded ladies, albino beauties and German midgets. Eventually, they settle amid the plantations of North Carolina, where their hard-earned tranquillity is soon threatened by the looming spectre of the Civil War, its shadow signalling their final battle with fate.