July 5, 2021

From the publisher:

Inspired by the real-life heroine who saved thousands of Jewish children during WWII, The Warsaw Orphan is Kelly Rimmer’s most anticipated novel since her bestselling sensation, The Things We Cannot Say.

“Gripping… This one easily stands on its own.” —Publishers Weekly
“Heart-stopping.” – Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
“A surefire hit.” – Kristin Harmel, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author

In the spring of 1942, young Elzbieta Rabinek is aware of the swiftly growing discord just beyond the courtyard of her comfortable Warsaw home. She has no fondness for the Germans who patrol her streets and impose their curfews, but has never given much thought to what goes on behind the walls that contain her Jewish neighbors. She knows all too well about German brutality–and that it’s the reason she must conceal her true identity. But in befriending Sara, a nurse who shares her apartment floor, Elzbieta makes a discovery that propels her into a dangerous world of deception and heroism.

Using Sara’s credentials to smuggle children out of the ghetto brings Elzbieta face-to-face with the reality of the war behind its walls, and to the plight of the Gorka family, who must make the impossible decision to give up their newborn daughter or watch her starve. For Roman Gorka, this final injustice stirs him to rebellion with a zeal not even his newfound love for Elzbieta can suppress. But his recklessness brings unwanted attention to Sara’s cause, unwittingly putting Elzbieta and her family in harm’s way until one violent act threatens to destroy their chance at freedom forever. 

From Nazi occupation to the threat of a communist regime, The Warsaw Orphan is the unforgettable story of Elzbieta and Roman’s perilous attempt to reclaim the love and life they once knew.

To term Kelly Rimmer’s novel, “The Warsaw Orphan,” an emotional rollercoaster is both the truth and yet not sufficient a description to bring the prospective reader into the horrid world of Nazi oppression of Jews during World War II. The story is loosely based on the real life activities of the nurse Irena Sendler who managed to smuggle thousands of Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation with its organized murder of Jews and other “undesirables”     

Two teenagers are the central characters of the story. Roman Gorka and Elzbieta Rabinek are dragged brutally out of any semblance of a normal childhood and hauled kicking and screaming into a life based on survival and terror during World War II. They come together in the Warsaw Ghetto and take part in the world shattering events that characterized Poland subjected to their Nazi conquerors. Roman joins a resistance group with the intent of fighting back against the Nazi oppression that exists while Elzbieta follows the actions of a friend that lives near her and uses that woman’s credentials to smuggle children away from Nazi oppression.      

The two teens develop a love for each other but in the face of the oppression existing in their world cannot follow their hearts to be with each other. Roman takes part in the uprising that took place in Warsaw against the Nazi invaders and was surprisingly successful in terms of time held out. Elzbieta continues to use her “borrowed” credentials to bring more children to freedom. Between their obligations there is no time to develop a  bond that would normally lead to marriage and family with each taking part in events that are not under their control.     

In an afterward to the book, Rimmer confesses to the difficulty in writing about the strains undergone by the central figures she depicts. No surprise there; her handling of the raw emotion experienced by the people she writes about is an almost impossible handling of something never normally experienced. Her characters must face decisions daily of reacting to events that no group had faced before them and somehow evolve into a semblance of a normal life.   

The Warsaw Orphan is not a book that will be forgotten easily. The characters are brought to life by the five star handling by the author and the raw emotions generated hit home under her excellent prose. An all nighter of course. Once started the novel cannot be put down until finished and Kelly Rimmer passing into a favorite author position. If the reader has not read any of her other books prior to this one you can be sure that will not be the case with anything she comes out with in the future. My final comment is simply that I feel privileged to have been introduced to Kelly Rimmer and am now an ardent reader of her books.

7/2021 Paul Lane

THE WARSAW ORPHAN by Kelly Rimmer. Graydon House; Original edition (June 1, 2021). ISBN: 978-1525895999. 416 pages.







TO THE EDGE OF SORROW by Aharon Appelfeld

January 27, 2020


Translated by Stuart Schoffman

From the publisher:

From “fiction’s foremost chronicler of the Holocaust” (Philip Roth), here is a haunting novel about an unforgettable group of Jewish partisans fighting the Nazis during World War II.

Battling numbing cold, ever-present hunger, and German soldiers determined to hunt them down, four dozen resistance fighters—escapees from a nearby ghetto—hide in a Ukrainian forest, determined to survive the war, sabotage the German war effort, and rescue as many Jews as they can from the trains taking them to concentration camps. Their leader is relentless in his efforts to turn his ragtag band of men and boys into a disciplined force that accomplishes its goals without losing its moral compass. And so when they’re not raiding peasants’ homes for food and supplies, or training with the weapons taken from the soldiers they have ambushed and killed, the partisans read books of faith and philosophy that they have rescued from abandoned Jewish homes, and they draw strength from the women, the elderly, and the remarkably resilient orphaned children they are protecting. When they hear about the advances being made by the Soviet Army, the partisans prepare for what they know will be a furious attack on their compound by the retreating Germans. In the heartbreaking aftermath, the survivors emerge from the forest to bury their dead, care for their wounded, and grimly confront a world that is surprised by their existence—and profoundly unwelcoming.

Narrated by seventeen-year-old Edmund—a member of the group who maintains his own inner resolve with memories of his parents and their life before the war—this powerful story of Jews who fought back is suffused with the riveting detail that Aharon Appelfeld was uniquely able to bring to his award-winning novels.

The novel is a well-done story of people forced by circumstances beyond their control into a horror beyond any one’s dreams, or probably nightmares. It is told in the first person by a young boy named Edmund, who at 17 years of age is swept mercilessly from the life of a student living peacefully with his loving parents into the role of a killer.

The story begins with Edmund and his parents being forced by their captors into boarding a train. The train is to take the family to a concentration camp and the captors are German soldiers under the orders of Adolf Hitler. Edmund is told by his parents to run away from the train and hide someplace. He does so due to the prodding by his mother and father and in his traveling away meets a group of other people, all Jews that are seeking to hide from the soldiers.

The style of the narration by Edmund and reactions of other people in the group that he meets and joins is blase and describes the horrors they live with in a manner that makes them just everyday occurrences. In traveling away from the enemy and their own city, they settle on an elevated area and convert it into a defensive position. A member of the group begins drilling them in order to convert peaceful people into a group that can use weapons and fight against soldiers hunting them. They begin raiding homes and farmhouses in the area around them in order to pick up food and clothing. They use weapons taken from the soldiers that they kill as their own and expand their fighting ability.

All the while everyone involved just dreams of a day when the enemy is defeated and they can return to a normalcy that is in a distant past. The group also begins to raid trains taking people to concentration camps until they can no longer feed and care for more people.

The question posed is can these individuals, including a young teen like Edmund, ever really return to a normal life or are they marked by their forced experiences to be perpetually haunted by what has been forced on them. I came away from this read with a feeling that I have just dealt with something that will stay with me for a long long time, whether I like it or not.

1/2020 Paul Lane

TO THE EDGE OF SORROW by Aharon Appelfeld & Stuart Schoffman. Schocken (January 14, 2020). ISBN 978-0805243420. 304p.



THE GERMAN HOUSE by Annette Hess

December 12, 2019

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Announced as her first published book, aside from many screenplays, Annette Hess gives us a memorable, riveting emotional roller coaster of a read. Pick this up and become mesmerized from page one and when finished it will be evident that a major literary force has entered the field with a decided bang.

The action is centered around the 1963 trials in Frankfurt, Germany of war criminals that ran the Auschwitz death camp during WWII. Eva Bruhns is a young woman with only faint memories of the war now two generations behind the world. She is working for a temporary employment agency as a translator when asked if she will fill in for a professional translator that cannot get a German visa in time for the trial’s opening. The trials are scheduled to start shortly and cannot be delayed awaiting the regular translator. Eva takes the job and becomes immersed in a life-changing position lasting several months. The main thrust of the action is her literally coming-of-age due to her work and thoughts as the court action goes on.

On the personal side, Eva is awaiting and expecting her suitor Jurgen Schoormann to ask her father for permission to marry her. Jurgen is the son and heir of a wealthy family who works in the family business and has ideas that a wife should be subservient to her husband. Doubts about the wisdom of marrying Jurgen enter her mind. In addition, due to facts coming out at the trial, Eva begins to question her mother’s and father’s silence about what they did during the war. Where were they and what did they do? And why is it never discussed?

Hess does not excuse the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis but does bring up via her characterizations the possibility that orders were followed since death or imprisonment could be the price of disobeying commands. The complexity of the mental anguish involved is not possible to understand without the experiences of people caught in an insurmountable conundrum with no way out of the situation without suffering something horrible. Does she make her case? Read the book and decide. If nothing else take part in a superb literary experience.

12/19 Paul Lane

THE GERMAN HOUSE by Annette Hess. HarperVia (December 12, 2019). ISBN 978-0008359867. 336p.



THE ALMANACK by Martine Bailey

December 11, 2019


Bailey has given her readers a veritable cornucopia of ideas and well-researched facts set in the England of the mid 1750s. The author has painted a picture of another era with all the problems, ideas, dirt and filth present in that day and age.

Tabitha Hart has left her home in the town of Netherlea to seek her fortune in London. There she made a passable living as a lady of the street until her mother sends her a message to return home because she is dying. When Tabitha reaches her mother’s house she finds that the lady has already passed away and under mysterious circumstances. She finds and opens her mother’s almanack, which at that point in time is a book that many people rich and poor buy each year to help them with their year-round planning.

As an aid to finding out what happened, the author has prefaced every chapter with a riddle taken from almanacks of the time as well as a daily message advising what is expected to happen each of the days. This practice opens up additional customs of the era under discussion as well as providing an idea of how people thought and behaved.

The novel is indeed a vibrant picture of another time and makes it possible for today’s readers to allow themselves to slip into that era and enjoy an interesting read.

12/19 Paul Lane

THE ALMANACK by Martine Bailey. Severn House Publishers; First World Publication edition (May 1, 2019). ISBN 978-0727888631. 304p.




October 7, 2018

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From the publisher:

This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an extraordinary document, a story about the extremes of human behavior existing side by side: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I find it hard to imagine anyone who would not be drawn in, confronted and moved. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone, whether they’d read a hundred Holocaust stories or none.”—Graeme Simsion, internationally-bestselling author of The Rosie Project

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

I find Holocaust books difficult to read so I try and limit them to only one or two a year. I’m sorry I wasted a read on this book.

The story is interesting for sure, as it is based on a true story. In fact the actual subject of the book, the protagonist, writes an afterward. But it is the writing that is most off-putting to me. I believe this is a first novel and it definitely reads like one. There is a lot of telling, not showing, and the dialogue is often stilted. This was surprising, as Morris is a screenwriter so I would think the dialogue would be in her wheelhouse, and the descriptions aren’t great either. At first I thought maybe it was translated, as that can have an impact on language for sure, but I don’t think so.

That said, it has over 20,000 five star reviews on Goodreads, which is one of the reasons I picked it up. While the writing style was not for me, obviously I am in the minority here. Most of the reviews recommend it for book discussion and I can understand that and may, in fact, use it for my book group at the library. I find the best discussions happen when there is disagreement about a book, so maybe.

If you’ve already read it, or plan on reading it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

10/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ by Heather Morris. Harper (September 4, 2018).  ISBN 978-0062870674. 288p.



THE CLOISTER by James Carroll

March 11, 2018

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Carroll’s new book is an extremely powerful adventure into human emotions experienced by two members of the Catholic clergy. They are separated by 1000 years but are subject to similar doubts about their vocations and their stories tied together.

The first to enter the narrative is Father Michael Kavanagh,the Priest presiding over a congregation in Inwood New York, part of the borough of Manhattan. The time frame for Father Kavanagh is shortly after World War II. During a Sunday service he sees an old classmate of his, “Runner” Malloy, come into the church. It has been years since they saw each other but strangely Malloy doesn’t stay and wanders away.

Perplexed by his old friend’s conduct, Father Kavanagh begins thinking and almost subconsciously wanders into the “Cloisters,” a museum which was a gift to New York by the Rockefellers. There he bumps into a beautiful guide and without much thought begins to talk to her. Rachel Vedette is a French Jew and cames to the United States after surviving the horrors of a concentration camp during the war.

Rachel is by education and interest a medieval scholar and is attempting to continue her late father’s academic study of Peter Abelard, a great teacher and thinker living in the 11th century. Abelard was also a Priest and famous for his logical approach to everything, never accepting something as given without subjecting it to logical scrutiny. There was an historical connection between him and Jewish scholars which ran against than current doctrine of the Church.

For some reason, Rachel feels instinctively that Father Kavanagh might share her interest in Abelard and freely starts to talk with him about the subject. One of the factors important in this novel is that Peter Abelard, contrary to the rules of celibacy enforced by the church, fell in love with a woman named Heloise, cohabiting with her through his life. Some historians indicate that he actually married her although the novel indicates that they only pledged their vows. What he did do was set her up as the Mother Superior in a convent close to where he was based.

Father Kavanagh is aware of Abelard and allows Rachel to lend him the manuscript she has been working on. Possibly due to reading the manuscript, conversations with her, and the subsequent finding of his old friend Malloy and learning why he left the church prompt Father Kavanagh to begin to question his place as a Priest, and if he would be better off leaving the Priesthood.

The research done to allow Peter Abelard to come to life in the book is incredible. The actions and supposed conversations could be the actual ones experienced by this important scholar. In addition, Heloise is threshed out as the intellectual equal of Peter and a helpmate and councilor to him even without living together as man and wife. What Father Kavanagh eventually decides is discussed and analyzed and a logical decision for the man.

3/18 Paul Lane

THE CLOISTER by James Carroll. Nan A. Talese (March 6, 2018).  ISBN 978-0385541275. 384p.

KAROLINA’S TWINS by Ronald H. Balson

September 6, 2016

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Attorney Catherine Lockhart and private investigator Liam Taggart are back in Balson’s third novel, this time with a new client, Lena Woodward, an elderly Holocaust survivor. Lena’s son doesn’t want them looking into anything, and forces a competency hearing in hopes of having himself appointed her guardian.

Meanwhile, Lena spends days telling Catherine about her childhood in Poland, the Nazi takeover of her town, her job as a seamstress that saved her from the first wave of Jews sent to concentration camps, her time with the resistance, her eventual trip to a camp, and her life since the war. Along the way, her childhood best friend, Karolina, is present, and the two girls try and save her twin babies during the war.

Lena has no idea what happened to the babies but if they survived, they would be 70 years old and she is determined to find them. The search takes Liam (and the author) to Poland, Israel and Germany, but it is Lena’s story that is so riveting.

In a departure from Balson’s previous novels, much of the story is told in the first person, befitting a book inspired by a Holocaust survivor’s true story. Readers who crave more books like Once We Were Brothers and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah will be enthralled by Karolina’s Twins.

Copyright ©2016 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.

9/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

KAROLINA’S TWINS by Ronald H. Balson. St. Martin’s Press (September 6, 2016).  ISBN 978-1250098375. 320p.


THE ONE MAN by Andrew Gross

August 24, 2016

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Andrew Gross has written probably the most moving novel that I have read.

To say that it is an emotional roller coaster is the truth, but does not do it the justice it deserves. The book involves a lengthy look at the real horrors of a Nazi concentration camp and the daily struggle of the people trapped there just to somehow survive.

I am a fan of Mr. Gross, and in my opinion this novel is far and away the best work among many good works that he has given us.

In 1944, Alfred Mendl is taken away from his family in Poland, and along with many others is sent to a men’s concentration camp. His notes and papers on his work are taken from him and destroyed. The Nazis have no idea that they confiscated work that only one other person in the world has, and which when combined with work done by other scientists could start a war – or win one.

Nathan Blum, a Polish Jew who has successfully escaped from Poland but was forced to leave his family behind to be slaughtered, has certain requisite qualities that make him the ideal man for a scheme to rescue Mendl from the camp. He is Semitic in appearance, speaks both Polish and German. He is assigned to desk work for the U.S. army in Washington but desperately wants to do something more important for the war effort. The plan to rescue Mendl involves actually breaking into the camp he is at, and bringing him out to be sent to the United States to work with the scientists currently at work attempting to build a nuclear weapon. To be successful there must be an almost impossible combination of events that occur.

There is not one single way to put down the book without finishing it, and the reader arrives at a surprising end literally drained of emotion. Vivid descriptions of the horrors prevalent in the camp cannot fail to stir any reader who has only experienced the Holocaust through reading history. Andrew Gross brings us there and creates an ambience that will stay for quite a while.

8/16 Paul Lane

THE ONE MAN by Andrew Gross. Minotaur Books (August 23, 2016).  ISBN 978-1250079503.  432p.



THE NIGHT, THE DAY by Andrew Kane

April 8, 2015

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This is the third novel from author Andrew Kane, and it is another Jewish themed book. This time it is what I think of as a contemporary Holocaust story, which seems to be something of a trend with Kristin Hannah’s terrific The Nightingale, Susan Wigg’s The Beekeepers Ball, Once We Were Brothers by Ron Balson, Moving Day by Jonathan Stone and others.

Jacques Benoît is a wealthy hotel tycoon so when he attempts suicide, his wife just can’t understand it. The hospital refers him to Dr. Marty Rosen, a renowned psychologist, for continued therapy. Rosen does not find his new patient entirely forthcoming or even truthful, but continues to work with him.

Rosen has a lot going on in his own life. He has been widowed for a couple of years, and is picked up in his favorite bar by a stunning woman with a British accent. He falls hard for her, but when he visits her home he is struck with an uneasy feeling. As a psychologist, he tends to listen to his gut feelings but he can’t quite put his finger on what is wrong.

Some of the other subplots deal with the Vichy government in France during WWII, and the modern day Mossad, but the crux of the story is slowly revealed as Kane weaves a complex and interesting tale with a rather shocking ending.

4/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

The Night, the Day by Andrew Kane. Berwick Court Publishing (March 31, 2015). ISBN 978-0990951520. 338p.


Guest Blogger: Jacob Rubin

March 17, 2015

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Win a copy of Jacob Rubin’s caffeinated and wildly comic debut novel, which was recently selected a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick for spring 2015 and named a one of Huffington Post’s 2015 Books We Can’t Wait to Read.

In the same vein as George Saunders and Sam Lipsyte, THE POSER chronicles the hijinks and crises of Giovanni Bernini, the World’s Greatest Impressionist—a man whose bizarre compulsion and ability to imitate anyone he meets catapults him from small-town obscurity to widespread fame. As he describes it, “No one disguise is perfect. There is in every person, no matter how graceful, a seam, a thread curling out of them. . . .  When pulled by the right hands, it will unravel the person entire.”

Honed by his theatrical mother at a young age, his talent eventually takes him from his hometown to the nightclubs of the City and eventually the sound stages of Fantasma Falls, the glamorous, west coast city similar to Hollywood. As Giovanni’s fame grows, he encounters a cast of provocative characters—including an exuberant manager, a mysterious chanteuse, an enigmatic psychoanalyst, and a deaf obsessive compulsive—and becomes increasingly trapped inside many personas. When his bizarre talent comes to define him, Giovanni is forced to assume the one identity he has never been able to master: his own.

At its heart, the novel speaks to the power of performance, impersonation, acting, and what it means to find and understand the essence of someone, and of yourself. I think author Sam Lipsyte nails it when he says Rubin “is a great hope for comic fiction in the 21st century.” Though THE POSER is his debut, it certainly announces the arrival of a new and unmistakable voice in American fiction.

Check out the Book Trailer

Q&A with Jacob Rubin, author of THE POSER

Giovanni Bernini, The Poser’s protagonist, is known as the World’s Greatest Impressionist. He’s born with the uncanny ability to imitate anyone he meets instantaneously. Throughout the literary spectrum, plenty of stories have been written about performers or performing, but not impressionists specifically. How did you conjure up such an interesting character?

The Poser began, oddly enough, in the trash. Years ago I was working on a not very good short story about a man who wakes up in a woman’s apartment after a one-night stand. Remembering little of the night before, he begins to root around in her garbage for clues. One of the items he finds was, to my surprise, a black-and-white photo of a famed impressionist, a man who could famously imitate anyone he met. As I soon discovered, I was much more interested in this unexpected performer than I was in the guy who discovered him. I scrapped the story right then and wrote another one, very quickly, about this character Giovanni Bernini. After many years, it became The Poser.

You have experience as a performer—both as a juggler for hire and as the lead rapper of the hip-hop group Witness Protection Program, opening for groups like Jurassic Five and Blackalicious, to name a few. How has your background as a performer influenced the creation of Giovanni Bernini?

I can’t seem to get away from performance, in life or in writing. Personae, masks, fraudulence, disguise—all have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I think a lot about that Picasso line: that art is a “lie that tells the truth.” It seems to me this paradox can obtain in life, too. Like, I once read an article in the Times about a survivor of 9/11, a woman who had been in the south tower when the planes hit. After the tragedy, she organized these legendary support groups. They were these deeply cathartic events, arranged with great thought and care. Survivors and relatives of victims depended on her entirely, so strong was her empathy. Only later did it come out that this woman hadn’t been in the towers at all—she made the whole thing up. I find such behavior deeply disturbing, of course, but fascinating, too. The lie, for this woman at least, clearly felt like an emotional truth.

I did stand-up comedy for a little while, and I think the status of the stand-up comedian reflects a similar paradox: instead of a lie that tells the truth, maybe a stand-up states a truth so serious it has to be packaged as a joke. The stage offers a kind of loophole, a free zone in which what would otherwise be punishably inappropriate can be aired with impunity, even to applause. It’s what performance offers in general, I think: this magical, cordoned-off space where people can lie, hurl abuse, decompensate, and the crowd hoorahs! In The Poser, I wanted to explore a character who finds that his previously outrageous behavior is celebrated simply because it’s put on the stage.

A man with a million personas, Giovanni seemingly can be anyone except himself and at one point in the story undergoes psychoanalysis. Coming from a family of psychiatrists yourself, you must have some insight into analysis and some rather interesting stories, to boot. Will you talk briefly about growing up among psychoanalysts and how that may have shaped Giovanni as a character and the story as a whole?

My grandfather, Theodore Isaac Rubin, was a very famous psychiatrist in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. He appeared regularly on the Phil Donoghue show and wrote many bestselling novels and self-help books, one of which was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie, David and Lisa. Largely because of his influence, my father, aunt, and uncle all went on to become shrinks. Suffice it to say, there is no dearth of introspection at our family get-togethers. (Somewhat notoriously, I informed a classmate of mine in the third grade that he was “projecting”; I am still living this down.) And yet I also wanted to show how beneficial therapy can be. I think portrayals of analysis in books and movies are often pretty lazy, framing it as this ridiculous or masturbatory exercise. I wanted to show that there is true empathy in it – a kind of warm detachment – that can really help people.

The Poser is told from Giovanni’s perspective, at a point in his life where he’s looking back at everything that’s befallen him. What compelled you to use first-person confession as the mode for telling the story?

The enjoinder to “show don’t tell” is important for every young writer to hear, and yet so many of my favorite books wholly disregard it. Notes from the Underground, for instance, or Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, the novels of Robertson Davies and Stanley Elkin. Everyone knows novels can’t compete with movies or video games for sheer sensory onslaught, but books, for my money, capture better than any other media the interiority of experience, the “music of someone’s intelligence,” as Richard Ford once put it. My favorite books promise just this kind of intimate—and for that reason, often scandalous—experience. Like, Lolita or Denis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son. You open those books, and you’re encountering this presence, this personality talking about something it shouldn’t have done in a voice unlike any you’ve ever heard. My favorite books, probably for that reason, feel like a secret, and you feel slightly cheated when you find out someone else read it. You’re like, “Hands off. She told that to me and no one else.”

Thematically, I thought the first-person narrative was necessary for The Poser as it’s about a man struggling to find himself, which he does, in the end, by telling the story. I also liked the tension of having someone act a certain way, as a performer or fraud, while narrating his often discordant internal experience. He says one thing, but thinks another. This is something I think fiction can do particularly well.

Giovanni’s world is noir-ish, vaudevillian, even a bit surreal. The story is set in an imaginary country that somewhat resembles America of the 1950s and 60s. What was your thought process in setting the story in a parallel, fable-like world?  Did you do any research to flesh out its wonderful detail?

I knew I was taking a risk in setting the book in an imaginary place, a parallel America of the 50s and 60s, and yet it felt necessary for the kind of book I was hoping to write. The Poser, as I see it, is about Giovanni’s attempt to become a real person; it felt right that the landscape, too, might strain to be real, flickering between the evoked and the shadowy. I did do research about the corresponding time in America. Stuff about clothes, some slang, etc. I used as models for the noir prose style novels by favorites like Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler.

I can’t seem to escape the surreal. In visual art, it’s always been my favorite: Giacometti’s sculptures, for instance, or the paintings of Paul Klee. I think I’ve always aspired to whatever the prose equivalent of such a way of seeing would be. For me, it is rare that when meeting a person I note what color nail polish she’s wearing or which kind of ankle boot (this can be very embarrassing, mind you, for someone meant to be observant). Encountering a person can be a pretty damn surreal experience, much more like meeting a Giacometti or a Klee. I think the same is true of places. Just walking around and seeing people yammering on their cellphones or driving around in these motorized chrome bubbles—we live in a sci-fi movie! My agent, Jin Auh, once relayed a line the author George Garrett had about Fellini’s movies. He called them “science fiction set in the past.” I loved that. I think that’s what I’m trying to write.

Bestselling author Sam Lipsyte praised you as “a great hope for comic fiction in the 21st century.” Did you set out to write a humorous book? Were there any books or authors—comedic or otherwise—who inspired you while writing The Poser?

Sam Lipsyte has made me laugh so many times, so I was on cloud nine when I found out he enjoyed the book. I certainly hope the novel’s funny. My old teacher Barry Hannah used to say that books should offer “deep entertainment”; the unkillable ham in me can’t seem to let go of the second word. All of my favorite contemporary writers make me laugh: Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, Sam Lipsyte, Barry. Even very dark, supposedly depressing, classics are secretly knee-slappers. I’m thinking of writers like Knut Hamsun, Thomas Bernhard, Samuel Beckett, and Herman Melville. I read Paul Auster’s introduction to Hunger, in which Auster talks about how dark and miserable the book is (all of which is true, of course), but I also thought, it’s hilarious! The truly tragic is the funniest stuff there is! The fact that we live on a spinning ball in an endless void, or that we possess a seemingly infinite consciousness but will all die. It’s just so absurd. I think laugher is the sound of someone accepting their powerlessness and through that acceptance briefly somehow transcending it. And it shouldn’t ever be explained. And I now ruined it forever.

Besides working as a novelist, a magician, and a rapper, you also write screenplays. In fact, Times Square, a script you co-wrote with Taylor Materne, was recently optioned by Focus Features. In your opinion, what’s the biggest difference between writing a novel and a script, and do you prefer writing one form over the other?

I’ve found the two to be very different. In film, structure is king, so you really have to work out the entire plot as much as you can before setting off to write. It helps a lot to work with someone else to figure out what needs to happen when.  Of course, you often end up changing nearly everything anyway, but it’s almost more like assembling a watch or engine, some device that has to meet company-mandated specs. Fiction writing, for me, is a much more unwieldy, inefficient, foolhardy, and reliably meaningful experience. That said, I’ve always enjoyed writing dialogue, and the script stuff is a fun opportunity to pen snappy exchanges. In movie writing, you get to put down things like, “NO WAY OUT. The green creature on his heels, he GRABS the duffel bag and – screw it – LEAPS OFF the roof over the sea wall to the CHURNING WATERS of the GULF of MEXICO.”

The Poser is your debut novel. Is there a second in the works? If so, could you talk a bit about it? If not, would you mind divulging what other creative projects you’re currently working on?

There is a lengthy word file in my laptop that I hesitate to call a second novel, but perhaps it will be one day! It is too early to talk about it, but I hope it will be funny.

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All entries must be received by March 31, 2015. Two (2) names will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States only. Your book will be sent by the publisher, Viking Press.

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3/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE POSER by Jacob Rubin. Viking (March 17, 2015). ISBN 978-0670016761. 256p.