Getting to Know Places Through Fiction With Brian O’Neill
Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer and author of "The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-First Century," muses on the value of location-based writing, fiction set in Pittsburgh, writing about sex and appreciating poetry as a bad poet.
Kaui Heart Hemmings, “The Descendants”
Fortunes have changed for the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. Matthew King’s daughters—Scottie, a feisty ten-year-old, and Alex, a seventeen-year-old recovering drug addict—are out of control, and their charismatic, thrill-seeking mother, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident. She will soon be taken off life support. As Matt gathers his wife’s friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation is made worse by the sudden discovery that there’s one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair. Forced to examine what they owe not only to the living but to the dead, Matt, Scottie, and Alex take to the road to find Joanie’s lover, on a memorable journey that leads to unforeseen humor, growth, and profound revelations.
Junot Diaz, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”
Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.
Dave Newman, “Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children”
“Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children” is a brilliantly written story of Dan Charles, a writing professor who teaches at a small college outside of Pittsburgh. It is about the daily struggle to survive while raising two children with his wife. Funny and heartbreakingly real, author Dave Newman captures the humanity and heartbreak of one man's struggle to navigate the vicissitudes of life as a working writer in America.
Michael Chabon, “Wonder Boys”
A modern classic, “Wonder Boys” firmly established Michael Chabon as a force to be reckoned with in American fiction. At once a deft parody of the American fame factory and a piercing portrait of young and old desire, this novel introduces two unforgettable characters: Grady Tripp, a former publishing prodigy now lost in a fog of pot and passion and stalled in the midst of his endless second book, and Grady’s student, James Leer, a budding writer obsessed with Hollywood self-destruction and struggling with his own searching heart. All those who love Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” and his Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” will find the same elegant imagination, bold humor, and undeniable warmth at work in “Wonder Boys.”
Samuel Hazo, “Like a Man Gone Mad”
Hazo, National Book Award finalist and former State Poet of Pennsylvania, transports the reader with poems of both lament and celebration in his sensual new collection. “Like a Man Gone Mad” features much of the spare yet precise imagery of his earlier work. Searing portraits, a deft use of allegorical language, and a wry sense of humor are all signatures of Hazo’s unique voice.
Taking up the theme of time, the poems carry the reader back and forth through personal and historical time, offering glimpses of a wide range of figures, from Pascal and Heraclitus to John F. Kennedy and Clark Gable. From each vantage point, Hazo meditates on themes of vitality and longevity, legacy and oblivion, and the enduring folly of both the individual and society. Accessible and eminently readable, the poems in “Like a Man Gone Mad” embody a rich intellectual and emotional curiosity.
~Syracuse University Press