Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

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The 150-word Review: Hans van den Broek is listless and lonely in post-9/11 New York. His wife has left him for the safe familiarity of London with their young son. On a shabby cricket pitch in Staten Island, Hans rediscovers a sport he once loved, and serendipitously befriends a fellow enthusiast, Chuck Ramkissoon, an enigmatic and infectiously optimistic Trinidadian, who introduces Hans to New York’s history and its vibrant immigrant neighborhoods.

Joseph O’Neill’s deeply considered prose has a genteel quality, full of nuance and restraint, that evokes the spirit and rhythm of cricket, which serves as a metaphor for Hans’ estrangement from his family. Occasionally, the narrative bogs down with Hans’ melancholic recollections or Chuck’s wistful pontification. “Netherland” truly shines during the detailed, but accessible, descriptions of cricket and the wonderfully atmospheric scenes of New York. O’Neill’s triumph lies in his ability to capture the city amidst the first days of its recovery.

You will like this book if you like: Gatsby-esque dreamers; bowlers, batsmen, and wickets; a vision of New York that isn’t a cliché (unlike Sex in the City); a modern Alexis de Tocqueville; idiosyncratic hotel residents; and West Indian bon vivants.

This book will go great with: Callaloo

Set the Mood With: Englishman in New York by Sting (even though Hans is actually Dutch)

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, a “sticky wicket” originally referred to a wet cricket pitch, which causes a bowled ball to dangerously spin or bounce unpredictably, making it “difficult situation” for a batsman.

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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The 150-word Review: In Wes Anderson’s film, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” we get a glimpse of the prodigious Tenenbaum children: the entrepreneur, the tennis star, and the playwright. Their precociousness illustrates a whimsical universe that accentuates the despair of their dysfunctional adult lives. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” cultivates a similar dynamic.

Oskar Schell, a prodigious nine-year-old in his own right, is a budding physicist, inventor, and stage actor, who corresponds with famous scientists and is prone to sesquipedalianism. This all serves to contrast Oskar’s trauma:  his father died on 9/11, Oskar’s “worst day.” A year later, in his dad’s closet, Oskar finds an envelope containing a single key labeled: “Black.” Hoping to grasp one last impression of his dad, Oskar sets forth to visit every “Black” in the phonebook.  Traversing all five boroughs, he encounters an eclectic mix of New Yorkers, all dealing with loss in their own ways.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut (maybe), inquisitive children, Stephen Hawking, survivors, and most critics, but not all.

This book will go great with: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Set the mood with: Hey Jude by The Beatles

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): It’s possible Norm, that the title of this novel may allude to an incident from the author’s youth, when he survived an explosion at his school.