Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on All Things Considered since the 1980s. His challenge is to make each two-minute review as fresh and interesting as possible while focusing on the essence of the book itself.

Formally trained as a literary scholar, Cheuse writes fiction and novels and publishes short stories. He is the author of five novels, two collections of short fiction, and the memoir Fall out of Heaven. His prize-winning novel To Catch the Lightning is an exploration of the intertwined plights of real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis and the American Indian. His latest work of book-length fiction is the novel Song of Slaves in the Desert, which tells the story of a Jewish rice plantation-owning family in South Carolina and the Africans they enslave. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories.

With novelist Nicholas Delbanco, Cheuse wrote Literature: Craft & Voice, a major new introduction to literary study. Cheuse's short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. His most recent collection of his short fiction was published in September 1998, and his essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Washington, DC, and spends his summers teaching writing at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers in Santa Cruz, Calif. Cheuse earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue April 8, 2014

In 'Paradise,' Finding Understanding In The Ruins Of Horror

Originally published on Fri April 11, 2014 7:58 am

Over the course of his long and distinguished writing career, Peter Matthiessen — who died this past weekend at the age of 86 — chased numerous demons, from Florida outlaws to missionaries and mercenaries in South America. In his latest novel, which the ailing writer suggested would be his last, takes us back to a week-long conference held at Auschwitz in 1996. Here, as autumn shifts toward winter, Jews and Germans, Poles and Americans, rabbis, Buddhists, European nuns and slightly crazed survivors of Nazi genocide stand witness to the atrocities of some of the greatest demons of history.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue April 1, 2014

'Frog Music' Sounds A Barbaric (But Invigorating) Yawp

Originally published on Mon April 14, 2014 4:42 pm

San Francisco in the summer of the 1876, between the Gold Rush and the smallpox epidemic, is the setting for Emma Donoghue's boisterous new novel, Frog Music.

There's real frog music in these pages, the riveting cries of the creatures hunted by Jenny Bonnet, one of the two main characters. She's a pistol-packing, pants-wearing gal in a town where pants on women are one of the few cardinal sins, and she scratches out a living catching frogs and selling them to local restaurants.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue March 25, 2014

A Lyrical Meditation On Grief In 'Falling Out Of Time'

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 8:44 am

I am a mortal reader; I have my flaws. I don't usually enjoy prose poems or novels written in lines of poetry, and when I see character types with names in capital letters like the ones that appear in Israeli writer David Grossman's new Falling Out of Time — The Walking Man, the Net Mender, the Midwife, the Town Chronicler — I tend to prepare to pack up, close the book, and turn to something less allegorical.

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Book Reviews
5:54 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Book Review: 'The Divorce Papers'

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 10:56 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The woe that is marriage, the subject of the Wife of Bath's prologue in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" has long been a rich subject for stories. Susan Rieger has just published a novel on the matter called "The Divorce Papers."

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Book Reviews
2:25 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

Book Review: 'Falling Out Of Time'

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 2:50 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"Falling Out of Time" is the name of a new novel by Israeli writer David Grossman. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse calls it a dramatic meditation on grief, reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The book was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.]

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue March 18, 2014

All Sides Of A Divorce, Told In Fresh, Lively 'Papers'

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 4:20 pm

The "woe that is in marriage," the subject of the Wife of Bath's Prologue in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, is a great old subject. Susan Rieger's smart and wonderfully entertaining domestic comedy, with all its shifts of tone from the personal to the legal and a lot in between, takes up this old problem and makes it fresh and lively — and in some places so painful, because it has to do with a child torn between two parents, you don't want to go on. But you do. The power and canniness of this bittersweet work of epistolary fiction pulls you along.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu March 13, 2014

American Jazzmen Swing Overseas In 'Shanghai'

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The thing about historical novels is that above all else, they must stand as good fiction. If not, the reader's supposed trip back into the past isn't worth the time or the token. The writer must give the feel and flow of the time in question in a manner that seems natural; characters on a street corner shouldn't remark to themselves about all of these 1922 motor cars rolling past, nor Roman legionaries point out that an axe is bronze when it should be steel.

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Book Reviews
2:22 pm
Mon March 10, 2014

Review: 'E.E. Cummings: A Life'

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 5:59 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Spring 1958, the poet Edward Estlin Cummings, or E.E. Cummings as most of us know him, was a passenger in writer John Cheever's car. Cummings had just spoken at the school of Cheever's teenage daughter and she was sitting in the back seat. Well, that day kicked off a fascination that led to Susan Cheever's recent biography "E.E. Cummings: A Life." Alan Cheuse reviews the book and shares the origins of his own fascination with Cummings.

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Book Reviews
2:40 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

Book Review: 'Night in Shanghai'

Originally published on Thu February 27, 2014 5:57 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Shanghai in 1936 was on the verge of Japanese occupation. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it makes a terrific setting for new novel by Nicole Mones. It's called "Night in Shanghai." The book showcases the multicultural and moneyed scene of Shanghai's prewar heyday.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Lorrie Moore's New 'Bark' Is Half Of A Good Book

Courtesy of Knopf

There are eight stories in Lorrie Moore's new collection, but only two of them really stand out. Moore's one of the country's most admired writers – and maybe I was so dazzled by the brilliance and power of the two longest stories in these pages that I couldn't read the other pieces — which I found either a little off-kilter or too subtly played — without feeling a certain amount of loss. But my possibly cock-eyed view of Bark is that it's a book, or at least half a book, that anyone who loves contemporary fiction should have a go at.

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Book Reviews
2:35 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Book Review: 'Bark'

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 6:01 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Writer Lorrie Moore is known for her clever word play and incisive wit. Now, she's out with a new collection of short stories, her first in 16 years. It's called "Bark." Alan Cheuse has our review.

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Book Reviews
3:55 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Book Review: 'Trieste,' by Dasa Drndic

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 5:55 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's been nearly 70 years since the end of World War II, but Croatian writer Dasa Drndic makes the war and its countless horrors feel fresh and urgent in her latest novel "Trieste." Ellen Elias-Bursac translated the book into English.

Alan Cheuse with our review.

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Book Reviews
10:02 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Historical Trauma Makes For Thrilling Fiction In 'Officer And A Spy'

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For the historical novelist, the past sometimes seems like one great filing cabinet of material that may lend itself to successful novelization. And in the case of France's so-called "Belle Epoque," the gifted English writer Robert Harris seems to have opened the right drawer. His latest novel, An Officer and a Spy, is set during this period of peace and prosperity between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the lead-up to the First World War.

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Book Reviews
3:01 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Book Review: 'The Guts,' By Roddy Doyle

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 11:17 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

"The Commitments" was the first novel from Irish writer Roddy Doyle. The story introduced us to a young Dubliner named Jimmy Rabbitte, the founder of a neighborhood soul band. Subsequent books stayed with the Rabbitte family, detailing life's trials as they've aged. Well, now a new novel and we have the story of a middle aged Jimmy Rabbitte recovering from cancer surgery.

Alan Cheuse has our review.

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Book Reviews
7:43 am
Sun January 26, 2014

Doyle's New 'Guts' Has Plenty Of Soul

Courtesy of Viking Adult

Restless and determined young Dubliner Jimmy Rabbitte put together a neighborhood soul band in 1987. Jimmy rounded up his pal Outspan and Declan and some other folks, including soul veteran Joey The Lips on trumpet, pretty Imelda and Natalie — the Commitment-ettes — as backup, and the rest was history. That's the gospel according to Dubliner Roddy Doyle's first novel, The Commitments.

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Book Reviews
5:02 am
Thu January 23, 2014

All The Varieties Of Love And Madness, On Display In 'Carthage'

Ecco Books/Harper Collins

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 5:58 pm

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, Joyce Carol Oates has outdone herself. This year she will have brought out three books of fiction — a new volume of novellas this past autumn, a new book of stories coming out this spring, and just now a new novel, a feat that testifies to the prodigious nature of her imagination and the unstoppable force of her writing powers.

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Book Reviews
3:25 pm
Mon January 20, 2014

Book Review: 'Starting Over,' By Elizabeth Spencer

Originally published on Mon January 20, 2014 5:44 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Mississippi-born novelist and storywriter Elizabeth Spencer turned 92 last summer. Best known for her novella turned musical drama "The Light in the Piazza," Spencer has just published her 15th work of fiction. It's a collection of stories set in the South called "Starting Over." And we have a review from Alan Cheuse.

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Book Reviews
5:02 am
Thu January 16, 2014

Never Again: 'Trieste' Is A Harrowing Mix Of Memory And Memorial

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From Croatia comes a novel titled Trieste, by Dasa Drndic, originally published in Croatian in 2007 and now translated into English by Ellen Elias-Bursac. We might call the novel experimental because of some of the techniques the writer employs. But the story — a mother in search of a child, torn from her in the midst of monstrous warfare — feels ancient.

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Book Reviews
3:27 pm
Wed December 25, 2013

Written In Secret Behind The Iron Curtain, 'Corpse' Is Revived

Originally published on Wed December 25, 2013 6:28 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The fiction work of Soviet era writer Zigizmund Krzhizhanovsky never saw the light of day in his own time. He was known mostly as a theater, music and literally critic, but he also wrote fables and fiction for more than 20 years, none of which appeared in print until 1989. Well, a new volume of that work called "Autobiography of a Corpse" has just come out here in the U.S. It's translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull, and Alan Cheuse has our review.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed November 27, 2013

A Travel Writer, Lost In An Undiscovered Country In 'Land Across'

iStockphoto

Originally published on Wed November 27, 2013 6:55 am

Imaginary countries, from Swift's Laputa to the far lands in the works of Borges and Ursula K. Le Guin, countries we'd do better to just enjoy than try to find on a map — these strike us as mostly places it's better to visit than to live in.

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Book Reviews
3:07 am
Sat October 26, 2013

Norman Mailer, Warts And All, In 'A Double Life'

Originally published on Sat October 26, 2013 7:59 pm

When Norman Mailer spoke, you paid attention. Whether he was standing on a stage and speaking for an hour — without notes — on writing, or art, or politics, or in a manic monologue around a dinner table, or in a chance encounter on the sidewalks of New York or in an airport, you listened. Especially if you grew up idolizing him, as many of us did.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue October 15, 2013

Anne Rice's Wolves Are Worth Catching Up To

Ken Canning iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu October 17, 2013 4:19 pm

The phrase "previously on..." has become quite familiar to American TV audiences. Whether you're devoted to Battlestar Galactica, to Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, you need to be able to catch up to a narrative when you've missed an installment or two. Novelists were there first, of course — the notion of a chain of novels focusing on the same characters goes back to Trollope and Proust – but it's less common to find a recap at the beginning of a book.

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Book Reviews
3:37 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

A Coming Of Age Story For The (Ice) Ages

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A new novel explores life on Earth tens of thousands of years ago. It's called "Shaman" by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says it's worthy of a spot on the bookshelf between "The Inheritors" and "The Clan Of The Cave Bear."

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Remembrances
10:03 am
Thu October 3, 2013

Remembering Tom Clancy, 'Faulkner In A Flak Jacket'

Tom Clancy poses next to a tank in his Maryland backyard. Though he never served in the military, his books were renowned for their detail.
AP

Originally published on Thu October 3, 2013 1:23 pm

The Army rejected him because of his bad eyes — he was nearsighted — but Tom Clancy, who went into the family insurance business instead of the military, turned out to have the greatest vision of modern warfare of any writer of our time. His research into military history and technology led him to create a new form of thriller, and a hero for our time, a man named Jack Ryan whose talents as a spy and technowarrior put a name and a face to the people who battled Russians, Pakistanis, Irish nationalists and Islamists along a constantly shifting front line.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed September 18, 2013

Here's Danny! 'Doctor Sleep' Picks Up Where 'Shining' Left Off

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed September 18, 2013 12:33 pm

If you're a dutiful fan of Stephen King's work — myself, I'm an off again, on again follower — you will have read The Shining, King's hit 1977 novel about a haunted resort in the Colorado Rockies. Depending on how recently you immersed yourself in that story, you'll have a sharp or vague recollection of a young child with the power of "shining," or mind-reading mixed with telekinesis.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed September 4, 2013

A Dying Man's Memory-Laden Search For Revenge In 'The Return'

Michael Gruber began his fiction career as a ghostwriter for a well-known American judge. A former federal civil servant, chef, environmentalist, and speechwriter, Gruber had a varied career before he took up writing his own novels, and it shows in his work, in the broad and capacious subject matter and cast of thousands.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed August 28, 2013

'Shaman' Takes Readers Back To The Dawn Of Humankind

Originally published on Fri October 4, 2013 11:15 am

Big questions about the origins of consciousness and culture may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if these are things you find yourself thinking about, there's nothing like a seriously composed and compelling novel about prehistoric life — both for illumination, and for some of the most intelligent entertainment you can find.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Sat August 24, 2013

Stripe-Torn Tigers, Fake Nazis And Magic Cake In 'The Color Master'

colored powder
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Aimee Bender is no longer the whiz kid of the American short story. The Color Master is her fifth work of fiction, and along with the idiosyncratic George Saunders she now stands as one of the reigning masters of the eccentric American short story. Fortunately, she's showing no signs of growing up. This latest collection offers a goodly number of one-of-a-kind stories, beautiful in their dreaminess and imaginative vision, a vision that ranges — you'll discover as you read — from stories about the origin of things to stories with an apocalyptic flavor.

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Book Reviews
6:00 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

Book Review: 'Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish'

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The writer and humorist David Rakoff died last year at the age of 47 of cancer. He left behind his final work: a brief novel in verse with the long title "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish." It was published today, and Alan Cheuse has this review.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed July 10, 2013

Rhetoric Drowns Out The Thrills In Huston's 'Skinner'

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Charlie Huston's 2010 novel, Sleepless, bowled me over. What a powerful combination of combustible plot and fiery language! At the center of that book, an insomnia plague spreads across Southern California (and the rest of the country). The illness keeps you awake all night, quite fuzzy-minded during the day, and then after a couple of months it kills you. The only thing approaching an antidote is a drug called Dreamer, which makes a little sleep possible before you die.

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