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, five collections of short stories and novellas, 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. His latest collection of short fiction is An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories. A new version of his 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club will appear in March, 2015 as Prayers for the Living.

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 essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University, spends his summers in Santa Cruz, California, and leads fiction workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University.

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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
iStockphoto.com

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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NPR Story
2:15 pm
Mon July 8, 2013

Book Review: 'Skinner'

Originally published on Tue July 9, 2013 10:36 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Charlie Huston is a Los Angeles-based writer known for his superhero comic books and crime novels. Alan Cheuse couldn't wait to get his hands on Huston's latest thriller called "Skinner." Here's his review.

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NPR Story
2:32 pm
Mon July 1, 2013

Book Review: 'The Mehlis Report'

Originally published on Mon July 1, 2013 4:15 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Our book reviewer Alan Cheuse is excited to introduce the work of Rabee Jaber. He lives in Lebanon, and his novel "The Mehlis Report" takes place there. In Beirut, the characters await the real Mehlis report, which analyzed the watershed moment in Lebanon, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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Critics' Lists: Summer 2013
2:59 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

Summer Adventure: 5 Thrilling, Chilling, Far-Ranging Reads

Andrew Bannecker

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 6:38 pm

Reading always turns any season into summer. Maybe it's because I associate my first bouts of time with books with time out of school, with summer afternoons on the back porch when the weather made it too hot to play, and the air seemed just quiet enough that you could focus your early reading skills on the page before you and make a story emerge from the shapes and squiggles printed there. Even for someone as fortunate as I am, someone who reads for a living, summer always feels like a special time.

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Book Reviews
5:04 am
Thu June 13, 2013

Reader Advisory: 'Shining Girls' Is Gruesome But Gripping

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 4:18 pm

Borrow from Stephen King a house with a wormhole that somehow allows for time travel, re-create the monstrous chilliness of scenes between a serial killer and his female victims in The Silence of the Lambs, and you could easily end up with a pretty derivative thriller. But talented Cape Town writer Lauren Beukes has managed to turn such borrowing and theft into a triumph in her new novel, The Shining Girls. It's her third book, and a marvelous narrative feat that spans the history of Chicago from the 1930s to the 1990s.

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Critics' Lists: Summer 2013
5:03 am
Fri June 7, 2013

5 Books Of Poetry To Get You Through The Summer

Andrew Bannecker

A sad tale's best for winter, Shakespeare tells us. I'm wondering if perhaps poetry, both lyrical and narrative, isn't best for summer. I'm thinking of how Keats, in "Ode to a Nightingale," describes that wonderfully musical bird as singing "of summer in full-throated ease"; and how, say, in three-time Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky's poem "Ralegh's Prizes," summer "turns her head with its dark tangle / All the way toward us" and however drowsy-making the weather, we pay attention.

All this wonderful poetry, it's filled up my throat as well:

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Thu May 16, 2013

How To Put This 'Delicate'-ly ... Not Le Carre's Best Work

Some novelists interest us because they turn the light of a style we enjoy on whatever subject they take up. Some novelists we enjoy because they have found a great subject and work it well and lovingly. John le Carre seems to belong to the latter group, having found his vein of fiction gold in the world of Cold War espionage.

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Book Reviews
3:45 pm
Fri May 10, 2013

Book Review: 'A Nearly Perfect Copy'

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 5:23 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Allison Amend is out with her third book. It's a novel called "A Nearly Perfect Copy." It features richly detailed characters, including an art dealer gone bad, and it's set in both Paris and New York. Our review Alan Cheuse found it all quite delectable.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed April 3, 2013

Real Writing, Real Life In Salter's 'All That Is'

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Originally published on Wed April 3, 2013 5:41 am

"There comes a time," James Salter writes in the epigraph for his new novel, All That Is, "when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real."

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed March 20, 2013

Tigers, Scholars And Smugglers, All 'At Home' In Sprawling Novel

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 11:04 am

It's difficult to predict the reception Where Tigers Are at Home will receive in the United States. The winner of France's Prix Medicis in 2008, this big, sprawling novel (in a translation by Mike Mitchell) comes to us from Algerian-born writer, philosopher and world traveler Jean-Marie Blas de Robles, author of more than a dozen works of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. This book — the first of his to appear in the U.S. in English — stands as a challenge to readers who want their fiction to offer a quick pay-off.

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Book Reviews
3:39 pm
Fri March 15, 2013

Book Review: 'Where Tigers Are At Home'

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 11:05 am

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Our book reviewer, Alan Cheuse, has just traveled to Brazil and back in an 800-page novel. The book is called "Where Tigers Are At Home." It's by a French novelist named Jean-Marie Blas de Robles and it's just out in English. Here's Alan's review.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Hamid's How-To for Success, 'Filthy Rich' In Irony

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 4:20 pm

Novelist Mohsin Hamid lives in Lahore, Pakistan, quite some distance from the Long Island of Jay Gatsby. But his new novel — his third and, I think, best so far — reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald's quintessential American work. As I read this novel about the dark and light of success in a world of social instability, I kept asking myself how much I might be inflating the value of Hamid's novel by rating it so highly. After all, this story takes the form of a gimmick, and gimmicks usually work against real quality.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed February 13, 2013

Lost In Everett's Hall Of Metafictional Mirrors

A friend of mine, with more than half a lifetime in the business of writing and a following of devoted fans, some years ago nailed a sign on the wall above his writing desk.

TELL THE [Expletive] STORY!

How I wish Percival Everett looked up every now and then from his keyboard to see a sign like this.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed February 6, 2013

Brutality, Balkan Style In A Satiric 'Stone City'

Grove Atlantic

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 8:26 am

From Swift to Orwell, political satire has played a major role in the history of European fiction. Much of it takes on an allegorical cast, but not all. The Fall of the Stone City, an incisive, biting work by Ismail Kadare — one of Europe's reigning fiction masters — refines our understanding of satire's nature. Kadare's instructive and delightful book takes us from the 1943 Nazi occupation of a provincial Albanian town, the ancient stone city of Gjirokaster, to the consolidation of communist rule there a decade later.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed January 30, 2013

Under Ogawa's Macabre, Metafictional Spell

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon February 25, 2013 5:23 pm

It used to be a truism among critics of British poetry that Keats and most of his fellow Romantic poets worked in the shadow of John Milton. I'm not making a perfect analogy when I suggest that most contemporary Japanese writers seem to be working under the shadow of Haruki Murakami, but I hope it highlights the spirit of the situation.

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Books
5:03 am
Sat January 12, 2013

Evan S. Connell: A Master Of Fact And Fiction

Evan S. Connell, whose literary explorations ranged from Depression-era Kansas City in the twin novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge to Custer's last stand in Son of the Morning Star, died Thursday in Santa Fe, N.M.
AP

Mrs. Bridge and Gen. Custer: one an invented character, the other a historical figure. You know their names, you can see their faces, even hear their voices as they move across the landscapes in your mind. One in a dining room, in a house in a Kansas City neighborhood, the other riding across the rolling plains of Montana. Mrs. India Bridge and Gen. Custer are some of the most memorable creations of Evan S. Connell, who died this week at the age of 88.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed January 9, 2013

Harrison's New Novellas Present Men In Full

Courtesy of Grove/Atlantic

Two years have gone by since I first suggested to President Obama that he create a new Cabinet post, and appoint distinguished fiction writer Jim Harrison as secretary for quality of life. The president still has not responded to my suggestion, and meanwhile Harrison has gone on to publish his latest book of novellas, which deepens and broadens his already openhearted and smart-minded sense of the way we live now, and what we might do to improve it.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Wed December 26, 2012

Revisiting A Sad Yet Hopeful Winter's Tale In 'The Snow Child'

A sad tale's best for winter, as Shakespeare wrote. The Snow Child, a first novel by a native Alaskan journalist and bookseller named Eowyn Ivey, suggests that if you face winter head-on — as do the childless homesteaders, Mabel and Jack, in this story about life on our northernmost frontier in the 1920s — you may find more hope after sadness than you had ever imagined.

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Best Books Of 2012
5:00 am
Thu November 29, 2012

A Wintry Mix: Alan Cheuse Selects The Season's Best

Nishant Choksi

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 9:50 pm

It's that time of year again — the leaves have fallen, the dark comes early, the air brings with it a certain chill — and I've been piling up books on my reading table, books I've culled from the offerings of the past few months, which because of their essential lyric beauty and power stand as special gifts for you and yours.

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Book Reviews
10:56 am
Thu November 15, 2012

Munro Weighs The Twists And Turns Of This 'Dear Life'

Alice Munro is a Canadian writer and the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work.
Derek Shapton Courtesy of Knopf

More than a dozen short-story collections since Canada's Alice Munro published her first book, and she now seems as much an institution as any living writer. We count on her for a particular variety of short story, the sort that gives us so much life within the bounds of a single tale that it nourishes us almost as much as a novel does.

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Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue October 23, 2012

Comic Struggles Of A Frustrated Writer In 'Zoo Time'

Courtesy of Bloomsbury

Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 9:01 am

"My aim," writes English novelist Guy Ableman to his agent, "is to write a transgressive novel that explores the limits of the morally permissible in our times."

Sounds quite serious, even brow-wrinkling, doesn't it? A dangerous act of experimental writing, perhaps something Norman Mailer might have tried, or Henry Miller before him?

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Books
5:03 am
Tue October 16, 2012

'Round House' Is One Of Erdrich's Best

Louise Erdrich's debut novel, Love Medicine, won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984. Her other books include The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and The Plague of Doves.
Paul Emmel Harper

I've devoted many hours in my life to reading, and among these hours many of them belong to the creations of novelist Louise Erdrich. In more than a dozen books of fiction — mostly novel length — that make up a large part of her already large body of work, Erdrich has given us a multitude of narrative voices and stories. Never before has she given us a novel with a single narrative voice so smart, rich and full of surprises as she has in The Round House. It's her latest novel, and, I would argue, her best so far.

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Book Reviews
2:16 pm
Wed September 26, 2012

A Midcentury Romance, With 'Sunlight' And 'Shadow'

John Craven Getty Images

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 3:54 pm

New York, New York, it's a wonderful town! And Mark Helprin's new near-epic novel makes it all the more marvelous. It's got great polarized motifs — war and peace, heroism and cowardice, crime and civility, pleasure and business, love and hate, bias and acceptance — which the gifted novelist weaves into a grand, old-fashioned romance, a New York love story that begins with a Hollywoodish meet-cute on the Staten Island Ferry.

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