Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Rummaging Around in the Atticus

Most of the most interesting new literature these days seems to be the work of small, independent presses, even at a time when you'd think it would be harder to make a small press a manageable business proposition than ever before. One of the newest, smallest presses I have come across is Atticus Books (first discussed here), who I discovered via this wonderful cover design.

Click for a much bigger version--all Atticus cover designs are by Jamie Keenan.

Anyone who publishes a book that looks like that deserves some investigation, I thought, so I bought a bunch of their titles, and of those I've so far read, none have disappointed.

Jürgen Fauth's just-published Kino, for example, is a clever and sarcastic literary thriller about an American woman investigating her family's cinematic legacy. Her grandfather was a silent film director in the between-wars Berlin, rubbing shoulders with (and slagging off the talents) of Fritz Lang and other giants of expressionist cinema, and making careerist use of Lang's unpleasant Nazi wife Thea von Harbou, before fleeing to Hollywood in the 1940s. His diaries show his cynical rise to fame and the heights of his self-described genius--this is a man, after all, who renames himself 'Kino'. Interspersed with these diary entries are his granddaughter's modern-day adventures as she abandons her husband on their honeymoon in order to unravel the mysterious appearance of one of Kino's long-lost German movies.

Though the modern-day sections aren't quite as strong as Kino's memoirs, it's a fun and vivid book, incorporating and playing with a number of cinematic cliches (fugitives on the run, mysterious secrets from the past, over-the-top gunplay, etc).

Atticus's first book, Alex Kudera's Fight for Your Long Day, is a very different creation, but definitely my favourite of the Atticus line so far. It's an ostensibly simple story: a day in the life of Cyrus Duffleman, an adjunct professor (meaning badly paid wage slave) at several US universities. It made this non-American feel distinctly better about his own country, which despite its many betrayals of its proud labour rights history has at least maintained a number of important protections for non-executives.

Insane students, overwork, fading health, bureaucratic lunacy and a political assassin all conspire to warp Duffleman's unsteady course through the 18-odd hours of his workday; it's both blackly funny and quite depressing. On the evidence of this and his earlier novella (The Betrayal of Times of Peace and Prosperity), Kudera (who has worked in Duffleman's shoes) has the attitude to university life that a battered wife has to a husband she loves too much to leave. Fortunately, his pain has produced some lovely, wise writing.


Brooks said...

I'm been a big fan of the Atticus covers - see also THE GREAT LENORE, THREE WAYS OF THE SAW and NAZARETH, NORTH DAKOTA. But there's one cover designed by Jamie Keenan that I can't get behind - Steve Himmer's (excellent) THE BEE-LOUD GLADE. I just don't understand it and it looks, to my eye, cheap. As if it's a self-published e-book. Maybe I just suck, but I can't get behind that cover. The book itself is really, really good though.

JRSM said...

That's interesting--I don't mind it, but it looks nothing like any of Keenan's other work. 'The Great Lenore' cover is magic: that's next on my reading list/pile/room/infinite library.