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28 October 2015updated 07 Sep 2021 11:25am

Landscapes, wastelands, and New York: the NS recommends

New books from Jonathan Ames, Kate Brown and Olivia Byard.

By New Statesman

Wake Up, Sir!

Jonathan Ames

Alan Blair may have a manservant called Jeeves but he’s no Bertie Wooster: not only does he live in near-contemporary New York, but he is Jewish, alcoholic, a writer in thrall to English style but blocked on his second novel, and plagued by problems sexual, spiritual and emotional. There are aunts and uncles and, indeed, a country-house caper – in an artists’ colony full of oddballs – but also, amid the hilarity (much trumpeted in the American reviews cited on the cover), a dreamlike ambience and deep pathos. This is an audacious more-than-pastiche.

Pushkin Press, 334pp, £8.99

Dispatches from Dystopia: Histories of Places Not Yet Forgotten

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Kate Brown

Kate Brown, a history professor in Maryland, is a connoisseur of wastelands and an explorer of unpicturesque places. She travels from the exclusion zone around Chernobyl to a 1930s gulag in Kazakhstan; from the radioactive city of Kyshtym in the Urals to the deindustrialised rust belt of Illinois. These may be ruined areas from which the modern world has fled, but for some hardy, unlucky or poverty-trapped people, they are home. In Brown’s telling, the history of these people is the history of the place.

University of Chicago Press, 198pp, £17.50

The Wilding Eye

Olivia Byard

The titles of the two collections from which these new and selected poems are taken – Strange Horses and From a Benediction – are a good indication of Olivia Byard’s terrain. She scans nature’s hinterlands (where “sweet riot and tangle” pushes through the cracks) for meaning, and she keeps watch for the “roaming monsters” of our land: whether the mythical beasts that adorn cathedral walls, or our fallen political masters, sending “texts in the vernacular” in “faded jeans and sneakers”. At times impassioned, at others frail, Byard’s verse memorably locates our position in the world.

Worple Press, 110pp, £10

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