Fiction. THE MANDARIN does at least pretend to be an ordinary novel. It is set in places that no longer exist in Minneapolis—houses and apartments where one of the characters used to live, businesses and restaurants that have closed or moved elsewhere. Its narrator, Willy, writes boring novels that put everyone to sleep. His sister Natasha reads one of the novels and falls asleep, and her friends try to awaken her without success. The plot develops recursively rather than progressively, as a kind of theme-and-variations; usually one of the characters is in a house or a room, and the others are outside trying to get in. THE MANDARIN is written almost entirely in dialogue; as a result, actions and events tend to occur within a nimbus of uncertainty. Certain objects emerge as characters and are assigned voices: novel, newspaper, umbrella, telephone, TV set. Consciousness tends to be communal rather than personal. THE MANDARIN preserves the conventions of the novel: the speakers are individualized characters speaking in an identifiable situation. This means that, at any moment, the characters might stop talking and start doing something. Of course, they won't, but this option is always available to them.
Aaron Kunin is the author of FOLDING RULER STAR (Fence, 2005), a collection of small poems about shame; THE MANDARIN (Fence, 2008), a novel; THE SORE THROAT & OTHER POEMS (Fence Books, 2010); GRACE PERIOD: NOTEBOOKS, 1998-2007 (Letter Machine Editions, 2013), a book of aphorisms, sketches, and fragments; and COLD GENIUS (Fence Books, 2014). He lives in Los Angeles and is a professor at Pomona College. Author City: CLAREMONT, CA USA