What is it about icebound exports and child captivity? From the intoxicating rhythms of “Birthday,” an oddly suggestive New Wave lullaby by the Sugarcubes, to Hanna, a recent techno thriller about eugenic perfection sequestered in Finland, the story of a bright young girl held in check by her woolly elder abounds — as abominable as any snowman and as inevitable as a coming thaw. In Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s Children in Reindeer Woods, advocates of the arbitrary morality of the Brothers Grimm,  as well the ambiguities J.M. Coetzee’s war-torn fables, will be treated to a suburb story of pastoral charm and eerie erotism. Billie, an eleven-year-old girl who survives the massacre of a “temporary home for children” must now survive the shell-shocked antics of Rafael, a man who has abandoned the soldier’s life to try his hand at farming.

The discomforting cliché that out of bad pain comes good comedy — an assurance that has, in some form or other, been made by acerbic jokers from Mark Twain to Bernie Mac — is nothing to scoff at.

After reading actress/comedian/talent promoter Kambri Crews’ memoir Burn Down The Ground, one might suspect that a knack for multitasking might, out of strife, emerge as well.

The short stories in Dan Chaon’s fifth book — a dark dozen set in the debauched minds of middle-aged mourners and under the stark fluorescent lights of midnight emergency rooms — are as unrelenting in their taboo subject matter as they are in their tight execution.

A few years after George Steiner penned an essay about Hitler’s architect Albert Speer for the New Yorker and New Wave sellouts Spandau Ballet cracked the top 40 by singing songs about truth and precious metals, an obscure Chilean poet who once swore he’d never write novels began work on a beach comedy called The Third Reich that he promptly placed in a drawer. Roberto Bolaño, by his own unreliable account, considered Antwerp, a pummeling deck of fabulist flash cards, his first novel. With the publication of The Third Reich readers must now wonder at the judgment of a man who could produce such uncompromising commercial-proof experimentation and then go on to pen (and purloin from his public) a self-assured beach read that resembles nothing less than a diabolical episode of Magnum, P.I.

Ever read a poem about a guy who emotionally abuses a mannequin and leaves her silicon heart broken in a dumpster? Me neither, and I’ve suffered through more than a few Ted Hughes tomes. But this scenario, beautifully rendered in Esther M. Garcia’s haunting verse, is exactly the kind of thing you’ll encounter in Three Messages and a Warning, an ebullient collection of south-of-the-border speculative writing that leaves little doubt that if the 1960’s British New Wave magazine New Worlds were to find a new home it would be in old Mexico.

The notion of Mexican science fiction may, to some minds, go no further than that Borges story “There Are More Things,” a pastiche of interdimensional Lovecraftian terror that starts out in Austin and ends near an alien’s corpse in Argentina. But with the publication of Three Messages and a Warning – a groundbreaking anthology which gathers nearly 40 Mexican writers and holds a diversity that includes an underground comic book artist as well as a world-renowned neurologist – that paradigm may shift.

Despite that sticks and stones song, everyone knows that words are the real killer.

In “The Flame Alphabet,” his third novel, Ben Marcus, an unabashed apologist of experimental prose, has gone linear with a fiction that probes the terrible conceit that every time a child speaks, a parent dies a little inside.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/02/03/RVUF1MQ82Q.DTL#ixzz1oaKuGCuo

With his latest collection of short stories, “Before the End, After the Beginning,” Gilb returns to the form that, after the publication of 1994’s “The Magic of Blood,” lent him his initial praise. Luxuriating in a prose that is as sudden as it is meditative, the reader encounters hospital bed resignation and bus rides of redemption; ex-flames appear, while new responsibilities dampen otherwise nostalgic interludes.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/11/RVE41LIR2K.DTL#ixzz1dv73Kcdb

AFICIONADOS OF STORIES IN WHICH tough guys take care of their families and manage to get a little action on the side have looked to the work of Dagoberto Gilb since his 1985 debut collection Winners on the Pass Line and Other Stories.

Before the End, After the Beginning, the latest collection from the master storyteller, doesn’t simply return readers to a world of men trying to scrape together a living while fending off destructive romance; it also offers characters who court the dream of absolution alongside the anxiety and anticipation of amor.

Hell, despite what Sartre, said about it being “other people,” is usually depicted as a lonely place, either the cascading trauma of lost relations in Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, or the clammy cochlea of torture tunnels in the those too-loud Pinhead movies inspired by his quite novella. Isolation is the everlasting imp, whether its Mickey Rourke going down that elevator in Angel Heart or Mimi Rogers fading to black as the only unsaved person on earth in The Rapture. But, as the 13-year-old narrator of Damned would like to inform a lonely old lady she connects with via her afterlife telephone-survey gig:  “Hell doesn’t totally suck. Sure, you’re menaced by demons and the landscape is rather appalling, but she’ll meet new people.”