Joshua Ferris

With his PEN/Hemingway Award‑winning debut novel, Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris proved one of our most perceptive young writers. A second sharp look at office life — and the uniquely modern challenges faced by one businessman — was followed by 2010’s The Unnamed. Now, in To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Ferris turns his gimlet eye to identity theft; with humor and compassion, he details how the impersonation of a dentist on social media causes our hero to question everything he knows about himself. This week, Ferris celebrates five books as starkly clever and imaginative as his own.

I Pity the Poor Immigrant
By Zachary Lazar

“Some writers tell stories with such a compelling voice that it never matters much what they’re writing about. That’s the case with Zachary Lazar. I find interesting what Lazar finds interesting because such is his power. I read I Pity the Poor Immigrant — a novel posing as a memoir that does the work of a hundred history books — impressed on every page by his intelligence, delicacy, and elegant prose. What at first looks like an insular subject (the death of a poet) keeps blossoming to new and greater perimeters until it nearly encompasses the world, much as Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers did last year.”

Double Feature
By Owen King

“King’s first novel is a lovable and shaggy romp with a huge heart and so many friends peopling its pages that you’ll never be lonely again. King writes about Sam Dolan, whose earnestly conceived directorial debut, Who We Are, is grotesquely bowdlerized by a madman. To Sam’s eternal horror, the movie soon becomes a cult favorite played in barrooms and basements across the country. This strange and very funny turn of events gives King ample opportunity to explore the differences between schlock and art, and how the human heart, once in love, fails to care much about critical distinctions.”

Elect H. Mouse State Judge
By Nelly Reifler

“This short fantasia brings together some familiar icons — G.I. Joe, Barbie and Ken — and imagines them playing out some very adult themes when two young mouse-girls are abducted by the religious zealots of the Sunshine Family. Reifler asks: what would a book look like if it managed to recapture the surreal, ruthless, sexually confused, and deeply compassionate games children play when they kneel down and take their toys in hand? And boy does she pull it off, demonstrating great control in casting and sustaining her magic spell. The result is an attic full of wonder somewhere between a Saturday morning cartoon and a Joseph Cornell box sculpture.”

By Horacio Castellanos Moya

“The grim and bewitching premise of this swift masterpiece, which grabs you in terror from its very first sentence, is that someone must edit for presentation the “one thousand one hundred almost single-spaced printed pages” of a report on the slaughter of an indigenous people by the army of an unnamed Latin American country. That someone is a writer, of course, with a writer’s typical concerns over money, girls and booze. But when the hellacious task of editing firsthand accounts of slaughter starts to get to him, a distressing and sweat-inducing paranoia creeps in. This is a book every bit as good on power and corruption as Roberto Bolaño’s shorter masterpieces By Night in Chile and Distant Star.”

Life on Mars: Poems
By Tracy K. Smith

“These ambitious poems deftly situate the erudite and ineffable next to the smallest of human moments. Sometimes Smith writes about the Hubble Telescope while contemplating the infinite, sometimes it’s just a sleeping dog. But whatever the subject, she keeps an eye on what matters most: ‘the brief ecstasy of being.’ “