Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on All Things Considered since the 1980s. His challenge is to make each two-minute review as fresh and interesting as possible while focusing on the essence of the book itself.

Formally trained as a literary scholar, Cheuse writes fiction and novels and publishes short stories. He is the author of five novels, five collections of short stories and novellas, and the memoir Fall Out of Heaven. His prize-winning novel To Catch the Lightning is an exploration of the intertwined plights of real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis and the American Indian. His latest work of book-length fiction is the novel Song of Slaves in the Desert, which tells the story of a Jewish rice plantation-owning family in South Carolina and the Africans they enslave. His latest collection of short fiction is An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories. A new version of his 1986 novel The Grandmothers' Club will appear in March, 2015 as Prayers for the Living.

With novelist Nicholas Delbanco, Cheuse wrote Literature: Craft & Voice, a major new introduction to literary study. Cheuse's short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and The Southern Review. His essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University, spends his summers in Santa Cruz, California, and leads fiction workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University.

When I picked up Martin Amis' new novel, The Zone of Interest, it felt as though I had touched a third rail, so powerful and electric is the experience of reading it. After years of playing the snide card and giving his great store of talents to the business of giving other people the business, Amis has turned again to the matter of Nazi horrors (he tried to deal with it in a gimmicky way in his 1991 novel Time's Arrow), and the result is a book that may stand for years as the triumph of his career.

Over the course of his long and distinguished writing career, Peter Matthiessen — who died this past weekend at the age of 86 — chased numerous demons, from Florida outlaws to missionaries and mercenaries in South America. In his latest novel, which the ailing writer suggested would be his last, takes us back to a week-long conference held at Auschwitz in 1996. Here, as autumn shifts toward winter, Jews and Germans, Poles and Americans, rabbis, Buddhists, European nuns and slightly crazed survivors of Nazi genocide stand witness to the atrocities of some of the greatest demons of history.

San Francisco in the summer of the 1876, between the Gold Rush and the smallpox epidemic, is the setting for Emma Donoghue's boisterous new novel, Frog Music.

There's real frog music in these pages, the riveting cries of the creatures hunted by Jenny Bonnet, one of the two main characters. She's a pistol-packing, pants-wearing gal in a town where pants on women are one of the few cardinal sins, and she scratches out a living catching frogs and selling them to local restaurants.

I am a mortal reader; I have my flaws. I don't usually enjoy prose poems or novels written in lines of poetry, and when I see character types with names in capital letters like the ones that appear in Israeli writer David Grossman's new Falling Out of Time — The Walking Man, the Net Mender, the Midwife, the Town Chronicler — I tend to prepare to pack up, close the book, and turn to something less allegorical.

The "woe that is in marriage," the subject of the Wife of Bath's Prologue in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, is a great old subject. Susan Rieger's smart and wonderfully entertaining domestic comedy, with all its shifts of tone from the personal to the legal and a lot in between, takes up this old problem and makes it fresh and lively — and in some places so painful, because it has to do with a child torn between two parents, you don't want to go on. But you do. The power and canniness of this bittersweet work of epistolary fiction pulls you along.

There are eight stories in Lorrie Moore's new collection, but only two of them really stand out. Moore's one of the country's most admired writers – and maybe I was so dazzled by the brilliance and power of the two longest stories in these pages that I couldn't read the other pieces — which I found either a little off-kilter or too subtly played — without feeling a certain amount of loss. But my possibly cock-eyed view of Bark is that it's a book, or at least half a book, that anyone who loves contemporary fiction should have a go at.

For the historical novelist, the past sometimes seems like one great filing cabinet of material that may lend itself to successful novelization. And in the case of France's so-called "Belle Epoque," the gifted English writer Robert Harris seems to have opened the right drawer. His latest novel, An Officer and a Spy, is set during this period of peace and prosperity between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the lead-up to the First World War.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, Joyce Carol Oates has outdone herself. This year she will have brought out three books of fiction — a new volume of novellas this past autumn, a new book of stories coming out this spring, and just now a new novel, a feat that testifies to the prodigious nature of her imagination and the unstoppable force of her writing powers.

The Army rejected him because of his bad eyes — he was nearsighted — but Tom Clancy, who went into the family insurance business instead of the military, turned out to have the greatest vision of modern warfare of any writer of our time. His research into military history and technology led him to create a new form of thriller, and a hero for our time, a man named Jack Ryan whose talents as a spy and technowarrior put a name and a face to the people who battled Russians, Pakistanis, Irish nationalists and Islamists along a constantly shifting front line.