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The trouble was I couldn't convince anyone I was American or a cage fighter. That was very important; a certain amount of pain that I felt Tom had in real life that if he was willing to let translate to the character was going to be very potent. Tommy does dastardly things over the course of the film; he's living a lot of anger, but you need to know that's coming from a place of abject pain.

He can't sit still. Yeah, he fights for country, they say; I'm not completely sold on that. I think he fights for a father figure. He fights to be held. In the noise, within the ring, in the world of combat, there's a silence in his head; that's where he finds his peace of mind. He's gone through his own father, through the Marines, through America. He's somebody who's close to his mother, brought up by his mother, failed by fathers.

It's a struggle to survive. There's a desperation. O'Connor wanted unknowns to play the brothers. Hardy and Edgerton had great resumes abroad but weren't yet known stateside - "Nemesis" was a box office failure and "Inception" hadn't been released, and even "Star Wars" fans probably didn't realize the guy playing young Uncle Owen Edgerton in the prequels could do more than look like a youthful version of the original actor.

He's a guy you want in your foxhole. But I also needed a guy you could believe, when he was younger and living his lower self, he was a guy who'd rough it up in bars. It helped that Edgerton holds a black belt in karate, but ironically while the "unathletic" Hardy's Tommy is an unstoppable engine of destruction, Edgerton's Brendan seems hopelessly overmatched in every fight, relying on guts and technique. O'Connor describes Brendan's story as "wish fulfillment," considering his attempt to "literally fight his way out of debt.

But you can't measure a man's heart," O'Connor says. I said, 'That's how Tommy knocks out Mad Dog! Bringing a different kind of authenticity to the film is Nolte. O'Connor counts the two-time Oscar nominee with well-publicized substance-abuse issues as a friend - the two are neighbors - and had crafted a role for him in his previous film, "Pride and Glory," but knee surgery forced Nolte out. If he was willing to do that, just go to a real truthful place, it would break your heart.

He went there. Hardy says: "I don't know him well enough to take his inventory, but I know he carries a wealth of knowledge about this subject. I'm an alkie myself. I'm a fully paid-up member of that crew.

When you have that in the family, there is chaos and pain. Paddy has a desperate amount of love, and he's made a terrible, terrible mistake. It's a very informed performance, incredibly vulnerable - heartbreaking watching him get kicked in the heart over and over again. To see a trailer, go to www. Why we care: Played the seedy-but-stylish shape-shifter in "Inception," the brutal convict "Bronson" and the scheming clone in "Star Trek: Nemesis," for which he received multiple award nominations.

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Having denied the consolations of historical distance, The Known World forces a reckoning with a moral horror that lives still. The novel begins in a buzz of fear and the pitch increases steadily, unbearably. The Line of Beauty follows a young gay man, Nick, who lives with the family of a Tory MP under Thatcher — who makes an unforgettable cameo appearance. This is the story of two initiations. How we care for people in pain is at the heart of this moving, unsentimental look at our fragility, written with remarkable metaphorical and lyrical power. This is McCarthy at his most restrained, and consequently most resonant.

There is no fiction subject more trendy and more urgent than the multifarious possible ends of the world; McCarthy led the way, and might be impossible to surpass. Some poets are easy to love; Seidel is so good you revere him despite yourself. He also captures the absurd melancholy of modern existence in dark, crystalline stanzas. It could be written for an audience in ascendancy, told in vernacular but expertly formed and composed. It could concern the intensely personal, but telescope out to the historic and the political.

The astounding Oscar Wao did all of that, leaving us with a lasting understanding of the American experience as encompassing lives beyond our blinkered borders. Wolf Hall , by Hilary Mantel April 30, Any writer could have done the research that informs this remarkable historical novel. But only genius, gimlet-eyed, wicked Hilary Mantel could have created the animating intelligence at the heart of it: Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII, antagonist to Thomas More, brilliant and ambitious, heartbroken and ruthless.

No book this learned should be so wildly entertaining. Fox , by Helen Oyeyemi June 1, Not since Angela Carter has a writer subverted classic fairy-tale tropes the way Helen Oyeyemi does, to transformative effect. Fox has the brains and the heart to win over both those who enjoy unraveling how fiction works and those who just seek pure enjoyment. My favorite by a nose is Lives Other Than My Own , a book that defies tidy summary, but which, though preoccupied with the very saddest human experiences — the deaths of a young child and a sibling — is also believably a book about happiness, one which earns its happy ending.

But this book kept me pinned to its pages until the end. Whitehead has written terrific novels that more directly address the horrors of American history, but never one that more accurately portrays the horrors of the American present. DISSENT: Sag Harbor April 28, This thoroughly uneventful but linguistically dazzling autobiographical account of an upper-middle-class black holiday enclave accomplishes what very few books attempt: to remove the contemporary black experience from the realm of extremes.

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Unlike the more zeitgeisty Underground Railroad , this is neither a lament about subjugation nor a tale of individual escape. It neither denies the persistence of racism nor revels in the lingering wound. In this book as in real life, anti-blackness is but a single facet of the black experience. It is genuinely fresh. She unpacks layered cultural identities in the tradition of Dickens, Eliot, and Austen.

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If Smith was in E. Dalloway— esque journey through London. NW is not only about the intersecting lives of characters who grew up together in a Northwest London housing project, but also leveraging the complexity of the modernist project to ask difficult questions about race and social status. White Girls , by Hilton Als January 1, En route to the airport, I ask one of my boyfriends to tell me, in his own words, why White Girls belongs here. As it happens, the boyfriend has, stored on his phone, favorite lines from the book.

My Struggle: A Man in Love , by Karl Ove Knausgaard May 13, What was it about this thoroughly Gen-X Norwegian man that caused so many readers to plunge into his struggle — an epic stretching over nearly 4, pages — as if it were their own? Was it the agony of his relationship with his alcoholic father? Was it the tribulations of parenthood, so many hours at kiddie parties and not the writing desk?

Or was it the passion that seized him when he first met his future second wife and cut up his face when she rejected him? With its digressions within digressions, A Man in Love — book two of My Struggle — is the most formally thrilling in the series. Like Great Expectations, it concerns the sentimental education of an orphan as well as a mysterious benefactor. The story takes young Theo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a bomb kills his mother, to sojourns in Las Vegas and Amsterdam and dangerous encounters with drug dealers, mobsters, and other sinister types.

In the hands of a lesser novelist, such developments might feel contrived, but Tartt writes with such authority and verve and understanding of character that her story becomes just as persuasive as it is suspenseful. Its narrator is a type relatively new in literature — a female writer who is also a mother.

The book is written in fragments, reflecting the temporality of motherhood and depression, that are alternately wry, bereft, tender, furious, despairing, and joyful.

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A profoundly tender love story about deep despair, Sorrows also brims with jokes that are real and plentiful and well-earned, as well as a keen sense of what joy looks like even in the darkest of times. Reading hip-hop and jazz musicians through and against philosophers and visual artists, he interrogates aesthetic, political, and social phenomena through analyses of blackness. He offers a profusion of arguments and deconstructions to create a coherence that nonetheless remains open to active reading and interpretation.

The Escapist lacks physical might, but like the novel, he possesses a shrewd intelligence, courage, and an insatiable appetite for adventure. He frees people, see? And the ending: Oh! The ending! My heart breaks again just thinking of it. An ecstatic and furious book. The book tells the tale of Father Damien, a woman who for 50 years disguises herself as a man so she can serve an Ojibwe congregation.

Is a lie a sin if it preserves her work? Perhaps the last question is eternal, but Erdrich makes it feel freshly so. Austerlitz , by W. That someone, Jacques Austerlitz, was brought to England aboard a kindertransport as an infant, and he is in the process of recovering the truth about his parents — he first learns that his mother, an opera singer, was killed at Theresienstadt.

The sweep of European cultural history is laid out like an enormous map in order to precisely locate the circumstances of the crime. Fingersmith , by Sarah Waters February 4, You know a twist is coming. About ten million friends have hinted about the twist. The Time of Our Singing , by Richard Powers October 3, Powers revisits the civil rights struggles of the last century from an unexpected angle, illuminating some of the deepest rifts and tensions in American life via an often exhilarating meditation on time and music.

The novel follows a German Jewish physicist; his African-American wife, whose ambitions as a singer are thwarted early; and their children, two of whom become classical musicians. Few writers have captured the experience of listening to music the way Powers does, and his evocations of historical events have the same vividness. Rush is the most politically committed and engaged of contemporary American novelists, and Mortals is the most sustained and well-informed fictional account of U.

The human story of a faltering marriage merges with the geopolitical in the form of a boiling civil conflict. Location: New Jersey, a place just across the river from the precincts of power, but in fact a wasteland of strip malls, fast food, dive bars, and work-from-home content-generation jobs. Teabag has graduated into a world of bullshit, and what he has to tell his high-school classmates is that they were living in a land of bullshit all along.

Oblivion , by David Foster Wallace June 8, Oblivion was the final book of fiction Wallace published before his life was cut short by suicide. As Oblivion showcases, one of the things that made Wallace so necessary was his insistence on formal inventiveness: None of the eight stories in Oblivion resembles any other, each a kind of experiment that never has the whiff of the lab. Rather, these stories attempt to find new ways of getting at the deep, dark difficulty of being a modern human, a predicament so funny it could make you weep, as these stories themselves are likely to make you do: in rage, in sorrow, in gratitude.

Honored Guest , by Joy Williams October 5, Joy Williams is one of the contemporary masters of the American short story, and her collection Honored Guest finds her at her most bizarre and profound. Can I buy you a drink? These are stories of lonely characters on the rim of tragedy — a girl living with her terminally ill mother, a woman whose boyfriend is gravely injured in a hunting accident — probing the eternal with hilarious detachment and moving, sorrowful confusion.

The Sluts , by Dennis Cooper January 13, Once upon a time, in the prelude to the plague years, gay male desire invented its most mesmeric and unbearable object: the twink. Blond, white, underweight, and user-friendly, he was a plastic icon of inverted, Aryan masculinity. As AIDS destroyed a population, as the internet quickened and anarchized our pornographies, the twink took off.

Dennis Cooper hit this crepuscular intersection of web and death with effortless genius. A series of online rent-boy reviews describe the discovery, torture, and maybe murder of a barely-legal, no-limits hustler named Brad. Call it the twink cri de coeur — all surface, and so, perversely impenetrable. It is a dangerous fantasia, slipping so easily into the mouths and minds of homophobes.

But go ahead, let them taste it. They want it as much as anyone. Her books do not, however, bear much resemblance to the form as it is usually practiced. Here the accounts of witnesses and victims are orchestrated, arranged in counterpoint and as fugues and descants, with purposeful ellipses and repetitions, and edited to make every voice sound like a poet.

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They shimmer in the borderlands of myth, genre, and literature. A convenience store caters to the mild-mannered zombies who emerge from a nearby gorge and clumsily attempt to shop. A group of teenagers bond over an elusive TV series. A suburban family becomes slowly and methodically alienated from every possession they own. It was also an artistic breakthrough. Her marriage to his father, an English professor who left her for another woman and returned years later, was happy in neither of its incarnations.

The emotions in this book are raw, the writing exquisite, and the family pain shattering. His depictions of violence are first-rate, vivid, and essential to the story. Imprisoned and then exiled from Kenya, he has been writing his memoirs and is now on his fourth volume. Wizard of the Crow , a fantastic in all senses of the word novel written in his native Kikuyu, is his masterpiece, published when he was No novel has ever so profoundly mixed oral tradition, novelistic gamesmanship, serious political critique, literary meta-analysis, and every genre under the sun, from farce to tragedy.

From the opening pages, a singular consciousness emerges, both porous and radically isolated, and by stripping out most other elements, the book confirms the ultimate primacy of literary voice, of which this is a rare triumph. Her prose is as catchy and melodic as the music she describes in so many of her novels with the insight of a rock critic, and her fiction often illuminates the way we distort our memories.

Eat the Document is the story of a woman who goes underground in the s after participating in violence with a radical group, and her son who uncovers her past in the s, when the ideals of the leftist movement have been romanticized and perverted. The Harry Potter novels, by J. Rowling — With her seven Harry Potter novels, J.

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Rowling has created a fictional world as fully imagined as Oz or Narnia or Middle Earth. Grounding his story in the mundane Muggle world, with its ordinary frustrations and challenges, even as she conjures a wildly inventive magical realm, Rowling has crafted an epic that transcends its classical sources as effortlessly as it leapfrogs conventional genres.

In doing so, she created a series of books that have captivated both children and adults — novels that hold a mirror to our own mortal world as it lurches into the uncertainties of the 21st century. Sleeping It Off in Rapid City , by August Kleinzahler April 1, August Kleinzahler is such a good poet, such a master of English vernaculars and a variety of modernisms, with such a gift for observational detail, that I think he gets overlooked or underpraised, partly for his consistency. Sleeping It Off in Rapid City is one of the great collections of American poetry, from the opening title poem, which exudes the bleak vastness and kitsch of midwestern landscapes, to the various blues lyrics and seemingly offhand evocations of San Francisco weather, as classical as the Tang Dynasty greats they recall.

Home , by Marilynne Robinson September 2, Grace suffuses this novel, and not just its prose. Twenty-four years after her debut, the magnificent Housekeeping , Robinson returned to fiction with Gilead , winner of the Pulitzer Prize. A retelling of the prodigal-son parable set in s Iowa, Home is also something rare in American literature these days: a meditation on Christian transfiguration.

It derives its power from family pain and the radical nature of forgiveness. Add to that her pitch-black humor — she got the chuckles writing these gigantic stories. Coetzee — In this autobiographical trilogy, Coetzee forged a clinical way of writing about the self and raised the meta stakes. Are these memoirs or novels? The last one kills off the author, among other departures from the facts. Boyhood presents a detached account of growing up an English-speaking Afrikaner in apartheid South Africa, a sickly boy with imaginings of greatness and a mounting sense of shame about his cruel society.

Youth moves to London, where Coetzee worked as a programmer for IBM, and plumbs the anguish of the aspiring, exiled poet. The self-portrait that emerges from these very funny books is pitiless and unforgettable. She writes poignantly on racism, gentrification, home, and identity, probing the proximity of white and black in America. She also forges new styles for the personal essay, braiding literary quotations, academic research, ironic anecdotes, and scenes from her own life to construct arguments that are complex and profound.

The medium is the message here: The title essay connects Laura Ingalls Wilder, a gentrifying Chicago neighborhood, and swimming in Lake Michigan to understand the American fixation on — and fear of — borders and frontiers. Spreadeagle , by Kevin Killian March 1, Killian is a poet as well as perhaps the most experienced society novelist of the gay demimonde since John Rechy, but Spreadeagle is like Rechy meets Robert Walser. But the real key to the novel is the hopeless relationship between its protagonists, Lenny Abramov and Eunice Park, whose relatively small age gap — Lenny is in his late 30s, Eunice her mids — measures the difference between the last generation to grow up before the internet and the first generation to grow up saturated in it.

Seven Years employs strong and supple sentences evocative of Camus to tell the all-too-recognizable story of a successful man, Alex, who ought to be happily married to his beautiful and accomplished wife, Sonia, but is silently exploding. The Sense of an Ending , by Julian Barnes August 4, This is an elegant, deceptively simple little novel, a quietly devastating, deftly plotted moral mystery that hinges on the unreliable juncture of memory, time, and history, with aging and remorse thrown in.

Its title invites dual interpretations — the feeling that something has ended, and making sense of an ending. Like many writers of his generation, Murakami is preoccupied with the aftereffects of the s, and though on the surface 1Q84 appears concerned with the mundane lives of disappointed and awkward lovers, the novel represents something like a Grand Unified Theory of Japanese life over four decades.