In Brief — Nick McDonell, Deirdre Madden, and Simon Rich

Loved loved loved Nick McDonell’s collection of reportage on the US Army in Iraq, The End of Major Combat Operations. It’s not the sort of thing that I’d normally pick up, so I’m glad that it showed up as half of McSweeney’s 34. Embedded with the 1st Cavalry, McDonell offers a series of tightly-drawn close-ups of the soldiers in Iraq, their interpreters, and ordinary folks trying to make a life in Baghdad. Great stuff. You can read an excerpt now at Salon.

Deirdre Madden’s novel Molly Fox’s Birthday takes place over the course of just one summer day in Dublin, Ireland. Perhaps that sounds a bit familiar, but Madden can’t be accused of trying to riff off Ulysses–even if her book is funny and erudite. Molly Fox, a famous stage actor, is abroad for a few months; in the interim her playwright friend, the unnamed narrator, takes residence in her home. The book opens with a strange dream sequence, full of joy and mystery, which ushers in a host of questions about the intertwined past of the narrator, Molly, and a TV art critic named Andrew. Madden’s book is a sustained investigation into how our friendships endure–and change–over the course of all the masks we wear. Molly Fox’s Birthday, a Picador trade paperback original, is new in the US this month.

Earlier this week I got a review copy of Elliot Allagash by 25-year old SNL writer Simon Rich. Now, normally I’d say all kinds of nasty things about Rich simply because he’s a debut novelist who’s younger than I am and, let’s face it, I’m a jealous hater. But Elliot Allagash‘s initial pages are charming and quite funny and seem to impel further reading, so I’ll probably just do that (i.e., you know, read it) instead of making snap judgments. Here’s one of the better book trailers in recent memory, starring SNL-er Bill Hader and Simon Rich (who apparently borrowed his father’s ill-fitting suit for the occasion):

Elliot Allagash is available May 25, 2010 from Random House.