mother-mailbox is a private life, the private mode of womanhood, made public for all of us who have ever felt empty, questioned if there was more (or made new subs out of Subway sandwich wrappings to feel such a thing) and questioned how we should be feeling, but also those of us who have found beauty and humor in the “fade-proof plum lip-root mess” of it all, for those of us who seek a home within ourselves and those we make of ourselves; for those of us whose mothers or children have made spiraling, fairytale messes in our lives, flitting in and out as fragile as a flower until they suddenly take solid root.chop! chop! read more!
“A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader,” says writer Gil Coleman, the rogue central character of Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons. When he tells a bookshop assistant that “first editions don’t matter,” he seems to argue that access is more important than ownership, that a book’s content is more valuable than the object enclosing the text. But the impulse behind the sentiment is hardly democratic; his words cast light on his unequal marriage to Ingrid, a student he impregnates, derailing her education. Infamous for a single work (the lurid and presumably autobiographical A Man of Pleasure), Gil is oddly less interested in an author’s words than in “the handwritten marginalia and doodles that marked up the pages,” and “the forgotten ephemera used as bookmarks.” By the end of his life, his wife is gone and his library is full of “bits of paper with which he could piece together other people’s lives, other people who had read the same books he held and who had marked their place.” It’s also full of clues to solve a mystery at the center of this skillfully structured and satisfying novel: Where did Ingrid go, and why?chop! chop! read more!
Throughout its 300-plus pages, Rolling Blackouts provides valuable historical contexts and multiple viewpoints to help any reader better understand the region and its people. Glidden incorporates the voices of government officials, aid workers, refugees – even a former terror suspect, among many others, in order to showcase the complicated realities of life in those countries. We meet those whose lives were improved from the Iraq War as well as those whose lives were destroyed. We meet those who love the United States, and those who say, “I don’t want to bring children into a country that could be bombed by America.” As Glidden writes: “I think sometimes journalists get caught up in the hard news part, in investigating an unknown angle. But they forget that for most of our audiences, it’s all an unknown angle.” Incorporating a large chorus of voices, Glidden hopes to inform and challenge her readers.chop! chop! read more!
In Patrick Dacey’s first story collection, We’ve Already Gone This Far, available now in hardback and due out from Picador in paperback June 27, we find out what happens when we yield to life’s despiritualized strangeness in the twenty-first century’s overweening atmosphere of hogwild commercialism and ideological rigidity. (His first novel, The Outer Cape (Henry Holt & Co), will debut in hardback on the same date.) Dacey seems to be an interesting character himself in this regard, a bespoke and downtrodden seeker of his own soul adrift in corporatized America. The descriptions he’s given in interviews of a difficult youth and family life, the bouts of poverty he endured as an adult, are evidence of a nature informed largely by pain and wonder. His father was a gambler who went broke repeatedly and thereafter took his son on long door-to-door sales trips. Later, Dacey raised his own son while living hand-to-mouth on hourly wages, after studying under George Saunders and Mary Gaitskill at the Syracuse MFA program. The agony of the peripatetic writer undergoing economic uncertainties comes through strongly in his work; Dacey’s writing often reflects the rawness of material poverty, a certain yearning for inner enrichment or a scatterbrained longing that is as essential to his stories’ characters as their spinal cord.chop! chop! read more!
The essay collection My Italians: True Stories of Crime and Courage, the provocateur Robert Saviano’s newest nonfiction work, is a startling condemnation of contemporary Italian life. For about a decade, Saviano’s one-man campaign against organized crime in Naples has made him famous across Italy. But he’s little known in the U.S., or he was at least until recently when a TV adaptation of his 2007 bestseller, Gomorrah, about the crime syndicate, la Camorra, began airing on the Sundance Channel (Italian director Matteo Garrone also made a 2008 film by the same name). Yet Saviano’s expertise on the malavita and how it’s infiltrated legitimate business knows no borders. Last year, he gave a talk at a conference in England about how business transactions in London’s much-vaunted City financial district are in fact influenced and manipulated by organized crime.chop! chop! read more!
IN LIEU OF FLOWERS by Rachel Slotnick Tortoise Books, 48 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Rachel Slotnick’s debut collection, In Lieu of Flowers—an eclectic combination of lyric poems, flash prose, and mixed-media paintings by the author, who is also an accomplished painter and muralist—is part in memoriam and part Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The paintings are of particular interest because they play an essential role in how we understand the poems rather than being simply decorative or extraneous as can sometimes happen when paintings and poems are paired up together in such a context. Most are essentially portraits, though not purely mimetic ones. Her paintings have a surreal quality, the edges often blurred as one image becomes another: a beard becomes a fish, a shirt melts into the coral of the sea floor, and flowers, always flowers sprouting where they desire. “I tried to paint my grandfather,” says the speaker, “and the figure … chop! chop! read more!
Bae Suah’s newest English-translated work, A Greater Music, describes the Austrian composer Franz Schubert as “a short, fat, shy myopic.” As brutal as this description is of a man who unhappily died before his 32nd year, it seems altogether different in tone when used to describe Bae’s novel itself. Filled with observatory indifference and an almost disembodied airiness, the novel comes across particularly as commentary, and as particularly rebellious. But what’s striking about A Greater Music is that it treats the work of Schubert above the man, treats the novel above the social, giving grandeur to otherwise short, fat, shy myopics. They are breathing things that were trapped in frames ill-suited for their sublimity–short in length, fat with substance, shy about their revelations, and myopic in their attentions, they are beings greater than their comportment can present. Something so heavy has rarely looked so light.chop! chop! read more!
First published in South Korea in 2014, Han Kang’s new novel Human Acts is now available for the first time in the United States. American readers first encountered Kang in 2016, with the translation of her 2007 novel The Vegetarian. This strange, dark, poetic novel, about a woman who decides to stop eating meat after having a horrific nightmare, was met with great acclaim. Translated by Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian went on to win the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. While Human Acts is a rich, powerful novel in its own right, and should be read independently of The Vegetarian, it is often interesting to situate a novel against the writer’s other work.chop! chop! read more!
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER’S KINDRED: A GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATION by Damian Duffy and John Jennings Abrams Comicarts, 240 pages reviewed by Brian Burmeister Crowned the “grand dame of science fiction” by Essence, Octavia Butler was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed science fiction writers of the 20th century. Her career spanned over a dozen novels and, among her many awards and honors, Butler was the first science fiction writer to win a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, before being cut short. In 2006, she tragically passed away at the age of fifty-eight. Thirty-eight years after its original publication, Butler’s best-selling novel, Kindred, and by extension Butler’s own voice and vision, has been given new life. Considered by many to be her most accessible work, the novel has been adapted into a graphic novel by cartoonist/writer Damian Duffy and editor/artist John Jennings. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, like the … chop! chop! read more!
Jordi Alonso’s collection The Lovers’ Phrasebook shelves itself precisely in the lexical gap between languages, working with absence to depict presence and utilizing singular words to display relationships. These poems are able to gesture at miscommunication and a lack of sufficient vocabulary while also creating space for new conversation. The Lovers’ Phrasebook excels in its bravery and conceptual construction, working to translate without obscuring or whiting-out the original word in favor of an English counterpart. It’s a book that hails the multiplicity of loves and languages, largely favoring an experiential approach to definition rather than a literal one. The Lovers’ Phrasebook is an invitation to re-imagine how we move between languages and what the space in between words and their translations means and can be used for. By placing love in the space between fluency and confusion, Alonso has turned what could have been a dictionary into a romance.chop! chop! read more!
Whipstitches is, at its core, an examination of all the many aspects of a rural home, especially a rural childhood home. The pastoral is tinged with loss and decay because the world is, it is colored by the lives drawing strength from it just as is the earth, and so this small somewhere becomes a whole and complete universe. Randi Ward’s poems are neat and well-edited impressionistic snapshots that interact in a novel way to create depth despite their length. Ward is triumphant in her presentation of a rural childhood; you know this girl. You’ve seen her at a diner or a gas station. Come hear what she has to say.chop! chop! read more!
Only More So is a read for troubled times. War, climate change, cancer—it’s all here in forty-six poems of mid-life contemplation that simultaneously remind us that forgetting the past condemns us to repeat it and that celebrating the remembering is a necessary act of resistance and transcendence. Appropriately, the former sentiment originates not from Churchill, the statesman who appropriated it in wartime, but George Santayana, the poet who believed “only the dead have seen the end of war.”chop! chop! read more!
Throughout Blindsight, the reader is presented with the voice of a poet whose urges to feel and desires to know reflect those universal to humanity. Through his plainspoken language which is, at times, conversational and, at times, confessional we are reminded of our own desires, those things for which we do still burn. We are also reminded of our own blindness, literal and otherwise which obstruct our view, reflecting the world through a glass darkly. But even in the dim light, in the uncertainty, even when, after finally getting what you want, you’re not sure if you’re left “maybe more/ nervous than longing, / maybe indifferent, or regretting”, there is still beauty in this muddled world, even when we are left lying, “mourning among the ruins.”chop! chop! read more!
Douglas Crimp’s memoir Before Pictures invites readers into the lively artistic and queer worlds of 1960s to 1970s New York where Crimp was formed as an art historian. This is the same New York which brought him to curate Pictures, a small exhibit at Artist’s Space now considered pivotal to ideas about contemporary art. In the art history textbook Art Since 1900 (2004), Pictures is historicized as having given a platform to artwork meant to give “a new sense of the image as ‘picture’” and to “transcend any particular medium.” Here, Crimp embraces this transcendence in a different way. In his consideration, no single art form, from fashion to architecture, comes out as primary.chop! chop! read more!
Marc Anthony Richardson is an artist from Philadelphia and this compact book, his first, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovation Fiction, makes for a fine addition to the recent history of experimental prose by writers with ties to Philadelphia—from the late Fran Ross (whose 1974 novel, Oreo, was recently re-issued) to contemporaries like Samuel R. Delany, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Hilary Plum, Caren Beilin, and the West Philadelphia sci-fi collective Metropolarity.chop! chop! read more!
The hero–or perhaps I should say anti-hero–of Dutch author Tommy Wieringa’s new novel, These Are the Names is a 53-year-old police chief named Pontus Beg. Beg lives in a fictional border town called Michailopol, a city ailing in post-Soviet corruption and aimless malaise. Beg has “set up his life as a barrier against pain and discomfort,” Wieringa writes. “Suppressing chaos: washing dishes, maintaining order. What did it matter that one day looked so much like the other that he could not recall a single one; he keeps to the middle equidistant from both bottom and top.”chop! chop! read more!
Poetry is often in danger of being understood as purely conceptual material in need of processing and interpretation in order to become meaningful or real. It can be easy, after wading through stanzas, to lose a grip on time and place and the sensation of occupying a body. However, despite the ethereality and distance from reality poetry often possesses, Caroline Ebeid has proven that it can also be used to ground and remind us of the physical rather than simply blur or distract from it. In her collection You Ask Me to Talk About The Interior, Ebeid employs a sort of “bodily language,” flexing smoothly between word and body until the two seem irredeemably tied. I would argue that Ebeid, and this collection in particular, works to close the distance between words and what they mean, bringing the signified and signifier together on the physical stage of the paper.chop! chop! read more!
Detective Jonathan Wind is not a wisecracking, hardboiled investigator in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, or a hyper-observant sleuth like Sherlock Holmes. Rather, Wind uses his almost encyclopedic knowledge to investigate crimes for the Atlanta Police Department. When he’s not on a case, the protagonist of Jordan A. Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away splits his time between Monica, his devout Catholic girlfriend, and his secret mistress, Flora, a goddess-worshipping sex worker.chop! chop! read more!
The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, winner of the 2016 Howling Bird Press fiction prize, is an honest, funny, and sometimes un-apologetically dark collection of short stories.. Its author, Jacob M. Appel (Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets (2015), The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012)) can easily be described as a modern renaissance man: in addition to his writing, he is also a bioethicist, attorney, and a physician. These professional fields come into play in many of the stories included in this collection, often to highlight or expose ethical conflicts his characters must face.chop! chop! read more!
The author of the novel, Alessandro Baricco, a popular Italian writer, director and performer, suggests that a world based around logic and sense ultimately will stifle us. It is in fact, what the narrator of the main story, the “author” (easy to conflate with Baricco, though we shouldn’t), desires to escape from. He does so by running to fantasy: a place gleefully empty of logic or sense. However this is not to suggest that it is a place of chaos or anarchy—in fact quite the opposite. Fantasy rather offers refuge from the chaos of everyday life through its own simple and overriding logic: repetition.chop! chop! read more!
Tanay is a young, closeted queer man trying to work through an internal rut by living for the company of and validation from others. As Tanay befriends an out-of-towner renting a room in his family’s home, he finds himself in awe of the Guest’s ability to thrive in solitude, to fully embrace his mood of the moment, to being in a class of “men who lived their own idiosyncrasies” (the house guest is unnamed in the novel, but for the sake of clarity in this review I call him the Guest). It’s enough to gradually wrestle Tanay out of his day-to-day haze, to make him “aware of the mediocrity, the ordinariness” of his “secure and comfortable life.” Anuj, Tanay’s fiercely independent younger sister, is also taken by the Guest’s charms, but to different effect. For Anuj, the Guest doesn’t so much unearth a hidden urge to be, he reflects and accepts with ease the off-center personhood that comes natural to her, a personality she’s often had to defend to claim as her own.chop! chop! read more!
Golden Delicious follows a fairly straight plot structure. (Thank God.) The novel’s a story of a family in Appleseed, Massachusetts, the kind of small town where apple-cheeked children frisk beside white picket fences, waving baseballs over the heads of leaping, barking terriers. It is, for lack of a better word, a wholesome place, a village that knows its own story too well to outgrow its roots. Here, history is literal. Sentences sprout from the soil, locals bear unusual names, and mothers practice their flight techniques. But under it, this is a simple story. The narrator, after his family takes to the four winds, sets out to save his town from hard times as its apple industry falters.chop! chop! read more!
If writers are interested in portraying human experience in its varied forms, then part of that work is depicting climate change. Certainly there has been a strong tradition of writers turning to their surroundings for inspiration and literary fodder. And for many of these writers—Wendell Wendell Berry, Homero Aridjis, and Jean Giono for example—the earth becomes a character just as palpable and mercurial as any human, with capacity for danger alongside beauty. Yet our current moment calls for something even more complex: not just the earth, plants, and animals as powerful forces in fiction, but also a realization that we humans have brought this change upon our whole planet. And Ghosh, while not optimistic about the current state of literature, does think such fiction has yet been written in our age. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Liz Jensen’s Rapture are particularly good examples. Yet, these kinds of works, at least in Ghosh’s calculations, are the exception and not the rule.chop! chop! read more!
Is there anything more disappointing than waking up in your mid-30s and wondering what the hell happened? Suddenly, you have a family, children, a mortgage, and a job that, despite your best efforts, is starting to define you. Your sensible car is in perfect order. You have a retirement account. Where’s the punk you used to be? What happened to all those bad decisions you made in your 20s?chop! chop! read more!
In her debut young adult novel Rani Patel in Full Effect, Sonia Patel takes us back to the era of faded box cuts, high-top Adidas, and gold chains as thick as your wrist; to the era where hip-hop reigned supreme and rhymes flowed out of boom boxes like water down Moaula Falls.chop! chop! read more!
It wasn’t Michael Gerhard Martin’s stories in the collection Easiest If I Had a Gun that wooed me as much as it was his crisp, visceral writing. His narrative constructs are alluring and beg to be unpacked, analyzed, and savored. Without apparent ego or bias, he transcribes the thoughts, memories, and dialogue of his characters as they struggle to navigate the mundane obstacles associated with living as lower middle-class, white Americans. This theme—the white man’s struggle—is not new. Yet, Martin manages to bring to the subject a fresh voice and a macabre sense of social conscience.chop! chop! read more!
When Mike and his family move, just before his freshman year, Mike starts high school in a new state and begins to forge some tentative friendships. But Victor, also low on the totem pole in terms of the high school hierarchy, seems to have a personal beef with him. Mike tries to lay low and mind his own business but Victor’s attention is unsettling…chop! chop! read more!
Yoram Kaniuk, an Israeli novelist who died in 2013, was the kind of man who tells jokes as he’s dying in the hospital, even when he has no voice, when there’s a respirator thrust through an incision in his chest. His humor is at times bitter, biting like Sholem Aleichem’s pogrom narratives, descending into sullen anti-prayers: “cancer, like Hitler…is a messenger of the Lord.” In this respect, Kaniuk’s Between Life and Death, published this year in English, probably most closely resembles Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality. A sense of the meaninglessness in so much of life, of banality in death, pervades both authors’ stories. Kaniuk rages and rejoices, but sometimes qualifies these outbursts by settling, like Hitchens, for a tone of ambivalent irony, communicated in prose thick with vibrant images and cumulative sentences.chop! chop! read more!
To make a book about school shootings stand out among an influx of young adult books about the topic takes skill and in her new novel The Light Fantastic Combs delivers with detailed characters and a unique premise. Told from several different points of view, the novel covers the span of a few hours across multiple time zones as a new day starts and a nationwide school shooting epidemic begins.chop! chop! read more!
Had The Birds been written from the perspective of another character other than Mattis, a dim-witted near forty-year old, it probably would have had a different title—The Lumberjack, maybe, or some other word that references one of the major events in the novel. But that’s the point: the perspective, usually in third person but sometimes slipping into first person, is Mattis’ and thus the story is his. Although often the characters in a book share the same events, they do not share the same story; for that, as Norwegian author Tarjei Vesaas shows brilliantly in this moving novel, depends on the way we see things, on the importance we give to those events we share. For Mattis, the most important events in the novel concern the birds.chop! chop! read more!
Canek Sánchez Guevara’s 33 Revolutions is a prayer of a novel with a single liturgical refrain and a retort (of a kind) to the giddiness emitting from the American-Cuban travelsphere. Not since Reinaldo Arenas has a Cuban literary voice arrived on American shores with such beaten madness, and sense of personal desperation. Sánchez Guevara, who died last year at age 40, was the eldest grandson of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His mother, Hilda Guevara Gaesa, was Che’s oldest child; Hilda’s mother (also Hilda) introduced Che to the Castro brothers in the mid-1950s. (It’s worth remembering that the American literary public became enamored of Arenas after his death, too.)chop! chop! read more!
Madness is synonymous with insanity, but to be “mad” one doesn’t necessarily go crazy. One might be mad at society, a world of socially imposed rules that stifle the imagination or measure people according to economic usefulness. Rage against a world in which a multicultural, mostly impoverished majority are controlled by a corrupt, wealthy minority could be defined as a type of “madness.” In such a state, the individual’s warped mind drives him to fantastical plans for revenge, deep wells of anguish or panic, brothel-filled nights, petty crimes, thoughts of suicide, kidnapping, and imagined love affairs.chop! chop! read more!
You’re in another anonymous suburb at an undistinguished hotel on a Tuesday evening, traveling for work. After a day of meetings, you’re finally free to visit the hotel bar for a burger and a beer before you do it all over again tomorrow. At the counter, you take a seat two stools away from a middle-aged man in fine trousers, a white shirt, and a wide, loud tie, drinking something brown on the rocks. The man’s exchanges are first cordial, but then stretch into tall tales that make you fidget in your seat, and finally become oddly compelling, even touching. Just as the bartender calls for your last order, the story winds to a shimmering conclusion, leaving you with an unexpected sense of hope, of the power of persistence, of the redemption of art. That’s the feel of reading Mezz Mezzrow’s classic 1946 memoir, recently republished by NYRB Classics, about his life as a jazz saxophonist.chop! chop! read more!
As I plan to write a review of Donald Quist’s fine debut essay collection, Harbors, I follow the stories of two more black men shot and killed by police officers and know that, statistically as a white male, I will most likely never be positioned to fear the same fate. I write while growing increasingly concerned about my nation’s frenzied and ugly presidential race and about the increased acceptance of hateful speech in everyday conversation.chop! chop! read more!
Spanning three volumes, which are available separately or as a single collection, March covers key years of civil rights leader Lewis’s life and the battles for justice he experienced firsthand. The writers skillfully frame the overarching narrative of all three books as Rep. Lewis reflects upon the Civil Rights Movement during President Barack Obama’s historic inauguration in 2009.chop! chop! read more!
In this collection, Karen Craigo continues to question the sanctity of the body in an imperfect world. Studying relationships, motherhood, the body, and the garden, No More Milk blends the sublime with the everyday in a raw and honest sense of awe, baring truths in considered lines and controlled imagery.chop! chop! read more!
The narrator and protagonist of The Invisibility Cloak—the first English translation of a novel by acclaimed Chinese writer Ge Fei—is not an inherently likeable person. Cui sees intellectuals as mainly full of nonsense. He is also quick to play the victim, blaming those around him for his misfortunes. But it would be difficult to read this novel without at times empathizing with the narrator. His wife left him, he’s living in his sister’s crummy apartment, and the only real solace he finds is in sitting in the dark, listening to Beethoven on CD.chop! chop! read more!
In Ninety-Nine Stories of God, Williams has pared away all but the essentials. These very short prose pieces are novels written in miniature, pocket epics and cryptic parables etched on the head of a pin. Most are not more than two pages, some are a single paragraph, and a few are just one or two sentences: simple, even stark, yet weighted. The sixty-first story, “Museum,” for example, is one rueful sentence: “We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested.”chop! chop! read more!
Books labeled as science fiction and young adult can conjure many stereotypical images; a first kiss awkwardly felt on a playground swing set or a gothic vampire trying to survive an unknown universe. Emily France’s Signs of You defies these stereotypes as it takes on the story of a loss, friendship, and healing.chop! chop! read more!
Language is almost intuitively understood as a tool for possession—a form of communication which allow us to hold and deliver ideas between minds. However, John Sibley Williams’s latest poetry collection, Disinheritance, demonstrates how language itself is anything but concrete or possessable. By employing themes of abstraction, fictionalization, and absence, Disinheritance depicts a reality that is only accessible through distortion. Williams’ poems hone in on the moments where language breaks off, proves insufficient, or only serves to describe a situation rather than explain it. In this way, Disinheritance investigates how poetry can both be made out of language and escape it. Like a snake eating itself, Williams’ lines often turn back on themselves, admitting that their bodies are made out of English while also refusing to be limited by the borders of their syllables.chop! chop! read more!
Ellen Wittlinger’s Local Girl Swept Away is a gripping story of loss, denial, and deception wrapped up in a page-turning mystery that’s hard to put down. When Lorna is pulled underwater during a storm, her death shakes the community of Providencetown, but no one is more shaken than her best friend Jackie Silva. Lorna was everything Jackie feels she isn’t: untamed, beautiful, brave, and outgoing – not to mention lucky enough to have had Jackie’s crush, their best friend Finn, as her boyfriend. Jackie is the undisputed number two and it’s something she has accepted about herself. But, with Lorna gone, life becomes confusing and uncertain. Who is she now?chop! chop! read more!
Throughout the pages of Cosplayers, the new book by noted cartoonist Dash Shaw, the narrative presents a series of illustrations of the titular subject: people dressed in costumes based on favorite characters from popular fandom—comics, television, video games, all the things that we like to call “geek culture.” Set against increasingly baroque pop-art patterns, Shaw’s cosplayers will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever perused photos of a comic convention—dynamic figures from popular culture evoked by the mundane reality of fans in uncomfortable outfits under the harsh lighting of the convention floor.chop! chop! read more!
This edition of the 1965 novel Stoner arrived with a gold band around the front cover printed with exuberant blurbs that call it “as sweeping, intimate, and mysterious as life itself” and “the most beautiful book in the world.” Such loud praise seems almost at odds with a quiet, serious book; it’s the sort of praise that its hero, William Stoner, neither receives nor (for more than a fleeting moment) desires. Following Stoner from birth to death, the novel presents a seemingly unexceptional life as a subject worthy of the closest examination.chop! chop! read more!
Regarding the difficulty of starting a novel, Umberto Eco writes, in the appendices to The Name of the Rose, “…there is an Indian proverb that goes, ‘Sit on the bank of a river and wait; your enemy’s corpse will soon float by.’ And what if a corpse were to come down the stream–since this possibility is inherent in an intertextual area like a river?”
In On The Edge, Spanish novelist Rafael Chirbes, who died last year, activates this idea. His corpse appears in the first pages, in the mud of a lagoon bank, under the feet of a fisherman, in the mouth of a stray dog. The central character and narrator, Esteban, extrapolates from this opening scene, revealing a world of which decaying bodies are the natural product. His world is full of corpses, living and dead, full of ghosts from the past speaking over one another to fill the novel with noise.chop! chop! read more!
When Oswald de Andrade, in his Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto), spoke of “Cannibalism. Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into a totem. The human adventure. Earthly finality,” he might have been speaking of Anthony Seidman’s delighfully profligate A Sleepless Man Sits Up in Bed.
The sheer exuberance and sense of endless imagistic invention is exhaustive and vivifying. Each word is a firecracker thrown at your head, as you run through a maze—both mystic and vulgar, blissful and grotesque, enjoying a scary magic that leaves you rapt.chop! chop! read more!
When you check out the latest novel by Michael Kleine, Kanley Stubrick, on Goodreads, you’ll find that an anonymous reader asked the author if “this book is going to house the Mystery of the 17 Pilot Fish play.” Kleine answered rather grandly, referring to this play set to be released at the end of August, and the rest of his oeuvre: “Kanley Stubrick and The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish are all part of the same universe, yes, but also, so is Mastodon Farm and Arafat Mountain. Everything–the characters, locales, events, situations, demises, dreams–everything is linked.” But Kleine doesn’t address by what means and to what end “everything is linked,” nor if this is a benefit to anyone involved. Kanley Stubrick doesn’t elaborate on it much. Rather, the experimental novel turns out to be a display of the picturesque absurdity of Samuel Beckett and David Lynch without the uncomfortable laughter; Klein borrows sitcom’s episodic format, lack of continuum, and commercial approachability for ends that forcefully lack those very same traits. Such is Kanley Stubrick’s impressive and precarious balance.chop! chop! read more!
A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a subtle book that quietly but methodically stalks the reader’s sympathies. It does so through a beautiful, spare prose style that begins with the first line: “They had rung the iron gong outside, and it was still echoing, at first for real in the courtyard, and then, for a longer time, inside our heads.” This is lovely writing (deftly rendered from the French by translator Sam Taylor, himself a novelist)—yet a bit ominous, like something that can’t be escaped. Later, setting the scene for the winter’s walk that takes up much of the first part of the narrative, he writes: “A pale sun hung in the sky, as distant and useless, it seemed to us, as a coin trapped under thick ice.” Trapped. What is trapped? Or who?chop! chop! read more!
There’s something compelling about orphan stories and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon draws on this fascination. When I look back at my favorite childhood books, they all have one thing in common—main characters who are orphaned or abandoned. Barnhill’s story opens and immediately draws the reader in with the tragic, forced abandonment of a baby girl in the forest, an annual sacrifice meant to appease the Witch so that the villagers of the Protectorate may live safely for the next year.
This middle grade fantasy is a story with a magical twist. Baby Luna is not completely abandoned because a good witch saves her. In fact, the kind-hearted witch Xan has been saving the babies of the Protectorate every year and taking them to towns across the forest where they are beloved by their new families. These are the Star Children, so called because, on the journey, Xan feeds them magic from the stars. During the journey with baby Luna, two unusual things occur—one, Xan falls in love with Luna and decides to adopt her as her grandchild, and, two, she accidentally feeds the child from the moon and not the stars, infusing her with powerful magic.chop! chop! read more!
Bright Magic—a powerful concoction of black humor, harsh beauty, and dark fabulism—marks Alfred Döblin’s first collection ever to be translated into English (here by Damion Searls, a master of his craft who’s also translated the works of Proust and Rilke). Döblin (1878–1957), now a classic of German literature, was a pioneer of expressionist writing as well as a respected neurologist and army doctor. His short stories show a tremendous bravery of form and a willingness to experiment with things that today would be called flash and micro fiction as early as the 1910s. He also demonstrates a deep desire to mirror the absurdity of all that surrounded him—the horror of world wars, the destructive power of ignorance—by wielding absurdity in his stories like a joke, a sword, a punishing assumption. In this collection, we see Döblin lift up fascinations with memory and things forgotten, with morality and violence, with descents into madness and those dizzying moments of painful, exquisite clarity.chop! chop! read more!
What is experienced and what is retained can be wildly disparate; a revolution is distilled to a single detail, as Nicola Gardini reveals in the lovely novel Lost Words. Gardini explores the cultural and political revolution of 1970s Italy through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy.
Chino—his given name is Luca—is a doorwoman’s son in a working-class apartment building on the unfashionable side of Milan. “The doorwoman was not to be away from her post or distracted for a single instant,” Gardini explains. “If something required her to be away from her post, like taking out the trash, then her son should fill in for her and guard the lobby and the front staircase.” The tenants of 15 Via Icaro make Luca’s mother miserable; with the mildest touch of bitterness, Luca watches their messy, entitled lives as they trail through the lobby. Like most details of childhood, they are simultaneously fascinating and utterly forgettable—as soon as Luca moves away, he will not think of them again. He is growing up, and Gardini describes his slow inheritance of other people’s nostalgia.chop! chop! read more!