Ana Schwartz is a doctoral candidate in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania and teaches high school English in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She is working on a translation of Herralde Prize-winning author Alvaro Enrigue’s first novel.
Sarah Lightman’s poignant, engrossing and poetic graphic memoir, The Book of Sarah , leads the reader on an epic odyssey, moving back and forth in time, from the author’s early twenties as an uncertain, dependent, and depressed young artist to a confident forty-five-year-old woman who is finally the architect of her own life.
I got to know Foster’s fiction through their first story collection I’VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Foster doesn’t disappoint with their new collection, SHINE OF THE EVER, thirteen stories full of humor, beauty, sincerity, and refreshingly nuanced queer and trans characters. Foster’s dedication to challenging mainstream preconceived notions about queerness is well reflected in all their works, from their essays to their flash to their upcoming novel. In SHINE OF THE EVER, they focus their vibrant, energetic style to a deceptively simple task: no sad endings. To learn more, go here.
I thought a lot about this family as I read Julie Justicz’s novel Degrees of Difficulty. Here the child at the center of the heartbreak is third-born Ben, born with damage to his twenty-first chromosome, an “omission in the blueprint” that has resulted in “the recessed jaw that would lead to feeding issues, the missing kidney due to frequent injections, hospitalizations, IV medications. And later, the seizures: Body-wracking grand mals that daily medications could not control.”
Dear June, For the past few months I have been working full-time on a national political campaign with a group of intelligent, committed, interesting people. One of these people—whom I’ll call Christine—lives just down the street from me. I had seen her around and chatted with her a few times when we walked our dogs, and had thought more than once that it might be nice to get to know her better, so I was pleased when I saw that we would be working together and hoped that we might become friends (and nothing else: we are both straight women). But it looks like she wants nothing to do with me. She’s never unpleasant or rude, but she seems to go out of her way to keep me at a distance. People at headquarters are always going out to grab lunch together, and I have asked her to do so …chop! chop! read more!
Perhaps no other film has so improbably risen from obscurity to cultural significance than 2003’s The Room. Grossing just $1800 in its original theatrical run, the film now famously dubbed “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” went on to connect with audiences through years of midnight screenings and an insightful, entertaining, and sometimes heartbreaking book about its making.
Grand Union, a collection of nineteen works of short fiction, represents an exciting addition to her oeuvre. The characters it features—black and white, young and old, male and female, gay and straight, and hailing from both sides of the Atlantic—are as diverse a cast as populate her novels, but their stories veer from the first-person narrative to the nonlinear and surreal to the essayistic.
When Faith Sullivan began writing what has become known as her Harvester books—novels like The Cape Ann and The Empress of One and Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse—she invited readers to join her in a fictional Minnesota landscape, then gave them many reasons to return. Sullivan’s Harvester is a palpable place. Its people are relatable and real. They carry burdens and they engage in kindness. Their bones bend with the hills.
From satirizing the mechanics of the American workplace to discovering motherly devotion in the myth of Persephone, Carole Bernstein’s third poetry collection Buried Alive: A To-Do List takes readers through caves and coffins alike, showing what living things still kick inside the previously presumed-dead.
The yo-yo slams me in the teeth and I buckle to the ground. It makes the guys gleam to see me on my knees like this, like the women in the videos we watch who are always begging. Tyler grabs his blue jean crotch and says “Nice teats.” I am fatter than them, sure. Me and Tyler are thirteen. Ace, fifteen. About my weight, my mom doesn’t say that I’m a teenager, that I’m still growing. She says I’ll be as fat as my uncle Louis who died from stomach cancer when he was thirty-two. I was too young to remember him. Anytime I open the refrigerator—even for some ice cubes to drop down my shirt in the summer—mom says “It could have been all that sugar that did him in. He didn’t eat half as much as you, though.”
she scans a glossy creak
lowland like wood floors
creased with alluvial fans
playas and alkali flats
before sandy gravely
shortgrass in a quiet pool
where roasted peanuts,
a sneezing fit, or snores
stroke a pocket comb
in a chorus of saws
floating in a San
Francisco rain and river
where power sounds
Twenty-one-year-old Matthew clicks his tongue in time to each step he takes. Tramping on carpet, he still makes the cupboards rattle as he descends the staircase into the living room. Knowing the clicking signifies contentment, his mother turns over in her bed and allows herself fifteen more minutes of sleep.
I died Sunday, for sixty seconds, at precisely 4:44 p.m. Novel and beer in tow, I strolled over to my armchair and tottered. Nausea somehow morphed into this buttery light that bled over the edges of my vision. There were my parents. There was my childhood, my friends, and my lovers, all these thoughts tinged with forgiveness (though there was nothing to forgive). And then I was down, and then I was up, wheezing, gasping for air.
On Memorial Day other small towns watch parades. There’s hotdogs and fireworks and tall bearded men dressed up like Abe Lincoln with plastic top hats and that old man who might ride the streets in his vintage Mustang, decked out with streamers and his pre-teen granddaughter. The topiaries are usually draped in American flags or sprayed with blue and white paint. The toddlers run in the street while volunteer firefighters chewing tobacco throw fistfuls of Bazooka at them, almost missing their heads. Veterans march. Wives throw rice like they’re at a 1970s wedding.
Seventeen million adults had a major depressive episode last year. And the numbers for children are staggering. The personal, social, economic, and ethical cost of anxiety and depression is almost impossible to imagine but is certainly real. Seventeen million adults had a major depressive episode last year and I was one of them.
LAST SUMMER AT SUMMERLAND by Dana Fang I When she trimmed the holly, when she trellised each lilac, her knuckles were starchy blue, her skin luminescent as if she had been torched with apricot light. At last, for a handful of hours each week, she burnt, and my heart outbid all else for her attention. To be her shelf and shovel, her shear and sled for just a little while; to ache an ache that justified the rest of her calculations— is how her garden grew. II The garden is built like the guts of a palace evergreen and glistening the way any beautiful thing glistens ripe with being beautiful The garden is the inner sanctum of a dream pink like peach flesh lush with sewer cap lilies and a little lake to litter with wishes There is nothing of the World in this world On the …chop! chop! read more!
The girl wants to go to the kids’ museum. Since her brother is sick and dad has command central on the couch, dispensing Tylenol and blankets and puke bucket and juice, that leaves me to drive her. I want to shut myself in my office and work on my novel, far from puke and clacking toys, but then she’ll say of her childhood that her mom did nothing but sit in front of her computer all the time. Aren’t her needs supposed to be bigger than mine? I take my journal and magazines along with snacks. I’ll sit on the bench and read. I’ll never be Mom of the Year, but look, my mom never played with me. She considered it her job to feed and clothe me, make me go to school, drive me to appointments, and I turned out just fine.
In one town, an apricot held in the mouth
of a rabbit like a swollen tongue.
In another, a pear clasped between the fins
of a fish. The pit of a cherry nestled
in the eye socket of a crow.
Once, my grandfather’s aneurysm
bloomed in his body like a tulip.
DEAR CITY by Poul Lynggaard Damgaard I want to tell about the gap between houses and the way the windows are beyond everything. Do you know anything about that? Do you know the way neighbourhoods have been pulled on a string through your consciousness, and the groups of people emerge on the fringe of an area? I am not sure you do. Sometimes the zip of your coat is a downhill highway and you turn your back, you throw your coat off, jump into the water and swim away. The shining of your long wet hair is the light of the night´s illuminated space. On the corner of the main road where the neglected house without windows used to be, a booth has been placed, where the gaps and the building’s memories are being sold to visitors. Was it really your unknown brother, or was it just you, I looked …chop! chop! read more!
Kindness Woman has been working here barely seven months and already we hate her. This hate is of a different flavor than the antagonism we feel for Faye, who takes so many damn smoke breaks over the course of a day that even her emails reek of cigarettes—emails that often include full sentences in all-caps, sentences that bend and break with her scorn like the cigarette stubs she twists and grinds into a tin coffee can behind the building.
When you don’t know what to expect you’re almost always expecting something, even if you’re mistaken, as when you expect somebody to come and somebody else shows up—it’s not mutually expected. Or you expect to hear from your friends and they don’t even text. It’s true, your friends have a lot of things that are happening in their lives that you’re not even aware of, it’s kind of like takeout you never ordered.
I could be more perceptive. Beneath me, 750 ft., my wife is thinking. I fool no one. My sweater is nice, and it keeps me warm, but at the end of the day it folds into a flowered bag and I am naked with the thoughts lonely in my mind.
STILL AND YET Photographs by Richard Kagan Born in Philadelphia, Richard Kagan is a photographer and former furniture maker whose artistic career took a curiously circuitous path. He began as a self-taught street photographer while a student at Temple University. However, after leaving college to practice Buddhism under a visiting Japanese Zen Master in New York, Kagan became impassioned with the silent eloquence of handmade objects and pawned his camera to buy woodworking tools. Following several years of apprenticeships, Kagan opened his own furniture workshop and founded the Richard Kagan Gallery—the first nationally recognized gallery for contemporary furniture artists. He taught at the Philadelphia College of Art (University of the Arts) for 10 years and exhibited furniture in museums and art institutions throughout the U.S. A back injury put an unexpected end to his woodworking career and opened the possibility to return to photography, thus bringing him back to where …chop! chop! read more!
As of lately you said you have been strangely strange—a bit besides yourself, which you noticed when you take walk someone constantly in your shadow, a palpable presence almost shoulder to shoulder-not disturbing, even companionable.
My grandson is five months old, and smiles as he orients to the burble of voices above him, the sounds we adults emit when we are making baby-talk. We coo when we are cuzzling infants and raise our voices when addressing foreigners, as if the sound and tone of our speech will cue them to what we mean. Someone should give us a talking-to, or, perhaps, a spanking.
Maite and her daughter Pala arrived home only minutes ago, and already Pala’s settled in. She’s plopped in front of the TV, watching an inane show on the cartoon channel, all done telling Maite how she ate a cupcake at snack, that Lucy wasn’t playing nicely during recess. Maite hasn’t yet had a chance to change her shoes or chug a glass of water. Her feet ache like hell.
Natalie Gerich Brabson is a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, and holds a BA in Hispanic Studies from Vassar College. Her fiction has been published in New World Writing and Eunoia Review. In 2017, she received the Go On Girl Book Club Unpublished Writer Award. She lives in Philadelphia, and is at work on her first novel.
The way she squints worries me, my mother tells the optometrist. In the dim room, sitting before the gentle doctor, being whispered to, One or Two? Three or Four? I learn a secret. My ability to see tiny things up close is superhuman. The doctor tells me so, not like she’s telling a child a complimentary fib, but like she’s embarrassed since it was the only word to use and it sounds silly.
After the house fire, the neighborhood boys searched the rubble. A chimney teetered. Cinders smoked. Parents said it wasn’t safe. Stay away. The boys didn’t listen. Treasures might be found. A young couple had lived there. Maybe a bra had survived the fire? Maybe a blackened spoon?
Only metal eyelets were found, shoes erased by flames, metal tarnished by heat so the eyelets looked like tiny ancient coins.
The boys hid them in a hole by a tree. Later, they remembered where. Later, they didn’t.
Your daddy took one look and said, “She’s beautiful—she looks just like me!” Funny, but no joke. He’d experienced mirrors, and mirror neurons, even if he’d never heard of the latter. It helps to have a handsome father because evolution makes babies look like their daddies so their daddies will know they belong to them and take care of their genes.
Danielle hated her feet. She hated that the knuckle at the base of each big toe bulged out like a Ping-Pong ball. She hated that if she pressed the pad of her finger against, say, her right foot, it would leave a little oblong mark for full seconds before blood seeped back in. They were always cold, too, but sweated continuously. This was the worst part. It was the reason she wore socks in her own home. Otherwise she’d leave moist negatives of her feet on every hard surface in the house.
Joe joined my gym when he started third grade so I pick him up after work and we bike over to Gifu Yokozeki Boxing Gym, companionable, Joe chatterboxing the whole way and throughout each session, Dada, Dada, his lungs propelling his eight-year-old voice, small, high, curious, into the ambient soundscape that includes whirring jumprope thwacks, heavy bag thuds, the quick rattling smack of the speed bag, the start and stop of the three minute timer, general shufflings and cracks and grunts, somebody yelling with every punch, somebody’s ragged panting breathing, my own. And because Yokozeki-san puts it on when Joe and I arrive there’s also the Beatles radio channel: Getting Better, I’m So Tired, Joe singing along to Strawberry Fields Forever.
When your father tells you he secured a flight for you and your husband and children, you don’t ask questions. You race home and fill up a suitcase with photos and heirlooms. You tell your three-year-old to grab a spoon and thank god that the baby is still fed by your breast. Your husband tells you to slow down so he can remember where he put the passports and you regret ever loving him. You wish you had more time to hug your mother and father. You wish your children would stop crying. Fraught but calm, you try to memorize the shadows on the wall cast by the afternoon sun, bougainvillea tapping lightly at the windows, a tender scent woven into the furniture and the textiles and all that you will leave behind.
A mother leaves her daughter in a highchair by the window, baking in direct sun. Eventually the child shrivels up into an old, brown decrepit woman. She expires quietly, motionless, in similar fashion.
“Rats,” sighs the mother.
Her child is unrecognizable. A dried-up peach pit in her hands.
Back then he said he could make anyone’s confidence bloom, especially mine, and I said that if he ever could really pull this off, this would be his best gag yet. I chalked the failure up to his lack of creativity, but then I remembered that I was part of the act.
Organized as a series of handwriting exercises, Empty Words offers a look inside a novelist’s mind as he attempts to improve himself by improving his handwriting. Originally published in 1996 in Spanish, it is Levrero’s first novel translated into English. Annie McDermott, who introduces English language readers to Levrero, has translated other works from Spanish and Portuguese, and her translations have appeared in many places, including Granta, the White Review, Asymptote, Two Lines, and World Literature Today.
I bought Long Litt Woon’s The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning for the promise embedded in the premise. How would Woon make her way back into the world after the shocking, sudden death of the fifty-four-year-old husband with whom she had spent all her adult years? What do mushrooms have to do with recovering from such a loss? Does anybody ever actually recover?
“[I]f you begin with an idea you’re usually beat before you start,” writes Robert Adams in Art Can Help, as he tries to imagine Edward Ranney photographing the Canyon del Muerto, and, so, here I begin, having been holding this slender silver volume in my hand all afternoon, interrupted only by the sound of a neighbor’s lawn mower and the smell of some ambient spray paint.
To Rocky, the city of Seoul is truly something to behold. Sprawling skyscrapers dare to kiss the sky, thousands of lights rival the sun at night, and millions of people bustle through at any given moment, while the Han River remains a calm force through it all. And it will soon be his to rule, just like his father, the leader of the city’s most notorious gang, Three Star Pa. However, despite Rocky being the sole heir and next in line to become the big boss, his father refuses to turn the gang over to him.
Max Havelaar is likely an unfamiliar title to most American readers, and the Netherlands in general is an often overlooked source of literature. But make no mistake: the world over holds Max Havelaar in high regard. I recently had the chance to talk to a born-and-raised Dutchman, and I asked him if the title rang any bells. “Of course,” he told me. “It’s a classic, everyone reads it.” Think along the lines of Pride and Prejudice. In his short but poignant introduction to this edition of the novel, Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer makes the bold claim that Max Havelaar is one of the most important novels of all time. There’s a reason this novel caught the attention of writers like Karl Marx and Thomas Mann, and there’s a reason that when Freud drew up a list of ten great authors, Multatuli stood on top.
Liana Finck wants to be seen. In creating Passing for Human, a graphic memoir and her second full-length work, she constructs her life story as Leola, and in doing so fantastically reimagines her youth and early adulthood in a quest to be seen and heard—by peers, by readers, and by herself.
Many of the characters in J. David Stevens’s four-story collection I and You are Chinese immigrants; the author himself is not. In the book’s introduction, Stevens confides that he might never have written about these characters if not for the relationship with his wife Janet, whose ancestors left China in 1899 and later settled in Richmond, Virginia. Reflecting on the source material for his multi-generational narratives, Stevens, whose Mexico is Missing and Other Stories won the 2006 Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction, admits an apprehension of the age: “[A] part of me still wonders if such stories cross a line, if appropriating segments of our shared history—or Janet’s history alone—is more rightly suited to intimate dialogue. I worry the art is too opportunistic.” This concern is real, and the author is right to acknowledge it. But his outsider’s rendition of the Chinese immigrant experience is respectfully nuanced, and while he does not share the same cultural background as his protagonists, he deeply values their stake in the larger human dilemma that fiction is taxed to solve.
I first encountered Chloe N. Clark through her prose, but even then, it was clear to me that she was a poet. Her work often feels multimodal in form, something that shines as a written text but that also seems eager to be performed aloud. Her debut collection Your Strange Fortune is no different, full of rich and devastating moments, each poem stretching with fresh life on the page or on the air. Some of these poems also function as works of visual art, such as “Flora and Fauna of the Outer Rings,” embodying their meaning in shape as well as word.
“I was born a knot like my mother and her mother before her,” Sarah Rose Etter’s debut novel begins, drawing readers into Cassie’s life story, The Book of X. “Picture three women with their torsos twisted like thick pieces of rope with a single hitch in the center.”
In her latest work, Green Target, Tina Barr prods at the simultaneously tumultuous and cooperative relationship between humanity and nature, writing from her cabin in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Barr blends the intimate details of personal existence with the macrocosmic scope of collective human experience, cleverly balancing comfort and misery. Barr’s poetry harmonizes the intersecting lives she details, whether they be animal, botanical, or human. All is seen and accounted for through her kaleidoscopic vision in which events, objects and people are constantly shape-shifting, bleeding into each other, losing their original form, becoming targets for Barr’s eye-opening observations.
99 Names of Exile begins in landscape. In the absence of the body of a deceased loved one, the book’s first poem “Invention of Country” searches for a buried “uniform/ in a chest camouflaged as a scarab, its wings latched.” The poem goes on to ruminate on memories and details the speaker wishes they could conjure in the face of death, but cannot. Perhaps inspired by this loss of detail and still searching for a path to grief and intimacy, the speaker explains “I don’t trust flat surfaces” and “I know the earth is round, and if we continue falling,/ the afternoon’s revolution never grows cold.”
If memoir is sculpture, where writers must strip away the unnecessary to find the shape of the story, then it is my memory that wields the knife. Memory chooses certain scenes and impressions. Memory snips and stores fragments and shadows. Memory does not follow the rules of chronology or of rational cause and effect. Memory puts any old thing next to another for its own reasons and may preserve for example, the dance of a courageous vole in perfect detail, while jettisoning a crucial conversation with a friend who is now gone. Try as I might to recall that moment with my friend, memory carved it away, leaving only shavings on the floor, which I crushed into ever smaller pieces as I paced back and forth, studying what I had left to work with.