Claire Rudy Foster

Claire-Rudy-FosterClaire Rudy Foster lives in Portland, Oregon. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her critically recognized short fiction has appeared in various respected journals and she has been honored by several small presses, including a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. Her short story collection I’ve Never Done This Before was published in 2016 by The KLEN+SOBR Interventions. She is currently at work on a novel.


STOP BREATHING AND JUST WRITE: National Novel Writing Month, a craft essay by Claire Rudy Foster

stop-breathing-and-just-write
STOP BREATHING AND JUST WRITE National Novel Writing Month by Claire Rudy Foster 50,000 words in November. That's 1,667 words a day. Typing at a good clip, that's 21 minutes of work for me. But is National Novel Writing Month really about writing? For me, it’s about climbing a mountain.  It has less to do with writing than with the sense of accomplishment that goads me as a writer. And I’m not alone: last year, 431,626 writers worldwide cranked out a couple of billion words. Of Jack Kerouac’s breathless style, Truman Capote famously snarked, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” Well, so what? There is something appealing about NaNoWriMo—the breakneck quality, maybe, or the ultra-supportive community. Maybe, as Benjamin Percy says in Thrill Me, his new collection of craft essays, it's really just about showing up for your writing. The practice and craft of writing is fetishistic at times, and setting the bar low—at a basic word count—takes the pressure off in a big way. What is a novel, anyway? If it’s just a pile of sentences, a word count, then we may as well all be Jack Nicholson in The Shining, pecking out the same phrase over and over. Plot, ...
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GOLDEN DELICIOUS, a novel by Christopher Boucher, reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

GOLDEN DELICIOUS by Christopher Boucher Melville House Publishing, 323 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster The best experimental fiction challenges the reader to think and feel in new kinds of ways but also invites her along for the journey. Christopher Boucher’s second novel, Golden Delicious, delivers partially on this promise. However, it reads like a literary experiment, more mathematical than artistic. Is it enjoyable? I can’t tell. Am I supposed to like it? I flipped the pages, thinking of David Foster Wallace’s essay “E Unibus Pluram.” Persistent irony is tiresome, he says. “Sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing but trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow … oppressed.” Although I didn’t feel carved out, I did feel oppressed by the sheer volume of surreal cleverness in Golden Delicious. As I dug in, I experienced the unsettling sensation of reading a book that is smarter than I am. 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 ...
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Come As You Are, a novel by Christine Weiser, reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

COME AS YOU ARE by Christine Weiser PS Books, 290 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster 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? This is the crux of the conflict in Come As You Are, a new novel by Christine Weiser. Three friends, now saddled with the responsibilities of adult life, get a chance to relive their grunge rock days. Kit, Margot, and Keri scattered after their band Broad Street broke up. Kit’s a single mother, living with her dad and “succumbing to financial reality” of a part-time job. Margot is a foxy daytime TV personality, sleeping with interns and capitalizing on her sex appeal. Keri, the drummer, is as perky and responsible as ever, settled down with her girlfriend and making good money. However, a sense of dissatisfaction dogs Kit and Margot. Why didn’t it work out? ...
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BEST READER, WORST ENEMY, a Craft Essay by Claire Rudy Foster

BEST READER, WORST ENEMY by Claire Rudy Foster There are two kinds of important reader: the one who hates you, and the one who understands you. When I write, I come to the page knowing that someone will probably hate what I produce. In fact, I count on this. As I work, I read each sentence as though I am my own worst enemy. Zadie Smith says to “try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.” That means that every adorable turn of phrase—everything that I thought was so smart—gets bullied out of the final copy. You can have one adverb. One. Not three. Oh good, another weird metaphor. Exclamation points, seriously? Are you in fifth grade? Imagine the most popular girl in your high school sneering over your story, elbowing her best friend, hissing get a load of this shit. That’s what I hear when I’m editing. My inner critic is every mean girl who ever made fun of my writing. I owe her: it’s criticism, not supportive encouragement, that makes me want to make my writing bulletproof. I can hear their voices now. Maybe yours is one ...
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A CONVERSATION WITH CLAIRE RUDY FOSTER author of I’ve Never Done This Before

A CONVERSATION WITH CLAIRE RUDY FOSTER  author of I’ve Never Done This Before The KLEN+SOBR Interventions, 78 pages interviewed by KC Mead-Brewer Claire Rudy Foster's short story collection I'VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE made its official debut just this week from KLĒN+SŌBR Interventions. It's a tight collection with six stories' worth of addiction, struggle, pain, and grit. Foster's critically acclaimed short fiction has been nominated for an AWP award, a Pushcart Prize, and a Best of the Web award. Foster will be giving her first public reading from the collection at The Alano Club of Portland this upcoming October 22nd. —KC M-B KMB: I love the title of your collection, all the different ways it applies (and perhaps sometimes doesn’t, perhaps only as a lie or a trick or a wish) to your various characters. How did you go about deciding on the “I Never” premise of these stories—was it like playing a much grittier, more intense version of that old childhood game “I Never,” or did the connection between these stories arise of its own accord? Something else altogether? CRF: The title is a line from [a story in the collection] “Runaway.” In many ways, the main character of that ...
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EMOTION IS NOT PLOT: Using Detachment to Create Powerful Fiction, a craft essay by Claire Rudy Foster

EMOTION IS NOT PLOT: Using Detachment to Create Powerful Fiction by Claire Rudy Foster In her recent essay on fiction and failure in Electric Lit, Ramona Aubusel asserts that “part of what makes a good writer is the ability to be porous, to feel all the intricate and complicated notes, the particular music of each moment.” To be present in your skin, then, instead of feeling something in your bones. Here’s my greatest fear: that I will never be able to name the essential emotions I perceive in myself and others. Our shifting tide and all its smells and sweat and words and secret hidden codes and eyelashes and old letters and emotional ephemera that moves across the surface of the human world like that gyre of discarded belongings and trash that is so large it could cover Texas and is comprised of plastic, the things made of plastic that surround us our whole lives, including baby pacifiers and Barbie dolls and old soccer balls and parts of cars and rubber duckies and condoms and tiny things collected by the swale of the sea the way we will accumulate a hundred precious objects and love them as though they were anything ...
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LOST WORDS, a novel by Nicola Gardini, reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

LOST WORDS by Nicola Gardini translated by Michael F. Moore New Directions, 232 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster I was going through some boxes this afternoon and found a photograph of myself, age seven, grinning and standing on the balcony of a hotel in Maui. My hair, like the grass skirt I'm wearing, is straw colored and stiff, sticking out from my head. My nose is too big for my face and my smile is oversized too, like a little clown's. Behind me, a splash of blue indicates a swimming pool. There are palm trees. My shell necklace was scratchy, and only a moment before she lifted the camera between us, my mother put a crimson hibiscus flower behind my ear. “Hold still,” she said. That’s my only clear memory from 1991. As an adult, I have since learned that plenty went down that year, but all I remember is a flower, my mother, the heat. The filter of childhood is myopically thick, and the bits of information that make it through are unpredictable. 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 ...
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THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES, a novel by Yuri Herrera, reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES by Yuri Herrera translated by Lisa Dillman And Other Stories Publishing, 101 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster There’s something about summer heat that pounds the world into a flat, dusty slab. Your mouth dries out, and your brain loses its moisture and turns to lizardy thoughts instead. Compassion? It’s in short supply. “For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring,” Shakespeare said. Yuri Herrera’s short novel The Transmigration of Bodies is all blood and madness, a noir fantasy set against a hard-baked Mexican landscape. Even the air, in Herrera’s world, has been smothered, “almost insubordinate with odors: because there was no smoke, the scent of jacaranda could be clearly discerned among the miasmas that had been blown uphill like never before, in the tropical storm that had skewiffed the wind like never before—and so the smells, rather than fading, fermented.” As if that isn’t bad enough, everyone’s dying. A mosquito-borne epidemic, passed from bite to blood to breath to skin, is killing people left and right. To the Redeemer, “a brickshitting ambulance-chaser carving out a career in fifth-rate courts,” it’s all business as usual. He’s a sweaty loser, renting a room in a ...
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BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, a novel by Elliott Chaze, reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL by Elliott Chaze introduction by Barry Gifford New York Review Books Classics, 209 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Some people believe that for each person there is only one soulmate. One chance. One perfect fit. The soulmate completes us and knits up our ragged edges. We heal into a wholeness that is sacred. It's fate, people say. It's the way of the world. Broken marriage? He wasn't your soulmate. Still lonely? Haven't yet met your soulmate. When the soulmate appears, it's like the universe holds a mirror up to us. Our love shows us our true selves. Everything is beautiful. But beauty can kill, too. Elliott Chaze's novel Black Wings Has My Angel explores a brilliant but fatal partnership between two criminals bent on committing the perfect heist. “Tim Sunblade”—not his real name—escapes prison with nothing but his wits and a foolproof plan for a high-end robbery. His first week back in civilian life, he hires Virginia, a “ten-dollar tramp” who is not only more than what he paid for, but more than he bargained for. “What I wanted was a big stupid commercial blob of a woman; not a slender poised thing with ...
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FORTUNE’S FATE, a very long novel by Miriam Graham, reviewed with great forbearance by Flair Coody Roster

FORTUNE'S FATE by Miriam Graham Unreal Imprints, 1075  pages reviewed by Flair Coody Roster Although I have never personally met Miriam Graham, I learned everything about her that I could possibly wish in what is her debut (and hopefully only) novel, Fortune’s Fate, forthcoming this August from Unreal Imprints. As a veteran reviewer, I no longer assess a book by its contents. (All of the best authors are dead, except for TuPac.) Instead, I take a long, hard look at the author's bio. The bio is the hardest thing to write—harder than a 100,000 word novel—and reveals more than most writers intend. Graham congratulates herself on her participation in several mid-tier workshops (tuition, not merit-based), name-drops a few nobodies, and dribbles out some gratitude for the emotional support provided by her eight Persian cats. None of this is important or interesting. The photo, however, says it all. Graham's deep-set, cowardly eyes told me at once that I was in for a massively disappointing read, and that I should probably contact my therapist because Graham looks a lot like my mother and I was feeling very triggered. Although my therapist has since reassured me several times that Graham did not deliberately ...
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HERE COME THE DOGS, a novel by Omar Musa, reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

HERE COME THE DOGS by Omar Musa The New Press, 330 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster You had to be there. Right? That's how these things work—the magic of moments strung together, a shared lexicon, the bond of shared origins. Omar Musa's brilliant first novel Here Come The Dogs unpicks the rough, multifaceted hip-hop culture of small-town Australia. Immediate and compelling, this one deserves a place on the shelf next to Trainspotting or The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Both a snapshot of a specific time and place, and an examination of the broadness of humanity, Here Come The Dogs is filled with stinging insights, delivered in freestyle and lyric prose. In hip-hop, context is everything. Those who know, know. Inside that world—word battles and swag weed—a man can be a prince if he spits good rhyme. Outside, it's a different story. The guy dominating the mic last night is waiting to wash your car windows this morning. Who is underneath the shiny props and thick black tattoos? Solomon, Jimmy, and Aleks—one Samoan, one Macedonian, and one unknown—waste time being cool in small ways. They're half-assing it, diverting their hustle to greater things in the way that artists do. One ...
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FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

Fat City
FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner introduction by Denis Johnson New York Review Books, 191 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster We steal. Writers do. A good writer is a magpie, searching other people's sentences for something that glimmers. A good writer reads with a jeweler's loupe. Close reading, and the willingness to borrow shamelessly from other people's works, is what differentiates the casual writer from the serious writer. Very serious writers find other writers' reading lists, and read them. And then those writers' lists, their influences. And so on back. Read up the chain. Understanding what a writer reads, and how they read it, can give deep insight into the craft of storytelling. But getting inside means finding the book that matters most; the one that changed everything. Fat City by Leonard Gardner is one of these. It's cited as a major influence by writers like Denis Johnson and Joan Didion. Ever heard of it? Me neither. Like its main characters—two perpetually out-of-luck boxers—Fat City is the best book you've never read. It resists hype in a way that's refreshing. In an age that lives for the reboot—J.K. Rowling's return to YA fiction, Harper Lee's lost manuscript, ...
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WAVELAND: One Woman’s Story of Freedom Summer by Simone Zelitch reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

WAVELAND: One Woman's Story of Freedom Summer by Simone Zelitch The Head & The Hand Press 221 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Any discussion of race is going to include a good story. Identity is organic; it's not semiotic, raised like softened noodles from a theoretical alphabet soup. Race is about how we relate to ourselves, to others, and how our stories mix together. Is it an educated, white woman's privilege to say that? Maybe. I can't see outside of myself, though I can admit my limitations. I wouldn't presume to take on another person's story, as that dishonors their experience. This dilemma—the quandary of the white liberal who genuinely wants to work for racial equality—is the piercing thread that runs through Simone Zelitch's fourth novel, Waveland. Set in 1964 and the decade that follows, Waveland brings the Freedom Summer to life. Young people from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) worked to register African-American voters in Mississippi. They set up Freedom Schools in church basements and back rooms and offered classes in civics and basic skills. They were beaten, arrested, and disappeared. The mixed group, SNCC, was real—not imagined—and when Zelitch starts blurring the lines of history with ...
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HEDERA HELIX by Claire Rudy Foster

HEDERA HELIX by Claire Rudy Foster That morning there was an email from Paul. Gemma clicked on it without thinking. Her coffee mug steamed at her elbow, too hot to drink. She forced her eyes to focus on the tiny electronic letters. Legal issues, he wrote. Looks like it's back to jail, do not pass go. I'll try to be out by summer break so we can meet again in the usual place. She had to read it twice, slowly. Then she slammed the laptop shut, as though extinguishing a flame. Pouring her coffee into the travel thermos, she took care to rest the lips of the cups together. That way, even her shivering hands couldn't spill—no messes, her kitchen spotless, not a beer can in sight, the garbage can empty and lined with a fresh plastic bag. A place where no roach dared to tread. Don't nobody know my troubles with God, she sang along with Moby on the radio. Traffic was light going into the city, but she tailgated the red Civic in front of her anyway. The maples and pines that shouldered together on both sides of the highway were close and dark, the ivy obscuring their ...
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THE WAKE by Paul Kingsnorth reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

THE WAKE by Paul Kingsnorth Graywolf Press, 365 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster As I write this, the white half of the world is up in arms about a lion, killed on the other side of the globe. Black protestors in Ferguson stand in lines, chanting the names of the dead. Videos are released of police officers assaulting, maiming, and shooting unarmed black citizens. The temperature soars to 165 degrees in Iran. This summer has been too hot, a climate sweating for change. It is the oldest story: the new idea comes, and grinds the good old world into dust. And another idea on top of that, invaders with new languages and new philosophies. Not all new ideas are good; genocide is one of them. We're still seeing the systemic elimination of natives from their own land, in the United States and elsewhere. Sacred tribal lands are sold to copper mining companies. Lakes where gods once rose to give prophecy, poisoned by industrial waste. The crushing disappointment of our modern losses is brought to life in The Wake, which takes place in England in 1066 A.D. Awakened to the impending disaster of the Norman Invasion, Buccmaster of Holland begins ...
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I REFUSE by Per Petterson reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

I REFUSE by Per Petterson translated by Don Bartlett Graywolf Press, 282 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster The fact is that part of you is always fifteen, and will always be that silly, stunted age, when you had all the answers and your heart was folded as neatly as a napkin. The age when you sampled cigarettes and realized how easy it would be to run away from home, for good. The age when the drink or the drug worked, for the first time, altering the way you saw yourself and the rest of the messy, stimulating world. The fact is that everyone is this way, forever fifteen. We age in place, with our bodies getting older around the skeletons of our memories, which are fixed as the spears of a crystal. The same is true of Per Petterson, who circles the same heavy themes over and over again, as though hoping to divine their meaning. I Refuse, his latest novel, revisits familiar territory: cruel adults, absent parents, the unspoken pact between friends, and an eyeless God hanging over the whole scene like a painted canopy. Released over a month ago, I Refuse is already “selling like ...
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LEAVETAKING by Peter Weiss reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

LEAVETAKING by Peter Weiss translated by Christopher Levenson with an introduction by Sven Birkerts Melville House Publishing, 125 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster The late years of adolescence are the torch on the sugar of the artist's will to create. Forgive the metaphor; I won't extend it. But as I was reading Peter Weiss' novella-slash-memoir Leavetaking, I couldn't help but think of my father, cracking into a crème brûlée with the backside of a spoon. I do not recall the restaurant, the rest of the meal, or the occasion, but I can remember clearly the strong, decided crack of the spoon against the caramelized crust and my father's white shirt cuffs and the satisfied look on his face as the dessert shattered, fragments piercing like shrapnel the smooth, sweet cream. My father has always done things with precision; I know him as someone who deliberates, and is a model of patience although he does not enjoy waiting. When he left home, it was time. We knew our exits just as we acknowledged the brief silence between courses, the arrival of a new dish on its small, white plate. Leavetaking is about the last, painful years prior to a young artist's ...
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THE DOOR by Magda Szabó reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

THE DOOR by Magda Szabó translated by Len Rix introduction by Ali Smith New York Review Books, 262 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Popular aphorism: the Eskimo people have more than 50 words for snow. They have, embedded in their language, almost a hundred distinctive terms for each type of snow, every kind of snow that can possibly exist or has ever existed. Every delineation within the semantic category “snow” is honored by its specific traits and virtues. The types cannot coexist, though they may drift into one another. Another popular aphorism: love is patient, love is kind. Love being as common as snowflakes to us, as individual and as piercing. We should have a thousand names for love; it seems unnatural to group them all under one generic title. One four-letter word. Some types of love cannot be corralled, as narrator Magda finds in the legendary Hungarian novelist Magda Szabó's novel The Door, originally published in 1987 and now out in a new English translation by Len Rix. These other kinds of love are elemental—the way the Greek heroes were, in their mythological stature—and too terrible to share the flimsy mantel “love” with puppy-dog eyes and Valentine cards ...
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EVERLASTING LANE by Andrew Lovett reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

EVERLASTING LANE by Andrew Lovett Melville House, 353 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Why do we think that childhood is a golden, untouchable idyll? Childhood is horrible; even the happy, non-traumatic ones, stuffed with loving family, good food, summer vacations, and abundant laughter, weigh on us. As we pass through the gates of maturity, moving towards our adult selves, we forget the burden of being a child. Proust, with his Sisyphean sentences, knew. Roddy Doyle knew it, wrote it into his perfect novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. And Andrew Lovett knows it. His first novel, Everlasting Lane, captures the dreaminess of childhood, and the small details that make it nightmarish as well. I had a particularly fine childhood, in case you wondered. My parents were kind and affectionate. There were picnics. Ice cream. I liked school, and was allowed to read whatever I wanted. In the summers, my sister and I went to stay with our grandparents. On the weekends, we listened to bluegrass music in the park, hiked in the woods, and rode our bikes around the nearby lake. I do not say that childhood is horrible because mine was. I say it, because childhood is a time ...
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BLOWIN’ IT by Wintfred Huskey reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

BLOWIN’ IT by Wintfred Huskey The Head & The Hand Press, 355 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Although the motif of the try-hard hipster wore thin over a decade ago, it’s still being trotted out in popular films, cartoons, articles, and so forth. The accusation of hipster-ness, which is distinct from being “hip,” at least where I live, is a serious one. Hipsters are characterized by a blissful ignorance that borders on denial. (Peter Pan was probably the original hipster.) A hipster appropriates the costumes of other characters and blends them, creating a deliberate pastiche of playful yet ironic cultural references. A hipster wears workingman’s boots and has hands softer than a lady’s kid gloves. The odds are good that he (or she) holds a white-collar job or the creative equivalent; the coffee shop is their daytime hub, and at night they hover around lumberjack-themed bars, drinking cheap American draft beers and talking loudly about other people’s art. They are cultural locusts, wandering in an aimless cloud, wondering what on earth they will now do with their shiny new college degrees and Tumblr blogs and secret proclivity for trashy pop music. This is the subject of Wintfred Huskey’s wicked ...
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ANOTHER MAN’S CITY by Choe In-Ho reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

ANOTHER MAN'S CITY by Choe In-Ho Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton Dalkey Archive (Library of Korean Literature), 190 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster As I'm writing this, the rain is beginning. The spattering sounds of drops hitting the fat, broad maple leaves on the tree outside my window catch my ear like static. The rain turns on the rich, dirt smell of the ground and dampens the sound of passing traffic. My neighbor, who plays the piano for the Portland Opera, is practicing some Brahms and singing out the notes as he plays them. This is my place. Do I think I belong here because my senses interpret it as “mine,” and I'm attached to the reality I identify as “mine,” or do I belong in any old place, whether I recognize my surroundings or not? This impossible question is the crux of Choe In-Ho's novel Another Man's City. I walked into it expecting something bizarre, futuristic, and possibly a bit whimsical. But this is not The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Instead, I ended up in one of Philip K. Dick's amphetamine dreams. “Every train station displays a timetable,” he writes, For the public, it's a kind ...
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DUPLEX by Kathryn Davis reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster

DUPLEX by Kathryn Davis Graywolf Press, 195 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster “It is not wise to break the rules until you know how to observe them,” said T.S. Eliot. Author Kathryn Davis has taken the aphorism to heart.In her latest novel, Duplex, a series of simple stories fit neatly into one another: she’s following the rules. Boy meets girl, boy sells his soul for fame. A woman takes a lover. A woman goes on a journey. And then she breaks them: using a pared-down voice and a lush palette of nightmarish images, she leads the reader through a futuristic suburb populated by robots, sorcerers, traveling photographers, and all kinds of ordinary-seeming people. It’s a pleasure to watch her break each rule, twisting the familiar fables and tropes into something shining and snarled, like a coil of steel wire left out as a trap for rabbits. The components of the plot are in fact mercifully simple, as anything more elaborate would sink the novel. As it is, the story centers around two star-crossed children, Mary and Eddie, and their neighbors, Miss Vicks the schoolteacher, and a sorcerer with white and wandering fingers. A family of robots lives next door ...
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