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Reviews

The Whole of Life by Jürg Laederach

wholeoflife-193x300The Whole of Life
by Jürg Laederach
Dalkey Archive Press, Jan 2014
300 pages / $15  Buy from Amazon or Dalkey Archive

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the publication of Jürg Laederach’s The Whole of Life, out now from Dalkey Archive Press, I revisited his very funny and hip 1990 Semitext(e) collection, 69 Ways to Play the Blues. Laederach is a one-time enfant terrible of Swiss literature (he writes “I’ll be called a young writer until I’m eighty,”) and his work epitomizes boomer cool. A devotee of Jazz and Downtown Music, Laederach made several trips to NYC during the 1980s. 69 Ways was written on the third trip.

Laederach is an avowed devotee of improvisational music:

69 Ways crackles with wry observations. On Bleecker Street: I am Bleecker Street, “that intersects and eschews any rude display of house numbers.”

On the view from Swiss cemeteries: “To a majority of the inhabitants of Switzerland, death, not Lake Geneva, brings about a marked improvement in their standard of living. Great pains are taken to see to it that graveyards have a “view” they are thus conceived with a strong sense of landscape and perspective.”

When authors get hungry: “All he could do was point a shaky finger at a sandwich and growl.”

The Whole of Life shares this offbeat cool. Framed as a sort of messy first-person, the plot follows a Swiss everyman, Bob Hecht, (endearingly called “My boy Bob Hecht” a la Charles Mingus: Beneath the Underdog) as he navigates mid-century industrial Europe.

The book is very funny and sprawling. The ethos of improvisation is most noticeable in Laederach’s pastichework. Different styles and references are co-opted and incorporated as a sort of self-analysis. In one section, a year of unhappy cohabitation is narrated as a boxing match. In another, he parses out the existential implications of deleting a Jewish character from the text. He has persistent dopplegangers, including a pair supposedly co-writing his memoir. The text falls into stage directions. And technical directions: “PAN F Perceptol min 68 F 10 ASA 25 DIN 15 Microphen min 20 C 4 ASA 64 DIN 19 or 68 F 5 650 ASA DIN 29 with reduction to 125 … The kind of prose we can expect in the future.” But through all this, he maintains a detached cool.

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April 18th, 2014 / 10:00 am

video trailer for
SORROWTOOTHPASTE MIRRORCREAM
A collection of poems from Kim Hyesoon.
Translated by Don Mee Choi.

(video by The Viper, Paul Cunningham)

—————————————————
and “Filthy filthy filthy I’m so filthy” reminds me I’ve been dreaming Ron Silliman again
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Tommy Pico’s Absent Mindr

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Poetry and eBooks have never played well together because, for instance, fixed line lengths don’t jive with the reader’s ability to adjust type size (poetry is too rigid). There are, of course, some clunky workarounds, like including a note for users to match their settings so that the longest line in the book is unbroken. Certainly this doesn’t have to be an issue; it’s something an HTML5 developer could solve quickly, I think—but why should they?

Limitations drive ingenuity. I’ve often wondered if, say, no one figured out how to make cars, would something else have been invented? Antimatter transportation!

Tommy Pico, who does Birdsong, released what he calls the first poetry App (for iOS and tablets) yesterday. Called Absent Mindr, it’s a “ch-app” he says—of course it is!—with 24 poems in four sections, situated alongside audio playback of him reading the poems, and bright collages by Cat Glennon.

The poetry is cool. That’s first. I really appreciate that the literature isn’t secondary to techcrunches, and the press release for this app is all about the poetry. Certainly it’s good stuff (read “Inheritance” at Best American Poetry), and Tommy “Teebs” Pico’s voice is pitch perfect on the audio (which can be listened to when you’re not connected, like on the subway, because all the content is a download), but what I’m really impressed by and excited about is the presentation, which is slick and gorgeous. It’s antimatter transportation to cars. The app considers the poetry, the art matches the tone. Books rarely match content with UX this well.

I think apps are expensive to create, whereas eBooks are free—but Absent Mindr suggests there’s a good future for presenting poetry this way. As startups like Atavist, Byliner, Oyster, Zola, Wattpad, Readmill (RIP) and Medium etc explore how to monetize this new frontier, it will be interesting to see what DIY pioneers like Tommy Pico create in the margins.

Anecdotally, I got my hands on the app just a day before I went to NYC for the Chapbook Festival. He did a good job spreading the word, because the room was abuzz about it (ie. three or four people mentioned the app to me while I was there). Chapbooks are a space traditionally reserved for handmade, crafty, papery books that fold, but they are open to sweet new fields like—may I suggest—chappbooks.

Author Spotlight / No Comments
April 16th, 2014 / 9:41 am

Crad Kilodney passed away yesterday. Here’s something on Crad by Richard Grayson.

under the skin 1

……………….Am I right in thinking that Under The Skin is a kind of beautiful, thought-provoking movie that’s worth seeing, hypnotic, etc, etc…?? But just not quite right??…(I mean that can be a good thing)…But maybe it could have benefited from more terrifying “baby alone on the beach” kind of stuff?? I dunno. Watcha think ??…………..

under the skin 2

Do you know how to drive stick?

Reviews

Crystal Eaters by Shane Jones

18220681Crystal Eaters
by Shane Jones
Two Dollar Radio, June 2014
202 pages / $16  Buy from Amazon or Two Dollar Radio

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first, most obvious observation to make about Shane Jones’ Crystal Eaters is that it begins with a countdown. Its first page is numbered 183, and it descends from there, 182, 181, 180, on and on, a timer that makes this novel feel like an unusually rigid experience, temporally speaking. After all, most books are objects that readers pick up and interact with on their own terms, at their own individual paces. Crystal Eaters’ countdown, however, makes the book feel fleeting. While in the midst of reading it, I imagined it still counting down even when sitting on my coffee table, closed—like I would eventually open it again only to find all its pages blank, its time expired.

Crystal Eaters focuses on a village that “survives on myth,” and Jones’ paginated countdown helps immerse the reader in the village’s central belief: that human beings are filled with crystals—100 at the time of birth—which crystals are then lost over the course of a life (bled out, vomited up, etc. etc.), until a person’s number reaches zero, and that person dies. The crystals are multi-colored, and Jones writes of village kids witnessing “their parents vomiting blue and yellow slush into kitchen sinks, toilets, couch cushions, their laps.” Illness in this book is surprising in its glowing, cotton-candy brightness. Almost psychedelic.

Jones’ cornerstone character—named Mom—is an example of psychedelic sickness. Shriveled by illness, Mom spews red everywhere at dinnertime. She’s down to her last few crystals, and she will die soon, a reality with which her family struggles. Her husband—named Dad—is aloof, trying to make the impending tragedy easy for everyone, but ultimately helpless against his wife’s disease. Their daughter—named Remy—believes that there must be a way to increase a person’s crystal count, thus staving off death. “The universe is a system where children watch their parents die,” perhaps, but not Remy: “She’ll save Mom from experiencing the number zero.”

A fourth character, however, expands the novel’s scope beyond the village. This character—Mom and Dad’s son, and Remy’s brother—is imprisoned, and his name is Pants McDonovan. (This may be the key question of my entire review: Do you or do you not want to own a novel that features a character named “Pants McDonovan”?) Pants used to be a revolutionary, waging a war against the unnamed metropolis that inches closer to the village each day (modernity threatening to engulf the village’s way of life). Now, Pants lingers in his cell, eating pieces of his secret stash of “black crystals.” No villager apart from Pants has ever seen a black crystal before; they exist as part of the larger system of myth that Jones suggests through his use of in-text citations, e.g., “His left eye drips crystal (Chapter 5, Death Movement, Book 8),” and, “the city has powers (Chapter 14, Resurrection, City Hospital Myth).” Remy thinks these black crystals might hold the secret to increasing Mom’s crystal count, but Pants, locked away from his family and unaware of the severity of Mom’s illness, uses the crystals in a different way: he ingests them to prompt hallucinations that help him escape the indignities of prison life.

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April 14th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley

indexThe Selected Letters of Robert Creeley
Edited by Rod Smith, Peter Baker, & Kaplan Harris
University of California Press 2014
512 pages / $65  Buy from Amazon or University of California Press

 

 

 

 

The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley is an engaging, thoroughly worthwhile selection of the poet’s correspondence spanning his complete life. The editorial work done here is quite impressive. The only areas to be possibly improved upon would be further notes in the back of the book and more illustrations. The letters span some sixty odd years, so although Creeley is perhaps one of the greatest over-photographed poets of our time it seems appropriate to have at least one photograph per decade. As it is there’s about three, including the photo on the cover. It is admittedly difficult to locate yet-unseen images of him, but several pages of reproduced letter manuscripts or perhaps images of this or that difficult to obtain publication would have sufficed instead. And it proves difficult not to wish for some further elaboration upon the minimal notes included. Not every reader has the book open next to the computer to take advantage of Wikipedia and Google. Yet as stated the overall skilled arrangement of the whole book is such that these are minor quibbles.

Creeley himself well understood the massive assembling project that any selection of his letters represented. Writing to editor Rod Smith, Creeley describes his sense of how “some general ‘map’ or sense of focus or parameter would be the first need.” He then immediately suggests the then-recent “selection of [Charles] Olson letters–or Gregory’s, just out from ND” as some examples of what he has in mind as successes.  The latter volume, An accidental autobiography: the selected letters of Gregory Corso (New Directions “ND” 2003), I fondly recall a poet-pal curling up with in bed while down LA’s Chinatown for a reading, a small group of us having driven down for the event.

Creeley’s Selected, however, easily outshines my experience of reading Corso’s correspondence. This is no small feat given that so little is readily available concerning Corso, while material on Creeley is quite plentiful. I say this having an equal interest in both poets and having read ALL available material on each of them. Corso’s letters, for all his charm, are just too repetitive. They round out the experience of his poems but are ultimately as inhibited by his vices as the poems too often sadly prove to be. On the other hand, Creeley’s letters truly offer all that any of his readers might imagine and more. Not that Creeley didn’t indulge his share of vices: mention of numerous illicit substances make repeated revolving door appearance in the letters as do his (nearly) overlapping romances and marriages.

As a persistent reader of all things Creeley I would have thought there was little to be newly discovered about his life and writing. But the letters quickly prove just how wrong it is to make such an assumption. The simplest of fresh things I’ve come across is Creeley’s repeated use of “voila” throughout his correspondence. He’s usually using it as a turn of phrase to sum up his recounting of some recent excitement to a correspondent. Often it occurs near either the conclusion of the entire letter or some lengthy passage in particular, as if to say “see what I mean! And so now:” before continuing on to his next thought.

This reoccurring word appears early on in the letters and at first had me thinking it was something he just tried out which would then disappear as time went by; but I found it continued throughout decade after decade. This caught my attention because it is not a regularly used figure of speech I’ve found in any of Creeley’s other writings, poems, published interviews, essays, etc. where appear an abundance of what I term Creeleyisms. Familiar phrasal patterns to which he easily returns over and over again, yet the “voila” is present just in his correspondence. My new found Creeleyism: Voila.

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April 14th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service: Bryan Coffelt

Person

It looks around after it pokes its head out and it sees that it can still make McDonald’s breakfast if it hurries.

Person

She goes to school, she fingerpaints the universe, she responds to stimuli, she fits her responses in her lunch box, she talks like “I am embarrassed of this lunch box,” she twinkles and thinks of what a gaping asshole the future is. She does karate on a classmate, she goes home, she does karate on the darkness.

People

If you really want to know someone, watch how they cut meat.

People

“Here is my lighter. Don’t look at me, and don’t fucking hurt yourself.”

“Here is my fucking Gmail password, don’t look at me.”

“Here is my favorite book in the world, fucking read it. Don’t fucking look at me.”

“Here is my fucking full external hard drive, don’t look at me.”

Person

She likes chicken on her salad. She hates the impermanence of lettuce. She has thoughts like, “I can feel it moving through me. My body is a level of Donkey Kong.”

People

“In five years, we will have at least one,” she said. Then, five years later, we had a squirming, sloppy little child. He swam out of her backwards, which made me nervous. When he dropped into the doctor’s thinly latexed fingers, I choked on my spit and coughed, trying to struggle out that I loved him.

The doctors wiped grayness from the Tonka toy of a man. I felt, for whatever splash of seconds fucking minutes, that he would be the one thing that would not drag or be dragged through it all. I thought of my own undoing, the way I look at myself in the mirror now and consider myself as a piece of gutted history, a product, phallic, a fuck ton of haircuts.

People

Someone will eventually say, “I remember when this was a Denny’s,” and everyone will feel like they’ve been shoved.

Bio: Bryan Coffelt lives in Portland, OR. These pieces are from an as-of-yet-untitled book that is forthcoming from sunnyoutside press.

Sunday Service / 1 Comment
April 13th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Elmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia by Tom Bradley

1525549_689531887734505_1284360628_nElmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia
by Tom Bradley
Illustrations by David Aronson and Nick Patterson
Mandrake of Oxford Press, 2014
134 pages / $14.99 Buy from Amazon or Mandrake of Oxford

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aleister Crowley is thinking about Germany’s late chancellor:

…my magickal child… who queefed out of my psychic vagina at an unguarded moment…[who] flopped from my left auditory meatus like a menstrual clot with incipient toothbrush mustache…

His mind wanders, logically enough, to Esoteric Hitlerism, the foetal religion presently aborning in Chile. He would like to drop by Santiago and have a chat, perhaps to “glean some intelligence from the gauchos.”

But it’s too late. No more time for the transoceanic jaunts that have varied his long life and kept boredom at bay. The Great Beast 666 happens to be on his death bed. Chapter One is over, and he dies.

Chapter Two begins as follows:

So, let’s sort this out, shall we?

In those seven words you have the essence of this particular historical figure: unkillable inquisitiveness, unshakable aplomb in the sort of psychic circumstances that drove so many of his apprentices and fellow magi insane. Of Crowley’s many fictionalizations, this novel gets best into his head. Erudite, prideful, lascivious, funniest man of his time, and the mightiest spiritual spelunker–he speaks and shouts from these pages as clearly as he did in his Autohagiography, which is paradoxical, given the irreal setting of Elmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia.

Now that his mortal coil has been shuffled off, Crowley doesn’t know quite what to expect. He has mastered the world’s ancient funerary texts as thoroughly as anyone who ever lived, but fundamental questions remain. Will he be privileged to climb the sevenfold heavens promised by the Gnostics? Will his eyes be offered a luminous series of Tibetan liminalities, clear and smoke-colored?

Apparently not.

Something else materializes and looms up, rather more architectural. It appears the Egyptians came closer than anyone to getting it right.

Crowley’s ghost has been deposited in the Hall of the Divine Kings, as described in the Nilotic Book of the Dead. Of course, our hubristic Baphomet assumes that he’s about to be greeted as a peer by the immortal gods, “the soles of whose sandals are higher than ten thousand obelisks stacked end-to-end.”

But, no, they brush him off like a midge. He’s expected to supplicate like any run-of-the-mill dead person, to have his demerit counterpoised in the balance against a feather. Godhood denied, our high adept has been doomed to reenter the tedious cycle of rebirth. Injured pride, disappointed expectations, the prospect of boredom–these have never sat well with Thelema’s Prophet-Seer-Revelator. He’s about to start behaving badly. (A signal for us to stand well back and shield our eyes and ears.)

If he must return to the rigmarole of existence, it will be on his own terms. Exercising his prerogative as a magus of the highest accomplishment, Aleister Crowley will pick and choose his next carcass. He cold-shoulders the Divine Kings and calls forth Baubo, the headless Greek comedienne-demoness. Her job is to whisper filthy jokes to the peregrinating monad, to get it into a “meaty mood” before it gets stuffed, yet again, among female intestines.

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April 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Random & Reviews

Some Poems…

indexRussian Novels
by Luke Bloomfield
Factory Hollow Press, 2014

Unlike the archetypal Russian Novel, Luke Bloomfield’s Russian Novels is little more than a centimeter or so thick, 60-some pages of poems with names like “The Duffel Bag” and “Fisticuffs.”  Most of the poetry inside the book feels as flat as the book, a sort of day-old-seltzer meets #normcore poetics.  The first poem, for example, begins “When I go 2 Paris / it is like Paris,” and goes on to blanket classically French France in stereotypical American stereotype: “Voila, Paris France! / All the cigarettes everywhere / are pronounced cigarette.”  In this trick, Bloomfield spells cigarette cigarette and, abracadabra, we the audience mind-mold the word like Play-Doh.  The point seems to be that language is as wild and plastic as a “bird” that appears, disappears, and reappears throughout Russian Novels, always cast as simply “bird”—and yet each of these birds, conjured in Bloomfield’s magic, manages to manifest a somewhat unique form. The limitation of such simple syntax is clear however, when, in certain poems like “The Affair I Had With Sweden,” the author tries to reveal some semi-complicated personal gunk: “It sent me over the edge. / I don’t leave the kitchen ever. / All day I hack food into Swedish shapes. / And you know what else I do.”  I don’t know, do you?  What are we supposed to know? I know Russian Novels is not a novel; the MARC code on the back of the book says Poetry and the Very Poetic Word “flotsam” appears in the title of a poem on page 47. I know that the cover of Russian Novels presents a blurry photograph of a nose, but I don’t know whether or not this is Bloomfield’s schnoz?  And I just don’t know what Bloomfield thinks he knows that I know.

Flat affect tends to belie emotional content, and in lines like “Pity me.  I have nowhere to walk,” Bloomfield has incanted a dissociative poetics reminiscent of Nintendo sidescroller.  The action is pretty fun but Russian Novels, like video games, lacks a third dimension.  The book’s tender moment of intimacy (MOI), imo, comes in the author’s dedication, “for my sister.” A close second: Bloomfield’s confession that he sleeps in astronaut-themed bed-sheets.

***

IMG_2194Manual for Extinction
by Caroline Manring
The National Poetry Review Press, 2014

 

The earth in Manual for Extinction is a dour place where to be “alive was as good as dead.”  The manual doubles as a field guide for understanding this wilderness-less mess, a contemporary big-boxed landscape that, lucky for us, Caroline Manring has surveyed with her poetic binoculars.  Fans of “flotsam” will be pleased to find the word has survived End Times (hi flotsam!) and can be found in this book alongside lots of titles that start with the word how, as in “How to Go Extinct” and “How to Write a Debut Novel.”  There are a few outliers, such as “The Cartographer’s Children Go Without Shoes,” an evolutionary meditation that invokes the proto-winged avian-ancestor, Archaeopteryx, in which “A fossil is deciding / whether to save us.”  Manring demonstrates a cool familiarity with Biology while at the same time grappling with the paradox that Borges called exactitude in science. “A copy of a wolf & the wolf itself / are the same if you draw them both.”

A world of illustrated (aka dead) dodo birds, lost turkeys, and dilapidated human remains sounds shitty and scary but it is also quite literally what we’ve got.  In place of live starlings and spring robins we might increasingly encounter the complexity of nature only in the complexity of research finding that predict diminishing populations of red-winged blackbirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and buffleheads alike.  Manring writes in sympathy with these vanishing species, “I want less & less to be in present use.”  Would that we were all to follow such a guide.

***

tumblr_mj61u0pCl81qit5mao1_1280My Enemies
by Jane Gregory
The Song Cave, 2013

 

We’ve a lot to learn from My Enemies.   As the title suggests, many things are often as much what they are as what they are not.   Take, for example, Jane Gregory’s sonic yin and yang, “Cymbals / when washed up or out to sea are silent.”  Much like the potential for both mute and crash held in tempered bell bronze, Gregory has set temporality in opposition to intuition, and by that I mean . . . listen to her ring like an animated slomotion gif of a Zildjian: “I recognize the tongue of the wolf / before it is in the wolf’s mouth.”

1309197226_cymbal_hit_in_slomo

Wallace Stevens sez “Poems must resist the intelligence / almost successfully,” and My Enemies outmaneuvers the brain’s insistent cognition, which just cannot compute Jane Gregory.  The many poems entitled “Book I Will Not Write” are, as announced, books never really written.  But in the poetic summation of these non-books, the author has penned a must read.

Though unable to locate a single instance of “flotsam” inside this text, I found plenty of poetic words like “guncotton,” “ecdysis,” and “Proust.”

***

Peter Nowogrodzki lives in Hudson, NY

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April 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

I Read Scarecrone in the Bath

photo (3)

I read Scarecrone by Melissa Broder in the bath. Originally, I bought every copy of Scarecrone from Adam Robinson but then I sold them all back to him for the same price, except one, which I kept. That is the copy of Scarecrone I read in the bath.

I had a notebook and pen by the bath because I knew it would be an experience that I would want to express something about, even though I’m uneasy with experiences and expression.

Earlier, I’d read an interview of Melissa Broder by Shane Jones in The Believer about food and food rituals. The interview answers are very honest and detailed. I became upset as I read it because it put me in touch with a kind of radical normalcy in my thoughts and behaviors around food and my body. I began to wonder, as I’ve wondered before, if that normalcy has to do with how many hours & hours I spent in the bathtub as a child and teen, around my own naked body but not confronted with it. As a child and teen, in the bathtub, I usually either read, in which case I saw my headless naked body in the lower periphery, or I did things to make my body feel or do things, in which case I guess I closed my eyes or saw my body through unusual filters.

(I don’t know how to describe any of this in non-dualist ways, especially from the bath point of view since–unlike in the mirror where you see everything or mostly your face– in the bath you see your body but not your head where your brain is, so that the body really seems like something apart.)

I thought about how I have no discipline about food–no habits–but I do have a modicum of self-control. A lot of the interview was about bingeing, which I’ve never done, and which must require even more discipline than purging or limiting food. Bingeing must require a kind of vision, or drive, that will only work via an extreme amount of discipline that I’ll never have.

I thought about how uninterested in purity I am, especially when it comes to food and the body, which is part of what upset me about the interview. I have been slow to read Scarecrone in part because it seems pure and honest, and I am uncomfortable with purity and not very honest. Part of that dishonesty has probably led me throughout my life to deny the existence of any bad feelings about my body. Shame itself is so pure, or at least it’s predicated on the desire for purity. I am not honest about shame I might feel, or ways that I might wish I were pure or that something in the world were pure.

Still, I wanted to read Scarecrone in the bath. I thought something would happen to me if I did because I read reviews that said it is a book of spells, and I am most vulnerable to spells in the bath. I ran the water and realized it was much too hot. For the spell to work, I thought, maybe it would be better to sit naked on the cold toilet seat beside the bath but not get in, and read Scarecrone like that. Or maybe for it to work I should light candles and put them around the bath.

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Bath / 2 Comments
April 10th, 2014 / 9:00 am

Does anyone want to talk about The Grand Budapest Hotel? I think there’s a case to be made it’s Wes Anderson’s best film.

Reviews

Dept. of Speculation

deptBSSC-Offill_coverDept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Knopf, 2014
192 pages / $22.95 buy from Amazon
Rating: 3.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I read Michael J. Seidlinger’s list of indie lit for the year I was so excited that I stayed up until three AM all atwitter thinking about it, but for as excited as I am about the alt lit scene, the recent National Book Critics Awards finalists make it clear that the lit world at large lacks the same scope and enthusiasm.

The new Knopf book Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill is especially indicative of this endemic lack of innovation and the narrow definition of literary taste that seems to grip the big five publishers. READ MORE >

1 Comment
April 8th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

25 Pieces Of Writing Advice To End All Writing Advice

Most writing advice comes off as watered down and lacking both bark and bite. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the writer being hesitant to have his or her name attached to something potentially offensive. Very few seem to crave the public attention of being a curmudgeon spitting on the idealistic novice.

I’ve spent the last month contacting authors (both major house and indie; critically acclaimed and up-and-coming; big names and small; cock wavers and VIDA junkies) and a few influential editors, asking each to submit their most heartfelt, brutal, and honest writing advice they could think of. I promised to publish what they wrote anonymously. The following are the results.

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Craft Notes / 49 Comments
April 8th, 2014 / 10:51 am

Reviews

We All Sleep in the Same Room by Paul Rome

41iu9z7a9gL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_AA300_We All Sleep in the Same Room
by Paul Rome
Rare Bird Books, November 2013
192 pages / $14  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

In his debut novel, We All Sleep in the Same Room, Paul Rome achieves what even seasoned novelists often fail at: generating characters that feel real-to-life, situations that seem organic and natural, rather than the second-rate simulacra of bad fictions, and a cultivated style that is beautiful in its understated elegance — sculptural, even.

Much has been written lately on the ever-quickening Brooklyn lit scene, although there has probably never been a dearth of “Brooklyn novels” or “Brooklyn writers.” Rome’s first novel positions him as a new voice with an old soul, a writer more akin to Paul Auster both stylistically and thematically than to his peers, like Tao Lin and Adele Waldman, whose Taipei and The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., respectively, chronicle the lives of young, writerly Brooklyners as they negotiate the perilous hinterlands of relationships — both to others and to the self. Rome echoes Auster in his clean, well-lighted prose, and Rome’s conjuries of the city, with its infinite chance happenings and endless sense of mystery, is likewise definitely Austerian. But whereas Lin and Waldman direct their foci towards the realm of listless twenty-somethings, Rome explores the vagaries and varieties of middle-age. Despite its being set in the Fall of 2005, Rome’s New York is the New York of old, and his subjects are similarly different than those of his contemporaries.

With surprisingly intimate psychological acumen, he dissects, scrutinizes, and mournfully portrays Tom’s and Raina’s failing (and ultimately failed) relationship. Tom is a union lawyer, a hard-working professional dedicated deeply to, and personally invested in, the ideals of justice and equality that his firm ostensibly seeks to uphold. Within the novel’s overall context of loss, the presence of an idealistic politics on the part of Tom makes the withering of it all feel especially concussive.

The novel is characterized by a powerful sense of the teleological: every absence-haunted sentence — each of them exercises in the potency of minimalism done right — seems to foreshadow intensely and evoke powerfully the fact that the novel will have a devastating and inevitable end-point. It seems so frequently to be raining or snowing in Rome’s New York. We All Sleep in the Same Room is a very melancholy work. We are drawn inexorably towards the emotional black hole at the novel’s core; we are sucked beyond its event horizon with every painfully wrong move on the part of Tom. Jessie, a young and incredible eager young woman and a recent hire at the firm, is at the heart of Tom’s and Raina’s marital divide — sort of. Rather than coming across as a “manic pixie dream girl,” a young woman who is, like the young women in some of Philip Roth’s novels, a tabula rasa upon which a disaffected and disenchanted older man can project his erotic obsessions onto, Jessie is truly “three-dimensional” and deeply human. Rome’s characters operate on a number of different registers, all of them faithfully drawn and vividly realized.

Rome’s style is lucid and elegant; he handles the issue of back-story — a pitfall for even the greatest of writers — with admirable élan. Like James Salter (Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime) and Richard Yates (A Special Providence, Revolutionary Road), Rome is interested in the internal, in the mysteries of selfhood, of past, of memory, and of regret. These he explores, like Salter and Yates before him, through the lens of a relationship dissolving and disintegrating as a result of the pressure put on the present by the protagonist’s past mistakes. And Rome’s authorial voice is astoundingly mature, his style effortlessly clean: lyrically restrained and “taut,” his prose reflects the mounting tension and anxiety that come to pervade the work as Tom’s domestic and professional life unravel. Rome’s narration exudes confidence and assurance, and has an ethos from the first line to the last — the kind of ethos that carries a novel and ultimately makes it one worth reading.

The novel is haunting and understated, with sublimated and shadowy pasts that re-emerge like phantoms. The persistence of past mistakes, the persistence of time, the inevitable forward-movement and forward-momentum towards the end of all good, or seemingly good, things: these are Rome’s real narrative interests, and he delves into them in thought-provoking and emotionally resonant ways. We All Sleep in the Same Room is a dirge for things lost, a New York novel of the old-school, and a powerful debut by a writer who has almost preternaturally insightful things to say about all that is.

***

Michael Abolafia lives in New York City. His writing has appeared in SunlitSupernatural Tales, the New York Daily News‘ online book blog, Page Views, and other venues.

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April 7th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Made To Break by D. Foy

indexMade To Break
by D. Foy
Two Dollar Radio, March 2014
242 pages / $16  Buy from Amazon or Two Dollar Radio

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship is a two-headed beast. As humans, our continuous need for interaction, communication, and companionship regularly clashes with fear of exposure, the sourness that comes from the inevitable accumulation of failures in life, and our proclivity toward pettiness when faced with frustrating situations. In Made To Break, author D. Foy explores the conflicting sides of amity as well as the unexplainable cohesive element that hides in the interstitial spaces between the good and the bad and ultimately holds friendships together.

Lucille wants to celebrate her new high-paying corporate job, so she decides to spend New Years’ Eve weekend drinking and getting high in a cabin in Lake Tahoe with Dinky, Andrew, Hickory, and Basil. When the five friends get there, there’s a dead caged bird filling Dinky’s family cabin with the smell of rot. Instead of taking it as a bad omen, the group starts talking about childhood pets and argue about who’s going to get ice. Dinky and Andrew end up having to leave the cabin despite that fact that weather forecasts warn of an impending flood. On their way to town, they crash their truck and Dinky is seriously injured. Broken and without ice, they finally encounter a strange man called Super who takes them back to the cabin. With the storm raging outside, no car, and the phone lines dead, the group turn to a game of Truth or Dare to help them pass the time until the sky clears and help can arrive. However, what starts as a game quickly transforms into a series of attacks, thinly veiled insults, and cruel accusations. Old wounds bleed again and new ones open up while weather conditions worsen and Dinky’s health deteriorates. Before the night is over, everyone will have to face, and question, themselves, death, and each other.

Nothing is what it seems to be in this narrative. There’s supposed to be a celebratory mood in the air, but hidden agendas, snarky comebacks, and the type of wittier-than-thou personalities that inevitably cause conflict whenever they’re put together give the novel a surprisingly oppressive and noirish atmosphere that it never shakes off. Andrew acts as narrator and slowly reveals his crush on Hickory and a romantic triangle between Dinky, Basil, and Lucille. With each revelation, a piece of each character is exposed, and they’re all flawed. While being imperfect is part of human nature, when flaws are exposed in public and boosted by vindictiveness, they become enlarged and serve only to inflame any situation and bring forth retaliation. Foy understands this, and so do his characters. However, knowing about it doesn’t stop them from repeatedly trying their best to eviscerate each other with words, fully aware of the fact that they’re using them as weapons and deriving a bizarre pleasure from it:

“There was that briefest moment of doubt where Basil and I considered exchanging our knives for guns or throwing the knives away. But really the doubt was feigned. We knew what would happen. The kill was just a dream. The sight of blood was enough. We were only after the blood. This of course was a perversion cultivated over time, like a taste for taboo food, monkey brain or mice. The satisfaction of knowing we’d wounded one another was more than sufficient. In fact, it had become for us a fix of sorts, why our hate for one another always equaled our need. Basil and I were Siamese twins parted only in flesh.”

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April 7th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service: Kenny Jakubas

Her Space Circle(s)

From our brief chronology of time it appears that first
he briefed his job about the current inadequacies
of forgetful behavior & lit some marijuana as he was talking
& got fired right then for speaking what words he thought were true.
It could be said he fell terribly for the roses that fell from the balcony
of her MySpace after that call. The new look of her page was like being in her.
Her space even smelled like roses & see here he scrolled forever one night, etc.,
because she had presence. Even I used to wonder specifically about spaces
& the matter that destroyed & created. Check this out.
If you look closely enough & back your eyes away from this screen
real quick you can see the trickled space of white between these words that
would allow rose petals to slowly drop between these sentences. & symbols
are space circles that can be galaxies too. That would be
a poem. This is what he saw: the absence of this Space dissolving into a million
empty catacombs. He wished upon roses built of code
because they were the only roses he would ever receive & they were
beautiful to him. This was no game that Called to Duty
it came back with a story about infinite disappearance, it was real
& empty at the same time, the same representation of bird and bee:
is there matter in the lost message to a girl from the woods?
Somewhere in space there must be this message bouncing between stars,
& after a long time the stars return with a typed story about a boy
with the world at the tips of his fingers who had brought the rose petals
that fell from the screen of her MySpace & presented them as proof
that she existed to him
then.

Bio: Kenny Jakubas came from the inside of a little mitten under a bridge in Michigan. He graduated with honors from Western Michigan University, where he received his BA in Creative Writing. While there, his poetry and prose appeared in the literary journal ‘The Laureate’. He currently has creative non-fiction forthcoming from ‘Niche’ lit mag. Kenny lives in Kalamazoo, MI with his son and will be attending Western Michigan University’s MFA program in the Fall of 2014.

Sunday Service / No Comments
April 6th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Bald New World by Peter Tieryas Liu

jhp52dfd4ab263f2Bald New World
by Peter Tieryas Liu
Perfect Edge, May 2014
229 pages / $16.95  Pre-order from Amazon
 

 

 

 

Having been thrilled by the imagination in his short story collection, Watering Heaven, I was excited to see Peter Tieryas Liu was taking on a larger work: his new novel Bald New World. The play in the title on the canonical dystopian work by Huxley only further stimulated my appetite.

How would it be handled? Would it be playful? Would it be strange? Would it be dystopian? Yes, yes to all those things (other than the one that isn’t a yes/no question):

I was eleven when everyone in the world lost their hair. I got up from bed, terrified to see that all my hair had fallen out. In the mirror, the uneven bumps on my head formed an alien tapestry that made me feel like I was staring at a stranger. I spotted a thick black mole above my ear that I’d never seen before and scratched it, only to find it wasn’t going away. Both of my parents were away on a business trip so I ran to my older sister, Kelly, hoping she knew what was wrong with me. I found her crying on the bathroom floor, clutching her own fallen hair. My eyes went to her scalp, an oddly shaped oval with protrusions jutting out. “What are you looking at?!” she demanded.

As the title suggests, everyone has mysteriously gone bald. One would hope that people would learn to live with baldness, since no one has any hair. However, we should all know human nature better than that by now. Superficial, vain, and capable of endless denial. There are riots, chaos. This goes hand in hand with the actual problems in the world: overpopulation, diminishing food supplies, wars over resources, and so on. Wig companies dominate the global economy.

As one would demand in a dystopian novel, life becomes even more hellish than it already is. Body modification, visits to the United States (though most of the book takes place in China) fraught with the almost certainty of being shot, North Korea kidnapping people from other countries to be slaves in forced labor camps, and more. The term ‘dystopian’ certainly fits.

Within all of this, we have Nick. Nick has spent his life trying to cut himself free from a horribly abusive family…trying to be free. Modernly, he’s a filmmaker:

After the African Wars ended, many of us wondered what we should do next. I took to making films with a fellow grunt, Larry Chao. He nearly got discharged from the army twenty times because he was always running off “in love” with some new girl he swore was “the One.” He wasn’t especially handsome, but had a jovial grin that made everyone feel welcome in his presence. Between his indefatigable exuberance and his easy- going nature inspired by an early bout of mutated typhoid that nearly killed him, his charm more than made up for his plump nose, small eyes, and fat lips. He had a suite of women who worshipped him. For my part, I never thought our lives would become so intertwined, our names would be synonymous with each other.

His friend and employer, Larry, is the heir to the world’s most powerful wig corporation. He’s also somewhat of a fuckup.

However, something particularly strange is going on. Larry may be in over his head, caught up in a conspiracy with far-reaching and possibly deadly consequences. At the heart may be the very secret behind why everyone went bald. Of course, he pulls Nick in. Things wouldn’t be very interesting if he didn’t:

He laughed. “Maybe I’m being a touch melodramatic. Beautiful women always do that to me. Let’s give it one more shot. This new film I was mentioning. It’ll be the biggest ever.”

“Can you give more details?”

“At first, I thought maybe I’d do a documentary about my family. Or maybe I’d make it into a film about a rich family with an idiot son who squandered everything. Would that be too cliché? I don’t want to be that idiot,” he said. “I’m starting to settle on one idea.”

“What is it?”

“I’ve always wanted to do an epic about the Baldification. Maybe call it Bald New World. Do a film about the people in it. It’ll be massive. I guarantee you. This’ll be the film that everyone notices.”

“No one’s figured out what exactly happened yet.”

“That’s what the businesses would like people to think,” Larry said. “What if I told you people like my father knew exactly what happened?

“What do you mean?”

“Well—”

Behind us, one of the factories exploded, blowing the plates off the table and knocking us both back. A second factory blew up, the fire blasting against our faces. My ears were ringing and the smoke made everything hazy. I heard a third boom but couldn’t tell where it was from. Sirens were ringing.

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April 4th, 2014 / 11:00 am