by Shane Jones
Two Dollar Radio, 2014
172 pages / $16.00 buy from Amazon
To this day, I have still never seen these movies: Ray and Walk the Line. There are probably a few reasons why I haven’t, but one of the most important reasons concerns the fact that these movies were extremely hyped upon their release. Everyone was blowing their load. And by everyone, I guess I mean critics and my parents. So, I never saw them. I have a tendency to shy away from things that have received too much positive hype. I know myself and I can usually expect that I will be let down.
Crystal Eaters. I awaited the release of your book for months. And when it came out, I ordered it. And when it arrived at my house, I didn’t read it, at least not for a while. I wanted to pick it up and start it, but I kept seeing all of these intensely wordy and existential reviews popping up on Twitter (I’m reasonably new to Twitter). I usually don’t know what to make of intensely wordy and existential reviews, people who say that reading Crystal Eaters is like setting your brain adrift in the primordial muck of your ancestral wandering and watching it develop a higher consciousness as you stand stuck on the shore of your own punitive physicality. What?
I read it recently. I had high expectations. I’d never had a reading experience that was like tripping balls. I still haven’t. I don’t know that I want to trip balls when reading something. So, Crystal Eaters. It had one of the coolest concepts I had ever heard of, so naturally, while awaiting its release, I started to imagine what the book might be like. Months of imagining. It was like being in high school and idealizing the girl who has the locker across from you and finally having the chance to speak to her when you both find yourselves the last ones out the door from spanish club. And boom! You walk up with the perfect opening line only to hear her squeak one out because she doesn’t notice you coming and she’s never noticed you. All of this is to say that reading Crystal Eaters was nothing like a fart. It was a book that kept me up late. It frustrated me. I talked to my fiancé about it endlessly and now she is reading it because she wants to have a better idea of what I am talking about so we can discuss it further.
July 24th, 2014 / 1:07 pm
by A & N
192 pages / $12.00 buy from Amazon
Autophagiography, the latest release from the small pseudonymous press Gnome Books, is a documentary epistolary ‘novel’ composed of temporally-congruent email and twitter messages between two persons, followed by a short treatise which defines and theorizes some guiding principles for the weird ‘saintly’ love/friendship at the center of the story. In form and content, the book is one-of-a-kind and hard to describe. Here are some salient features:
Language/Style: the protagonists communicate in a kind of poetically inspired intellectual style that is both sublime and ridiculous. For example, “Dear One by Whom We Orient Ourselves to Ever Greater Bewilderment” (8), or, “Your words make me blush in my tomb! Idiorrythmia freaks, torment chewers, self-eating love-worms…” (92). It is difficult to imagine people actually writing to each other like this and at the same time obvious that none of it is made up. At its best, the text effortlessly spins out stormy passages of living prose-verse worthy of Lispector and Bataille (both of whom are referenced as sources of inspiration). At its worst, it repetitively babbles with baroque terms of endearment perhaps better to have been left on the cutting room floor—though to have done so would have been impossible. Overall the idiosyncratic and spontaneous authenticity of the whole thing only accentuates its mysterious hyper-fictionality, haunting the work with the sense that the writers may indeed be flirting with madness, or better, hallucinating themselves out of existence: “Love is not for this life and yet it is precisely here that it is happening” (70).
Ideas/Themes: As the clever one-word title indicates, the book records and enacts a process of autobiographical self-eating that attains and/or strives for a kind of sanctity. The (non)relationship is platonically romantic: “This is not a ‘relationship’. This is love itself (in world and not of it). But how we relate!” (72); “This is not to say that what happened is not miraculous! … Why? How? All the more that we were never alone!” (102). It also involves a number of interesting mystical dreams or visions: “Something unlike I have ever experienced really happened within me and to the whole world at the same time. No way to explain, but it was like swallowing the infinite auto-recursive spiral all the way, like eating one’s head and exiting stunningly unharmed into an other side which is more this one than this” (178). Whether or not the authors actually become saints is a silly question that the text nevertheless makes one ponder the meaning of. The reader may just as easily feel sorry for them or wonder why they do not just run off together. In the end this reviewer was left happily swimming in a peaceful existential desperation reminiscent of E. M. Cioran’s Tears and Saints (a text mentioned several times), where the divine truth of sanctity is as real as the unreality of the universe: “Can it be that God is only a delusion of the heart as the world is one of the mind?”
Identity/Authorship: This is a significant accidental experiment in documentary authorship, an ‘as-is’ book with several delightful surprises and contradictions. The formal interplay between-across email and twitter embodies the multi-channeled and erotically vexed nature of socially networked existence only to feed it back into the mouth of the book as the obvious and maybe only possible earthly offspring of spiritual friendship. Indeed the conception and editing of Autophagiography becomes an important part of the narrative itself, so that the text literally and narratively eats itself into its own real present, like some kind of monstrous love-child proverbially devouring the authors out of their inexistent sub-oceanic house and home: “The monster is here and I cannot stop it, I don’t want it ever to shut up. Whatever happens in this life there will be the fault of this cataclysmic now screaming to me, deafening me with the echo of a deformity that I always was” (73). At the same time, the book is imbued with its own palpably literal and melodramatic worldly reality. The communication-communion endures and reflects upon the difficulties it causes for the saints’ other true loves and also shamelessly relishes its own embarrassing confessional responsibility: “Not one syllable of our words would I alter, not one atom of our sigh, but from today forward, this new day of a new life, I must somehow address you more sanely, in words that proliferate and expand to befit more and more the purity of this intolerably sweet friendship, this little bond through which we are indeed becoming ‘as close to nothing as possible’” (129). The open secrecy of the work is accentuated by the discoverability of the authors’ worldly identities and their entrapment within a web of recent events and current interests (Lovecraft, Argento, Cioran, Thacker, Land, Lispector, Meillassoux, Negarestani).
In the live medium of its essential imperfections, Autophagiography is virtually-actually worse and better than this world, a worst best and best worst that would prove to open a way to paradise, if only if it were possible to read it properly. One can only hope without hope that its authors somehow find happiness in this sphere or the next, or at least in a weird new somewhere that is neither.
July 22nd, 2014 / 12:00 pm
by Chun Sue
Riverhead Books, 2004
240 pages / $17.00 buy from Amazon
In the world of Chinese lit translated, a common branding method is to plaster somewhere on the cover: China’s Banned Bestseller or The Controversial Banned Sexual Exploration, A New Generation, and so on. Goodreads has at least two lists of China’s Best Banned Books – and it’s become a sort of nerd-o-meter to detect new-to-the-genre readers by seeing if they’re lured to the Banned Bestseller stuff or to more ‘serious’ Classics or Mo Yan (technically banned, but, acceptable).
July 8th, 2014 / 5:01 pm
The Fun We’ve Had
by Michael J. Seidlinger
Lazy Fascist Press, 2014
168 pages / $11.95 buy from Amazon
How do you write a thrilling and entrancing Alt Lit novel?
Start with a chorus of disembodied voices telling us that “the waves are helloes; the incoming storm the sincerest goodbye. Like every single one of us, they are holding on. We held on until we could no longer hide. No one can hide out at sea.”
June 24th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973
by Jim Carroll
Penguin Books, 1987
196 pages / $15.00 buy from Amazon
Although The Basketball Diaries was blanched by LEO, High School English, and pop revisionism, Forced Entries, Jim Carroll’s 1987 follow up still has a lot of charm.
Subtitled The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973, this book tackles the emergence of the lost and romanticized Downtown scene. As a poet, Carroll was active in readings at St. Mark’s Cathedral and a Warhol Factory regular. It’s a short book, under two hundred pages, and it’s framing as diary entries allows Carroll a soft touch as he relates observations and anecdotes.
June 17th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
by Dash Shaw
32 pages / $5 buy from Fantagraphics Books
Dash Shaw’s other comics, especially 2010’s BodyWorld, push the boundaries of the comics medium in exciting ways, but they can also be daunting, especially to readers who are not comfortable knowing which panel to read when in a comic book—let alone be ready to turn the pages on their axis. However, Cosplayers is a much more accessible starting point in Shaw’s oeuvre. The one-shot does not play with form as much as Shaw’s other work, but it still showcases his lush color palette and his adventurous concepts.
June 3rd, 2014 / 12:00 pm
by Trevor Owen Jones
Punctum Books, 2014
104 pages / open-access (e-book), $11.00 (print) buy from Punctum Books
Already a few years ago now you composed a correspondence to mark the appearance of Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will. I return to that correspondence, on the publication of your first book, The Non-Library, because to do so seems to me somehow apposite. That may be the reason I find myself writing to you, to try to understand my sense of just why. READ MORE >
May 15th, 2014 / 1:15 pm
by Kyle Muntz
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014
108 pages / $13.95 buy from Amazon
To give the reader a dream on paper—that’s what sur-realist writing’s about, and Kyle Muntz’s new novella Green Lights (out 5/5/14 from Civil Coping Mechanisms) does it well. It sits nicely next to Jesse Ball’s Samedi the Deafness, Paul La Farge’s The Facts of Winter, and Shane Jones’ Light Boxes in my imaginary library of dream-novels. READ MORE >
May 13th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
The Mongolian Conspiracy, by Rafael Bernal, brings slick Noir tropes to 1960’s Mexico City. Ostensibly a political thriller, the action follows Filiberto Garcia, an aging veteran of the Mexican Revolution and killer-for-hire contracted by the police to investigate an assassination plot. These rumors, apparently originating from Mongolia, send Garcia on the prowl through the city’s gritty Chinatown, and as the plot unravels: farther and farther a field. The scenes trend pulpy: Garcia seduces a possible femme fatale, he shoots up an opium den, and he brings the investigation to a very Sam Spade finish. The novel has the sheen of 60’s political thrillers (The Day of the Jackal, Z, Topaz), especially as Garcia meets operatives from the CIA and KGB. But these encounters, madcap and witty, capture the tone that makes The Mongolian Conspiracy more compelling than any ordinary political thriller.
May 6th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
A few weeks ago I was made vaguely aware of a Flavorwire article about trigger warnings. Later on, as I read Kill Marguerite I found myself writing “trigger warning” in red pen before almost every story in the collection. I know that for many the argument for TWs is to save pain and suffering for those who spend day in and day out struggling to avoid triggering material—it’s just common internet courtesy. I very much respect that, but I’m left thinking about how these warnings prevent the dialogue that the content often necessitates.
April 29th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Visual artist Naiza H. Khan was born in Pakistan in 1968. And though her career has circled the globe (she has held positions in the US and UK, and came up in the Ruskin School at the University of Oxford) Pakistan remains central in her artistic imagination. A new monograph out from ArtAsiaPacific gives an exciting look at twenty-five years of Khan’s compelling and explicitly feminist work. READ MORE >
April 24th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
192 pages / $22.95 buy from Amazon
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 >
April 8th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
The Hour of the Star
by Clarice Lispector
New Directions, 2011
128 pages / $12.95 buy from Amazon
The Hour of the Star is about a poor, unattractive Brazilian woman named Macabéa who seems unaware of the doom and misery which (according to the author) characterize her entire existence. Did Lispector know a woman like this? Was Lispector like this when she was young? Was she like this even until her death? Nobody knows. Even if you don’t know anybody like this, you can imagine one, thanks to this book. The miracles of fiction. The glories of speculative mimesis.
Is it conceivable that the thoughts of readers will lead them toward sympathy for women in unenviable circumstances? Yes. Is it conceivable that the thoughts of readers will be unaltered and the book will act more as an acknowledgment of extant attitudes rather than a catalyst for new attitudes? Yes. Is it possible to know which is more likely? I don’t know. Consult the afterword. Compose a letter to the publisher in which you refer to the afterword.
The style will not appear new unless you haven’t read much 20th century literary fiction. Meta-flowage, what-have-you. It is easy to read, unlike some meta-flow-ers. Not that style matters. Style doesn’t matter, because it is indistinguishable from anything else. One can only distinguish things because they have been styled in a distinguishable manner. Therefore, when we talk about style, we only talk about the thing which is styled and nothing else. “Style” therefore might as well be just another word for “thing.” The atoms are gathering themselves back together again and before you know it, we’ll all be psychic skateboarders on mysterious Egyptian vert ramps. Lispector won’t be there. Macabéa might be though.
April 3rd, 2014 / 12:00 pm
by Sam Pink
Lazy Fascist Press, 2014
112 pages / $8.95 buy from Amazon
Witch Piss is the bottom of a forty oz.
Witch Piss is a novel.
Witch Piss is published by Lazy Fascist Press.
Witch Piss is Sam Pink writing about a Sam Pink-like narrator.
Witch Piss is homeless men.
Witch Piss is “Y’gah be kiddin me.”
Witch Piss is a slurry of language.
Witch Piss is written in dialect.
Witch Piss is a man named Spider-Man.
Witch Piss is a girl named Janet in a dirty Depends.
March 25th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Too Animal, Not Enough Machine: Have You Seen Gretel?
Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly
Sundress Publications, July 2013
46 pages / $10.00 buy from Sundress Publications
Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly’s collection Too Much Animal, Not Enough Machine: Have You Seen Gretel re-imagines the Grimm’s Tale of Hansel and Gretel alongside other mythological characters in new, haunting, and evocative ways. I’m always intrigued by the recasting of myths in contemporary landscapes, as many of our myths are fraught with monsters and madness that intend to expose the horrifyingly hideous rather than teach valuable life lessons. Reilly places Hansel and Gretel in today’s New York City, and her retelling with this backdrop prove itself skillful, chilling, and revitalizing.
While these poems exhibit undeniable darkness, they also weave in humor and highlight problematic societal constructs for children coming of age. In “Gretel Notices the Whale is a Witch or Gretel Notices the Whale Has a Kitchen that Has Not Been Remodeled Since the 70’s,” Reilly outlines a stark critique of gender constructs and the notion of fairy tales serving as moral cautionary tales.
“Gretel smells wolf in the Whale’s hair as she counts the days till she’s free
on her fingers. On the fridge there are magnets of the children who
died of too much fun the Whale explains. But Gretel’s no fool.
Things go down like a pianissimo in her, her body feels too
animal and not enough machine, her throat flaking off
and the room is a fluted boat, a vague sheet
being quilted, seams waning inward like
ribs, but Eat up you’re a growing
girl the whale says with
spiced breath. It’s a
March 11th, 2014 / 10:09 am
Like milk from a cactus tree
Love is pouring around me
I came upon Please Come Home, a collection of poetry by Ethiopian born Guthema Roba, while browsing the stacks of the public library. The discovery was instantly familiar and challenging. In the tradition of ecstatic Sufi, Zen, and Urdu poets, Roba celebrates life in a storm of lyricism.
He trends towards the prescriptive, citing koans, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water,” using poetry as a means of experiencing life.
In “A Poet’s Responsibility,” he writes, “A poet’s responsibility is to awaken/ to remind you of your beauty/ To be the arrow of light/ Pointing at your heart.”
The poetry’s simple imagery often mirror the classic themes of Sufi poetry: dissolution of Ego, unity with the beloved, reverie in life. READ MORE >
February 25th, 2014 / 3:26 pm
by David Wojahn
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011
144 pages / $14.36 buy from Amazon
“The central feature of the human existence is the existence of the unconscious, the existence of a reality of which we are unconscious.”—N.O. Brown
“Poetry, then, is about the extending of human consciousness, making conscious the unconscious, creating a symbolic consciousness that in its finest moments overcomes all the dualities in which the human world is cruelly and eternally, it seems, enmeshed.”—Clayton Eshleman
David Wojahn’s 2011 collection World Tree holds a light to dark stories past and present, expanding new realities from cave walls.
Wojahn looks at places beyond the standard Hollywood or Netflix imagery, (Cystic Fibrosis, ALS, Diabetes, the Anasazi, afterbirth, the foaming sewers of St. Paul, digitized Berryman, green marbles of Cherries in cluster, Helmut province, Houston TX, after Katrina) and with this lot he sounds a white-hot lament. READ MORE >
February 4th, 2014 / 11:09 am
Figures for an Apocalypse
by Edward Mullany
Publishing Genius Press, 2013
198 pages / $14.95 buy from Publishing Genius
Edward Mullany’s newest collection of prose poetry is titled from a book by Thomas Merton. Merton is known for being a Trappist monk and poet, but his poetry receives mixed reviews. In Commonweal, William Henry Shannon lambasts a vast majority of the volumes of Merton’s poetry as “mediocre or just plain bad”; however, Shannon concedes that amongst the thousands of lines of poetry “one will also find fine poetry there.”
In many cases, the mark of fine poetry is to appear effortless—and, perhaps, in some cases craftless. Edward Mullany’s newest poems seem to be nothing more than simple titles with surreal imagery acting as a sort of call and response. Take “The Statues of Weeping Women” for example: “Along empty highways they / were placed at equal / intervals.” That’s the whole poem.
Other pieces in the collection are seemingly plotless, page-length prose poems which simply describe everyday occurrences, as in “The Wrong Child” wherein a girl’s mundane day of school is described in exacting detail:
Or as in “Say No” which starts by saying READ MORE >
January 7th, 2014 / 4:36 pm
by Richard Sala
51 pages / $4.99 Buy from ComiXology
Pacific Rim was my favorite film of 2013 because of its heavy use of science fiction tropes. Guillermo del Toro borrows everything from Neon Genesis Evangelion and G Gundam to Power Rangers and Godzilla. He breathes life into these tropes with innovative concepts like drift compatibility and Lovecraftian aliens from beneath the Pacific. Add in del Toro’s choices to eschew motion capture effects and to cast Charlie Day as the charming and tatted Newt and this film earns a huge place in my heart.
Richard Sala’s Violenzia, his latest digital comic book, operates on a similar level. Sala takes the conventions of Golden Age comics like Dick Tracy and The Shadow and updates them for the digital era. He strips away any true exposition or plot in favor of a taught, fifty-page sequence of action as Violenzia—a hooded vigilante with a shock of magenta hair, twin pistols, and a miniskirt—dispatches members of a moon cult, hillbillies dealing Krokodil, and a ghoulish business exec. duel-wielding a sword and legalese all to get revenge on a nefarious mastermind, and the result is breathtaking.
The book never takes the time to explain who Violenzia is or why she wants to kill the crime boss, but it doesn’t matter. Instead, Violenzia evokes the joy of action comics with lush colors and retro pencilings. READ MORE >
January 2nd, 2014 / 2:23 pm
“All families are something something, lick your knees.” – Count Tolstoy
“The same phenomenon that makes the family so intolerable when you are young is precisely what makes it so fascinating when you are old: that concentraion of karma, old memory, and skeletons in the cupboard”– Suzanne Brøgger, The Jade Cat
The Jade Cat, by Danish author Suzanne Brøgger, follows the fortunes of the Løvin family (cosmopolitan Danish Jews) through the course of the 20th century.
Brøgger trades in melancholia, that old reliable bread and butter of Modernist anxiety. And like many great Émigré writers (Nabokov, Dolatov, Mukherjee, Gallant), she populates the novel with fetishes and talismen. Émigré literature trends towards interiors, landscapes of symbolic expression, in an attempt to recreate homeland or conjure the physicality of a lost homeland, and Brøgger nails the inventories of a family trying to hold onto something tangible. READ MORE >
October 24th, 2013 / 11:32 am