Green Lights

glkmGreen Lights
by Kyle Muntz
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014
108 pages / $13.95 buy from Amazon
Rating: 8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. Continue reading “Green Lights”

The Mongolian Conspiracy

-bernal-266-jpg-20131231The Mongolian Conspiracy
by Rafael Bernal, translated by Katherine Silver
New Directions, 2013
192 pages / $14.95 buy from Amazon or Powell’s
Rating: 9.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Continue reading “The Mongolian Conspiracy”

Kill Marguerite and Other Stories

Kill-Marguerite-Megan-Milks-webKill Marguerite and Other Stories
by Megan Milks
Emergency Press, 2014
240 pages / $15.95 buy from Amazon or Powell’s
Rating: 8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Continue reading “Kill Marguerite and Other Stories”

Naiza H. Khan, from ArtAsiaPacific, 2013

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. Continue reading “Naiza H. Khan, from ArtAsiaPacific, 2013”

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. Continue reading “Dept. of Speculation”

The Hour of the Star

hour_of_the_star_coverThe Hour of the Star
by Clarice Lispector
New Directions, 2011
128 pages / $12.95 buy from Amazon
Rating: 7.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Witch Piss

witchPWitch Piss
by Sam Pink
Lazy Fascist Press, 2014
112 pages / $8.95 buy from Amazon
Rating: 7.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Continue reading “Witch Piss”

Too Animal, Not Enough Machine

tanemToo Animal, Not Enough Machine: Have You Seen Gretel?
Christine Jessica Margaret Reilly
Sundress Publications, July 2013
46 pages / $10.00 buy from Sundress Publications
Rating: 8.0

 

 

 

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
free f(or)all.”

Continue reading “Too Animal, Not Enough Machine”

Please Come Home

untitledPlease Come Home
by Guthema Roba
North Star Press, 2013
80 pages / $12.95 buy from North Star Press or Amazon
Rating: 8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like milk from a cactus tree
Love is pouring around me

-Guthema Roba

 

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. Continue reading “Please Come Home”

World Tree by David Wojahn

worldtreeWorld Tree
by David Wojahn
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011
144 pages / $14.36 buy from Amazon
Rating: 8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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. Continue reading “World Tree by David Wojahn”