I am taking a class titled 21st-Century Fiction: What Is The Contemporary? and three of the books in this photograph are part of the reading list. Absent titles are by Dan Chaon, Kathryn Davis, Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, Sheila Heti. Some others. Wanted titles: Tao Lin’s Taipei (which I am reading now, which is surprisingly good).
I don’t know anything about Dodie Bellamy beyond the fact that she is often grouped with Kathy Acker, who are both often grouped with Dennis Cooper, who are all New Narrative people. New Narrators make the author present, her body and sexuality usually the prime subject. Letters of Mina Harker is a “sequel” to Dracula, except Mina Harker is a young woman who lives in 1980s San Francisco. On conceit alone, it reminds me of Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream.
Richard Powers and Evan Dara are often grouped together, mainly because Powers blurbed his first book, The Lost Scrapbook, and that both of them write books that weave disparate discourses into their fiction. Also, there is speculation that Powers is Dara (Or Dara is Powers). Flee is, according to its publisher Aurora Books, about “in which a New England town does just that.” I’ve read the first chapter, titled “38,839,” and it reeks of Gaddis (in a good way). Disembodied voices colliding into each other, a cacophonous plot; the absurd & banal drama of everyday, throwaway conversation. An Australian book show on Triple R Radio, who have a good and very rare interview with Gerald Murnane (whose book Inland I was really, really jazzed on), also really loves Dara. I’m pretty excited to read this one.
Evan Dara and Richard Powers are often grouped together, mainly because Dara’s first book was blurbed by Richard Powers, and that both of them write books that weave disparate discourses into their fiction. Dara might be Powers (or Powers might be Dara?), but that doesn’t really matter. The Echo Maker is supposed to be one of those Big, Important American Books (as noted by the shallow, embossed seal on my used copy of the book). As I write this, I am listening to Powers read from The Echo Maker from an old Lannan Foundation talk (who also really love Gass) and I am really intrigued. I haven’t flipped through this, so I will reproduce the back copy.
On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter has a near-fatal car accident. His older sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when Mark emerges fro a coma, he believes that this woman–who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister–is really an imposter. When Karin contacts the famous cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber for help, he diagnoses Mark as having Capgras syndrome. The mysterious nature of the disease, combined with the strange circumstances surrounding Mark’s accident, threaten to change all of their lives beyond recognition.
Can Xue (which roughly translates from Chinese, according to my mother, to “persistent & dirty snow”) is hailed by western critics to be the Chinese avant-garde heir to Kafka and Borges. Can Xue is a pen name for Deng Xiaohua. She is of my mother’s generation and her class, which means she grew up persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, which means she was sent to a “re-education camp” in the Chinese sticks and learned to farm. She taught herself English, has written criticism on Kafka and Borges. The strangeness of Kafka echoes in Xue. While the former’s strangeness arrives in the narrative with a kind of grim inevitability, the discovery of a debilitating truth lands like an obvious punchline that the reader stupidly forgets (or realizes too late, like the classic Seinfeld episode “The Comeback“), Xue’s arrives with a kind of startling innocence against the backdrop of dramatic irony. It is like watching, in Michael Haneke’s words in his great interview in The Paris Review, a tragedy from the perspective of an idiot. The title story, “Vertical Motion,” can be read here.
So I picked up two ebooks from Verso today for less than a pint of beer. Ridiculous! The Unseen by Nanni Balestrini, and Pasolini’s unproduced screenplay St. Paul. All kinds of great stuff. I think my favorite thing about Verso’s ebooks is how straightforward they are to access—no weird third-party app or DRM issues.
The Haunting Ballad by Michael Nethercott. PW’s review:
Set in 1957, Nethercott’s diverting second Lee Plunkett mystery (after 2013’s The Séance Society) takes the Connecticut PI and his fiancée, Audrey Valish, to Greenwich Village. At the Cafe Mercutio, they witness an acrimonious dispute between two performers, “song-catcher” Lorraine Cobble and troubadour Byron Spires. When Lorraine apparently leaps to her death from the roof of her apartment building, her distraught cousin, Sally Joan Cobble, hires Lee to prove she didn’t commit suicide. Lee is the nominal detective, but the heavy lifting is done by wily Irishman Mr. O’Nelligan, who lends sage advice and guidance. Together, the duo approach Lorraine’s former housemates, such as “ghost chanter” Mrs. Pattinshell and 105-year-old Civil War vet Cornelius Boyle. Nethercott has fun with the bustling Bohemian atmosphere and Lee and Audrey’s awkward romance, but reserves the best lines for the exchanges between O’Nelligan and Lee as they close in on the unlikely culprit.
I read about half of this yesterday. I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari. Publisher Semiotext(e)/MIT’s blurb:
A moment later, Lacan is chattering with me, and giving me some crayons to draw with.
—from I, Little Asylum
Founded in 1951 and renowned in the world of psychiatry, the experimental psychiatric clinic of La Borde sought to break with the traditional internment of the mentally ill and to have them participate in the material organization of collective life. The clinic owed much of its approach to psychoanalyst and philosopher Félix Guattari, who was its codirector with Jean Oury until 1992. In this lyrical chronicle of a childhood at La Borde, Félix Guattari’s daughter Emanuelle Guattari offers a series of impressionistic vignettes drawn from her own experiences.
As a child whose parents worked in the clinic, Emanuelle Guattari (“Manou”) experienced La Borde–which is housed in a castle in the middle of a spacious park–as a place not of confinement but of imagination and play. She evokes a landscape that is surreal but also mundane, describing the fat monkey named Boubou her father kept at the clinic, interactions between the “La Borde kids” and the “Residents” (aka, the “Insane,” feared by the locals), the ever fascinating rainbow-hued “shit pit” on the grounds, and prank-calls to the clinic switchboard. And, of course, there is Félix Guattari himself, at the dinner table, battling a rat, and in his daughter’s dreams. Emmanuelle Guattari’s tale of childlike wonder offers a poetic counterpoint to the writings of her father and his intellectual circle.
Susan Vreeland’s historical novel Lisette’s List is new in hardback from Random House. The Kirkus review is pretty enthusiastic:
Une jolie Parisienne in Provence during the turbulent World War II years comes to understand love and great art to the core of her being.
In a sweeping historical novel set in Vichy, France, Lisette Roux, a 20-year-old bride who longs for “window-shopping, cabaret hopping, gallery gazing,” grudgingly moves out of Paris to the rural south to take care of her new husband André’s aging grandfather in 1937. “How are we going to survive in a town without a gallery?” she asks in dismay. But Pascal is not your ordinary grandpère: An ochre miner–turned–pigment salesman, he befriended young, unappreciated painters and amassed a collection of Cézanne, Pissarro and Picasso paintings. After Pascal dies, the loving couple is cast out of an Edenic existence following the German invasion of France. André enlists to fight the Nazis and meets a tragic end midway through the book. Lisette’s short stay in Provence stretches out more than a decade, prolonged by the war and her determined attempt to find Pascal’s pictures, which André hid for safekeeping before going to war. Lisette’s sensibility deepens as she grows closer to former prisoner of war Maxime Legrand, André’s fellow soldier and best friend. Marc and Bella Chagall, hiding in Provence because they are Jewish, show up for a brief but blazing cameo appearance. Vreeland, who has proven in earlier art-themed best-sellers that she has an exquisite eye for detail, is enormously talented at establishing the important societal role of art, particularly relevant here as the Nazis both steal and burn it. While her prose can get a bit fluffy (“apricot trees blossoming with pinkish-white petals like flakes of the moon”) and the book wraps up a tad too tidily, her deeply researched novel is mesmerizing.
Merveilleux. Vreeland’s passionate writing is as good as a private showing at the Louvre.
Came back to work for the fall semester and these were in my mailbox.
I like the older, zanier, less-austere FS&G paperback covers of the Knausgaard better.
So the other week, Turner wrote, at my favorite local bookstore—a labyrinthine maze you wouldn’t believe, formed from wooden frames filled with dusty paper stacks, obstacles of boxed books, unexplored (the boxed books, not the shelves), littering the pathways (the boxed books)—just under 2 million books (all the books, shelved, and boxed), if a certain clerk is to be believed (and I believe her)—and you wouldn’t believe, and I know you wouldn’t believe because I go there often enough, me, living just a mile away, sometimes walking, briskly, or at an even pace—and with this free time on my hands, and with all these unsolicited review copies, creating a little pool of credit, of trade of etc.—I know you wouldn’t believe because I so often hear the irregular clientele remarking on their own personal disbelief, or their own befuddlement, or, more often, I see them get lost, and even then I’m enjoying that, maybe offering (mis)direction, or, more likely, intercepting the high school seniors—What are you reading? Yes? Faulkner! No! Not that edition!—And so the other week at my favorite local bookstore, I happened upon, neatly stacked in a to-be-shelved shelf, a neatly stacked stack of Thomas Bernhard novels, or, more precisely, a compliment stack of Thomas Bernhard novels, a so-called stack of novels that I did not so-call “own,” a so-called stack of Thomas Bernhard novels that I had not read, not to mention have in my own personal possession, a little series of Vintage English translation editions that could be nestled next to my own meager collection, already, yes, Gargoyles and Correction and Concrete and Yes and The Loser and The Voice Imitator and Frost—but not Old Masters, and Old Masters not in this neatly-stacked bundle (it was never a bundle), no, not Old Masters, which, Turner wrote, Chang wrote about on this so-called website, no, no not Old Masters, not in the so-called bundle, but what to begrudge, begrudge that, no, Turner thought and wrote, and then, looking back over what he had written, thought, No, this is rubbish, I must delete all this, I must erase all this and not push publish.
The Bowling Alley on the Tiber (translated by William Arrowsmith) collects the sketches, vignettes, and microfictions that director Michelangelo Antonioni may or may not have intended to film given the time and funds. Braincandy.
Not Barthelme’s finest, but hey. An illustrated artifact, very much of its era.
The nice people at Pantheon sent along a bound galley of Michael Cho’s graphic novel Shoplifter when they sent me a copy of Charles Burns’s Sugar Skull. Both titles are out this fall.
I read Shoplifter in one short sitting—it’s a pleasant read, and Cho’s talent shows in the small panels and big splashes alike.
Corinna Park used to have big plans. Studying English literature in college, she imagined writing a successful novel and leading the idealized life of an author. After graduation, she moved to a big city and took a job at an advertising agency—just to pay off her student loans. Now she’s worked in the same office for five years and the only thing she’s written is . . . copy. She longs for companionship (other than her cat),gets no satisfaction from her job, and feels numbed by the monotony of a life experienced through a series of screens. But whenever she shoplifts a magazine from the corner store near her apartment, she feels a little, what? A little more alive. Yet Corinna knows there must be something more to life, and she faces the same question as does everyone of her generation: how to find it?
Is the story a bit familiar? Sure. But Cho updates it to the post-social media world, where advertisers have convinced almost everyone (especially themselves) that what they are doing is Important Art. There’s a smallness to Shoplifter—the book shouldn’t be an epic, of course, but 96 pages feels slim here. I guess I would’ve liked to see Corinna the biblioklept, you know, steal more. Still, her ultimate resistance to a mundane life feels like a victory in the end.
Two historicalish fictions.
First, Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain, which is new in trade paperback; the hardback received good reviews last year. Pub’s blurb:
The wonderful new historical novel set in seventeenth-century England from Rose Tremain, author of Restoration (shortlisted for the Booker Prize), The Road Home (winner of the Orange Prize) and Trespass (a Richard & Judy pick). Merivel has been called ‘wonderfully entertaining’ (Guardian Books of the Year) and ‘an unadulterated delight’ (Independent) and has been shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
The gaudy years of the Restoration are long gone and Robert Merivel, physician and courtier to King Charles II, sets off for the French court in search of a fresh start. But royal life at the Palace of Versailles – all glitter in front and squalor behind – leaves him in despair, until a chance encounter with the seductive Madame de Flamanville, allows him to dream of a different future.
But will that future ever be his? Summoned home urgently to attend to the ailing King, Merivel finds his loyalty and skill tested to their limits.
Also: Peter Tremayne’s The Seventh Trumpet:
When a murdered corpse of an unknown young noble is discovered, Fidelma of Cashel is brought in to investigate, in Peter Tremayne’s The Seventh TrumpetIreland, AD 670. When the body of a murdered young noble is discovered not far from Cashel, the King calls upon his sister, Fidelma, and her companion Eadulf to investigate. Fidelma, in addition to being the sister of the king, is a dailaigh—an advocate of the Brehon Law Courts—and has a particular talent for resolving the thorniest of mysteries.
But this time, Fidelma and Eadulf have very little to work with—the only clue to the noble’s identity is an emblem originating from the nearby kingdom of Laign. Could the murder be somehow related to the wave of violence erupting in the western lands of the kingdom? The turmoil there is being stirred up by an unknown fanatical figure who claims to have been summoned by “the seventh angel” to remove the “impure of faith.” Fidelma and Eadulf, once again grappling with a tangled skein of murder and intrigue, must somehow learn what connects the dead noble, a murdered alcoholic priest, and an abbot who has turned his monastery into a military fortress. When it appears that things cannot get more complex, Fidelma herself is abducted, and Eadulf must rescue her before the mystery can be solved.
The Mincing Mockingbird Guide to Troubled Birds is new from Penguin next month. It’s a handsome little book. Amusing.
Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic is new in trade paperback from Picador.
This (longish) blurb is from the author’s website, where you can also download an excerpt of the book and/or listen to audio of McCann reading from TransAtlantic:
In the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann thrilled readers with a marvelous high-wire act of fiction that The New York Times Book Review called “an emotional tour de force.” Now McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.
Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.
Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.
New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.
These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.
The most mature work yet from an incomparable storyteller, TransAtlantic is a profound meditation on identity and history in a wide world that grows somehow smaller and more wondrous with each passing year.
I thought I’d jump in on the Books Acquired feature on the blog, so below is a picture and some words about the books I got this past April. Significantly fewer than average as I’m *trying* to read the books I already have but, you know, it doesn’t really ever stop.
It was in this interview on the blog that I heard about Gabriel Josipovici’s philosophical novel. I’ve been on the hunt for more books like this in the past couple of years, and if it’s anyone’s recommendation about novels that wax philosophical, it’d be a philosopher’s. Goldberg: Variations also promises to slake an obsessive thirst for books about composers and their madness (or illness). I also seem unable to shake an attraction for books that tell stories about other stories, with the latter being the “actual story” of the book. From the back: “At the turn of the eighteenth century, a writer–a Jew–enters an English country manor, where he has been invited to read through the night to his host until the gentleman falls asleep. What unfolds then are seemingly unconnected stories covering a vast array of topics–from incest to madness to a poetic competition in the court of George III. And what emerges by the end is a breathtaking tapestry in which past and present, imagination and truth, are intricately woven together into one remarkable whole.”
I saw Kate Zambreno read from this book back in 2011 when it was originally published by Emergency Press. Since then she’s written a “critical memoir” titled Heroines, which explores the writer’s relationship with the “wives and mistresses” of the 20th-Century modernist greats. It’s my understanding that Zambreno has also reworked through Green Girl for this republish. Which I can’t imagine doing. Seems terrifying and harrowing. Only about 20 pages in so far, but it definitely has, for desperate lack of a better term, a European feel to it that’s rare for American writers. The sentences vibrate along the same manic, anxious and panicky frequencies of favorites like Bernhard, Rhys and Woolf. From the back: “Ruth is a young American in London, trying desperately to navigate a world in which she attracts the unwanted gaze of others while grappling with the uncertainty of her own self-regard. Haunted equally by self-doubt and by a morbid fascination with the beautiful, cruel, and empty people around her, Ruth darts quietly through the rainy sidewalks of her present, trying to escape her future.”
I know Steve Mitchelmore, blogger of This Space, is a big Peter Handke fan. I tweeted him a couple of months ago and he recommended that I start with this one. I’m looking forward to reading an Austrian (or Austro-Hungarian and descendants of) that isn’t cantankerous and odorous a la Bernhard. But, as expected, this book seems like it’s going to be really fucked up. The back: “In the summer of 1960, Filip Kobal leaves his home in search of his missing brother, Gregor. Not quite twenty, he is armed only with two of his brother’s books; a copybook and a dictionary in which Gregor has, revealingly, marked certain words. Filip’s investigations of language–of the laws of naming objects, and of the roots of alienation in the discrepancy between objects’ names and our experience of them–becomes, finally, an investigation of himself and the world around him.”
Got way way behind on this feature of the blog this month. I don’t even know if readers like this feature, this “Books Acquired” thing. It’s mostly been a way to give some kind of press for unsolicited review copies, as well as books I buy compulsively.
Anyway: I’m not too into the cozy mystery thing, but I love this cover for some reason. Just makes me laugh:
From the Kirkus review of Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall:
Kat Stanford quit her job as star of the reality TV show Fakes & Treasures, hoping to find a quiet place to open an antiques store with her mother, Iris. She wasn’t counting on Iris’ impetuous decision to buy a carriage house from the dowager Countess of Grenville, mother of the owner of Honeychurch Hall. Arriving in Little Dipperton, Devon, to help her mother settle into what sounded like a picturesque cottage, Kat finds Iris living instead in a dilapidated building with holes in the floors; antiquated fixtures; Kat’s father’s ashes in a Tupperware container; and aggressively spiteful neighbors, Eric Pugsley and his wife, the leather-clad housekeeper. Iris insists they’re trying to drive her out of the carriage house, and Kat isn’t sure that would be so bad, especially after the Honeychurch nanny, who warned her about the place, disappears. Worse yet, a conversation Kat overhears between Eric and the Earl of Grenville makes Iris’ suspicions sound uncomfortably plausible. The earl’s first wife died from what were supposedly natural causes but possibly weren’t, a 20-year-old robbery has never been solved, and mystery surrounds a pair of toy bears, not to mention the odd ghost. Kat’s even more shocked to discover that Iris has a secret identity and a closer connection to Honeychurch Hall than her daughter imagined. When she stumbles on a body in a hidden grotto, the only element missing from the well-stuffed plot is romance—a deficiency the local detective inspector just might remedy.