Vision of a Knight — Raphael

Obsession Falls (Book acquired, some time in August, 2015)

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Christina Dodd’s novel Obsession Falls is new in hardback and ebook from Macmillan. Their blurb:

In Obsession Falls, New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd returns to the town of Virtue Falls, Washington-an idyllic place on the surface, but one that holds close its secrets…

When Taylor Summers witnesses the death threat to a young boy, she does the only thing she can do-she sacrifices herself to distract the killers. Her reward is a life in ruins, on the run in the wilderness, barely surviving a bitter winter and the even more bitter knowledge she has lost everything: her career, her reputation, her identity. She finds refuge in Virtue Falls, and there comes face to face with the knowledge that, to live her life again, she must enlist the help of the man who does not trust her to defeat the man who would destroy her.

She’s being hunted, but it’s time to turn the tables….

A conversation about New American Stories, an anthology curated by Ben Marcus (Part 1)

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Over the next few weeks, Biblioklept contributor Ryan Chang and I will be discussing New American Stories, an anthology edited—or maybe “curated” is the right word, although I’m not sure—by Ben Marcus.  

Edwin Turner: You got your copy of New American Stories? Let’s talk about the cover, the intro, and the first story,  Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s “Paranoia.”

Ryan Chang: The cover and the introduction, and hence the context of the selections, elegantly mesh, which is more than I can say for 99% of covers. But I like anything that Mendelsund touches. It’s quiet, understated, but an excellent visual metaphor for what Marcus discusses in his introduction. The best part about this cover is the spot where part of the word “Stories” tries to mingle with the blocked passage from the introduction. The two don’t merely coexist, or mesh at all, but exist in this static conflict. It seems to be what Marcus wants most out of this new anthology; it occurs to me that I don’t have a lot of anthologies because a) I find them pretty boring, b) if it’s going to be an anthology, it’s going to be non-Anglo and -American — most of the time, the anthologies featuring these authors are already on my shelf in one way or another, and when I flip through them in the book store, the new context in which I find an author (say, someone like Richard Yates and Barry Hannah) isn’t new and exciting.


img_8019ET:
The cover is great—spine too. I agree with you that it’s “quiet”—although that’s a strange word, y’know, considering there’s so much going on there—so much text. But the book is handsome, and the cover presents as a baseline postmodern conundrum—
Where does the text begin? The authorship question is there too, on the second page, the “Also by Ben Marcus” page—as if Marcus were the author of the collection. Which in a way he kinda sorta is—the whole mixtape/DJ/curator thing—I mean he’s the author of the “anthology,” the tracklist, the occasion. I’m generally suspicious of the overuse of the term “curator,” but I think it’s ultimately more apt than editor. And Marcus spins a cool set. The book is a tasty gateway drug.

Anthologies were really important to me when I was 15, 16, 23…but now I tend to think of them entirely in teaching terms, often in very jaded terms, honestly. I would love to be able to look over the selections here with fresher eyes, if you know what I mean. As a freshman in college, I read the 1994 anthology The Vintage Book of Contemporary Short Stories, which Tobias Wolff edited. It would be impossible for me to overestimate the importance of that for me—it introduced me to Barry Hannah, Denis Johnson, Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, and all these other writers who simply weren’t on my radar. In retrospect, I realize that that anthology represented a very particular kind of writing, but I think Wolff captured something of an era there.

RC: The posture of most anthologies is to celebrate/represent the coalesced spirit of a kind of writing, or an era. And I only realized this reading through Marcus’s introduction. He writes, “This anthology aims to present … a sampler of behaviors and feelings we can very nearly have only through reading. A sourcebook of compulsory emotions.” I really like this. The focus of NAS is on language — as is to be expected in Marcus’s hands — and not on, say, a particular identity, era, or whatever. This is an anthology about the breadth of styles and forms — which brings me back to the cover. It’s a really brilliant illustration of Marcus’s guiding aesthetic principle in his own work and here: the productive tension between form and content. The scope of selection is wide, and encouraging from someone known to run in “experimental circles.” This is an anthology about aesthetic modes, not being an American.

ET: Parts of Marcus’s introduction feel a little like a wide-eyed sermon for the choir to me, but maybe I’m being cynical. Maybe I want him to be cynical with me. We all know why we’re here; get to the stories. His riffs on language and what and why we (might) use language offer an adequate “defense” of the title/mission New Stories—but there’s not really an engagement with the American aspect there, which, I suppose, might have played into a deeply ideological thing, a statement thing. Maybe A Sourcebook of Compulsory Emotions is a much much better title. But—but! But that first story, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s “Paranoia”—that’s a very American story, or, rather, that’s a story about America: nationalism, capitalism, racism, militarism, football, a Fourth of July scene? Oh, and, paranoia.

RC: The first story is a great opener, I think. It’s a classic realist mode, which, after reading the introduction, will get the reader to think, “Will something weird happen?” The weirdness that happens is the “moral honesty” that Marcus talks about in the introduction: the weirdness is in how normal this story is. I say classic and realist and I mean that the plot is straightforward, its language is plain and mostly functional (that is, free of any acoustical poetic attention or syntactical destruction), and about, quote-unquote, real people. Here’s the weird, and it’s not even that weird: the small talk we take for granted — i.e., when we ask the other person how they’re doing; in “Paranoia,” it’s the weather — becomes this refrain for each section in the story; Sayrafiezadeh deftly shows that repetition — i.e. stability — gives only the illusion of comfort, and that comfort in almost-knowing the weather is a salve against the American reality: that the worst will always happen. I won’t give the story away for anyone reading this post, but “Paranoia” works on two really brilliant moves. They’re pretty obvious maneuvers, but I think it shows that even in a more straightforward form, if one hones in on the tension between form and content — that is, diction/syntax and images the former evokes — some affecting writing is bound to occur. The other way — a commitment to a particular position — political, moral or otherwise — comes off cheap and stale.

ET: “Paranoia” asks its reader to attend closely to diction: “That word’s not called for!” is a through-line in the story. I almost wrote tale for story there (attending to diction), but “Paranoia” is not a tale. There’s no neat bow at the end. It succeeds on vibe, on mood, on the evocation of menace its title promises.

RC: Yeah, you’re right — it demands that the reader divert their attention away from the televised bombings of “the peninsula,” and on the subversive, subdermal ways in which language organizes reality — exactly how Marcus describes language in his introduction.

ET: So…let’s read the last story together next, no? Then, you pick one that’s a reread for you, but not for me, and we’ll read it—and then I’ll do the same—pick a reread for me that you haven’t read? Good?

St. John Devouring the Book from the Apocalypse — Albrecht Durer

Is it true that Nabokov called Hemingway and Conrad “writers of books for boys”?

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From a 1964 Playboy interview. Republished in Strong Opinions.

New American Stories, a collection edited by Ben Marcus (Book acquired, 8.04.2015)

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New American Stories is an anthology out now in enormous paperback from Vintage. The collection was collected by collector Ben Marcus. An excerpt from his introduction:

Language is a drug, but a short story cannot be smoked. You can’t inject it. Stories don’t come bottled as a cream. You cannot have a story massaged into you by a bearish old man. You have to stare down a story until it wobbles, yields, then catapults into your face. And yet, as squirrely as they are to capture, stories are the ideal deranger. If they are well made, and you submit to them, they go in clean. Stories deliver their chemical disruption without the ashy hangover, the blacking out, the poison. They trigger pleasure, fear, fascination, love, confusion, desire, repulsion. Drugs get flushed from our systems, but not the best stories. Once they take hold, you couldn’t scrape them out with a knife. While working on this book, I started to think of a it as a medicine chest, filled with beguiling, volatile material, designed by the most gifted technicians. The potent story writers, to me, are the ones who deploy language as a kind of contraband, pumping it into us until we collapse on the floor, writhing, overwhelmed with feeling.

You actually can smoke a short story, but to do so is inadvisable.

I’ll be riffing on the book over the next few weeks with our Correspondent in Colorado, Mr. Ryan Chang.

Here’s the tracklist:

Said Sayrafiezadeh, Paranoia

Rebecca Lee,  Slatland

Jesse Ball, The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp, and Carr

Deborah Eisenberg, Some Other, Better Otto

Anthony Doerr, The Deep

Yiyun Li, A Man Like Him

George Saunders, Home

NoViolet Bulawayo, Shhh

Maureen McHugh, Special Economics

Sam Lipsyte, This Appointment Occurs in the Past

Lydia Davis, Men

Donald Antrim, Another Manhattan

Zadie Smith*, Meet the President!

Denis Johnson, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

Joy Williams, The Country

Christine Schutt, A Happy Rural Seat of Various View Lucinda’s Garden

Don DeLillo, Hammer and Sickle

Mathias Svalina, Play

Lucy Corin, Madmen

Mary Gaitskill, The Arms and Legs of the Lake

Wells Tower, Raw Water

Rachel Glaser, Pee on Water

Tao Lin, Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money than There Exists

Rebecca Curtis, The Toast

Robert Coover, Going for a Beer

Charles Yu, Standard Loneliness Package

Deb Olin Unferth, Wait Till You See Me Dance

Kyle Coma-Thompson, The Lucky Body

Rivka Galchen, The Lost Order

Donald Ray Pollack, Fish Sticks

Kelly Link, Valley of the Girls

Claire Vaye Watkins, The Diggings

*Isn’t she English? I guess it’s the stories that are American.

A probably incomplete list of books I’ve read so far this year

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

Dockwood, Jon McNaught

A German Picturesque, Jason Schwartz

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon

Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles

Flee, Evan Dara

Birchfield Close, Jon McNaught

Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera

Infinite Fictions, David Winters

Syrian Notebooks, Jonathan Littell

Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon

Can’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

Gaha: Babes of the Abyss, Jon Frankel

The Spectators, Victor Hussenot

Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

The Wallcreeper, Nell Zink

Cess, Gordon Lish

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

High Rise, J.G. Ballard

Millennium People, J.G. Ballard

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov


Updating the reviews page to this blog today (a chore! a bore!) I realized just how many books I’d read this year and failed to write about…so far, anyway. The list above is probably incomplete, and only includes books I read cover-to-cover (or in a few cases audited on mp3)—so stuff like essays by William Gass and collections like Vollmann’s Last Stories and William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion (etc.) I left off. And yes, I’m aware that the list is heavy on white guys.

Nabokov/Hardwick/Lispector (Books acquired, 7.21.2015)

I picked up Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire on a weird whim. I mean, I quite literally passed by it in the bookshop I frequent; it was misshelved, or unshelved, really. Someone had left it in sci-fi, near the “Bs” (B-for-Ballard, if you must know). Pale Fire, eh? I thought. Can’t remember this one. Because I had never read it, somehow. An amazing novel, one I dove into after sampling a bit of Clarice Lispector’s Selected Cronicas (still sampling—this is one of those books that’s lovely to dip gently into between selections) and after failing to get through the first essay in Elizabeth Hardwick’s Seduction and Betrayal. Not sure if I can (should?) muster a “review” of Pale Fire, but it’s one of the better prepostmodern-postmodernist novels I’ve ever read—very very funny and a beautiful mindfuck.

Maid Reading in the Library — Edouard John Mentha

“The Adventure of the Three Robbers” by Apuleius

“The Adventure of the Three Robbers” by Apuleius

An episode from The Golden Ass, reproduced here from The Lock and Key Library’s Classic Detective and Mystery Stories of All Nations series, edited by Julian Hawthorne. The translator is likely Frederick Taber Cooper.


As Telephron reached the point of his story, his fellow revelers, befuddled with their wine, renewed the boisterous uproar. And while the old topers were clamoring for the customary libation to laughter, Byrrhæna explained to me that the morrow was a day religiously observed by her city from its cradle up; a day on which they alone among mortals propitiated that most sacred god, Laughter, with hilarious and joyful rites. “The fact that you are here,” she added, “will make it all the merrier. And I do wish that you would contribute something amusing out of your own cleverness, in honor of the god, to help us duly worship such an important divinity.”

“Surely,” said I, “what you ask shall be done. And, by Jove! I hope I shall hit upon something good enough to make this mighty god of yours reveal his presence.”

Hereupon, my slave reminding me what hour of night it was, I speedily got upon my feet, although none too steadily after my potations, and, having duly taken leave of Byrrhæna, guided my zigzag steps upon the homeward way. But at the very first corner we turned, a sudden gust of wind blew out the solitary torch on which we depended, and left us, plunged in the unforeseen blackness of night, to stumble wearily and painfully to our abode, bruising our feet on every stone in the road. Continue reading ““The Adventure of the Three Robbers” by Apuleius”

The Girl Who Slept with God (Book acquired, 7.24.2015)

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Val Brelinski’s novel The Girl Who Slept with God is new in hardback this week from Penguin Random House. Their blurb:

Set in Arco, Idaho, in 1970, Val Brelinski’s powerfully affecting first novel tells the story of three sisters: young Frances, gregarious and strong-willed Jory, and moral-minded Grace. Their father, Oren, is a respected member of the community and science professor at the local college. Yet their mother’s depression and Grace’s religious fervor threaten the seemingly perfect family, whose world is upended when Grace returns from a missionary trip to Mexico and discovers she’s pregnant with—she believes—the child of God.

Distraught, Oren sends Jory and Grace to an isolated home at the edge of the town. There, they prepare for the much-awaited arrival of the baby while building a makeshift family that includes an elderly eccentric neighbor and a tattooed social outcast who drives an ice cream truck.