It starts in adolescence. The questions come to you while lying in bed (certainly now with a growing awareness of your sexuality), the walls of your room expanding into endless grainy darkness, as if the room itself could encompass the entire world: why am I here, why is there anything at all?
The questions may haunt you at age 13 or 15 or 17, but by adulthood they tend to feel banal. Unanswerable, impossible, if taken seriously debilitating, they are in a word blinding, and so you tend to avert your gaze. But suppose you can’t, suppose the inviolable white light only draws you closer, to madness possibly, to paint or write or drink or pray (to what God, tell me?) almost certainly. And so perhaps you scribble, the pages of your notebooks filling with furious script, like eons of sediment piling into sad mute mountains no one else will ever excavate or carve or climb. Continue reading
This wry, touching novel, The Grievers (The Permanent Press, 175 pages), takes an intelligent look at the meaning of friendship, a distinctly pertinent topic in an age when “friend” and “unfriend” are ubiquitous verbs referring mostly to people we’ve never met. It’s a novel of ideas that also dares to be funny, a dangerous strategy when so many critics see humor as a crime against literature. After all, doesn’t serious writing demand uncompromising hopelessness and despair? Continue reading
I love Scarlett Thomas. I love the fact she writes novels that are unabashedly about big ideas. Philosophical novels spliced with alternative theories from the worlds of science and medicine in the quest to find out what it’s all about. Life I mean. I also love the fact she isn’t too bothered by the intricacies of plot or character. In the two other novels of hers that I have read, PopCo and The End Of Mr Y, I got irritated when she reverted to plot or relationship details that interrupted the flow of creative thinking and speculation. So I am very indulgently disposed to her writing and accept that not everyone else might be so like minded. Continue reading
As Ivan Goldman’s Isaac: A Modern Fable (The Permanent Press, 222 pages) nears its conclusion, one of the novel’s narrators makes a telling observation: “Whatever we think we know, we’re just guessing, like everyone else.” In context, the narrator, Ruth, is commenting on her familiarity with a slippery and sinister academician named Borges, but the line also captures the essence of the novel itself. Drawing heavily on the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, this “modern fable” serves as a telling commentary on humanity’s ongoing struggle with questions of religion and our intimations of the divine. To wit: What’s the difference between those who claim to hear the voice of God and those who are just plain crazy? Continue reading
William Burroughs and Terry Southern’s cut up techniques were a bit too oblique to me. Supposedly cutting up classic texts and resuturing them together like the two halves of a car chop shop, while certainly creating a new text, but was also supposed to maintain echoes of the original ghost texts working under the surface. The problem for me was that I couldn’t locate any of the original texts, not being that well read classically, so that I didn’t get any undertones.
In Cobralingus (Codex, 120 pages) Jeff Noon provides the reader with the classical Continue reading
Because we were unable to give awards in 2011 and 2012, due to lack of qualifying entries, we decided to give two awards in 2013. The first award goes to The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann, which was reviewed by top DR reviewer Charles Holdefer. The second award goes to Cocoa Almond Darling by Jeffra Hays, which was reviewed by Peter Bollington, also a top DR reviewer, and VN Alexander, DR editor. Both authors receive a $1000 prize. Congratulations to David and Jeffra for their fine work.