The Hollow Middle by John Popielaski

In John Popielaski’s The Hollow Middle (Unsolicited Press, 381 pages), forty-something Albert, an English teacher in a private school, longs to retreat from the human world. Early on, hungover, he looks out on a river and “waits for the compass needle to flutter less.” The answer, he senses, leads back to nature.

Albert’s wife Mary senses their childless marriage has been on some kind of border and, partly for that reason, develops an interest in adopting two ten-year old autistic boys, twins. Albert is drawn into the plan by the generous stipends the couple will receive for the boys’ care, money which can help fund his back-to-the-land dream. Additionally–in keeping with the novel having an ear toward environmental tampering–he receives funds from a settlement with the U.S. Government for his father’s cancerous death after working decades on a radiation tainted site. Continue reading

The Songs and Laments of Loömos, by René de Saint-Denis

With his Loömos book (Laocoön Press, 2021, 128 pp.), the author attempts a presentation of art as an integrated whole. As the subtitle tells us, “Text, drawings, paintings, music and sculpture” are included here. We read the words of the book, but, simultaneously, we interact with everything else. We, of course, do not interact directly with the sculptures by Saint-Denis—here we must be content with their visual representations. Nor do we hear the actual music, as this is not an audiobook. But the final section, “Songs and Laments,”—four separate pieces comprising a total of fourteen pages—consists entirely of musical notations.

Therefore, in order to “hear” the music of the final section you have to be a musician yourself, able to read the notes provided on paper. The author may have considered publishing an audiobook, or including a CD of the final section with this paperback. But then again, given certain unique and avant-garde features of Loömos, he may have deliberately intended the final section not to be played. So as to achieve something like what the composer John Cage created when he wrote his famous composition consisting of silence. All the musicians sit in stillness on the proscenium, holding their instruments, while the conductor stills his baton and all his gesticulations. The “music” consists of isolated coughs and throat-clearings from the audience, plus a few car horns blowing and ambulance sirens from the outside world.

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Maison Cristina by Eugene K. Garber

Where is Eugene K. Garber now? Some years ago he distinguished himself as a writer of dazzling short stories, many of them with an experimental edge. His Metaphysical Tales won the Associated Writing Programs annual prize for short stories, and a later work, The Historian, took the William Goyen Prize for fiction. Those two books, a dozen years apart, established Garber as an intellectual fabulist, a dazzling juggler of narrative devices, a witty and self-conscious artist with a subversive vision.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a brief foreword to Metaphysical Tales which sounded more like a warning to readers than an introduction. After remarking on the author’s “extraordinary skill and vision” she wrote, “Garber is also stubborn, eccentric, self-conscious, and so willfully dazzling -– to be a virtuoso, or to be nothing! — that readers must be enjoined not to attempt to read this volume straight through, or even to read more than one story at a time.” And she concluded with, “Like all gifted writers, Eugene K. Garber is not to be understood – or loved – too quickly.” Clearly, that brainy Garber guy was some kind of card sharp, but with words. Continue reading

The Berserkers by Vic Peterson

New Book Announcement

A beautiful woman is found stabbed and frozen in the ice of Lake Much, dressed only in the costume wings and tight corset of a Norse Valkyrie.

Grammaticus Kolbitter, police precinct records clerk by day and keyboardist in a Viking heavy-metal band, The Berserkers, by night, is pulled into the investigation.

What does a records clerk know about solving crime? Reluctantly, Grammaticus embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

Available through Book Depository (US, free shipping) and Amazon UK. Visit author website: vicpeterson.com

Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism, Thriller

Ice, by Anna Kavan

Published in 1967, Ice (Peter Owen, 158 pages) is a harrowing, oblique, beautiful novel increasingly viewed as a modern classic on par with1984 and Brave New World. Kavan creates a world overrun by vast ice sheets caused by nuclear winter. The anti-hero narrator, a man obsessed with a frail, stunning young woman, chronicles the doom he foresees for his world and the girl who is the object of his fascination. Kavan’s prose swerves breathtakingly from the delicate and the brutal.

Ice shifts between bleak realism and a haunted panorama of psychological terrors. The plot is episodic, evading conventional patterns. None of the characters has a name or is “likable” or “relatable,” as the current jargon has it; but do not read Kavan for those ends. Lyric mastery and a tone of brooding psychic disturbance are the bedrock of the novel, a startling penetration of beauty couched within doom. Continue reading

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A Happy New Year to all Dactylians, i.e., supporters of, readers of, and contributors to, Dactyl Review. Once more we have BAM-bam-bammed our way through what looks like a not-so-nice year, 2021. But it was no worse than the one before and possibly much better than many, many other years we’ve lived through in the past. Everything, actually, is relative. Take 1940. For millions of persons worldwide that year was none too swift. For millions more it was a BE year—Before Existence, since they had not yet been born. But 1940 was good to me, for I was delivered into earthly being at the very moment that Hitler was taking Paris.

Hold on, old man. You lost me there. The stuff about the BAM-bam. . .

Yes, well . . . all Dactylians are BAM-bam-bammers, because in versification a dactyl is defined as a metrical foot consisting of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented (trinary verse). Like all trinary (three-beat) verse, dactyls can tend toward the sing-songy, and, therefore, may be frowned upon. Except in nonsense verse or children’s rhymes: Continue reading

The Pickup, by Nadine Gordimer

Being and Ignominy

Time and place. We’re in post-apartheid South Africa, apparently in the largest city, Johannesburg. We’re at the turn of the millennium, early in the new century. The Pickup (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 270 pages) begins with a scene describing a helpless woman and “clustered predators round a kill.” But not to worry, it’s only a modern young white woman, Julie Summers, having car trouble in the midst of a traffic snarl. Her gesture: “hands, palms open, in surrender.” I give up. Help me. They do. Julie Summers is assured of help because she is white and her father is rich. Her social status is that of one who belongs; she is born into privilege, part of the “real” world of Western capitalism. But does she feel that she belongs? Is her world really real? No. So we have, early on, the central theme of the book: identity, or the lack of, belonging and unbelonging. Continue reading

The Blood of Bones by N.T. McQueen

Announcement: New book from one of our reviewers

The boy’s name is Tesfahun. Nestled in the vastness of Ethiopia, he lives among an ancient tribe untouched by modern civilization. His people live an isolated life where revenge killings are required and ruled by superstitions where mingi or cursed babies are thrown into the river for the sake of the tribe.

As friends are forced to avenge the tribe and children disappear in the night, Tesfahun begins to question his people and his beliefs, growing further from his grief stricken mother and hardened father. After his initiation into manhood, Tesfahun discovers a terrible secret about his family and himself. Continue reading

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis

In Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest (2014), set in a Nazi death camp, the Commander, Paul Doll, has his wife, Hannah, and two daughters living with him in the “zone,” where the smell of rotting flesh from the mass graves functions as a persistent clue that things have gone very, very wrong in the world.

How did the German civilians go about their lives and continue to be human beings in such an atmosphere? That’s the question that must have compelled Amis to write this novel. While no sane person can fully imagine the answer to that question, Amis creates a few plausible stories that people might have told themselves. Continue reading

In the Field by Rachel Pastan

Literary fiction about science remains an exception. When C.P. Snow voiced concern in 1959 about “Two Cultures” in reference to the growing gap between science and the arts, it created a stir. Nowadays, no one would debate the notion. It has hardened into fact.

Often, when literary fiction tries to engage with science, it tends toward speculative writing. For instance, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go or Ian McEwan’s Solar or any of a number of Richard Powers’ novels. They show a hypothetical present or future and ask: “What if?Continue reading