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

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

Here Lies Memory: A Pittsburgh Novel, by Doug Rice

Long form art in any medium seems to be losing the battle of immediacy and a novel that demands its reader to devote oneself to be silent and exist has the odds stacked against it. With Rice’s novel Here Lies Memory (Black Scat Books, 316 pages), those who allow themselves to simply be will find a haunting beauty in the lives of the characters, in their pasts and within each carefully chosen word.

The first of an in-progress trilogy about his hometown of Pittsburgh, Here Lies Memory  marks a departure for the often avant garde Rice towards a linear, traditional narrative structure though the characters are anything but traditional. Doug Rice studied under John Gardner and it seems the meticulous understanding of character Gardner used has found its place in Doug Rice’s novel. It is within these characters that the sanctity of memory is displayed and this can only be achieved if the writer truly knows and empathizes the very soul of the characters. Here Lies Memory focuses on a mix of multi-racial, multigenerational characters who remain stagnant and, for some, paralyzed by trauma and memory. Continue reading

Lower Reaches of the River, by M. Conway Dorsey

In the last several years I have developed a steep impatience with contemporary fiction. Before I opened M. Conway Dorsey’s debut novel, Lower Reaches of the River (Adelaide Books, 172 pages), it had been quite some time since I had even finished a novel without putting it down in a fit of mistrust and frustration. After I read the last sentence, I thought hard about why Lower Reaches had not incited me; why it kept my attention. I decided, finally, that there were two cardinal reasons.

Before I get to these, let me first open a brief parenthesis to summarize the story. Dorsey’s novel opens deep in the marshlands of the Southern US, where a lost people live, a population of dislocated souls dwelling on a floating village of lashed-together boats and rafts, an almost organic construct, mazed with passageways. This ad hoc archipelago, Camptown, is a secret waystation for the forgotten and disconsolate, run jointly by three people: the local sheriff, barroom owner Early Watts, and oilman Nolan Flynn. Camptown is, on the surface, a charitable organization that helps the wayward start new lives. Continue reading

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett

“Once after dinner, as we sat in front of the television watching an Adventures of Superman rerun, I asked, ‘Was my father handsome?’

She replied, ‘Some might say yes.’

‘Was he smart?’ I asked.

She stared at the television. ‘Why is it that after all the bullets have bounced off Superman’s chest, he then ducks when the villain throws the empty gun at him?’

I looked at the television and wondered, knowing also that my quest for some detail about my history had been again thwarted, albeit with a very good question. I never pressed terribly hard, thinking that someday the story would surface, but then she died.”

I’ve quoted this out-of-context gem to give you a taste and because it made me laugh the first time I read this brilliant book  about a boy who is named “Not Sidney Poitier” although he is the spitting image of a young Poitier. I laughed while I moaned. This is serious and hilarious stuff.

However a year after my first reading, when I read this book for a second time, I had a different experience. I hardly laughed at all for the first half (second half is funnier). Instead I was moved by the pain. Continue reading

Elle by Douglas Glover

I read Douglas Glover’s novel Elle (Goose Lane Editions, 226 pages) when it came out in 2003, and over the years I’ve continued, now and again, to read a few pages at random. It’s an excellent book – it won Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award – with a remarkable narrator heroine and a curious plot, but I go back to it simply because I enjoy the story teller’s voice. The novel is based on an actual event in Canada’s history when a French noblewoman was abandoned on the Isle of Demons in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1542.

The history is simple. In 1541 Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, a nobleman privateer, was made Lieutenant General of New France. He set sail from the old to the New France that same year and along with him and the other colonists in his charge he had his cousin, or maybe it was his niece or his sister – the record is confused – but in any case she was Marguerite de La Rocque de Roberval. For some unknown reason Lieutenant General Roberval became infuriated with Marguerite and as the ship entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence he had Marguerite, plus her lover and her maidservant, put ashore on a small unpopulated island, providing them with scant hunting and fishing gear. A few years later Marguerite was rescued by Basque fishermen and by then her lover and an infant whom Marguerite had given birth to had died, as had the maidservant. Continue reading

we, the forsaken world, by Kiran Bhat

Anyone familiar with the inventions and predictions of Ray Kurtzweil might think of the Singularity he has discussed as they enter the scenes of Kiran Bhat’s we, of the forsaken world (Iguana Books, 216 pages). In other words, either the human race is on the brink of extinction, or we are on the verge of a physical, technological, even spiritual lift-off that will mark our history as indelibly as the invention of the longbow, the steam engine, or the computer….are you ready to be experienced?

In Bhat’s novel, we see the birth of a new world consciousness, a singularity not of human and machine, but human and earth, “a full actualization of consciousness,” out of the very familiar world we live in: one of inequality, mistrust and conflict. Therefore, if to imagine is to make so, Bhat’s novel is a step in the right direction. Continue reading

We might as Well Light Something on Fire by Ron Maclean

Three Dialogs about Ron Maclean’s Three-Part Short Story Collection, We Might as Well Light Something on Fire (Braddock Avenue Books, 179 pages):

I. goats, rabbits, etc.

We’re going to talk about we might as well light something on fire .

Right. You know the writer?

Yes.

Is he brave?

I was never in combat with him. Why do you ask?

Guy writes a really far out book called we might as well light something on fire, some smartass will say, right, let’s start with this book.

That would be an incendiary insult to one of the most original collections I have ever read. How do you want to proceed?

Section by section, one of the three sections for each meeting, and concentrate on one story. Continue reading