Edward Said, writing about Beethoven’s late style, defined late style as that time wherein the artist freed from the expected cultural and historical restraints of form and content unleashes a newness that both confounds and instructs. Dennis Must has achieved that hour of newness in MacLeish Sq (Red Hen Press, 209 pages). With its visual complexities coupled to broad-ranging literary interconnections, Must’s writing raises the text to a “beyond” state where the readers have to let go of what they know. The readers must accept that their own hidden stories have been eclipsed and take this writing on its own without any pre-conceived notions of what “a novel” is or should be. Roland Barthes, now out of fashion to the post-post modern mind, wrote in his essays–Degrée zéro de l’écriture–that there are two kinds of writers which he called “l’écrivain and l’écrivant.” Must, in MacLeish Sq., brings us a third iteration of writer as his work approaches mythic status in which time, character, past, present, alive, dead—just a few of the literary polarities inhabiting this writing—interact at a level no reader can accept without relinquishing his/her own sense of person and being. Interweaving Dante, Melville, Hawthorne, Pirandello into a single narrative that seizes the essence of each, isn’t a style most readers will be comfortable with. Here, however, Must puts them together with such skill that the author lives on par with the masters. It will take an honest reader to admit–I have never read anything like this.
Author Archives: Dactyl Review
Ponckhockie Union by Brent Robison
Ponckhockie Union (Recital Publishing, 208 pages) is a novel for the connoisseur of the uncanny. The story is about Ben Rose, a documentary filmmaker, who stumbles into a vortex of metaphysical uncertainties when trying to make a film about a Revolutionary War historical site. He is estranged from his wife, doubtful about his future prospects, and vulnerable to having his bedrock assumptions upended. The more Ben grasps, the less stable his life is. The tipping point in the narrative comes when Ben encounters – or encounters again – a lying sociopath who may or may not be an assassin and may or may not get murdered. Ben is held hostage in a cellar for two weeks before escaping, realizing only too late that the way out had been available all along.
I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag with too much detail, but the narrative seesawing is on par with Kafka or Borges. Once certainty is asserted, it is as quickly diminished. Add to that a dollop of paranoia a la Philip K. Dick, and you get the drift. If there is a cat to be let out of the bag, it is Schroedinger’s.
The overall atmosphere is of a thriller. An intense thriller. The notes of ominous transformations are quietly sounded in the introduction of the sociopath calling himself Les Spanda:
He gave me a wide grin and reached out a broad meaty hand. As I shook it, a vague sensation began to dawn in me that I had met this man before. I couldn’t grasp any specific memory, so I just thanked him, and walked back to my car.
Later, we learn that “spanda” is a Sanskrit word meaning divine vibration or pulse inseparable from being, a cosmic expansion, and contraction. Breathe in. Breathe out. Now hold your breath, and keep holding, holding, holding. That’s the mood Robison seems to be after. Continue reading
Don’t Look at Me, by Charles Holdefer
Go big or go home. In his new novel Don’t Look at Me (Sagging Meniscus Press, 282 Pages), author Charles Holdefer chooses to go big.
At the center of Don’t Look at Me is a young woman sidelined from a promising college basketball career by a nasty leg injury. Her name is Holly Winegarten, and she is six-foot-nine inches tall. Holly is never described as a giant and doesn’t suffer from the deadly ills immense size brings. Still, her height makes her unusual, painfully so.
After casting around for a personal direction post-accident, Holly discovers solace in an unexpected place, literature. Great language offers the self-conscious woman a much-longed-for way to diminish the isolation that accompanies her physical stature. Continue reading
Renato! by Eugene Mirabelli
Renato! (McPherson & Co, 577 pages) is a vast, rambling, delightful tale about the life and loves of Renato Stillamare, a once noted painter who mourns the decades-long dwindling of his reputation. He is also struck to the core by the loss of his wife, his near life-long love, and his complicated muse. The story is three previous novels merged through adroit craft into one. The first section offers the fantastic family origins in Renato’s mythic grandfather, a man half human and half horse. The second section is set a century later, covering the life of Renato, an aging painter wishing to reclaim his prominence in the art world. The third section follows Renato as he tries to revive his reputation and endure the scorching misery of widowerhood. Continue reading
The Deep Translucent Pond, by James Shelley
In James Shelley’s The Deep Translucent Pond (Adelaide Books, 192 pages), the Black Magus, “Cleveland’s greatest poet since Hart Crane,” is getting on in years and mentors his last two aspiring poets in an esoteric fellowship program known as the Triangulum. The Black Magus explains,
“The Triangulum Galaxy is the most distant light we can see with the naked eye. It contains a nebula, NGC 604. Radiation from new stars blows holes in the nebula, providing a view into its black interior. A star-birthing factory…The Tenth Triangulum’s first order of business is to understand holes.”
With references to Da Vinci’s Last Supper and triangles as the most stable shape, the novel opens with elements that are reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. Jerome Konigsberg, one of the poets who has won the fellowship on the basis, in part, of a poem titled “The Regaining,” presents the poem in an introductory session:
I am realistic enough to know
If I stumble upon The Grail
It won’t be a chalice, haloed in
radial spokes of blinding white
I only hope
like the sighting of a rare bird
I recognize it before it slips away
to help keep my head above water
Scanning the horizon for rescue:
the next shimmer of light.
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
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