In The Age of Insight, Eric Kandel writes about the role of the observer in art: “Not only does the viewer collaborate with the artist in transforming a two dimensional likeness on canvas into a three-dimensional depiction of the visual world, the viewer interprets what he or she sees on the canvas in personal terms, thereby adding meaning to the picture. Riegel called this phenomenon the “beholder’s involvement.” Kris’s study of ambiguity in visual perception led him to elaborate on Riegel’s insight that the viewer completes a work of art. As a neuroscientist, Kandel focuses on the plastic arts, but his discussion brings us to the question of writing and specifically to the question of the “historical novel”. What does historical writing demand from the reader in order to “complete a work of art”?
There are three dimensions involved: Time, the writer’s mind, and the reader’s perception.
We know that writers filter reality, compress time, squeeze events, introduce ‘fictional’ aspects to such an extent that often the historical novel masquerades as a “quasi-memoir” splicing together documentation from time past with the writer’s art and craft of invention.
In other words, how much of an historical novel is history and how much is literary fiction? And, really, does it matter? And what has Eleanor Sapia Parker done in A Decent Woman (Scarlet River Press, 364 pages)? Continue reading
Citadel (Global, 372 pages) is a much needed, unforgiving and unapologetic evisceration of the idea of female inferiority we have so primitively accepted today and throughout history. Remick shows tremendous skill in the way he attacks such a heated and complicated subject. He never shies away from the atrocious acts of violence against women, but neither does he lose the magic of his whirlwind storytelling in favor of lecture. Citadel is an honest, sometimes savage look at the relationship between men and women, and what the world could be like if women were in control.
Trisha de Tours is an editor at Pinnacle Books and has been directed by her boss to find a bestseller. When she finds out the new resident in her condos, Daiva Izokaitis, has a manuscript called Citadel, she agrees to read it. Trisha soon finds out Daiva is a literary rebel, refusing to adhere to the fundamentals of writing and later refusing to participate in the editing process, yet she has created a revolutionary novel that overcomes Trisha so completely we see her drown in the story, and reemerging a different woman. Continue reading
“We must read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading does not wake us up with a blow to the head, then what are we reading it for? A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” …Franz Kafka
Some of the best writers in world literature—Kafka in German, say, Isaac Babel in Russian, Philip Roth in English—are the kind of writers who love to inflict blows to the head of the reader. In so doing they must, however, be ever aware that someone smacked upside the head will yell, and yell loudly.
Nathaniel Rich discusses this issue in regard to Roth (NYRB, March 8, 2018).
Philip Roth had “to defend himself and to explain himself to the paranoid assimilationists of his father’s generation who berated him for ‘informing the goyim that some Jews might not be paragons of virtue and might even possess human qualities.’” Roth told his detractors, “Fiction is not written to affirm the principles and beliefs that everybody seems to hold.” This was in response to the reaction to his story, “Defender of the Faith,” published in The New Yorker in 1959. Continue reading
Given that the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of “The Virgin Suicides” (Warner Books, 1993, 249 pages) is about to appear in print, now is a good time for another look at a novel that has become a modern classic in American literature.
Set in Wayne County, Michigan, in and around Grosse Point, a suburb of Detroit, “The Virgin Suicides” is steeped in gloom. Since it is narrated, however, with verve and humor, you don’t quite comprehend how sad it is until you’ve read the final pages. You put the book down and that’s when the melancholy grabs you by the soul. Continue reading
Recently I’ve decided to read and review what are generally accepted as the best short story collections by living American writers. With publication of All Things All at Once (Norton, 365 pages), Lee K. Abbott, widely acknowledged as a “writers’ writer,” has seven collections of stories in print. His work has appeared in some of the most highly regarded literary journals. In addition, his stories have been featured in Best American Short Stories and have won O. Henry awards. This most recent collection features new stories, plus several previously published.
I am happy to announce that U. R. Bowie (pictured left) will be joining Dactyl Review as Contributing Editor. Bowie is the 2017 recipient of the Dactyl Review literary fiction award for his novel The Tale of the Bastard Feverfew. At DR we believe literary fiction writers make the best literary fiction reviewers. And vice versa. Bowie’s work offers substantial support for that premise.
Bowie has been contributing reviews regularly since the spring of 2016. As a professor of Russian literature, he brings special insight to novels that are touched by the Russian soul. His reviews of The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis (both dealing with Russian themes) and his most recent review of The Trick of It by Michael Frayn (a novel about novel writing) stand out as the kind of reviews literary fiction authors want and need. (Read his reviews now, if you haven’t yet.) Unlike a lot of hack reviewers working for pocket change for the prepub make-it-or-break-it publications such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, Bowie, working for the love of it alone, has actually read the books he reviews, not just skimmed them. We can tell because he analyzes the actual language used by the author and does not make comments about the characters as if they were real people not literary constructs. Continue reading
U.R. Bowie’s The Tale of the Bastard Feverfew: One Man’s Journey into the Land of the Dead wins Dactyl Foundation’s annual award for literary fiction.
Bastard Feverfew is about an insurrection at a maximum security prison. Mike Miller (author of Worthy of this Great City) reviewed this year’s winner, noting that “The book succeeds in that it leaves the reader with a sense of a journey taken. We’ve experienced a reality we’d prefer to deny, we’ve endured and survived but will never completely forget. That’s an accomplishment for both author and reader.”
In addition to publishing six novels/short story collections over the past four years (Gogol’s Head, Hard Mother, GoogleGogol, Disambiguations, Own: The Sad and Like-wike Weepy Tale of Wittle Elkie Selph, and Anyway, Anyways ), Bowie has been a prolific contributor to Dactyl Review in 2017.
Congratulations U. R. Bowie and many thanks to Mike Miller for submitting the review. Bowie and Miller each agreed to a review exchange this year, and we hope other reviewer/writers will be encouraged to support each others’ work.
-VN Alexander, Editor
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