This is How He Learned to Love by Randall Brown

Was it the intention of Randall Brown or his publisher to make a statement by putting the word “stories” on the cover of This Is How He Learned to Love (Sonder Press, 88 pages)? I don’t know. Of course, it’s a convention to tag book titles with explanatory genre labels such as “a novel” or “stories” or “a memoir.” But Brown is a particular case. He is a prolific and expert writer of flash fiction as well as the author of A Pocket Guide to Flash Fiction. He also writes longer forms (see his novella How Long is Forever), but it’s not unreasonable to think of him as “Mr. Flash,” one of the chief exponents of the form in America. 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

Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan

THE BRAVURA BEGINNING

The beginning of this novel (Random House, 262 pages), pervaded, as one reviewer writes, with “dazzling cinematic bravura,” is worth citing at some length. The protagonist Joe Rose, a science writer, and his wife Clarissa Mellon—a university professor who has just returned to London from the U.S., where she was doing research on the poet John Keats—are about to have a picnic.

“This was the moment, this was the pinprick on the time map: I was stretching out my hand [for the bottle of wine], and as the cool neck and the black foil touched my palm, we heard a man’s shout. We turned to look across the field and saw the danger. Next thing, I was running toward it. The transformation was absolute: I don’t recall dropping the corkscrew, or getting to my feet, or making a decision, or hearing the caution Clarissa called after me. What idiocy, to be racing into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our happiness among the fresh spring grasses by the oak. There was the shout again, and a child’s cry, enfeebled by the wind that roared in the tall trees along the hedgerows. I ran faster. And there, suddenly, from different points around the field, four other men were converging on the scene, running like me. Continue reading

The Weight of Smoke by George Robert Minkoff

Presented as a memoir of Captain John Smith, founder of Jamestown Colony, Virginia in 1607, The Weight of Smoke (McPherson & Co, 389 pages) is the work of a self-described antiquarian, rare books dealer whose imagination is stacked to the ceiling with historic archives and Elizabethan letters. With this volume of historical fiction, Minkoff truly does seem to inhabit the language of those times.

Smith’s narration has a reflexivity to it that radically alters the reader’s sense of time. Every line is both fraught with Smith’s rich backstory and, at the same time, is nervously peering into his bleak future. Such tricks with time are only possible in literary narrative. And it’s a reading experience that is mind-expanding. If his narration had a shape it would torus-like, perhaps, or arabesque, but definitely not linear. Continue reading

Support Dactyl Review now and your tax-deductible gift will be matched

Happy New Year to all our friends. Looking back on 2019, I optimistically note that participation at Dactyl Review has increased since 2018, with many good contributions: reviews, new book announcements, and editorials. We have nine new nominations for the Dactyl Literary Award this year, and these will be in the running for the 2019 award, together with nominations from previous years when no prize was awarded.

Although we usually announce the winner fairly early in the year, I have not yet read all the nominated books. I beg your patience. It’s a lot of very important work that I take seriously. And I also have a review of a book from my favorite literary fiction publisher, McPherson & Co., to finish and post soon. (It’s been a crazy, busy year for me.) In the meantime, I will personally match any donations (up to $500) made to Dactyl Foundation between now and the day of the award announcement. As always, and at any time in the year, your donation is fully tax-deductible.I want to take this time to mention that contributing editor U. R. Bowie reviewed Olga Tokarczuk’s, book Flights, translated into English by Jennifer Croft, which subsequently won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2019. Bowie’s review was one of the first to praise the book and his review is one of the longest and most complex to be published before the Nobel prize announcement. You read it here first. Good catch, Bowie.

Looking forward to Dactyl Review‘s 10th anniversary in March of 2020, Dactyl Foundation is pursuing plans to operate as a non-profit hub for a literary publishing cooperative. Since 2010 we have been providing authors with what they need most: excellent peer reviewers, potential to receive a generous financial award, recognition for good work, and a community of like-minded authors. We hope that our cooperative venture will provide much, much more of the same and then some.

Thanks everyone for all the reading, writing and reviewing you do.

Yours truly,

V. N. Alexander, Editor, Dactyl Review

Night, by Edna O’Brien

IN HONOR OF THE 89TH BIRTHDAY OF EDNA O’BRIEN, DECEMBER 15, 2019

THE CULTURE OF THE ABDOMEN

In her memoir, Country Girl, Edna O’Brien mentions a favorite book of her bilious husband, who was obsessed with poisons in the atmosphere and in food: The Culture of the Abdomen, by F.A. Hornibrook. Here is the sample passage she quotes: “One cannot live over a cesspit in good health. How much more difficult to remain well if we carry our cesspit about inside us . . . . Food is taken several times daily, often too frequently and too freely and of unsuitable quality; but, as a rule, one occasion only is permitted for the ejection of its waste materials. And remember that all the time this lagging tenant of the bowel is retained the conditions favoring evil are at work; heat, moisture, nitrogenous refuse, darkness and micro-organisms. The slow poison factory is in full swing, and its output is turned into the highways and byways of the body.” 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

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

IN SURREAL VIETNAM, AND BACK HOME IN THE UNREALITY OF THE U.S.A.

The title story of The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction (Houghton-Mifflin, 246 pages, from the Series: Looking Back at Literary Classics of the Past) comes first in the collection, a story cataloging all the different things that an American foot soldier, or “grunt,” carried during the Vietnam War. This includes not only entrenching tools, Claymore antipersonnel mines, assault rifles, the M-60 machine gun and grenade launchers, but also pictures of girlfriends, an illustrated New Testament (Kiowa, a native American and devout Baptist), tranquilizers (Ted Lavender, “who was scared, until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe”), the medic Rat Kiley (“a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books”). The grunts also carry lice, ringworm, and other hazards of the humid climate, along with dreams for the future and fear of death or embarrassment. Continue reading

Event Announcement: Co-operative Book Publishing

The state of platform cooperativism November 7-9, 2019 at the New School in NYC.

Around the globe, we are starting to build an alternative economy that benefits the many, not just the few. Our passions, research, and projects challenge platform capitalism and chart a more democratic future. We show that an inclusive economy is not only necessary but already growing among us.

When starting a platform co-op, we have a much better chance at success if we rely on the support of our communities, established co-ops, incubators, co-op banks, unions, foundations, researchers, lawyers, technologists, and policymakers. “Who Owns the World?” is about building connections between these groups, finding the much-needed support, and learning from each other. For the first time, this event will bring together many of the most active players in this movement worldwide to share updates and insights, instigate initiatives, make new friends, lift each other up, plan next steps, and find new business partners as well as funders.

Celebrating 10 years of digital labor conferences at The New School, “Who Owns the World?” will feel the pulse of platform cooperativism, worldwide.

Victoria Alexander, director at the Dactyl Foundation and editor of Dactyl Review, will speak on Saturday Nov 8th about efforts to transform literary fiction publishing using a co-operative platform model.

Sama Seeker in the Time of the End Times: A Spy Novel, by U.R. Bowie

New Book Announcement

The year is 2002, the devastating attack of 911 in New York still reverberates. Osama bin Laden is in hiding. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says, “If he’s alive, he’s somewhere?” In reply, President Dubya Bush squints and makes threatening gestures. The U.S. government marshals all its forces to find and kill the archenemy of Western Civilization. Urell L. Buies, Ph.D., a college professor with a sideline of decades in low-level intelligence operations, is recruited to work with Russian intelligence in Central Asia. The Russians promise they can find Osama. While in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, doing little more than waiting for something to happen, Buies begins writing a long account of his formative years and his life as a double agent. Or what he terms, ironically, “a double non-agent.” As the story of his life moves closer to present time, the narrative moves to the climactic point: the day the Russian helicopter goes in after Osama.

Once again, using a multiplicity of influences from classical Russian literature, U.R. Bowie creates a fascinating imaginative world. In a novel that looks backward to the nineteen century, backward to a Florida childhood in the forties and fifties of the twentieth century, then forward to events culminating in the assassination of Osama bin Laden in the twenty-first, we are offered wit, intelligence, richness of detail, quirky characters, and an impressive grasp of Russian history, literature, arts and culture. The echoing, overlapping stories—but, more impressively, a large array of characters—draw in the reader and lead gracefully to a powerful crescendo. The author deftly manages the trick of scope, hitting all the right notes to sound out the big picture, while making us hear, feel, and commiserate with the people at the heart of the interwoven tales.