Newton’s collection of surreal stories, Seven Cries of Delight (Recital Publishing, 170 pages) was nominated by Brent Robison who, in his review, writes, “As legions of MFA students busily workshop their childhood drama into market-friendly ‘realistic’ fiction, Tom Newton has clearly been following a different muse.” At Dactyl Review we value unique and eccentric talent and our readers will find those few authors writing today who aren’t trying to appeal to the most common of those dominating the market. Newton appeals to a special literary taste, to those whose minds tend to wander, who question the act of thinking itself and who often catch themselves in the act, examining the form and structure of the process of meaning-making. In short, Newton writes about thought-art. Continue reading
Freud’s repressed realm of bitter little embryos, spying from their natural nooks, upon the love life of their parents. Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
There’s the epigraph to my article, and maybe the spark that later ignited in Ian McEwan’s brain; here’s the epigraph (from Hamlet) to Nutshell: “Oh, God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.”
A Teller of the Tale, Who Is Striving To Be
Ian McEwan specializes in great beginnings and great endings to his fictions. Who has ever written a better bravura opening then this one to Nutshell, Random House, 2016, 197 pp: “So here I am, upside down in a woman. Arms patiently crossed, waiting, waiting and wondering who I’m in, what I’m in for. My eyes close nostalgically when I remember how I once drifted in my translucent body bag, floated dreamily in the bubble of my thoughts through my private ocean in slow-motion somersaults, colliding gently against the transparent bounds of my confinement, the confiding membrane that vibrated with, even as muffled, the voices of conspirators in a vile enterprise. That was in my careless youth. Now, fully inverted, not an inch of space to myself, knees crammed against my belly, my thoughts as well as my head are fully engaged. I’ve no choice, my ear is pressed all day and night against the bloody walls. I listen, make mental notes, and I’m troubled. I’m hearing pillow talk of deadly intent and I’m terrified by what awaits me, by what might draw me in.”
Okay, so we have a fetus narrating the story, and this is a fully conscious and articulate fetus, one, furthermore, who has vast knowledge of the world out there before he—if he is a ‘he’—is even in it. His many observations on the twenty-first century realm awaiting his entry are astute, perspicacious, worthy of his creator—who, obviously, has lent his narrator his own perspicacity, education, wit, vocabulary. The fetus is unnamed. For purposes of this review we can call him FN (fetus narrator). FN is very close to full term, about to be born, almost a babe in arms. His parents, father, mother, stepfather (uncle) have apparently given no consideration to what “it” (they call him “it”) will be called. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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.
V. N. Alexander, Editor, Dactyl Review
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
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
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