Somebody gave me a copy of this book (Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love, Random House, 2000. Vintage paperback edition, 2001, 308 pp.). It lay about my house for a long time, the bright blues of the cover occasionally calling out to me, “Read me.” I resisted, probably because the title put me off. “The Feast of Love” promises a light read, maybe a melodrama, nothing serious. The book, however, turns out to be a wonderful piece of literary fiction.
Here’s the epigraph, from Samuel Beckett’s Molloy: “Yes, there were times when I forgot not only who I was, but that I was, forgot to be.” Is the novel that follows about forgetting to be? Not really. This book as a whole is about being, and all the messiness of being human in flesh. That epigraph misleads the reader into thinking he’s in for something resembling Kafka, and the “Preludes” part that comes next—first subheading under “Beginnings”—reinforces that expectation of the Kafkaesque. In the prelude the writer Charles Baxter—most people call him Charlie—wakes up in the middle of the night and “cannot remember or recognize myself . . . I can’t manage my way through this feeling because my mind isn’t working, and because it, the flesh in which I’m housed, hasn’t yet become me.” Continue reading →
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 long enough to help keep my head above water
Scanning the horizon for rescue: the next shimmer of light.
In his review of Petri Harbouri’s novel, The Brothers Carburi, U. R. Bowie, writes:
What do I like best about this book? I like a lot of things about it, but I like best the way the author loves words. Here is a description of what [Giovanni Battista Carburi], or any good physician, should be doing: “wrestling with obdurate diseases and overpowering them with an armamentarium—a good word, this—of powerful medicines.” The author loves words. Is there a better reason for writing creative literary fiction than a love for words? No. There is no better reason.
Apologies for the delay in announcing the award. It took a while to make contact with the author!
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 →
With his Loömos book (Laocoön Press, 2021, 128 pp.), the author attempts a presentation of art as an integrated whole. As the subtitle tells us, “Text, drawings, paintings, music and sculpture” are included here. We read the words of the book, but, simultaneously, we interact with everything else. We, of course, do not interact directly with the sculptures by Saint-Denis—here we must be content with their visual representations. Nor do we hear the actual music, as this is not an audiobook. But the final section, “Songs and Laments,”—four separate pieces comprising a total of fourteen pages—consists entirely of musical notations.
Therefore, in order to “hear” the music of the final section you have to be a musician yourself, able to read the notes provided on paper. The author may have considered publishing an audiobook, or including a CD of the final section with this paperback. But then again, given certain unique and avant-garde features of Loömos, he may have deliberately intended the final section not to be played. So as to achieve something like what the composer John Cage created when he wrote his famous composition consisting of silence. All the musicians sit in stillness on the proscenium, holding their instruments, while the conductor stills his baton and all his gesticulations. The “music” consists of isolated coughs and throat-clearings from the audience, plus a few car horns blowing and ambulance sirens from the outside world.
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 →
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 →
A Happy New Year to all Dactylians, i.e., supporters of, readers of, and contributors to, Dactyl Review. Once more we have BAM-bam-bammed our way through what looks like a not-so-nice year, 2021. But it was no worse than the one before and possibly much better than many, many other years we’ve lived through in the past. Everything, actually, is relative. Take 1940. For millions of persons worldwide that year was none too swift. For millions more it was a BE year—Before Existence, since they had not yet been born. But 1940 was good to me, for I was delivered into earthly being at the very moment that Hitler was taking Paris.
Hold on, old man. You lost me there. The stuff about the BAM-bam. . .
Yes, well . . . all Dactylians are BAM-bam-bammers, because in versification a dactyl is defined as a metrical foot consisting of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented (trinary verse). Like all trinary (three-beat) verse, dactyls can tend toward the sing-songy, and, therefore, may be frowned upon. Except in nonsense verse or children’s rhymes: Continue reading →
Time and place. We’re in post-apartheid South Africa, apparently in the largest city, Johannesburg. We’re at the turn of the millennium, early in the new century. The Pickup (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 270 pages) begins with a scene describing a helpless woman and “clustered predators round a kill.” But not to worry, it’s only a modern young white woman, Julie Summers, having car trouble in the midst of a traffic snarl. Her gesture: “hands, palms open, in surrender.” I give up. Help me. They do. Julie Summers is assured of help because she is white and her father is rich. Her social status is that of one who belongs; she is born into privilege, part of the “real” world of Western capitalism. But does she feel that she belongs? Is her world really real? No. So we have, early on, the central theme of the book: identity, or the lack of, belonging and unbelonging. Continue reading →