Believe the Blurbers
Dead Souls (A Novel by Sam Riviere, NY: Catapult, 2021, 289 pp.) is a rare example of a book containing believable blurbs. This wild gallimaufry of a novel, which runs a monologue through almost three hundred pages of text, without pauses for paragraphs or new chapters, is a tour de force of literary mania. Reviewers have pointed to possible influences: Roberto Bolaño, Georges Perec, Thomas Bernhard, Italo Calvino. One blurber, Nicolette Polek, describes the novel as “a rare and brilliant pleasure, a coiling, searing fugue of a book that takes our deranged culture and pulls forth from it a box of stars.” She’s right. Or, to put it in the fully neutered style in which the book is written, they are right.
There are chapters of sorts, but you have to figure them out yourself. In the front matter the author provides a kind of contents page—not labeled as such—listing names of characters as names of chapters, along with the pages where they start. Begin with an introductory chapter (not listed in these “contents”), then go, first, to “Zariyah Zhadan,” p. 32: this is, presumably, Chapter One. Proceed from there, filling in the chapter numbers beside the given name and page number. Chapter Six comprises two named characters. We end up with “The Scholastici,” p. 253, which is the last of twelve chapters. Continue reading →
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.
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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.
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Giovanni Battista Carburi (1722-1804)
Marino Carburi (1729-1782)
Marco Carburi (1731-1808)
The Brothers Carburi (Bloomsbury, 311 pages) tells the story of three brothers who lived in the eighteenth century. Born in the Greek Ionian Islands, which were at the time in possession of the Republic of Venice, “none of the brothers thought of himself as Greek.” The language they most speak and think in is Italian, although many other languages come into play: Greek, Latin, French, and even a smattering of Russian. Oddly enough, in this, a novel written in English, none of the brothers is conversant in that language. 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 →
Three Dialogs about Ron Maclean’s Three-Part Short Story Collection, We Might as Well Light Something on Fire (Braddock Avenue Books, 179 pages):
I. goats, rabbits, etc.
We’re going to talk about we might as well light something on fire .
Right. You know the writer?
Is he brave?
I was never in combat with him. Why do you ask?
Guy writes a really far out book called we might as well light something on fire, some smartass will say, right, let’s start with this book.
That would be an incendiary insult to one of the most original collections I have ever read. How do you want to proceed?
Section by section, one of the three sections for each meeting, and concentrate on one story. Continue reading →
“Every time the flight I’m on takes off. Or if I can hear a flight take off.” – From “Come As You Are,” in Harper’s “Readings,” April, 2019. From accounts of nonsexual orgasms documented in “Orgasm Range and Variability in Humans: A Content Analysis.” Study published in The International Journal of Sexual Health, November, 2018
Flights (Riverhead Books, 403 pages) is a fascinating, while quirky, eccentric book, often factual, non-fictional, often clearly fictional. The fiction is mixed in with the fact to the point that you sometimes cannot tell which is which. The ‘I’ narrator informs us early on that she
“started writing a book. It was a story for travelers, meant to be read on the train—what I would write for myself to read.” She continues as follows: “I was able to concentrate and became for some time a sort of gargantuan ear that listened to murmurs and echoes and whispers, far-off voices that filtered through the walls. But I never became a real writer . . . . In my writing, life would turn into incomplete stories, dreamlike tales, would show up from afar in odd dislocated panoramas, or in cross sections—and so it would be almost impossible to reach any conclusions as to the whole.” Continue reading →
If you choose to read this book, to visit this Hotel, you will find it to be finely crafted by photographer Michel Varisco and writer Tom Whalen into a labyrinth of stairways and passageways of uncertainty, mystery, and intrigue, along which there are scattered bread crumbs, enticements, clues and innuendo that will take you down corridors that you hope will lead to your room. Henry Green described good prose as a “gathering web of insinuations.” Once you check in, whatever past you may have had will become a forgotten dream and then time itself will become inverted, then finally cease to have any meaning at all. Continue reading →
To describe a book as unclassifiable is, of course, to classify it, but that fact is entirely in keeping with the spirit of Jacob Smullyan’s Errata (Sagging Meniscus, 72 pages). Comprising thirty short chapters of mini-essays, stories and philosophical aperçus, it straddles numerous genres and grapples with the process of making sense.
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“All were in sorrow, or had been, or soon would be.” (Roger Bevins III, p. 304)
Okay, so what happens when we die? Writers of fiction have been peering across into that unfathomable abyss from time out of mind. You might even say that this is what great fiction writers do: they look at the grand questions, and especially at immortality, or the lack thereof.
George Saunders’ rather ironic take on the afterlife (Lincoln in the Bardo, Random House, 343 pages) goes roughly like this: after death some of us get caught up in the fulgurant thing called “the bone-chilling firesound” of the “matterlightblooming phenomenon.” Amidst lots of explosions and smashing to smithereens—imagine something like the shoot-em-up-blow-em-up special effects of Hollywood—this phenomenon transports us off to . . . well, the author never tells us exactly where. Is it a nice place? That’s a good question. At times there are suggestions that it might be fine, but only for the better-behaved of human beings in their fleshy existence, and not even for all of them. Continue reading →