The abecedarium has a long literary history, and some of its best-known examples, such as Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary or Gustave Flaubert’s Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues, play with the form’s implied authority for purposes of satire. Recently Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby used the template to convey hellish fragments of an environmental dystopia. Suzanne Scanlon, author of Promising Young Women (2012), turns to a woman’s experience in contemporary America and offers a probing and artful inventory in Her 37th Year, An Index (Noemi Press, 161 pages). Continue reading
In Vox Populi: A Novel of Everyday Life (Texas Review Press, 211 pages) an unnamed narrator endures various brief encounters with strangers while out on errands—waiting for, paying for, or ordering something. Clay Reynolds must have been keeping a journal for years because his little tales ring true in their preposterousness. Truth is stranger than fiction. It is hard to believe people can be so rude, so tactless, so pushy, so dumb, and yet people are. Usually the unrelated event described in each chapter involves some implausibly insensitive and very loud person disrupting the normal course of humdrum business with performances that are as outrageous as they are unfortunately common. We’ve all have been shocked and appalled to witness such scenes in our own daily lives, and once home we say to our spouses, You’ll never believe what this crazy lady did at the grocery store, etc. Continue reading
“This morning I crossed a river on a horse made of lightbulbs.”
That’s just another day (June 4, to be exact) in Bob Schofield’s The Inevitable June (theNewerYork Press, 120 pages), an agreeably strange book structured around an unnamed narrator’s calendar for the month of June. Using text, cartoons and distinctive graphics, it is unclassifiable in terms of genre but it manages to create a self-contained world of its own. Continue reading
I love Scarlett Thomas. I love the fact she writes novels that are unabashedly about big ideas. Philosophical novels spliced with alternative theories from the worlds of science and medicine in the quest to find out what it’s all about. Life I mean. I also love the fact she isn’t too bothered by the intricacies of plot or character. In the two other novels of hers that I have read, PopCo and The End Of Mr Y, I got irritated when she reverted to plot or relationship details that interrupted the flow of creative thinking and speculation. So I am very indulgently disposed to her writing and accept that not everyone else might be so like minded. Continue reading
William Burroughs and Terry Southern’s cut up techniques were a bit too oblique to me. Supposedly cutting up classic texts and resuturing them together like the two halves of a car chop shop, while certainly creating a new text, but was also supposed to maintain echoes of the original ghost texts working under the surface. The problem for me was that I couldn’t locate any of the original texts, not being that well read classically, so that I didn’t get any undertones.
In Cobralingus (Codex, 120 pages) Jeff Noon provides the reader with the classical Continue reading
(Picadorm 176 pages) A book that comes in a book-shaped box! Twenty-seven sections, one labelled ‘first’, one ‘last’ and the reader is free to choose the order in which they read the interceding 25 sections. This isn’t a device for the sake of being tricksy, but the author wants to replicate the random and unreliable nature that our memories work.
Coetzee’s novel of Dostoevsky (The Master of Petersburg, Penguin Books, 250 pages) is a mysterious portrait of the artist surrounding his The Possessed. Suppose a preliminary to Dostoevsky’s demons story could extend it via a narrative featuring the great author himself. Coetzee’s portrayal is that novel. Dostoevsky becomes a half-fiction in this role, somewhat real and somewhat false. Does that matter? It’s not easy to answer. As protagonist-novelist, Dostoevsky’s most important function for Coetzee might be as guide and exemplar, somewhat disheveled and brooding into our own age. Continue reading
Now is the month of holidays, from the Jewish New Year through the Feast of Tabernacles and ending with Celebration of Torah. My (Orthodox) friend of forty years came to visit. I showed her a page from Witz (Dalkey Archive Press, 817 pages). She closed the book, fast. “There’s a lot in there I wouldn’t approve of,” she said.
Yes, O WickedWitz. Continue reading
Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot (Picador 2002, 190 pages) is the story of one man’s quest, his “project” to find the writer outside his writings, despite Flaubert’s insistence that the books should be enough, the writer should disappear and be left alone. Geoffrey Braithwaite, this amusing novel’s British protagonist, is a medical doctor about sixty. He pursues museums, letters, literary works, criticism, and Flaubert the person in a long quest as unofficial biographer and tireless seeker. Continue reading
In the ‘bad old days’ when there were a dozen publishing power houses in New York that controlled the industry, everyone knew what a genre books was. If it was a mystery, it started with a murder. If it was romance, it was boy-meets-girl-loses-girl-gets-girl-back. It was all very simple and quite generic, the root of the term genre. But all of that has changed. The industry has outsized and now books that would not have gotten so much as a nod a decade ago are in print. Continue reading