Timely literary fiction is uncommon. Stories deemed “topical” by major media outlets flicker at us as frantically as a strobe light. Literary fiction, in contrast, offers a slow burn. Lag times in the publishing industry exacerbate the situation. By the time a story ripped from the headlines reaches the reader, it can exude a whiff of old news, precisely because it’s been ripped from the headlines. Continue reading
Flash fiction has enjoyed a boom in recent years but sometimes overlooked are shorter prose forms which don’t respect the conventions of flash—e.g., at least an implied plot or hint of closure—in order seek out other literary effects. Thomas Walton’s All the Useless Things Are Mine: A Book of Seventeens (Sagging Meniscus, 138 pages) is an intriguing entry into this field. It is both experimental, in the sense that there isn’t really a label for the genre, and traditional, for it deploys aphorism and image in a manner which is readily accessible, despite its peculiarity.
The author calls the pieces in this collection “seventeens” because each freestanding entry is composed of exactly seventeen words. A few pieces are titled, but most are not, and the book is arranged in 26 chapters with titles like “Animal Sketches,” “Art Criticism” and “Birdsong.” The fixation on seventeen words recalls the haiku form, which in its English rendering is typically composed of seventeen syllables in three lines. Here, though, instead of relying on poetry techniques like line breaks or rhythm assisted by white space on the page, Walton opts for a “prosier” approach, working with short, punchy sentences. Continue reading
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In 1959 Elizabeth Hardwick, novelist, reviewer, and wife of poet Robert Lowell, wrote a pointed critique of the book reviewing industry. She noted that the most trusted of review organs, the New York Times Book Review, was remarkable only for “the flat praise and the faint dissension, the minimal style and the light little article, the absence of involvement, passion, character, eccentricity — the lack, at last, of the literary tone itself.”
That was 1959. The year is now 2017 and coming to a close, and that means it’s time for me to come to you, hat in hand, to ask for your support for Dactyl Review, a literary fiction book review created by and for the literary community. If sixty years ago literary reviewers had begun to dwindle, as Hardwick noted, in the following decades we have seen the disappearance of the literary reader, the literary writer’s habitat. You may think rightly of this as an appeal to save an endangered species.
Every year, about this time, I try to explain why literariness matters, why we all need a little poetics in our lives. You can find some of these appeals here and here and here. The same still goes for 2018. Please be as generous as you can. We’ve got some great authors and reviewers here who need readers. And your donation is tax-deductible.
-VN Alexander, Editor
As a child on his way to a new home in Canada, David Bezmozgis himself went the way of the fictitious characters in this novel, The Free World (FSG, 356 pages). The book is set in 1978, and mention is frequently made of what is going on in the world at the time of the action. For example, “in Beirut, the Syrians were shelling the Christians, and Israel was massing troops on its northern border.” Meanwhile, “Begin was in America meeting with Carter and the Egyptian Sadat.” Continue reading