This makes me think of a writer who runs. He can have ideas only when he runs. However he has a problem remembering the ideas until the end of the run so he decides to run with a dictation machine. It’s not a dictation machine, it’s a tiny tape recorder, it’s not a tape recorder, it’s one of those electric sticks that records the sounds on nothing. In digital no-space. He runs with it once and he records each idea in panting running speech. When he gets home he is excited, but when he presses play the machine has failed him, nothing has been retained. He does not resolve to discover how to properly work the machine. He just takes this as a bad sign and places the machine on the mantel, among his other signifiers. It joins a rotten orange, a flower, a bottled ship, a train ticket, an eye patch, and the universe on the mantel.
“Wilson Willowdell shaved his face. He was naked at the mirror and his mustache kit lay open in front of him. Strapped inside were two black brushes and a pair of small, sharp scissors. He worked the scissors to his thin, dark mustache, taking off just a shade. When he was finished it was even and good. You could not have drawn it on any straighter than he cut it. It was Sunday, the only day that Wilson cooked for himself alone. On other days he attended the ancient skillet at the diner. He cooked slowly but not many complained. His French toast saved him from any real criticism. The toast was fluffy and light as new snow.”
Before I stopped going out, the waitress at the café
on my fine teeth. I read a book on the uses
and misuses of opium, waiting for my food. A tree
shed in the corner. “William Barret, a surgeon
“Gordon’s Lux-O-Liner bounced into the rear end of Boston on streets that seemed to be undergoing a bombardment of some kind. Explosions boomed outside his bus as it passed through shrouds of smoke and steam. It jolted over craters in the road accompanied by insane screeching that turned out to be giant War of the Worlds metal monsters rampaging in fenced-off excavations. He watched them in his tinted window, swinging their mechanical limbs against the sky. Then gray exhaust enveloped the bus and all he could see was himself. The whole city had been a war-zone for decades now. It was even worse today than the last time he’d been here, a year ago, and they were still calling it progress.”
The Curfew by Jesse Ball
A review by Shelby Wardlaw
Behind the dystopian plot of Jesse Ball’s new book The Curfew lies an in-depth meditation on the purpose and state of the artist. At one point, the protagonist William remembers his violin teacher’s instruction regarding the proper way to play a sonata: “You must be brutal, terrible, but with great sympathy, sympathy for all things, and yet no mercy.” Accordingly, The Curfew does not lack for sadness and difficulty. Yet Ball harbors an artist’s appreciation for his raw material; he chooses words that will evoke and yet not devastate. He is, at times, brutal, but always deeply sympathetic towards his characters. The Curfew is a hushed novel, not overly ambitious, but unrelenting in its demonstration of the power and scope of art.
The Book of Freaks by Jamie Iredell
A review by Chris Bundy
The Book of Freaks insists on a combination of division and harmony, like the contemporary novel-in-stories, which contains standalone stories unified by reoccurring characters or a common setting. While Jamie Iredell shuns those two strategies, the book still holds together, rather, fuses as one. Consider, as comparison, the preludes and fugues of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, a work noted for its structural regularities yet broad array of styles.
Black-Eyed Heifer by Shelly Taylor
A review by John Findura
On the outskirts of the limit line’s an old wooden covered bridge, creaks & echoes mack dab in the middle. I might load you up & take you there, were you of the things that stand freely & grope. Searchplane? Searchplane. Every which a way I know I want only from my own.
The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie
A review by Joseph Salvatore
My college writing teacher was a friend and a great fan of Ann Beattie. This was during the late 80s. In his fiction class, we read lots of Beattie (as well as Carver and Ford and Mason and Phillips). But mostly we read Ann Beattie. We read Distortions and Secrets and Surprises the same semester we read Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Never stated, yet somehow understood by all of us, was the sense that Beattie’s style (and the style of all of those writers) was the true aesthetic idiom for rendering contemporary American life. We were unafraid to call that style minimalism-that term was then not a dirty word at all, but an efficient descriptor. It smacked of other synonyms that were gaining currency toward the end of that decade: stripped down, spare, clean, essential; there was even something of the nascent garage-band grunge to it-linguistic flannel shirts and jeans replacing the spandex and platform shoes of the glam-rock past.
A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb by Amitava Kumar
Reviewed by Ranbir Sidhu
Among the many symptoms of living in an age of a perpetual war on terrorism is amnesia. There are times we forget when it began, and for those growing up in this age, I can only imagine that it has the shopworn quality of grim permanency that those of us who came of age in the Cold War once felt. That war had no beginning, not in our lifetimes at least, and it sure felt like it never would have an end, except the most ugly, in nuclear annihilation. The fears must be different today. Instead of global extinction, the destruction children probably fear is localized and personal. A terrorist bomb will blow up their world.
The Pregnant Widow
By Martin Amis
Reviewed by Robin Mookerjee
When Mr. Amis releases a new novel his many readers want to know if it is fun – as fun as works likeLondon Fields. Other commentators busily ascribe views to the author on the basis of fictional dialogue. No contemporary novelist is subject to as many personal attacks as Amis, whose reviewers seem to think it appropriate to size him up personally as if he were a newcomer to their Upper West Side (or Islington) circle. Generally, the verdict is that Amis thinks too well of himself. So, when were distinguished authors expected to be self-effacing? These complaints conceal resentment that an author, out of key with contemporary tastes, is conspicuously talented and shows it. If the “courageous” authors of novels with three-word titles ending in “wife” or “daughter” could write like Amis, they probably would.