PanSpectrum CultureA Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a failure on both its practical and philosophical levels. It doesn’t really serve as a useful guide to writing short stories and it doesn’t serve as a good philosophical justification for why one should want to do that. Furthermore, it seems to willfully misunderstand the writers it places on a pedestal, whose lives and stories have the kind of thorny complexity of which Saunders can only work out a pale imitation ... What is remarkable about A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is that the stories it holds up as exemplary are vastly different from one another, and remain untamed by Saunders’ rigid schemas and aw-shucks platitudes. If we want contemporary fiction to emulate these Russians at all—an open question, to be sure—than this quality of wild differentiation seems like the best starting point. It takes more than empty-headed empathy to do that. It takes struggle, digression, arguments and, yes, even politics.
Don Mee Choi
RaveSpectrum Culture... a demonstration of a poetry of knowing – all the more so for the ways in which it elides the category of poetry altogether, recognizing that no one genre can achieve Choi’s desired effect. But it is also a book that is brutally honest about what cannot be known, about the limits of the languages, about the need for new ones.
MixedSpectrum Culture... should be lauded for its ambition. From the inciting event of the first pages – the author’s encounter with a beached whale in Australia – the book launches into a globe-ranging account of the ecological and cultural significance of whales. Each page is dense with history and anecdotes, facts and figures and musings both personal and philosophical on the nature of whales and, in particular, the relationship between humanity and these almost-alien creatures ... If you have ever stood beneath the massive replica of a blue whale that hangs from the ceiling of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, you will have a good sense of the sort of awe that Fathoms tries to evoke. This sense comes, of course, from the creature itself, but also from the scale of its history and interconnectedness with the rest of the world ... While Giggs certainly foregrounds environmental concerns in the book...she is also interested in how humans have related to whales over time and how this shared past might help us imagine a better future ... It is both a merit of the book and its fatal flaw that it is so voracious ... This is a tic common to the sorts of non-fiction books that try at once to be intensely personal and thoroughly researched: they cannot help but turn back, always, toward the self. For a book of less than 300 pages, it covers an enormous amount of ground both scholarly and personal – but as a result, the account is wide rather than deep ... The book is interesting, even riveting, from moment to moment. Giggs’s commitment to associative thinking lends the whole enterprise a sense of purpose and momentum. But as a whole, the book fails to coalesce into something more meaningful than the sum of its parts. Some of this comes down to the prose, which has been lauded with words like \'lush\' and \'poetic,\' but which comes across as overwrought in more than a few places. Giggs occasionally finds interesting phrasings or arresting images, but there’s too much dross. The effect is a pleasant one at times, but like sugar melting on the tongue, it leaves only a momentary impression, not a lasting one ... It is apt that a book about humanity’s failure to understand the more-than-human world performs this same failure, even if it does so nobly ... Still, Fathoms is an interesting and sometimes engaging work that takes its subject seriously even if it is not able to perform the necessary philosophical heavy lifting required of the inquiry it makes. But, thankfully, we have another – more famous – whale book for that.
PositiveSpectrum CultureSullivan’s poems are befitting of an academic – dense in language and rife with formal play and intertextual allusions – but the personal and playful paths the poems tread make them accessible to the casual reader of poems ... Sullivan avoids many of the pitfalls the glut of lesser works fall prey to ... While the [first] poem successfully subverts the glamour of being “very young in New York,” it never quite delivers something totally new on that theme...Thankfully, the other two poems in the collection are more interesting.