PositiveThe Baffler...a short but important novel...pushes the logic of Occupy further ... Lim, a Gen-X high-school librarian who lives in New York, shares with [Jonathan] Lethem (the novelist-template of Gen-Xism) an affinity for genre subcultures; Dear Cyborgs deploys superhero tropes and comic book culture as an extended joke, an ecstatic heightening of its character’s delusions of grandeur in a world of dwindling alternatives ... This experimental tendency makes Dear Cyborgs difficult to describe. A collection of loosely netted scenes—dreams that unspool for pages, superhero action sequences, descriptions of protests and riots and occupations, and, crucially, conversations between artists and friends—it’s told in a prose that retains the eerie calm of a pending suicide ... That these vignettes of political violence are recounted as mundane memories puts into relief Lim’s predictive aims: they are more narrative projections, arising from everyday life, of our despairing future. In this way, Dear Cyborgs’ blending of temporal signatures—and its suicidality—brings to mind Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. But its politics, and maybe its premonition, belong to the defeat of the Occupy movement.
RaveFlavorwire...the year’s most impressive debut ... Though the autobiographical moments here ring with the tone of the poems, they never dominate the reader, who is otherwise offered images that transcend any reasonable expectation of the debut collection ... A genuine if not overpowering moral passion guides the collection to shore.
Yuri Herrera, trans. Lisa Dillman
PositiveFlavorwire\"Like a True Detective that doesn’t suck, Transmigration is a hard-boiled fiction that wades in literary and philosophical allusion...Dark, entertaining, the world of The Transmigration of Bodies is nonetheless one without dignity, a domain where there is nothing for the Redeemer to redeem. Here a body becomes a unit of exchange, a thing that changes hands yet never transmigrates. Somehow, Herrera’s fiction has crossed over and avoided this fate. Maybe this is because his lesson is portable, like a soul without a body, and undeniable, like a corpse in an empty room.\
MixedFlavorwireI agree with Ozick that we need better literary essays and less bookchat, but I’m not sure her menagerie of cosmopolitan familiars — Trilling, Bellow, Amis (all featured here) — will draw TV bingers back to contemporary literature. Better contemporary criticism — of the kind that sometimes appears here, of the sort she recommends and then forgets — would probably help. Unfortunately, the collection is more lumpy than uneven. Ozick is plainly at her best when she drops the meta-commentary for what she’s after anyway: the 'connectedness' of literary discussion.
Dorthe Nors, Trans. by Misha Hoekstra
PositiveFlavorwireNors is plainly taking on the tight emotional space of the digital and attempting to do what she always does: zap it with lightning to make it grow bigger. The first novella, titled 'Minna Needs Rehearsal Space,' is written in 'headlines.' I’ll confess now that I don’t entirely understand what that means, but the single line units that form the story resemble something like blog titles or status updates. In their declarative nature, too, they resist description (in a way not unlike the sentences and stories of Diane Williams), but it helps that the protagonist, Minna, has a coherent inner life, and that minor characters emerge...It’s the second, succinctly-titled novella, 'Days,' that opened my eyes to the radicality of what Nors is doing.
PositiveFlavorwireIt’s not a matter of convenience for Lerner that poems both terrible and great have a way of rehearsing the staring match between virtual and actual. The minute variability of his poetic analysis means it’s fortunate that he’s an expert close reader of 'actual' poems. His line-by-line analysis of William Topaz McGonagell’s 'The Tay Bridge Disaster,' 'one of the most thoroughly horrible poems ever composed,' is among the funniest I’ve ever seen ... There are small problems with The Hatred of Poetry, even if you can’t fault Lerner for his lack of analytic variety. (The book is a single essay, and he admits the lack.) The narrative sections are weaker than those found in his fiction, and their gestures at relatability come across as didactic ... But The Hatred of Poetryars poetica from a major American writer.
RaveFlavorwireIn the case of A Murder Over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High — a serious and substantial new work of nonfiction that challenges the pieties of the genre — the victories, however pyrrhic, are psychological and social. This is to say that it’s one of the best recent examples of the genre because it focuses, with no small amount of empathy, on our tragic ignorances with regard to sexuality and gender. And this may because its author, Ken Corbett, a practicing and teaching psychologist, now at NYU, approaches his subject with shrewdness, diligence, and care ... Whether we call it true crime or not, the lessons of A Murder Over a Girl linger. This is to say that you’ll want to read it again, though not because it is a gripping procedural. Should a murder this tragic be gripping? You’ll read it again because it matters.
RaveFlavorwireLittle Labors has range. It contemplates both 'the royalty of infants' and the uselessness of babies (compared to other animals). It’s rare to find a work of likewise small stature grow so ponderously into such an expansive, magnanimous, and living thing. Like a child — if you want — or a book with meaning.
PositiveFlavorwireIn many ways Morrison’s most fitful book God Help the Child brings together several voices that swirl around Bride and her Job-lite endurance of personal disaster ... God Help the Child is Morrison’s strangest and most alienating novel. But so what? Contemporary American life, having thoroughly imbibed its own mediatization, is more like a Lifetime movie than we’d care to admit — and yet more racist and brutal ... Written as a series of detonations, Morrison’s new novel has no intention of grandmothering you into a comfortable world. Underwritten by the stuff of contemporary American life: in the end, even its title explodes.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
RaveFlavorwirePhillips’ Heaven seems to contain everything under the sun — from allusions to Frost and Stevens ('It does not not get you quite wrong') to ODB — and yet I think I could pick one of his poems out of the sky. If, for Kafka, Heaven is the impossibility of crows, then for Phillips it is the possibility of this impossibility. This is to say that the Heaven is undogmatic yet perfectly whole.
RaveFlavorwire...probably not enough is made about the cinematic quality of Graham’s poems, which, like film, give the illusion of movement, albeit within lines and between stanzas. And like the greatest filmmakers, Graham is miraculously gifted at tracing those inexplicable moments that carry a thing — a crow, the sun, a snowflake — from stillness to motion, from wholeness to disintegration and back again ... I know of no living poet whose work so aligns with their reason for writing; I know of no living poet with a better reason for writing poetry. In Jorie Graham’s vision of a new world, poetry — thought in motion — is faster and more powerful than money, argument, or destruction. Take me there.
RaveFlavorwireZero K is one of the strongest counterstatements that recent American fiction has to offer about the self composed by fictions, and the self that contrives them. And it runs counter not to the whims of technology or the entropic fate of human beings, but the claims on their behalf to ecstatic knowledge. An act of restrained wisdom literature, it puts forward an argument — or an idea — that fiction is one form of storytelling that values human memory, and one that accordingly makes room for selves to thrive. It’s an act of vision against the visionaries, a story of memory aimed at the religious presentists of apocalyptic thinking.
MixedFlavorwireDyer is not at his best when he projects our shared fate ('We are here to go somewhere else'); he is too easily aroused and disappointed and self-concerned to do this work. He’s better — among the recent best, I think — when he’s telling a first-person story about contemporary life ... White Sands, which is dedicated to Dyer’s wife, gradually reveals itself to be a romance, but only when it rests — like a couple in a hotel room; it’s only during the pauses between chapters, and along with the book’s first and last images, that such a story emerges. 'We are here to go somewhere else,' the narrator says in the opening story. Maybe. But if you flit too fast – between cities, genres, forms — the story itself can be easy to miss.
PositiveFlavorwireMeans’ style pays close attention to the physical world without being thickly materialist. It registers thoughts and feelings without becoming burdened with sentimentality. And it’s formally maximalist. There are subjunctive moments recorded in italics. There is much free indirection. A character’s impressions could be externalized without being quoted. Dialogue is sometimes quoted; other times it isn’t. The quality of the writing is undeniably accomplished, yet it is as much the prose of a suicidal young war veteran is it Means’ own. By this I mean it retains an invented lunacy: the fragmented minds of its characters reside on different planes of memory, and so the way they are presented changes in turn...Yet Hystopia’s inventiveness has its limits. It is buffered by too many other novels.
RaveFlavorwireThrobbing heads, frayed nerves: this residue of violence, a physicality delivered with varying intensity, is the hallmark of the novel, over and above any attempt to plumb its character’s psychologies for cheap empathy. Instead Mahajan adjusts his proximities and ours; if we need to smell and see sweat, we do — his camera can shoot at point-blank range. But it can just as easily go aerial ... the novel represents a cautious step forward in contemporary literature’s negotiation with terror. There might be terrorists here, but Mahajan does not allow them to become agents of the sublime — he does not colonize them. Instead, he simply shows us: 'This is what it felt like to be a bomb.'”
MixedFlavorwireIn an epilogue that is interrupted by James Salter’s unexpected death, the great writer compels Roiphe to 'absolute clarity' with regard to her subject. There will be readers of The Violet Hour who come to it for this clarity, and they will get it, like a deathbed painkiller, in doses. Writing dying, it seems, is always a work in progress: each chapter of the book is fronted with an image of its writer’s desk. It ends with Roiphe’s own.
PositiveFlavorwireWhen fabulists move to shorter forms there is always a danger that the stream of shifting realities and unrealities may be choked off by limited space. Thankfully, in the case of Oyeyemi’s new collection of nine short fictions, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, this is not a problem; like Italo Calvino, she relies on story more than plot; and like Bruno Schulz, she allows for recurring images and totems that link the stories in often surprising ways. She otherwise resembles these writers not at all.
PositiveFlavorwireI read the collection hoping to find some through line, some evolutionary principle that guided the development of the melancholy accident over three centuries. Instead, the 'plot' of the book showed me that not all tragedies return as farce, at least not in America, where tragedies simply recur as bullets ... you could send this horrid, necessary little book of hymns to the gun worshiper you’re sad to know.
Alvaro Enrigue, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
RaveFlavorwireWhen I put it down, I wasn’t thinking about how funny it is, or the number of erections it contains, or the Counter-Reformation. Instead I began to worry about my friends who are writers and artists: their sometimes clashing spirits, the imperceptible ways they demolish monuments, the threat of political violence that hangs just over the horizon line, like a burning tennis ball.
PositiveFlavorwireInstead of Franzen’s realism, or even Bolaño or Knausgaard’s flat, anti-rhetorical prose, we’re dangerously close here to the pure rhetoric of fiction, which is to say that if you’re not careful, your entire notion of fiction as an art that rejects easy answers may come to resemble a Diane Williams story.