Ron Slate hosts, edits and contributes to On The Seawall, a community gallery of new writing and commentary at www.ronslate.com. He is the author of two poetry collections, is a board member of The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, and lives in Milton, MA.
Sevgi Soysal, trans. by Maureen Freely
PositiveOn the SeawallDawn integrates all of Soysal’s signature techniques and preoccupations. She had no interest in publishing manifestoes or airing grievances disguised as prose fiction ... Soysal’s characters may strive or yearn for social justice, but she won’t let the reader admire them simply for that reason. Their aspirations and values trigger a range of behaviors and situations, conflicts and suspicions, self-doubts and resentments.
Eduardo Halfon, trans. by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn
RaveOn the SeawallAlthough Halfon wants us to feel the grip of history on our necks, his books aren’t pronunciamentos disguised as stories. His interest lies in how the remnants of family history, its anecdotes and remaining artifacts, influence one’s identity and manner of thought ... He lingers in the narrative’s atmosphere like a fog, a perennial menace whose violent work isn’t quite finished ... The psychic hyperactivity of Halfon’s narrator is mediated by the lucidity and stark elegance of his prose. Halfon can linger and expand on a detail, or step to the side for a lyrical rumination. At its core, Halfon’s work is elegiac, a reach toward times fading out. But it speaks out of the restive present and the instinctive effort to consider this, consider that. In short, Canción portrays the surprises the mind gives as gifts to itself when it is free to speculate and uncover the linkages obscured by grief and time itself.
Irwin F Gellman
MixedOn the SeawallGellman complains that too many chroniclers have conducted research at the JFK library in Boston but have neglected to plumb the files at the other presidential libraries. I had the sense throughout that the several chips on Gellman’s shoulder enliven this narrative and contribute to its urgency ... Gellman is successful in dispelling the notion that Nixon was an incompetent campaigner ... seems a conclusion reached by those who believe dramatic opposing forces faced off with each other, Kennedy out-performed Nixon, and the Democratic party established a youthful basis for its future. The televised debates were an innovation. But the phrase seems un-Gellmanesque.
Wolfgang Hilbig, tr. Isabel Fargo Cole
PositiveOn the SeawallC.’s \'depressive inertia\' generates a recursive tale, pivoting between drink, aimless travel, and abandonments. But in one sense, The Interim really isn’t about C. at all—but rather about the underlying psyche telling this story, a mind absorbed by—and in the grip of—the grim and grimy details of C.’s peripatetic days ... The triumph of The Interim is found in its loyalty to this dire perception—and in its contradiction: the insistence on the value of self-expression, however tormented, in a mendacious world.
PositiveOn the SeawallThere’s a shrewdness here, of the immensely gratifying sort ... Bewilderness doesn’t work itself up into a tragedy (though it incorporates it) and resentment for the Sackler family. In fact, the allure of the story for the reader aligns with Irene’s apparent lack of regret and general good spirits ... Tucker conjures Irene through tone, pitch and diction more than through ongoing self-revelation ... Tucker isn’t interested in providing a model for those desiring to go clean, but rather the troubled clarity of someone who has done so. This spirited telling emerges by way of Tucker’s fine ear for expression stained by adversity and leavened by a comic vibe in a minor key ... Tucker creates environment with deft strokes for the sole aim of creating an apt space for action—which comprises a series of tensely drawn interactions with suppliers, connections, bosses, and shady rehab pitch-people.
Henry Dumas, ed. by Eugene Redmond
RaveOn the SeawallAfrosurrealism and science fiction shape parts of Dumas’ work ... In Dumas’ hands, the surreal might also be meshed with folktale traditions ... Echo Tree also shows Dumas working as a fiction realist ... Echo Tree, isn’t a black artistic product performing for whites who traditionally value such performative cultural output while disregarding the lives that produce it. Dumas freed himself to experiment with an exuberant hyper-candor that can still strike untruths dead with a lethal vibration.
RaveOn the SeawallIn his compact biography, Heinrich Heine: Writing the Revolution, George Prochnik conjures a restless and aggrieved malcontent who met and often tempted resistance and resentment at every turn ... The facts of the life are intriguing – but what makes Prochnik’s narrative so vigorously engaging is the sense that he gets Heine and perhaps identifies with the aspirations and griefs of the outsider. This connection emerges through tone – and by not getting too deep into the weeds of literary analysis ... Prochnik does an adequate job of tersely describing the evolving sounds of Heine’s work ... finely captures the major moments.
Joseph Andras, tr. Simon Leser
RaveOn the Seawall... a compact narrative with an elevated pulse and a singular purpose – to show how an unexceptional person may act exceptionally when oppression is too threatening to one’s community to ignore ... The novel pivots between the present tense – the arrest and incarceration of Iveton – and past scenes in which he and Hélène become lovers. The prose is lucid, unsparing but also animated by a certain poised affection for its oppressed characters. Andras’ unfussy, vivid phrasing may evoke the style of another Algeria-based novel – namely Camus’ L’etranger ... By basing his narrative instead on Iveton’s love for his community, friends and family, perhaps Andras is providing Tomorrow They Won’t Dare to Murder Us as not only an antidote to Meursault’s condition, but as a more pertinent text for today’s French syllabus.
Semezdin Mehmedinovic, tr. Celia Hawkesworth
PositiveOn the SeawallThe misfortunes are palpable, especially the loss of homeland and native language ... My Heart offers a tragic vision, inherently and warily European. Mehmedinović’s mordancy punctures the illusions of his country of exile without naming them, and refuses (or isn’t inclined by temperament) to critique them prescriptively. The melancholic embrace of unfulfillment is heard ... Obsessed with the burst and fading of memory, Mehmedinović watches for evidence that his internal impulses still pertain in an frightening world. There is discovery in this effort— even if \'every word of this diary will be forgotten.\'
PositiveOn the SeawallBolina’s essays don’t betray...weariness, but one may hear forbearance, tolerance—and from his tone I conclude that he believes we have the potential for broader understanding. The essays comprise responses, long articulated by Bolina (or so I imagine), that seem to have required concision and patience as well as some reconsideration on his part. As a result, these companionable essays squeeze one’s arm with the firm, fraternal pressure of a trustworthy adviser.
Nicolas Mathieu, Trans. by William Rodarmor
MixedOn the SeawallMathieu doesn’t have a feel for nuance and wisely abstains from getting too far into the heads of his characters ... It is the narrator who takes pains to fill in what the teenagers aren’t fully articulating ... How Mathieu keeps his novel together is itself a marvel ... a novel of minor events and interactions, constructed like a 12-episode HBO drama – and one is quickly engaged by the trenchant phrasing and blunt tone, the surface of scenes, the gestures of characters that become familiar over time. Finally one realizes that the unnamed speaker is the seminal mind here, and that this is a text about observation and attitude. Mathieu pivots nimbly between the narrator’s tart assessments and terse telling of plot. Time and again, the narrator turns from the action, such as it is, to remark on the city environs ... he acerbic attitude of And Their Children After Them is its secret sauce – and as one follows the narrow path of the plot, its bitterly flairing perspective lights the way ... The translation has its clunky moments, and though William Modamor does his best to retain Mathieu’s clipped street-wise voice, the idiomatic phrases often sound inappropriate or too American ... But And Their Children After Them fascinated me – not for its social critique, which sounds more like inspired conversation after a few drinks, but for its density of actuality, the familiarity of its despair. This novel, celebrated for its social sensitivities, works because it points to the mythic core of human behavior – the unchangeable, the returning. The French know, better than anyone, that the coexistence of human beings in relations of equality and freedom is possible.
PositiveOn the SeawallTel generates variety in these stories by shifting from conventional modes to jittery expression. But his satiric mode doesn’t call for complexity or nuance or lyricism. It is as if Tel is channeling Winesburg, Ohio into Beijing grotesques. Pacing, nimble plotting, and telling details make the stories work ... The facts, circumstances and stakes in these stories are spelled out in high profile, leaving the reader little to do but concur with the state of things—and to enjoy the intrigue.
RaveOn the SeawallThe Great Concert of the Night, Jonathan Buckley’s beguiling tenth novel, is itself like the museum: an occasion for speculation, reflection, distraction, and aimless wonder ... Its penetrating observations and correspondences generate pleasure: layers of experience resonate with history while illuminating the eternity of the moment ... In crucial ways, The Great Concert of the Night is built and progresses like Mathias Énard’s Prix Goncourt-winning novel Compass and it is just as brilliant. Each narrator speaks discursively from a position of lack and loss, in a world stocked and strewn with cultural artifacts. Although the novels may be tagged, too easily, as post-modern in form, they are profoundly classical in their concerns and conception of humanity. Plot is secondary to the layering and collision of impressions; the reader is a collaborator, not a passive receptacle of conclusions. There is no fear of nostalgia ... This superb novel generates that strangely familiar sensation that something wonderful has been revealed, momentarily.
RaveOn the SeawallTo frame and manage the turmoil in her materials, Danticat employs a harnessed pace, unfussy syntax, and a temperate tone. One feels calmed and embraced by her consideration, even as her characters cope with precarity. Her empathic sensitivity is there from the outset, yet she evades sentimentality — because she proceeds with an instinctive understanding that the ones feeling empathy, the narrators of her stories, are never flattered by their own depth of feeling ... Danticat returns to the short story genre with a ripened patience, as if the long-haul caretaking of her energies for her award-winning nonfiction work seasoned her story writing.
PositiveOn the SeawallA companionable guide through the gap, Hayes pivots between assertion and nuance, unshakable conviction and shaky speculation ... This is how To Float in the Space Between behaves, circling back to comment on Knight’s life and poems, then riding a vector to a topic more personal to Hayes ... To Float in the Space Between circles around Knight, peering at his character and accomplishments without pursuing a biographer’s agenda.
Hanne Ørstavik, Trans. by Martin Aitken
RaveOn the Seawall\"Hanne Ørstavik’s exquisite Love, so elemental in its materials and technique, embodies a profound recognition – namely that every search for clarity and connection must proceed through the full awareness of what constrains us.\