We’re pleased to publish an excerpt from Jennifer Fliss’s new collection The Predatory Animal Ball. Ramona Ausabel called it “a raucous, wondrous event of a book,” and Tyrese Coleman noted that its stories “use style and format to showcase all the ways in which an animal tale is always about our inner human instincts.” Read on for a foray into Fliss’s fiction.
ADAM SOLDOFSKY is the author of Memory Foam (Disorder Press), recipient of the American Book Award. His cartoon series, “Signs and Wonders,” appears regularly at maudlinhouse.net. His novella Telepaphone, with illustrations by Axel Wilhite, is out from Maudlin House.
I will eventually forgive myself for not reading The Emperor’s Children the moment an advance reading copy landed in my lap all those years ago. At the time I dismissed it and did the same with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. Why? When the publishing world tells me it’s great, I pause. What is “great” these days? Post pandemic (numbers are going up and do enough of us care?) post truth, post whatever? Fiction has been front and center of late, as the public refuses to believe truth, fact, or the nose on their face. When A Dream Life landed in my inbox I was intrigued (I also broke one of my cardinal rules, to never read a book on a device, in this case my phone). My heart lifted! Here was my chance at redemption for failing to get on the Claire Messud bus all those years ago. I eventually did read The Emperor’s Children and had to apologize to the person who pushed it on me. Like A Visit From The Goon Squad, it’s an important novel, searing, topical, and resonating. I refuse to use the word “interesting” to describe these two books. Can’t we get more creative than that? If anyone cares to revisit the last twenty years in the literary world, you will be hard pressed to find two books that are more important to the conversation about life in New York City than The Emperor’s Children and Ms. Egan’s gem.
Literary translation isn’t solely a desk job. In December 2019, a few months after agreeing to translate Albert Camus’s The Plague, Laura Marris traveled to Algeria, the author’s native country and the setting for his powerful portrait of a city enduring a deadly epidemic. Accompanied by Alice Kaplan, the author of the 2016 book Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic, Marris walked the same streets as Dr. Bernard Rieux, the stalwart hero of The Plague. “That really helped the book,” she told me, “just in terms of seeing the landscape and getting the right names for trees, things like that. I think it’s always helpful as a translator to see the place where a book is set.”
When it comes to books, December often brings the unexpected. This year is no different; even with paper shortages and distribution issues complicating the world of publishing, this month had plenty of notable books to offer. This includes multiple works by certified geniuses and a host of intriguing books in translation. Looking for some cold-weather reading? Read on for our recommendations.
There’s a long literary tradition of longform fiction set against the backdrop of someone on their deathbed. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is one of the lodestars here, for sure; I myself am partial to By Night in Chile for its haunting construction, both Satanic humblebrag and chastened confession. Max Porter’s latest novel, The Death of Francis Bacon, taps into that same dread-inducing momentum — the sense of a protagonist hurtling, depending on your (or their) perspective, into either the great beyond or complete nothingness.
Dana Spiotta’s Wayward follows the contentious path of Sam, who falls in love with a decrepit yet glorious Arts and Crafts bungalow in downtown Syracuse, leaving behind her husband Matt and daughter Ally to start a new life. While the novel doesn’t jab at the tilt of western society — and America in particular, toppled by the election of Trump — it stabs us straight in the heart, right where the knife belongs. Locked into a society that seems to evolve without us, it’s driven by a tribal mentality with the help of social media on steroids and textbook activism so finding her place without the anchor of family is a challenge. AIgorithms, hardly artificial as they represent the worst of human tendencies and rarely intelligent, reduce the lives around her into a ravenous, heterogenous blob that consumes anything and everything 24/7. All of which is evident when it spills over into group think as activists and renegades stake their place in a kind of Kabuki theatre of the absurd. Alongside the need to promote that which they consume, bloated by misinformation and seduced by material wealth, they belong in a parallel universe, which Spiotta brilliantly illuminates through her laser-sharp prose, revealing an admirable take on culture where authenticity isn’t valued over recognition.
LAURA THEOBALD is the author of three books of poetry—Salad Days (Maudlin House, 2021), Kokomo (Disorder Press, 2019), and What My Hair Says About You (Metatron, 2017)—plus three chapbooks. She’s an English PhD candidate at UGA in Athens and received an MFA from LSU, where she was the editor of New Delta Review. In her spare time she designs books for small press publishers. She’s on Twitter and Instagram as @lidleida.