Literary History Gets a Cosmic Horror Remix: Notes on Nick Mamatas’s “Move Under Ground”

"Move Under Ground"

When it comes to literary techniques, pastiche can be one of the most subtly volatile out there. Most of the time when it’s utilized, it’s effectively invisible — effectively cloaking an author’s work in the voice of another. When it’s done badly, it can be utterly unbearable; I’ve still never been able to make it through the segment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier in which Alan Moore channels Jack Kerouac. There’s something about Cthulthu mythos stories that brings pastiche to the foreground — there’s a Lovecraftian Wodehouse pastiche in the aforementioned Black Dossier, for instance, and it’s far from the only one. 

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Life’s Unexpected Detours: On Richard Owain Roberts’s “Hello Friend We Missed You”

"Hello Friend..." cover

And for that matter
This cake is baked but I much prefer the batter
Perhaps in part because it had so much potential
To be delicious and still be influential”
—Sloan “Fading into Obscurity”

Driving along Highway 36 in Colorado recently, I drove past a town where I studied for a brief period. I visited the home where I once lived, toiling away on stories that would inevitably go nowhere, vanishing with the hard drive they’d been written on. Beautiful and flawed experiments filled with promise that never suffered through the indignities of editorial review. I lived in poverty, but my days were rich with hope, that one day, my work would be well received, sought after, respected. Enter Hello Friend We Missed You, the latest from Welsh author, Richard Owain Roberts. A fine pairing for this trip to Colorado. Perhaps it was the reading which conditioned my thinking or my thinking that conditioned my read, either way, we met in the right space and the right time. 

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The Sacred and the Surreal: On Maryse Meijer’s “The Seventh Mansion”

"The Seventh Mansion" cover

Maryse Meijer’s The Seventh Mansion is the type of book that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. In fact, I’d call it one of the most bizarre, brilliant books I’ve read this year, and that’s saying a lot.  This strange tale smashes together the holy and the earthly, the dirty and the sublime, the supernatural and the all-too real, all while exploring what it means to be human in a world that moves farther away from itself, from its roots, every day. 

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A Haunting, Layered Thriller: A Review of David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s “Winter Counts”

"Winter Counts"

Writing an entertaining novel is no easy task. Writing a novel that contains enough pulp to be entertaining but also has rhyzomatic tendrils that reach deep into the realm of cultural significance, history, and justice is even harder. David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts does exactly that. At once a violent, touching story about the effects of the opioid pandemic in a Native American reservation and a celebration of the strength and resilience of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, Winter Counts is book that demands to be read not just because it’s engaging, but because it matters. 

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Poetry Against Authoritarianism: A Review of Randall Gavin Horton’s “{#289-128}: Poems”

Randall Horton coverThough I’m not typically one to write reviews for works of poetry, I was happy to take on {#289-128} by Randall Gavin Horton — a collection of poems that examines mass incarceration in the United States. 

Horton divides his book into three sections: Property of the State, Poet-in Residence, and Poet New York. Each section follows the trajectory of the speaker ([#289-128]) from when he is turned over to the state to when he manages to reclaim his identity after his time is served, illustrating the ways in which a prisoner remains imprisoned beyond their time on the inside.

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A Singular Take on Cultural History: On Luc Sante’s “Maybe the People Would Be the Times”

Luc Sante

If Luc Sante wrote the phone book I’d read it. Twice. Happily, Sante’s new book Maybe the People Would Be the Times gathers pieces about music, art, and city life from the last twenty-plus years, so what he writes about is as compelling as the style with which he does it. Sante stubbornly refuses to write a stale line. Whether paying tribute to the young Patti Smith or imagining the subsequent lives of the original owners of 45s in his collection or recalling the long-gone businesses and denizens of the Lower East Side, he puts the reader right there, seeing what he saw, thinking what he thought.

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Haunted People in a Shifting Landscape: A Review of David Joy’s “When These Mountains Burn”

David Joy cover

Imagine a tree in an old growth forest. The core is ancient. Its roots have been in the earth for centuries, drawing substance from it while helping shape the ecosystem around it and even becoming an ecosystem itself. However, at the tip of its branches burgeons new life, infant shoots that are new to the world. This tree is just like David Joy’s latest novel, When These Mountains Burn; something both old and new that embodies change and permanence while also reminding us that things we imagine monolithic, like places and cultures, are malleable, changing, ephemeral. 

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Separating Person From Persona: A Review of “Conversations with William T. Vollmann”

"Conversations..." cover

While Daniel Lukes and I faced a number of curious challenges as we worked on the project that ultimately became our 2015 William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion, I found among the most vexing the disentanglement of the myth of William T. Vollmann from the reality of his achievement. Both are oversized, so much so that they can stagger belief. The critics who had done the most extensive earlier work on his oeuvre, the great Larry McCaffery and the late Michael Hemmingson, offered both supportive words and helpful insights. Their writings were not just useful critical signposts, but dear companions at a point when it seemed no one else was interested in grappling with the tremendously fertile, book-producing singularity that is William T. Vollmann.

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