I really ought to dislike duncan b. barlow’s writing. He writes in tiny punchy sentences, and to make them, he sometimes divides complete sentences into ungrammatical clauses. I am a Proustian all the way, insisting as I do on long winding sentences with many joined clauses, using commas to get my way, breathing only when necessary. (See?) But goddamn if I don’t love barlow’s writing anyway. Goddamn if he hasn’t done it again, whatever incredible thing he does as a writer, with his new novel, A Dog Between Us. It’s an intense piece of work, revolving as it does around two people in the narrator’s life who are dying in different ways. Its shape and symmetry remain elusive, and its plotlines taper instead of ending. But the reading experience is akin to—if you’ve never done this, I pity you—sitting on a plastic sled attached to the back of a moving vehicle. Joy and danger mixed together, roped to an unfailing engine dragging you along.
Michael Carroll’s writing spine is as sturdy as mountains. It has to be to stride the tidal wave of ultra-conservatism currently holding this country underwater, seeking to erase fifty years of progress, conspiring to send us back to our caves. Stella Maris: and Other Key West Stories flips the bird at what has become a sterile, bloodless America. Sex (dirty raunchy, unapologetic sex) jumps off every page of these tales. You smell its deliciousness the way you smell it the second your nose hits Key West. Stella Maris is sexual medicine for the infuriating return to Puritanism we are seeing these days.
“Just as Frankenstein’s creature turned against its creator,” writes Jon Savage in Teenage: The Invention of Youth Culture, “so could the young of the West turn against their parents and institutions.” To give a tiny bit of context, Savage was writing about the children of the Industrial Revolution, people who lived over 200 or more years ago, and the realization by thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and writers from Goethe to Dickens that young people were just that: young people.
Like an archeologist unearthing the Dead Sea Scrolls, you must dive into poet and spoken word artist Marc Zegans’s latest volume with a combination of excitement, curiosity and WTF-ness (because surely he can’t be serious and indeed he is not). Unlike some of Zegans’ earlier work—the magical love poems of The Book of Clouds, the gritty coming-of-age memories of Boys in the Woods and the often playful but sometimes brutal realities of romance in The Underwater Typewriter—La Commedia Sotterranea della Macchina da Scrivere (or, the Typewriter Underground, for those of us who don’t read Italian) is quite the hodgepodge of inventive genealogy, nonsense assembled in seriously well-executed poetic forms, literary in-jokes, and hilarious characters—the members of the Salon du Claques—with monikers like Prolixity Ferris and Glatt Ratner, worthy of a Restoration drama. “If you are confused, we are delighted, and vice versa,” says the brief volume’s participant, editor and trashcan-filching archivist, one Swizzle Felt, in the “Table of Fragments.” Prepare to be both.
I’m burnt out on dystopia. We’re currently living through a number of different daily scenarios that George Orwell or William Gibson called decades ago, and new levels of absurdity that would make Albert Camus shake his head in disbelief. I don’t try to hide from the bad news, because it’s not like I could if I wanted to. But when I sit down to read a novel, I’d rather try and escape just a little. I’ve read plenty of books where some author shows us their version of what the future will look like, and nine times out of ten the prophecy is pretty grim—which is totally reasonable because, well, humanity likes to destroy itself. Still, I’d like a little less somber from time to time with my reading experience these days. Lately I try to steer clear of reading or watching anything about the future because, frankly, I’m sick of thinking about what’s to come.
On Tuesday February 12th at Konikuniya Bookstore on 6th Avenue in New York City I saw Raymond Strom do a Q&A for his new debut novel, Northern Lights. At one point an audience member asked Strom about his inspiration in writing the book, and he explained that an essential question guided the novel:
Why were we such thrill seekers as teenagers?
I relate deeply to the characters in Strom’s novel—to their family of origin stories and also their current destructive choices. While I do not have Strom’s answer to his question, coming from a similar background, and having plenty of experience with many inappropriate choices when I was young, I do have mine.
Metaphors are a tricky thing. In the sense of K Chess’s novel Famous Men Who Never Lived, I mean that literally: its central conceit eventually turns out to be a sort of magic trick, in the sense of misdirection and revelation. At the heart of Chess’s book is a displaced population: a group of residents from a parallel Earth who find themselves refugees in a familiar place: contemporary New York. (For this reader, it was very familiar: lengthy sequences play out in several locations less than a mile from my apartment.) But while this idea might seem like grounds for a sweeping, thematically resonant work of fiction challenging readers’ ideas about refugee narratives, that’s not exactly what Chess is after here.
Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient is a rare psychological thriller that plays with secret agendas while constantly inhabiting the realm of psychotherapy and trauma. There is murder and violence here, which makes it fit nicely in the category of crime fiction and offers fans of the genre a lot to enjoy, but the series of secrets at the core of the narrative and the revelations in the novel’s last act set it apart from most contemporary crime novels and make it a unique, memorable hybrid.