There is a moment in her new book The Pahrump Report, when Lisa Carver responds to a question about her occupation by answering: “I am a writer.” Yet in that moment, the word “writer” struck me as a lacking descriptor for all that Carver does in creating a written work of art.
The book chronicles a dizzying three-year period of Carver’s life, as she moves across the country with her husband, builds a home, gets divorced, rents an apartment, falls in love, gets betrayed, tries doing stand-up comedy, visits a brothel and has several other Pahrumpian adventures. It’s a piece that most exemplifies Carver’s skill for not just making a living from writing, but more importantly, making her writing from living.
After strangling his wife, sociologist Hélène Rytmann, in their Paris apartment, Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser authored a memoir depicting the episode. The Future Lasts Forever was published in 1992. Almost three decades later, artist Tatiana Istomina tackles the narrative from the perspective of Rytmann. Her Fhilosofhy of the Encounter is ostensibly by Rytmann (Istomina is listed as the editor)—a Rytmann descending with a pen and a pair of scissors upon her husband’s book.
I think the idea of labor has become something of a deadening note for today’s fearful public. We are all of us a chorus of the overworked. Forgotten, underfed, middling labor. Beset by hateful prejudices, uncontrolled viruses, deceitful media and neighbors, we drift, aimlessly, from one calling to the next, a cycle of duress begetting fitful sleep after fitful sleep, guessing how our meager indulgences got us here. Pushed totemically across the game board, no amount of training can prepare the worker for the whipcrack of life, the breaking of spirit.
Philip Roth famously wrote in 1961 that the increasing unreality of American life threatened to outrace the imagination of American fiction, and that there was little hope for novelists against a news cycle that, as he put it, stupefied, sickened and infuriated on a daily basis. This turned out to be false, but writers have had to work double-time to keep up with the culture. Indeed, many great novels in the second half of the 20th century dramatize this very inability to cope with the derangement of modern times. That writers would try to assimilate the insanity of the Trump-era into their work is thus a foregone conclusion. Many of these attempts are likely still in the works, but Lauren Oyler’s debut novel Fake Accounts takes one of the first real cracks at it.
Stillicide is the latest offering from Cynan Jones, which was written first as a radio play for BBC Radio and adapted into a short novel. An assemblage of narratives that revolve around a single issue, Jones’s latest book is a bit different from his previous books as it’s a speculative novel about global warming that looks to a future that we may be doomed to face.
What does it mean to channel a season into art? The world of music composition is full of seasonally-themed work, some taking cues from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Max Richter had a go at reimagining Vivaldi’s composition, while the likes of Anna Meredith (with ANNO) and Philip Glass (with Violin Concerto No. 2) have worked to create music that exists in a kind of seasonal musical dialogue. In the literary world, Ali Smith recently concluded her own seasonal quartet, and Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book remains a touchstone for many readers.
Any discussion about the giants of contemporary American letters must include Joan Didion. In Let Me Tell You What I Mean, a new collection of twelve nonfiction pieces ranging from 1968 to 2000 and gathered together for the first time, Didion tackles the press, art, her college years, writing, and her own self-doubt, which has been constant throughout her career and is to blame for the small number of short stories she has written. Witty, heartfelt, and insightful, the writing in Let Me Tell You What I Mean is always incisive and shows Didion as a perennial chronicler and keen observer obsessed with the present, the palpable, the real.
The last time I read something of Cody Goodfellow’s, it was the novel Unamerica, a book which would accurately be described as “sprawling.” From extensive riffing on national borders to psychedelic passages, Unamerica covered a lot of ground; it was both keenly political and mind-bendingly psychedelic. What do you do for an encore, once that’s out in the world? Zig where one might expect a zag, apparently. Goodfellow’s latest book, Gridlocked, brings together two novellas about punk rock, traffic jams, cults, and werewolves. As befits the punk band featured in the book’s second novella, “Breaking The Chain Letter,” these are short, fast, and meant to be played loud.