Moroccan novelist Laila Lalami tackles the big stuff with her novels and characters—justice, race, class, familial identity, and religious sectarianism, among other weighty matters. Don’t even get her started on historical erasure. In her most impressive take on the topic, 2014’s The Moor’s Account (which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Man Booker Prize nominee) she narrated the story of Mustafa ibn Muhammad ibn Abdussalam al-Zamori, a Moroccan slave who traveled with Cabeza de Vaca and is considered the first black explorer of the New World, but who was reduced to a footnote in de Vaca’s writings. Lalami created a narrative and an interior life for al-Zamori in that book, animating him into what can only be his rightful place in history.
This review concerns two different texts: Carmilla, a novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, serialized in 1871-2, and the edited, introduced text of Carmilla, published in paperback by Lanternfish Press this month. The second text encloses the first, but the two remain distinct. Carmilla’s editor for its new release is Carmen Maria Machado, whose blazing reputation illuminates the 150-year-old text, and whose canny notes on Carmilla make the reading experience at once more playful and more mysterious than it would otherwise be. Both texts are intriguing and resonant, even if they never do entirely mesh into one.
I first met Lisa Carver in 2013 when she came through town to do a reading. Perhaps no single event had more of an influence on me as an artist than seeing her indescribably wild performance art “band” Suckdog in the late 1990’s, so I asked her to meet me at a bar for a drink before her reading. She agreed, even though she made it clear that she didn’t drink. Carver arrived at the bar, and despite her claims of being dry, she immediately ordered a round of drinks. By the end of the day (yes, day. It was only about 3pm) she put $65 worth of fireball whiskey shots on my tab. This was an important lesson in reading Lisa Carver: Nothing is what it seems, so just take a deep breath and dive into life’s experiences that words are merely subjugated to decorate and communicate to the best of their rascally ability.
The title of Nathan Ballingrud’s debut collection, North American Lake Monsters, simultaneously conveyed a sense of the pastoral and an abundance of menace. The stories within spanned a broad stylistic range, establishing just what Ballingrud could do — everything from deadpan surrealism to forays into the horrific. Collection number two opts for a different approach: this one’s called Wounds: Six Stories From the Border of Hell. Were you to guess that this ventures more overtly in the direction of horror, you’d be right, but even then, Ballingrud’s fiction showcases an impressive tonal range.
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.