I spent the weekend in central New Jersey, watching friends get married on a farm and doing a bit of exploring in and around Bordentown, New Jersey. Highly recommended: Randy Now’s Man Cave, a shop run the man responsible for booking Trenton’s City Gardens for many years, where I bought soda from Detroit and found a Huggy Bear 10″.
Also? I did some reading.
Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing came highly recommended from a number of friends whose taste in books is uniformly excellent. When I did sit down with it, I quickly found myself checking off points on an imagined “yes, this is in my wheelhouse” list. Inexplicable acts of violence taking place? Check: specifically, the horrific deaths of two sheep on the farm run by Jake, the novel’s protagonist. A central character with a mysterious past? Yep: the novel features a trip through Jake’s past, presenting haunting incidents and, through the contemporary plotline, suggesting the revelation of certain others. Memorable locations? Yep: an isolated British community, and a stark environment in rural Australia.
And so there are two threads in Wyld’s novel: Jake living in isolation, attempting to reckon with whatever unknown is out there, and resisting the suggestion of her neighbors that she become more a part of the community. Her reluctance is made understandable by the other plotline, which ventures deeper into her history, and reveals the factors which have shaped her character, and made her reticence very understandable. Also: there are strangers, some of them unhinged; also, there’s the question of what, exactly, is out there savaging sheep. For all that Wyld makes a complex structure pay off in a big way, and for all that she has created a complex, fascinating central character, she’s also very deeply aware of the fear of the unknown, and how effectively it can be used in fiction.
Gretel Ehrlich’s Facing the Wave handles nightmarish situations in an entirely different way. The narrative follows the author as she travels throughout Japan in the wake of the devastating 2011 tsunami. It reads like a series of portraits: of families uprooted through the loss of their homes and jobs, of people grieving for lost friends and family, and for a society struggling with its response to a natural world that seems to have turned horrific.
From the world of periodicals, I would highly recommend Franklin Bruno’s excellent essay on the late Scott Miller from the second issue of The Pitchfork Review. I’d checked out the tribute show to Miller that my friend Matt LeMay set up about a year ago, and have been delving into the discographies of Miller’s bands Game Theory and The Loud Family since then. Bruno finds parallels between his own work and Miller’s, both as songwriters and as critics. He also details his own decades-long appreciation for Miller’s body of work, and how it was received at the time, and continues to be regarded.
Also in the vein of writers writing about their contemporaries, this Paul Berman piece on the late Alexander Cockburn from The New Republic falls into a much more contentious side of the category. Berman and Cockburn, though both ostensibly writers of the left, clashed on multiple occasions over the years, and Berman’s piece is both a summation of those conflicts and, through a look at Cockburn’s posthumous collection A Colossal Wreck, an examination of what Berman felt to be Cockburn’s more problematic tendencies. As is often the case with intellectual feuds, there’s been a salvo back: in this case, from George Scialabba at The Baffler.