David Leo Rice’s novella The PornME Trinity is an addictive and voyeuristic parable. And like all parables, it harbors hidden meanings that stimulate deeper reflection. On the surface, this story is about a person’s perilous encounter with sexual and homicidal fantasies. At a deeper level, it’s about the nature of reality seen through the prism of the virtual universe. Our protagonist is Gribby, a nondescript everyman, byproduct of contemporary trash culture, who lives under the ubiquitous eye of the surveillance state. Everything he does is recorded. His observed life unfolds between the office, where each person is as nondescript as he is, and his apartment, where he shuffles between his computer and an empty fridge that holds a few derelict olives (destined for his evening martinis) and a smattering of stale takeout dumplings. Gribby’s perception of work colleagues is surface deep. Everyone is “ugly,” except for Kellyanne whom he fantasizes about and his boss Mr. Veitch, a handsome “dickhead” he nevertheless admires. Isolated and deprived of any real personal relationships, Gribby’s life already mirrors the virtual space he inhabits. Both Kellyanne and Mr. Veitch appear as one-dimensional pulp characters, props projected from his mind onto reality. This is the normal humdrum state of things until one day Gribby receives an email in his spam folder from a site called PornME with a tantalizing offer: they’ll send him videos of himself and anyone else he’s caught on camera with playing out his sexual fantasies – compliments of the surveillance state – and for only $12.99 a month. Soon, when the videos begin rolling in, both Kellyanne and Mr. Veitch are reduced further to become willing and ready actors in Gribby’s porn fantasy, with himself in the leading role, until the sex scenarios take an unforeseen turn.
Some books about online communities venture into the science fictional to appropriately describe the goings-on there. Others, from Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts to Elle Nash’s Gag Reflex, adopt the styles and formats of certain online spaces. Cat Fitzpatrick’s novel The Call-Out also wrangles with questions of online discourse, but is likely the only novel to do so while also being written in verse. I spoke with Fitzpatrick on an autumn morning to discuss her novel, art forms, and the excellence of New Jersey.
AMY LONG is the author of Codependence (2019), selected by Brian Blanchfield as the winner of CSU Poetry Center’s Essay Collection Prize. Her work has appeared in Diagram, Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review and elsewhere, including as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2019. She also runs the popular Instagram account Taylor Swift as Books.
Next February brings with it the new collection from D.T. Robbins, titled Birds Aren’t Real. Kevin Maloney said of it, “The stories in Birds Aren’t Real are psychedelic fables of tunnels and ghosts, hair and graveyards, but underneath the Danse Macabre is a painful quest for love in a heartbroken world.” And hey, now there’s a trailer, which we’re pleased to share with you today.
To read Death and Exes, the new collection of poetry from Sarah Bridgins, is to grapple with emotions that don’t often come in such close proximity. As its title suggests, the poems within wrangle with questions of mortality and relationships, but they also abound with unlikely pop culture references and dizzying shifts in mood. I spoke with Bridgins to learn more about the collection’s origins and to zero in on some of the imagery that she uses in her work.
December can be an especially intriguing month for seeing what’s new out there. In some cases — which you’ll see a fair amount in this month’s rundown of interesting titles — the “new” isn’t all that new at all. Instead, you’ll see books available in the U.S. that have garnered acclaim overseas. There’s also plenty of interesting work in translation, and a new edition of a classic collection. Here are some of the books we’re most intrigued by this month.
The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
Alex Andriesse and I met some time in the mid-aughts in New Paltz, New York. He was an undergraduate at SUNY New Paltz but living in Manhattan, and I’d just recently completed my M.A. there and was living in the Bronx. We both found ourselves up in New Paltz often—he was still taking classes, and I was visiting old teachers and friends, and I’d often give him a ride back to the city. On those drives, our friendship was cemented. We’d talk books, movies, and music. Auster. Jarmusch. Dylan. We had so many writers and filmmakers and musicians we loved in common. I think it was Alex who first urged me to listen to Sharon Van Etten. I probably talked his ear off about Jason Molina. In any case, that friendship continued across miles as I moved to Mississippi and Alex moved to Massachusetts. I’d meet Alex in Hudson, New York, when I was home to visit family—halfway between the Hudson Valley, where I was stationed at my mother-in-law’s house and Alex’s place in Massachusetts. We’d get coffee at Spotty Dog Books and Ale and walk around, talking. Alex and his partner came down to visit me and my family in Mississippi for a few days, and we had a lovely time. Soon after, they moved to the Netherlands, and I’ve been lucky enough to see them in France several times over the intervening years during book tours. Our long email exchanges remain like those initial conversations—full of talk of what we’re reading (most recently, I picked up Gwendoline Riley’s First Love and My Phantoms on Alex’s recommendation), listening to, and watching, as well as what’s going on in our lives. I’m thankful for Alex’s friendship in a million ways, not the least of all being that he encouraged and supported my writing when it felt like I was headed for a dead-end. Alex is an accomplished poet and essayist, and he has spent years working as an editor (first at Dalkey Archive and now at NYRB) and translator. His translation of Paul Lafargue’s The Right to Be Lazyand Other Writings is just out from NYRB and—as you’ll hear below—three other books he’s edited and/or translated have also been released this year.