As a typical monolingual American, I am in awe of book translators. Their task is so monumental—to bring meaning from one entire linguistic context to another—and they accomplish it with so little fanfare or attention. When the book is unusually strange or challenging, presumably the work of translating it is equally so. And when the book plays on the profession and actions of a translator, is it even possible to make the leap from one native tongue to another?
So much literary fiction feels like an attempt to pull us into a world and convince us of certain truths. Raymond Strom’s debut novel Northern Lights is that rare book that simply unfolds, letting the beauty of the language, the tension of the story and the completely realized skin and bones of every character come to life on the page. As a piece of writing deep into a career, it would be a triumph. The fact that this is Strom’s first novel makes it something of a revelation.
The biggest music fans of Gen-X were also some of the biggest fuck-ups: the struggling, the wounded, the ones who couldn’t get their acts together. Those without the words to express turmoil leaned on the sentiments of others, passing mixtapes like currency to patch and convey, to cover and compensate. It’s no surprise, then, that two bisecting tributaries – music and trouble– cut through the heart of Constance Squires’ new short story collection Hit Your Brights, pouring into the same emotional pool.
The slim, propulsive novels of Scott Adlerberg pack a hell of a punch. He’s equally at home writing characters displaced from the familiar and characters whose daily routine can turn suffocating. His latest novel, 2018’s Jack Waters, follows the story of a gambler who becomes involved in a revolution in the early-20th century Caribbean. What begins as an adventure story with an antihero at its heart slowly changes into something deeper and more unpredictable, yet no less thrilling for it. I spoke with Adlerberg about his use of setting, his literary lineage, and his penchant for splicing genres together.
Brian Alan Ellis is both a prolific writer and champion of other prolific writers, releasing knock-out books by the likes of Noah Cicero, Sam Pink, Bud Smith (through House of Vlad Productions) between publishing his own steady stream of wry, scuzzy poetry and flash fiction.
His most recent book, Sad Laughter, is a cavalcade of witty one-liners, shitposts, and disarmingly funny micro-commentaries on the current state of indie publishing. Between bad band name puns and evocative new manifestations of a writer’s quiet desperation, Ellis breaks down the everyday absurdities behind trends like #AmWriting with the grace and power of Rob Van Dam’s Five Star Frog Splash. But, in line with the master-your-craft ethos behind professional wrestling, Ellis’s piledrives are safely choreographed and, dare I say, delivered with love.
While 2019 is still young and there is a lot of literary terrain to cover before the end of the year, I can confidently say Robert Jackson Bennett’s Vigilance will be talked about in many best of 2019 lists as one of the most honest and timely book of the year. Unflinching in its portrayal of senseless violence and scathing in its critique of the country’s obsession with guns and distrust of the Other, this is a book that resonates.
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.
Coyote Songs, the latest novel from Gabino Iglesias, covers a bold stylistic range, from tautly realistic characters living desperate lives to head-spinning forays into body horror. To call it “unsettling” would miss the mark somewhat: this is fiction that isn’t intended to leave a reader settled. It’s also a significant stylistic departure from his previous novel, the searing noir that was Zero Saints. I spoke with Iglesias about the process of finding a structure for this book, the role of religion in his work, and how bodies factor into his fiction.