A work of art that takes as its titular subject the premise that the ability of humans to observe the universe is inherent in the universe’s being at all would seem either to be completely theoretical as a fiction or a work so mind-bogglingly dense and self-reflexive it would preclude access to all but an elite few. Luckily, Anthropica by David Hollander rids itself of this problem by embracing paradox to astounding effect.
“…I was writing and all the time I was also watching myself writing…” This passionate meta-short novel by Australian Jen Craig reckons with a world (the real world) where everyone thinks they can be a writer. The main character (Jen Craig), her father, and her long estranged dead friend from childhood all have intimations, but none can deliver passable prose, though Jen’s reading of a friend’s failed work triggers a “breakthrough” for her own writing—the words of the author Jen Craig detailing this experience of her speaker.
Picture the suburbs. Perhaps it’s wide streets that flatten out the light. Perhaps it’s the tight-knit, loving and irritated family in a huge, yet cozy house: the McCallisters in Home Alone or the Griswolds in Christmas Vacation. Perhaps it’s Carolyn Burnham’s pruning shears matching her gardening clogs in desperate unhappiness in American Beauty. Or perhaps it’s your childhood, your adulthood, your home.
Mellie is in Boston in 2010, one month clean, raising Juni, her damaged toddler daughter, solo, and doing her best to stay off the memory-scattering drug “cloud” when a familiar SUV she can’t place pulls into the driveway, flicks a familiar cigarette in a familiar way, then pulls away before her memory can catch up. There are so many things she can’t remember, including who in the wide world Juni’s father might be.
This is, by definition, going to be a short review. That’s not to say that Michael Griffin’s Armageddon House doesn’t have a lot going on, both narratively and structurally — it absolutely does. But part of the pleasure of reading this book is trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. It’s not quite a mystery box narrative, but there are certainly elements of that present here. Having finished it, I certainly have my theories about what’s actually taking place within its pages, but I’m not necessarily sure if I’m correct. And that’s fine, honestly.
When it comes to literary techniques, pastiche can be one of the most subtly volatile out there. Most of the time when it’s utilized, it’s effectively invisible — effectively cloaking an author’s work in the voice of another. When it’s done badly, it can be utterly unbearable; I’ve still never been able to make it through the segment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier in which Alan Moore channels Jack Kerouac. There’s something about Cthulthu mythos stories that brings pastiche to the foreground — there’s a Lovecraftian Wodehouse pastiche in the aforementioned Black Dossier, for instance, and it’s far from the only one.
“And for that matter
This cake is baked but I much prefer the batter
Perhaps in part because it had so much potential
To be delicious and still be influential”
—Sloan “Fading into Obscurity”
Driving along Highway 36 in Colorado recently, I drove past a town where I studied for a brief period. I visited the home where I once lived, toiling away on stories that would inevitably go nowhere, vanishing with the hard drive they’d been written on. Beautiful and flawed experiments filled with promise that never suffered through the indignities of editorial review. I lived in poverty, but my days were rich with hope, that one day, my work would be well received, sought after, respected. Enter Hello Friend We Missed You, the latest from Welsh author, Richard Owain Roberts. A fine pairing for this trip to Colorado. Perhaps it was the reading which conditioned my thinking or my thinking that conditioned my read, either way, we met in the right space and the right time.
Maryse Meijer’s The Seventh Mansion is the type of book that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. In fact, I’d call it one of the most bizarre, brilliant books I’ve read this year, and that’s saying a lot. This strange tale smashes together the holy and the earthly, the dirty and the sublime, the supernatural and the all-too real, all while exploring what it means to be human in a world that moves farther away from itself, from its roots, every day.