Benjamin Niespodziany’s debut book of poems, No Farther Than the End of the Street, limits itself to scenes set within the space of a single block. It is equal parts domestic and dream, love letter and daily grief. In lieu of a traditional review, what follows is a “review” limiting itself to text contained in the book. It is meant to replicate the sensory experience of reading Niespodziany’s book for the first time. As such, it is not singular, but one snapshot among the many possible illustrations of the book’s emotional resonance.
Who was the first storyteller to level up the haunted house? To put it another way: tales of houses haunted by restless spirits are unsettling enough. Who was the first person to see a haunted house as a place where existence itself could become malleable? As a concept, you can see wildly different manifestations of it in Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves and Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard’s comic book Home Sick Pilots. And then there’s Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless, which also nestles a kind of relentless, indescribable horror between the four walls of a home — but also finds a way to tap into some of the most urgent themes of the present moment.
“All is illusion” is a mantra Roger Orr picks up on a spiritual pilgrimage to India but the meaning of the phrase gains resonance far beyond the metaphysical realm—nothing and no one in Orr’s world is what or who they appear to be. They are ever mutable and evolving as is the person at the center of this story.
Caroline Hagood’s Weird Girls blends so much into such a short space of text. The book, or book-length essay, is made up of 90 micro chapters which effortlessly move from literature and mythology to cultural criticism to pop culture to memoir to feminist manifesto. I immediately began recommending this book to my female friends who are writers and artists, particularly those that have children. Hagood is turning things upside down here and rescripting the age-old, cliched narrative of the madwoman in the attic. She’s drawing on her life, her childhood reading and watching, her creative writing, and her literary, cultural criticism backgrounds to create a fluid hybrid form to inspire female creators out of the labyrinths of artistic self-doubt, in order to embrace the art monster inside them. It’s a cool and fearless journey, one which had me writing down titles for future bookstore visits and thinking about new blended ways to approach creative nonfiction writing and cultural criticism.
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.
The first thing that I noticed about P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn is the way it opens. There’s an immediate hook to the narrative, as Clark opens in an archetypal way for the mystery its pages are contained. We’re introduced to a secret society and the mysterious outsider who arrives in their midst — and then goes about murdering them all. Thus the mystery that protagonist Fatma el-Sha’arawi must solve.
Tom Gauld loves books and reading so much. His new collection of comic strips Revenge of the Librarians is replete with love letters to books as physical objects and to all the people involved in producing and preserving them. Librarians, editors, bookshop clerks, and writers are each dealt with in multiple strips. The remarkable thing is how little rancor and bitterness is to be found within these pages. There’s sometimes weariness and, on odd occasion, despair. But neither are indulged in and both are dealt with with gentle irony rather than caustic wit. Gauld doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body.
Teddy Wayne’s fifth novel jumps headlong into our current culture wars, while adding a new chapter to a growing list of adjunct lit. We meet Paul, a recently demoted full instructor who must now accept an adjunct position (“More work for less money…Sign me up!”) He’s in the process of writing his magnum opus, The Luddite Manifesto, which aims to collect and catalogue his critiques of modern technological life