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
I came to Ari M. Brostoff’s essay collection Missing Time in a circuitous manner — but given the subtly all-encompassing manner in which Brostoff writes about various subjects, that seems fitting. I’m a regular listener of the podcast Know Your Enemy, and Brostoff was the guest a few months ago for an episode that included discussion of some conservative thinkers who’d come of age on the Left — and in which Brostoff showcased their knowledge of Vivian Gornick’s work. I was impressed with Brostoff’s breadth of knowledge and ordered Missing Time later that night.
Damian Gutierrez Barnes’ Melton and the Hereafter is a novel that explores the afterlife through the eyes of a man who never fully reckoned with his trauma as a victim of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. As we move deeper into contemporary discourse acknowledging the ubiquity of masculine fragility, and the blind rage that stifles spirituality with abuse of power, a novel like this one serves as a frank examination of the conditions that keep patriarchal norms in place. Melton and the Hereafter is a hopeful tale about reconciliation where it matters most; at the heart of universal consciousness.
Here’s a story about reading Paul Tremblay. Some years ago, I was set to fly home from Edinburgh when my flight was canceled and rescheduled for the next day. By the time lodging had been sorted out, I probably could have ventured back into Edinburgh for one last dinner, one last pin of beer. But at that point, I was fully immersed in Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World, and there was no separating me from my hotel room. Tremblay’s very good at that — that slow build of quotidian details that seems innocuous until it turns out to have you wholly entangled.
Robert Vaughan’s latest is meant to unsettle. The book is broken down into three subsections of poems and microfictions: Cacophony, Aviary, and Demented. A key for my reading comes from “Tilted” from Christine & the Queens: “I start the books at the end/ I got my chin up for nothing/ My crying eye is because of the wind/ My absences are a feeling/ I can’t stand…I pretend to have understood everything.” So much of Askew is about atmosphere, of feeling unable to stand because of circumstance, of not understanding fully what has transpired and why it happened. I got my critic’s chin up, only to feel like interpretation and categorization isn’t the game here.
Maybe it’s my age that made me start singing Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box. Or maybe I just can’t stop thinking about vaginas. Regardless, it was the first thought I had when looking down at the black and pink cover of Ursula Andkjaer Olsen’s My Jewel Box, translated by Katrine Ogaard Jensen. The title, the colors, the image of something like a large urn or oven opening to the viewer in front of a framed image of what looks like an eclipse, holes upon holes—it read to me as vagina, as female, as the core of feminine power.
There aren’t many authors today who are willing to revisit the Holocaust and write about it. But then again, most authors aren’t Jerry Stahl, who has the chutzpah to pull it off masterfully. The author of Permanent Midnight (1995), I, Fatty (2004), and OG Dad (2015), was feeling depressed in 2016, and he wanted to feed his unhappiness to quell his demons. So, he scheduled a trip to Poland and Germany to tour the Nazi death camps. His mode of travel – a charter bus replete with a tour guide who was well-versed on Hitler, Koch, Mengele, and other lunatics who found joy in torturing and killing Jews. Stahl chronicles his experience in Nein, Nien, Nein! One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust. Throughout the book, released this week, Stahl writes exactly what he thinks, and some of his thoughts – such as “Hitler ripped the world apart like a child tearing the head off a doll” – reminds reader of just how horrific the events that occurred at the death camps were. The author’s witty prose is appreciated because without levity a trip around the concentration camp horn would make any man or woman beg for mercy. His ability to provide his readers with a seat on the bus to experience the tour is exceptional. There was only one man for this job, and that man is Jerry Stahl.
Meg Tuite’s latest collection, White Van, has foreboding, danger, and violence from cover to cover. Even the haunting cover with lightning striking a black van, defies our expectations and turns things upside down. Tuite’s collection is a series of poetic prose entries; some of the sections seem straight micro-fiction, while others appear more like poems. They defy easy categorization, just like Meg Tuite. What draws each one together is the brutal energy of a world of serial killers, pedophiles, pornographers, kidnappers, suicides, prostitutes, and loners. Tuite’s dystopian landscape is one I remember well from my Brooklyn of the 1980s. Each kid on the block was told to watch out for the infamous white van because you didn’t know what would happen if they grabbed you and threw you in there. Did it mean death? Dismemberment? Sexual exploitation? Rape? Drugs? Prostitution? Your imagination and nightmares were left to sort the dark, twisted possibilities. Tuite plays with this fear and journeys readers down the rabbit hole into this unnamed, but presumably American, hellscape of torture and brokenness, and she does so with a jarring style of brutal intensity as she bears traumatic witness to pain, suffering, abandonment, and forgetfulness.