Philip Roth famously wrote in 1961 that the increasing unreality of American life threatened to outrace the imagination of American fiction, and that there was little hope for novelists against a news cycle that, as he put it, stupefied, sickened and infuriated on a daily basis. This turned out to be false, but writers have had to work double-time to keep up with the culture. Indeed, many great novels in the second half of the 20th century dramatize this very inability to cope with the derangement of modern times. That writers would try to assimilate the insanity of the Trump-era into their work is thus a foregone conclusion. Many of these attempts are likely still in the works, but Lauren Oyler’s debut novel Fake Accounts takes one of the first real cracks at it.
Stillicide is the latest offering from Cynan Jones, which was written first as a radio play for BBC Radio and adapted into a short novel. An assemblage of narratives that revolve around a single issue, Jones’s latest book is a bit different from his previous books as it’s a speculative novel about global warming that looks to a future that we may be doomed to face.
What does it mean to channel a season into art? The world of music composition is full of seasonally-themed work, some taking cues from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Max Richter had a go at reimagining Vivaldi’s composition, while the likes of Anna Meredith (with ANNO) and Philip Glass (with Violin Concerto No. 2) have worked to create music that exists in a kind of seasonal musical dialogue. In the literary world, Ali Smith recently concluded her own seasonal quartet, and Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book remains a touchstone for many readers.
Any discussion about the giants of contemporary American letters must include Joan Didion. In Let Me Tell You What I Mean, a new collection of twelve nonfiction pieces ranging from 1968 to 2000 and gathered together for the first time, Didion tackles the press, art, her college years, writing, and her own self-doubt, which has been constant throughout her career and is to blame for the small number of short stories she has written. Witty, heartfelt, and insightful, the writing in Let Me Tell You What I Mean is always incisive and shows Didion as a perennial chronicler and keen observer obsessed with the present, the palpable, the real.
The last time I read something of Cody Goodfellow’s, it was the novel Unamerica, a book which would accurately be described as “sprawling.” From extensive riffing on national borders to psychedelic passages, Unamerica covered a lot of ground; it was both keenly political and mind-bendingly psychedelic. What do you do for an encore, once that’s out in the world? Zig where one might expect a zag, apparently. Goodfellow’s latest book, Gridlocked, brings together two novellas about punk rock, traffic jams, cults, and werewolves. As befits the punk band featured in the book’s second novella, “Breaking The Chain Letter,” these are short, fast, and meant to be played loud.
Time is two-faced. Today it drags you in its wake, slowly, sadistically—tedious indignities nick you like so many potholes; you’ll never get where you’re going. But tomorrow you’ll be there before you know it, unhooked from the rear of the car, unmoving and face-up on the ground; you’ll have nothing but warm memories of the stupid suffering you should’ve savored. Time torments you until it’s through with you; its first face is a bullying sneer and the other is blank.
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.