A few months ago, I had a long email conversation with the fiction writer Andrew Farkas (Sunphere, BlaxeVox, 2019) about life, the conceptual frameworks scaffolding our books, and how we see our writing within the accelerated tragedy/oddity we call 2020-21. Fractured timelines, simple machines, metafiction in the Trump era, and the “extreme differences between characters and actual humans.” It was a rare gem, to talk shop with Andy, and perhaps, tentatively, useful and/or pleasurable in the worldings of others. I’m so happy that our conversation is now up at The Literary Review (permalink), where its ones and zeroes are mingled with a super poem by Aimee Nezhukumatathil and fiction by Timea Sipos. Give them a read!
Thanks (once again!) to Vincent Czyz and The Arts Fuse, not only for the wonderful review a few months ago but for an extra shout out (right next to Lance Olsen’s My Red Heaven) in their Recommended Books, 2020 feature. It’s super to see Two Californias in such smart company…
It’s been a strange year to celebrate a book – and it has seemed best to put Two Californias on the backburner, to work on new things during this pandemic – but: I should say that if you’re looking for good literary presents this year, please purchase a copy. It helps, and I think the book is worth it, I really do.
If you let me know you bought a copy, I will send you a world-class broadside of 2C designed and printed by Anne Royston.
And if you’re in the Rochester area, please consider buying 2C (or other books) from Writers & Books’s own Ampersand Books, which is doing wonderful community work for Western New York and supporting local authors (like me).
It is such a pleasure to be back at MacDowell after a 5-year hiatus. The walks, the turkey and deer, the staff, the other residents (after a 10-day test/lockdown), and of course, some time to write and think and breathe after a never-ending semester. Thinking good thoughts about the world and about the novel-beast!
I’m very excited to be reading virtually at Union College Wednesday, October 14 at 7pm EST – it’s open to the public, so please stop on by for the reading and Q&A! Thanks so much to the wondrous Shena McAuliffe and everyone at Union…
https://union.zoom.us/j/91722851511 / Meeting ID: 917 2285 1511
May-Lan Tan, Things to Make and Break: Stories. Emily Books, 2014
I’m not sure what to do with this collection, which is a 100% good thing. Most of these stories depict disaffected teens and 20-somethings as they try to navigate their own limits in intersection with adulting: sex and drugs are foregrounded, but not fetishized, as the easiest ways to test these limits before the topographical constrictions of home-ownership set in. The prose is at once sharp and blurry, or sharp in its unceasing blurriness, as if the collection’s protagonists are mired in a psychic fog that demands that their perceptual borders be themselves occluded. The remarkable “Julia K.” has a simplicity of storytelling that belies the ritual complexity of the protagonist’s actions and the murky understanding of the tale’s recipient. What is growing on me: the raw, untidy character of the prose that is both declarative (short sentences) and ambiguous, and the ways that sex, drugs, booze, can transcend their own cliches by seeing them as part of the landscape rather than as the excesses of and intruders to that landscape.
Michael William Palmer, Baptizing the Dead and Other Jobs: Non-Fiction. Bauhan Publishing, 2020
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (I know, my loss), but have been wanting to pick up Michael Palmer’s debut book in part because I like Michael a lot (disclosure), and in part because, in quarantine here in Western New York, I miss Utah, its colors, smells, peaks; I knew Baptizing the Dead would contain a healthy dose of the natural world. There are a few things I really love about this book. First, I love how this book is closest to memoir, but its 1st person narrator (putatively Michael) doesn’t spend too much time inside his interior. It feels right to me, here, with the narrator exploring/struggling with his LDS background, as well as how that intersects with sex, love, and family, that the narrator keeps it fairly (and beautifully written) simple, insofar as we are given the actions and reactions, and are left to roil around with the complexity of his life; a complexity that accretes from story to story. It’s got a certain iceberg-theory sensibility that sometimes I dislike; here I love. And still, I like it even better when the narrative fractures against the less linear forms the book sometimes employs; as if the narrator’s life is the ship which is wrecked against the jetty, its forms expelled and sharded through the fragmented glossaries the book sometimes favors. Okay, that was a super mixed metaphor, but still – this is a book well, well worth reading.
I dropped the ball on this one, so trying to rectify it now: there’s a lusciously complex review of Two Californias in the Heavy Feather Review. As the book makes its snaky way (and here, I’m thinking of the old computer Snake game) through the world, I’m stunned by the different takes other writers have, and the ways they’ve immersed, emerged, re-immersed. A shout-out to Heavy Feather Review, who consistently do amazing, amazing work, and manifold thanks to Feliz Moreno for spending so much time with the collection!
Thanks so much to Michael Palmer for writing about Two Californias in the “What I’m Reading Now…” section of the wonderful press Tarpaulin Sky. He says the book is funny (amongst other things), which pleases me so; I’ve always feared that the book’s humor gets lots in the patterning of darker subjects…
Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Heads of the Colored People. Simon and Schuster, 2018.
This book, longlisted for the National Book Award, is smart, biting-funny, and at times really powerful. The first story, “Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology,” is a tour-de-force, at once hard-hitting and self-aware – I can’t wait to teach it. Each story, set in California, has a Black, usually middle-class protagonist, drawn complexly, understanding to various degrees of their positionality. One thing I love about this book is the way it acknowledges the racial positioning of different reading audiences. If anything, I wish the book used more of the metafictional techniques used in the first story and alluded to in a later story, “A Conversation About Bread,” which centers on two graduate students debating auto-ethnography.