Monday, February 20, 2012

Reading Journal: 8x10, by Michael Turner (2009)

Certain variations of the postmodern novel will never be my friend. In this one, every chapter (vignette, is more like it, as very few are more than a page or two) is introduced by an 8x10 grid in which the sector you're currently in is highlighted. The action moves down the y-axis, through eight squares, ten times over (as it follows the x-axis), though some sectors are altogether skipped, for no evident reason. My interpretation of the device was that each horizontal row was a different character's point of view, and that if I were to read the book again, one row at a time, I would get something resembling eight plots, which possibly fit together to form a larger plot; however, were there a larger plot, I'm confident I would have detected it in the end, and my opinion of a book is that, though it may get richer on second read, you shouldn't have to read it more than once. Turner's refusal to use character names (which, if they had introduced each point of view, would have helped me understand who I was seeing) completely muddies this story, leaving it "open" - or as I'd rather call it, confusing, or messy, even. What the book is, then, is little more than a series of vignettes, some of them vaguely related to some war or other going on in the background. I'm glad it was only 160 pages, because there was literally nothing here for me. It got great reviews, though; maybe I'm the stupid one.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Three Small, Good Things

With Writers' Reserve Grant rejections rolling in fast and furious, and my 25-page story "Mercy" painstakingly approaching completion - goal: Exile Magazine's contest, deadline pushed back to March 6 - I can pass on three little updates.

1) Paragon Press, at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has accepted my very short story, "Hamburger," for publication in Paragon Journal #5. This story came together just in time for my first public reading, at Summer Literary Seminars - check out their contest, too! - in Vilnius this summer. Special thanks to Jackie Zakrewsky, from Washington, DC, who workshopped this piece intensively with me. The issue's due out in April.

2) Echolocation has posted a litte write-up and some photos from the launch party back in November, 2011, here.

3) Stone Skin Press has solicited a contribution to a new anthology of modern fables, which is an exciting departure for me. More details on that one down the road.

Thanks again for following! More Reading Journal entries coming soon!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reading Journal: The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt (2011)

Perhaps the most unusual book to win the Governor-General’s Award since Bear (Marian Engel, 1976), DeWitt’s second novel takes the violence of a Cormac McCarthy and fuses it with the comic style of a Charles Portis, to the point that some scenes resemble the cartoony violence of Monty Python or South Park. Though it’s a “genre book,” The Sisters Brothers acquits itself well as literature, too, telling a rather traditional story about a man hunt, and brotherhood, and the ethical challenges an emerging conscience would pose to your average mercenary. It’s incredibly difficult to put this book down, and stylistically, it exploits a few simple tricks to create a brilliant voice that’s funny but that doesn’t discount the gravity of the situation. It's a book that I already know will be hard to top on my year-end list, and an absolute must-read if you liked True Grit or True History of the Kelly Gang.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reading Journal: Ladies and Gentlemen, by Adam Ross (2011)

A book I plucked off the shelf at random in my local library, and which I found to be one of the better short fiction collections I've read. Seven stories here, ranging from 20-50 pages, and all of them inviting and human and challenging. Ross knows exactly how long to linger in a scene, whether he's telling you about the strangest job interview ever (the opening story, "Futures," with a great twist that you'll feel like you should've seen coming but will still surprise you), or a first love at the age of 13 ("Middleman"). The set ranges from the harder-edged "When In Rome" - about getting mixed up with the small-time crooks your brother hangs around - to the domestic "In the Basement" - about that college friend who gives it all up just to get married - and in all the stories, finely drawn characters face tough choices and make strange moves that generally seem justified. Ross's narrative voice is confident and his prose is smooth, never distracting with gimmicks or lyrics and always letting the story reign supreme. I highly recommend this collection, and I can already feel it informing my work.