Colin struggles with plot.
I know of no other book that so deftly and humorously gets to the bottom of our always "on," ungratified selves than How Should A Person Be? Sheila Heti's novel based on life manages not only to express but exclaim insecurity. It's everything you wish you read on Facebook, but well written. You will cower in embarrassment and blossom with relief.
Henri Cole's poems remind me of a bad dream with important details; the kind that is trying to tell you something. Disturbingly accurate, piecemeal as a change in temperature, the reader may feel that they've entered a game of emotional chess. And yet, no writer I'm aware of is as comfortable and, frankly, in command of his apprehensions than Henri Cole, whose poems practically define the space we neither call heaven or hell, intimacy or vulgarity. Cole's mix of diction high and low creates an enervating friction and insistence. More than several poems from Cole's recent books (Middle Earth, Blackbird and Wolf) are--there's no other word for it--necessary.
You're probably familiar with About a Boy and High Fidelity, as books and movies both, but it's possible you've yet to read Nick Hornby's "Stuff I've Been Reading" column in The Believer. And it is with that possibility in mind that I will attempt to restrain myself from typing in all caps and exclamation points. Unlike other essays by novelists, the point of Hornby's taking stock of "books bought" and "books read" isn't to delve into the writer's psyche, but branch out and challenge both his own and readers' expectations of what should and shouldn't grab one's attention. Even so, you'll feel less like you're attending a lecture than a night of standup comedy, and quadruple your reading list in the process.
What interests me about Seasons is how long--for a book composed of nouns and art--it takes to enjoy. Let me try that again. What interests me about Seasons is the pace at which a book composed of images commands attention, in service not of discordance and speed, but the construction of something like narrative as defined in each reader's own, entranced mind. Bolex's resplendent, leaflike illustrations address and direct the passage of time and its occupants with week-long emotional resonance. Pair with the theme from Our Town and you'll be sobbing to your heart's content.
Short stories are in vogue, so make now the time to keep Charles D’Ambrosio to yourself. These stories, set in the Pacific Northwest, small town Iowa and Hollywood (uncharacteristically fungible here, as if D’Ambrosio’s desperate screenwriters and carpenters reframed their vast geographies in the shared image of a void), aren’t tailored for book club discussions or half-heartedly strung together like popcorn on the tree of a would be novel, but made to be repeated in the mind, like the well-wrought sentences of which this book is bustling, or a mistake whose consequences may never come to light. Like the poems of Robert Lowell, D'Ambrosio's short fiction is that increasingly rare, oft-derided thing: careful to its core. And trying at its core, as Derek Walcott said of Lowell, "to understand what it means to be American." The Dead Fish Museum is an achieved and designated example of how brevity can mean and character can--contrary to the belief of popular literature--inform circumstance.
I'll admit, I admire the insistence, or complacence, with which John Koethe writes, primarily, about himself, pursuing trains of thought that necessarily repeat and contradict. "Long poems," writes Rachel Zucker, "allow the poet to change [their] mind." Like a pointillist masterpiece, the process of thought on display in these poems is at once descriptive and abstract, as Koethe strives for details like a puzzle does for pieces of itself, in order to construct the life he had, "relieved / to find it almost feels like nothing." Ninety-fifth Street is no walk down memory lane, however, but the meditation of a poet at the height of his career, whose work "gives us the sensation of thinking itself." I return to Ninety-fifth Street more than any book I own.
If you were to fall asleep slumped over The Saturday Evening Post, with the image of a Rockwell painting burnished on your brain, you might come close to dreaming about something as spectacular as Kathryn Davis’ Duplex. Is the world this novel seems itself not quite accustomed to the product of the author’s imagination or our own, or some combination of a futurist’s reality, ironically enlivened by what used to pass for normal, if not mundane? All we know is that, much like a painting, distance matters. Robots, sorcerers, aliens and art majors abound and intimate behind closed doors and through the walls with pernicious and effortlessly unexpected consequences. What you make of them depends on what you’d make of a tear in a canvas or hole in the sky: mess or masterpiece? Pollockian prose with the fluency to translate stars, Duplex is an inimitable joyride for readers and the novel itself, which seems to serve less as a form than spectator.
A lesser writer would have used the sorted lives of six already well-known writers like a strainer, separating bad behavior from good to state the obvious: their exceptionalism. But Laing isn’t preoccupied with putting back together parts that don’t exist. The Trip to Echo Spring (what Berryman called drinking to excess) never once attempts to “solve” or exaggerate the mystery of creativity and self-destruction. Laing travels the country to look hard inside her past, these men, their works and lies to tell a story about fiction and its role in telling complicated truths. Evocative of place and states of mind, The Trip to Echo Spring restores humanity to would-be gods more artfully than most works of biography.
The narrator of Joseph O'Neill's (Netherland) desultory run-on sentence of a novel leaves the bad dream of America for the promise of Dubai, vaguely employed as a legal aid for a family of Lebanese billionaire, asking himself the same question throughout: what do you do when you're already dead? Like a ghost that haunts itself, O'Neill observes our 21st century pleasures in pursuit of a healthy skepticism, if not lifestyle, with an aerobatic charisma that stretches each page like a firework, and a penchant for parentheticals and modifiers reminiscent of Elizabeth Bishop.
What is admirable here, besides the found object-like excerpts from Bishop's own poems and letters, is the restraint with which Colm Toibin approaches this most elusive of writers (even by 20th century standards), who seemed to be writing a self-portrait in her poem "The Fish," and who once asked in an interview, "Can one ever have enough defenses?" And what pulls Toibin, and us, along is less the desire to bludgeon the artifacts of a life into certainties than count the breaths where words should be that Bishop failed to put to paper; words about her sexuality, her cinched and strangely competitive relationships with contemporaries such as Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, and the early death of both her parents. It is her failure, Toibin argues, to "confess" that makes her work ring true. And it is Toibin's brief but sustained reading that makes this book a captivating introduction to Elizabeth Bishop's life and work.
I don't know what higher compliment I can pay Lerner's second masterpiece of fiction about fatherhood, first book contracts, the ghost of Robert Creely, the spirit of Walt Whitman, collective identity and, most importantly, itself than say that reading it improved my thinking. Neither balancing act or exercise in throwing life against a wall to see what sticks, 10:04 (Oh, yea. And Back to the Future.) is the smartest and most courageous book I've read this year.