Reviews

Binary Star, a short, intense novel by Sarah Gerard, covers the relationship between an anorexic, unnamed, female narrator and John, her alcoholic boyfriend. It’s comprised of short sentences and lists, as well as descriptions of astronomic events — hence the binary star of the title. Gerard relates the narrator’s eating disorder with unflinching directness, and as events pile up, the novel’s downward trajectory becomes clear. The speed at which it moves is remarkable as well — while reading it I frequently had the impression that the book was somehow on fire, burning up before my eyes. Gerard’s essay at The New York Times is excellent as well and makes a fine companion to the novel.

Laura van den Berg’s Find Me is a magic trick. Its premise is simple: a plague ravages America, and Joy, the main character, is whisked off to a hospital that’s trying to find a cure. The set-up is simple but compelling, and there’s an almost thriller-like tension to the book despite any artificial drama. Van den Berg skillfully renders Joy’s minimal, aching voice as she describes trying to find the mother who abandoned her. She also transfers her careful eye for detail from the short story to the novel — I’m always amazed when a writer is able to work in both worlds. You can read a fine interview with her at The Rumpus.

Advertisements

Reviews

pratt

Enjoyed The Lives of Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis. I thought some of the plot points were overly coincidental (Cleo’s first meeting with Ludwig, the doctor discovering Rank’s first creation), but Bakis has tremendous skill within scenes and with the overall theme, and those more than carry the book. By positioning these monster dogs somewhere between human and animal, she outlines the boundaries of what defines humanity. Also, Bakis’ skill with coherently rendering the unreal makes the prose a joy to read.

I loved everything about Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall: The language, the shifting focus, the way Sparling gently signifies the passage of time. The prose is minimal to the point of being stilted, but there’s also a great deal of warmth in it. The structure of the book is flat — there’s no grand conflict that’s solved by the end — but the trials of day to day life instill the book with a sort of drama, and Sparling’s sharpened prose propels the book forward. The fact that this book continues to be in print just warms the shit out of my heart.

Jessica Pratt’s On Your Own Love Again is a wonderful album. It’s a straightforward guitar and lyrics set, but Pratt’s writing and elegant guitar work elevate the recording. Carey Mercer has some great words on the album (particularly the technical designation “killer guitar tone”) over at The Talkhouse.

2014

rabbits

Some books, music, and movies that I loved in 2014. In no particular order, with notes on a few.

Books (Released This Year)

PDF – Tati Luboviski-Acosta
Man v. Nature – Diane Cook

A stunning, well crafted debut collection. The stories are brightly polished and find new territory between George Saunders’ character studies and Aimee Bender’s fables. You can read a great (really great, not just linking for shits and giggles) interview with the author here.

Arafat Mountain – Mike Kleine
A Different Bed Every Time – Jac Jemc
Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) – Jeff VanderMeer

VanderMeer’s literary Sci-Fi series is a sprawling examination of an impossible place. While his style is genre-y, his structure and how he communicates exposition are unique, and the whole terror/terroir distinction was fascinating. Probably the most plot-based fun I’ve had this year.

Nevers – Megan Martin
Niceties – Elizabeth Mikesch
300,000,000 – Blake Butler
Sprezzatura – Mike Young

Books (Released Previously)

Tripticks – Ann Quin

Bought this randomly at a used bookstore in Hotchkiss, CO. Can’t remember the last time my mind has been so blown by someone’s writing, and I’ve spent most of the year trying to understand it. Tripticks is Quin’s fourth and last book, and it’s about California, ex-wives, a cult leader named Nightripper, and an insane variety of other things. It’s her masterpiece. I can’t recommend it enough.

Berg – Ann Quin
Passages – Ann Quin
Three – Ann Quin
The Isle of Youth – Laura van den Berg

Makes a good pair with Cook’s Man v. Nature. High level of craft, fascinating characters, and an abundance of precisely constructed sentences. Very excited for her first novel, Find Me, out in February next year.

Hour of the Star – Clarice Lispector
Frisk – Dennis Cooper
Speedboat – Renata Adler
Kind One – Laird Hunt

Music

Burning Daylight – Christine Fellows

Fellows’ album of “minimalist Klondike showtunes” caught me completely off guard. While I enjoyed her last album, I wasn’t crazy about it, and Burning Daylight had a pretty quiet release. However, I think it’s her most successful album to date. A song-cycle about a the Yukon Gold Rush, Fellows’ music fuses showtune grandeur with solemn folk songs about freezing to death. Each song is intricately constructed, and the book of Fellows’ poems that accompanies it serves as a welcome partner to the album. The false ending during “Arcadia” is easily my favorite musical moment of this year. You can stream the album here.

They Want My Soul – Spoon
Shallow – Porya Hatami
A U R O R A – Ben Frost
To Be Kind – Swans
Where Shine New Lights – Tara Jane O’Neil
Beauty and Ruin – Bob Mould
Sea Island – Loscil

Movies

Blue Ruin

A well executed, beautifully shot revenge story. The script is very focused on process and repercussions of violence, and the whole thing has a great arc to it.

Under the Skin

Definitely my favorite score of the year. The music is tightly ingrained with the action, both accompanying and informing the main character’s journey.

Coherence
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Field in England

Reviews

Porya_Hatami_Shallow

Read Three by Ann Quin, Nevers by Megan Martin, Ray of the Star by Clarice Lispector, Frisk by Dennis Cooper, and Green Girl by Kate Zambreno. Listened to A U R O R A by Ben Frost, Shallow by Porya Hatami, and Are We There by Sharon Van Etten.

Megan Martin’s Nevers is a collection of very short stories that feel like something new. Her sentences are compressed and acoustically sound in a similar way to Diane Williams’s work, but her quickly arcing plots resemble nothing I’ve ever read. The stories move from place to place with blinding speed: from gondolas to hot tubs to tree houses and back to hot tubs in the blink of an eye. It’s a smart, funny, dazzling collection. You can read an interview with Martin over at The Fanzine.

The cover of Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl is too good not to mention. The close focus, the bright, patchy glitter, the whitehead — it’s a perfect encapsulation of the writing therein. The book focuses on Ruth, an American working a menial retail job in London. The narrator (also the girl’s creator) follows her closely and is both intrigued and repelled by her. The relationship between the narrator and Ruth is similar to the central one in Clarice Lispector’s Ray of the Star, allowing us to see the bones of the creative process without being obnoxiously meta about it. I loved Zambreno’s last book (the hybrid memoir/lit theory book Heroines), and I thought this one was great as well. On the Tin House blog, Zambreno talks with Lidia Yuknavitch about Green Girl, Heroines, and a great section about the ridiculousness of “serious work.”

Porya Hatami’s Shallow reminded me of Simon Scott’s album Below Sea Level, in that they’re both startling representations of place. The acoustic and electronic elements merge with field recordings, slowly rising and falling in a way that feels strangely like weather changing. You can read an interview where he discusses his process here.

Reviews

berg

Read Tripticks and Berg by Ann Quin, Endurance by Alfred Lansing, Speedboat by Renata Adler, and Kind One by Laird Hunt. Watched The Place Beyond the Pines and Nebraska. Listened to Antecedent Conditions by threethings, The Machine Stops by The Frozen Vaults, Where Shine Bright Lights by Tara Jane O’Neil, and July by Marissa Nadler.

Reviews of Tripticks, Berg, JulyAntecedent Conditions, and The Machine Stops after the jump.

Continue reading Reviews