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.
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.
Read Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, Jane Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies, Jac Jemc’s My Only Wife, and Michael Kimball’s Big Ray. Started Blake Butler’s Sky Saw, Raymond Queneau’s The Flight of Icarus and finished Daniel Levin-Becker’s Many Subtle Channels.
Zambreno’s Heroines is, on the surface, difficult to categorize. It’s a book length work of both literary criticism and memoir. However, the form works and seems very natural — it fosters my belief that fragmentation is often more natural than adherence to traditional form. Heroines is unashamedly subjective, justifiably angry, and very readable. Sometimes when reading a book I think that it’s something we are going to have to come to grips with as a culture, and this is one of those books. Zambreno has identified an unacknowledged problem — how the literary cannon, psychiatry, and the culture as a whole has sold these women short, and how we continue to dismiss creative young women.
I read Big Ray in one evening. I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a book in a single sitting.
I’ve got some thoughts on Diane Cook’s story Flotsam, appearing in Redivider 10.1, after the jump.
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Read Best American Short Stories 2012, New York Tyrant 4.1, and Christine Schutt’s Florida.
BASS 2012 has some great pieces in it — Tom Perotta, this years editor, seemed to want to strike a balance between traditional and experimental pieces, but the whole thing still felt a little safe. Some standouts: Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” Roxane Gay’s “North Country,” Mike Meginnis’s “Navigators.” However, pieces like Lawrence Osbourne’s “Volcano,” and an unusually weak story from Stephen Millhauser made it more of a mixed bag.
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Read China Mieville’s Embassytown. Good beginning and ending, felt like it lost its way in the middle.
Started Best European Short Stories 2012. Thoroughly enjoyed Zsofia Ban‘s When There Were Only Animals — it’s the highlight of the collection so far. I’m worried that, like the 2010 edition, it’ll be too focused on traditional narrative, but we’ll see. Zsofia’s story gives me hope.
Read parts of Cyclonopedia and Zone. Both excellent, slow books.
I keep coming back to Mary Stone’s story We Will Plan Big Things in kill author 15. It refuses to exit my brain; I refuse to shut up about it.