On Robert Lopez’s All Back Full

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Robert Lopez’s darkly comical collections and novels are full of bizarre, dissolute isolatos moving in and out of desultory relationships, talkative heads navigating through absurd situations, bleak states of mind and being, the mud and murk of day-to-day doldrums. All Back Full (Dzanc Books), Lopez’s fifth book, offers three such characters: a husband and wife and the man’s friend, who aren’t having it, who’ve had it with each other, each one talking to each other, talking at each other, around each other, as if the addressee weren’t there, as if they, the addresser, weren’t there, the “there” sometimes not there either, the “there” that’s sometimes there for the most part a nondescript kitchen in a “toxic” house.

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Remarks on the Beasts: On Nick Francis Potter’s New Animals

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Nick Francis Potter’s New Animals (Subito Press) is a startling book, an unleashing of all-too-human humans and other monsters within wildly conceived spaces. While echoing Ben Marcus’s absurdist eviscerations of the nuclear family, George Saunders’s satirical takedowns of post-industrial society, and Brian Evenson’s bleak mind- and landscapes, Potter’s prose is its own animal.

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Connecting Dots in Between the Lines: On Gabriel Blackwell’s Madeleine E.

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A masterfully collaged prose object, Gabriel Blackwell’s Madeleine E. (Outpost19) defies categorization, privileging fusion and hybridity while also openly displaying its parts: essayings on the mind, on identity, on falling, on death, on marriage; obsessively scrutinous, seemingly frame-by-frame analyses of a classic psychological thriller; self-reflexive reveries on writing and, especially, not writing; deconstructions of patriarchy in the form of control of and/or violence against women, whether physical, emotional, psychological, etc. Like Alfred Hitchcock, one of this book’s many subject-characters/character-subjects, Blackwell “leaves holes” in his art, that is, in Madeleine E., a text with hundreds of ellipses, a constellation of dots pocking pages, signaling absences, voids, pauses, where multiple possible readings, connections of dots, as it were, can take place.

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Happy 60th Birthday, Lance Olsen!: 60 Reasons to Celebrate Lance Olsen

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I’ve had the deep pleasure of knowing Lance Olsen (for at least seven years now), reviewing his work, interviewing him, teaching one of his books, working as his publicist on three books ([[ there. ]], How to Unfeel the Dead, and Theories of Forgetting), all the while impressed by his profound courage, creativity, intelligence, rigor, humor, generosity, and so much more. In fact, here are at least sixty reasons to celebrate Lance Olsen (This is a circular text, of sorts, in honor of Lance’s 720 months: 360 months times two, with best wishes for at least another full circle of 360 months.):

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Happy 92nd Birthday, William H. Gass!

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On the occasion of William H. Gass’s birthday, I’ve cherry-picked sentences from all of his books: a publishing career spanning five decades. This was no easy task, since his fictions and essays and interviews are troves of meticulously rendered, seemingly sculpted, sentences, each one a delight to the eye, music to the ear. I’ve chosen ninety-two in honor of his birthday, but I could easily have chosen a hundred more. Thanks, Magister Gass!

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Ten Musicians Who Could Be Novelists: John Madera on Recording Artists Whose Books He’d Love to Read; Or, A Brief Take on the “Tone-Deaf” Audiophile

De gustibus non est disputandum. Then again, what to do when served a tasteless appetizer when promised a flavorful meal drawn from an eclectic menu? Then again, policing another’s tastes can be another kind of force-feeding. Functioning as a nodal point between detection and punishment, feels, for me, similarly distasteful, to say the least. Then again, writing is a kind of mirror, reflecting back you, who you are and who you aren’t, who you think you are, pretend to be, your givens, your strengths and flaws, your likes and dislikes, your loves and hates, your insights and oversights: a whole history of knowledge and ignorance, of tendencies and biases, of privilege and suffering, and more besides; and as a mirror, it also reflects for others, too, reflecting back things you can never see when you, the writer, are looking at it.

Which is to say nothing of the infinite regress of a mirror reflecting another mirror. Which is to say, what to make of “Ten Musicians Who Could Be Novelists: Bob Boilen on Recording Artists Whose Books He’d Love to Read”?, where not a single person of color is listed? What to make of this seeming erasure? Was it deliberate? You could say, well, these are the writer’s tastes and it doesn’t reflect the publishing venue’s views. But then we’re back to the notion of the mirror and what it reflects. You could say, well, among the responsibilities of an editor and publisher is to highlight the flaws of a piece and ask the writer to address those flaws. Maybe this was done. And they ran it anyway. So be it.

So I’ll redress the primary flaw of the piece by presenting a list, in alphabetical order, of musicians of color whose novels I’d love to read. (I’ve a problem with the whole premise of the original concept of the piece to begin with but that’s a whole other story.) And yes, I intentionally did not title this feature “Ten Musicians of Color Who Could Be Novelists.” Continue reading