This month we will be reading The Complexities of Intimacy by Mary Caponegro. It’s a book of 4 short stories and a novella. I will be posting on each story. Let’s try to do the first three short stories in the next ten days. The 120-page novella we can examine in the second half of this month. A wonderful resource is her Bookworm interview about this book.
The votes are in, and the winner of the poll for the first book to be discussed in the Big Other Book Club is Tom McCarthy’s C. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, hailed by many and knocked by maybe even more, McCarthy describes the book as dealing with technology and mourning. I’m excited to have, as our first book for discussion, a contest finalist that’s merit has been argued. All the more fuel for our discussion. I’ll start reading quite soon, and begin posting questions, comments and death threats in January.
In the mean time, here’s the rest of the schedule for 2011:
January: Tom McCarthy C
February: Mary Caponegro The Complexities of Intimacy
March: Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth
April: Stanley Elkin Searches and Seizures: 3 Novellas
May: Djuna Barnes Nightwood
June: Lyn Hejinian My Life
July: John Barth The Sotweed Factor
August: Gordon Lish Peru
September: John Gardner and John Maier translation of Gilgamesh
October: John Hawkes Travesty
November: Helen Vendler Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries
December: Mo Yan Big Breasts and Wide Hips
Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.
Tonight the first Soda Series: Writers in Conversation will take place at Soda Bar with Dawn Raffel, David Peak, Ana Božičević and Edward Mullany reading and conversing with you, the audience.
On Monday June 14th at Pacific Standard Bar in Brooklyn, a Big Other extravaganza will be taking place with games, prizes, raffles, music and readings. Mary Caponegro will be the headliner.
Music by John Madera and Robert Lopez (yes, that Robert Lopez).
Readings by Michael Leong, John Dermot Woods, Shya Scanlon, Edward Mullany, John Madera, Greg Gerke, Nicolle Elizabeth.
I can’t keep gushing about Mary Caponegro. A few days ago, I found this timely passage from her novella A Son’s Burden which is narrated by Thomas Smalldridge, an “ever-aspiring” inventor. The story is basically a conversation between him and his nutty family, and it once again displays Caponegro’s psychological acuity as well as her taste for the bizarre. After calling the phrase “Ring in the new” a “cursed universal slogan,” Smalldridge states:
‘Ring in the new,’ we are annually instructed in the all too familiar collective exhortation, but something rings false in my ear when I, repeatedly, am recipient of the flaccid greeting, ‘Happy New Year!’ Does this trite formula do justice to the mix of trepidation and relief that marks the close of one collection of regrets and the promiscuous proliferation of an entirely new set of vacuous promises? Round again we go, one might more accurately say: the ineluctable disguised as marvel, and yet our rituals, no matter they be made of air or straw, appear to comfort. Familiarity cushions the blow of transition; tradition ensconces novelty.
I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
Mary Caponegro’s All Fall Down, her latest collection of stories and novellas, was, for me, one of 2009’s most powerful works. It is often baroque, expansively philosophical, and darkly comic. Caponegro is a virtuoso. Not having read any of her earlier books, I recently picked up her first book, Star Café. It’s such a strong debut. It’s invitingly dense, filled with fabulist departures, and proves, once again, that she is a lover of elliptical language. Today, I found this interview with her. It’s from 2002, but it is incredibly informative about her process, obsessions, and influences.
Here is Caponegro responding to John Hawkes’s idea that “the true enemies of the novel were plot, character, setting and theme”: