Noy Holland’s new collection of short fiction, Swim for the Little One First, came out in September. I would like to encourage you to buy it and read it. I read the first page, and, despite my enormous stack of books-in-progress, I felt compelled to read the rest, immediately. Maybe you will, too:
I said, “Hello, Rose.”
“You sound funny.”
I was lying on my back with my legs in the air trying to make a baby with my mister. I had his seed in there. My poor egg had slipped out to meet it.
“Can’t you come out here and help me?” Rose pleaded. She had bunions. She had busted her elbow stirring oatmeal.
I was busy. My mucous was of a quality. I had just the least clutch of eggs left out of the millions I got when I started.
“Get off,” my man said, “and I’ll do it again.”
“Is that Tonto I hear?”
Tonto snorted. “She’ll talk all day if you let her.”
But maybe you need more convincing. Continue reading
In Michael Kimball‘s books, writing is an act of quiet devastation. By treating emotionally charged subjects in a matter-of-fact, direct manner, Kimball lays bare the wounds on the body and in the mind, drawing us a picture of the blood and guts and yes, piss – without the excess of pathos that other writers might deliver up with it. This plain-spoken approach to the cruelest cuts is a brutal and truth-driven process; it forces the reader to look, really look, at the hurts that we inflict upon one another.
In his latest book, Big Ray, these hurts are, if anything, even more painful, because they are largely those of Kimball himself. In what he says is mostly an autobiographical novel, the narrator contrasts his father’s life story with his death story, using the familiar story-in-pictures frame in a way that feels appropriate and right for the book. The narrator has always felt distant from his father, and so seeing his father’s unfamiliar life unfold in photographs works well here, and enhances not only the distance between Ray and his son, but the idea that none of us can ever really have the whole person in our parents (or our children, for that matter.) Only a little part of our parents’ lives belong to us, and all of us are really strangers to each other in so many ways. There is so much distance between even and maybe especially families. Kimball writes:
I have a cracked photograph of my father as a newborn that is a kind of family portrait. My father’s parents are standing outside in front of their rented farmhouse surrounded by weeds. My father’s mother is holding him against her left hip, but she’s leaning her upper body away from him and looking at the camera in a challenging way. My father’s father is standing next to them, but he is leaning away…None of the people can get away from each other, but they have created as much distance between each other as they can. Continue reading
Michael Kimball is one of my favorite writers. He’s also one of my favorite readers. If you’re in New York City next week, be sure to check him out at the fabulous Franklin Park Reading Series, hosted by the fabulous and indefatigable Penina Roth. More details HERE.
Amber Sparks already wrote a fantastic and comprehensive review of Joseph Riippi’s The Orange Suitcase for Big Other, which you can read here, but I want to dedicate a post to “Something About Maxine,” which is a short chapter in three tiny parts, and “Something About the Rest,” another short chapter in three parts. I read The Orange Suitcase last night, but when I woke I realized that these two chapters were still with me, and I wanted to write a post to attempt to answer why.
“Something About Maxine”
Here’s the opening:
They didn’t look like baby rabbits. More like pink balls of unbaked dough with caper eyes. [. . . ] My grandfather gathered up the five or six of them. Max, their shaky mother, wrinkled her nose again and again and again and again in the corner of the cage. There’ll be rabbits everywhere, he grumbled.
I didn’t notice the “again and again and again and again” when I first read this; I must have skimmed right over all four “agains,” but when I typed it here I realized how many there are. I think this is important. As I typed, I wondered, “Why so many agains?” And as I type this now, I think, “Well, sure, they help to show the narrator’s focus, show how long the narrator stares at Max.”
A few months ago, in April, to be exact, I started a series of posts entitled “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love” with a sentence about one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s magnificent sentences. This concentration, or, rather, this obsession with the sentence may have come from my, at the time, recent readings of William Gass’s essays wherein he concentrates much of his attention on the sentence as a primary building block in poetry and prose. Essays by Gass like “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” “The Sentence Seeks Its Form,” “The Architecture of the Sentence,” take as their focus the centrality of the sentence toward the construction of thought, and particularly of thoughts within the parameters of fiction. In “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction,” Gass claims that sentences are “the most elementary instances of what the author has constructed….a moving unity of fact and feeling.” Moreover, sentences
must be sounded, too; it has a rhythm, speed, a tone, a flow, a pattern, shape, length, pitch, conceptual direction. The sentence confers reality upon certain relations, but it also controls our estimation, apprehension, and response to them. Every sentence, in short, takes metaphysical dictation, and it is the sum of these dictations, involving the whole range of the work in which the sentences appear, which accounts for its philosophical quality, and the form of life in the thing that has been made (Fiction and the Figures of Life, 14).
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.