Works in progress

I have a system. The one I was given. The one that was taken away. I live in between the two, developing others, which in turn develop systems within me.

So pieces develop. I find them here and there in the notebooks people have given to me over time. Years later the notebooks have things in them that I think I wrote. I definitely wrote them. But the people who gave them to me may have taken them back while I wasn’t looking. Because some of the things I find in them seem very unfamiliar.

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Notes on technique and feeling

As a writer, I take matters of style and technique as seriously as I think I should. I listen. I read. I review. I consider and reconsider.

But I am skeptical of all the capitalism deep inside the writing industry. So I sometimes don’t listen. Or read. I ignore. I dismiss and re-dismiss when I see writing advice re-tweeted.

But I did read a craft book by Douglas Glover and it helped. It’s called (ahem), “The Erotics of Restraint.” Subtitle: “Essays on Literary Form.” When I say it helped I mean one specific part of it helped. The very long but very good essay, “Anatomy of the Short Story.”

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A phantom ocean

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M. Jakubowski

Bored at night I go upstairs to the window that leads to the back roof. Parting the curtains turning the latches pushing up the glass and the screen to bend down to less than half my height with my chin almost touching my knee I side-step over the sill onto the flat rowhouse roof.

My foot is immediately assailed with the waning warmth of the July sun stored in the roof’s surface. I feel the eyes of the birds and squirrels on me, a pale giraffe joining them suddenly thirty feet above the ground to peer at each other between the maple leaves. They stay quiet until I look away. Continue reading

Some expected pain

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They saw us holding hands and made one sort of face or another. This man and a boy. A child without its mother. A father and a son walking around at midday downtown on a Wednesday. A man who wasn’t working regular business hours. Maybe tourists.

The heat as we walked across the sidewalk clamped into the air, fixing the humidity with a vaporous rigidity, giving each breath in and out a clammy form that seemed to widen the nostrils on its way into the body.

His palm was sweaty in mine and usually at the first touch of sweat he’d let go but he didn’t. Continue reading

Memories of books & past lives

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Early drafts of my story-reviews often start out very personal. A moment or two related to grief and family, which I first bend around a review of the book, then work to find a balance.

I’ve been writing these sorts of reviews since 2014 and as time goes on I like to check back to see how I handled finding this balance. I recently looked at my review and marginalia for Bae Suah’s novel, “Recitation,” translated by Deborah Smith. Continue reading

Seasons at the lake

 

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In photo albums at the lake in Michigan, your parents in the 1970’s haven’t hit 30 yet. They look like happy teenagers in swimsuits and long hair without a thread of gray. You are one of the pudgy faces among a dozen pudgy siblings and cousins, on people’s laps, propped up on a hip, in the shallow water learning what a toy sand shovel is. Your grandparents smile at the scene from the lawn holding drinks. The air smells like fresh cut grass, boat engine oil, pipe tobacco, coconut oil, dead perch, the burnt metal of lit sparklers. Continue reading

Art and the assassin

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Halfway through the year, wanted to post about two books I enjoyed.

“Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis, from Fantagraphics, shifts from basic questions of what is art, who does art, how do people make and experience art, into an exploration of the title-question, modulating between factual statements and surreal tangent-anecdotes. When a plot emerges, we’re suddenly in a disaster adventure tale with a climax that would, in another writer’s hands, come off as an insipid platitude. Instead, told via spare text and casually intense black-and-white line-art; with terrific moments of tension and humor; statements about gender, equality, and humanity; Davis delivers complex, convincing answers to the book’s central questions.

In an entirely different book, I had a reading experience I don’t know if I’d recommend, but I have to discuss. One side of me is reluctant to say why it turned into a bad experience. Another side is eager to see if other people had the same experience. But having said even this much I’ve affected the reading experience for anyone who decides to pick it up. Anyway, the book is “Fatale,” by Jean-Patrick Manchette, from NYRB, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Focused on a female assassin who targets the rich in a small port town, it’s one of the darkest, most unfliching crime novels I’ve ever read, and reminded me of Patricia Highsmith, who does not mess around when it comes to depicting violence in society, especially against women. But there’s a hidden explosive in the book that detonated, for me, with the very last line. It was so baffling I said, “No!” loudly and put the book down hard. Which is to say, I highly recommend it, if you like crime novels, and would love to hear if the last line bothered you, too.

More soon! Please drop me recommendations of things to read in the comments, if you feel moved. I’m always looking for new books to try.

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