I hope to have some new posts up soon. In the meantime, here’s an essay I wrote about Australian author Gerald Murnane. It appeared in Music & Literature No. 3 many years ago, but never made it online. Thanks for reading!
Gerald Murnane’s Exquisite Failures
I saw nothing absurd in what I was doing—sitting at the heart of the scene I had dreamed of fifteen years before and yet dreaming further of another scene that would lead me at last into the real world. I had the pleasant suspicion that I was about to complete a neat pattern I had often admired as a subject of fiction. I might have been about to demonstrate that at the heart of every scene assumed to be real was at least one character imagining further scenes that would be closer still to reality. —Gerald Murnane
Gerald Murnane’s Landscape with Landscape comprises six interlinked narratives that echo one another, evoking a sort of chorus or book of possible lives about an anonymous, would-be writer.
The collection’s title is one we might expect to find on a gallery wall beside a symbolic realist painting. It might spur us to imagine a layered representation of a panoramic scene, complete in one sense yet with any given image partially concealing several others. Murnane’s choice to title this book as if it were a landscape painting is no gimmick: its six narrators are writers in the suburbs of Melbourne who are all obsessed with an abstract notion they call “landscape”—a metonym for a certain purpose in their lives, a far-off yet “peculiarly real” place inside each writer—and who have a common desire to hold such a place in their minds. Protecting the meaning of this private landscape and its purity as an idea secretly alive within them, in order to capture some or another part of it in their fiction, is the narrators’ shared tragicomic vocation.
Or, A Reckoning With Sentimental Habits by Way of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet
There once was a man who wrote about the things that other people wrote. Oh, how he loved to celebrate his writers. He wanted them to succeed. He wanted them to be heroic in their work and in life. Something about their success made him feel hopeful about the world and himself.
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 →
In 2014, I wrote my first experimental book review and I’ve since written seven more, with plans to write as many as I can so long as people keep finding them interesting. Each one is a puzzle to write but I like what they allow me to do, as a form, compared to more traditional criticism. They’re written in third person about a critic, rather than as a critic. Each piece can stand alone, but if they are read sequentially, they show time passing for the critic, and her family, as her career goes on.
The latest review is about Russian author Ksenia Buksha’s novel, “Freedom Factory.” It was published this spring in the online cultural journal, The Critical Flame. Here’s an excerpt, with a link to the full piece below.
The next one will appear this summer in Textshop Experiments. It’s focused on “Aviaries,” a novel by the late Czech author Zuzana Brabcová.
Party On: An experimental review of Freedom Factory
The critic had missed her deadline and couldn’t bring herself to care.
On her couch, with her laptop on the coffee table, she looked at her notes about the book and read a quote: “The factory is a continuation of my father.” Ksenia Buksha had placed it near the end of her book, in one of the more experimental chapters. It had been meant, the critic thought, to convey a sense of something spiritual about the way the place a person works can enter their lifeblood. Continue reading →
My, oh my, how the months fly by. Last I posted it was winter and now it’s fall again. Three seasons later, I have three things to share.
I’m very pleased to have published two new story-reviews this year. These are my experimental book reviews, or critifictions, as I call them sometimes. (A friend of mine said he thinks I might have invented this form/genre? Hard to say. Who knows?)
My latest experimental book review is now online at Full Stop. (It originally appeared last year in the Full Stop Quarterly.) It’s part four in an ongoing series of experimental reviews I’m writing about literature in translation. I’ve been publishing them pretty slowly, about once a year. They’re a bit hard to place, being so different from traditional reviews, but I enjoy writing them. Many thanks to Helen Stuhr-Rommereim for believing in this piece and making it happen.
Another Life On Recitation by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith.
The critic read Suah’s novel, Recitation, on the train to and from a writers conference. At a panel about the art of criticism featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson the discussion turned to writing, the personal process of coming to terms with bias against different sorts of texts, the ways critics develop an approach for each piece. In the audience the critic listened as Jefferson described the nature of critical writing as “giving real coherence to ambiguity,” saying that not unlike a fiction writer a critic must also, “play different parts, very much adjusting your voice,” when interpreting a book’s potential meanings.
Interfictions, the online journal of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, recently published its sixth issue and it includes a new piece I wrote.
It’s an experimental book review, the third one I’ve done. Part criticism, fiction, and memoir, it’s about all the things a good book shakes loose inside me, which tend to spill out in raw form and later become a short story masquerading as a book review, or vice versa.
The review focuses on Mercè Rodoreda’s new novel, War, So Much War, published in English for the first time by Open Letter Books, translated masterfully from the Catalan by Martha Tennent and Maruxa Relaño, who’ve collaborated on many books together.
Interfictions is a fantastic venue to work for. For one thing, they pay their writers. Which is nice but most of all I’m grateful I got to work with Sofia Samatar, whose editorial guidance made all the difference as this review took shape.
Thanks in advance if you get a chance to read my piece and some of the others at Interfictions–the short stories were chosen by guest editors Carmen Maria Machado and Sam J. Miller. And be sure to check out Rodoreda’snovel! It’s one of my top three books for 2015.