Taking up the mantel of memory and elegy is no easy task, but Janice Lee’s new book Reconsolidation: Or, it’s the ghosts who will answer you embraces the ghosts. The text is not so much a reflection on writing, loss, memory, and death, but a twisted projection of those topics. The medium is under as much consideration as the memory. By keenly understanding limits of language, Lee creates “a site of conjuration.” And so Reconsolidation doubles down on space and time.
As readers, we ride through a long period of mourning activated by the death of Lee’s mother in a single night; and, yet, the book’s brevity at seventy some pages and a multiplicity of empty space makes time spent reading feel like “the speed / of a blinking eye.” These physics are constantly under interrogation:
“I feel sometimes that time is moving in the wrong
the past persist in the present and swallow the
Because, besides the neuroscience of memory Lee presents in the text itself, time operates swiftly, consolidating and reconsolidating the evidence of experience, memory, and outer sources to create a shifting arrangement. The effect is dizzying. It’s no wonder that Lee has written elsewhere about László Krasznahorkai’s winding sentences and the long takes of Béla Tarr’s filmic adaptations: she’s treading similar ground in creating a book that only takes an afternoon to read, and, at the same time, involves a process of memory that feels eternal, where “it would / only take a few minutes, they said. But it felt like / an eternity.”Continue Reading
Bloomsbury, September 15, 2015
449 pp, $28
Sweet Caress is the newest novel from the acclaimed William Boyd, author of notable works such as Any Human Heart and A Good Man in Africa.
The novel centers on Amory Clay, one of the first women to be a war photographer in the 1900s. We follow her from childhood to the beginnings of her career as a society photographer, through to her first assignment on the ground in World War II, and finally to her late-in-life journey to Vietnam.
The scope of the book is enormous, spanning nearly the entire twentieth century. Interestingly, it reads in many places like a memoir or an autobiography. The writing is tight, the use of language perfectly suited to the time period, and the structure carries the reader through seamlessly. While the majority takes place in chronological order from the beginning of Amory’s life to the end, there are sections within each chapter titled “The Barrandale Journal 1977,” which are in Amory’s present day.Continue Reading
Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup
Brookings Institution Press, 2015
Buy: book | ebook
In a way, everything about Andrew Zimbalist’s Circus Maximus is great. The book is thoroughly researched, thoroughly argued—hard to find a hole in its logic. And yet: how devastating. Zimbalist draws from an apparently bottomless well of examples of cities and countries who turn their well-being inside-out in an attempt to host the biggest, grandest Games—a family shoving themselves into bankruptcy by insisting their dinner party have silk napkins, a private chef, gold-speckled sundaes.
The sheer volume of information, all of it pointing to the same conclusion, is hard to argue with: a country who doesn’t already have massive stadium infrastructure in place should never attempt to host these outsized tournaments. Zimbalist frequently points to the only two financially successful tournaments in recent history—the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics—because they provide such a stark contrast with the mess that every other tournament has left in its wake, its final stadium-building bill simply too large for any country to responsibly volunteer paying. There are the business atrocities, yes—the 2008 Beijing Olympics earned a tenth of what it cost&mbdash;but too frequently there are human rights atrocities on top of it: at the time the book was written, over a thousand migrant workers had died while constructing stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.Continue Reading
Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life
Dawn Lundy Martin
Nightboat Books, 2015
Poetry | $15.95
104 pages, 6 x 9 in
Dawn Lundy Martin’s two previous collections, A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering (2007) and Discipline (2011), were remarkable both for the rigor of their investigations of identity (family, ethnic, political, gender, and sexual) and for the formal risks she took in conducting those investigations. Martin’s poetry is a high-wire act, a combination of audacity and control, and she likes to work without a net.
Her new book’s title raises the specter of confinement—a circumstance that occurs throughout her text, not only in imagery drawn from slavery and incarceration, but also in the citing of discourses designed to contain and set limits. Hegemonic voices periodically run vertically down the page, like prison bars:
“The Irish, the
Iberian, and the
Negro are of
is paralleled elsewhere by a diagnosis of “nymphomania.” The text’s first-person voice wants to believe there is an elsewhere, but the way to it is hard to find: “We labor in our attempts at rebirth. Remain inside enclosure, wood box.”
Yesterday on the bus I sat behind a woman whose toddler was having a Richter-ten tantrum concerning his left shoe. He flung himself out of his seat, flailed his arms, pulled his mother’s hair, and wept into his shirt because he didn’t want to wear his shoe. This lasted for at least twenty blocks, and his mother remained perfectly calm. Never mind that the entire bus was watching, never mind that her son’s shrieks in her ear must have been pushing her dangerously close to a migraine, she kept her voice low and level, held onto him enough to keep him safe, and eventually got the shoe on. As soon as the Velcro was Velcroed she scooped her son into her lap, where he immediately fell asleep. You, I wanted to tell her, are a saint. You are a genius of patience. But I also thought as I watched her: What if this woman is a writer? Is her day shot? How can she ever get anything done? How do writers have kids?
That question—how do writers have kids?—has been at the heart of a whole cohort of books published in the past year or so. Two are not at all fiction; two are fiction that I believe is intended to seem like nonfiction; one is fiction intended to seem like fiction; and one, The Double Life of Liliane, is on this graph as a control. It seems to me that Lily Tuck has the same concerns in The Double Life of Liliane as Maggie Nelson does in The Argonauts: who am I, who is my family, how much overlap do those questions have, and what do they have to do with me as a writer? The difference is that Lily Tuck wrote a novel about her childhood and Maggie Nelson wrote what I will call a critical memoir about her adulthood.Continue Reading
How to express the unsayable in language? If there is one shared pursuit among writers, it is perhaps this: to capture an elusive essence, to paint emotion with words. In her debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither, Irish author Sara Baume meets this enduring challenge to astonishing effect, adeptly portraying the searing core of loneliness, the bright pulse of resilience, and that most heart-expanding act, empathy. Like her contemporary Eimear McBride, Baume sketches the contours of such vast sentiments with a slantwise brilliance that defies expectation. Employing exceptionally original prose and a fluid point-of-view, Baume elevates a seemingly simple story about a misfit and his one-eyed dog into a profound depiction of the harsh reality and strange beauty of being alive.Continue Reading
Why do we erase? We make mistakes. Or, different words demand emphasis. Or, we want to return to the beginning. In creating a poem out of erasing another text, we ask questions of the text itself, but we also open up an analysis of silence.
The Voyager is an erasure poem by Srikanth Reddy that chooses its adventure by three different routes. For his source text, Reddy uses Kurt Waldheim’s memoir The Eye of the Storm. Waldheim was Secretary-General of the U.N. from 1972-81 and a former intelligence officer in Hitler’s Wehrmacht. This makes Voyager especially chilling; although named after the Voyager 1 space probe, the poem as spacecraft features, in its component parts, the words of a man who did not speak on the Holocaust, despite his direct involvement with its horror. The engine of The Voyager becomes an aching silence: words are erased to bring forth more quiet, but as a different shade of not speaking.
Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman
Gival Press, October 2015
140 pp, $20
In the opening scene of this exquisite first novel by prizewinning short fiction writer Elizabeth Harris, a young farm wife in a black cloche hat and rummage sale dress climbs out of a 1920s Essex and up the steps of a Texas county courthouse that locals proudly describe as pink granite but that “is really an under-color like raw liver, flecked over with black and gray and the sparkle of mica.” Two of the three lives of Evelyn Kunkle Gant, a “modest, obedient, well regarded woman taken in adultery,” have already ended. The third has not yet begun, as—shunned by every member of the Kunkle and Gant families, neighbors for generations—she dutifully attends the 1936 trial of her husband and brother-in-law for “a crime whose mention makes men cross their legs.”Continue Reading
I never tire of learning about other women’s lives and how they were forged. How does one construct a passionate life? Or articulate the way one survives the throes of it? What art can be made from mess? My first two books circled these questions in different ways, and my reading life continues to focus on books that explore these questions.
Here is a non-fiction reading list of memoirs and biographies, if you too like a fire lit underneath your chair and inside of your pen.
1. Nora Zeale Houston’s Dust Tracks on a Road
— A memoir I’m currently reading, which Maya Angelou said was written with “royal humor and imperious creativity.” “I was always asking and making a crow of myself in a pigeon’s nest,” Houston writes of her incessant and early curiosity. “It was hard on my family and surroundings, and they in turn were hard on me.”
Out of My League: The Classic Hilarious Account of an Amateur’s Ordeal in Professional Baseball
Lyons Press, 1961
There is, surrounding George Plimpton, the same world-traveled air that surrounds the fictional beer-selling sliver of a character The Most Interesting Man in the World (TMIMITW). TMIMITW gains his fictional interesting-ness via the sheer imposing number of his travels, an original far-flung montage of adventure and sport to accompany each new commercial in an apparently eternal series. Plimpton’s interesting-ness is a bit more interesting because, well, he actually did all of the journeys that would be recounted with a laugh over a beer. The trade-off for adventuring fictitiously versus actually: while TMIMITW commands each day with magnetic suaveness, Plimpton’s most interesting moments were a carnival of mishaps, his own shoes endlessly tripped over. Which probably makes for more interesting reading anyway.
Plimpton’s personal journey into “participatory journalism” began with him sitting in Yankee Stadium, watching a ballgame and basically wondering what it would take to get on the field with real-live Major Leaguers. It feels like an impossible ask here in 2015: inevitably a small army P.R. staff would materialize from thin air to prevent today’s journalist from playing the game in front of actual paying spectators. In the late fifties, though, one could, as Plimpton did, talk to a man named Toots Shor in a New York City bar, and Toots would be able to convince a magazine editor that it would be a good idea to have Plimpton pitch before a November exhibition of All-Stars. Continue Reading