I saw this book on a giveaway pile and initially ignored it. In concept, it sounded somehow weak, comprised of a letter a woman writes to a friend who disappeared years ago, a letter largely about a betrayal that seemingly lead to their estrangement. Yet the power of this book is its lyrical writing and philosophical asides. There is a story revealed through the letter writer’s reminiscences, but as the pages collect, it seems less like a communication than something else. For one thing she invents a whole life for her friend, nicknamed Butterﬂy, and describes in detail the cabin in the woods where she imagines Butterﬂy lives. Late in the book (letter), she writes:
I wonder if not being able...more
The rotating point-of-view structure in ﬁction has started to become somewhat of a literary trope to me, often unnecessary and even distracting. But I love how Teri uses it with purpose here. (This is another book where I have some friendly bias to acknowledge, having known Teri and her writing for many years.) I can see a lot of her experience in this book, from its settings in Toronto, Montreal, and Greece to its road trip interlude via Niagara Falls, but her characters inhabit those terrains with their own motivations.
The three narrators are a fragmented family: a separated couple and their sole child. The timeline is anchored around the father Niko’s death; he chronicles his last months while the...more
This book plays with repetition and deconstruction with many instances of the same lines being rearranged or placed in diﬀerent contexts throughout the poems. I liked the concept, even if the poems I liked the most were the outliers that seemed to resist the collage treatment.
Each tree stands alone in stillness
After many years still nothing
The wind’s wish is the tree’s demand
The tree stands still
The wind walks up and down
Scanning the long selves of the shore
Her aimlessness is the pulse of the tree
It beats in tiny blots
Its patternless pattern of excitement
Letters birds beggars books
There is no such thing as a breakdown
“It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” As M Train opens, Patti Smith enters a dream set in an isolated landscape, trying to get the attention of a cowpoke, “vaguely handsome, intensely laconic.” He ignores her and claims her dream as his own before declaring, “The writer is a conductor.” The book proceeds through eighteen “stations,” rather than chapters, though its linearity remains dreamlike, touching on themes of solitude, grief, and the creative process. The cowpoke recurs, as does Smith’s habit of visiting the café across the street from her apartment to drink black coﬀee and follow her meandering thoughts.
I closed my notebook and sat in the café thinking about real time. Is it time uninterrupted? Only the present comprehended?...more
I’ve been friends with Theresa since before her ﬁrst novel Covering the Sun With My Hand, so a bit of partiality will be inevitable here. There are some similarities between the two books — both are set in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where Theresa grew up — but this one is a little diﬀerent as it’s the ﬁrst in a series of mystery novels centered around the character Daisy Muñoz. I don’t read many mysteries these days, but like Theresa I obsessively read Agatha Christie novels and other series when I was younger, so it was fun and a little nostalgic to return to reading that style of ﬁction.
A good mystery hinges largely on strong plotting, and Nights of Indigo Blue has a...more
In the summer I read Kim Gordon’s memoir, Girl in a Band, and struggled to write anything about it. The book is broad and scattered, attempting to establish Gordon’s roots as an artist while also covering basically every side project she took on while she was the bassist for Sonic Youth for twenty years. She seems to write the least about her experiences in the band, even insisting she doesn’t primarily consider herself a musician. Her approach felt emotionally distant, though she acknowledges that people tend to see her that way; yet then she delves into raw, gossipy detail on the dissolution of her marriage with Thurston Moore after he was unable to end an aﬀair with another woman.
I suppose we are reaching peak Brooklyn when in the course of two months, I’ve read two recent ensemble novels based in Brooklyn brownstones. (The other one I skipped writing about.) The characters of Inﬁnite Home are a disparate group who barely interact with each other for years, yet in the course of this story come to bond into a familial unit. It’s a breeze to read, the chapters bouncing quickly around the diﬀerent apartments of the building, and Alcott manages to ﬁll in everyone’s back story while moving the greater narrative forward. But for the most part the characters remained ﬁctional personas to me. They are all aﬀectedly ﬂawed with too many contrived and even out-of-character moments — as when (spoiler)...more
After reading A Little Life, I ﬂoundered about, starting and not ﬁnishing several books, getting to the end of one only by skimming through the last twenty pages. Some of them are surely good ones, I just wasn’t in the mood for them. As September neared and Ferrante fever grew in anticipation of the publication of the fourth and ﬁnal book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, I borrowed a copy of #1 and thankfully fell under its spell. I needed something to break the trauma hex I was under.
I’m writing this as I’m about 80% through the second book, so it’s hard to really just write about this one. I can already see why people have said that...more
It’s hard writing about this book as it’s very engrossing and entertaining in some ways, but so devastating in others. At the beginning it appears to be a story about a group of four guys leaving college and commencing their adult lives in New York City, a pretty standard coming-of-age scenario. The narrative focuses on each friend in turn, revealing their upbringings, their artistic and scholarly talents, and their adolescent dreams, but when it lands on Jude, the narrative twists. His troubled early life is outlined hazily and suggestions of serious trauma (of all varieties) are clear from the beginning. Yet it takes nearly the whole novel to unlock them all.
Hanya Yanagihara has referred to this book as a dark...more
Reading this immediately after Frank Bruni’s memoir, in which he is so open about his life, Nina MacLaughlin seems very guarded in comparison. She has some funny and touching stories to tell about leaving a career as a journalist to become a carpenter, responding to a Craiglist posting almost on a lark, but while she attempts to make clever literary statements by referencing other texts and going into the etymologies of terms, something seems oﬀ about her approach. At one point she criticizes an interview with Gabriel García Márquez in which he described writing being the same as carpentry, “With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.”
García Márquez admits a few sentences later that...more