Everybody knows deep down that life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that’s not something that ought to be glossed over or denied because without frustration there would hardly be any need to daydream. And daydreams return me to my original sense of things and I luxuriate in these fervid primary visions until I am entirely my unalloyed self again. So even though it sometimes feels as if one could just about die from disappointment I must concede that in fact in a rather perverse way it is precisely those things I did not get that are keeping me alive.
I started this book before I went on vacation and...more
The title of this book comes from an entry in Virginia Woolf’s diary, where she wrote about being tired of the “cramming in and cutting out” to please readers. I wanted to really love this book, expected it even, from the context of the title and the blurb that references Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Lydia Davis’s short stories, and Vivian Gornick’s “exploration of interior life.” So I built up its possible impact too much, and then the ﬁrst essay “Heart Museum,” which takes up almost half of the small volume, was a slog that I struggled to get through, even though I was on vacation and had no distractions to keep me from getting enmeshed. While I generally am all for...more
Epigraphs rarely feel undeniably necessary to me; they are interesting, but I assume they mean more to the author than the reader in most cases. Casey Plett’s epigraph for her debut collection of short stories (an excerpt from Michelle Tea’s The Chelsea Whistle) so perfectly sets the tone for the book and provides the title that I really can’t imagine the book without it:
I loved that dream of a girl, the Beautiful Girl, calm and wild as water. I loved her like I loved the Psychic Girl, another paperback myth, because she was a safe girl to love, a fantasy that I could own. When I grew up and began to meet so many diﬀerent real girls. I met...more
A novel that takes its name from an Edward Elgar orchestral piece, the variations here are diﬀerent romances from fragmented eras of the narrator Paul’s life. Though the novel progresses linearly, each chapter really exists as its own story with only passing references to the others. Characters mentioned in passing in one story may come to the forefront in another before sliding to the background again later.
The opening chapter “First Love” feels much diﬀerent from the rest, focused on Paul’s return to an Italian island where his family had a summer home in his youth, a house that later burned down. Though he is ostensibly there to ﬁnally see what remains of the property, he ﬁnds himself seeking...more
First, this is an intriguing object: a clear box ﬁlled with twenty-two chapbooks. Each cover is printed in a similar texture in shades that to me represent the range of hues of bodies of water at diﬀerent times of day and in various types of weather: blues, deep blues, grays, greens. Inside the text has similar variance whether verse, prose, lecture, play. The themes also range about from the classics (Carson’s ﬁeld of scholarship) to “a chorus of Gertrude Steins performing an essay about falling” to philosophical studies of translation in “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent.” She prefaces it with a John Cage quote, who of course did his own explorations into the framework of silence, before...more
Essentially a novel in two parts, the ﬁrst comprises Selin’s ﬁrst year at Harvard in the year 1995, as Selin chooses to study linguistics and Russian, meets a Hungarian mathematician, Ivan, begins emailing Ivan, and develops a crush on him through their correspondence. They have an awkward ﬂirtation, being painfully unable to have a conversation outside of their strange emails. The second part covers the summer when Selin travels to Paris with her friend Svetlana and then Hungary to teach English in a small town, which she basically only does to try to see Ivan, even though this seems ill-advised. The book is episodic, focused on the humor and poignancy of banal moments. Usually that sounds like something I am...more
Rachel Cusk’s previous novel Outline was an unexpected pleasure, so it was also a nice surprise to ﬁnd out the book was the ﬁrst in a trilogy — Transit is the second installment. This book follows a similar structure, where each chapter is centered around a conversation between Faye, the heart of the story, and people she meets. Whereas in the last book, she was traveling and the conversations were focused more on the other people, this one has her at home, albeit a new home after divorcing her husband. (A home that needs to be renovated extensively, while the tenants in the downstairs ﬂat protest at even moderate sound.)
In some ways perhaps I love this book less than Outline,...more
Hari Kunzru is a British-born writer and has only lived in the US since 2008, yet he weaves a tale about the roots of appropriation in our culture in this stunning literary thriller. Two college friends, both white, bond over a shared obsession with old blues music. Carter is from a rich, well-connected family with the money to set up a recording studio full of “authentic” analog equipment, and Seth is an introspective nerd with a habit of wandering the city recording ambient noise. By chance Seth picks up audio of a man singing a haunting tune on the street, which the duo mixes to sound like a genuine blues tune digitized from an old 78 record. Carter shares...more
After establishing the parental background and birth of Archie Ferguson, 4 3 2 1 promptly splits oﬀ into four directions, four possible paths of this one person. While certain aspects of each life are constant — all four Archies have an interest in writing and most are attracted to same woman — there’s a fair amount of variance in each version and how the constants are played out. Rooted in the banalities of each life, the concept is compelling but sometimes bogged down in too much detail. Archie #1’s experience working on Columbia’s newspaper during the 1968 Vietnam War protests, and to a lesser extent Archie #4’s exposure to the Newark race riots, bordered on a slog-level amount of detail, and I’m not sure for what purpose...more