Kristin Fouquet writes with a sense of poignancy, a defiance of the trite and the clev(this review originally appeared at Outsider Writers Collective)
Kristin Fouquet writes with a sense of poignancy, a defiance of the trite and the clever, a mode that practically forced me to fall in love with her writing back in the Twenty Stories days. With her second book, Rampart & Toulouse: a Novella and Other Stories, I am quite happy to say that Fouquet has compromised nothing. She can still tell a beautiful story, one subtly complex, but altogether “normal,” while delivering a final line or image, strong enough to anchor the story in your brain. You’ll wake up after a long night reading with a headache. A beautiful, relentless headache.
Rampart & Toulouse is comprised of three short stories and one novella. The novella, it being an unfamiliar form to Fouquet, I approached with the most skepticism. Could Fouquet bring poignancy to an 85 page story? What about her characters, the New Orleans locals with a thirst for wine and a need for story; would they survive the longer format? Simply stated: yes.
I hesitate to quote too much form this collection, as any single line would fail without the story’s context. And even if I could properly abbreviate the story, and deliver the line’s impact, each story so beautifully focuses its power into a few lines that to rob the reader of one line is to rob the reader of an entire story. So, let the exhaustion and breathlessness of Vivienne, the protagonist of the novella, “Rampart and Toulouse,” mirror my own gradual change, from full of energy to depleted of all but the most necessary breathes. Here, Vivienne has rescued a bullet wounded dog from the street:
“She assured the animal in her arms, ‘You’re going to be okay.’ Dodging sauntering tourists, her message weakened to just ‘Okay.’ The encouragement seemed more for her now than the victim. Seeing the vet’s office, Vivienne nearly collapsed” (pg 67)
Ben Tanzer, in his sixth book, takes the inherent heartache associated with a cancer s(this review originally appeared at Outsider Writers Collective)
Ben Tanzer, in his sixth book, takes the inherent heartache associated with a cancer struggle and redirects the focus from the sick (a father) to the coping (the son). In this seemingly simple but extremely important reversal Tanzer has crafted a book that simultaneously represents a perfect extension of his own canon while tapping into a previously unexplored sense of extended vulnerability.
Tanzer’s use of monologue to extract emotion from his characters is daring and impressive. Such direct address, in the hands of lesser authors, would likely compromise any organically built emotional connection. But for Tanzer, hearts are best worn on sleeves:
“I am not here to admire myself though. I am on a mission. I am studying my reflection, compulsively searching for ingrown hairs and exploring the day-old unshaven whiskers that populate my neck and face. I’m not sure when this started, but I know the drill, and I know I’ve grown more desperate about it since my father got sick” (pg. 65).
Previous books have lead readers through quick-witted, twenty-something pop culture (Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine) and mid-life extramarital temptation (You Can Make Him Like You). With My Father’s House we experience the established character type tackling, perhaps for the first time, the idea of death and the necessity of legacy.
My Father’s House could quite possibly be Ben Tanzer’s greatest work....more
With Man Standing Behind, Pablo D’Stair completes his set of thematically linked “existeThis review originally appeared at Outsider Writers Collective
With Man Standing Behind, Pablo D’Stair completes his set of thematically linked “existential noir” novellas, collectively called They Say the Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter.
As with most of D’Stair’s work, plot has been loosened in favor of the conflicted protagonist’s internal dilemmas. In the case of Man Standing Behind, the loose plot involves our central character, Roger, being held at gun-point by Donald, a patient, self-assured (or so we assume) murderer with unknown motivations. Donald leads Roger throughout their small, nondescript town, killing people with nonchalance that in any other author’s hands might define Donald as a soulless psychopath. And though he may be a psychopath we learn that the killer is perhaps just as confused by his actions as both Roger and the reader. The novella therefore reads as a meandering (purposefully) series of mental struggles, attempts to rationalize escape (“Not that I could leave, certainly”),to rationalize survival (“I didn’t want to give him any reason to think I might be trying something”), and to rationalize motivation (“There was very much the impulse to…bring attention to my situation. But what was my situation?”).
The keyword being, of course, rationalize.
This is where D’Stair shines. He has the ability to take a situation, one which might traditionally be addressed emotionally, and analyze it to the point of emotional emptiness. Life and death, to D’Stair’s narrators, is not a fight or flight, subconscious decision, but is one to be pondered, examined, weighed against context. In the first novella of the collection, Kaspar Traulhaine, approximate, we are privy to the killer’s (a different killer than Man Standing Behind) self-examination. Next, with i poisoned you, the narrator wedges his logic into the illogic of love. Then, with Twelve ELEVEN Thirteen, a man is consumed by his attempts to rationalize the appearance of a stranger in his apartment building hallway.
Man Standing Behind acts as a logical extension to the previous three novellas, building upon the self-reflection that saturated those books while allowing the narrator to, for perhaps the first time in the series, project upon the world outside himself. One key statement, on page 57, summarizes this book, and the entire series, beautifully:
“I looked at him, felt dead.”
Man Standing Behind is essentially a story of limbo, of a man once alive, now somewhere between life and death. But more importantly, this is a man conscious of his position....more
Unfortunately, the premise of this book relied on far too many stretched assumptions and too much false logic for me to finish it. For example, at oneUnfortunately, the premise of this book relied on far too many stretched assumptions and too much false logic for me to finish it. For example, at one point when arguing against the idea of a child birthing as a selfish act (the reasoning being, for example, that a couple with a history of terminal cancer would be giving birth to a person to suffer the same) the author says that very few people regret having been born, so therefore a child would consider his life happy, even with cancer.
The hole I see with this is that if a person were never born he would not even have been able to make the comparison between existence and non-existence. So, to have a person hypothetically compare his current life with one in which he was never even conscious simply doesn't work.
The author does have some good statistical information (comparing today to the "Idyllic Fifties" for example) but, as I said above, supports those statistics with flimsy examples....more
I am going to say this upfront: With Stories V! Scott McClanahan has officially wedged himself into the canon. But which canon. The American SouthernI am going to say this upfront: With Stories V! Scott McClanahan has officially wedged himself into the canon. But which canon. The American Southern oral canon? Yes. The small press indie fiction canon? Yes. The Appalachian hipster canon. That too. McClanahan has always delivered. His first collection, Stories, described the real down-and-out American south beautifully. Stories II, true to its sequential title, continued and strengthened McClanahan’s role as an official voice of the South. Then comes this strangely non-sequentially titled Stories V! to solidify McClanahan as the official voice of the polished (but not too polished), clever (but not too clever) oral story telling southern elite....more
The Mimic’s Own Voice often reads with the linguistic dexterity of a Jose Saramago nov(this review originally appeared at Outsider Writers Collective)
The Mimic’s Own Voice often reads with the linguistic dexterity of a Jose Saramago novel, while skillfully stripping away Saramago’s notorious intimidation; and who couldn’t come to love a book like that?
Myles Douglas is a professional mimic. When compared to contemporary stand-up comedy, which often seems fueled by equal parts nonchalant irreverence (Mitch Hedberg, Eugene Mirman) and observational word play (Demetri Martin) with a tinge of irony (Anthony Jeselnik), the mimic as a performer exudes a nostalgic innocence. And in the case of Myles Douglas this innocence perfectly captures both the major appeal and the minor annoyances of Tom Williams’ The Mimic’s Own Voice.
A mimic does not simply impersonate. A mimic becomes the impersonated, and no one could so consistently and convincingly embody a person better than Myles Douglas. This idea of misplaced identity permeates the novella: he is bi-racial; hipsters form the basis of his first professional mimicry (“…he represented an entire movement, as none came before or after him—who’d thought to mimic the mimics?” pg. 17); the format of the book itself reads as a commentary of a found autobiography (2nd person perspective, no less); the aforementioned oft-labyrinthine prose; and perhaps the most intriguing layer, Myles’ first professional audio recording of his act lacks any trace of the mimic himself:
“Scholars now ponder if the absence of “personality” displayed here—in addition, Myles’ own voice isn’t heard—signals the disappearance of his own sense of self” (pg. 51).
These layers create not a story in the traditional, Aristotelian sense but instead a story that motivates the reader by exploiting the inherent voyeur in all of us. Just as Myles needs only a few spoken words from his subject to embody him/her (and eventually not even that much; toward the end of the novella Myles requires only an index card with a name and answers to a few trivial personal questions), the reader takes what is known of Myles—as digested and articulated via comedy scholars—to develop the empathy that seems to be the key to Myles’ amazing ability. To read The Mimic’s Own Voice is to become a mimic.
The above parenthetical aside deserves some elaboration. This slow change from what could be described as just a teenage impressionist (albeit an amazing one) to a man who can literally replace his persona with that of another person without any prior interaction with said person, becomes the heartbreaking crux of the novella. We never really know Myles. Yet, the reader is never bored, will never accuse Tom Williams of duping the reader out of a story. In fact, all we really know of Myles, other than his philanthropic lifestyle (more on this later), is revealed via a few short scenes of Myles alone, one of which:
“…twenty year old Myles, thin as the pasta he boiled in his one pot, with a shaved head—the only haircut he knew how to administer—standing in the middle of a tidy but empty living room, brightening the darkness and chasing away the silence by reproducing the voices of his dead relations” (pg. 12)
Myles, for the most part—and this is where the “minor annoyance” bit from above comes in—plays the idiot savant trope to a degree that steals much of the potential relatability. He may simply be too good, too likable. He is quiet, reserved, and infinitely humble, qualities that his comic brethren/competitors criticize constantly throughout the story, which forces these qualities to remain top-of-mind for the reader. We never see him angry. We never see him vengeful. But I suppose, who, if not a profession mimic, could at least feign contention so convincingly?...more
Cloud Atlas is heavy on concept and light on satisfaction. I appreciate the lengths David Mitchell went to play with story structure in a way that’s rCloud Atlas is heavy on concept and light on satisfaction. I appreciate the lengths David Mitchell went to play with story structure in a way that’s rarely been done, but in the end, the artifice came off, well, artificial.
Maybe just watch the movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t compare the two story forms. But, it will save you quite a bit of time to just go the movie route.
I just finished reading Christopher Dwyer’s When October Falls. I’m saddened. Here’s hoping for a follow-up, When November Rises.
Full disclosure: I’veI just finished reading Christopher Dwyer’s When October Falls. I’m saddened. Here’s hoping for a follow-up, When November Rises.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Chris for a while. I’d call him a friend. Fuller disclosure: Fuck friendship. Praising a good book is more important than tiptoeing around a friend’s emotions. So, for the sake of this quick bit of praise, let’s pretend that I have never met Chris. Let’s pretend I haven’t had a few rounds with him in Chicago, in Denver, and I think in New York (I don’t know if he was in New York the last time I was there; shows you how much drinking I did).
When October Falls is the perfect bridge to ease the pain until the next Will Christopher Baer book finally comes (where are you Godspeed?). Dwyer’s novel is equally poetic, equally heartbreaking, and equally engrossing as anything that bears Baer’s name (sorry, I had to do that). When October Falls is unapologetically noir, complete with the tropes fans have come to expect and love: eternally damned protagonist? Check. Time lines interrupted by repeated bouts of consciousness –turned-unconsciousness and back again, usually by way of a gun-stock slap or chloroform? Check. Deathbed exposition? Check.
Indulge a bit. Buy the book. Swim in its velvet prose. Feel dirty for a while. And perhaps even cry a tear or two....more