"The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals" which takes up the bulk of this, the third book in the Neveryon series, is worth reading on its own as a response to and document of the AIDS crisis in early 1980s NYC. It's also worth reading for what it does to unravel its own fictiveness and expose (explicitly, where all else has been implicit) the seeping of the present into Delany's construction of the fantasy world of Neveryon.
The tale is fragmented, moving between Delany's documentation of the rising numbers of AIDS cases and the frustratingly slow search for their cause, and the plague he is simultaneously writing into his fictional world (and Delany comments frequently about how each narrative comments upon the other). And of course it's all fiction or at least all constructed (plot spoiler!) - yes, it's a dazzling literary performance but that is somewhat beside the point. The sense of urgency with which he writes is stunning - the narrative is consistently disrupted and disrupting; it acknowledges the impossibility of representation, and the attendant helplessness of the writer responding to and attempting to address crisis.
When I worked with Chip at Temple, we talked a lot about experimental novels of crisis (because I was/am working on one) - this tale, a novel in itself (the book contains two other shorter tales preceding this one), is an example of such a work. In his interview on experimental writing in Para*doxa, included in his volume of essays About Writing, he writes of the difference between the novel of crisis (e.g., Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun) and the experimental novel of crisis (he uses Joanna Russ's The Female Man as his prime example) and why he chose the experimental mode to respond to the AIDS situation in 1983:
"Because of the topicality and the urgency of my own undertaking, I felt it was worth the risk to hoist up on my own shaky shoulder the burden of the experimental, when I decided to take on AIDS, life, and death in a novel started in '83 and finished in June '84.
"That judgment of the crisis was NOT: I must reach as many people as possible. Rather, it was: The people I reach, I must reach as INTENSELY as possible. ...To write that book, I said: Even if I don't use it all, I've got to have the full range of the contemporary aesthetic armamentarium from which to choose...I've got things to say that are too important and that will not fit within the structures of narrative fiction as it is usually handed to us."
These strategies are of their time and so seem a bit standard from today's vantage point - the meta and pastiche especially - but unlike a lot of pomo (I think) the novel reads like necessary, urgent and effective communication.
The other tales in here are also meticulously and impressively designed. (less)
I HAVE FINISHED READING THIS! had to take a break because it was too emotionally intense to absorb while stressing about ot...moreI AM READING THIS NOW!
I HAVE FINISHED READING THIS! had to take a break because it was too emotionally intense to absorb while stressing about other stuff the past months.
there's so much to this book, it is difficult to draw lines around. it is a grief narrative, it is a retelling of the epic of gilgamesh, it is a memoir, it is a revision, a love story, a collage, a meditation on meaning and uncertainty. an excerpt:
“Sex had started feeling like being lonely in a crowd of drunks, then pissed on from a balcony. And even that was an accident…
But then I found [Gil]. After we kissed- her mouth pulling my lips like they were nipples – after she pushed me open so wide I bled a smeary ring around her wrist, after I hiccuped sobs and dug trails in the paint on her wall and slammed my fists down against her back, and after I felt like a muscular black-winged horse had flown out from between my thighs then burst open like a star, after she held my shuddering, transformed body, she told me I was hers.”
"The ones who know the great sorrow of death are the ones who remain alive to mourn. Grief is all the living know of death. And grief, let me tell you, is unbearable. It never fully passes. When someone we love dies, the one we had become in relation to them also dies, but we're forced to stay alive with this dead part inside."
especially notable are gayle rubin's remarks, 'a little humility' - and the introduction, which narrates the conception and uneven execution of an exp...moreespecially notable are gayle rubin's remarks, 'a little humility' - and the introduction, which narrates the conception and uneven execution of an experimental academic/arts/activist conference.(less)
THE PROMOTER: Beware of that bird-like child....He's been translated from another place: a blown-up place, a devouring place. Have mercy on his skin. H...moreTHE PROMOTER: Beware of that bird-like child....He's been translated from another place: a blown-up place, a devouring place. Have mercy on his skin. He's flimsy. Gross. If you let him in, the play is lost. His dingle-dangle is a strange fruit. Get out of here if you don't know how to raise a child, how to save a child, from this disease. It's a disease of language. I suspect I have it already. Shit.
THE GENIUS CHILDREN: You must use tweezers. Dummy. The shards are hard to pull out. Dummy. We are alive. Stop our bodies!
FATHER VOICE-OVER: It may seem that I have lost my bark but that is not true. Bark. (less)
"You can tell a lot about a person from seeing them in the water. Some people freak out and spaz their way around like giant insects, others slide in...more"You can tell a lot about a person from seeing them in the water. Some people freak out and spaz their way around like giant insects, others slide in like seals, turn over, dive down, effortlessly. Some people kind of tread water with big goofy smiles, others look slightly broken-armed and broken-legged or as if they are in some kind of serious pain. I swam, once, with Ken Kesey. In a man-made reservoir up near Fall Creek. Puffy with drink, his bulk rounded and bulged around his former reputation. It was night swimming. Five people, I think. Totally, completely, unapologetically, rocket shot high." (99)
"Listen I can see you. If you are like me. You do not deserve most of what has happened or will. But there is something I can offer you. Whoever you are. Out there. As lonely as it gets, you are not alone. There is another kind of love. It's the love of art. Because I believe in art the way other people believe in god." (293)
psst Lidia Yuknavitch is reading at Uncalled-for Readings (Chicago) on Monday April 4 at Barbara's Bookstore 1218 S Halsted with Cris Mazza at 6 pm uncalledforchicago.blogspot.com(less)
The Birdwisher is a modest, zine-y novella, beautifully illustrated by artist Sam McWilliams. Big, clunky typeface, winkingly lo-fi production [edit: i don't really know what i mean by this]. It is a treasure. The subtitle is “a murder mystery for very old young adults,” and in her acknowledgments, Springer says she wrote the story “on top of” Dashiell Hammet’s “Dead Yellow Woman.”
The opening scene witnesses a young woman (“the virgin”) using rusty scissors to cut through her hymen. Then a bird flies into her window and dies. The rest of the story imagines what between these characters has led up to this moment, and so we are thrust into the charming and uncanny human-bird society that constitutes the world of the novella, in which Walker Geon, bird detective, has been hired by a young woman named Gwen to investigate the murder of six birds.
Mostly the murder mystery doesn’t matter; that is, it doesn’t matter who killed the birds, but it does matter why, and Walker’s investigation functions as an uneasy mask which eventually disintegrates to make visible a horrifying and perversely humorous parable of sexual assault out of which Walker emerges Gwen’s protector.
There’s an instability of narrative voice that claims a debt to Acker (on top of the Hammett), but above that there’s a humility to the book that doesn’t really care whether it’s read as avant-garde or a kinda chintzy YA mystery. It’s both, of course, and it’s really its own thing, excessive and defiant and vulnerable. The Birdwisher is a story with exposed throat and chest. Brave. Happy bird day.(less)
the narrative consciousness of BERG is pretty singular. often it seems as though the protagonist is rehearsing dramas in his mind, sometimes talking t...morethe narrative consciousness of BERG is pretty singular. often it seems as though the protagonist is rehearsing dramas in his mind, sometimes talking to others, sometimes talking to himself, and the reader doesn't know what is fantasy and what reality. a lot of strangeness here - a claustrophobic book, and immensely disorienting at first. the premise is the oedipal triangle: the first line reads "A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father..." . the language is wonderful; a lot of well-placed metaphors that are creepy and activated (that is, not just image but put in motion). looking forward to reading Tripticks.(less)
had never read jewett before. she is a 'regionalist' and so often that means 'minor' writer. but in fact she can be seen as a precursor to woolf's aes...morehad never read jewett before. she is a 'regionalist' and so often that means 'minor' writer. but in fact she can be seen as a precursor to woolf's aesthetic, and modernist literature as a whole, in certain ways. what i loved most about this book is jewett's/her narrator's deep affection for her characters. here, humanity is a joy. an approach to character that's hugely refreshing, like a clean sea breeze lapping - or slapping! - the face. i cannot write a simile that is not willfully bad. episodic, loose narrative structure that happily, humbly eschews plot in favor of 'slice of life'. i miss mrs. todd already.(less)
considering using this for my CW course, possibly or not in tandem with another more conventional anthology or craft guide. anyone read it, have thoug...moreconsidering using this for my CW course, possibly or not in tandem with another more conventional anthology or craft guide. anyone read it, have thoughts? -- the introduction is really useful for introducing beginning writers to an array of fictional possibilities rooted in various traditions. i use some of these stories but still prefer my course packet to an anthology. (less)
i just reread a lot of CHANGING to teach it in a class on innovative writing and holy cow. this book is sui generis.
i wrote a review a long time ago -...morei just reread a lot of CHANGING to teach it in a class on innovative writing and holy cow. this book is sui generis.
i wrote a review a long time ago - here's an excerpt (N.B. i actually don't know if hoang sees Changing as memoir or fiction or if the question even matters to her -- so i could be totally be off reading it as part autobiography):
In Changing, Hoang translates her life into the “I Ching”, and vice versa, telling her reader’s fortune by narrating her own. The “I Ching” is changed: transformed into a linguistic organism that is highly idiosyncratic while retaining the source text’s enigmatic force and capacity for interpretive proliferation. In its unusual form the narrative works multivalently, functioning as novel, memoir, prophecy, and fairy tale as much as it functions as an (albeit loose) English-language translation of a Chinese text.
Visually structured after the “I Ching”, Changing’s 64 chapters correspond to the source text’s 64 hexagrams. Hoang’s translation interprets the hexagram—traditionally six stacked horizontal lines that are either broken (Yin) or unbroken (Yang)—as six discrete text blocks, some of which are broken into two columns.
Some of these text blocks are directive, instructing the reader in how to read; others, similarly meta, deal with the process of translation; some take up the story of Mother and Father and their immigration to Houston; others of Brother, or of Sister, both of whom are dealing with personal crises; others of little girl (the child version of the narrator); and arguably the most central thread follows with searing honesty the story of the narrator’s romantic relationship, her lover being one of two “you”s in the book (the other “you” is the reader).
Meanwhile, yet another thread involves retelling Western fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Jack and Jill—with important changes. These different tales are sometimes merged, Jack and Jill becoming Hansel and Gretel, Jill showing up again later as a girl who lives with the woman who lives in the shoe. Often these tales are deployed to demonstrate issues of gender and power that run through the other threads. Always, they show the narrator appropriating and revising familiar stories as she makes sense of them for her own experience.
This kind of opening up of the reading experience, allowing us multiple paths to follow, fits well with the overarching theme of the book, which insists on change, on evolution, on multiplicity of meaning, but also on repetition and the shaky determinism of destiny. Changing proposes story as divination, divination as story: there is a tension here, a moving back and forth between what has happened, what will happen, what must have happened, what must happen. In Changing, we are made to reckon with that vexing struggle between possibility and fate. (less)
yeah yeah. i get it. undermines romantic notions of authority, etc, etc. makes the reader create her own meanings, yadda ya. challenges traditional na...moreyeah yeah. i get it. undermines romantic notions of authority, etc, etc. makes the reader create her own meanings, yadda ya. challenges traditional narrative constructions, blah blah blah. i know all this, and on some level can appreciate it. but really? BOOOOOORRRING. (less)
had a hard time getting past the misogyny. couple of old writers get together to write about themselves, as bums who share a shadow, in microfictions...morehad a hard time getting past the misogyny. couple of old writers get together to write about themselves, as bums who share a shadow, in microfictions augmented by illustrations -- some interesting meta moments, a lot of charming bawdiness, but too much lady hate for this reader. (less)