Review of Like Water

I love that this reviewer pointed out “Ada.” It’s an important story for me, and I deeply care for the character, but I never did find a home for it in a lit mag. It’s so great to see Ada hold her own in the collection.

“My favorite story, “Ada at Twelve and a Half,” felt of these the most utterly specific and intensely imagined, the kind of story that reads not like a fiction but a detailed reporting of an actual event, the log of an inner life. It’s about a little girl who wishes she didn’t have to go to school–who wants so much to walk past it to anywhere, anything must be better than this, she wants so much to be someone, somewhere different–but she ends up in her classroom “where she will sit, trying, and failing, to accept the ordinary.”

“To Understand Russia’s Complexities, Turn to Its Contemporary Literature”

Epiphany published a blog post I wrote, highlighting three fascinating recent translations from Russian.

A FRIEND’S TEN-YEAR-OLD SON son recently came up to me at a party to ask, “You’re from Russia, right?” Sensing caution in my assent, the boy hesitated before asking the next question, clearly trying to phrase it in a way that wouldn’t cause offense but would express his curiosity. He finally came up with, “It’s a very violent place, isn’t it?”

Whenever I’m asked to summarize the entire country of Russia at a party, I invariably recall a scene from a popular Soviet movie…

Click here to read the piece.

Review of The Consequences by Niña Weijers, trans. by Hester Velmans

I’m delighted to have this review up on The Common. It took longer to write than I had anticipated, in part, because every time I returned to this book, there was more to say about it. So many fascinating layers!

Outstanding books often have a way of catching the reader by surprise, one insight, one unexpected narrative shift at a time. Niña Weijers, a debut novelist from the Netherlands, begins her book as a character study of her protagonist, Minnie Panis. Minnie is a conceptual artist of growing international reputation, whose career has been built on acts of public self-abnegation.  With each turn of the page, Weijers extends her subject and thematic reach, keeping her protagonist in focus while exploring contemporary art, mysticism, Mayan beliefs, and early childhood development (among other themes) to enrich our understanding of Minnie’s character and the forces that govern her life.

Minnie’s story is told by an omniscient narrator who documents Minnie’s history of “disappearances”: moments of near death and of extreme out of body experiences, all of which Hester Velmans, an NEA fellowship recipient for translation, has rendered to strong effect in plain and unpretentious language. The prologue introduces us to Minnie in February, 2012 when she falls through a frozen lake in Amsterdam. This is described as a deliberate gesture—not a suicide attempt, but rather a Houdini-like disappearing act, Minnie’s third. But why such a radical performance? The ensuing narrative leads us on an investigation. . . .

Read the rest of this review here.

 

Новая рецензия на Хлоп-страну

Московский автор и критик Данила Давыдов написал рецензию на мою книжку Хлоп-страна!

Говоря об этих рассказах как о психологической прозе мы не удаляемся от истины, но делаем ее более скудной, поскольку само вышеприведенное определение можно применить решительно к чему угодно. Важнее описать контуры того мира, который создает Гренец. Перед нами множество персонажей, женщин и мужчин, эмигрантов той или иной степени адаптированности к новым условиям, причем отнюдь не только (э)мигрантов из постсоветского пространства, – но и вполне местных, чаще молодых людей, но и зрелых, даже пожилых, и малых детей. Этот мультикультуральный и очень насыщенный гулом присутствующих «я» со всем разнообразием их опыта не производит впечатления ни утопии, ни антиутопии. Часто это пластмассовый мир, отчужденный от человека или, напротив, удобно-консьюмеристский, но бывает что и романтический, и насыщенный возвышенными смыслами, порой даже безбашенно-контркультурный.

Читать рецензию целиком тут.

А тут можно купить книжку.

Gunnhild Øyehaug’s Knots, Review

I recommend Gunnhild Øyehaug’s short story collection Knots, out from FSG this summer.

It felt foreordained to open this short story collection by the Norwegian writer Gunnhild Øyehaug and find IKEA on the first page, as in: “…park the car outside IKEA.” IKEA, now based in the Netherlands, originated in Sweden, but to many foreigners, it personifies Scandinavia—pleasant and unthreatening. “Blah, how boring,” was my first thought. Then, trying to stave off disappointment at being welcomed by the all-too-familiar global brand, I told myself, “Well, I guess IKEA did start somewhere nearby. Perhaps, Scandinavians have a particular attachment to clean lines.” (Nervous laughter.) I know that stereotyping is a form of blindness; in practice, my desire for novelty trips me up and leads to overly broad generalizations. Like a tourist, I had to remind myself to check my expectations at the airport.

Gunnhild Øyehaug’s Norway begins, indeed, with the comfortably familiar. . . .

Read the rest of my review on The Common.

Clark Coolidge’s Collected Poems

Excited to learn that Clark Coolidge’s new Collected Poems is being published in April. I’m well-connected! Got an email from City Lights, announcing his reading on April 13, and also an email from the publisher, Station Hill Press. Apparently, Publishers Weekly declined to review this book — which is a sure sign of a certain kind of quality. Coolidge’s experiments from 1962 to 1986 still feel experimental!  This book comes with the coolidge-cover-largeintroduction by the late poet Bill Berkson.

I learned of Coolidge’s work several years ago, when asked to review his long poem that came out of trips to Leningrad-Petersburg. That review appeared in HTMLGiant. I’ve been following his work ever since. What appeals to me the most is the sense of play that comes from reading his lines, the attitude toward poetry and language as something to take apart and mold in new ways, as though just to see what will happen. A reading act calls for some kind of an interaction, for a partner to whom I could speak some lines, and who would laugh and nod in response. That’s cool. This falls flat. Read that again.

Two Lines: Fall Issue

Two Lines Press has come out with a new anthology of world writing in translation, their Fall 2016 Issue. My favorite piece in this book is the first, “Sea Swell” by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. This is how it opens,

I had a friend once. Indeed, at the time, I only had one friend. His name was Andrés and he lived in Paris and, much to his delight, I traveled to that city to see him. The very evening of my arrival, he introduced me to Marguerite Duras, who was a friend of his. Unfortunately, that evening, I had taken two or three amphetamines.

The voice is humorously self-depreciating, yet confident in telling an important story.  The line notes tell me that Vila-Matas specializes in “stories and novels that plays with the interrelation between fiction and reality,” so I’m reading this as roman à clef. Whether or not the author has actually ever met Marguerite Duras really doesn’t matter as much as the question whether this piece is a stand-alone story or a part of a larger narrative. The ending, though not abrupt, leaves me wanting a lot more.

An accompanying story appears on the Press’s website, “Vampire in Love.”  I haven’t yet had a chance to read it, and I’m a little put off by the title, but I hope to get to it soon.

In the printed anthology, another piece that stood out to me, is “Eni Furtado Has Never Stopped Running” by Alicia Kozameh, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger. A woman has come to the cemetery to clean her father’s remains. The narrator gives us nearly every bone of this man’s body, together with the smell and, ehrm, taste. Contemporary literature seems, at times, peaked on finding limit experiences, taboos to break, and this piece is that. I’m not sure whether I liked it because or in spite of this.