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.

 

Lisa Capps and Elinor Ochs, Constructing Panic

In this pioneering books, researches Lisa Capps and Elinor Ochs look at the narrative on a woman suffering from agoraphobia and study the way she authors her narrative and the way her narrative comes to form her reality.

The linguistic shaping of sufferers’ narratives has been generally glossed over, with the result that the therapeutic effect of telling one’s life stories with another person remains largely a mystery. Psychoanalysts tend to look through narrative rather than at narrative to identify underlying emotional dynamics and formative experiences. How a teller sculpts her tale–the grammatical form and the sequencing and intertwining of pieces of setting, enigmatic experiences, and outcomes–is not a focal point but rather a medium for exposing a deeper story.

We share the view that stories can offer a powerful medium for gaining insights not fully accessible to the narrator. Indeed we endorse the perspective, held by a number of philosophers and literary critics, that narrative creates stepping stones to self-understanding. To borrow the words of Vaclav Havel, narrative allows us to confront ourselves, “to return in full seriousness to the ‘core of things,’ to pose the primordial questions again and again, and from the beginning, constantly, to examine the direction [we are] going.”

Annie Ernaux’s Shame

A powerful little book that begins with an analysis of a single episode from the writer’s past, an incident that happened when she was twelve. This book breaks so many writerly rules — in such a satisfying, rewarding way. The translation is by Tanya Leslie.

The quote is from the end of the first section.

Naturally I shall not opt for narrative, which would mean inventing reality instead of searching for it. Neither shall I content myself with merely picking out and transcribing the images I remember; I shall process them  like documents, examining them from different angles to give them meaning. In other words, I shall carry out an ethnological study of myself.

(It may not be necessary to commit such observations to paper, but I won’t be able to start writing properly until I have some idea of the shape this writing will take.)

I may have chosen to be impartial because I thought the indescribable events I witness in my twelfth year would fate away, lost in the universal context of laws and language. Or maybe I succumbed  to a mad and deadly impulse suggested by the words of a missal which I now find impossible to read, a ritual which my mind associates with some Voodoo ceremony–take this, all of you, and read it, this is my body, this is the cup of my blood, it will be shed for you and for all men.

Karolina Ramqvist’s The White City

I heard this author read during Litquake and bought the book. Part heist novel, part a novel about becoming a mother, it blends the genres so effortlessly that, having finished the book, I’m convinced that motherhood is a kind of a heist. Translated from Swedish by Saskia Vogel. A beautiful edition by the Black Cat imprint of Grove Atlantic.

The baby’s named Dream. (What a cool name!)

 She put one arm over the baby, who had gone back to nursing, and rested her head on the other, trying to unwind and sink into the sofa. She focused on her body, one part at a time; she noticed her teeth clenching and opened her mouth all the way. Opening and shutting it and working her jaw from side to side to relieve the tension.  …

Dream downed the milk, swallowing while nuzzled into her white breast. Round as the baby’s cheeks and head, round as the areola that peeked out because Dream hadn’t gotten a proper grip on her nipple again. Round and round, rounds and rounds. The milk dribbled out of the baby’s mouth and ran down her breast, leaving a sticky trail on her skin and a wet stain on her robe.

Does the body keep producing breast milk after death? If something were to happen to her, if she choked or a blood vessel burst in her brain or if someone were to break in and take her out for good, it would probably be a while before anyone would miss her. But if she had enough milk in her breasts, then Dream might have a chance of surviving until someone showed up.

She tried to concentrate on the softness.

 

Рецензия на “Хлоп-страну” в журнале “Знамя”

Если Бедная Девушка Беломлинской все еще живет Россией, то Травка Ольги Гренец уже давно от нее отпочковалась, и то, что происходит на родине, ее интересует все меньше и меньше. В первой части книги, где автор еще дает какую-то связь между новой и старой родиной, изредка встречаются рассказы, в которых сквозит «среднерусская тоска». Например, в рассказе «Сливки и сахар», исподволь, между строк, дана картина гремящей где-то войны, совершенно не стыкующейся с описанием мелких мещанских привычек посетителей аэропорта. Это, пожалуй, один из самых удачных рассказов Ольги, построенных на эллипсисе, на недосказанности.  …

читать целиком рецензию Ольги Аникиной. “Счастьеведение”,  журнал “Знамя” 2017, №9.

 

Mike Smith’s And There Was Evening, and There Was Morning

Last year, when I participated, in a small way, with the launch of WTAW Press, I got a chance to read the manuscripts in draft form. This month, holding the two published books in my hand was a strange experience: an excitement coupled with worry, How will they hold up? Will the binding solidify the beauty I had glimpsed in the original writing? Will it bring forward the flaws?

Mike Smith’s book, And There Was Evening, and There Was Morning is a memoir of originalterrible loss: the author’s first wife dies of cancer shortly after the birth of their second child. The book is a collection of essays, structured in such a way that in each piece, in each chapter, we return to this tragedy, over and over again. Fifteen times over we are with Mike and the kids, Virgina and Langston, losing Emily. Other sad, scary, happy, and funny things happen in the book. Mike meets his second wife, they marry and move together to a new town in a new state. His stepdaughter, coincidentally also named Emily, goes through a bout with cancer. But oh boy oh boy. Turn the page, and there’s his beloved Emily, dying again.

Difficult reading? No, not at all. It’s a love story. The book reads like a love poem, on a single gulp of breath. Mike’s tendency to introspection, his openness to Emily and her world and the desire to continue his engagement with her interests and concerns, his ability to converse with her work after her death, is so endearing that from the very first sentences I want to know Mike, I want to spend time with him, I find in myself the resources to stay with him through his grief and to go there, into the hospital room, to be with Emily, in her final months, weeks, and days, over and over again. Emily Arndt was a scholar and I find it a solace that a book that she wrote, a revised version of her dissertation, has been published and can be found out there.

I’ll quote the first sentences from Mike Smith’s memoir, to give a sense of its rhythm and what I mean about it being a love story:

My first wife Emily and I were married for ten years. We met when she walked into the small bookstore where I worked and applied for a job. The manager must have hired her that very afternoon because we shared the following Saturday evening and Sunday morning turnaround shifts. It was fitting that we grew to know one another surrounded by books.

Thank you Peg Alford Pursell and WTAW Press for publishing this. Thank you, Mike, for sharing this story. Thank you also for all of your wonderful insight into story and character and the willingness to push and push on a thread of thought.