Revelations

Matthew Cheney: A Lit­tle Life by Hanya Yanag­i­hara. I knew lit­tle about this book and noth­ing about Yanag­i­hara when I read it last sum­mer, and so read­ing it was a rev­e­la­tion. It’s a divi­sive book, a book that tends to pro­voke very strong feel­ings in read­ers. It is melo­dra­mat­ic, over­stuffed, full of painful descrip­tions of bod­i­ly hor­ror, and very much an exam­ple of what Hen­ry James (refer­ring, with befud­dled dis­ap­proval, to War and Peace and oth­er big nov­els) called “large, loose, bag­gy mon­sters, with their queer ele­ments of the acci­den­tal and the arbi­trary.” That is A Lit­tle Life. I have read few oth­er nov­els that so deeply affect­ed me — the ones that come to mind are Crime and Pun­ish­ment, Anna Karen­i­na, Mrs. Dal­loway, Invis­i­ble Man, and some of J.M. Coetzee’s nov­els. That’s about it. And A Lit­tle Life is very dif­fer­ent from them all, more vis­cer­al, more painful, more over­whelm­ing. Again and again, I go back over its pages seek­ing to fig­ure out how Yanag­i­hara did it, like a detec­tive walk­ing an aban­doned stage after a great illusionist’s per­for­mance, search­ing for the trap doors and hid­den wires. Her mag­ic remains a mys­tery to me, and yet its abil­i­ty to dig deep, to tear through flesh and blood, to make art of chaos and pain and love, remains with each revis­it­ing.

John Chu: The Gold­en Apple, with music by Jerome Moross and lyrics by John Latouche, is a musi­cal adap­ta­tion of The Ili­ad and The Odyssey set in turn-of-the-20th cen­tu­ry Wash­ing­ton state. The show has suf­fered a cou­ple cru­el twists of fate. It flopped on Broad­way in 1954 despite rave reviews. Its through-sung score was hacked down to a measly 50 min­utes for the cast album. It’s not until now that we’ve got­ten a com­plete record­ing of the score, and it’s glo­ri­ous.

Peter Dubé: I have been fas­ci­nat­ed with sur­re­al­ism as far back as I can recall – the orig­i­nal group around Bre­ton, the var­i­ous dis­si­dent for­ma­tions, and the movement’s con­tem­po­rary inher­i­tors alike. There­fore, giv­en how pro­lif­ic a bunch they were, I have a lengthy list of titles I think deserve more atten­tion from read­ers. In the inter­est of effi­cien­cy, how­ev­er, I will lim­it myself to rec­om­mend­ing two here. René Daumal’s short nov­els Mount Ana­logue and A Night of Seri­ous Drink­ing are essen­tial works of sym­bol­ic fic­tion. They man­age to work suc­cess­ful­ly as fan­tas­ti­cal yarns and weird alle­gories of spir­i­tu­al life at the same time and both are well worth check­ing out.

Min­soo Kang: The nov­el­ist Haïlji is not only one of the best writ­ers of South Korea but also its pre­miere author of exper­i­men­tal and sur­re­al­ist fic­tion. So it is a real pity that he is vir­tu­al­ly unknown out­side the coun­try. A part of my trans­la­tion of his nov­el The State­ment was pub­lished in the jour­nal Aza­lea (vol. 3, 2010) , which is a mur­der mys­tery told entire­ly through a mono­logue of a man being inter­ro­gat­ed by the police. The only full ren­der­ing of one of his works is The Repub­lic of Užupis (Dalkey Archives, 2009) about a Kore­an man who trav­els to Lithua­nia in search of defunct coun­try of the title. The fol­low­ing is a trans­la­tion of the first para­graph of his lat­est nov­el Old­er Sis­ter:
Before dawn came, trees were walk­ing through the streets. The oak tree in front of the post office, the ginko tree at the Con­fu­cian tem­ple, the poplar trees that lined the new­ly con­struct­ed road, they all wan­dered about the streets in groups of three and five. When the wind blew, they made rustling nois­es as they mean­dered, like they were vagrants who went about whistling in the neigh­bor­hood late into the night. And on those nights when the trees swag­gered through the streets, I always pissed myself.

Sofia Samatar: Bhanu Kapil: her books, her blog, her pres­ence. I am obsessed with her work (here’s an excerpt from her lat­est book, Ban en Ban­lieue), and the way she thinks her way through life with this amaz­ing com­bi­na­tion of poet­ry, post­colo­nial the­o­ry, and sheer odd­ness. She is weird in the best pos­si­ble way.

Eric Schaller: Way­ward Girls and Wicked Women: An Anthol­o­gy of Sub­ver­sive Sto­ries, edit­ed by Angela Carter. This anthol­o­gy was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished back in 1989 and we’ve had a copy prop­er­ly lodged in the Angela Carter sec­tion of our finest tiger-maple book­shelf for who-knows-how-long. I’ve long loved Angela Carter’s short sto­ries and essays, have a DVD of In the Com­pa­ny of Wolves (rewards repeat­ed view­ing), and yet, and yet…I’d nev­er felt com­pelled to read this anthol­o­gy until this past year. I was a fool, of course. Angela Carter is as amaz­ing an anthol­o­gist as she is a writer. I love that she choos­es sto­ries that range from short-shorts to novel­la length. I love that her taste in sto­ries ranges from the folk­tale to the goth­ic to urban real­ism. You nev­er know what to expect, but every sto­ry rever­ber­ates in your mind and lives there long after the last word.

Bri­an Fran­cis Slat­tery: Chiles de árbol.

Chad Woody: The writ­ing of R. A. Laf­fer­ty. His many works of fic­tion are uneven: bizarre emul­sions of his­to­ry and hal­lu­ci­na­tion, rang­ing from mirac­u­lous to mere­ly dis­ori­ent­ing, churned out at a Jodor­owsky-lev­el rate of inven­tion, yet pecu­liar­ly Amer­i­can. His short sto­ries fre­quent­ly seem tongue-in-cheek, but implant haunt­ing ideas, hybridiz­ing sci­ence fic­tion and folk­lore. Okla Han­nali is his best nov­el that I’ve man­aged to fin­ish; read­ing it makes you a lit­tle bit Choctaw. His work is obscure enough that most is dig­i­tal­ly unavail­able. You have to hunt for it, and some­times, when you final­ly get anoth­er piece, it doesn’t make any damn sense. This sit­u­a­tion is final­ly being reme­died, how­ev­er, with the com­plete sto­ries expect­ed to encom­pass a dozen vol­umes.