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.