A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade
by Kevin Brockmeier
I’m wistful about the new wave of memoirish books nostalgically set in the 80s, and this hybridy book written in the third person about the author’s own childhood, gave me everything I wanted from the experience. The book’s protagonist is synaesthetically keyed in to the unbearble anxieties of middle school. According to KB, “I chose the third person, present-tense voice…as a matter of instinct, but on reflection I think that it gave me a very particular way of approach the story, one that allowed me to investigate my life the same way I investigate the lives of my fictional characters, with both honesty and compassion.” Sometimes Kevin has friends and sometimes his weirdness leaves him vulnerable to their jockeying, the beginning of their estrangement. The book’s got science fiction and Judy Blume and the heady retrospection of a genius. The book reminded me of David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, but this is much like the childhood I actually had. Brockmeier captures the soul-shaping heartbreak of middle school beautifully in this amazing form of memoir.
Great moment: Then it is Monday, and his mom is driving him across the river into the trees, and as they crest the hill and coast into the parking lot, the school grows gigantic in the windshield. They pull to a stop at the entrance. Something like a bird shoots out of his heart. Then he steps out into the patio and becomes a part of it all. The blue sky and the glass doors and the white tile floor that blazes in the sunlight. The lockers crashing shut like cymbals. The high school guys punching each other’s shoulders, drafts of cologne and deodorant mixing between their bodies. The high school girls with their hair belled out around their necks. The black streaks of tennis shoe rubber on the floor of the gymnasium. The glass walls of the front office. The Reeboks and Levi’s, Izods and bomber jackets, jelly bracelets and Swatch watches. The football players in their jerseys. The band kids with their instrument cases. The chalkboards with their erser-shaped smoke signals—poof, poof, poof.
Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me
by Javier Marías
On a trip to Peru this summer, I caught a bronchial infection that forced me to spend a couple of days in bed, so I decided to read as much of Javier Marias as I could get on my iPad. The best book of the bunch so far is Tomorrow in the Battle Think of Me. Marias’s idiosyncrasies as a novelist—his long pondering sentences, his allusions to Shakespeare, his neurotic disapproval—are at their peak in this book. The book begins with a tryst between a married woman and her male that ends in her dying and the rest of the book describes his immediate and long-term reactions, their causal energy forward. The novel is like a really stylized Larry David episode.
Typical lovely Marías sentence: We are so easily infected, we can be convinced of anything, we can always prove ourselves to be right and everything can be told if accompanied by some justification, some excuse or by some attenuating circumstance or even by its mere representation, telling is a form of generosity, anything can happen and be said and be accepted, you can emerge from anything unharmed or more than that, unscathed.
By Night in Chile
by Roberto Bolaño
I also recently finished reading this Bolaño, which is a quick, tight, engrossing read that resonates so much to me as we hurtle towards towards becoming a third world surveillance state. It’s a Marquezian yarn about a middling and omnipresent opportunist-priest-slash-critic-slash-Capote-like-hanger-on. Everyone in the book is a little bit sinister, but all of the literati depicted in the book are in collusion with really poisonous nationalism. Like a good genre stylist, Bolaño takes the edges off of his realism with a fabulist’s affect.
I Was Not Born
by Julia Cohen
As publisher of Noemi Press I get to read amazing books at various stages; we just ordered the ARCs for IWNB, so I got to read it again this summer. The book is about how trauma literally and symbolically resonates through the lives of those that suffer and those that help the suffering navigate. The writer shares transcripts of therapy sessions, and the book moves fluidly between the various approaches to lament and meditation. I Was Not Born also reaches deeply into personal history to uncover the nature of one person’s attachments. The book has great lyric depth at the same time that it chronicles the difficulty of a beloved’s mental illness.
A poem from the book:
The Ache The Ache
My lilac hands. I know
you’re breaking into an apple.
I can feel it. The overnight.
Clouds limp over swollen hills
as my freckles multiply, like how over-heated
bees litter the pavement.
I store my brain inside a straw hat.
I store my lust inside your finger.
The lists I store on paper. With two forks I whip
heavy cream in front of the window.
I listen to transportation more than
see it. I’m confused about who you are.
My wallet disintegrates, my lavender hair
I shove into your mouth, seal with
the flexing night. The thinnest pillow for
my breathy hibiscus. Can we pretend this
bathtub is a wave I’m trapped in? Its heat.
Can we not pretend at all? I drop diced fruit
into a bowl of sea foam.
Just tell me what you feel.
Under the Skin
by Michael Faber
I read the book because I saw the movie, and I was interested in how much of the “adaptation” of the book required the hypersexuality of Scarlett Johansson. I discovered that it was unnecessary, but I’m glad I read the book. Is there such a thing as ugly studies? Not the grotesque, but the coarse and the slightly disfigured from wear. The movie got that right from the book, but that was it. Set in Scotland, the book is a pro-vegetarian science fiction allegory about a super-predator race living on Earth in disguise in order to trap male homo sapien hitchhikers, which the humans of the book (the alien race) call vodsels, which are a delicacy on their planet The protagonist, named Isserley, has undergone massive reconstructive surgery to look more human, but she’s in pain throughout the book, and she feels the pressure from (literally) up above and from the Earth environment where her female-appearance makes her vulnerable to another level of oppression. The point of view shifts to her victims who all notice her unusually large breasts and her strange pointed face. These two poles of sex appeal provoke interesting tension around what being legible as a woman represents.
Other books I can’t stop reading that I want everyone to read : White Girls by Hilton Als, Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish (manuscript), Likewise by Ariel Schrag, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics edited by TC Tolbert and Trace Peterson, and Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit.
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