Category Archives: Literature

Magical Monstrosity and Everyday Oppression Collide in Her Body and Other Parties

By Bradley Babendir

Carmen Maria Machado begins her debut by asserting control. The first story in Her Body and Other Parties, “The Husband Stitch,” starts with a parenthetical guide to reading the story aloud. There are five instructions, but two stand out; the first is for the narrator’s father: “kind, booming; like your father; or the man you wish was your father.” The second is for “all other women,” for whom the reader is instructed to use a voice “interchangeable” with the one they use for the narrator. This dynamic largely shapes the book, as Machado and her narrators recognize and battle against the heteropatriarchal structures that have tried to shape their lives. Continue reading

Ghosts of Our Past: An Interview with Jesmyn Ward

By Louise McCune 

When Jojo and his family go to pick up his father Michael from Parchman Prison, they return home with an unlikely additional passenger. Richie — who can be seen only by Jojo and his toddler sister Kayla — is a ghost who has kept residence at Parchman for decades, haunting the site of his untimely death in an attempt to understand it. Richie was only a boy when he was incarcerated for spurious reasons, and he was only a boy when he was killed for trying to escape. Sing, Unburied, Sing, a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award, is a novel populated by living characters who contend daily with the consequences of state-sanctioned racial violence. Richie’s story intervenes in an otherwise 21st-century narrative to indicate that, when it comes to American racism, the past remains very much alive. Continue reading

Jewess in Wool Clothing

By Susan Golomb 

When I was married and my then-husband and I visited Ireland, where half of his ancestors are from, everyone we met thought that I was the one who was looking for her roots. This thrilled me for reasons I’m not sure of. Was the actress in me proud of how well I could lose myself in another identity? Was it that I believed the Irish are the lost tribe of Israel — Leopold Bloom, Abie’s Irish Rose? Was it some latent Jewish self-hatred? Or was it simply the relief of knowing I could pass as Gentile? Continue reading

“Maybe This Book is a Cemetery”: An Interview with Alistair McCartney

By Meghan Lamb

I was introduced to Alistair McCartney’s latest novel The Disintegrations (University of Wisconsin Press) through our mutual writer friend Mark Gluth, and from page one I was grateful for the recommendation. True to its tagline, The Disintegrations is indeed “a haunting, obsessive exploration of death” that fascinatingly collapses the space between author and narrator. Here was a voice both uncannily familiar and decidedly unlike any I’d read, its own breed of ethereal friendliness, foggy acuteness, and distant confessional. It was, above all, the voice of a writer who deeply intrigued me, whom I yearned to hear more from. Continue reading

Connections, Collage, and Citation in the Work of Lana Del Rey and Maggie Nelson

By Niina Pollari

These days, Lana Del Rey records every interview she does as a mode of self-protection against publications taking things she says out of context. The anxiety of citation has caused Del Rey to take major precautions; and yet, her new album Lust for Life is brimming with references, even more than her previous albums, from its title all the way to its final, Radiohead-riffing manifesto. Though they may not be attributed as citations, they are easily recognizable as pop canon: there are direct lyrical callouts to “Tiny Dancer,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and many more. The album also nods toward genres: the motorcycle revving at the beginning of the title track is straight out of teenage tragedy ballads like “Leader of the Pack.” How does the fact of Del Rey’s concern with citation, and with being cited correctly herself, reconcile with her borrowings from pop? Continue reading

Death, Humor, and Ron Currie

By Tiffany Hearsey

Author Ron Currie ponders many of life’s great mysteries. Speaking to me via video stream a day before his 42nd birthday, he reflected upon the perils of getting older, posing the oft neglected question regarding ear hair: “What the fuck biological function does that serve?” Bodily changes must be especially noticeable to an author who has spent a decade exploring the enigmas of death, grief, and existential crises. His latest book, The One-Eyed Man, is no exception; the main protagonist, who goes by the single Kafkaesque initial K., is grieving his wife’s untimely death. During the unfolding shock waves of grief, K. reads about Einstein’s theory of relativity, that time is merely an illusion. He no longer mourns his wife because he believes that she is not dead but absent, residing on a different plane of existence. This mental and emotional shift affects his relationship to the world around him. He soon adopts a literal-mindedness, never censoring his thoughts and seemingly chucking empathy out the window. Along his journey he encounters gun nuts, contends with the perils of grocery store marketing, and becomes a reality TV star. As in his previous work, Currie’s protagonist acts as our guide through mortal straits and as a vehicle for the author’s sardonic humor. Continue reading

“Why Am I Like This?”: An Interview with Chelsea Martin

By Bryan Woods

There’s no writer like Chelsea Martin. Authors are often praised for their singular voices, and while Martin’s is certainly unique, it’s not just the way she tells a story, or which details she chooses to include or omit that makes her writing so distinctive, it’s the inner workings of her brain. She’s always been one of the funniest writers on my bookshelf, one who is able to write stories that are simultaneously hilarious and tragic, but her new essay collection Caca Dolce raises the stakes substantially. Continue reading

A Middle Class Childhood in the Middle East: Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim’s Poppies of Iraq

By Nathan Scott McNamara

Illustrations of old radios fill one sequence of Brigitte Findakly’s graphic memoir Poppies of Iraq. Findakly writes that after the fall of the monarchy, when Iraq was declared a republic, the people of her country often tuned into an Arabic radio show broadcast from Israel, the only source of uncensored news about the Iraqi government. The program ran for over 20 years and was strictly banned: “Those who listened to it ran the risk of stiff prison sentence,” Findakly writes. “The show was a favorite and everybody tuned in.” But Findakly, at 11 years old in 1970, wasn’t everybody; an illustration depicts her sweetly smiling in bed with a radio on the pillow beside her, listening to Voice of America for English pop songs. Continue reading

Three Questions for Sarah Rafael García Regarding Her Short-Story Collection, SanTana’s Fairy Tales

By Daniel A. Olivas

As a college classmate of mine, Bruce Handy, notes in his new book, Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, fairy tales, “in their original, unadulterated, 120-proof versions, are so gruesome and bleak, even barbarous, as to raise the question whether they should be thought of as children’s literature at all.” Continue reading

An Interview with Orlando Ortega-Medina, Author of Jerusalem Ablaze

By Cleaver Patterson

Orlando Ortega-Medina is an award-winning short story writer who practices US immigration law in London. He told me recently that he enjoys the diversity his two career trajectories bring. His debut collection, Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions, was nominated for Britain’s acclaimed Polari First Book Prize. Ortega-Medina and I spoke recently about his life and work. He will be hosting a discussion at Diesel Books in Los Angeles on August 31. Continue reading