Category Archives: Reviews

Think of It As An Existential Lesson: Deb Olin Unferth and Elizabeth Haidle’s I, Parrot

By Nathan Scott McNamara

I, Parrot is the graphic novel written by Deb Olin Unferth and illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle; it’s also the name of the how-to guide contained within. “If you have a parrot, you can be pretty certain this book is for you,” that manual reads. The guide appears throughout the graphic novel, framing the impossibility of the situation the narrator, Daphne, has ended up in. “Anyone who has a parrot is not up to the task. How do you think he likes being locked in a small dark box for his entire life? Do you think you can do anything other than try unsuccessfully to keep the bird from sliding into crippling, suicidal depression while you slowly squash every instinct he has?” The manual notes that birds fly over 100 miles a day. “Think of caring for your parrot as an existential lesson.” Continue reading

Uncomfortably Numb: On Kate Cole-Adams’ Anesthesia and the Problems of Consciousness

By Michael Friedrich

In the 1960s, Bernard Levinson, a South African psychiatrist, staged a famous — and famously unrepeatable — experiment. During surgery under ether anesthesia, patients were read a dramatic script. “I don’t like the patient’s color,” their surgeons said at a predetermined moment. “Much too blue.” Shortly after surgery, Levinson hypnotized and interviewed the patients. He found that many could quote their surgeons’ words. Others became profoundly agitated during questioning. The implication was alarming: somehow they had been aware. Continue reading

Electric Fences and Intersectionality: Michael Perry’s Montaigne in Barn Boots  

By Gretchen Lida

The 16th-century French nobleman Michel de Montaigne, widely considered the father of the essay, spent the second half of his life writing personal essays, and pioneered writing about such personal things as our bowel movements, our sex lives, and anything else that wandered into his private vineyard or snuck into his castle. Michael Perry’s new essay collection, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles through Philosophy, brings the essayist to life once more. Perry’s poignant, balanced, achingly funny prose is more than an ode to or critique of Michel De Montaigne. Instead, Perry uses the original essays to better understand his own life and bring a bit more humanity to an increasingly divisive world. Continue reading

Fearless Poems about Sex and Power in Enter Here by Alexis Rhone Fancher

By Eileen Murphy

Wild nights ! Wild nights !
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury !
-Emily Dickinson

Here’s the perfect book for a wind-tossed stormy night: Enter Here, a collection of sophisticated poems with erotic overtones by Los Angeles poet Alexis Rhone Fancher. I open my copy as Hurricane Irma starts to smash through my area of Polk County, Florida. Soon it’s 3 a.m., and hurricane-force winds start to howl while rains roar down. The electricity goes out and stays out. Reading by candlelight, I am glued to the pages of Enter Here. Continue reading

The Olfactory Factory: Wolfgang Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant

By Nathan Scott McNamara

In his 1939 essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” Walter Benjamin wrote about the way smell makes time dissolve: “The scent is the inaccessible refuge of memoire involontaire. It is unlikely to associate itself with a visual image; out of all possible sensual impressions, it will ally itself only with the same scent.” Benjamin references Marcel Proust’s famed “madeleine moment” from In Search of Lost Time, in which the taste of a pastry involuntarily transports the narrator back to Combray. “If the recognition of a scent can provide greater consolation than any other memory,” Benjamin continues, “this may be because it deeply anesthetizes the sense of time. A scent may drown entire years in the remembered odor it evokes.”  Continue reading

Inside: What Zadie Smith, Roland Barthes, and Vladimir Nabokov Tell Us About Video Games

By Rennie McDougall

Inside, a video game from 2016 by Arnt Jensen and Playdead studios, is entirely free of speech or text. The player controls a young boy, dressed in a red t-shirt, as he runs one long dash from the left side of the screen to the right. A dreary proposition for a story, you might think. A story suggests telling. The earliest movies, however, told their stories through gesture and sound, light and shadow. So do classical story ballets, and certain symphonies. Sometimes a story is less told, more conveyed. Continue reading

Radiant Regeneration: Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian

By Cassandra Cleghorn

My first encounter with Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s stunning new book from Noemi Press, Beast Meridian, was framed by the natural and geopolitical disasters of late summer 2017. As Hurricane Harvey devastated coastal Texas, Villarreal’s book seared me with its portraits of Houston in storm season, the ocean “slicktongued and thick with oil and ants.” Only days after Trump crowed over the end of DACA and then feebly tweeted, “No Action” (attempting to reassure those who feared deportation during the program’s six-month phase out), nine Dreamers were detained for hours at Falfurrias Checkpoint. That very day I read and reread Villarreal’s wildly inventive prose poem “dedicated to the immigrants buried in mass graves in and near Falfurrias, Texas,” in which the poet walks the sacred ground where “agitation pulls even at hanging planets”: “I swallow a bee for each ill deed done. I am a hive walking. I strain to hear you over the regret.” Continue reading

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

The Favorite Thing I Read This Week

By Judith E. Vida

A NOTICE TO MEMBERS at the end of the LARB newsletter on February 12, 2017, inviting emails about “the favorite thing read this week,” reached me on my iPhone in Seattle, where I had traveled to join my writing group. Just two days earlier, I had written in my notebook:

Somehow, beyond all reckoning, I have found myself reading and absorbing what seems to me the most important voice at this very moment: Sara Paretsky’s. Continue reading