The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell

by Josh Coblentz

fata-morgana-coverThe Fata Morgana Books
by Jonathan Littell
Translated by Charlotte Mandell
Two Lines Press, Nov 2013
208 pages / $14.95  Buy from Two Lines Press or Amazon

 

 

The four novellas that comprise this collection deal with a wealth of themes, but the ultimate one is of unachieved desire and the isolating mania it spawns. Instead of the narrators (or perhaps they’re all the same person in each story) dealing with crushing let downs internally, the reality surrounding them alters into hellish distortions of traverses through time and space. ‘Surrealistic’ doesn’t fully capture the formal breed of this collection, but each reader still gets pressured into a position of abstract meaning-making. Each first-person protagonist comes across as calm, numb, accepting, and apathetic toward the edge of reality they skate on through these sparse stories. From one novella to another, though, a sense of personal progression exists through the environments the narrators find themselves in. Yet each setting is coated with a muffled insistence on the pointlessness of these progressions.

The first novella, Etudes, is a solitary study of man unafraid of the warzone he’s captured in, yet terrified of acting on his desires toward his woman of interest. These unmet desires move the narrator to more accessible perversions, which morph playful and genuine aspects of interaction into ones of horror. The objects of his affection alternate through the four sections of this story, but his own timidity of intimacy begins to create external barriers that increasingly prevent him from even being in the presence of the woman he wants. “My despondency was so profound that I was only barely aware of the appalling comedy of the situation,” he recounts after a flight delay makes it impossible to share a plane ride with his current obsession. The final section, however, shows the narrator as an emotionally sapped and mechanical being, going through motions that prevent him from fully dealing with his past failures.

Story About Nothing is a free flowing narration of negation. Its dreamlike uncertainty weaves through the inner sensual life of a man who defies his masculinity by wearing women’s clothing beneath his socially accepted guise. Human motion plays a large role in this story, from his description of pornography that paralyzes his eyes and attention in awe (“these images remained what they were, frozen in the eternal repetition of their so violently human perfection”) to the motions of dancing women, and the process of his drunkenness alike as “a form of communion, the step beyond that imperceptibly opens up the road to the world of death, revealing to the one taking it that it already stretches far behind him, and always has.” In the end, it’s a sweet story about bitter life, contradicting itself into nothingness. Continue reading

Nicholson Baker’s The Traveling Sprinkler

by James J. Fitze

2021897816The Traveling Sprinkler
by Nicholson Baker
Blue Rider Press, Sept 2013
304 pages / $24.85  Buy from Amazon

 

Before we begin the review proper, an interesting parallel.

Nicholson Baker, in his 2011 Paris Review interview, on the writing of The Mezzanine: “It was totally absorbing, the feeling of being sunk in the midst of a big, warm, almost unmanageable pond. I could sense all these notes I had, all these observations I’d saved up to use, finally arranging themselves in relation to one other.”

Paul Chowder, Baker’s protagonist in The Traveling Sprinkler, quoting Claude Debussy answering a question about his compositional process: “Gradually after these thoughts have simmered for a certain length of time music begins to centre around them, and I feel that I must give expression to the harmonies which haunt me.”

Chowder, again, quoting Freud, “There are no coincidences.”

We first met the middle-aged poet Paul Chowder in 2010′s The Anthologist, as he attempted to write an introduction to a poetry anthology while navigating myriad distractions, from his lost lady love to the wealth of poetic knowledge residing within his own head. He was Baker by proxy, the writer of dirty books laid bare as an astute intellectual who has money and love problems, copious idiosyncrasies, and who just happens to have a masterful knack for nicknaming male genitalia (“Shropshire lad” being a particularly outstanding one this time around).

For The Anthologist, Baker recorded himself in various locations talking into a camera, attempting to be honest and naked in a way that writers often refuse to be behind the carefully composed written word. Honesty in writing, after all, is always edited, and has the benefit of a first draft. Continue reading

“It must be good to run / the show like that.”

by Mike Young

issue_16.jpg

If this relationship is going to work—and no one really cares if it does; I mean, ships have jobs; relations are just the second attempt at lations—you’re going to have to accept the fact I’m going to post about some new issue of an online magazine when it rains.

This time around it’s Wag’s Revue, and specifically in Wag’s Revue the rompy and potluck-ish poems ofRachael Katz and the Grace-Paleyish-wise-laughing-at-how-many-generic-varieties-of-Lemon-Pledge-exist-in-our-hearts story called “Palmistry for the Modern Age” by Hannah Pass.

Though I’m not normally a fan of faking book technology online, I think I like the navigation of Wag’s Revue—though I wish the fake-page-box were a little bigger and the font weight wasn’t so extreme. But the editors say they are working on a site redesign, and I am really interested in how declarative the reading experience is. Like it’s very “hark! this is how you shall read.” Which seems against the stream in a way I respect, like when you touch your friend’s antique record player and they snap at you “that’s not for touching!” And you’re like, damn, I respect that.

Respect for yourself by reading Rachael Katz’s “You Girls Are,” which I’m going to go ahead and call the best new ode I’ve read in months of leaves.

Interview: The Synchronia Project

by  Dan Hoffman

The Synchronia Project, slated for release next February, is difficult to define. Not exactly a journal, it is a composite, open-ended literary endeavor that will feature work by multiple authors. But it is not a collaboration between the authors; the only collaboration happening is between editors Emily Kiernan and Joe Trinkle , who will be reading the submissions and arranging them into a larger whole. The end goal remains vague, only because the project is still accepting submissions. It is these submissions that will in large part determine Synchronia’s direction, and Kiernan and Trinkle hope to discover a larger narrative—a feeling of synchronicity—across the selected pieces. I had the opportunity to interview these two and learn more about the project.

20130822_160839

***

Dan Hoffman: What was the impetus behind The Synchronia Project? Was there a specific literary influence, or did it evolve from a bigger reading of the collective writing you see as editors and writers?

Joe Trinkle: I think it started by us wanting to create something from other people’s work. We’re both writers who read a fair amount of anthologies and literary journals, and we wanted to do something ambitious, something more than just a collection of stories that we like. I think, somewhere in the back of my head, when I’m reading several simultaneously produced journals, online or in print, I notice how much we are writing about the same things or writing in similar voices, and we wanted to play around with that. To see if a pool of submissions would reflect some kind of pattern. Continue reading

Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail: Stories

by Quincy Rhoads

hana-sasaki-cover-finalThree Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail: Stories
by Kelly Luce
A Strange Object, 2013
152 pages / $14.95 buy from A Strange Object

 

 

1. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is the debut story collection by Kelly Luce.

2. It fits on a bookshelf of modern Japanese writing somewhere between Yoko Ogawa’s Revengeand Banana Yoshimoto, maybe even one shelf up from Haruki Murakami.

3. The only thing is that Kelly Luce grew up in Brookfield, Illinois.

4. How strict is the “write what you know” edict? On Big Think, Nathan Englander reminds us that this advice is too often misconstrued. It really means we should write from a place of emotional familiarity, not that we’re limited to autobiographical writing.

5. But are there limitations when we talk about writers depicting foreign cultures? This story collection seems very Japanese (if a book can even be “very Japanese”) and yet, it’s distinctly American, too.

6. When I was nine I was flipping through channels and caught the end of Akira on basic cable. I had no clue what was going on, but in the weeks, months, and years to follow I found that it left an indelible mark on me—a predilection towards the uncomfortably strange.

7. A Strange Object is the name of the independent press that published Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. They’re based out of Austin, TX. This is their first book, too.

8. This is strictly conjecture, but Japanese culture affords for a strangeness that is uniquely its own. Look at all of the Japanese fiction out there: Akutagawa and Mishima, Ryu Murakami and Haruki Murakami, and the scores of manga and J-horror.

9. The characters in Kelly Luce’s collection are outsiders. Many are Americans who move to Japan for work or to connect with the culture that they find so entrancing. Some are only half Asian, an anomaly to the native Japanese—not gaijin, but not Japanese, either. Others are fully Japanese, but do not fit in as with the Japanese school girls who seek refuge from the tedium of their lives through a unique karaoke machine and with the Japanese widower who invented a machine that measures a person’s capacity for love. All are lost. All are searching to fit in.

10. In ninth grade, I ordered a t-shirt with the kanji for gaijin on it. I wore that shirt proudly even though no one at my school in West Tennessee understood what it meant. Looking back, I think I was so drawn to Japanese comic books and cartoons because it was a way to embrace my otherness as a nerdy, awkward white boy.

11. Maybe my white male privilege affords me the opportunity to worry about things like white privilege and post-colonialism.

12. I want to argue that Kelly Luce is writing about people and the Japanese names and locales are just a way to establish place. And who doesn’t like a story that has a strong sense of place? It shouldn’t matter what ethnicity or nationality a character is. Emotions ought to be the same regardless of nationality, right?

13. Luce’s collection really hits its stride in the stories wherein she strikes upon these familiar pangs of human nature with equally familiar characters—a sister’s tailspin after her brother’s death, an American woman reeling from her time in jail, bored and unfulfilled housewives.

14. However, some of the strange elements (a toaster that scorches how one will die on the bread, a girl finding her beating heart in a room filled with all of her lost possessions) seem contrived as if Luce felt like she had to jam a quirky element into every story.

15. But this is a sin quickly absolved when the pathos of Luce’s work overshadows these technical quibbles.

16. And yet, I’m still left wondering if it’s ok for her as an American women—even one who has lived in Japan—to write from the perspective of Japanese characters.

17. If the portrayal of Japanese characters were caricatures, it would be a lot easier to answer the whole “can authors write about other cultures” question. But Kelly Luce’s portrayals of Japanese life seem so sincere. She’s focusing on individual people and not using broad strokes based on cultural assumptions.

18. I feel guilty—as if my definition of acceptable and PC creative output is too constrictive. I want to believe that anyone should be able to write about anything, but I’m still left feeling squirrely about this whole situation.

19. In my undergrad creative writing classes, the strangest writing came from the anime nerds. Poems about fish being used as axes, short stories with whale rape, all with a surreal imagery incomparable to anyone else in the program.

20. As an art object, Three Scenarios is stunning. I’m a big nerd for nicely assembled books. I mean, it has red, embossed endpapers!

21. Yuko Shimuza’s cover illustration is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, I think a Shimuza coverguarantees that I will read the book, whatever it is. They’re just that exquisite.

22. I wonder if artists (and I’m using the term as a catch-all for any creative type) with an inclination for the strange are drawn to Japanese culture because it mirrors their own aesthetic or if their aesthetic is forged by this strange culture.

23. For me, the literature of the strange was an escape. An escape from a home life filled with rage, a refuge from a school with few friends. It was a way to disappear, a way to come to terms with my adolescent body, mutating like that snippet from Akira seen so many years before.

24. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is not an escape. It is a confrontation. It takes the feelings of disconnect that we all feel from time to time and it normalizes them. The characters populating this collection think nothing odd of a girl with a fine-haired tail, a volcano blanketing their town in a thick layer of ash, of a fortune-telling toaster. By normalizing the odd, Kelly Luce is giving us permission to exist—to be who we really are, to embrace out true, malformed selves.

25. It’s a good book. You should read it.

“Really expressing my innermost feelings and desires, all of which are unique and special and totally worth experiencing”

by Mike Young

You know that crazy old internet will quickly become a substitute for that lumbering old sun, and I is in the reeds of readyhood. First I will read Drew Kalbach’s spot-the-freak-on essay “Information grab, or what the internet is doing to my poems” over at Actuary Lit, which says which poems are lazy (more lazy poems, please!):

“He’s not being, he’s just nudging and winking. That’s how your poems are lazy. I mean, that’s how my poems are lazy, while they comb through, collect, materialize, and instantiate themselves. These poems are block quotes without the HTML tags. Even when I’m expressing myself, really expressing my innermost feelings and desires, all of which are unique and special and totally worth experiencing, even when I’m doing that I’m stealing from someone else: their form, their words, maybe just some cadence that I heard. Is this just a restatement of intertextuality? Maybe, but intertextuality doesn’t pay enough attention to ctrl+c and ctrl+v. Three finger movements are enough to steal anything. Is that how lazy your poems are? I mean, my poems aren’t lazy so much as they point their fingers at anything but themselves.”

No points for harrumphing about “lazy” poetry until you read the entirety of Drew’s essay and the stuff he links to (I mean c’mon, think how hard your thermostat would work before it would make a comment).

And then shifting gears: great poems and stories in the well-designed new Beetroot (are circles the new white space in web design?), which I dunno if my favorites in there are lazy or not, even this new positively connotated idea of “lazy,” but they are full of travel and danger and white particle that part like Jello and adzuki beans andbird riding and pee filtering and nobody’s body doing the body things your body does.

So those are some things you can read, and how you should look when you read them is like the squirrel that I found doing a Google image search for “lazy winter animal poetry.”

<3 Love & Lovers <3

by Mark Cugini

Whoa, hi, I’m still reeling from this reading I went to on Friday night, which was all about Perfect Lovers Press, which is run out of Cincinnati, which (PLP + Cinci) is run by Dana Ward and Paul Coors. It was held at The Poetry Project and it was something that went really, really late into the night and it was something that was just about perfect–with amazing readings from amazing people like Yvette Nepper (who just ruined everyone so here’s her chapbook) and Sue Landers (who has a chapbook called What I Was Tweeting While You Were on Facebook, but I can’t find a link so yeah holler @ Dana & Paul) and Micah Freeman (who said “Hi” to everyone and read these amazing poems that are kind of about Amy Winehouse but also not really, it’s all about our peaks and valleys, the whole thing) and John Coletti (who just wow) and other people and especially Leopoldine Core, who I have really, really liked for a really, really long time so I took some video:

 

 

and I just thought everything she read was so full and so rough, especially when she’s all:

i’m ashamed
of how easy it is
to know me
i’m so familiar
naked all the time
my same legs
my ass
i am such a weird little girl
for wanting to live in your
light
picketing in the heat
like an ant

and I don’t know what else to say, besides energy, man–it’s kind of everywhere.

O MY MILEY

by Garett Strickland

miley2

CELEBRITIES ARE REPOSITORIES and filters for mass projection, sacrifice and god-form for the global majority who live for the most part vicarious — a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

Miley Cyrus is doing a good job.

I’ve never heard any of her songs, neither now or in her previous incarnation. But neither have I ever heard Sarah Palin’s voice. Those just aren’t the circles of media I move through. It was only yesterday that I learned, for example, that Taylor Swift is not a boy. Some may find this hard to believe. That’s good. I’m bragging and I earned the rights, having passed precariously through more than one minefield of shlock.

A few years ago, when everyone was losing their shit over Lady Gaga, I couldn’t have cared less. And yet, suddenly, I care deeply about what’s going on with Miley Cyrus. Why?

For starters, I grew up in Appalachia where Billy Ray was a household name. I imagine, if I heard the beginning of one of his songs, I would be able to sing along til its end in the same way people have the pledge of allegiance committed to memory. This is not to say I have any enthusiasm for the man’s work. Only that there’s a familiarity I can’t ignore.

As far as the Hannah Montana phenomenon is concerned, I wasn’t privy to any of that either, short of hearing the name amidst the rabble — the case, as stated before, with a great deal of other type pop culture whatever.

Coming back to the point, it takes a special individual to stand up to this much attention. It takes, as well, a lot of careful scheming to stage drama in a world where staged drama is all that happens. And while the publicists are the true unsung heros of anything that grabs our fought-for dismissal spans for the split-fucking-second it takes to click next, it takes no small amount of bravery to say, Sure I’ll be your avatar.

What with the perils of maintaining stature as a scapegoat straw-woman, absorbing and absolving the disgusting crud of our collective pathos and (ugh) zeitgeist.

What with the unsavory realities of child-stardom and being fingerblasted by media moguls since before her pupa stage.

Hannah my Cyrus
Miley mon Always

what your haters truly feel is the guilt of a sexualization that began long before you approached the blurred line of adulthood, and the subsequent resentment of a culture that refuses to own up to it.

Boldly you face forward, a full-fledged woman doing things that grown-ups do. Never apologize. You are not the victim that America in its grossness wants or expects. A triumph, as you are nonetheless our vessel.

Never stop.

25 Points: A High Wind in Jamaica

by Hal Hlavinka

highwproduct-7A High Wind in Jamaica
by Richard Hughes
NYRB Classics, 1999
279 pages / $14.00 buy from NYRB or Amazon

 

1. On the surface, Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica is a dot-to-dot adventure tale. After a hurricane hits an English settlement in Jamaica, two families decide to send their children back to England. Early on in the voyage the children are taken aboard a pirate ship whereupon they visit exotic ports and busy themselves with imaginary games. They are eventually returned home, and the pirates’ subsequent arrest, trial, and execution rounds out the proceedings. Of course, that last part seems a little extreme and out of place, and that’s really the book’s program, because simmering just below this surface is the constant threat of rape and murder.

2. In the spirit of Calvino’s later lecture on lightness versus weight, the narrative manages to float just above the threat of violence. You get the feeling after a while that Hughes is totally aware that you’re aware of the divide between high adventure and childhood trauma, and so he starts to fuck with your sense that awful things need to happen.

3. And, of course, awful things do happen—often and with startling frankness—but they are always quickly buried under the book’s relentless trend towards lightness.

4. The earliest memory I have is of staring up at the bottom of a kitchen table. I don’t know where I was or what I was doing, but I remember looking at a pattern in the wood and then turning toward a doorway. That’s it. I know I’ve told the memory differently over the years, adding in details about toys or sounds or maybe a smell wafting in, but the truth is that I just have this one scant moving image. I don’t think it’s a lie to embellish something so bland and colorless in texture, and at certain points I might have really believed in the additions.

5. Before I reread the novel to work on this review, I kept thinking it opened with a bigger feint at being a lighthearted adventure, but this is totally wrong. By the end of the first chapter’s scene-setting, two colonial ladies starve to death (or are fed ground-up glass by their servants, who knows!), a black servant drowns in a bathing pool, and countless rats and bats are dispatched by the family’s cat. All the while, we’re reminded that this is “a kind of paradise for English children to come to.” Right.

6. I usually skip introductions, but when I talk about AHWiJ, I almost always fall back on Francine Prose’s brief intro for the NYRB edition: “First the vague premonitory chill—familiar, seductive, unwelcome—then the syrupy aura coating the visible world, through which its colors and edges appear ever more lurid and sharp… The experience of reading Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica…evokes the somatic sensations of falling ill, as a child.” Sign me up.

7. Another big theme of the book’s opening is the whole colonial question, which is vital and pressing and could probably be handled with greater finesse than I can muster here. Suffice it to say that the first sentence presents ruined slave quarters, sugar-grinding houses, and mansions, all “fruits of Emancipation in the West Indies.” Considering the adventure-story-through-a-fun-house-mirror about to come, it’s hard not to think that this kind of stage-setting is about just rewards, that the English family deserves everything that’s about to come.

8. A brief digression cum recipe: AHWiJ allegedly contains the first mention of a drink called the Hangman’s Blood—a mixture of rum, gin, brandy, and porter—“innocent (merely beery) as it looks, refreshing as it tastes, it has the property of increasing rather than allaying thirst, and so once it has made a breach, soon demolishes the whole fort.” Clearly the kind of mix that leads to public exposure and pissing blood and, of course, piracy.

9. Is there actually such a thing as an anti-adventure novel? (I’d imagine something like Coetzee’sFoe might come close, although its meta-narrative seems more about deconstructing the adventure genre than teasing out its hidden desires.) And furthermore, if there were such an anti-genre, would it stand in opposition to all of the finicky colonial and gender and race problems inherent in Defoe and Dumas and Stevenson? While AHWiJ is never really a wholehearted rejection of the adventure novel’s Victorian and Enlightenment-era point of view, the ways in which it represses and then inverts these views are extremely sneaky and, by the book’s end, terrifying.

10. The narrative portrays the adult world as a haze of concealed motives and consequences. A pirate’s drunken leer and a parent’s concern over a coming hurricane are met with the same curious misapprehension: that something vital or alarming is just beyond one’s young recognition. But while Hughes draws a kind of tight circular POV around the children, he also lets the reader step out into the larger circle of this adult world, and somewhere between the larger circle and the nested one is a place where motives and the threat of their attendant consequences exist.

11. If this is a book about childhood trauma, then age is one of its organizing principles. The narrative describes the younger children as belonging to an insular interior world, one made up of imaginary friends and governed by play: “where the child-mind lived in the midst of the familiar relics of the baby-mind, like a Fascist in Rome.” If there is a main character, it is the second-oldest girl, Emily, whose continually shifting awareness of her situation makes up the brunt of the novel’s theorizing about when and how one loses innocence. The oldest girl, Margaret, is a kind of cipher for the reader, being old enough in mind and, more frighteningly, body to know that the lawless, violent men around her pose a very real threat.  It’s from Margaret that we get the most acute sense that something awful is about to happen, but we never exactly know whether it occurs or not. It’s also of interest to point out that she and her brother are Creole, whereas the rest of the children are white.

12. One major undercurrent in the book seems to be saying that a child’s insular, make-believe world is more savage and illogical and capital-R Real than our adult one—that between the oblivion of infanthood and the logos of adulthood lies the babble of childhood. The kind of pre-conscience link to nature that the Victorians loved to romanticize in books like The Secret Gardenand The Water-Babies would then be more accurately set within a nature red in tooth and claw.

13. “Possibly a case might be made out that children are not human either: but I should not accept it. Agreed that their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact): but one can, by an effort of will and imagination, think like a child, at least to a partial degree—and even if one’s success is infinitesimal it invalidates the case: while one can no more think like baby, in the smallest respect, than one can think like a bee.”

14. What I’m saying is that it’s also a big fuck you to Victorian children’s lit.

15. There’s a touch of the surreal in the book’s repressed violence. You get the same feeling from Bolaño’s narrative juxtapositions: the threat that something terrifying will bubble up and overwhelm the story, although it never fully does. But it’s Hughes’s unique sense for the surreal’s formula that sets this book apart, playing our fear for the children’s safety against our expectation (or desire?) that something fucked up will happen. The result is the kind of fever-dream narrative that confuses and frightens and, at its best, rubs raw our own hidden aggressions.

16. When violence does erupt in the book, it is bluntly matter-of-fact. When the children sneak off to see a drunken nativity play in Santa Lucia, John, Emily’s male equivalent among the children and up to this point a viable option as a lead character, loses his balance, falls from a window, and breaks his neck. That’s it. Child gone. Much later, after the pirates are tried and found guilty for a murder they didn’t commit (more on this later), the captain cuts his own throat only to have the suicide prevented by his captors, who hang the unconscious man shortly thereafter. There are no major descriptions or drawn-out scenes of violence, just declarative statements.

17. It’s violence as incidental, violence as detail—death as something no different from hunger or fingernails or the color blue. And in this way it’s somehow more fucked.

18. Some publishing history: AHWiJ was first published in America as The Innocent Voyage by Harper & Brothers in 1929, but it was later renamed for its British publication. Maybe Hughes thought the original title was too blunt a play on his themes? NYRB brought the novel back into print in 1999 as their inaugural publication, which is pretty cool, considering the high quality of their titles. The current cover illustration is a detail of Henry Darger’s “Storm Gathers”—a great choice considering the sometimes calm, sometimes extreme content of Vivian Girls and Hughes’s own wishy-washy narrative.

19. The pirates’ bumbling amounts to little more than scare tactics; the only real (as opposed to threatened) instance of person-on-person violence onboard the ship comes when Emily stabs to death a prisoner who’s trying to escape from her room. Sit on that for a second.

20. How can you ever tell what experiences you’ve self-edited (or had edited for you), especially with something as impressionistic as a childhood memory? How can I tell, even now, if the stripped-down version of a memory is just another assumption—a subtraction of details in the hope of finding something true beneath?

21. “The children listened to all they were told: and according to their ages believed it. Having as yet little sense of contradiction, they blended it quite easily in their minds with their own memories; or sometimes it even cast their memories out. Who were they, children, to know better what had happened to them than grown-ups?”

22. Childhood entails a mutability of memory. When the children are with adults at the start and finish of the book, their ability to recall events is at the whim of either imagination or suggestion. The former is something most people associate with adolescence—confusing one’s interior fancies for exterior life—but the latter is far more insidious. In the final section, as the captain and his crew stand trial for a murder that Emily committed, the parents and legal counsel grow weary of their young witness’s inability to recall anything of actual value, so they instead rely on teaching her a script that they assume to be true. So, basically, you can implant in a kid’s head whatever you want them to believe, and, with enough positive reinforcement, it’ll take. Not an idea AHWiJ invents (nor a phenomenon exclusively restricted to children), but it’s something that comes off as particularly chilling when followed by an execution of many of the story’s principal characters.

23. The only mentions of AHWiJ on this site are recommendations for 2 Comments and piracybooks, which are both on point, but I’m going to expand the field by recommending it as adisquietingpre-Lolita-sweep-the-sexual-trauma-under-the-carpet-only-to-have-it-return-as-a-kind-of-violence-that-implicates-any-romantic-view-of-childhood-warm-weather book.  

24. The first memory that I can put into any kind of life-narrative context is one of shame. I must have been eight or nine. I remember running around the living room with my best friend, pretending we were Batman and Robin. It was right around the time the awful Batman Forevercame out, and of course one of us had to fly the Batwing from the top of my dad’s armchair. I remember my friend climbing up and jumping and the chair falling back and denting the wall with a huge bang, and then the inevitable oh shit moment, and then the parental investigation. I remember standing in front of my mom and pointing to my five-year-old sister and saying that she did it. I remember my face feeling really hot and it all being really obvious, but I was now bound in this untruth that I was trying to foist onto someone else. I remember thinking that maybe she would get confused and admit to having done it because she was a child, even more so than I, and so a little suggestion might go a long way. And I remember being really and truly ashamed for the first time when I lied and blamed her, which is basically when I feel like I moved from that inner circle into the outer one, and most of my memories from there on out are as roughly continuous as they get. Until the Hangman’s Blood, etc.

25. There’s also a 1965 film of the same name, directed by Alexander Mackendrick and starring Anthony Quinn as the captain and featuring, get ready, Martin Fucking Amis in his only acting role as one of the captured children. If that doesn’t tie this up with a bizarre little bow, then nothing will.

Sounds of a Cowhide Drum // An Interview with Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

by Rauan Klassnik

sounds of a cowhide drum

***

Look upon me as a pullet crawling
from an eggshell
laid by a Zulu hen,
ready to fly in spirit
to all lands on earth.

A few months ago I posted up some thoughts on Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali’s wonderful book “Sounds of a Cowhide Drum” in which I indicated an interview with Mr. Mtshali would be forthcoming. And, well, it took a while longer than I’d wished but here it is:

*** Continue reading