Issue 15 Spring 2009


From the Editors: On the Demise of Publishing, Reading, and Everything Else

Books are commodities, and as we head into the sharpest economic downturn since 1982—indeed, quite possibly since 1932—publishers are feeling the pain. The reactions of many of the industry leaders do not instill confidence, and so we must ask: What’s really dying here?

Crossing the Zone: Mathias Énard’s 517-Page, One-Sentence Train Journey

Published in France in 2008, Zone has already been called a novel of the new century. This one-sentence dissection of a half-century of war and atrocity will be published in English next year. François Monti tells what it’s about, and if it’s worth all the fuss.

Susan Sontag’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Susan Sontag wrote “I write partly in order to change myself; it’s an instrument I use.” Lauren Elkin reads Sontag’s recently published diaries and finds how the writer developed her identity and her style.

Confronting the Murmur in Brian Evenson’s Last Days

Brian Evenson once stated that he writes with an “ethical blankness.” Matt Bell considers how this blankness drags the reader into Evenson’s most recent novel, the dark, noirish Last Days.

Coetzee in the Promised Land

The 1972 novel Promised Land might have been the first “alternate future” book of post-apartheid South Africa. Matthew Cheney shows how it sheds new night on the work of J.M. Coetzee, and of other South African novelists.

Ten Theses on the Nature of Metafiction (And a Parenthetical Review of Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper)

George Fragopoulos argues that in The People of Paper, Salvador Plascencia closes the divide between metafiction and realism.

Intro to E-Lit: How Electronic Literature Makes Printed Literature Richer

Electronic literature is commonly seen as an odd offshoot from printed literature. William Patrick Wend shows that e-lit is a rich and thriving art form, and one that has much to say about bounded literature.


Girly Man by Charles Bernstein

For those few who remain unacquainted with Bernstein and his history (perhaps there are one or two non-novitiates left), here is a brief bio. Graduating from Harvard University in 1972, Bernstein, who was born in New York City on April 4, 1950, co-edited (along with Bruce Andrews) L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine, which, during its 13 published issues between 1978 and 1980, set the groundwork for much of what became known as Language Poetry, Language Writing, or some similar moniker. Wikipedia says that he is “one of the foremost poets associated with Language poetry, and his two collections of essays, Content’s Dream: Essays 1975 (1986) and A Poetics (1992), as well as his My Way: Speeches and Poems (1999), expand a position on poetry based, in part, on his close reading of the philosophy of Karl Marx and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and the writings of Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky, and William Carlos Williams.”

My Father’s Wives by José Eduardo Agualusa

The third of José Eduardo Agualusa’s novels to be translated into English by Daniel Hahn, My Father’s Lives follows the epistolary novel of colonial Angola, Creole, and the 2004 story of shifting identity and post-revolutionary Angola, The Book of Chameleons. This third book is Agualusa’s most ambitious yet to reach our shores, a far-reaching exploration of his favorite subjects: identity, truth, memory, and the nearly invisible line that separates fiction from reality. Readers familiar with Agualusa’s earlier work will not only recognize the subject matter; they’ll also recognize his take on post-modern storytelling techniques, both the metafictional and the magical.

Ghosts by Cesar Aira

Ghosts, Cesar Aira (trans. Chris Andrews). New Directions. 144pp, $12.95. Argentinean writer Cesar Aira is the author of more than sixty books, though his novel Ghosts, recently published by New Directions, is only the fourth to be translated into English. The story revolves around a family of squatters living on a construction site where luxury [...]

Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra

Bonsai, the novella by Alejandro Zambra, is a lot like bonsai, the Japanese art. It is both tiny and exquisite. A scant 90 pages, Bonsai can be read in less than three hours. And while one could certainly question why both the book and the tree should be made so small, both are undeniably fascinating.

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction

The preface to Dalkey Archive Press’s Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction begins by warning readers against judging a nation’s fiction by any single anthology, and yet it is hard not to draw some conclusions from this fine collection of short stories. All of the writers collected here were born after 1945, and the concerns found in their stories are what might be expected from a generation of children brought up under the expansion of Mexico’s middle class and its longest period of political stability. That is to say, these stories are frequently very ironic, and they often feature narcissistic characters leading hermetic middle class lives.

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

Oblomov, Ivan Goncharov (trans. Marian Schwartz). Seven Stories. 576pp, 33.95. More translations of Russian novels? We’ve done our time with War and Peace, what more do you want? Indeed. In the case of Russian literature, the vaults are still being opened, classics are still being unearthed, and new Russian literary works are still making their [...]

White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov

White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov (trans. Marian Schwartz). Yale Press. 352pp, 27.00. (continued from page 1) Mikhail Bulgakov is best known for his Soviet-era satire The Master and Margarita, although he also has the infamous distinction of writing a favorite play of Stalin’s, The Days of the Turbins. This play and Bulgakov’s 1924 debut, White Guard, [...]

The Fat Man and Infinity & Other Writings by Antonio Lobo Antunes

The Fat Man and Infinity & Other Writings, Antonio Lobo Antunes (trans. Margaret Jull Costa). W.W. Norton. 320pp, 26.95. Back in 1998, when Jose Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize, there were a number of critics who felt that the wrong Portuguese author was being honored, arguing that Antonio Lobo Antunes was the best contemporary [...]

The Easy Chain by Evan Dara

The Easy Chain, Evan Dara. Aurora. 502pp, $16.95 Evan Dara’s sophomore novel, The Easy Chain, published thirteen years after his outstanding The Lost Scrapbook, is likely among the most bizarre novels published in 2008; however, it also must be among the most compulsively readable (and re-readable) of them. The novel centers around the rarely-seen Lincoln [...]

Berlin: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes

Berlin: City of Smoke, Jason Lutes. Drawn and Quarterly. 200 pp. $19.95. With the release of Berlin: City of Smoke, the second volume of a projected trilogy, Jason Lutes’ painstakingly chronicled historical fiction in graphic form gathers momentum. Tracing the long, slow arc of the fall of the Weimar Republic, Berlin packs the power of [...]

Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville by Ted Stearn

Fuzz & Pluck: Splitsville, Ted Stearn. Fantagraphics Books. 280pp, $24.99. In a roundup of new graphic novels published last year, critic Elif Batuman offered an interesting insight about an eminent round-headed kid and his dog: [T]he hero-in-two-persons arrangement is vestigially present in many cyclically narrated comics. Probably the best-loved example is the duality of Snoopy [...]

The Assignment by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

The Assignment, or, On the Observing of the Observer of the Observers, Friedrich Dürrenmatt (trans. Joel Agee). University of Chicago Press. 129pp, 15.00. Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s short novel The Assignment, originally published in German in 1986, is written in twenty-four long sentences (Dürrenmatt’s model for the novel’s structure was said to be the twenty-four sections of [...]

Invite by Glen Pourciau

Invite, Glen Pourciau. University of Iowa Press. 120pp, 16.00. “You confuse two things: solving a problem and stating a problem correctly. It is only the second that is obligatory for artists.”—Anton Chekhov 1 Anton Chekhov thought the writer should articulate the human predicament, not judge or diffuse it with proposed solutions. Despair and disappointment are [...]

Happy Families by Carlos Fuentes

Happy Families, Carlos Fuentes (trans. Edith Grossman). Random House. 352pp, 26.00. Carlos Fuentes’ Happy Families begins with a mystery: A wink. It is the wink of Pastor Pagan. He is the patriarch of “A Family Like Any Other,” a title that the reader soon discovers is Fuentes’ pointer to Tolstoy’s famous statement that “happy families [...]

Woods and Chalices by Tomaz Salamun

Woods and Chalices, Tomaz Salamun. Harcourt. 96pp, $22.00. Some poetry is meant to be read on the page—to take only the most prominent current example, Elizabeth Alexander’s presidential inaugural poem “Praise Song,” the merits of which are far more evident in print than they were at the podium. Other poetry is written to be read [...]

The Journal of Jules Renard

The Journal of Jules Renard. Tin House Books. 264pp, 16.95. The Journal of Jules Renard is a bound collection of the insights and observations of the titular French playwright and novelist. Renard kept his journal from 1887, when he was twenty-three years old, to just a month before his death in 1910, and in the [...]

Five Spice Street by Can Xue

Five Spice Street, Can Xue (trans. Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping). Yale Press. 352pp, $25.00. No one and nothing may be trusted in Five Spice Street, the first of Can Xue’s full-length novels to be translated into English. In the neighborhood where the story is set—a three-mile-long street actually—nothing is certain. There is no one [...]

John Ashbery: Collected Poems 1956-1987

Ashbery: Collected Poems 1956-1987, John Ashbery. The Library of America. 1042pp, $40.00.Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems, John Ashbery. Ecco. 364pp, $16.95. The period following WWII was a turbulent time politically, culturally, poetically. Brave people hid in shadow from the new-found threats to civilization as they knew it—the bomb, the pill, the Red scare—and [...]

my vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer

my vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, Jack Spicer (Peter Gizzi and Kevin Kellian eds.). Wesleyan University Press. 510pp, $35.00. (continued from page 1) Now, let’s move to the West Coast and what’s been happening. Who knows what Jack Spicer would have been capable of had he lived as long [...]

You Must Be This Happy to Enter by Elizabeth Crane

You Must Be This Happy To Enter, Elizabeth Crane. Punk Planet/Akashic Books. 250pp, 14.95. Elizabeth Crane’s newest story collection, You Must Be This Happy to Enter, is a disarming artifact, so much so that it’s difficult to review. The book is so much fun to read that you set down your evaluative filter and forget [...]


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