Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado

It’s not often (or ever) that I come across a new writer I love this much.

This collection of short (and not so short) stories wowed me at every turn, and overwhelmed me with the uniqueness and fresh beauty of the prose.  Her use of language is so creative and lovely, I couldn’t put it down and found myself highlighting sections constantly in my Kindle.

The stories vary in tone and content, but all feature lesbian or bi women as protagonists, and are poignantly powerful at showing the world from a woman’s POV. But even if you’re not particularly interested in feminist writing, the stories are amazing in their own right. AMAZING. One of them, you can (and should) read right here. This story is a list of Law and Order: SVU episode titles, and their descriptions. Yes, you read that right. It is a story told through short episode descriptions that slowly coalesce into a story featuring Benson and Stabler. It is dark, surreal, sad, strange and I couldn’t stop reading it.

That one in particular stuck with me because I’d never considered writing a story in that format. It’s not quite fan fiction, but uses the oppressively violent world of SVU as a backdrop. You get the feeling as episode after episode is listed, that human cruelty is so endless, that they could keep making SVU episodes forever, and never repeat themselves. And you feel the gross, evil of it, and identify with the helplessness as the characters are overwhelmed, and driven mad by their own city.

The other seven stories are just as evocative and memorable, each in their own unique way. I really can’t recommend this collection enough.

I don’t know the last time I’ve been this struck by a new writer. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

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I, Claudius by Robert Graves

This was an interesting and entertaining, though not always very engaging read. Told from the point of view of  Claudius, a stuttering, limping, nephew of the emperor Tiberius.

I have no idea how much of this is historically accurate beyond the births and deaths of these people, but it painted a disgusting picture of the political world in Rome at this time. The book at many points read as a list of murdered people. Anyone who had even a slight bit of integrity or likability was murdered to help Tiberius (and eventually Caligula) stay in power. I feel like Game of Thrones may have been influenced by this kind of history.

In many ways, the greed and paranoia of those in power reminded me of our own political world today. Those in power seem evil in a pathetic, rather than impressive way.

On the down side this is a very historical novel, in that it is more a list of events than a story. The narrator, Claudius, hardly takes any actions himself and is more documenting all the things that happen around him. This makes the story hard to get into at some times.

 

Chekhov, no twist!

I’ve been reading a collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov, and am enjoying it immensely. His characters are so bright and clear and amped-up that you can’t help but love or hate them. But more than any of that, I absolutely love the lack of twist endings in his stories.

Anton Chekhov, if you’re not familiar, wrote in the 1880’s and 1890’s, and is considered by many to be the ‘father’ of the short story. And I have to say, I prefer him to most of his offspring. It is hard to describe how refreshing it is to read a story that doesn’t try to rip the rug out from under me in the last sentence every. single. time. A story that says what it’s trying to say, and then ends, without having to manufacture a shock that turns everything you just read on its head, or somehow reverses the meaning of something important. Instead, I get to the end, and it’s over. His stories are not all preamble to some endorphin-triggering key word. They are not just a fuse leading to an explosion. They are enjoyable for themselves.

After reading Chekhov’s stories, I became very aware that today’s short stories, at least in the non-literary genres, are basically distilled twist. If there is not some shock or surprising reveal or reversal at the end, then what is the point of writing it? I fear, is what people think. Well the point, like any writing, is to make someone feel or think or identify or understand something. And there are plenty of things other than surprise that a story can make you feel.

I am learning a lot from these stories, and this is definitely going to affect my own writing in the future. I heavily recommend reading Chekhov to anyone who wants to write short stories!

Read Iapetus Shift free

Hi friends. I’ve begun publishing my first sci fi novella for free on Wattpad, the first 2 chapters are up and you can read them here:

https://www.wattpad.com/user/TheJonasDavid

All the chapters will eventually be posted for free, over the next weeks.

I’d appreciate likes and follows on that site, as I’m fairly new to it. And check out my other stories I’ve been posting there too 🙂

Thanks!

Vertigo, by W.G. Sebald: A dark view on memory

This book is about memory. But similar to the other Sebald novel I’ve read, Rings of Saturn, the true meaning of the book was not clear to me until the end.

The novel features an unnamed narrator who may or may not be Sebald himself, traveling about Europe and reminiscing (also similar to Rings of Saturn.) Early in the story, it becomes apparent that there is a theme to the characters memories, and I found myself searching for meaning and patterns.

The narrator describes repeated instances of how certain things–a painting, the shape of a building, the hunch of a stranger’s shoulders–make him recall other experiences from his past in great detail. This remembering is involuntary and sometimes stops him in his tracks. This aspect of how memory works is so obvious that it seems pointless to describe, but I never thought of my memory as being involuntary until I read this book. This adds another strange element to to the story: the idea of how certain things can trigger us to fall into a memory against our will.

But Sebald does more than just describe this effect, he actually tricks the reader (or me, anyway) into experiencing it. Throughout the text are many vividly described and iconic images, that are recalled again and again throughout the book. Every time such an image (for example, a hunchback) is mentioned, I couldn’t help but thinking of the previous scene that was embedded in my memory, which then triggered the scene before it, and so on, causing me to fall helplessly through my own memories. This effect did, once, in fact give me a startling sense of vertigo.

After experiencing this strange effect, I thought that must be the point of the book–to describe the strange, involuntary way we experience memory. But it turns out the real message is something darker and sadder.

Early on in the novel, in a section detailing the life of Henri Beyle (better known by his pen name, Stendhal), Beyle remarks on a certain painting of a favorite view of his. He dislikes the painting because it has supplanted his memory of the real view with itself. Now, whenever he recalls gazing over that same vista, all he can think of is the painting. His original memory, has been in effect, destroyed by the painting.

By the end of the book I realized that this is the true message of the novel: the fragility and constant degrading of our memory. Every thing we see, makes us think of other things, and attaches itself to them, adds, and removes from them, changing them in subtle ways that we are not aware of. Each time Sebald repeated references to certain iconic images, they were diluted with each other, until I was unsure what event happened at which time.

In the last pages of Vertigo, the narrator falls asleep on a train while reading some accounts of the Chicago Fire. He dreams of walking through a desolate landscape composed of gravel and rock, and looking into a great void while snippets of what he was reading come back to him as echoing words in the emptiness….

We saw the fire grow. It was not bright, it was a gruesome, evil, bloody flame, sweeping, before the wind, through all the City. Pigeons lay destroyed upon the pavements, in hundreds, their feathers singed and burned. A crowd of looters roams through Lincoln’s Inn. The churches, houses, the woodwork and the building stones, ablaze at once. The churchyard yews ignited, each one a lighted torch, a shower of sparks now tumbling to the ground. And Bishop Braybrook’s grave is opened up, his body disinterred. Is this the end of time? A muffled, fearful, thudding sound, moving, like waves, throughout the air. The powder house exploded. We flee onto the water. The glare around us everywhere, and yonder, before the darkened skies, in one great arc the jagged wall of fire. And, the day after, a silent rain of ashes, westward, as far as Windsor Park.

Lucent Dreaming, issue 1

It’s now up on the website for free! Why haven’t I mentioned this earlier? I don’t know…

check it out here!

Issue 1

and preorder issue 2 while you’re at it!

Welcome to Lucent Dreaming

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Besides being a great story with amazingly developed characters that are intriguing to watch change over the course of the novel (well… most of them change…), this novel pointed out the giant blind spots I have about the world beyond my door step, and has encouraged me to seek out books that feature other cultures and times in history that I know nothing about, which is most of them….

I really loved how distinct the character’s voices were in this. Each chapter is written in first person from the perspective of one of five characters. Sometimes, when resuming in the middle of a chapter, I’d forget who’s chapter it was. I’d only have to listen for a few seconds before I knew, based on the way the characters observed the world around them.

Heartbreaking, entertaining, educational…