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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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

VLOG? (If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler)

That’s right, I’m reading (listening to) the strange, fourth wall breaking story by Italo Calvino… also, I’m recording myself talking about it?

Yes, I’m dipping my feet warily into the frozen, shark laden waters of YOUTUBE. Will strangers want to listen to me ramble in an unfocused, unplanned way about this odd novel? Well I’m going to find out.

I’ve already learned just from the first try that I’m much better at writing than speaking… this will be perhaps a good exercise in public communication!

Here are some thoughts on this novel so far. Recorded in my car, in a parking lot after I listened to a section of the audio book. You’ll see a few more of these, and they will likely start to contain spoilers, but this one doesn’t have any except the barest ones about the structure of the book itself. Okay, here you go:

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka has some way with words that makes everything seem like a slow, surreal nightmare. This story, in simple, straightforward language, manages that feeling while still being somewhat comical.

Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he’s transformed into a giant insect-like creature who’s smell and appearance so horrify his family that they can’t bear to be in the same room as him for more than a few seconds.

But, like The Trial, it all has the effect of a strange dream… an inevitable, existential horror creeping slowly but unerringly.

First he is sequestered to his room, only able to listen to his family or guess what they are up to. Then the furniture is removed from his room. Then the room (and he) gathers dust and trash and is left untended… and his relationship deteriorates at the same time.

And it all somehow evokes a feeling of… shrinking, of the world being stripped away until reality is a single room, a single floorboard at which your eye is pointing, unblinking.

A short, strange read. Well worth it.

Starting at the action

I’m listening to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and the first sentence is him waking up as a giant insect. This is how stories should be told.

So many other writers, amateur or not, would write however many thousands of words about the day before it happened–but why waste time getting there? Since the story is about him as this creature, that’s where we start.

I love how to-the-point it is, with all aspects. Something to consider in my own writing…

Stranger Things: Season 2, episodes 3 and 4

This show is getting dark.

There is something incredibly creepy about what is happening to Will, and I stayed up late to watch another episode I wasn’t planing on because of it.

This show really knows how to do creepy and dark, without having obnoxious jump scares or shocking blood and violence. That’s something I’ve realllllly been missing from movies lately!

Another thing this show handles better than Hollywood is nostalgia. There are so many references to 80s culture, but I still don’t feel banged over the head with it or pandered to. And it’s so nice to recognize a thing from my childhood and not want to throttle someone for re-imagining, remaking, rebooting or any other re-ing it.

Excited for whatever comes next!