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

The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien

The end saved this one a bit for me. I really was not a fan of a lot of the middle, so much of it seemed disconnected from everything and meaningless and confusing, but maybe that was the point.

The end was really surreal and creepy and dark, but the kooky humor of the rest of the book sort of undercut the effect of it I think.

I feel there was probably some meaning I was missing in this one, as nothing seemed to have any connection to anything… a strange read, but not recommended unless it’s your brand of humor.

I don’t like ‘lol random’

I’ve been reading The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, and am finding myself generally annoyed with it, and had some curiosity why, since it seems like the kind of humor I used to really enjoy, in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ for example.

I think the difference is that in Hitchhiker, things that appear random at first are explained later as part of the plot, in a sensible way that makes the seemingly random first encounter even more funny. Whereas in the Third Policeman, nothing ever seems related to anything else. I feel that I could open the book at any point and start reading, and have basically the same experience of confusion and general unease.

The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of things don’t always have to be answered for me. I have a pretty low threshold for sense, I think, compared to most people. But what I want is for what’s happening to at least have some effect on the character, or on me the reader.

The character in Third Policeman seems affected by nothing, even when told he’s going to be executed the next morning, he only has a sort of  halfhearted protest to it, and general idea that he might try to escape.

There were several times that things have been interesting to me, the reader, but had no bearing on the story and no seeming overall affect on the character. Those were fine I guess, but it’s like reading a disconnected series of essays on weird thoughts, more than reading a novel. Which would be fine, if it didn’t present itself as a novel right off the bat by giving the character a clear goal and a clear obstacle to overcome… then just completely disregarding them and jumping headlong into random nonsense for the rest of the book…

I have one chapter left, maybe it will all tie together in the end but I somehow doubt it.

Lucent Dreaming Debut Issue!

https://videopress.com/embed/td9gQvZJ?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0

26 hours ago we received the first print run of Lucent Dreaming’s debut issue. Oh my goodness. It looks awesome. It’s full colour, illustrated and high quality and features new and emerging authors and artists. And when you’ve read and reread the stories and poems, you can even colour in our illustrations! We’re open for […]

via Our Debut Issue has Arrived! — Lucent Dreaming

Influx of ideas, and a contest

I’ve been having a lot of ideas lately, giving them a bit of polish, then storing them away for later. I don’t often have success with an idea when I write it too soon. Ideas need to age…

But now that I’ve got a few of them shelved and fermenting, maybe I can actually get some writing done instead of all this… thinking (not writing).

My next story is going to be for a pre-issue of the magazine I’m working with, Lucent Dreaming. So you can look forward to reading something from me there soon!

Also, we are having a short story contest, check it out if you’d like to enter 🙂