What We’re Reading: May 2020

We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every month as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for the month.

 

Novels

Idaho Winter
By Tony Burgess

Idaho Winter begins as the story of a boy with an extraordinarily painful existence. He is, through no fault of his own, loathed by everyone in the town where he lives. His father, Early Winter, feeds him roadkill for breakfast. The crossing guard steers cars toward him as he crosses the road. Parents encourage their children to plot cruelly against him. One morning Idaho finds it too much to bear and hides down by the river where he meets Madison. Madison, astonishingly, is as hurt by how he’s treated as he is. For the first time in his life Idaho experiences someone’s empathy and it opens a terrible world of pain in him. He dotes on Madison, in awe of her, and he cleans her muddy feet in the river, drying them with his shirt. Suddenly, hunting dogs descend on the scene and, trained to attack the smell of Idaho, set their jaws on Madison’s feet. Then Idaho does something that changes everything. He gets up and runs home. Not so strange until the author realizes that this part was never written. Idaho becomes enraged upon learning that his suffering has been cruelly designed by a clumsy writer who confesses that he made his book meaner than all the others so it would stand out. Idaho locks the author in a closet and runs off, armed with the knowledge that the entire world is invented and that he has the power now to imagine it differently. When the author emerges from the closet he finds that his novel is now unrecognizable. Phantoms and monsters, beasts from the boy’s angry thoughts now dominate the streets. Beneath the earth there is a resistance movement of secondary characters, including the poor Madison who is now bedridden and what’s more: anyone who comes within 50 feet of her is paralyzed with sadness and cannot move or be moved. The author sets out with these characters to cure the novel, to find a way to bring its mind and heart together as they embark on a journey as perilous and paradoxical as anything HG Wells or Lewis Carroll ever imagined.”

 

One Bloody Thing After Another
By Joey Comeau

“Jackie has a map of the city on the wall of her bedroom, with a green pin for each of her trees. She has a first-kiss tree and a broken-arm tree. She has a car-accident tree. There is a tree at the hospital where Jackie’s mother passed away into the long good night. When one of them gets cut down, Jackie doesn’t know what to do but she doesn’t let that stop her. She picks up the biggest rock she can carry and puts it through the window of a car. Smash. She intends to leave before the police arrive, but they’re early. Ann is Jackie’s best friend, but she’s got problems of her own. Her mother is chained up in the basement. How do you bring that up in casual conversation? ‘Oh, sorry I’ve been so distant, Jackie. My mother has more teeth than she’s supposed to, and she won’t eat anything that’s already dead.’ Ann and her sister Margaret don’t have much of a choice here. Their mother needs to be fed. It isn’t easy but this is family. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’ll be okay as long as Margaret and Ann still have each other. Add in a cantankerous old man, his powerfully stupid dog, a headless ghost, a lesbian crush and a few unsettling visits from Jackie’s own dead mother, and you’ll find that One Bloody Thing After Another is a different sort of horror novel from the ones you’re used to. It’s as sad and funny as it is frightening, and it is as much about the way families rely on each other as it is about blood being drooled on the carpet. Though, to be honest, there is a lot of blood being drooled on the carpet.”

 

Overqualified
By Joey Comeau

“Cover letters are all the same. They’re useless. You write the same lies over and over again, listing the store-bought parts of yourself that you respect the least. God knows how they tell anyone apart, but this is how it’s done.

And then one day a car comes out of nowhere, and suddenly everything changes and you don’t know if he’ll ever wake up. You get out of bed in the morning, and when you sit down to write another paint-by-numbers cover letter, something entirely different comes out. You start threatening instead of begging. You tell impolite jokes. You talk about your childhood and your sexual fantasies. You sign your real name and you put yourself honestly into letter after letter and there is no way you are ever going to get this job. Not with a letter like this. And you send it anyway.”

 

Consumed
By David Cronenberg

“‘An eye-opening dazzler’ (Stephen King) about a pair of globetrotting, gore-obsessed journalists whose entanglement in a French philosopher’s death becomes a surreal journey into global conspiracy from legendary filmmaker David Cronenberg.

Stylish and camera-obsessed, Naomi and Nathan thrive on the yellow journalism of the social-media age. Naomi finds herself drawn to the headlines surrounding a famous couple, Célestine and Aristide, Marxist philosophers and sexual libertines. Célestine has been found dead, and Aristide has disappeared. Police suspect him of killing her and consuming parts of her body. Yet Naomi sets off to find him, and as she delves deeper into the couple’s lives, she discovers the news story may only skim the surface of the disturbing acts they performed together.

Journalist Nathan, meanwhile, is in Budapest photographing the controversial work of an unlicensed surgeon named Zoltán Molnár, once sought by Interpol for organ trafficking. After sleeping with one of Molnár’s patients, Nathan contracts a rare STD called Roiphe’s and travels to Toronto, determined to meet the man who discovered the syndrome. Dr. Barry Roiphe, Nathan learns, now studies his own adult daughter, whose bizarre behavior masks a devastating secret.

These parallel narratives become entwined in a gripping, dreamlike plot that involves geopolitics, 3-D printing, North Korea, the Cannes Film Festival, cancer, and, in an incredible number of varieties, sex. Consumed is an exuberant, provocative debut novel from one of the world’s leading film directors, a writer of ‘fierce sculptural intensity’ (Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review) who makes it ‘impossible to look away’ (Publishers Weekly).”

 

The Marble Faun
By Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The fragility-and the durability-of human life and art dominate this story of American expatriates in Italy in the mid-nineteenth century. Befriended by Donatello, a young Italian with the classical grace of the ‘Marble Faun,’ Miriam, Hilda, and Kenyon find their pursuit of art taking a sinister turn as Miriam’s unhappy past precipitates the present into tragedy. Hawthorne’s ‘International Novel’ dramatizes the confrontation of the Old World and the New and the uncertain relationship between the ‘authentic’ and the ‘fake’ in life as in art. The author’s evocative descriptions of classic sites made The Marble Faun a favorite guidebook to Rome for Victorian tourists, but this richly ambiguous symbolic romance is also the story of a murder, and a parable of the Fall of Man. As the characters find their civilized existence disrupted by the awful consequences of impulse, Hawthorne leads his readers to question the value of Art and Culture and addresses the great evolutionary debate which was beginning to shake Victorian society.”

 

The Maze of Transparencies
By Karen An-Hwei Lee

“A former data cloud narrates the story of its creator, Yang, a former tech elite after a digital shutdown collapses the technocracy and discorporates vast clouds of data, as he undertakes a journey to find, among the ruins of the mezzopolis, the seven harbingers of happiness. But this cloud is also a poet, which is to say, LEE’S WRITING DAZZLINGLY ILLUMINATES THE INNER LIFE OF DATA… This is a polyglot guide to existential collapse, a multivalent antiserum for the promises of technological progress. WE NEED THIS BOOK.” —Evelyn Hampton

 

The Show That Smells
By Derek McCormack

The most shocking story ever shown on the silver screen

It’s also the tale of Jimmie—a country music singer dying of tuberculosis—and Carrie, his wife, who tries to save him by selling her soul to a devil who designs haute couture clothing! Elsa is a powerful Parisian dress designer, and a vampire. She wants to make Carrie look beautiful, smell beautiful—and then she wants to eat her! Will Carrie survive as her slave? Will Jimmie be cured? Starring a host of Hollywood’s brightest stars, including Coco Chanel, Lon Chaney, and The Carter Family. The Show that Smells is a thrilling tale of hillbillies, high fashion, and horror!”

 

Roadside Picnic
By Arkady & Boris Strugatsky

“Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a ‘full empty,’ something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems. First published in 1972, Roadside Picnic is still widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels, despite the fact that it has been out of print in the United States for almost thirty years. This authoritative new translation corrects many errors and omissions and has been supplemented with a foreword by Ursula K. Le Guin and a new afterword by Boris Strugatsky explaining the strange history of the novel’s publication in Russia.”

 

Short Stories

For Other Ghosts
By Donald Quist

“Troubled souls haunt these thirteen interrelated stories of loss and rebirth. From a cramped passenger van in Ghana to a cash-only roadside motel in Utah to a cursed forest in Japan, Donald Quist’s narratives draw connections between the common and inexplicable. The diverse characters that people these stories are foreign and flawed but intimately familiar. At once scrutinizing and tender, For Other Ghosts is an ambitious collection of short fiction.”

 

Best Microfiction 2020
Guest Edited by Michael Martone

“The Best Microfiction anthology series provides recognition for outstanding literary stories of 400 words or fewer. Co-edited by award-winning microfiction writer/editor Meg Pokrass, and Flannery O’Connor Prize-winning author Gary Fincke, the anthology features acclaimed author/editor Michael Martone serving as final judge, three essays on the craft of microfiction, and six interviews with the year’s top microfiction magazines, and eighty-four of the world’s best very short stories.”

 

Carnivalia
By Glenn Shaheen

“Glenn Shaheen’s Carnivalia reads like a firework display: the stories explode, dazzle, and you never know what’s coming next. Fast stories that will stick with you a long time.” —Mat Johnson, author of Pym and Loving Day

 

Selected Stories
By Robert Walser

“In her preface to Robert Walser’s Selected Stories, Susan Sontag describes Walser as ‘a good-humored, sweet Beckett.’ The more common comparison is to ‘a comic Kafka.’ Both formulations effectively describe the reading experience in these stories: the reader is obviously in the presence of a mind-bending genius, but one characterized by a wry, buoyant voice, as apparently cheerful as it is disturbing.

Walser is one of the twentieth century’s great modern masters—revered by everyone from Walter Benjamin to Hermann Hesse to W. G. Sebald—and Selected Stories gives the fullest display of his talent. ‘He is most at home in the mode of short fiction,’ according to J. M. Coetzee in The New York Review of Books. The stories ‘show him at his dazzling best.'”

 

Ventriloquisms
By Jaclyn Watterson

“Secretion. Excretion. Severed limbs, lost animals, and porcelain teeth. In these twenty-four radical works of female (dis)embodiment and creation—cries from the dark filtered through the fitful voices of a ventriloquist’s doll—Watterson invites readers to explore a defamiliarized world that is only as horrifying as our own.”

 

Poetry

Whale and Vapor
By Kim Kyung Ju (Translated by Jake Levine)

“The poems in Whale and Vapor emphasize exhaustion—physically, mentally, and as an existential condition. Kim Kyung Ju playfully turns toward the lyric in this work as a way to reconcile himself with the contemporary world by engaging in dialogue with his Korean literary ancestry. Masterfully translated by Jake Levine in close conversation with the author, this collection by one of the most popular and critically acclaimed poets to come out in South Korea in the new millennium explores the cold tunnels of today’s tired, dark times.”

 

The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader
By Madeline Gins (Edited by Lucy Ives)

“Poet, philosopher, speculative architect and transdisciplinary artist, Madeline Gins is well known for her collaborations with her husband, the artist Arakawa, on the experimental architectural project Reversible Destiny, in which they sought to arrest mortality by transforming the built environment. Yet, her own writings—in the form of poetry, essays, experimental prose and philosophical inquiries—represent her most visionary and transformative work. Like Gertrude Stein before her, Gins transfigures grammar and liberates words. Like her contemporaries in conceptual art, her writing is attuned to the energized, collaborative space between reader and page.

The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader is a revelatory anthology, edited and with an introduction by the writer and critic Lucy Ives. It brings never-before-published poems and essays together with a complete facsimile reproduction of Gins’ 1969 masterpiece, WORD RAIN (or A Discursive Introduction to the Intimate Philosophical Investigations of G, R, E, T, A, G, A, R, B, O, It Says), along with substantial excerpts from her two later books What the President Will Say and Do (1984) and Helen Keller or Arakawa (1994). Long out of print or unpublished, Gins’ poems and prose form a powerful corpus of experimental literature, one which is sure to upend existing narratives of American poetics at the close of the 20th century.”

 

Stèles
By Victor Segalen

“Victor Segalen has come to be widely recognized in recent years as one of the luminaries of French modernism. Trained as a surgeon and Chinese interpreter, he wrote prolifically in a variety of genres. With this highly original collection of prose poems in French and Chinese, Segalen invented a new genre—the ‘st le-poem’—in imitation of the tall stone tablets with formal inscriptions that he saw in China. His wry persona declaims these inscriptions like an emperor struggling to command his personal empire, drawing from a vast range of Chinese texts to explore themes of friendship, love, desire, gender roles, violence, exoticism, otherness, and selfhood. The result is a linguistically and culturally hybrid modernist poetics that is often ironic and at times haunting. Segalen’s bilingual masterwork is presented here fully translated, in the most extensively annotated critical edition ever produced. It includes unpublished manuscript material, newly identified sources, commentaries on the Chinese, and a facsimile of the original edition as printed in Beijing in 1914.”

 

Nonfiction

Poetry Against All: A Diary
By Johannes Göransson

“This slim journal contains multitudes. It’s a compulsively readable account of returning to a childhood home, a provocative meditation on artists such as Susan Sontag, Francesca Woodman, and Andrei Tarkovsky, and a radical reexamination of concepts like ruin porn, tourism, and translation. But mostly it’s an urgent manifesto. ‘Poetry is obscene,’ Göransson writes. ‘But there are those who want to maintain the illusion that it is good for us.’ This necessary book strips away the various illusions that have obscured poetry’s truest values. Göransson concludes: ‘This is written without hope.’ But paradoxically, Poetry Against All offers just that.” —Jeff Jackson

 

Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics
By Selah Saterstrom

“How does one participate (read and write) from within the membranous precinct between our multiple bodies, from within the larger rhizomic field of resonances, where much is sounding and also unsounded? By employing various ‘divinatory generators’ (instructions, methods, trances), the essays in Ideal Suggestions: Essays in Divinatory Poetics genuflect to practices that celebrate engagement with uncertainty while cultivating strategies through which one might collaborate with both rupture and rapture.”

 

Still Nowhere in an Empty Vastness
By Robert Tejada

Still Nowhere in an Empty Vastness is a collection of essays and manifestos engaging hemispheric desires and borderland eventualities in the geopolitical imagination of the Americas. The book enlivens a capacious Latinx poetics, spanning to include 16th- and 17th-century imperial accounts, 20th-century images of Mexico pictured by U.S. artists and writers, the neo-baroque pageantry of José Lezama Lima in post-Revolution Havana, as well as contemporary poets Reina María Rodriguez, from Cuba; Mexican fabulist Pablo Helguera; and Chicano multimedia wordsmith Harry Gamboa Jr., from Los Angeles. Explored also are many-sided masculinities, from conquistador castaway Cabeza de Vaca, stripped and disempowered in the New World; Lezama Lima’s ‘prison baroque’ of syntactically queer desire; George Oppen’s craftsmanship manhood; Jay Wright’s Yoruba and Toltec body-doubles, hidden figures of exile and self-foreignness; and the man-child constructed in the media spectacle of modern castaway Elián González. These essays configure a poetics of the Americas, mirror-occasions for reflecting the fear and fantasies prompted by metaphors of occupation, displacement, and counter-conquest.”

 

Graphic Novels

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor
By Lynda Barry

“An award-winning author provides the creative lesson plans and innovative writing exercises she uses in her popular writing workshop aimed at non-writers, which focuses on the connection between the hand, the brain and spontaneous images. Original.”

 

Drama

The Antipodes
By Annie Baker

“In Annie Baker’s The Antipodes, a group of people sit around a table telling, cataloging, and theorizing stories. Their purpose is never clear: are they brainstorming ideas for a TV show? A film? A mythology? This is a world where ghostly fables co-exist with mundane discussions of snacks and sexual exploits, where the vague instruction to tell stories about ‘something monstrous’ though ‘it might not be a literal monster’ becomes maddeningly impossible. Part satire, part sacred rite, The Antipodes asks what value stories have for a world in crisis.”

 

 

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Image: gorare.com

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