What We’re Reading: October 2020

We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every two months as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for October 2020.

 

Novels

The Silence
By Don Delillo

The Silence is the story of a different catastrophic event. Its resonances offer a mysterious solace.

It is Super Bowl Sunday in the year 2022. Five people, dinner, an apartment on the east side of Manhattan. The retired physics professor and her husband and her former student waiting for the couple who will join them from what becomes a dramatic flight from Paris. The conversation ranges from a survey telescope in North-central Chile to a favorite brand of bourbon to Einstein’s 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity.

Then something happens and the digital connections that have transformed our lives are severed.”

 

Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade
By Assia Djebar (Translated by Dorothy S. Blair)

“In this stunning novel, Assia Djebar intertwines the history of her native Algeria with episodes from the life of a young girl in a story stretching from the French conquest in 1830 to the War of Liberation of the 1950s. The girl, growing up in the old Roman coastal town of Cherchel, sees her life in contrast to that of a neighboring French family, and yearns for more than law and tradition allow her to experience. Headstrong and passionate, she escapes from the cloistered life of her family to join her brother in the maquis’ fight against French domination.”

 

The End of Alice
By A. M. Homes

“The End of Alice sneaks us in the back doors of our upright suburban neighborhoods to reveal the impulses that even in our frank, outspoken times we don’t talk about. This is a tale told by a pedophile in his twenty-third year in a maximum security prison. He is intelligent; he is witty; he is profoundly dangerous. Beyond the reality of his stark cell and the violent perversion of the other inmates lies his imagination, which he turns to his past, to an ‘accident’ with a little girl named Alice, and now to the erotic life of a nineteen-year-old suburban co-ed who draws him into a flirtatious epistolary exchange. At home on summer break from college, she writes to the prisoner about her taste for young boys, her lust for one twelve-year-old in particular. She is inspired by the convict’s crimes; he is excited by her peculiar obsession. Into the veneer of middle-class convention—the tennis lessons, baby-sitting, and family dinners—she casts her line for the boy. He bites. As her reports of their strange affair progress, the prisoner’s memory unravels, revealing the appalling circumstances of his captivity, his deadly and lingering infatuation with Alice.”

 

The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie: Three Novels
By Agota Kristof (Translated by Alan Sheridan)

“These three internationally acclaimed novels have confirmed Agota Kristof’s reputation as one of the most provocative exponents of new-wave European fiction. With all the stark simplicity of a fractured fairy tale, the trilogy tells the story of twin brothers, Claus and Lucas, locked in an agonizing bond that becomes a gripping allegory of the forces that have divided ‘brothers’ in much of Europe since World War II. Kristof’s postmodern saga begins with The Notebook, in which the brothers are children, lost in a country torn apart by conflict, who must learn every trick of evil and cruelty merely to survive. In The Proof, Lucas is challenging to prove his own identity and the existence of his missing brother, a defector to the ‘other side.’ The Third Lie, which closes the trilogy, is a biting parable of Eastern and Western Europe today and a deep exploration into the nature of identity, storytelling, and the truths and untruths that lie at the heart of them all.”

 

Driftless Quintet
By Joe Sacksteder

“When high school hockey phenom (and gifted pianist/composer) Colton Vogler transfers to the town of Driftless to play out his senior year, he’s one step closer to a career as a professional goalie. But a violent hazing incident, an increasingly erratic host family, and the mystery surrounding a car accident that paralyzed his predecessor on the team lead Colton to gradually suspect that things in Driftless are not as they seem—and that, rather than serving as assets, his youth, intellect, and physical talent have put him in grave danger.”

 

Terminal Park
By Gary J. Shipley

“Shipley’s Terminal Park pounds fiction into entirely new shapes. Disintegrating and blissful. Highly Recommend.” —Tony Burgess

 

Letters from Hades
By Jeffrey Thomas

“A man awakens in Hell where he is schooled in the ways of the damned. And once educated, he is released to wander Hell on his own. He journeys from one city to the next, dodging demon patrols and avenging angels hunting the damned for sport. Along the way to the city of Oblivion, he discovers a band of rebellious damned have left a tortured and beautiful demon to rot. He rescues her and sets in motion a series of events that could lead to the final battle between Heaven and Hell, angel and demon, demon and damned. Letters from Hades is a travelogue of Hell—a world not that far from the very world we live in now. It is a story of rebellion, a story of love and a story of hope and rebirth set in a beautifully dark and textured world brought to brilliant life by Jeffrey Thomas, the acclaimed author of Punktown.

 

Beautiful Hell
By Jeffrey Thomas

“Hades is in upheaval. The Damned are rebelling, and worse, the more human-like breeds of Demons are beginning to sympathize with their plight. The Creator Himself decides to venture into Hades to address this conflict, a conflict which may test His very sanity…and make him a target of assassination. Against this tense background, a Damned man named Frank Lyre and a beautiful winged Demon named Oni act out a passionate love affair, but they too will be swept into a battle that may decide the future of all Creation.”

 

The Fall of Hades
By Jeffrey Thomas

“A young woman emerges from a catatonic state to find herself naked and devoid of memory, a centuries-long prisoner of an apocalyptic battle between formerly human avenging Angels, rebel bands of the Damned, and monstrous Demons of every description. With only a sentient, talking gun for a companion, she sets out to explore a radically transfigured Hell, her own surprising past, and the bulletproof fierceness of the human spirit.”

 

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender
By Dubravka Ugrešić

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender—by the renowned Yugoslavian writer Dubravka Ugrešić—begins in the Berlin Zoo, with the contents of Roland the Walrus’s stomach displayed beside his pool (Roland died in August, 1961). These objects—a cigarette lighter, lollipop sticks, a beer-bottle opener, etc.—like the fictional pieces of the novel itself, are seemingly random at first, but eventually coalesce, meaningfully and poetically.

Written in a variety of literary forms, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender captures the shattered world of a life in exile. Some chapters re-create the daily journal of the narrator’s lonely and alienated mother, who shops at the improvised flea-markets in town and longs for her children; another is a dream-like narrative in which a circle of women friends are visited by an angel. There are reflections and accounts of the Holocaust and the Yugoslav Civil War; portraits of European artists; a recipe for Caraway Soup; a moving story of a romantic encounter the narrator has in Lisbon; descriptions of family photographs; memories of the small town in which Ugrešić was raised.”

 

Poetry

Natural Facts
By Melanie Neilson

“Melanie Neilson’s Natural Facts is a beautiful and scary book. The speech of the past and of the serrated present flies out like debris from some great explosion. Neilson presents us with dazzling conundrums: a reader must confront the seemingly permanent gulf between self and history, one and all. This book is made of eerie harmonies and wrenched homilies, ‘natural facts’ and the flotsam of Americana—a ‘fringe of artificial tears.'” —Rae Armantrout

 

Color of Her Speech
By Lola Lemire Tostevin

“Two of the central issues of contemporary Canadian discourse, bilingualism and feminism, are used as metaphors for the struggle we all must make to recover our own personal speech, a way of reaching each other.”

 

This Red Metropolis What Remains
By Leia Penina Wilson

“Answering a call to go feral, these poems are part invocation and part prayer, re-imagining the form of the confessional poem by exploring the nature of confession from a feminist and anti-colonial perspective. In This Red Metropolis What Remains, Leia Penina Wilson composes a mysteriously stark and playful pop-surreal romp through a mythic apocalypse. Dropping in and out of this mystic narrative are voices of characters who are trying to survive and to reconcile their own belonging.

These poems reckon with what happens in the aftermath of brutality, questioning what anyone can or should do after tragedy, questioning everything until they begin to break down even their own authority. The landscape in the world of This Red Metropolis What Remains is itself deeply unsettled. Each form varies and reflects an endless transformation of embodiment and interrogation. These poems ask what can be recovered, if anything, through an uninterrupted interrogation of memory, category, and language and with an unbroken attention to the speaker’s own power. Creating shifting architecture and landscape that reveals both the disintegration of cultural time and the eternity of interior time, confession and lyric wrap both speaker and listener together.”

 

Nonfiction

Dictée
By Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Dictée is the best-known work of the versatile and important Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. A classic work of autobiography that transcends the self, Dictée is the story of several women: the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter and Persephone, Cha’s mother Hyung Soon Huo (a Korean born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), and Cha herself. The elements that unite these women are suffering and the transcendence of suffering. The book is divided into nine parts structured around the Greek Muses. Cha deploys a variety of texts, documents, images, and forms of address and inquiry to explore issues of dislocation and the fragmentation of memory. The result is a work of power, complexity, and enduring beauty.”

 

A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari
By Brian Massumi

A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia is a playful and emphatically practical elaboration of the major collaborative work of the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. When read along with its rigorous textual notes, the book also provides the richest scholarly treatment of Deleuze’s entire philosophical oeuvre available in any language.”

 

Cézanne and the End of Impressionism
By Richard Shiff

“Drawing on a broad foundation in the history of nineteenth-century French art, Richard Shiff offers an innovative interpretation of Cézanne’s painting. He shows how Cézanne’s style met the emerging criteria of a ‘technique of originality’ and how it satisfied critics sympathetic to symbolism as well as to impressionism. Expanding his study of the interaction of Cézanne and his critics, Shiff considers the problem of modern art in general. He locates the core of modernism in a dialectic of making (technique) and finding (originality). Ultimately, Shiff provides not only clarifying accounts of impressionism and symbolism but of a modern classicism as well.”

 

 

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Image: fastweb.com

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