ZYZZYVA EventsSeptember 7, 2017
In Conversation with Ellen Ullman
Location: 7 p.m., City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco
Description: Ullman, the author of the novels "By Blood" and "The Bug," and of the memoir "Close to the Machine," discusses her new book, "Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology" (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux), with Managing Editor Oscar Villalon. Free. For more info: http://bit.ly/2v4vWLgSeptember 26, 2017
In Conversation with Matthew Zapruder
Location: 7 p.m., City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco
Description: Zapruder, the award-winning author of three collections of poetry, "American Linden," "The Pajamaist," and "Come On All You Ghosts," discusses his new book, "Why Poetry?" (Ecco), with Managing Editor Oscar Villalon. Free. For more info: http://bit.ly/2tKf88l
ZYZZYVA e-mail updates
In this issue:
City Lights Books bookseller Paul Yamazaki in conversation with Point Reyes Books owner Stephen Sparks about the responsibilities of bookselling (“For me, it boils down to conversation”) and the Bay Area’s literary community (“I forget sometimes how lucky we are”).
Jesse Nathan on the perhaps the most impressive tool behind Bob Dylan’s artistry: his singular voice.
Peter Orner on the final brief moments of a couple slain on an isolated beach.
Arrival and Immigration: stories from Michael Jaime-Becerra (“¡Dale, Dale, Dale!”), E.C. Osundu (“Alien Visitors”), Christine Ma Kellems (“The Children of Dissidents”) and Greg Sarris (“Citizen”).
Liza Ward’s “The Shrew Tree”: a young woman abandons the bookish world of her father to chase an uncertain future with the son of a local farmer.
Christian Kiefer’s “Ghosts”: the survivor of a car accident is haunted by the lingering visage of a woman who may not have survived the pile-up.
Plus stories from Adam Schorin, Annie DeWitt, Molly Giles, and more.
Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Melissa Hohl, Amanda Moore, Jennifer Moss, Andrew Murphy, and Adam Scheffler.
Featuring the acrylic on canvas paintings of Samantha Fields
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say Vanilla Ice
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I’m thinking of a funeral pyre.
But if you had to ask me twice,
I’d throw the dice.
Bring Kid Rock over for a round or two,
Burn one or two or three or four,
Look out for lice. Watch the backyard
Barbecue glow. Orange in the night.
Let’s do it twice.
It’s not easy to write a love story devoid of the usual clichés such as the “meet cute” or unrealistically idealized physical descriptions, but author Sylvia Brownrigg does just that in her new novel, Pages for Her (373 pages; Counterpoint). The book is a sequel to 2001’s critically acclaimed Pages for You, in which the young and timid Flannery Jensen falls for her confident and much older professor, Anne Arden. Told in three parts, Pages for Her offers readers the chance to return to Flannery and Anne’s ardent, but lost, connection twenty years after their separation. While the time jump provides an eloquent exploration of memory, nostalgia, and individual growth for both Flannery and Anne, it is also filled with a lengthy recounting of mundane, everyday details which delays the reunion of these two characters. The languid pacing, which contains a myriad of tender and painful moments, deepens the bond between the reader and the characters, but somewhat diminishes interest in the central love story since the only trace of their romance resides in Anne and Flannery’s memory.
Instead, the strongest and most poignant parts of Pages for Her have less to do with plot and more the intimate relationships these women have apart from each other. It is a poetic and in-depth look at the self – as individual, writer, mother, wife, daughter, and lover. Flannery’s transition into motherhood becomes one of the most important aspects of Pages for Her; Brownrigg portrays her sometimes-limiting yet always unconditional love for her child, a love Flannery finds deep and life-altering.
The gentle exchanges between Flannery and her daughter Willa serve in stark contrast to Anne, who has proven unwavering in her decision to remain childless and lost Jasper, her partner of twenty-years, as a result. Anne and Jasper’s relationship is just unconventional enough to keep the reader’s attention, with their fresh take on monogamy being perhaps the most interesting part of Anne’s story. We feel Flannery’s marital and creative frustrations, we feel her primal instincts as a mother and the zealous love that accompanies it. We also feel Anne’s quiet but piercing grief over releasing the man she loves to a life she cannot agree to, and we feel her slow return to a lover she has long cherished but could never pursue due to her bond with Jasper.
These relationships comprise the backbone of Pages for Her, depicting the intricate, complicated, and beautiful moments that lead Flannery and Anne back to a relationship they both knew was unfinished. As in our own lives, no matter how many years (or pages) it takes, “[w]hen two people came together who were meant to, the night and the meeting were elemental, and the trappings ceased to exist. All that mattered were the bodies. And the selves.”
Kristen Iskandrian’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, PANK, Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, and other publications. Her debut novel, Motherest is out now from Twelve/Hachette. Look for Kristen Iskandrian’s book tour in a town near you.
The following is an excerpt from her short story “Good With Boys.” In the piece, middle schooler Jill is on a determined quest to win the affections of her oblivious crush Esau – while on a parent-chaperoned trip to the local museum. You can the story in its entirety by purchasing a copy of 109 here.
Over the course of eleven novels, Scott Spencer has earned an incontestable place as one of the major novelists of our time. Best known as the author of Endless Love, an incandescent narrative of youthful passion and obsession that became the subject of two unfortunate film adaptations, Spencer has chosen to stay out of the limelight since its publication in 1979.
In works such as Waking The Dead (1986), also adapted into a (more credible) film, A Ship Made of Paper (2003), The Rich Man’s Table (1998), and Willing (2008), he has covered fictional territory ranging from an American activist gone missing in Chile, to the illegitimate son of a cult music icon’s search for his absent parent—even the seriocomic adventures of a freelance writer who takes an all-expenses paid trip to a sex tour to get over a bad break-up.
Love, and its complicated consequences, is at the heart of his fictional explorations, but he has an uncanny ability to switch gears, from hopelessly romantic to high (and sometimes low) comedy, without seeming to break a sweat or lose the reader in the process.
His new novel, River Under the Road (384 pages; Ecco), is Spencer’s strongest achievement yet, the work of a mature artist who understands his craft and how to control his narrative. With an epigraph from Lincoln—“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history…’’—he turns his lens on a wide cast of characters as seen through thirteen scene-setting parties, from 1976 to 1990, and from Chicago, where his protagonist, Thaddeus Kaufman, was raised in the fulcrum of leftie parenting, to New York and then the Hudson Valley, (where Thaddeus repairs to after surprise success as a screenwriter), with pit stops in Hollywood and even Plato’s Retreat (or “Nero’s Fiddle,’’ as it is called here).
The demands of keeping his marriage together with Grace Cornell, the struggling artist who has accompanied him on the ride from the Midwest to what is laughingly called “success,’’ are chronicled here, along with the class struggle between the townies of Leyden (the fictional town he has moved to) and the couple’s nouveau riche friends. The temptations of La-La Land—the real thing, not the movie—are shown in living color, as Kaufman tries to fend off the blandishments, and the bullshit, that goes with the territory.
It’s a rich emotional landscape that is about as far from modish post-modernism as you can travel. These are real people, not poster children for a post-irony age. Literary comparisons are probably a mug’s game, but, for my part, the author’s seriousness about the wayward ways of the human heart puts him far beyond perennial Nobel Prize-bridesmaid Philip Roth’s often cartoonish depictions of sexual politics (or politics, period).
We talked to Spencer about River Under the Road. Our electronic conversation follows:
ZYZZYVA: River Under the Road feels like a “big’’ novel—large in scope, ambition and range—a portrait of class conflict and the never-ending war between the sexes over time and geography. Although very different in some ways, in others it seems like a return to the emotional roller coaster of Endless Love, with the distance of life experience and artistic maturity. Do you see any parallels—or significant differences—between the two books?
SCOTT SPENCER: Like everyone else, writers grow older and we have more opportunities to measure what we somehow believe to be true and important against what our experience has taught us. Don’t we sometimes feel that life is continually trying to grab us by the shoulders and give us a vigorous shake, imploring us to revise or abandon altogether half of our assumptions? I don’t write novels as a means to self-improvement or self-analysis, but if you work as I do, and create narratives in which characters deal with the consequences of their actions, you cannot escape continual confrontation with your own thoughts and feelings. Endless Love was the third novel I had published, and it is not a book that I would or could write now. Because it was more successful than my other novels, it is used often as a benchmark in discussing a new book I have written. This is probably useful to someone attempting to evaluate a writer’s oeuvre, but I don’t believe many writers think too much about previous work when they are engaged in the labor of creating a new fictional universe. Aside from never using the word “endless” again, I don’t write into or away from what I have already written.
Karl Geary’s first novel, Montpelier Parade (217 pages; Catapult), presents us with the fraught experience of first love, told in beautifully doleful prose that sometimes exhibits Salinger-esque sparseness. Referring to his protagonist, Sonny, as “you,” Geary draws the reader into a hypnotic and haunting intimacy. The directness of the second-person point of view demands both Sonny and the reader are left weary by the cloudy Dublin skies and by the “howl of feeling.” It’s a delicate work that treats its subject with great sensitivity, ensuring we experience that same tenderness of feeling that Sonny does, and hear the words on the page like the brutally honest voice of a friend.
Sonny is a pitiful Irish teenager growing up on the decaying outskirts of Dublin. He longs to escape from the drab confines of his father’s expectations, his mother’s depression, and the mindlessness of his TV-consumed brothers. More than any of this, he longs to feel a sense of belonging and the soft embrace of a devoted lover. He is so alone he seems afraid of being noticed. A quiet and keen observer, Sonny breaks the reader’s heart in the most banal of ways. The moments of tragedy in Sonny’s life are delivered in the same quietly devastating manner as his mundane experience: the novel begins with the accidental death of a drunken man leaving the butcher shop at which Sonny works and ends with the suicide of a character he literally worships, yet Sonny reacts as though these events are no more momentous than the stale loaf that rests forgotten on his kitchen counter. All too accustomed to pain from every direction in his life, Sonny appears to regard suffering as both inevitable and unavoidable. All the while, his hunger for love proves so fundamental one wishes to somehow feed him. For Vera, the older woman who becomes both his secret lover and the hope he is terrified to possess, continues to deny Sonny––for she, too, is frightened by her own desperate need.
And so Sonny is left in that space between longing and pursuit, kept company by a slight boredom, the hum of the refrigerator, and the rustling of spiders. When he’s not in the shed fixing his bike with stolen parts or working at the butcher’s shop, he’s usually with his friend Sharon at the Cats’ Den. Sharon, the girl whose punches “hurt and were lovely and a comfort” and who’s been everybody’s girlfriend, shares her cigarettes with Sonny and follows him to the museum even when he’s thinking of Vera. It is Sharon who reminds him of the world he is expected to belong to, the everyday world his mother inhabits. Walking arm and arm with Vera, at one point, Sonny sees his mother struggling with the pull of “four or more plastic bags…like demanding toddlers,” but he never breaks his stride. He only turns to look back once she becomes a shadow, and is ashamed by his betrayal of the woman who raised him and never hugged him back. By the time Sonny’s two worlds collide––the world he lustfully imagines and the one that comprises his waking life––Montpelier Parade leaves us as it leaves Sonny, pondering how life can be both empty and full at once.
It’s the rare writer who is able to straddle the line between literary and horror fiction. For every author like H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson who has since been adopted into the canon, there are countless others who remain on the outskirts of the literary scene. Of course, working in the fringes of any genre allows one to take creative risks and make provocative choices. Readers who find themselves drawn to the new story collection Entropy in Bloom (252 pages; Night Shade Books) by Portland writer Jeremy Robert Johnson will likely believe that the author has indeed gotten away with something.
One of the pleasures of reading any collection that culls together stories produced over a span of time is witnessing a writer’s preoccupations and obsessions emerge on the page. With stories written between 2004 and 2011, Entropy in Bloom reads like a tableau of Johnson’s pet themes. Despite their Lovecraftian titles, stories such as “When Susurrus Stirs” and “Cathedral Mother” explore Johnson’s fascination with the way microscopic entities like parasites and tapeworms can alter human physiology for their own purposes. The idea of an invisible passenger in our bodies (“…I imagine the fibers of my spinal cord stretching out towards him like feelers”) has long been a potent theme in the genre, particularly in the body mutations conjured by filmmaker David Cronenberg, but in these tales Johnson tends to go for the gross-out rather than generate the lingering psychological effect of the best literary horror.
W.S. Di Piero is the author of several books of poetry and essays. His most recent book, Mickey Rourke and the Bluebird of Happiness: A Poet’s Notebook (Carnegie-Mellon University Press), will be published in the fall.
The following is his poem “Alfonso’s Shadow Gets Away From Him” in its entirety. You can read two other poems from W.S. Di Piero, as well as an interview with him conducted by Andrew David King, by purchasing a copy of 109 here.
In her first collection of poetry, What It Done to Us (66 pages; Lost Horse Press), Essy Stone writes about an early life spent immersed in a Southern culture she deems toxic, where oppression and tradition are rooted in the collective mentality, often at the expense of women and minorities. She describes a landscape that is as suffocating as it is unsettling, where mountains have “heavy hands” and the valleys lie “cursed by generations of sunburned famers.” Her poems address the unstated yet generally understood rule that if you are born in the South you are somehow fated to stay there, to follow in the footsteps of the generations that came before. Although much of her work focuses on how she fought against this expectation, she does not shy away from speaking frankly about her painful past, or the physical and emotional toll it takes to depart from the world one was raised in.
What It Done to Us reads as a memoir in verse, ordered chronologically from her troubled childhood and teenage years to her adulthood. From her earliest days, we sense she already possessed the rebellious spirit that would serve her well when she made the harrowing but necessary decision to leave the constraints of her hometown. She describes herself as a “teenage delinquent with eyes like black heaps/of coal that no great prophet could lift from their depths,” here also touching on her various confrontations with the “Devil,” a reappearing presence throughout the collection that alternates between being an external force she is helpless against and an undeniable part of herself.
What stands out in the book is the camaraderie between Stone and the other women who reside in her town; she observes their navigation of Southern life with both skepticism and sympathy. These women steel themselves against their various struggles and tragedies, acting tough rather then demure as they “growl through lipsticked teeth at the unseen hand that holds us here./Raise our chins to meet its invisible fist.” While Stone doesn’t minimize their strength of character, she criticizes the way they appear to have surrendered to the unfairness of their situation. Despite its occasionally defeatist language, there is still an undercurrent of resistance running throughout What It Done to Us, with lines such as “We never relax, our muscles ready, tensed/against this dense pressure waiting to erupt from within” and “you spend evenings/at the dam, praying for it to break. Something must burst,/must loose, must free itself & carry you.” The tension between Stone’s desire to follow her path and the pressure to abandon it nears its breaking point as she grows closer to realizing her escape.
What It Done to Us is a sharp and honest reflection of the East Tennessee town she was raised in, of her wounds manifested in the ongoing inner-conflict between guilt and religion, family and self-preservation, and of the pain of one’s memories and the desire to be rid of them. Stone eventually leads us to understand how an environment so shocking, so disturbing can maintain such a powerful hold on those who call it home.
It’s that time of year when some people hit the beach while others hit the bookshelves. Here’s a look at what the ZYZZYVA team has been reading these last few months in order to beat the “heat” of summer in San Francisco:
Laura Cogan, Editor—What is it about summer that makes a thriller especially enticing? Is it the contrarian in me, looking perversely for some shade to counteract the sunny aesthetic of the season? There may be some anecdotal evidence to support this theory, at least in my case: I was visiting the preternaturally well-appointed Marin Country Mart a few weeks ago—a place radiant with fine weather, fresh produce, happy children, and an overall sense of well-being—when I stopped in at DIESEL, and left an hour later with several fairly dark titles.
J. Robert Lennon’s Broken River (Graywolf Press) is a terrifically satisfying entry in the too-often elusive category of literary thriller. As with any good thriller, the plot is propulsive—but, as with any work of literary fiction, the plot is also, ultimately, not the most intriguing or memorable aspect of the book. The murder mysteries of Broken River are layered with mediations on narrative and storytelling, including a wonderfully eerie, developing entity Lennon calls the Observer. Brooke Gladstone’s slim nonfiction volume The Trouble With Reality (Workman) is subtitled “A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time”—a predictably seductive framing to those of a certain mindset in this summer of 2017. It’s a slight book, both in heft and in depth (after all, there is much, almost too much, to be said on the subject), but it does offer a pleasingly pared-down distillation of important ideas—chief among these the concrete threat that the lack of a shared reality (or, put differently, lack of agreement on “the terms of the debate”) poses to the basic functioning of democracy. I enjoyed having it in my purse for a week, and found myself reading a few pages while commuting or waiting in line rather than looking at the news on my phone—a most welcome change. It was Charles Simic’s latest collection, Scribbled in the Dark (Ecco), however, that spoke most directly to my troubled mind in this uneasy season. “All Things in Precipitous Decline” is the perfect title of one especially perfect poem. Each exquisite poem seems to inhabit the same haunted village, and the characters and ghosts and abandoned courtrooms and libraries and stray dogs all have the sense of both a memory and a premonition. And now, as July draws to a close, I’m looking forward to Ellen Ullman’s Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology (MCD/FSG, August 8). I’ve been anticipating this collection of essays reflecting on technology and culture for ages. In the meantime, I’m dipping back into my long-term reading project: Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. Which, with its arch interrogation of the decay of culture and society leading up to World War I, feels only superficially ill-suited to the literal season, while astonishingly, painfully relevant to the political and cultural season.
Libbie Katsev, Intern—In Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, UC Berkeley anthropologist Alexei Yurchak explores why Soviet citizens found the USSR’s collapse both unthinkable and inevitable. Hoping to avoid the binary thinking that dominates language about the Soviet Union, (“official public” and “hidden intimate”; “truth” and “falsity”), Yurchak analyzes interviews, personal writings, jokes, newspaper articles, speeches, and more to examine the paradoxes of late socialism in the words of those who lived it. Though academic, Yurchak’s lively prose and vivid anecdotes make this ethnography an entertaining as well as illuminating read.
Aya Kusch, Intern—W.S. Merwin’s final collection of poems, Garden Time (Copper Canyon Press), offers new insights into the classic Merwin themes of loss, aging, memory, and the beauty of the natural world. In this conclusion to his extensive body of work, there is a comforting consistency to his voice, which maintains both a lyrical quality and lightness no matter how difficult the subject matter. His poetry is not so much about a surrender to the passage of time as it is an acceptance of it, even as life’s harsher aspects inevitably ebb and flow. Despite his impending blindness and the loss of loved ones, Merwin never gives way to a sense of bitterness. Rather, Merwin praises the serenity of the moment, while expressing a deep gratitude for the cherished memories that remain meaningful in the face of their growing distance.
Zack Ravas, Editorial Assistant—When French author and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère collaborated on the acclaimed television show The Returned, about a small mountain town in which the dead return from the grave and try to resume their prior lives, his thoughts kept returning to the Apostle Paul and his expectation that the deceased would one day be called back to life for judgment day. His musings led to The Kingdom (FSG) — part memoir, part fictional interpretation of the early Christian church, this conversational novel imparts Carrère’s varied thoughts on art, life, and love in that charmingly droll and erudite way that seems intrinsically French. Whether comically discussing his children’s nanny and her resemblance to Kathy Bates in Misery, or espousing his love of all things Philip K. Dick (“the Dostoevsky of our time”), Carrère’s voice registers as warm and intimate as a close friend. At the book’s heart is a man grappling with the illogic of his beliefs in an age that has traded faith for reason.
Samara Michaelson, Intern—I keep returning to James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Of all the novels I’ve read this summer, this is the book I’ve been most keen on savoring. I enter it like a dimly lit room. It’s not as though most people are unfamiliar with Joyce’s canonical work, but this year I find myself cracking the door to see how much of myself I can fit in it. I like to travel into all those dark little crevices that Joyce is such a master at shining just a touch of light upon, so that one may see but never touch. As in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, there is a certain tenderness that accompanies the often melancholic and agonizing candor of a mind consumed by itself, as we see with the character of Stephen Dedalus. Jocye’s semi-autobiographical antihero seems to lead a life that is at once lonely and yet full. Full of what, I’m still figuring out. Everything is plainly there — but how can it be translated? Joyce makes me wonder at the immensity of life and just how much of it is unreachable through language. He crafts his web of words stitch by tiny stitch, though he utilizes this fabric to point to something that cannot be grasped, for to grasp it would be to obstruct its truth, to spoil its inherent intimacy. Maybe it’s the difference between feeling and knowing, and only an artist can stun you with the conviction of feeling.
Ann Beattie’s career began, auspiciously, 40 years ago with the joint publication of her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, and Distortions, a short story collection. It was an almost unheard of debut for a writer whose career had previously consisted largely of short stories in The New Yorker and a few other publications.
But she immediately captured critical attention with her pitch-perfect depiction of the lives of her contemporaries, shellshocked by political changes, struggling with the problems of dysfunctional relationships and trying to find a way to make sense of the senseless.
It didn’t hurt that she was also hip, strewing pop and drug culture references through her work like bread crumbs leading to an imaginary cottage. The startling directness and present-tense presence of her voice did not escape the attention of her peers, either.
“You figured out how to write an entirely different kind of story,’’ John Updike told her, at their first meeting.
Although Beattie’s formidable formal innovations are remarkable, it’s no disservice to her work, which now encompasses 19 books, to say she is working in the same arena as such contemporaries as Alice Munro, and predecessors from Mavis Gallant to Chekhov, or Maupassant.
She may not be squarely in their fictional lane – her style is uniquely her own – but they populate the same neighborhood of experience, and no doubt would find a way to successfully communicate over the garden fence. There has recently been an outpouring of work from Beattie, including the publication last year of The State We’re In: Maine Stories. (She and her husband, the painter Lincoln Perry, divide their time between Maine and Key West). Her newest, just-released collection, The Accomplished Guest (288 pages; Scribner), is stunningly successful – reading it is like being hit by successive waves of emotion recalled – not so much in tranquility as in the vertiginous heat of a summer afternoon. The title pays homage to Emily Dickinson’s poem, which she chooses as an epigraph:
An umbilical cord that cannot be cut –– even after death –– turns out to be less of an impediment than one might think in Knots (176 pages; FSG), Gunnhild Øyehaug’s eccentric collection of short stories. Emotional and mental knots are as binding and problematic as physical ones in these surreal and memorable stories, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson.
Øyehaug’s stories run brief as they oscillate between the bizarre and the everyday. In the opening story “Nice and Mild,” a man suffering from anxiety ventures to IKEA to buy curtains for his son, while in “Grandma is Sleeping,” a woman refuses to let in her family inside her home. And the story “The Object Takes and Exalted Place in the Discourse” reads about as theoretical as it sounds.
These vignettes are windows not only into the tangled lives of Øyehaug’s characters, but the possibilities of the short story form: some feel like scenes from a play, others contain footnotes that introduce a new character’s perspective. No matter how experimental, the stories benefit from Øyehaug’s skill at creating fully realized characters. She treats these individuals with compassion, humor, and occasional severity—and they in turn ensure the stories in Knots are consistently surprising and memorable.
While most of the stories in Knots are not overtly connected, repeated elements—allusions to Rimbaud, themes of longing and compulsion, and the motif of knots— give the collection a sense of cohesion. At times, plotlines from one story will resume later: “Take Off, Landing” follows protagonist Geir until he watches his acquaintance Asle, stone in hands, jump off a dock—a hundred pages later, the story “Air” picks up from that very moment. “Deal” follows a young runaway as she receives a ride home from a local source of scandal, a man whose story continues in “Two by Two.”
In this way, Øyehaug utilizes the short story form to reveal how some things in life will always remain out of frame and out of focus. Later, Geir’s perspective of Asle cuts away, via footnote, to a “brilliant explanation” for why Asle is carrying a stone—yet we never explicitly learn just why Geir spends his days watching others from a van.
Knots begins with a quote from poet Christophe Tarkos: “One of two things: either the spiral/Or to be sent out into the air,” and Øyehaug fittingly embraces a lack of resolution, oftentimes leaving things unsaid. At the end of several pieces, an authorial voice enters to offer glib asides or lessons. After a conflict unfolds between two aliens in “Meanwhile, on Another Planet,” a clinical voice sums up the story’s moral: “What can we learn from this? That impossible situations can arise on other planets too. We don’t need to think that we’re the only ones who struggle and fight. Another striking feature is that they communicate through pictures.” These rare moments of authorial intrusion are unsettling precisely because the rest of the stories, no matter how surreal they may become, feel genuine and earnest. Even with the presence of floralh-patterned UFOs, the most unexpected surprise in Knots is how moving the stories prove.