Author Archives: me

Seeing the Self Between the Memories: ‘Meet Me in the In-Between’ by Bella Pollen

So often, the problem with words is their yielding to the things in our lives that don’t make sense or don’t want to make sense. In her new book, Meet Me in the In-Between (320 pages; Grove Press), Bella Pollen takes on the daunting task of containing her life in words even as she acknowledges that the self cannot be contained. Author of five novels, including the critically acclaimed The Summer of the Bear and Midnight Cactus, as well as a contributor to Vogue, Bazaar and the Times (UK), Pollen ventures into the realm of memoir with an account of her …Continue reading

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It’s Official: Zyzzyva Is the Last Word, So Let’s Celebrate with a Special Offer!

What’s worth up to 73 points in Scrabble and is now officially the last word in the Oxford English Dictionary? We are! As “zyzzyva” makes its overdue arrival in the OED, recent articles from The Washington Post and USA Today are helping to spread the word as to what the word even means (a tropical weevil, of course, as our readers already know), but also shed some light on why a San Francisco literary journal in 1985 would have chosen the word for its name. As the Oxford English Dictionary’s blog notes, “[The word] Zyzzyva owes much of its currency …Continue reading

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A Wasteland Where the Dead Can Die Again: ‘The Kill Society’ by Richard Kadrey

“So far, being dead is about as much fun as a barbed-wire G-string.” Thus opens Richard Kadrey’s The Kill Society (Harper Voyager; 416 pages), the ninth installment in his bestselling Sandman Slim series revolving around the half-human, half-angel anti-hero James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, one of the few souls to have escaped from Hell. He’s a scrappy boozehound who’s skilled in black magic and always fights dirty. He’s feared by demons, and considered an abomination by angels, but he may be the only one who can save creation from itself. Throughout the series, he has faced off against vampires and …Continue reading

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The Huge Potential of Small Gestures: ‘The Redemption of Galen Pike’ by Carys Davies

In Australian author Carys Davies’ latest story collection, The Redemption of Galen Pike (176 pages; Biblioasis), Davies’s deadpan voice and morbid sense of humor lend a surreal twist to otherwise ordinary interactions and relationships. Each of these stories in the collection, which won the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, features unlikely encounters between people with seemingly little in common, encounters which ultimately lead to unexpected self-discovery or empathy. The title story perhaps illustrates this best. As it opens, a woman who regularly visits inmates to offer solace is assigned a prisoner whose violent crime she finds particularly despicable. Her …Continue reading

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The Human Creature, Closely Observed: ‘Large Animals’ by Jess Arndt

Jess Arndt’s Large Animals (131 pages; Catapult) traps its characters in self-constructed cages and puts them on display, presenting a bevy of cultural concerns about identity, sex, and the human body. Ranging from the 19th century to contemporary San Francisco and New York, the twelve stories in Arndt’s first book prove startling in their variety and verisimilitude, and challenge our notions of gender and the binary divides that too often fail to define us. In “Beside Myself,” we witness the austere life of a woman attempting to impregnate her wife by using her brother’s sperm. Here, as in many of …Continue reading

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The Inexhaustible Power of Fairy Tale: Q&A with ‘A Moral Tale’ Author Josh Emmons

The past is never past in Josh Emmons’ new story collection, A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales (184 pages; Dzanc Books). In each of these stories (of which the title one appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 102), the reader can feel the lingering effect of humanity’s fabricated history – the assemblage of folktales, parables, and lore that have helped shape our collective consciousness over time, from Noah and his Ark (“Haley”) to Aesop’s talking animals (“Arise”). The narrator of one piece claims, “What came next hardly warrants retelling, so familiar is the story…” but nothing could be further from the …Continue reading

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Struggle for Humanity, on Earth, in Space: ‘The Book of Joan’ by Lidia Yuknavitch

Through several books of fiction, Lidia Yuknavitch has developed a reputation for playing with language and confronting what a novel can be, both in form and purpose. In her work, plot steps aside for meditations on brutality, passion, lust, agony, and hope, all of which she ruminates on until, as if by magic, they approximate something like an undeniable narrative. Using characters and singular events to flesh out her more abstract points, she has the ability to dig into the more painful and at times disturbing aspects of feelings, resulting in rewarding books. In her new novel, The Book of …Continue reading

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Illness Ends a Career, Spurs Another: Q&A with ‘Hard to Grip’ Author Emil DeAndreis

Emil DeAndreis’s memoir, Hard to Grip (310 pages; Schaffner Press), is delivered in five stages, which is fitting, because in many ways this book of baseball and chronic illness is a grief memoir. DeAndreis begins jubilantly with his story of a promising high school career, becomes absurdist when he arrives at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, and then takes a sharp, dark turn as he is confronted with an unlikely diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis. DeAndreis, 23 and preparing to pitch professionally in Belgium, must reckon with the end of his career because of a disease that most commonly affects middle-aged women. The …Continue reading

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Lost Addresses, Found Poems: Collections from Diann Blakely & Hélène Cardona

“My fear is the common one, that her poetry should be lost,’’ Rodney Jones writes in the introduction to Lost Addresses: New and Selected Poems (100 pages; Salmon Poetry), a posthumously released collection by his friend and fellow Southerner, Diann Blakely. “There are ample reasons for a poet to be neglected, temporarily submerged in a trend, or permanently effaced, for poetry is a cold media and the music that the claim of poetry rests on may not always be acknowledged,’’ he adds. “This book is proof against forgetting.” Indeed. Blakely, who died in 2014, had a light that burned brightly, …Continue reading

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A World with No Use for Her Perfect Queer Self: ‘Notes of a Crocodile’ by Qiu Miaojin

In 1994, the Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin published Notes of a Crocodile (NYRB Classics; 254 pages), a masterwork of fiction that plumbs same-sex desire while satirizing homophobic society; a year later, she killed herself. An English translation by Bonnie Huie captures the urgent, confessional voice of a lesbian struggling to live with honesty and courage in a society that holds her in its thrall. The novel’s anonymous narrator, known only by the nonsense nickname “Lazi,” reconstructs from old notebooks and deteriorating memories an account of her time as a college student at an elite university in Taipei in the late ’80s. Her …Continue reading

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A History of Missteps & Bad Luck: ‘What to Do About the Solomons’ by Bethanny Ball

At first glance, What to Do About the Solomons (256 pages; Grove/Atlantic) by Bethany Ball may seem like just another story about a dysfunctional family. But as you get deeper into Ball’s first novel, it becomes apparent it’s less about a dysfunctional family and more about dysfunctional individuals within a family that—despite the internal dramas inevitable in any large family—have a strangely stable and even loving relationship with one another. Much of the novel centers on the (arguably) most loveable member of the infamous Solomon family, Yakov Solomon, the family patriarch. He is a force of nature within the kibbutz: …Continue reading

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What Memories (and We) Are Really Made of: ‘Void Star’ by Zachary Mason

The crux of speculative fiction is not always found in inventing new worlds but in skewing our own. Zachary Mason’s Void Star (385 pages; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) does just that, chronicling the struggle of its misfit characters as they fight to survive on an Earth in which the oceans have risen and threaten to submerge the majority of the planet’s remaining landmass. As affluent technocrats revel in their riches atop skyscrapers, the poorest of society are corralled into filthy favelas below them. Nowhere is this stark divide epitomized better than Mason’s meticulously rendered version of San Francisco, a lurid …Continue reading

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