Category Archives

News

ZYZZYVA news.

The Symphony of Life: ‘Hybrid Creatures’ by Matthew Baker

Hybrid CreaturesMatthew Baker’s characters nurture obsessions. In his story collection Hybrid Creatures (126 pages; Louisiana State University Press), each of his protagonists carries a passion for a particular field, whether it’s mathematics or music, to the point that their fixations bleed through into the text of their stories. The narrator of “Movements” is so buoyed by his love of the symphony he can’t wake up to a morning cityscape in Nashville without experiencing it in musical terms:

“…a shopkeeper in cowboy boots heaved a security shutter up with a crash {piano}, somewhere a jackhammer was slugging {mezzo-forte} pavement, a sheet of metal covering a pothole in the street clapped {pianissimo} when run over by a taxi, somebody was periodically flinging objects made of glass, maybe bottles, into an empty dumpster, where the glass would shatter {staccato}…”

Tryg, the young boy and math prodigy at the heart of the story “The Golden Mean,” processes the emotional fallout of his parents’ divorce, and the ensuing time he must divide between both family members, through the unfailing laws of mathematics: “On average, 4.3 days per week with Family A, 2.7 days per week with Family B.”

These and other more unusual (and complicated typographic) ways of illustrating his characters’ preoccupations appear throughout the collection, such that Baker takes the time in the Acknowledgements to thank the crew at the printer, who “worked spiritedly and tirelessly to accommodate all of the special formatting and symbols in this book.

Baker’s stories read as crisp and minimalist, dictated to the page with a precision not unlike those same mathematical principles Tryg is so fond of. The opening piece, “Coder,” re-contextualizes computer hacking for the martial arts genre, as a younger hacker goes in search of his mentor—or “Sensei”—who has gone missing, ramping up the mood of paranoia so prevalent in stories about data and surveillance.

“Coder” contains more action than the rest of Hybrid Creatures in that the activity moves from one location to another; more often, Baker places his characters in a static milieu—locked on a hotel rooftop overnight or wandering the hallways at a crowded family gathering—as they face some kind of internal dilemma: The narrator of “Movements” must rediscover the meaning behind life’s cacophony of sounds after the death of his long-term partner, while Tryg tries to savor the last few hours with his mother and her new family in the suburbs before being shuttled back to his father’s farm.

The centerpiece of Hybrid Creatures, and arguably its most accomplished work, arrives last with “Proof of the Century,” a story that follows a curmudgeonly grandfather, Willis, navigating a party where his large family has gathered. The character, who has made a career in industrial agriculture, comes to the painful realization he may be suffering from dementia, and that he has not only lost some of his mental faculties but perhaps his beloved wife as well. Refreshingly, Baker treats this revelation not as a dramatic plot twist, but as a quietly devastating unveiling. He displays further deftness in how he weaves overheard conversations throughout the house into the story, often to add humor or to contrast the guests’ self-absorbedness with Willis’s determined mission to locate his wife.

His lifelong belief in the overriding Logic of the universe hinges on finding her, but that belief is threatened by not just the possibility of his wife’s absence but by a dawning understanding that Willis’s work may have had a disastrous effect on the environment. Again and again in Hybrid Creatures, we see that the pursuits in life that edify and elevate us, which help shape our daily routines and provide a sense of purpose, rarely prepare us to face life’s greatest hardships. That we must do, like so many things, on our own.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Spring Issue

In this issue:

Interview:

The first American to win the Man Booker Prize, Paul Beatty talks with Managing Editor Oscar Villalon about his novel “The Sellout,” Los Angeles, literature, and satire.

Nonfiction:

What Emerges from the Fog: Essays on the faded traces of a life spent in the City (Joshua Mohr’s “San Francisco Loved Us Once”), and on the incredible challenges of making a life here—and of just choosing to live (Suzanne Rivecca’s “Ugly and Bitter and Strong”).

Fiction:

Anticipating the Worst: Stories on the threat of explosions, whether it be at the airport (David L. Ulin’s “Terminal”) or as just part of your job (Tom Barbash’s “Catbird”).

Natalie Serber’s “La Voix du Sang”: A son, becoming a young man, pulls his parents into the spiral of his wobbly future.

Maddy Raskulinecz’s “Barbara from Florida”: The tricks of the pizza-delivery trade: carry a dummy wallet, have plenty of fake IDs, and be ready for anything.

Plus stories from Dawna Kemper, Olivia Parkes, and Michael Zaken.

Poetry:

Christopher J. Adamson, William Brewer, Leah Clare Kaminski, Amy Miller, Pablo Neruda (translated by Katie Lateef-Jan & Dean Rader), John Sibley Williams, Casey Thayer, Robert Thomas, Kristen Tracy, and Devon Walker-Figueroa

Art:

Featuring the paintings of Eileen David

You can purchase a copy of No. 112 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA now and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Spring issue.

Posted in News | Comments Off on In the Spring Issue

Adrift and at Peace: ‘A Good Day for Seppuku’ by Kate Braverman

A Good Day for SeppukuFiction writer and poet Kate Braverman began her acclaimed career with 1979’s Lithium for Medea, a bildungsroman about a young woman struggling with cocaine addiction and a trying relationship with her family. Since that time, Braverman has collected numerous accolades, including Best American Short Story and O. Henry awards, a Graywolf Press nonfiction prize, and being named a San Francisco Public Library Laureate. Four decades into her career, she shows no signs of slowing down her creative output, and returns with her latest story collection, A Good Day For Seppuku (192 pages; City Lights Books). Here Braverman depicts characters in complex relationships that seem all too real: estranged daughters, young adults forced to choose between their parents, toxic friendships, and more. These are complicated people who bring to mind poet William Shenstone’s observation that “A liar begins with making falsehood appear like the truth, and ends with making truth itself appear like falsehood.”

Though the collection’s scenarios could be dismissed as familiar tropes, Braverman brings sagacious insight to them. Her mind, a fecund breeding ground of creativity, can take a cliche such as “a wife leaves her husband” and spin it, often with a clever turn of phrase, into something like a short masterpiece. For example, in “O’Hare,” in which a 13-year-old girl must choose between living with her mother and her record-producing boyfriend in Beverly Hills, or her father in the rural Allegany Hills, she describes how her young protagonist finds herself most at home between the two places, at the Chicago airport: “I feel like I’m back in O’Hare where seasons do not exist and all rules are suspended…I press the pause button on my life and everything stops.”

Moving through the eight stories in the book, one is greatly impressed by Braverman’s ability to recontextualize themes of estrangement, substance abuse, and fractured familial relationships through her unique prose style. Page after page of the collection is filled with lyrical imagery that veers toward the cinematic, such as in this evocative opening paragraph from “Women of the Ports”:

They meet at irregular intervals at Fisherman’s Wharf. This is the neutral zone, the landscape of perpetual, unmolested childhood where the carousel spins in its predictable orbit, and the original primitive neon alphabet does not deviate. Some hieroglyphics are permanent and intelligible in all hemispheres and dialects. No translation is necessary. The carousel doesn’t require calculus, rehab or absolution. No complications with immigration or the IRS. Just buy a token.

Elsewhere, in “In Feeding in a Famine,” she uses vivid symbolism to describe an alienated young woman’s visit to her family farm: “Outside is thunder like a plane straining at a blue edge too fragile to be a real border. It’s a juncture created by intention and rumor, composed of insects and feathers clinging to underside of yellow air. It has nothing to do with her.” With A Good Day for Seppuku, Braverman shines a light on our most intimate relationships. It is a bracing reminder of how uniquely powerful of a writer Braverman is.

 

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interoffice Memorandum 2/15

Office MemoDate: 15 February

To: All Quest Industries Employees

From: Judy Kemper, Vice President of Marketing

Subj: Lost cardigan—please help!

I seem to have misplaced a very important sweater and I’m almost certain I left it here in the office this past Friday. If you have seen my lime green Laura Ashley cardigan, size M, with pearl buttons, a small-to-medium gravy stain on one sleeve (left), and one frayed cuff (right), please tell me where you spotted it, and if this information leads to its recovery, I promise to give you a reward of your choosing, up to $10 in value. I do wish it could be more, but unfortunately, my husband and I are on a tight budget this month, due to expenses incurred when a tree fell on our car last Wednesday evening during a thunderstorm and another tree, unbelievably, fell on our roof less than an hour later!

What are the odds? And what on heaven and earth is going on with our karma? Not that I believe specifically in karma or anything related to the Hindu faith, but it does seem as if something strange is going on here.

By the way, if you choose to forfeit your reward for locating my treasured cardigan in light of Glenn’s and my current financial situation, I will be happy to repay the favor by searching high and low (for up to 15 minutes) if you ever lose anything of sentimental or monetary value in this office and are desperate for help finding it.

If anyone here at Quest Industries actually does know how to calculate the odds of a tree falling on your car and another tree falling on your roof less than an hour later, I’d be very interested in hearing what they are.

Here is some more information for the math nerd(s) among us: We have six trees on our property (well, four now, technically) and they are all about 50-75 years old: two birch, one maple, two evergreens, one gingko. There was a squirrel’s nest in the maple, and an unidentified bird’s nest in the gingko. The maple was the first tree to fall (on the roof) and the blasted gingko fell on the car approximately 48 minutes later. The car was parked in the driveway, about 8 yards from where the tree fell on the roof. The gingko and the maple were on opposite sides of the front yard and did not have overlapping root systems, as far as I know. Also, according to my mother-in-law, the gingko tree was haunted.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Strength of Kindness & Reason: Q&A with ‘Winter Kept Us Warm’ Author Anne Raeff

(photo by Dennis Hearne)

(photo by Dennis Hearne)

San Francisco writer Anne Raeff’s new novel, Winter Kept Us Warm’’ (304 pages; Counterpoint Press), officially out next Tuesday, is an ambitious, multi-generational tale that deals with the interlocking lives of three characters—Ulli, Leo, and Isaac—who meet in Berlin shortly after World War II has ended. A departure of sorts from Raeff’s 2015 story collection, The Jungle Around Us, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, it shares a similar interest in the complexities of character, motive, and human nature, albeit on a different palette. (In a coincidence of fate, Raeff’s wife, Lori Ostlund, previously won the O’Connor Award in 2008 for her collection The Bigness of the World.)

Raeff spoke to us by e-mail about the new book, her biography, and her future projects. This is a writer who deals with serious, sometimes unfashionable subjects, with depth and compassion, qualities the new novel displays in abundance.

ZYZZYVA: Winter Kept Us Warm covers a lot of ground and geographical locations, from Germany to New York, Los Angeles and Morocco. It also seems like a “European’’ novel, in the sense that politics is seen as part and parcel of the tapestry of life, rather than something to be addressed separately. Was that partly your intent, to bring that tradition back? Are there novelists you were particularly influenced by who deal with the same concerns?

Anne Raeff: I don’t see how it is possible to separate story from history. In fact, the word story didn’t come into the English language until the early 16th century. Before that, history was the only word, and it meant a narrative of important events. Perhaps because the stories I grew up with were so closely tied to cataclysmic events in history like the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust, and World War II, from a very early age I thought of history as story and story as history.

My father was an historian by profession, but the interesting thing is that he didn’t teach me the facts of history, though he encouraged me to study and read about history on my own. Instead, he told me stories. He told me the story of the girl who died because of a gas leak while taking a bath in a pension in Lisbon. She and her family were among the many Russian refugees like my father who had escaped Occupied France and were waiting in Lisbon for visas to come to the United States. He told me about the prisoner at the POW camp in Arizona who believed that Stalin was living in his head.

Part of American exceptionalism is a lack of interest in history and an almost ideological denial of the effects of history on individual lives. Perhaps now that American literature is including a greater variety of voices, the importance of the forces of history will become more integrated into literature and into the American consciousness. The book that comes to mind that weaves together a very particular moment in history with a very particular human tragedy is Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. It is a book with an extraordinary sense of place, which is also something that is extremely important to me.

Continue reading

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now & at the Hour of Our Death: Q&A with ‘The Immortalist’ Author Chloe Benjamin

2145081

(Photo by Nathan Jandl)

I refuse, as a rule, to consult all fortunetellers, palm-readers, and tarot-card diviners. I won’t so much as glance at a horoscope; routinely, I forget what my own astrological sign might be. It’s not so much that I believe or disbelieve in what a fortuneteller might have to tell me, but that I distrust myself, not knowing how my future behavior might change in response to what any would-be oracle has to say.

Chloe Benjamin’s second, much-lauded novel, The Immortalists (352 pages; Putnam), follows four siblings who, as children, go to a fortuneteller to learn when they’ll die. Afterward, tensions between the future and the present, between predictions and reality, threaten to break this family apart. I talked via email to Benjamin (whose first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, won the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award) about her powerful, compelling new book, and about death, the present tense, and dance.

ZYZZYVA: I’m not at all alone in finding the central premise of The Immortalists—the possibility of finding out, and maybe even believing in, the date we’ll die—to be both terribly moving and terrifying. What brought you to this idea?

Chloe Benjamin: I know it sounds strange, but I have such a hard time answering this question! I think it’s because concepts, for me, always feel very subconscious—I don’t have a clear memory of the first time the idea hit me, but I do know that the basic kernel was always there: four siblings go to visit a fortuneteller, and then the book follows each of them over the course of their lives. I wish I had better origin stories. Stephen King has a great line that references the muses as “the boys in the basement”—this idea of people working away at some deeper level of a writer’s consciousness. Of course, as a feminist, I amend that to “the gals in the basement.”

Even if I can’t remember the precise spark, I do know that The Immortalists comes very much out of my own neuroses. I’ve always struggled with uncertainty and loss, which are intertwined, for me: the uncertainty of whether and when we will lose our loved ones, our happiness, our stability. And there’s no greater, or at least no more final, loss than death. It’s occurred to me that I would be able to slough off so much worry if I knew that I and those closest to me would live long lives. Of course, we can’t know that, but it got me thinking about what it would be like if we could know—with no guarantee that it would be good news. Is knowledge a blessing or a curse? A liberator or a hindrance? And to what extent are denial and ignorance actually positive forces in human life, in that they enable us to keep going?

Continue reading

Posted in Interviews, News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letting the Light in: ‘Recent Changes in the Vernacular’ by Tony Hoagland

9781893003170Tony Hoagland, like Jack Spicer, is a master of wielding the needle of irony to inject you with the pain of being an aware human being. (Re-reading Spicer’s letters to Graham Macintosh in the July 1970 issue of Caterpillar reminded me of their shared sensibility.) Hoagland has a particular ability to pinpoint the ills and contradictions of the American psychic landscape using deadly serious humor. This was already evident in poems such as “Hard Rain,” “Dickhead,” “Foodcourt,” “At the Galleria Shopping Mall,” and “America.” Perhaps no one else in the contemporary poetry landscape creates such pitch-perfect expositions of our national yearnings, naiveté, and delusions. He also has poems of infinite tenderness, such as “Beauty” or “The Color of the Sky.”

The best of Hoagland’s work shows his fearlessness, his willingness to probe his own demons, to expose himself in print. In the poems “Lucky,” “Sweet Ruin,” or “Phone Call,” for example, he dramatizes his own darkness, admits he is implicated, doesn’t shrink from self-exposure. He opens himself up in a profound way—the way letting light into a dark room allows you to see, and re-evaluate the tattered, rather humiliating furniture. (This has not been without controversy. His reaction several years ago to Claudia Rankine asking him about his poem “The Change” provoked a scathing response from Rankine, which you can read about here.)

His latest book, Recent Changes in the Vernacular (96 pages; Tres Chicas Press), displays these same qualities—humor, perceptive exploration of the American psyche, and a willingness to go deep into the unexplored personal. It’s tempting to quote whole poems; to let them speak for themselves, because it’s hard to get a sense of their range and depth in short bursts. Part of Hoagland’s technique is the layering of imagery, one sequence playing off the next. But other skills include the ability to create a simple exposition that exactly captures something you instantly recognize. In “Opening Night,” a poem about the opera house built by the generosity of the widow of an arms manufacturer, he comments:

… no one smells the gunpowder
hidden deep inside the curtains;

No one sees the blood congealed
around the legs of the piano

These lines seem simple, straightforward, inevitable. But the effect they produce is almost impossible to achieve. Like a skilled tightrope walker, Hoagland makes his acrobatics look easy. Hoagland notes in his poem, “Empire”:

It’s hard to write inside an empire.
The ink is made from the eyelids of mice…

You don’t say anything because you like your job;
you like your car and wife and life.

Yet somehow Hoagland can write about the empire from inside it, write of his own role within it, of his complicity, which makes us aware of our complicity. His vision is accurate, wry, unflinching. This excerpt from “Moisture” is typical:

The ice skater spins on her prosthetic leg, on national TV,
in her first performance since the accident

and wobbles once but does not fall,
as the audience rises to its feet to give her an ovation

and my tears drip down into my potpie chicken dinner
saving me the trouble of adding salt.

His ability to pick just the right detail—the potpie or the eyelids of mice—elevates the poems and gives them power.

Of course, not every poem hits its mark; some feel light, jokey, too easy. But as a whole, this book is a complex mix of pleasure and revelation. Who else could write a scene of a man dying of a heart attack in a bus on the way to Atlantic City and end it like this?

The tired state trooper can feel a headache coming on,
and the faintest sprinkle on his hairy arms, just a mist
descending from the shrouded Jersey sky,
just the faintest dreamlike of particulates…

—Now traffic will be stop and go
all the way to Party City—
that’s what he thinks, phlegmatically,
as a woman with cotton-candy hair

and what looks like a Corgi in her purse
stands up inside the bus
and slides down the aisle,
because there is a vacancy in Row Sixteen

and she feels lucky.

We are there with the tired trooper, the hopeful gambler, and that perfect detail—the Corgi in her purse. We are with them and of them, rueful observers as death exits down the interstate.

As for the personal, “The Age of Iron,” which opens Section II of this book, stands as one of Hoagland’s most masterful poems—one that I wish there were space to quote in its entirety. As it is, you’ll need to read the book.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Become a Member-Level Donor and Get a Copy of Fred Lyon’s ‘San Francisco Noir’

PA_SanFranciscoNoir_CVR_9781616896515If you make a Member-level donation of $100 to ZYZZYVA before the end of the year, do we have a nice surprise for you. We’ll send you a copy of acclaimed photographer Fred Lyon’s gorgeous San Francisco Noir, published by Princeton Architectural Press, for free. But we have a limited supply of books, so don’t delay! Just enter SFNOIR in the “Write a note” field on the donation page to receive your copy.

All of our Member-level donors also get a complimentary four-issue subscription to ZYZZYVA and have their generosity acknowledged by name in both the journal and on our website.

Called “San Francisco’s Brassai,” Fred Lyons, now 93, has long been photographing the city. His work has been exhibited at SF MOMA, the Legion of Honor Museum, the Art Institute in Chicago, and at the Leica Gallery, where an exhibition of his work from San Francisco Noir runs through December 30. The glamour and the grittiness of San Francisco’s bygone years are forever captured in Lyon’s work. (Click on two of the images found in the book below for a better sense of what we mean.) And thanks to the good people at Princeton Architecture Press, this $40 book can be yours with your $100 donation to ZYZZYVA. But hurry! Copies are very limited.

1007326

 

San Francisco cable car turnabout at Eddy and Powell Streets 1005191

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Get a Subscription to ZYZZYVA, New England Review, & Rain Taxi for Just $70

ZYZZYVA_NERThis holiday season treat yourself or somebody you know to a year’s worth of acclaimed writing from three of the country’s best journals—for one low price.

We’re teaming up with NER and Rain Taxi to offer our readers what we think is a deal too good to refuse. All year you’ll get prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and reviews and essays from prestigious journals located on the West Coast, the East Coast, and in the Midwest—giving you a rich sense of the work being produced across the country. All for just $70.

This offer expires December 22. So order now!

Posted in News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Subscribe to ZYZZYVA and Receive a Free Copy of ‘Feed the Resistance’

Feed the ResistanceZYZZYVA, in collaboration with publisher Chronicle Books, is offering a free copy of Feed the Resistance to the first five people who subscribe to ZYZZYVA, give a gift subscription, or renew their subscription today.

Written by celebrated food writer Julia Turshen, Feed the Resistance is a cookbook keyed to the demands of activism. There are recipes for when you have little time to spare in the kitchen (Spicy Tandoori Cauliflower with Minted Yogurt), and there are recipes for when you have to feed a large group of fellow resisters (Angel Food Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce).

Feed the Resistance makes for a stellar pairing with out latest issue, to say nothing of it being a great holiday gift in itself. So don’t delay! Just enter promo code RESIST in the Order Notes at checkout.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Letter From The Editor

“Literature is the question minus the answer.”
—Roland Barthes

To learn which questions are unanswerable and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”
—Ursula K. LeGuin, from The Left Hand of Darkness

Dear Reader,

Perhaps you, like me, find yourself asking a lot from literature these days: greater solace, finer insight, deeper resonance. For me that’s led to thinking more pointedly about such expectations, and I’ve found it is useful to ask not only what literature can do to respond to current events, but also how; not just what meaning literature can make, but how such meaning operates.

Continue reading

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Winter Issue

In this issue:

Art & Resistance Amid Turmoil

Criticism:

Troy Jollimore on how Wallace Shawn’s plays and his latest book, Night Thoughts, illuminate our predicament

Robin Romm on what Imre Kertész can teach us about art as resistance

Nonfiction:

T.J. Stiles on the road we travelled to arrive at this precarious moment

Andrew Tonkovich on “free persons,” and the risks writers must take

Fiction:

Dana Johnson’s “Like Other People”: In desperate need of a job, a graduate student takes a job cleaning cable boxes, working with folks also hard up for work.

Kristopher Jansma’s “The Corps of Discovery”: On a long road trip with his father, a middle-school history teacher considers Lewis & Clark, loss, and how no matter how much you prepare, “there were things you couldn’t reasonably expect to be prepared for.”

Krys Lee’s “The Jungle”: The trees and the vines have long received the terrified and the wretched; their plight does not go unnoticed.

Mackenzie Evan Smith’s “The Wet Continent”: “I have not set toe on a sailboat in more than a decade. I don’t know the last time I touched the ocean. … I think I am happier now. Am I really?”

Plus an excerpt from Dorthe Nors’s upcoming novel, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal

Poetry:

Victoria Chang, David Hernandez, Ruth Madievsky and Dean Rader on the topic of resistance; plus new poems from Judy Halebsky, Auzelle Epeneter, Bino A. Realuyo, Noah Warren, Christina Olson, and Jenny Xie

Interview:

Over a home-cooked meal, a boisterous conversation between Matt Sumell and Michelle Latiolais about mentoring, anger, rescue dogs, and what it means to write for a living.

Art:

Jenny Sampson’s tintypes of California skaters
Custom cover design & illustration by Josh Korwin

You can purchase a copy of No. 111 here, or order a subscription to ZYZZYVA now and we’ll start you off by shipping you the Winter issue.

Posted in News | Comments Off on In the Winter Issue