Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Same Anxieties: Contemporary Irish Art Group Show ‘this little bag of dreams …’

There seems to be nothing particularly “Irish” about the show this little bag of dreams … at the Catharine Clark Gallery, other than the nationality of its seven featured artists. The art does not overtly perform, assert or attempt to define “Irishness” in a way we might expect, especially when the work is presented under a banner like “Imagine Ireland,” Culture Ireland’s yearlong transatlantic outreach program (and the show’s sponsor). As though to definitively dispel any residual expectations of a culture-on-exhibit show, Mediterranean food was served at Saturday’s opening reception. Guinness was available, but so was Sierra Nevada. In fact, …Continue reading

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A Wandering Artist: Philip L. Fradkin’s ‘Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife’

I first heard about Everett Ruess, a 20-year-old wander and fledging artist who disappeared in southern Utah 75 years ago, when I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during the ‘80s. His story – a longstanding mystery — was one you eventually got to know if you spent anytime roaming around the backcountry of the high desert. Many years later, on April 30, 2009, the New York Times published an article titled “A Mystery of the West Is Solved.” The article explained that researchers at the University of Colorado, using DNA analysis, claimed to have identified human remains found in …Continue reading

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A Meanness in This World: Donald Ray Pollock’s ‘The Devil All the Time’

The major components of Donald Ray Pollock’s disquieting page-turner of a first novel, The Devil All the Time (Doubleday; 261 pages), are by themselves nothing special. There’s the novel’s crime fiction aspect: depraved criminals and less-than-innocent heroes on a bloody collision course. And the novel’s pivotal philosophical concern, one straight out of gothic fiction (as found in Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor): what does it mean to live in a godless universe full of incomprehension? Or in a world in which God seemingly doesn’t give a damn about what goes on down here? But Pollock, the critically-acclaimed author of the …Continue reading

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Looking for Home: Miroslav Penkov’s ‘East of the West: A Country in Stories’

The title of Miroslav Penkov’s debut story collection, East of the West: A Country in Stories (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 240 pages) is ironic, or maybe wistful —for Penkov’s characters, there is never “a” country. They are Bulgarian immigrants in America, Bulgarian American immigrants returning to Bulgaria, Bulgarians in a village straddling the Serbian border, Muslims in Bulgaria. In 2008, Salman Rushdie selected “Buying Lenin,” the third story in the collection, for his edition  of Best American Short Stories. The atmosphere in East might remind you of Rushdie, but this isn’t magical realism. There’s nothing truly fantastic in Penkov’s work …Continue reading

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The Green Tunnel

David Rains Wallace is the author of seventeen books, including Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Desert (click here for our review),  Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas; Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution, and The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution. His work has earned him two California Book Awards, as well a John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing.

In its Winter 1985 issue ZYZZYVA published an excerpt from Wallace’s work-in-progress — his examination of the unique ecosystem of a state park just north of Daytona, Florida, called Bulow Hammock. The book, Bulow Hammock, eventually would be published by Sierra Club Books. In this piece, Wallace thinks back to when he was a nine-year-old boy and first visited these woods, which are so different from those he knew in New England. “The hammock was … seductive,” he writes. “It smelled sweet, a perfumy sweetness that reminded me of the hotel lobbies and cocktail lounges I’d occasionally been in with my parents.”

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Delicate But Unnerving Patterns: Tahiti Pehrson’s Solo Show ‘Theta Pegasi’

  Initially, the works comprising Tahiti Pehrson’s solo show, “Theta Pegasi,” at Ever Gold Gallery appear doubly insubstantial: these monochromatic paper canvases sliced into intricate geometric designs, often layered three-dimensionally toward the production of still more ephemeral shadows, declare their own fragility. Were it not for their glass cases, a San Francisco wind could easily devastate the show. Intellectually, too, the pieces seem to lack heft. They are astounding technical displays – the craftwork of a probably obsessive and detail loving mind – but that’s about it. Fortunately, before long, Pehrson’s works induce a rug-pull on our perceptions. What begin …Continue reading

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A River of Words to Capture the Nastiness of War: ‘The Land at the End of the World’

If you like your narrators drunk, shell-shocked, adrift, and stricken with logorrhea, please read on. Following in the tradition of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, Antonio Lobo Antunes’s The Land at the End of the World (Norton; 224 pages) is a book of anguished testimony. (Open Letter publisher Chad Post accurately grouped the author with Thomas Bernhard and Louis-Ferdinand Celine as an “author of complaint.”) Based on Lobo Antunes’s experiences as a medic in the Portuguese military, which, from 1961 to 1974, engaged in a failed pacification campaign in its African colonies, The Land …Continue reading

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A Sprawling if Not So Sunny State: ‘New California Writing 2011’

“California,” publisher and author Malcolm Margolin writes in his introduction to the anthology New California Writing 2011 (Heyday, 304 pages), “is a construct of the human imagination.” California encompasses no “definable ecological or cultural area;” we are self-defining, he suggests. If we managed to evade utter disintegration for most of our history, it was thanks to heaps of luck – bountiful natural resources, good climate, driven people. Unfortunately, around mid century it would seem our luck began to dry up. Writing in 2010-2011, the forty-four featured authors in this anthology (edited by Gayle Wattawa) greet us from the pits. The …Continue reading

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In its Spring 1986 issue, ZYZZYVA published a short story by Moroccan artist and writer Mohammed Mrabet, which was translated by the late Paul Bowles, who was living in Tangier at the time. “Chico” was taken from the story collection Marriage with Papers, which was published by Bolinas, California, publisher Tombouctou Books that May.

A spare story of a man seemingly bent toward violence, “Chico” is also an ironic tale of a generous idler turned ingrate toward a hospitable friend. There’s no real moral to “Chico,” only observations of people’s contradictions. We can speculate as to why Chico acts so belligerently (life in prison? being spoiled as a child?), whether,  as the narrator says, nobody could save Chico from himself. These open questions make “Chico” something of a small tragedy.

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Coming in the Fall

After 25 years, we’re giving ZYZZYVA a new look, even a new heft. When the Fall issue hits stands on August 21, you’ll notice the journal’s elegant new design, along with its new page count: an extra 40 pages of fine work from West Coast artists and writers. Here’s what else you can expect in this first issue of the new ZYZZYVA: fiction from David Guterson and Tom Bissell (both writing about Americans not exactly making the best of it while abroad) and Malena Watrous (writing about a mom making the best of dealing with the weird kid at her …Continue reading

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