Monthly Archives: March 2019

Q&A with Andrew Ridker: The Absurdity of the Facts of Things

It’s hard not to see Andrew Ridker’s acerbic, cerebral first novel, The Altruists (319 pages; Viking)—which has attracted attention from NPR and The Times, among others—as an answer to the question of how to think about, let alone write about, a major strain of American life in 2019. The plot centers around a family at once archetypal and painfully real: Arthur, a pedantic, regret-filled professor who finds tenure elusive; his psychotherapist wife, Francine, whose premature death from breast cancer was worsened by Arthur’s cheating on her in the terminal stages of her illness; their daughter, Maggie, a sanctimonious, kleptomaniac tutor; …Continue reading

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On Creating the Orcas Island Lit Fest

When my friend Jule Treneer asked me if I wanted to start a literary festival, we were standing in a park, watching his son bounce up and down on a trampoline. It was summer, and I felt, like the boy, that I had excess energy to burn. The festival’s shape and focus were amorphous, but the location was definite. Orcas Island, a beautiful, two-lobed protrusion of volcanic plate in the San Juan archipelago in Washington State, but so far north the island is tucked into Canada. Orcas was a key place for Jule growing up, and his mother had recently …Continue reading

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ZYZZYVA Recommends March 2019: What to Read, Watch, & Listen to

Before we head off to Portland for AWP ’19, we thought we would share what  ZYZZYVA recommends this month—a roundup of the works we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to: Katie O’Neill, Intern: The abundance of streaming services available online have largely killed any urge I have to watch live TV.  Outdated advertisement breaks combined with the difficulty of committing to a set time make it more effort than it’s generally worth to catch a program as it airs.  But, every Wednesday night at 9pm I can be found in front of my TV tuned in to SYFY to catch …Continue reading

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‘Fire Season’ by Patrick Coleman: Intergenerational Interpretations

We poets often pride ourselves on exploiting the many interpretations that figurative language affords us, and so we may shy away from visuals for fear they will detract from this ability to embody multiple meanings without sacrificing substance that we think separates “real” poetry from most prose. And though we may write poems inspired by visual art, we rarely include images of these works in books. Not so with Patrick Coleman’s Fire Season (102 pages; Tupelo Press). Initially, I expected the images paired with poems in the book to be too on the nose and/or to give away too much. …Continue reading

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Carolyn Burke

Carolyn Burke was born in Sydney, spent many years in Paris, and now lives in California. Her 2011 No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, published by Knopf and Bloomsbury, has been translated into several languages, including French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Burke’s Lee Miller: A Life, published by Knopf and Bloomsbury in 2006, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award. Burke spent time with Lee Miller while working on her first book, Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. The definitive biography of the expatriate artist/poet, it sparked a …Continue reading

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‘The Collected Schizophrenias’ by Esmé Weijun Wang: A Map into Rarely Charted Waters

Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias (202 pages; Graywolf Press) consists of twelve essays addressing the technical definitions, medical prognosis, and personal challenges of schizophrenia. In the first essay, Wang discloses her own diagnosis to the reader: during her time as an undergraduate at Yale, she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type), which she describes as an illness that combines certain behavioral markers of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She makes it clear the schizophrenias (of which there are a few types) are both complex and vast in how they are perceived and experienced. Wang manages to discuss such a …Continue reading

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Interview with Erik Tarloff: Hollywood Endings

Berkeley novelist Erik Tarloff is a polymath. Growing up in Los Angeles, he was steeped in the motion picture industry (his father, Frank Tarloff, was a screenwriter), but he has also been deeply involved in politics, including stints as a speechwriter for Bill and Hillary Clinton and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, among others. He has satirized the Washington political scene in his acclaimed 1998 novel, Face-Time, about a speech-writer whose girlfriend is sleeping with the President, and taken a fictional look at the complicated political and personal dynamics of ‘60s Berkeley in All Our Yesterdays. He is also the …Continue reading

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‘Gingerbread’ by Helen Oyeyemi: Ever-Shifting Nature

Helen Oyeyemi’s latest novel Gingerbread (258 pages; Riverhead), revolves around the fictional country of Druhástrana, an “alleged nation state of indeterminable geographic location” that may or may not exist, depending on who you ask. Druhá Strana roughly translates from Slovak to “the other side” or “the flipside,” a fitting name for a nation that bears more resemblance to a half-remembered fever dream than any currently existing country. Gingerbread mirrors the ever-shifting nature of Druhástrana in many ways, with its circular and occasionally conflicting narratives leaving the reader frantically performing mental gymnastics in order to keep up. The novel focuses on …Continue reading

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‘Territory of Light’ by Yuko Tsushima: A New Life in Tokyo

Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light (183 pages, FSG; translated by Geraldine Harcourt) begins when the husband of the narrator, Mrs. Fujino, leaves her. After months of apartment hunting, she moves with her two year-old daughter into a new building. The apartment is abundant with light most hours of the day, but it fails to illuminate their lives the way she hoped it would. The novel consists of twelve brief chapters, each one a vignette of life in Tokyo with an inquisitive and sometimes unruly daughter. (The narrative was originally published in Japan in twelve installments, between 1978 and 1979.) At …Continue reading

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