Passion Tempered with Patience: An Interview with Paul Yamazaki

by Stephen Sparks

ZYZZYVA Volume 33, #2, Fall 2017

Paul Yamazaki made me want to be a bookseller. When I met Paul, I’d been working in bookstores for fifteen years, but it wasn’t until getting to know him and seeing just how established and comfortable he was with his place in the publishing ecosystem that I began to find a similar comfort myself. At the time, I was working as a manager and book buyer at Green Apple Books on Clement Street, and have since, at the beginning of 2017, become with my wife the owner of Point Reyes Books.  Paul has been at City Lights Bookstore for nearly […]

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‘Daddy’ by Emma Cline: An Unsettling Glimpse

by Zack Ravas

The coverage surrounding Emma Cline’s rise to literary fame has tended to focus on everything but her work—a seven-figure book deal with Random House, her young age, a copyright case involving an ex-boyfriend that was definitively shot down in court. But unfortunate as this is, the writing is what matters. Cline’s first novel, The Girls, transplanted the story of the Manson Family to late Sixties Northern California. While the Manson murders were a well-trod subject long before the book was published in 2016, Cline found a way to make the narrative feel compelling again by using it to tell a […]

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‘The Party Upstairs’ by Lee Conell: Where Expectations Meet a Harsh Reality

by Nessa Ordukhani

Lee Conell’s first novel, The Party Upstairs (308 pages; Penguin Random House), is a provocative testament to class division and the boundless nature of self-absorbance. Alternating between the perspectives of Ruby and her father, Martin, Conell offers us a glimpse into a microcosm of New York where tensions are high, and resentment seems inevitable. Ruby, saddled with a niche degree and few job prospects, is forced to move back to her childhood home—the basement in an Upper West Side apartment building where her father is the super. Martin, exhausted by life and desperate for a moment of peace, must continue […]

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‘Telephone’ by Percival Everett: The Futility of Play

by Michelle Latiolais

One can read Percival Everett’s latest novel entirely ignorant of why it is titled Telephone (232 pages; Graywolf Press), as I did, or one can be in the know. Supposedly there is an A, B, and C version, and thus the title. I have read the B version, and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Discrepancies may occur, or indeed will occur, and like those dinner parties in which everyone argues over whether the superior novel is Mrs. Bridge or Mr. Bridge, now we can convene to argue our preferred version of Telephone, except I think this may […]

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‘Zero Zone’ by Scott O’Connor: Looking Out, and Beyond, Art, Angst, and Agony

by Paul Wilner

“The guards let them stay in the dayroom longer than usual, on account of the fact that the world might end,’’ Scott O’Connor allows, writing about a convict named Tanner and his friend Emmett deep into his enthralling new novel, Zero Zone (Counterpoint Press, 320 pages). The “fact’’ in question is the Three Mile Island meltdown—the jailbirds are disappointed that it fizzles, but there’s more—much more—apocalyptic tension to come here. O’Connor’s work is a spooky, sometimes sepulchral portrait of the confluence between the overlapping lives of Jess Shepard, a Los Angeles installation artist who has created a space near an […]

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Q&A with Rachel Swearingen: ‘How to Walk on Water and Other Stories’

by Christine Sneed

One of the best story collections I’ve read in the last several years, Rachel Swearingen’s How To Walk on Water and Other Stories (182 pages; New American Press), winner of the New American Press Fiction Prize, is defined in no small part by its author’s ability to immerse her readers in the complex and varied interior lives of the characters who populate her stories. Whether Swearingen is describing a graduate student’s attempt not to be driven to murder and madness by rude undergraduate neighbors or is offering us an intimate and highly specific view of a widower still grieving over […]

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ZYZZYVA Staff Recommends September 2020: What to Read, Watch, & Listen to

by ZYZZYVA Staff

Is it just us or was this September one of those ‘blink-and-you-missed-it’ kind of months? Ah, but it’s so hard to tell what time means anymore in 2020. We’re still keeping busy, however, which is why we’re back with our regularly scheduled Staff Picks in case you’re looking for something to listen to, read, or more: Bella Davis, Intern: Lately, it’s been hard for me to think about anything other than collapse. The election is a little over a month away and the President of the United States has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he […]

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‘Luster’ by Raven Leilani: Turning the Gaze Backward

by Colton Alstatt

As the era of Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, and John Updike—sex-norm-subverting Baby Boomer writers—passes, something about the sexual rutting of white men grows tired. New scrutiny appears for their works; Updike’s late fiction, David Foster Wallace said, exemplified “the joyless and anomic self-indulgence of the Me Generation[’s] impassioned infidelities.” In response, a new wave of American authors are emerging to re-examine the Complicated White Man’s extramarital affair. Thirty-year-old Raven Leilani’s first novel, Luster (227 Pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux), tells the story from the other side, as a young Black woman involves herself in the open marriage of an older […]

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‘My Favorite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog’ by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias: An Offbeat Chorus

by CJ Green

Legna Rodríguez Iglesias’ eclectic novel-in-stories, My Favorite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog (207 pages, McSweeney’s; translated by Megan McDowell), is a boundary-breaking work. Its various episodes slide comfortably along the scale of prose and poetry, and somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. (In an early disclaimer, Iglesias notes, “Any resemblance to actual events can be blamed on me. I don’t care.”) Comprising fifteen stories, all composed by a single fictional(ized) protagonist, Iglesias’s self-assured voice transfigures into multiple others: that of an old dead man, a young girl, a wistful ex-con, and even a French bulldog. Certain voices are nostalgic, empathetic; others […]

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‘Suitor’ by Joshua Rivkin: The Power of Ambiguity

by Cade Johnson

The term “suitor” evokes the masculine role in courtship, and in Joshua Rivkin’s latest collection of poetry it takes on many forms as his poems grapple with masculinity, personal history, and desire. Suitor (88 pages; Red Hen Press), whose title Rivkin tells us early on comes “from the Latin secutor,/ to follow,” proves an expansive rumination on the self, what it means to succeed those who came before you, as well as the pursuit of desire. Rivkin’s poems emphasize a need to unearth perspectives previously unknown. In doing so, Rivkin sheds patriarchal categorizations of good and bad, of binaries and a […]

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‘Catwalk’ by Meryl Natchez: Sorrow as a Matter of Perspective

by Rebecca Foust

 “Time is the school in which we learn, / Time is the fire in which we burn.”  Robert Frost believed a book of poetry should itself be structured as a poem, with individual poems functioning the way stanzas and lines do to create a beginning, middle, and end, or some other pattern that alchemizes the book into its own artistically complete and synergistic whole. In Catwalk (99 pages; Longship Press), Meryl Natchez’s meticulously structured and sequenced new book, the placement of every poem feels right and the result of a considered decision. That is, the poems are rooted in context in an […]

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‘Alice Knott: A Novel’ by Blake Butler: Conspiracy, Art, and Paranoia

by Nessa Ordukhani

In his latest novel, Alice Knott (304 pages; Penguin Random House), Blake Butler defies the conventions of traditional narrative with a scintillating specimen of postmodernism. Alice Knott, the eponymous protagonist, is a reclusive heiress whose wealth rests in famous works of art purchased throughout the years. Alice spends her days in isolation, roaming the halls of her childhood home like a ghost, haunted by the memory of her late parents and mysterious twin brother, until a viral video reduces her life to shambles. The video captures the events of one cataclysmic evening when a group of anonymous art terrorists invade […]

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