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

by ZYZZYVA Staff

The month of June has been one of the most tumultuous months of 2020—and that’s saying something. You’ll find some of the Staff Recommends in this installment touch on some relevant themes, including a seminal film from Spike Lee. We also have some lighter fare on the docket for those who might be searching for momentary escapism. So without further ado: Cade Johnson, Intern: I recently watched Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing after a friend recommended it to me. I had heard about this film on one other occasion from an episode of a New York Times podcast, “Still […]

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‘Hurricane Season’ by Fernanda Melchor: Taboo of the Witch

by CJ Green

More than once did I consider abandoning Hurricane Season (224 pages; New Directions; translated by Sophia Hughes), Fernanda Melchor’s first novel. Sentences are pages long, and the ones that are not are often fragments. Many times I lost my place. I could barely see through the imagery, which is torrential yet constantly vivid. Even so, I turned its final page after only a few sittings. The story begins with a body. The Witch, she is called. Discovered by five boys wading through a canal, she lies floating beneath a “myriad of black snakes, smiling.” From there the next seven chapters […]

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Love, Longing, and Loss: Scott Spencer’s Journey to the Far Shores of Emotion

by Paul Wilner

Reading Scott Spencer’s work is an adventure in negative capability—an opportunity to fall, or dive, into a deeper world beyond good and evil, reason and faith, will and fate. The love, and acceptance he feels for his characters is endless, though not without a deep understanding of the many flaws— narcissism, inconstancy, faithlessness, greed—that flesh is heir to. His latest novel, An Ocean Without A Shore (341 pages; Ecco Press), is a sequel of sorts to River Under the Road (2017), which took a hard look at the multiple misfortunes of Thaddeus Kaufman, a struggling novelist and screenwriter manqué, living […]

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Q&A with Daniel Mason: Diagnosis and Distillation

by Regan McMahon

After publishing three novels, The Piano Tuner (2002), A Far Country (2005), and The Winter Soldier (2018), Bay Area author Daniel Mason released his first collection of short fiction in May, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth (240 pages; Little, Brown). As he does in his longer works, he takes us into the minds and hearts of complex, nuanced characters and places them in intricately described settings, often in the natural word, detailed with the depth and precision of a botanist or anthropologist. He is, in fact, a man of science—by day he’s a clinical assistant professor in […]

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The Great Danger: A Conversation with Arundhati Roy – Part II

by John Freeman

When Arundhati Roy’s long-awaited second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, appeared last year, some reviewers wondered what the writer from Kerala had been up to for two decades. She certainly wasn’t blocked. If you care about climate change, protested the war in Iraq, or have followed resistance to dams anywhere, she has been hard to miss. In fact, since 1995, the year The God of Small Things was published and won the Man Booker, catapulting the then-35-year-old novelist to worldwide fame, Roy has released more than a dozen works of reportage. Nuclear power, the state killing of Muslims in […]

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The Great Danger: A Conversation with Arundhati Roy – Part I

by John Freeman

The following is Part I of an Interview with author Arundhati Roy you can read in its entirety in Issue 113, available on our Shop page. When Arundhati Roy’s long-awaited second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, appeared last year, some reviewers wondered what the writer from Kerala had been up to for two decades. She certainly wasn’t blocked. If you care about climate change, protested the war in Iraq, or have followed resistance to dams anywhere, she has been hard to miss. In fact, since 1995, the year The God of Small Things was published and won the Man […]

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‘New Waves’ by Kevin Nguyen: Adapt or Be Left Behind

by Zack Ravas

Sometimes it seems as as though authors go out of their way to select the most academic or arcane-sounding quote (the older, the better) to serve as the preamble to their novel. Not so with Kevin Nguyen’s first novel, New Waves (303 pages; One World). The book opens with a familiar quote from the classic 1986 Nintendo game Legend of Zelda, “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this,” which clues in readers to the millennial voice of this novel—warm, inviting, unpretentious—and underscores one of the themes of the book, that of friendship and solidarity, including the makeshift families we sometimes […]

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Q&A with Adam McOmber: ‘Jesus and John’ and Godot in Wonderland

by Christine Sneed

Adam McOmber’s new novel, Jesus and John (232 pages; Lethe Press), is a uniquely engrossing book, one that blends the sacred and the secular, the real and the surreal, and also offers an artful and subtle interrogation of what consciousness is and what, ultimately, it means to be alive. Not only is it a genre-defying novel, but the author immerses us in the strange world of ancient Rome, which at the time was the seat of a polytheistic empire.   Throughout Jesus and John, there’s the inimitable sense of the biblical title characters advancing through a mysterious and possibly malevolent, maze-like Roman […]

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‘Little Family’ by Ishmael Beah: A Family Living in the Shadows

by Cade Johnson

Ishmael Beah’s new book, the novel Little Family (272 Pages; Riverhead Books), tells the story of a chosen family whose companionship and commitment to each other replaces their lost homes, working as an antidote to the slanted and violent institutional structures of a post-colonial nation. The story takes place in an unnamed African country, details about which indicate Beah’s native Sierra Leone, where bribery, political corruption, and class disparities characterize the social order. Beah’s understated storytelling gives the family’s camaraderie and mutual understanding the subtle warmth of ever-glowing embers.  Elimane, the book-smart, eldest member of the group, reads Shakespeare and […]

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I Guess It Must Be Up To Me: Larry Beckett’s Western Cries, and Whispers

by Paul Wilner

Portland poet, musician, and polymath Larry Beckett’s work explores the narratives which help define, however imperfectly, our history. American Cycle, a 600-page labor of love he has been working on for forty-seven years, tentatively set to be published in the Fall by Running Wild Press, encompasses characters from Paul Bunyan to John Henry, Chief Joseph to P.T. Barnum and Amelia Earhart. His current collection, Wyatt Earp – Poetic Narrative of a Wild Life in the Wild West (Alternating Current Press), pays homage to the reluctant lawman, offering an elegiac mash-up of the conflicting accounts of Earp’s life and legend. Fade […]

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

by ZYZZYVA Staff

It’s our hope that our readers are staying healthy and safe (don’t forget your mask at the grocery store). The Bay Area seems likely to stay sheltered in place for a bit longer than most of the country, which means we have plenty of time on our hands—and plenty of books, films, and other media to recommend! So let’s get into it: Bella Davis, Intern: Even though I know it’s ridiculous and frankly cruel to expect anyone to be productive right now, it still feels like I need to be making something of my time in quarantine. Maybe I should […]

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‘Temporary’ by Hilary Leichter: Circling the Drain of the Gig Economy

by Alicia Long

In her first novel, Temporary (208 pages; Coffee House Press), Hilary Leichter creates a world that is all too familiar to readers, only askew. In this surreal tale of a nameless temp worker trying to find “a job that will stay,” Leichter conveys the absurdity of the job market, and the sentiments of the temporary, outward-looking workers who circle its drain. I consider my deepest wish. There are days I think I’ve achieved it, and then it’s gone, like a sneeze that gets swallowed. I’ve heard that at the first sign of permanence, the heart rate can increase, and blood […]

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