The Three Sisters

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Christopher Warden’s story, which ran in the Fall 1989 issue of ZYZZYVA, is perceived in a childlike imagination, where the violent reality of adulthood is rejected in favor of dream, where physical boundaries are first explored and adult consequences (mortality, discipline) seem like the afterlife. “The Three Sisters” is about a nine-year-old boy, a sort of Peter Pan figure, visiting in the night three young sisters who take form with specific folk-like characteristics (enchanted hair, teeth that talk — not to mention the jealously among them). The storytelling here, brief and openhearted, conceives the real world as if in a dream: every object carries the possibility of intensity and drama: “He walked out into the water. There were sandbars going out a long way. The boy pretended they were islands, and he walked from island to island looking for the three sisters.”

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Blurring and Obscuring: ‘Allegories of the Human Figure’ at the Sandra Lee Gallery

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  Allegories of the Human Figure, on exhibit at the Sandra Lee Gallery until Nov. 27, showcases a medley of attractive styles and a wide variety of ontological concerns by several artists. Brett Amory and David Maxim investigate relationships between figure and environment. (Maxim, along with Randy Brennan, was added to the show just before its opening.) In Amory’s “Waiting #102,” part of his ongoing study titled Waiting, he interrogates the human form’s connections with artificial spaces. He blurs a solitary figure amid a murky urban environment, transporting us to a shadow world, a nowhere and everywhere place. Anonymous, box-like […]

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Living with the Inevitable: Josh Rolnick’s ‘Pulp and Paper’

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In his first book of fiction, Pulp and Paper (University Of Iowa Press; 192 pages), Josh Rolnick offers a collection of eight stories dealing with those various moments of transition in our lives from which there is no return — moments that require his protagonists to confront their losses, weaknesses and failures. “Funnyboy” follows the attempts of a father to avoid confrontation and possible resolution with the teenage girl who accidentally killed his son in a car accident. Through him the reader experiences what it is like for those who refuse to move on, who refuse to cross over and […]

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Montaigne, the Double Man, and Shelled Beans: Q&A with Adam Gopnik

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Where the famously poised, self-effacing, witty New Yorker critic proves to also be an ebullient, passionate, fiery man who admits to being in rage as much as in love with contemporary culture. As we sit down to talk about his latest book, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food (Knopf, 320 pages), he reflects on his debut as a writer and what lays ahead of him: to write a Big Book of Life and maybe try, one day, a different voice. A prolific writer, Adam Gopnik has left almost no topic untouched, from Darwin and Lincoln […]

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The Ritual of Storytelling: ‘How to Write a New Book for the Bible’ at the Berkeley Rep

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Bill Cain’s humorous and emotionally devastating How to Write a New Book for the Bible, an autobiographical tragicomedy having its world premiere at the Berkeley Rep until Nov. 20, dramatizes the death of the playwright’s mother. The production, directed by Kent Nichols, exudes the energy of a spectacle. It juggles a bricolage of post-modern and traditional performance styles: non-linear narration, actors playing multiple roles, contemporary dialect, and pseudo-bible-speak (“and he sayeth unto Him”). Nichols and the production team mostly succeed in this difficult feat, presenting a show that reflects on mortality, family, and the act of story itself. Cain’s insightful, […]

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A Quiet Kind of L.A. Confidential: Ry Cooder’s ‘Los Angeles Stories’

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Going by musician Ry Cooder’s new book of short fiction, Los Angeles Stories (City Lights Publishers; 230 pages), L.A. in the ‘50s was a place where what you didn’t know could ruin your life, or kill you. “Everyone out there is a mad dog from Hell until proven otherwise,” claims the owner of a beauty salon in the book’s opening story, and Cooder seems intent on proving her right. Each of Cooder’s eight stories contains at least one murder, usually more. They center on ordinary people—tailors, mechanics, dentists, train conductors—whose lives are warped, derailed, or ended by the schemes of […]

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Pauline, of Petaluma: Brian Kellow’s ‘Pauline Kael’ and ‘The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael’

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Let the record be clear: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a “Paulette,” the derisive term used for the camp followers of the late, great Pauline Kael, who slavishly faxed her advance copies of their reviews, hoping for her approval, encouragement and career advancement. But to be equally clear, I am a huge admirer of Kael’s body of work, starting with “I Lost It At The Movies,’’ her enormously influential early collection of pieces, many of them from her feisty days as a caustic commentator on KPFA, portions of which are excerpted in the massive, somewhat daunting […]

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Connecting With the Unknown, Unexpected in Nature: Q&A with David Rains Wallace

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David Rains Wallace was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1945 and grew up in New England. He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. (B.A. 1967) and Mills College in Oakland (M.A. 1974). His first published writing on natural history and conservation appeared in Clear Creek Magazine in 1970. Since then he has published seventeen books, and his work has appeared in many anthologies and periodicals, including The Norton Anthology of Nature Writing, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Harpers, Mother Jones, Greenpeace, Sierra, Wilderness, Country Journal, and Backpacker. Wallace received the 1984 John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing […]

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Who’s Afraid of the Light?: The Cutting Ball Theater’s ‘Pelleas and Melisande’

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The Cutting Ball Theater’s production of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelleas and Melisande (translated by director Rob Melrose) exploits a long, narrow, catwalk-style stage (designed by Michael Locher) to set up intense relationships among the characters. In an early scene, Golaud (Derek Fisher), the prince of Allemonde, comes upon Melisande (Caitlyn Louchard) weeping by a spring. Melisande kneels over a small rectangular pool set into the stage floor while Golaud stands far away from her at the opposite end—this relationship, in different permutations, is revisited again and again. Charmed by her beauty and strangeness, Golaud marries Melisande and takes her to live […]

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poem beginning in no and ending in yes

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Octavio Paz wrote that a poem’s meaning is derived from its form, that every form “produces its own idea, its own vision of the world.” This is interesting, especially, when we consider poems that experiment with layout on the page. Take, for example, the late Lucille Clifton’s piece titled, “poem beginning in no and ending in yes,” originally published in ZYZZYVA’s 1989 summer issue. (Clifton was teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz at the time.) In the poem, Clifton memorializes 13-year-old Hector Peterson (the first child killed in the Soweto riot of 1976). She doesn’t use punctuation or capitalization, but the reader does not feel disoriented or lost. The poem is framed too effectively (as the title suggests, beginning the poem with “no” and concluding with “yes”). The images and message are able to burn “into the most amazing science,” as Clifton puts it.

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The Slippery Nature of Experience: Ben Lerner’s ‘Leaving the Atocha Station’

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Acclaimed poet Ben Lerner’s first novel is a fascinating and often brilliant investigation of the distance (or the communication) between experience and art. In Leaving the Atocha Station, an aspiring American poet on fellowship in Madrid finds himself in the places between languages, between feeling and thought, between places, and, most often, between lived experience and “the moment of art.” The narrator, Adam Gordon, is highly conscious of these various thresholds. The idea of translating language saturates his every encounter, as Adam pretends to understand an event or a person. Perceived misunderstandings about his grasp of Spanish lead him to […]

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Blue-Collar Living: Katherine Karlin’s Story Collection, ‘Send Me Work’

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The heroines of Katherine Karlin’s first collection of short stories, Send Me Work (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern; 159 pages), are on the verge of realizations about their unforgiving communities; that is, they are discovering the forces driving the blue-collar world around them, and, more interestingly, uncovering complex emotional truths about themselves. This is often quite funny. In “Bye-Bye, Larry,” (a Pushcart Prize winner originally published in Zyzzyva’s Spring 2005 issue), the female protagonist, a queer, soon-to-be-laid-off oil worker, muses on the differences between herself and the plant’s female manager: “it occurs to me that if I were taller, smarter, had paid more […]

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