Fever Dreams: Roberto Bolaño’s ‘Between Parentheses’

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It’s a little embarrassing to recognize, when reading Between Parentheses (New Directions; 352 pages) — a collection of Roberto Bolaño’s essays, speeches and newspaper columns, translated by Natasha Wimmer — not only how little one knows of Spanish-language literature, but how much more Bolaño knew of English-language and European literature. Yes, he was on intimate terms with Poe (who could be seen as Borges’ older brother from Baltimore — and Borges, writes Bolaño, “is or should be at the center of our canon”), but he could speak with equal authority on ancient Greek epic poetry, Provençal troubadours, and Snorri’s Edda. […]

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Son of the General

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Pamela Rivas was born in San Francisco and grew up on the Peninsula. She is a bilingual educator for Santa Cruz County. “Son of the General,” which appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA, is her first work of fiction in print. Her tight, concise story was inspired by her family’s first trip to Central America. Something like a prose poem, Rivas’s fiction here delineates a legacy of societal brutality, a legacy that dovetails with the well-deep, universal anxiety of parenthood — how to protect one’s children.

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Seth Fried’s ‘The Great Frustration’: Alternate Realities and Bloody Allegories

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In Seth Fried’s The Great Frustration (Soft Skull Press; 192 pages), strangeness and morbidity are the rules, not the exceptions. Through a pastiche of bizarre worlds and landscapes separated by only one or two degrees from our own (which is, of course, already thoroughly frightening) Fried fashions telling scenarios and the nightmarish half-realities in which they occur. Deftly evoking a familiarity before diving into fantastical realms, the stories in this collection exhibit a surprising wealth of ideas belied by Fried’s spare prose. “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” a paralyzing allegory of modern-day groupthink, brings into plain view the ubiquity of violence […]

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On Entering 2nd Grade

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Kate Martin Rowe is a writing instructor at Glendale Community College and Los Angeles City College. She’s also a published poet. Her poem “On Entering 2nd Grade” appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA. A benediction of sorts for a child who can’t possibly see coming what the poem clearly can — the rest of her life — “On Entering 2nd Grade” is both lovely and hopeful, if tinged with an understandable anxiety.

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And You Shall Know Patrick deWitt’s Western by the Trail of Dead

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Early on in Patrick deWitt’s new novel, The Sisters Brothers (Ecco/HarperCollins; 328 pages), a grotesque old woman strings beads onto a piece of wire as the book’s titular brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, watch from across the room. Having taken refuge in her eerie cabin, they are repulsed by the “long gray hairs quivering from her chin” and the way her dented skull “caves in like an old piece of fruit.” When the brothers awake the next morning, the witch has left, but the beads have been fixed above the cabin door. Determining them to be an evil spell, Eli and […]

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In a Car, Far Away From Here

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Paula Priamos teaches English and creative writing at California State University, San Bernardino. Her published work includes pieces for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her memoir, The Shyster’s Daughter, will be coming out next spring from Etruscan Press.

An excerpt from The Shyster’s Daughter — titled “In a Car, Far Away From Here” — appears in the Spring 2011 issue of  ZYZZYVA. It’s an unsentimental, perhaps even hard-boiled story about a family on the verge of drastic change, seemingly drifting toward danger. Told against the background of Kevin Cooper’s  1983 prison escape, it deftly evokes adolescence dread in Southern California. (The following is a portion of that excerpt.) Paula will be reading with Vanessa Hua at 5 p.m. on May 14 at the ZYZZYVA Spring Celebration at Skylight Books in Los Angeles.

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Gladly Going Anywhere Crosley’s Witty Voice Wishes to Take Us

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In a recent interview with FiveBooks, Woody Allen lamented the current scarcity of outlets for comic writing in the grand tradition of James Thurber and Dorothy Parker. It’s an absence most readers may not usually feel until, that is, we run into a snort out-loud, serio-comic, utterly enthralling collection of essays by Sloane Crosley. At which point we have to ask, How have we managed without a weekly dose, and where can we find more? Crosley’s second book of essays, How Did You Get This Number (now available in paperback), picks up on some of the themes (life in Manhattan, […]

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The Strength to Endure the Worst: A Q&A with Filmmaker Tatiana Huezo

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  “The Tiniest Place,” the remarkable documentary by Mexican filmmaker Tatiana Huezo, records the memories of the people of Cinquera, a small town in the mountains of El Salvador that was destroyed by the military during the Salvadorian Civil War. Huezo’s debut film is compelling, formally and emotionally. (“The Tiniest Place” screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival.) We talked to Huezo about the evolution of her film. ZYZZYVA: In the Q&A after one of screenings at the San Francisco Film Festival, you mentioned your grandmother was born in Cinquera. Perhaps we could start there and then talk about […]

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Francine Prose and the Crushing, Comic Discontent of American Life

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As My New American Life (HarperCollins, 306 pages) opens, twenty-six-year-old Lula stares out the window of the suburban New Jersey home where she works as a nanny, waiting without much hope for something, anything, to happen. If life was simple and humans were well-engineered for happiness, Lula might well be content. Yet she’s miserable. It’s not only because Lula is far from her home in Albania and without friends or anybody who shares her history that’s she’s unhappy. In Francine Prose’s new novel, it’s because Lula has begun to experience a uniquely American mode of discontent. Lula has left her […]

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Into the Mainstream: An Essay From the American Book Review

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“We” — meaning Chicanos, Mexican Americans — “are constantly on the lookout for bits of recognition that tell us someone has noticed that we really do exist, not just as a backdrop for immigration policy discussion, or as another of the tourist attractions of the Southwest, but as an active part of American Culture.” In his introduction to the March/April American Book Review, guest editor Ricardo Gilb explains that this special issue focusing on “The Latino West” is “a celebration of Mexican American writing as it exists right now.” There are contributions here from Yxta Maya Murray, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Dagoberto […]

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The Giraffe

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Robin Ekiss, a former managing editor at ZYZZYVA, has been a waterslide attendant and an AFL/CIO meat cutter. She’s also an accomplished poet. Her first collection of poems, The Mansion of Happiness (2009), was published by the University of Georgia Press. Her work also has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, APR, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Black Warrior Review, and VQR.

“The Giraffe” is one of her two poems in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA. Only ten lines long, its compactness belies its intricacy. Along with Tom Barbash and Vanessa Hua, she will be reading at the Booksmith in San Francisco on May 4.

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Deb Olin Unferth’s ‘Revolution’ and the Costs of Memoir

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Save some long-mothballed, early twentieth-century avant-garde movements, memoir may be the only literary genre requiring a statement of principles. This applies to readers and writers alike. Do you expect a memoirist to show perfect recall, to reconstruct a past with vividly described environments, clear dialogue, and novelistic scenes? Or do you want a memoirist to admit the fallibility of her memory? Perhaps in an introductory preface, and to confess that some scenes, characters, and timelines may be elided, compressed, combined — i.e., do you mind if she makes things up, as long as it’s in the service of a good […]

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