Roberto Bolaño (courtesy of New Directions)
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. One emerges from Between Parentheses with the desire to read more — to read more Bolaño, to re-read Borges, to discover Nicanor Parra and Enrique Lihn and Carmen Boullosa.
Beth Wilmurt, Marcia Pizzo, and Thomas Gorrebeeck in "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale"
The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, a lesser-known work by Tennessee Williams being staged by the Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley, is the story of Alma Winemiller, the odd, intelligent daughter of the Episcopalian rector in the town of Glorious Hill, Mississippi. When the play opens, Alma’s attempts to fit in are driving her frantic, while even her most modest pleasures (organizing a cultural club, feeding the birds in the town square) make her an object of ridicule. Her father, Reverend Winemiller (played by Charles Dean), suffers continually under the burden of his mad wife and the scandal of her sister’s elopement with Otto Schwarzkopf and the Musee Mechanique. Alma (Beth Wilmurt) does her best to fulfill her mother’s duties and make “a life out of little accomplishments,” until thrown into crisis by her sudden attraction to the town’s most eligible bachelor, the young Dr. John Buchanan (Thomas Gorrebeeck), whose over-attentive mother (Marcia Pizzo) is determined Johnny should make a good marriage.
One of the most weirdly sexual moments in the play occurs when Alma tries to serve John a glass of eggnog; her fingers slip and the spoon is “completely submerged” in the liquid. She cannot abide the intimacy of dipping her fingers into the liquor to retrieve the spoon; the awkwardness of the moment nearly sends her into a panic attack before John offers to fish the spoon out with his “surgeon’s fingers.” In the end, Alma surprises us by understanding much more about her desires and her prospects than her artlessness and naivete would suggest.
Danielle O'Hare as Lady Grey
In Lady Grey (in ever lower light), one of three new short plays by Will Eno performed together by San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theatre, the title character never introduces herself. The only person mentioned by name in the piece is a little girl named Jennifer — because according to Lady Grey (Danielle O’Hare) “a story needs a girl, and a girl needs a name.” As the piece develops and we learn of Jennifer’s difficult day at show-and-tell, we come to think of Lady Grey as the name given to a collection of verbal tricks designed to protect and conceal Jennifer.
At the beginning, the Lady’s monologue wanders. Sometimes she talks about Jennifer, sometimes about a man in a blue shirt, and sometimes she gently interrogates the audience (“all you beautiful white people”). Her discourse constantly reverses itself — she says something and then suggests it’s too trite, she makes herself vulnerable and then attributes lewd thoughts to her audience. She’s both tragic and completely untrustworthy; even empathy might be a trap. Continue reading
Fire Season, a first book from Philip Connors, is a memoir of the author’s summers as a fire lookout in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. During fire season, Connors spends his nights in a Forest Service cabin and his days in a seven-by-seven-foot box atop a steel tower. He hikes, fishes, throws a Frisbee around with his faithful dog, plays endless games of cribbage. His only companions (apart from the musk deer and the occasional long-distance hiker) are literary — Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey, Norman Maclean — all of them veterans of lookoutry. Connors records the day-to-day of one typical season (the book is organized like a journal, chapters headed April through August), remembers past summers and muses on nature and solitude, weaving in a surprisingly thorough discussion of conservation thought in America.
Connors will be touring the West Coast for his book from April 11 to April 14. (Find out more in our Other Events calendar.) He graciously answered ZYZZYVA’s questions via email, even though some of them were extremely impertinent.
I first read Victor Martinez’s novel Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida when I was eleven, just a couple years younger than Manuel Hernandez, the book’s narrator and titular perico. Parrot won the National Book Award in 1996, making it more or less required reading for anyone my age (except
where it was banned).
Like many of the adolescents who read it, my life was radically different from Manny’s. I didn’t have to work. My parents left books, not loaded rifles, lying around the house. I didn’t have to look after my baby sister; my parents hired people to look after me. They had the time and the energy to keep track of me. We always had enough food. These were things that, at eleven, I very much took for granted. So reading Parrot was unpleasant; it caused a nauseating disorientation, a sudden burst of awareness. Here was another life, so very different, running parallel to mine. Continue reading