Tag Archives: Graywolf

Q&A with Susan Steinberg: ‘Machine’ and an Automatic Tension

You can accuse the narrator of Susan Steinberg’s Machine (149 pages; Graywolf) of many things, but failing to hold the reader’s attention isn’t one of them. Steinberg’s first novel after a series of story collections, Machine chronicles a dread-filled summer on a nameless shore following the suspicious drowning of a teenage girl. Our narrator, a former friend of the deceased, grapples with guilt, teenage boredom, and her own privileged family’s struggles. “This is a story about desperation,” she states, “you could also say acceleration; but in this story, they’re the same.” The novel unfolds in haunting and poetic style, with …Continue reading

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‘Trump Sky Alpha’ by Mark Doten: President Troll

For many Americans, the phrase “The Man with His Finger on the Button” has never registered as so ominous and disturbing as with a President as ill-tempered and braggadocios as Donald Trump in the White House. As Mark Doten’s latest novel, Trump Sky Alpha (288 pages; Graywolf Press), opens, those fears are realized when a crippling cyber-attack on America’s infrastructure prompts President Trump to unleash the country’s nuclear arsenal upon its perceived enemies. “The loss of life, it’s always tragic,” Trump intones from his massive zeppelin-like fortress, the titular Trump Sky Alpha. “But it’s been incredible. The results that we’ve …Continue reading

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‘The Collected Schizophrenias’ by Esmé Weijun Wang: A Map into Rarely Charted Waters

Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias (202 pages; Graywolf Press) consists of twelve essays addressing the technical definitions, medical prognosis, and personal challenges of schizophrenia. In the first essay, Wang discloses her own diagnosis to the reader: during her time as an undergraduate at Yale, she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (bipolar type), which she describes as an illness that combines certain behavioral markers of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She makes it clear the schizophrenias (of which there are a few types) are both complex and vast in how they are perceived and experienced. Wang manages to discuss such a …Continue reading

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A Stranger in a Strange World: ‘Scribe’ by Alyson Hagy

Alyson Hagy’s latest novel, Scribe (157 pages; Graywolf Press), opens in a fantastical country stricken by lethal fever and civil war. The economy operates on barter and trade, and many citizens have hardened their hearts to meet the struggles of this new world. This includes the unnamed, mystical protagonist, who is known for her great writing skills yet feared by many. She is the definition of a loner, her only company a group of stray dogs and the various nearby settlers whom she seldom engages with; that is, until a stranger who calls himself Hendricks enters her life. He pays the main …Continue reading

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Poets Not (Always) Disimproving: ‘We Begin in Gladness’ by Craig Morgan Teicher

We rarely have the opportunity to observe a poet’s writing process, even though we may occasionally see earlier drafts that serve as evidence of it. But Craig Morgan Teicher gives us the next best thing: his new book examines poets’ creative processes over the courses of their careers. Part guidebook for emerging poets and part homage to a wide range of major poets, Teicher’s We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress (164 pages; Graywolf) is one of the most enjoyable books about poetry I have encountered. His obvious love of poetry infuses the book with the “grace, certainty, power, and …Continue reading

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The Voice That Moves You: ‘The Art of Perspective’ by Christopher Castellani

When readers think of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita, they’re arguably more likely to recall the silver-tongued wordplay of its narrator, Humbert Humbert, than they are of the machinations of the plot, the character’s verbal gymnastics intended to distract from the horrors of his crimes. As Humbert declares, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” One of William Faulkner’s most revered novels, Light in August, utilizes a complex, impressionistic style, even to the point of incorporating made up words like “sootbleakened” and “childtrebling,” to underscore the psychological complexity of its potentially unsympathetic lead, Joe Christmas. …Continue reading

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The Denial of What We Can Least Deny: ‘My Feelings’ by Nick Flynn

“Who / can tell me where I will fall next, where / the thorn will enter?” asks Nick Flynn in “Beads of Sweat,” a poem in his fourth poetry collection, My Feelings (Graywolf Press, 89 pages), which was released this summer. Placed early on in a six-part meditation on fatherhood, pain, and loss, the poem recalls the feeling of unknowability, the same feeling that even Moses encountered when he stared into the burning bush. “Up there he heard / a voice, When I speak you will know from where it comes / & you will turn into it.” Throughout My …Continue reading

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A Paperboy Finding His Way Out of Bleakness: Per Petterson’s ‘It’s Fine By Me’

The Norway of Per Petterson’s newly translated 1992 novel, It’s Fine By Me (Graywolf; 199 pages; translated by Don Bartlett), will be familiar to readers of his 2007 bestseller, Out Stealing Horses. It is a country marked by pervasive solitude and backbreaking work, by deeply buried familial troubles and the quiet, occasional help of strangers. In 1970s Oslo, young paperboy Audun Sletten prides himself on his checked pants and ubiquitous sunglasses. The latter provides him distance from the surrounding bleakness: alcoholism runs rampant (most notably evident in Audun’s absent father), and death seems close (his younger brother, we learn, fatally …Continue reading

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