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Blowin’ in the Wind

What’s interesting about Hurricane Season is that its prose comes with a built-in metaphor—the torturous swirl of narration is, of course, reminiscent of a hurricane. But this to-hand description slightly obscures the careful mechanisms at play in the writing, the way that pebbles of thought fall and in their falling activate other memories that carom off at odd angles, a sort of landslide of association. Hence, we witness Norma’s investigation of her body, her subsequent estrangement and from it, and her feverish misinterpretation of a breeze, which draws her back, miraculously, into a childhood memory of snow.

Tracy O’Neill’s Quotients

In a recent interview, O’Neill focuses on the paradigm of what she calls “watchedness”—the state of watching and being watched; a state many of us find ourselves in right now. The novel’s critique of internet privacy is of course vital and current, but so is the notion that all of us, everywhere are watching and being watched—all the time. Living in a city on lockdown, where we are encouraged to report our neighbors who may not be practicing “safe social distancing” and where we are encouraged to self-isolate, to only connect through technology, makes O’Neill’s critique seem almost soft.

In Conversation

Down Away from the Sun You’ll Burrow

Twenty Years After restores a chapter that Dumas once serialized in his native French but which has never before appeared in English. It also, as with the previous and future volumes, moves past the Victorian-era translations that were, per Ellsworth’s introduction, for an “audience that was uncomfortable with frank depictions of violence and sexuality.” Those old translations, he reminds us, “employed a style of elevated diction that was deemed appropriate for historical novels of the 19th century, but seems stiff, long-winded, and passive to today’s readers.” In Ellsworth’s hands, these stories of swashbuckling and all-for-one-and-one-for-all friendship feel new again. The Three Musketeers is an enormously entertaining tale for the ages.

Chelsea Bieker's Godshot

Godshot is a story about religious fanaticism, mother loss, a stolen childhood, and the search for salvation. Bieker deftly builds the world of Lacey May, who is desperate for some sense of purpose in her small town.

Mark Nowak’s Social Poetics

Social Poetics, “contains a history of the contemporary working class: booksellers, Amazon warehouse workers … Powell’s staff, paper mill workers […] editors and copyeditors […] janitors and ‘nightshift mothers’ who clean all these office spaces … .” The list goes on, soon enough reaching the book in our own hands. Every line seems soaked with the sweat of labor. If a creative writing text ever raised a call to the barricades, it’s this one.

In Conversation

Fires Burning, Windows Breaking

Jon Roemer's harrowing, hilarious, and strangely heartfelt debut novel, Five Windows upends two essential tropes: the thriller and the dystopic novel. À la James Stewart in Rear Window, Roemer's injured small press editor/protagonist seldom leaves his SF apartment and doesn't witness anything near as thriller-fulfilling as a murder, yet readers will flip as quickly as they can through the pages to find out if he will sign on the ominous Sebastian Junger-like famous writer to his small press, what exactly happened to the drastically injured Darrel who lives upstairs, and what is going on with the household of women, including his ex-wife, living in a building that is visible from his window. Without living dead or creepy disappearances, Roemer conjures a subtly dystopic world, just a little bit weirder and scarier than our own.

In Conversation

JUDITHA DOWD with Ruth Foley

Pennsylvania poet Juditha Dowd is, in her own words, “perpetually bewitched by the narratives we devise to re-imagine ourselves and the lives of others.” Such bewitching is the basis of her new book, Audubon’s Sparrow: A Biography in Poems (2020), which relies on historical documents and Dowd’s imagination to explore the life of Lucy Bakewell Audubon, wife of the naturalist and artist John James Audubon.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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