Recent Work By J. A. Tyler

portugueseThe first release from the exciting new collaborative-poetry series of Tin House and Octopus books, Brandon Shimoda’s Portuguese has its origins in a racial slur. As Shimoda explains in the epilogue: “The bus is driving itself. Floating. Out the windows the trees are thick green, with passing revelations of yellow and brown. The fourth grader makes one final attempt, though his enthusiasm, at this point, feels forced: Portugueeese. He brings his pointer fingers to the sides of his eyes, pulls the skin to make his eyes disappear, and says it once more.”

Crapalachia by Scott McClanahanScott McClanahan’s Crapalachia (Two Dollar Radio, March 2013), a memoir of growing up in West Virginia, is a brilliant, unnerving, beautiful curse of a book that will both haunt and charmingly engage readers for years and years and years. A compelling, compressed personal history that weaves together threads of heart-breaking and brutal truths with characters evolved into hyperboles of themselves, Crapalachia taunts the line between memoir and fiction, teasing us with the inability to know which is which. Too, like McClanahan’s earlier story collections, the anecdotes and tales that wend upward to form Crapalachia are full of gravel and grit and wit and wonder, stories as rugged and rusty as McClanahan’s upbringing.

Now our unraveling for evenings and the columns of the replicating bell, a cord of child milk rising in pink glisten for the city lamp and making every person see themselves before themselves with tubes removed, the index of the body bopped with big sheathes of silver foiling, catching words where there were words, though there were very few…”

I panicked at the opening pages of Sky Saw (Tyrant Books / Dec. 2012), which are filled with this dense, complicated language, fearing Blake Butler would hold me hostage for the novel’s duration in a swamp of unclarified narrative, a poetic mire that, while beautiful in its bruising, wouldn’t lead me forward through a story. But then Sky Saw opened like the mold-blooms of his previous works, and there was a narrative to wrap my eyes around, and the book held me captive in a completely different way.

“I went through a stage where I would walk into whatever room my father was in and turn the lights off. I never told anybody why, but I was trying to make him disappear.”

Michael Kimball’s father is dead, and so is Daniel Todd Carrier’s. Big Ray, Kimball’s fourth novel, uses hundreds of brief entries to artfully and empathetically explore the loss of a father—in particular, one who wasn’t very good; one who was, in fact, appalling. Begun as a memoir, Kimball turned it towards fiction because he wanted “more control over how it was told, a fiction writer’s prerogative,” and the result is a story clearly set in the truth of a writer who lived this relationship in all of its ugly, dark recesses. Hinged on the border between love and hate, between redemption and condemnation, Big Ray is a tremendously beautiful novel that tackles death and obesity and child abuse and forgiveness from a strikingly new perspective.

We drove across Colorado, Utah, a touch of Nevada, and Arizona. I brought several books with me to read on our road-trip to southern California—Blake Butler’s Nothing, Amelia Gray’s Threats, Anne-Marie Kinney’s Radio Iris, and Eileen Myles’s Snowflake / Different Streetsand though I was anxious for each of these new titles, for whatever reason, I started with Myles, reading Snowflake / Different Streets in the morning fog and afternoon sun of Santa Ana. From there, everything unraveled.

Nick Antosca’s writing is not ground-breaking or earth-shattering or off-the-charts or any other cliché moniker that you can think of, but it is gobs of fun, and isn’t that all that we want sometimes?

Published earlier this year by Lazy Fascist Press, The Obese is a slim book consisting of two stories: “The Obese”, in which obese people become sick with a zombie-like disease that makes them desperately want to eat people, and “Predator Bait”, a story where a young woman poses as the bait for one of those cover-up shows that entices pedophiles to meet face-to-face with their victims, only to be busted by a self-assured emcee and his camera crew, and later, by a swat team. And while these stories don’t necessarily bring up new concepts or ideas, the fun fact is: what Antosca does with these kernels is build two stories that are quirky, fast-paced, and fun to read.

The difficulty with a great number of books that attempt to catalog or illuminate a given industry or segment of our society is that they often end up opening more threads than they close, so we read to learn or uncover and yet end up with a bigger reading list of equally interesting secondary sources. But Dave Madden’s The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy avoids this pitfall by selecting the subject of taxidermy, a practice with enough of a lifespan to tell an engaging story and yet such a tight cultural focus that it can be sutured completely (and entertainingly) in a single, well-written book.

In 2007 Black Ocean released Zachary Schomburg’s The Man Suit, a poetic collection that sprawls in gasps of poetry, full of imagery and surreal landscapes, tinged with faux history and savagely tender deaths. Then in 2009, Black Ocean released his second book, Scary, No Scary, which took these surreal landscapes even farther, threading them into a pseudo-narrative of hummingbirds and trees and visions of fright, blooming in a triumphant poetic score. And now, since the excellent people at Black Ocean are either smart enough or lucky enough to continue publishing Schomburg’s work, we get Fjords.

Released in early 2012 from Tyrant Books–the brainchild that brought us Brian Evenson’s Baby Leg, Eugene Marten’s Firework, and Michael Kimball’s Us–Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People is a sketchbook drawn through a poetic gloryhole. It is a violent, raging, and brutal book, yet also houses subtle moments of massive and quiet weight. But what is Life Is with People? In a recent posting on Vice, Tyrant kingpin Giancarlo DiTrapano described it this way:

Brian Conn’s The Fixed Stars is a difficult book, difficultly written. Ulysses. Samuel Beckett. Our literary tradition often revolves around authors of this sort, works of this type, the utter complexity of a book that demands attention, requires it, and makes for itself, in the process, a string of readers as enemies. This is not to say that Conn is Beckett (he isn’t) or that The Fixed Stars is Ulysses (it isn’t) but rather simply to head this review with a reminder to both the reader and myself: sometimes books are difficult.

Charles and Eli Sisters are infamous murderers for hire, and Patrick deWittt’s The Sisters Brothers follows them on what will end up being their final assignment for the Commodore: to hunt down Hermann Kermit Warm, a red-bearded man who has invented a prospector’s dream in the midst of the California gold rush. The premise and the environment and the style are all vehemently western, but deWitt’s second novel takes the western genre to a phenomenally endearing place.

Typically, Jesse Ball has a keen penchant for literally leading us in loops, in and out of doors and through buildings and up and down stairs, turning the reader into a steady-cam following a single character through one enormous and complex maze. Ball does this with seeming ease and, for the most part, with entertaining and valuable writing (see his previous novels Samedi the Deafness and The Way Through Doors). Of course the danger in this kind of writing is that the narrative can get so gummy or the book so perpetually interwoven, that the reader is brought to a stop, left standing on the side of a busy street with no crosswalk in sight, confused at where to go next. But just when I was hitting this point in my reading of Ball’s work, The Curfew appeared, and I found myself relaxing back into the former days of Ball’s more poetically inclined work, reminded of how good he is at making emotional leaps. The Curfew didn’t lose me at a single point, didn’t stop me from reading once, and in fact the simplicity of it kept me reading late into the night or when I should have been doing other things – the drive so great that it trumped my daily routines.