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.

“A river bends because it has no choice. This is how it is for brothers at war.” –excerpt, J.A. Tyler’s Variations of a Brother War

Variations of a Brother War is a multifaceted tale about the irreparable damage battlefield atrocities have on two brothers who return to the home front only to find themselves warring over the same woman. Similar to the conflict outlined in Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall, J.A. Tyler has engineered a stunning formula for conflict, presenting the tragic breakdown of familial and romantic relationships amidst the raw chaos of war.

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.

Coming up with a name for something is always fraught, and so naming my column here at The Nervous Breakdown proved to be challenging. While definitely easier than naming my daughter (sometimes I think it makes sense to wait until a child has reached a certain age to give them their final name) it nevertheless was still difficult. What I’ll be doing here is sharing my thoughts about the books I’ve read over the past month, why I’ve chosen them, where they’ve taken me, how they’re impacting me as a writer and a reader, and also, perhaps, offering you some detours, the kinds that will tempt you away from the computer screen and, yes, crack open (but please, not the spine!) some books. They are our friends. With this focus in mind for the column, some of the names I came up with were “Silverfish for Bookworms” (it’s one I’d used for my own blog and wished to resurrect, but I really wanted something new); “Once Upon a Time They Lived Happily Ever After” (a good title, but since it potentially narrows down my focus to “stories” instead of opening to include all fictions, I dropped it); “Babbling About Books” (yes, it’s corny but it did lead me to think of the next one which I also liked); “From the Desk of Babel’s Librarian” (I’m always happy to associate myself with Borges); “Well-Read Man’s Float” (I really liked this one, too, but it sounded kind of cocky and while “Unread Man’s Float” seems closer to the truth, it also felt wrong); and lastly, “A Community of Words” (it’s what William Gass calls texts—more on him later). But I finally came up with “A Reader’s Log(orrhea)”. Beware! The writing here will be unapologetically excessive and wordy, and maybe even (gasp!) purple. Here we go!