:: Reviews

Vahni Capildeo’s Skin Can Hold: Assuming the Monster Posture published 06/05/2020

With greater wishfulness comes greater resistance to its fulfilment, and the reason why freedom seems such a torturous and tantalising concept in Capildeo’s poetry is that in this quest to reconcile opposing forms the ‘posture’ assumed means that there is an identification with the opposing force. In  ‘from the End of the Poem’  the opening stanza begins with an iterative exploration of what, presumably, the end of the poem constitutes to the poet (‘The end of the poem / the end of the poem happened before / the end of the poem happened before it […]’).

Liam Bishop reviews Skin Can Hold by Vahni Capildeo.

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Dreams of Being: Write or Die Trying published 30/04/2020

When our narrator meets Jiro, success has consistently eluded him. He shamefully works at Benihana, has a mysterious past that includes homelessness and suicidal depression, and has earned little more than a reputation in the NYC sushi world as a nutcase to take pity on. Perhaps seeing in him someone whose struggles reflect his own, our down and out narrator convinces Jiro to allow him to make a documentary on his complicated life and his pursuit of sushi perfection. However, he doesn’t have anything resembling a director credit to his name, let alone know how to use a camera. He also readily confesses to the reader that he never really expected to produce a documentary. Perplexed by his own unlikely proposal, he admits that perhaps it can act as a dynamite stick to his stubborn writer’s block.

Saxon Baird reviews Dreams of Being by Michael J. Seidlinger.

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Textualizing the Quiddities published 23/04/2020

Davis is a through-and-through Californian and his inner weird is downright regional. Altman’s Nashville is center-cut in ’75, San Francisco endured its Zodiac Killer period, bourgeois New Englanders hosted orgiastic key parties, and the death throes of pre-AIDS hedonism roiled across a New York City synonymous with Studio 54, Warhol’s experimental movies, Reggie Jackson’s Yankees, and the Berkowitz “Summer of Sam” rampage. The long, strange trip didn’t begin in 1970 or end in 1979, but this decade was one of aesthetics, of free-range childhoods. The seventies were the sixties’ dirty uncle (Warren Zevon and Tom Waits come to mind) as well as precursor to eighties’ excess and capitalism’s shift toward psychopathic corporatism.

Sean Hooks reviews High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies by Erik Davis.

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Little Eyes published 22/04/2020

Schweblin compels us, chastisingly, to recognise our own happy co-option of transparently exploitative technologies. Like the characters, our scepticism becomes diluted by what we tell might ourselves is passing interest, but could well be more like indoctrination or a managed addiction.

Louis Rogers reviews Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin.

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Fading in and out at the end of life published 21/04/2020

Despite the unrelenting brutality of Nancy’s life-story, there is peace to be found in it as well. Throughout she is sustained by a hope that things might improve in one way or another, the kind of hope that makes life bearable, but death tragic. As she admits near the beginning of the novel (that is, at the end of her life): “Knowing you’re going to die is horrible not just because you don’t want to die, but also because there’s always some residual surviving doubt. It survived in me alright, a fledgling hope, hiding behind the eyes.”

Maks Sipowicz reviews Nancy by Bruno Lloret.

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The fucker and the fucked: On Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season published 20/04/2020

Recent years have witnessed a new boom in Mexican fiction, with now internationally established writers like Valeria Luiselli and Yuri Herrera, working in the space opened up by Roberto Bolano’s opus 2666, staging a reckoning  with the violent implications of the constant migration of bodies and drugs across the US border. Hurricane Season is an important intervention—by focusing her attention on Veracruz, the initial site of conquistador colonialism, Melchor demonstrates that the everyday lives of people who are far away from the border, who are not narcos, and who are just trying to get by, or get high, or waste time while waiting for work, are still ‘dying in the heat’, at risk of destruction at every moment.

Trahearne Falvey reviews Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor.

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‘The immense entanglement of everything’: reading Olivia Laing’s Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency under lockdown published 08/04/2020

Olivia Laing could hardly ask for a more rigorous environment for her essay collection Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency to land in. In it, she pursues a similar argument to Staying Alive. Art, she contends, ‘provide[s] material with which to think: new registers, new spaces.’ Art opens vistas; it makes space. Following John Berger, she makes the case of the ‘hospitality’ of the creative act, its ‘capacity to enlarge and open, a corrective to the overwhelming political imperative … to wall off, separate and reject.’ Writing, painting, photographing, making—these are gestures towards horizons, she argues. They are emancipatory.

Alex Diggins reviews Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing.

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Mother Tongue: Notes for Mid-Birth and The Human Condition published 06/04/2020

If a person is unaware of the autonomy they do not have, if it is unfathomable that they could make decisions over their own body and future, and if cultural conditioning and legal restrictions on bodily autonomy have become so pervasive that they don’t even recognize their own subjugation, then that person cannot be free. This phenomenon exists within a self-perpetuating cycle of erasure from history—not being conditioned to expect to have access to the attainment of freedom of decision-making as a result of a historical, linguistic, and cultural normalization, this same person will remain excluded from the creation of history. They will be unable to free themselves now or in the future.

Katherine Beaman reviews Nootes for Mid-Birrth by Karolina Zappal.

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A Complicated Fondness: Bohumil Hrabal’s All My Cats published 25/03/2020

The obsessional thinking on display in All My Cats ultimately becomes a cosmology characterized by paranoia. Thinking thoughts that seem alien leads Hrabal to the conclusion that: Everything came at me with its sharp edges forward, and I felt then that the hand writing my destiny was not my hand. . . .  Everything seemed to have been prepared for me long ago, even things I believed I’d done of  my own volition, because when I thought about it, it seems as though it had been made ready to happen long ago, and all I had done was to slip the key into the door, which although it was opened by me alone, had also been prepared for me alone.

Andrew Griffin reviews All My Cats by Bohumil Hrabal.

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Modern Times published 16/03/2020

A friend of mine once asked me why I had gotten so excited about a new Cathy Sweeney story appearing in the Dublin Review. I think I said that it was because her writing is “properly perverse”. Up until my friend grimaced and looked away down at their shoes, the natural fact that this would mean different things to different people hadn’t really occurred to me. I think maybe they thought I was saying Sweeney was a pervert, or calling myself one. I don’t know, and anyway the subject was changed quickly.

Christopher DeVeau reviews Cathy Sweenet‘s Modern Times.

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