[Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison]
This book isn't disjointed--it's shattered. Mary Robison had writer's block for years and years so she just started writing down individual thoughts on notecards. After awhile, she assembled them into this book. As a base-level theory, that's somewhere between genius and fundamentally retarded, but Robison is too good. The narrative isn't buried or secondary. It's right fucking there. It just happens to be delivered in the form of 530 short short short stories.
I want people to quit writing stories and poems and collections that try too hard at sounding disjointed and come off as sounding like Mad Libs for MFA dickheads. But, since they probably won't, it really made me want to do it. So I think I'll try that in 2013.
[A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley]
Definitely a book I had to slog through at points, but when I finally just gave in and started high-lighting the best lines and paragraphs, everything unlocked. Exley seems like a terrible, wonderful mess: alcoholic, sports obsessive (hence the title), destructively impulsive. I will never write like this, partially because I just don't, but mostly because I can't put my life through the wringer like he did and come out with enough energy--or whatever it is that it takes--to document it, to essentially go through it all over again.
[The Ask by Sam Lipsyte]
Am I missing something with Venus Drive? I just can't get past the terrible people never learning anything. I went into it after reading (and loving) Homeland and was beyond excited. Venus Drive felt like pointless nihilism to me. I read The Subject Steve next and began to think Homeland was a fluke. Then I read The Ask and realized that Lipsyte is the real deal, beyond capable and into the realm of crushing. His dialogue is unfuckwithable and in The Ask is a grand realization of the promise Homeland delivered on originally: what in this goddamn life is worth it and what is "it"?
[The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson]
[Barely edging out Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, which is brilliantly constructed and written and worth it]
The comparisons to The Royal Tennenbaums are unavoidable, but when it comes down to the meat and mystery of the book, the similarities drip away. Whereas The Royal Tennenbaums was a family torn apart and eventually reassembled by its figurehead, The Family Fang is a family torn apart by art and reassembled by it in a completely different way. The abstractions are big, but Wilson's smart enough to not let them drive the story. I don't think it's as good as his collection Tunneling To the Center of Earth, but I don't think many books are. The point here is that The Family Fang delivers.
[Less Shiny by Mary Miller]
It's a tiny, perfect thing. I keep it in my computer bag and use the book more than I use my computer. Everything Mary writes seems like a streamlined play-by-play into a real woman's mind. There's impulse and focus and the magic is that I can see them and not understand them. This book could be a thousand pages and I'd know nothing more and be no less captured by it.
[Big World by Mary Miller]
I ordered Big World and spent two days at my shitty janitor job reading it, sneaking off to unmonitored offices to devour it. It makes me want to call up all of my ex-girlfriends and then hang up the phone right away and then do it again. Is there higher praise?
[The Book of Freaks by Jamie Iredell]
[Barely edging out Variations of a Brother War by J.A. Tyler, which I understood a bit more and liked just a bit less than The Book of Freaks.]
I read other books this year that I liked more, but few of them were as interesting as The Book of Freaks. Iredell's a wizard. It's not unlike Louie in the ways in which it shows how each of us, if you move slowly and look hard enough, are special. Louie tends to focus on the ways in which we are individually incredible, whereas The Book of Freaks is a stripped-down outing of just that: freaks. Meaning, of course, all of us. The narrative junkie in me wanted more of a story-story or a character to latch on to, but even those things emerged in time. The story is my life, the character is everyone. I'm not claiming to understand it or its fucked up bits-and-pieces structure, but thinking about this book is one of my favorite things to do.
[The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by WP Kinsella]
Baseball stories are great and the Midwest is great. And, except for the time when he ends up sounding like Garrison Keillor--Box Socials fucking sucked--W.P. Kinsella is great as well. This definitely revisits the sort of magical realism of Shoeless Joe (the Field of Dreams book), which is the sort of magical realism I can handle.
It's hard for me to sit through an entire sporting event, but I'll read a good sports story any day. This is one of them.
[The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera]
Not only did I forget I read it, I forgot entirely what it's about. Let me take a shot at this:
A young/old man has a sort of existential crisis regarding his age or relationship. A somewhat-tangential side-story about sexuality/politics runs through the entire book and becomes less and less tangential for some odd, philosophical reason.
Close? Probably. I liked the book, but I don't think Kundera's going to blow me away like he did back when I first read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I gave up on expecting the sort of love I was in at age 20 to keep coming back, and I'm giving up on Kundera "really opening my eyes, man" now that I'm almost 30 and living in a basement and haven't had a blowjob in like five years.
[Stories In the Worst Way by Gary Lutz]
Those sentences. Holy fuck. I read A Partial List of People to Bleach before this and liked it, but I wasn't blown away. It took a whole book of Lutz to show me that his compact non-sequiturs run so deep they end up meaning more than any narrative. If Barry Hannah made it off feeling and style, Lutz makes it off style and more style. People complain that he's all voice and no story (on the rare instance I hear people complain about Lutz), but those sentences. Holy fuck. What else is there?
[Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell]
[I reviewed this at length over at [PANK].]
Chloe and I have led vastly different lives in terms of sexuality and experimentation, but her feelings are so big that I see myself in these essays--in my early-twenties, not waiting, but actively searching for the next thing that will change my life. Every five minutes.
It's manic and impossible and real and only getting better from here. I think one of the reasons the book works is that those big feelings are their own end at this point, the period in life Coco's writing about. Eventually, she'll have to learn to process all of that into a bigger meaning, tighten things up and strip away the listing and the sections that feel like journal entries, but in Legs Get Led Astray, there's a ghost with too much energy making it all fit together in the scariest, most joyous of ways.
[Tongue Party by Sarah Rose Etter]
Sarah, dear, you freak me the fuck out. Never go to Salem or read me a bedtime story. Also, never stop writing, because these stories are like rock candy the dark house on the street gives out on Halloween, and I couldn't be more thrilled about it.
[Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S by Jeremy Leven]
Satan getting psychotherapy, as narrated by Satan, who is embodied in a hand-assembled super computer. (This book came out in the 70s). For like 500 pages. I wouldn't have picked this up on my own, but a friend with excellent taste (aside from his dislike of Rush) sent it to me insisting I read it. And he was right. It's excellent and worth the time.The narrative aside from Satan shows the effects of fate and happenstance as they fight against human-made decisions, as embodied in the life of one man, the aforementioned unfortunate Dr. Kassler. All of it together is a solid mix.
[Phantasmagoria by Thomas Cooper]
Life is a dream and you wake up when you die. Either that or the exact opposite are true. Phantasmagoria doesn't answer the question, but there's so much loss, so much funny magic, that it makes the question an enjoyably honest one, if not full of odd hope. Stories like this made me start to understand flash fiction back when I was just starting to write it. The only ting better than unpacking these stories for study is simply reading them for the reasons I'd take in any sort of a masterwork.
[Short Dark Oracles by Sara Levine]
[I reviewed this at length over at [PANK].]
With everything being on the internet, I'm just like everyone else in that i read tons o awesome stuff and tons of bullshit. Every once in awhile, whn the bullshit outweighs the good stuff, I start to wonder if people are interested in writing pure fiction anymore. (I don't mean sci-fi or fantasy, which I've heard people argue is the "real pure fiction" because these people are assholes.) Sara Levine's writing is vibrant and creative and funny and there's a goddamn story there. It has nothing to do with oblique narratives or writing from a constructed personality. Let's hope she writes forever.
[The Watchmen by Alan Moore]
I'm the last person in the world to read this. I think it's great. Go somewhere else for real thoughts.
(Except this one: who picks a fucking owl as their superhero character? Come on.)
[Shake Away These Constant Days by Ryan Werner]
I sold a few of these. I think people were mostly neutral towards it. Mostly, I really like the book.
MAYBE YOU SHOULD ORDER ONE FROM ME.
I also read and wrote a ton of garbage this year, but let's try to be positive, all right?
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