Last week, I pointed to former Millions-er Emily M. Keeler’s review of Wolf in White Van, the new novel by John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. Now, at Slate, Carl Wilson offers his own praise of the book, which he describes as “not the kind of rallying cry or dark comfort that Mountain Goats fans are used to, but a complex meditation.”
To give a brief, vague summary, this book is about a girl born into a diseased situation — literally and metaphorically — and how she uses her sexuality to cope with it. The sentences remain broken and inarticulate throughout the novel, even after the narrator is born, grows up, and comes of age. This novel does not shy away from the world’s cruelty. There were times when I had to look away from the page despite the opaque-ness of the prose. There were times when I was worried for the physical well being of the narrator. There were times when I had to disengage from the story, because the scenes of abuse and violence were too harsh. It’s not the kind of book that makes you cry; it’s the kind of book that shakes you up. While reading this novel, I had several dreams about terrible things happening to my son. Yes, this book actually gave me nightmares. And yet I did not want to stop reading it.
Writing this good, especially when powered by a snappy premise, can make for an electric 20-page short story. A novel, to go the distance, also needs a sustaining narrative to carry the reader through. Rainey Royal has the potential for that narrative drive in Rainey’s struggle to take back her body from the men in her life who want to own it, but as the book veers ever further away from the battle over territory in Rainey’s West 10th Avenue townhouse, the drama of the opening stories gradually dissipates until the novel begins to seem more marked by its elisions than by what is on the page.
How does editing a book about women’s wardrobes change a person’s view on fashion? “For me, now, after doing this book, when I walk down the street, I notice and appreciate a greater range of women. And I also sort of feel more comfortable with myself and with my own choices, my own individuality, rather than feeling that I’m missing the mark,” Sheila Heti told Rookie about her current book Women In Clothes (read our review). She also discussed her writing influences, How Should a Person Be?, and her next project.
In his novels and plays, Sebastian Barry often focuses on segment of Irish society that tends to get ignored in literature — the Irishmen who fought for the British Empire in the first and second World Wars. At Full-Stop, John Cussen reads The Temporary Gentleman, which portrays a British officer, Jack McNulty, who sets out to write his memoirs. (Related: Matt Kavanagh wrote a piece for The Millions on Irish financial fiction after the crash of 2008.)
The book’s central problem is that Dyer does not appear interested in the people he meets on the ship as people, but as corporeal representations of work ethic and purpose. I lost track of the references to ‘the fourteen-hour days’ that the crewmates work, but I’m pretty sure there were somewhere around fourteen. These men and women have something important to do, and Dyer doesn’t want to let you to forget it, even though you don’t get to know any of the men or women very well at all. Are any of them annoyed by the captain’s enforced cheeriness? We don’t know. Is the chef, who dreamt of becoming the chef at the White House but found her application thwarted by bureaucracy, bitter? Dyer wonders for a moment, but quickly gets distracted. The closest we come to differentiation among these people is when one man is referred as ‘more in love — if such a thing were possible — than the other people I’d met who were seriously in love with what they did.’
If in the first stage of a transition one is full of expectation and in the final stage the expectations are realized, then the liminal phase is marked by the twin emotions of desire and disappointment, which feed off each other cyclically. The Nasmertovs have desires that don’t correlate with the reality they must endure, but that gap alone is not what causes their disappointment. Their new reality appears riddled with an artificiality that causes a specific disappointment. Will their lives never regain the authenticity of the one they’ve left behind?
“Sitting down to read The Actress, Amy Sohn’s newest novel, is even better than standing in line at the grocery store while the person in front of you disputes the price of a carton of orange juice, giving you extra time to read the tabloids. The Actress might be as licentious as a tabloid, but it is far more intelligently written. And, you probably won’t be reading it while standing in line inside a grocery store.”