In 2004, there was a presidential election in Ukraine between between leading candidates Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych. A run-off vote won by Yanukovych was widely perceived to be interfered with, which led to the Orange Revolution. Widespread demonstrations, protests, and disobedience led to the vote being annulled, and the Supreme Court ordered a new vote, which showed Yushchenko to be the clear winner (although not before he was poisoned by Agent Orange and scarred for life). Yanukovych is currently exiled in Russia, wanted for treason.
This happened less than a decade ago, and back then it seemed like the plot of Mission: Impossible VII to me. Now it’s a bit more… visceral. This song became the unofficial anthem of the revolution, the title translating to “together we are many, we cannot be defeated.” In this case, orange was the color of the resistance movement, not the Oompa-Troumpa color of an asshat-elect… think what you will of the song and even the movement, but people got behind it and it helped them get up into the actual streets, into the actual cold, and demand something different. Razom nas Bahato.
photo: Alex Schwartzman instagram.com/alschwa
Even when I’m not reading him, I hear him. If I’m somewhere that seems peculiar for reasons I can’t immediately pinpoint, like the oilfields of North Dakota or a nightclub or a Home Depot, my first impulse is to wonder, “What would David Foster Wallace think of this place?”
I’m no Wallace expert. I’ve never read any of his fiction and only a handful of his essays. But the few essays I have read I revisit often. Every semester, the first essay I teach to my college writing class is “Consider the Lobster,” in which Wallace reports on the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival and what it was like to “spend several days in the midst of a great mass of Americans all eating lobster, and thus to be more or less impelled to think hard about lobster and the experience of buying and eating lobster.” Continue reading
Eula Biss is the author of On Immunity: An Inoculation, which was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by the New York Times Book Review, and Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 2010 and was the winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. Biss’s first book, The Balloonists, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 2002. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, an National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, and a Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her essays have appeared in The Believer, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, among others. Biss holds a B.A. in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She teaches at Northwestern University and lives with her family in Evanston, Illinois.
BARTELS: How did you begin writing nonfiction?
BISS: I began writing nonfiction by writing poetry, which is nonfiction in the sense that it’s not fiction. I earned my undergraduate degree in nonfiction under the mentorship of three poets: Martin Espada, Deb Gorlin, and Paul Jenkins. I studied the tradition of prose poetry in college and I was writing what I called prose poetry by the time I graduated. I thought of myself as a poet, and my community was a community of poets—that hasn’t changed. My transition into writing essays was fairly organic. The prose poems I was writing gradually became longer and longer, and heavier on information. There’s a fine line, if there’s a line at all, between a 3,000-word autobiographical prose poem and a short personal essay.
BARTELS: I’ve heard your first book, The Balloonists, described as a book of poetry. But if the line is so fine, do you really see it in that genre? Continue reading
In two of her previous historical novels, Sabina Murray used the “I” point of view to examine different eras from a personal vantage, inhabiting a character to assess shifting political attitudes from up close. In Valiant Gentlemen, she drops the “I” in favor of three distinct perspectives: Irish patriot Roger Casement, his close friend Herbert Ward, and Ward’s wife, the heiress Sarita Sanford. Using these three lives, Murray examines the last burning years of the 1800s and how they influenced the First World War, painting a broad picture of gender and sexual politics at the turn of the last century, and leaving us to ponder how we got to now.
Brian Evenson’s new novella, The Warren, opens with a declaration of documentation:
I shall begin this written record by reporting the substance of our last conversation—which was not only the last conversation I had with Horak but the last I had with anyone or ever expect to have.
The most unusual word of the sentence, “substance,” is the tenth word out of twenty-six, and it comes right after the second most unusual word in the sentence, “reporting.” The sixteen words that follow “substance,” excluding a character name, are some of the most frequently used words in the English language. Most of them are widely used in primary school. In terms of density, the first ten words account for almost half of the letters in the sentence. The sentence is top-heavy—unbalanced.
Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac (translated by Roy Kesey): “Rosa Ostreech carries around a trilingual edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, struggles with her thesis on violence and culture, sleeps with a bourgeois former guerrilla, and pursues her elderly professor with a highly charged blend of eroticism and desperation. Savage Theories wryly explores fear and violence, war and sex, eroticism and philosophy.”
Enigma Variations by André Aciman: “Whether the setting is southern Italy, where as a boy he has a crush on his parents’ cabinetmaker, or a snowbound campus in New England, where his enduring passion for a girl he’ll meet again and again over the years is punctuated by anonymous encounters with men; whether he’s on a tennis court in Central Park, or on a New York sidewalk in early spring, [Paul’s] attachments are ungraspable, transient, and forever underwritten by raw desire.”
Transit by Rachel Cusk: “Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed novel Outline and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change.”
Also this month: We’ll interview Eula Biss (!), review The Warren by Brian Evenson, and introduce you to the next novel we’re publishing…