photo by Catherine Opie
I can’t remember the first time I heard of Eileen Myles, but I remember singing along to Le Tigre’s feminist anthem “Hot Topic,” in which they list feminist, LGBTQ, and progressive artists. Myles is one of them. When Inferno came out, I saw the reviews on my Facebook feed, and knew I had to read this book, subtitled “a poet’s novel.” The writing felt like Myles was talking right to me.
Myles taught a class in my graduate writing program, and I immediately signed up. We studied all kinds of works, in all genres, and she challenged us to read and write things that pushed up against the boundaries we had set for ourselves—and the boundaries that were set for us. That’s when I first read Chelsea Girls.
Chelsea Girls has recently been reissued, along with a collection of Myles’ old and new poems, I Must be Living Twice. Myles took time out of her book tour to answer a few questions.
I know you’ve been with smaller publishing houses before, but Ecco and HarperCollins are pretty big. What prompted the switch. Do you think this has any bigger implications for poetry? Continue reading
In Greek mythology, the Fates decide a person’s destiny. They assign us to good or evil and decide how long we live. The Furies are monsters, punishing those of us in the Underworld. Lauren Groff’s new novel, Fates and Furies, brings these mythological creatures to life in the form of a couple named Lotto and Mathilde. The first half of the book, entitled “Fates,” focuses on Lotto, while “Furies” tells Mathilde’s story. As the plot unfolds, Groff reveals a sea of discontent and deceit beneath a seemingly ideal marriage.
Groff is no stranger to complicated, sprawling stories. Arcadia (2011) and The Monsters of Templeton (2008) are full of multiple storylines, changing POVs, and intricate plot twists. Fates and Furies does not disappoint in this respect. It opens when Lotto and Mathilde are married, right out of college, on the beach in the middle of a romantic tryst. It follows the couple through college and marriage, and on to New York City. Lotto, who was supposed to be a successful actor, is floundering. Eventually he turns to playwriting, where he becomes an astounding success. But over the years, their marriage turns out to be a coldly calculated move. No one is who you initially think they are. Continue reading
Female friendships are volatile, magical things, as torrid as any romance and as complicated as a Rubik’s cube. Rachel B. Glaser’s debut novel Paulina and Fran deftly captures the intricacies of female friendship, set against the backdrop of a New England art school. Glaser knows this world well, having earned her BFA in painting from RISD and her MFA in fiction writing from UMass-Amherst, and the affectations of art school are everywhere in these pages: hours of thrift store shopping, the angst of being one of the precious few artists who “make it,” the competition for fellowships, the constant workshopping and critiquing (both in and out of the classroom), and the anxiety about earning an art degree and whether it will pay off.
Paulina and Fran, both curly-haired artists, meet at a house party, where the studied, careful ennui of aspiring artists flows freely, along with the beer. Paulina fancies herself a queen bee and harbors a vicious side; Fran is unassuming, innocent, quieter.
Paulina stared, realizing Fran was friends with one of Paulina’s enemies. Paulina couldn’t remember which girl. Her idea of Fran darkened. She wanted to be her, or be with her, or destroy her. She watched Fran’s breasts bounce in her dress. No one in the room seemed to be connected to her. Her cheeks concealed things.
I first read Lidia Yuknavitch’s anti-memoir, The Chronology of Water, in 2012, and I have carried my copy in my purse or tote bag ever since. The cover is frayed, impossibly bent, and held together with tape. After being lucky enough to get an advance copy of her latest novel, The Small Backs of Children, I now carry around that, too.
The Small Backs of Children is a book about a girl. But it’s also about art-making, life-making, motherlove, creating family, and overcoming the things life hurls at us. The book centers around The Writer, a woman whose daughter died in utero and was later stillborn. After The Writer is hospitalized, her friends and family rally around her to bring her back. They remember a photograph that she loved; that of a girl in a war-torn village, backlit by an explosion that killed her family. They decide to find that girl and bring her to the States, hoping to ease The Writer’s suicidal depression.
But what happens when people from very different worlds come together? How does one decision affect the lives of everyone involved? What bursts forth from this decision? Through different point of views, the stories in The Small Backs of Children begin to unravel. Continue reading
Writing a memoir about working at the literary agency that represented J.D. Salinger without having the memoir be about Salinger sounds impossible. Yet Joanna Rakoff does it, and does it well, in My Salinger Year. Set in late ’90s Manhattan, the book opens with Rakoff working as an assistant in a well-known literary agency that represents “Jerry.” Initially assuming the Jerry in question is Seinfeld, Rakoff only realizes which Jerry it is after she notices the spines of Catcher, Nine Stories, and the others on the agency bookshelves.
Young Rakoff is given the task of dealing with Salinger’s fan mail, which he receives by the bundle and leaves to the agency. Despite it being nearly the new millennium, the literary agency still uses typewriters, so the task is menial and monumental. At some point Rakoff starts responding to the letters on an emotional level. To several letter-writers – a war veteran, a high-school student – she veers from the form letter and crafts her own responses.