- Cris Mazza, Shinobi Warrior
Cris Mazza, estimable polymath, trombonist, teacher, dog enthusiast, memoirist, novelist, and unparalleled master of the short story form, is also skilled in the martial arts, though this is not widely known. The training began when Mazza was an undergraduate, but accelerated significantly during her early adulthood, when she had reason, for a brief period to travel to the kingdom of Bhutan, in which nation certain Shinobi warriors from an earlier epoch had kept bright the flames of secrecy and bedazzlement over generations, maintaining a small elite training facility in Himalayan caves. Mazza’s instructor in the arcane Shinobi arts, whose name does not come down to us from the source material, was especially interested in nunchaku (ヌンチャク), and in the venerated ahimsa interpretation of nunchaku in which the one stick is breath and the other is the giver of breath. Mazza’s use of the nunchaku, according to this tradition, does not involve bodily harm in the foe, but rather stuns the foe into reflection, through the illusionary appearance of such unseemly amounts of force that any foe would come to know in a paroxysm that resistance is foolhardy. Mazza, though not of outsized physical stature, has adopted, with only minor alterations, the dazzling of ahimsa, and on one occasion used nunchaku in a dispute with a minor experimental writer, at a certain celebrated writing conference which was held that year in Chicago. During a tedious cocktail party, the experimental writer disparaged (in a fashion he believed witty) writing by women, and Mazza calmly exhumed the nunchaku from her attaché case, tore off her modest and unprepossessing pea coat, and dazzled the fuck out of the experimental writer, who retreated underneath a coffee table, after which he left the conference, that very night, claiming migraine, for his assistant professorship at Eastern Kentucky State, where he wrote a minor prose poem sequence entitled Ahimsa. Continue reading
Joe Meno’s Star Witness is an enchanting mystery that meanders through the lives of a motley cast of eccentrics trapped in their rural lives.
Meno, author of novels like Office Girl and Marvel and A Wonder, launched the episodic serial novella through Electric Literature. Serialized fiction published by periodicals is not a new format, but this modern iteration feels innovative and unexpected, and Electric Literature should be lauded for experimenting. Meno does the genre proud with an alluring tale about a missing girl and the young woman who is determined to find her. Star Witness exploits the limitations of the serial form by using the episodic structure and our natural curiosity to draw us into Meno’s world. Continue reading
Fresh Complaint, Jeffrey Eugenides’s first short-fiction collection, reads like a career retrospective. Comprised of stories that ran in The New Yorker and elsewhere over the last 29 years (only two stories appear to have been written for the collection), the book showcases the obsessions and hallmarks that have come to define Eugenides as a writer. We follow odd-ducks, middle-aged failures, and bourgeois literary types as they trek off to India, quest for a sense of fulfillment, sacrifice their ambition, and generally struggle to be happy.
Chance the Rapper debuted a new track on The Late Show that he wrote a few days prior, and I loved it. I love the leap he took to perform something with all the raw edges still on it. I find that art when it’s new, before all the edits and revisions, is sometimes the most powerful, and certainly the most risky.
Also, I’m pretty sure the light set they used was also pretty new, because they made Stephen Colbert wear shoe protectors when he walked out at the end… :)
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado: “Blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.”
A Field Guide to the North American Family by Garth Risk Hallberg: “For years, the Hungates and the Harrisons have coexisted peacefully in the same Long Island neighborhood, enjoying the pleasures and weathering the pitfalls of their suburban habitat. But when the patriarch of one family dies unexpectedly, the survivors face a stark imperative: adapt or face extinction.”
The Future Is History by Masha Gessen: “Putin’s bestselling biographer reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy.”
Also this month: We’ll review new books from Jeffrey Eugenides and Lindsay Hunter, publish Rick Moody’s foreword to Charlatan by Cris Mazza, and get nerdy about disaster movies with Ashley Wells.
Like a Dog by Tara Jepsen comes out today! It’s the story of a skateboarder, in her early thirties, struggling to have a relationship with her brother, who has an opiate addiction. It’s a grim, funny, raw, spectacular debut novel. We asked the author how she’s celebrating.
On the official day of Like a Dog’s publication I will rise at a generous 7:45, then immediately take my 75 mg of Venlafaxine. Will that guarantee a good mood? Probably not! I am still a person! I shall then feed my three cats, start a kettle for coffee, and look around for piles of cat barf. I will clean them up. I will not even be grossed out because I’ll be so glad that they are not dead rodents with their faces chewed off.