Weekendnotes, March 24-25

On Saturday mornings, Splice rounds up the previous week’s best literary criticism and serves it up to you in a single dish. You didn’t have any plans for the weekend, did you?

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In home news, Dana Diehl, whose story collection Our Dreams Might Align is available for pre-order, won the 2017-2018 New Delta Review chapbook contest for her collection TV Girls. “Dana Diehl’s collection of very short and very media-obsessed stories is witty, oddball, frequently hilarious, and always memorable”, said Chen Chen, judge of the contest. “Story after story, Diehl discovers fraught vulnerabilities and startling truths in the lives of girls and women confronting the expectations of TV, lovers, family, and one another.” Result: TV Girls is now forthcoming from NDR. At Splice, we’ll have a two-part interview with Dana on Monday and Wednesday next week, and in the very near future we’ll also have some new fiction from her as well.

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Here in the UK, the big winner this week was Eley Williams (pictured above), who nabbed the 2018 Republic of Consciousness Prize — along with her publishers, Influx Press — for her incredible collection Attrib. and Other Stories. In honour of the win, the Times Literary Supplement has taken down the paywall around Rosie Šnajdr’s review of the book, which looks at Williams’ stories alongside other experimental works by Joanna Walsh, Isabel Waidner, and Sam Riviere:

There is an ease of transference, in Williams’s collection, between the text and the fictional world it describes. In “Bs”, which concerns a bee and a bird, the insect is released into the fabric of the work: “the bee has flown out by my ear and become a comma in the air,”. Words become tangible things. “The organ in a bird’s throat that allows it to sing is called a syrinx — I test this word now between my teeth and feel it is far sprightlier and more lovely a word than larynx.” The onomatopoeic quality of “syrinx” (which, rather unromantically, is from the Greek for pipe or channel) prompts the narrator to form the shape of the word in her mouth. Here, as throughout this keenly intelligent collection, there is much more meaning to be found beyond the merely semantic. Words, in Williams’s fiction, are shown at their slipperiest. The author toys with conflicting definitions, homophones, rhymes and antonyms, testing words and revelling in the sheer pleasure of their pliancy.

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One of the strangest American novels to be released this year is Jesse Ball’s Census. It has attracted a lot of praise so far, but in a review at Full StopJeffery Zuckerman offers a provocative contrarian take on it:

What should we expect of a novel? A momentary escape from gray-skied reality? A catalyst for personal realization? A moment of genuine empathy with someone outside ourselves? Census provided none of these possibilities for me. All it offered me were words and a void that I had no luck in filling.

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And one of the new British books most likely to end up on some prize lists for next year is Patrick Langley’s Arkady, published this week by Fitzcarraldo Editions. Coinciding with the book’s release, Langley spoke to Hotel about his intentions and inspirations:

I also wanted to capture something about the odd, slanted beauty of the urban landscape in which I grew up, to offer a panorama of startling details, however lowly their composition. Dust, rubble, moss, rain, concrete, knotweed, mud, glass — these are the elements out of which the world of Arkady is built. Any writing set in an urban environment inevitably risks being labelled as ‘gritty’ or ‘grim’ or whatever. But to me all these things are quite beautiful. You just have to look at them precisely, as you say.

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At Review 31, Erin Cunningham takes a look at the poetry of Hera Lindsay Bird and goes deeper into it than many others have done in the recent flurry of responses to Bird:

Bird has attracted attention for the unabashed sexuality of poems such as the raucous ‘Keats is Dead So Fuck Me from Behind’ and ‘Ways of Making Love’, which includes such unforgettable lines as ‘I want you in a seventeenth century field, tilling the earth like flesh tractors.’ Her writing about sex is joyous, unapologetic, and direct — although it is often conveyed metaphorically, as above, she never shies away from profanity. However, her poems are more than the sum of their shock value, and contain moments of very real emotional poignancy.

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And finally, some meta-criticism. It’s true that at Splice we often wonder what the hell we’re doing when we spend our energies reviewing books, but rarely do we pose the question so explicitly. Chris Power has no such hesitation. In his review of The Digital Critic at the New Statesman, he wonders in what sense book reviews “matter” today:

Of course reviews matter. That’s easy and predictable enough for someone writing a review to say, but it can be proven. Reviews matter in two ways: as filters, and as shapers of opinion. In his 1991 book, U & I, Nicholson Baker describes “book reviews, not books” as “the principal engines of change in the history of thought”; because no one has time to read all the books they want to, reviews must sometimes stand in for the thing itself. The more contentious point, about influence, can be divided into two questions: do they influence and if so is that influence beneficial or malign?

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And away you go! See you back here on Monday…

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