Weekendnotes, April 28-29

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?


Actually, this was a big week for online short fiction. The finalists for this year’s White Review Short Story Prize were announced, and all of their stories were made available to read. Plus, Courtney Zoffness was named the winner of the Sunday Times/EFG Short Story Award — the world’s largest prize for short fiction — and all of the shortlisted stories, as well as interviews with each of the writers, can be found on the award’s website. Then, too, Little Island Press débuted the literary journal Egress this week. It’s subtitled New Openings in Literary Art, it’s got a lineup of contributors that most journals can only dream of, and the editors have released two pieces on the Little Island blog: a new story by Diane Williams and a brief biographical account of the criminally under-read American novelist Hob Broun.


Elsewhere, Barbara Halla at Asymptote used the Man Booker International Prize shortlist as a stimulus for a provocative consideration of how we, as readers, determine “literary merit”. She particularly focuses on the criteria that might have led the official judges to overlook Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (pictured above) while the judges of the MBI shadow prize singled it out for high regard:

The judges of the Man Booker Prize promote the idea that books are chosen based on literary merit, without, so to speak, outside constraints. But among critics there is this sense that the MBI has an inherent duty to it, beyond merely awarding the final accolade to the year’s best translated fiction. Due to its prestige, winning the Man Booker Prize expands the reach of the winner’s readership. And not just the winner: oftentimes merely being included in the shortlist can have significant financial advantages. As such, there is a push to take into consideration past achievements and future potential of the individual authors when making the decisions to shortlist certain titles.

This has been the case with the omission of Ariana Harwciz’s Die, My Love, which disappointed a lot of readers and was included in the Shadow Panel’s shortlist. The story is told almost entirely from the perspective of an unnamed woman going through a depressive crisis after the birth of her first child. The narrator is unreliable, her mental state shifting the perspective at every turn, and yet for all its uncertainties, it is beautifully written and translated. A second read would be required to appreciate it fully. Yet, those who wanted to see it make the shortlist looked beyond literary merit. This is Harwciz’s first novel and is published by the young Charco Press, an independent publishing house that publishes only new voices in Latin American literature.


At 3am MagazineTara Cheesman-Olmstead reads Masatsugu Ono’s Lion Cross Point with an eye towards the value and function of the novel’s absences:

What occupies unoccupied space? Mediums claim to be able to detect the presence of spirits where most of us see nothing. Lion Cross Point is narrated from the close third person, filtered through the emotional state of a hurt child — raw and without logic — and told mostly through flashbacks. Takeru’s memories are mostly about his brother, whose existence everyone else has mysteriously forgotten. The villagers who grew up with his mother aren’t shy about sharing their memories of her and some, like Mitsuko, even claim to remember Takeru as a baby — but no one speaks of the brother and we never learn the boy’s name. His absence haunts Takeru, who constantly fights back tears even as he, too, begins the process of forgetting.


And at Full Stop, Devin Kelly has a brilliant, lively interview with Anelise Chen, whose new novel, So Many Olympic Exertions, “does the at-times beautiful, at-times sorrowful, at-times painstaking work of enacting life today in a world that often asks us to work or play or cheer or care in ways we both want and don’t want at all”.

DK: [O]ne of the reasons I like your book in a way that’s tangentially related to what we’re talking about, in regards to movement, is your use of fragmented writing as a novelistic form. It gives the book a great deal of momentum. It is a book, as you said, about depression and inaction, but it does move, and I think the fragment helps that.

AC: I think the fragment forces a kind of leaping or jumping. It imposes mental gymnastics. Like, you must leap to get to the next section.

DK: I like that. Leap over all this white space.

AC: Yes. Time has passed. Or another idea is beginning now. And you have to get there.


Finally, a couple of writers talking about other writers’ formal constraints and their reception by readers. Firstly, in what must surely be the last of the reports from last year’s Gerald Murnane conference in Goroke, Luke Carman writes candidly (and hilariously) about his confusions and discomforts amidst a throng of Murnane devotees:

It is this principled pleasure in purity and simplicity which divides the Catholic Kerouac from the ‘technical’ Murnane. Kerouac — who drank himself to death at the age of 47, whose final work was perhaps the longest suicide note ever published, who could not live the life he affirmed in his work — believed he found God on his travels. Murnane, by contrast, when asked at the conference by the silver-haired professor how it was that he had poured so much imagery into the plains and yet they remained largely empty, explained his conception of his inner imaginary in terms not unlike these: ‘Within a house on the plains, there is a man downstairs in a large room reading a book that is part of a long series of books. A woman is there too, and she is reading the same series, but she is reading so intently that she has not noticed the man’s arrival.’

‘How’s that for an answer?’ Murnane says to the professor.


And a new episode of the Unsound Methods podcast was released this week, featuring the OuLiPo member Daniel Levin Becker. Becker discusses formal constraints on literature in all their varieties and effects, and he also gives special thought to the place of non-fiction in the work of the OuLiPo.


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