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?.
What a week for Rita Bullwinkel (pictured above), editor of McSweeney’s and author of the story collection Belly Up, recently published by Austin-based small press A Strange Object. Bullwinkel was Michael Silverblatt’s guest on Thursday’s episode of Bookworm, which you can find at the KCRW website. There, Silverblatt offers his customarily generous close reading of Bullwinkel’s aesthetic strategies (“Better articulated than I ever could’ve said myself”, Bullwinkel replies) and in the final minutes of the episode he also persuades her to read a stunning story from the book. Then, too, Emma Ingrisani at Full Stop published an enthusiastic review of Belly Up — good news for Bullwinkel and her upstart publisher:
Rita Bullwinkel’s debut collection Belly Up moves with a kind of syncopated rhythm. Short vignettes and tableaus mix with more gradually accruing stories, creating a sense of restlessness — a turning from one side to another. This unfixed energy is applied to the constraints of embodiment: its weaknesses, its materiality, its maybe inherent monstrosity. From thrillingly unexpected angles, Belly Up circles around and picks at the constraints of being.
Also at Full Stop this week, Emily Alex reviewed Elizabeth Tan’s Rubik, which was recently published in the United States by Unnamed Press. Anna MacDonald reviewed the novel-in-stories earlier this year for Splice, and some of her critiques are elaborated on in Alex’s essay:
Elizabeth Tan’s Rubik is an uncomfortable sort of fun, a vertiginously meta novel-in-stories that delivers a sharp critique of the Internet age in its own language. I have been most successful thus far in describing this immense novel as an Inception fan fiction. To consider Rubik from this angle — that is, through the lens of pastiche — is not to undermine the work, but rather to applaud its manner of deconstructing conventional standards of value when it comes to art. Originality, in particular, comes under scrutiny — not only as it applies to artistic production, but also as it applies to identity itself. This is a work of uncanny doublings and echoes; rife with cultural allusions, real and invented. It is massively, profoundly intertextual. It is recursively — though not redundantly — metafictional. It is metafiction that swallowed metafiction, that chuckles at metafiction. Like all great metafiction, it deploys art as metaphor, a mirror for life itself, except here the reflections proliferate and the plot is lost.
Elsewhere, at 3:AM Magazine, Leon Craig published one of the smartest takes so far on Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure, a novel that has received no shortage of critical praise but, until now, has lacked the critical insights to do it justice:
The book is breathtakingly bold in its rewriting of the myths women get told over and over again: your parents never meant to hurt you, the men are coming to save you, you’ll love the baby when it’s here. Just as the girls refashion personalities they can live with out of the temperaments created by their parents’ abuse, so The Water Cure refashions truths out of abusive truisms: even if your parents thought they were being kind, they still hurt you; the men’s version of saving you will kill you; the love that you can spare is sometimes not enough. Denial is peeled away, layer by layer, until the girls cannot un-know the things they have always known, deep down.
And, at Review 31, Oscar Yuill performed a similar service for Will Eaves’ new novel Murmur:
Alec Pryor, then, feels like a conscious choice, especially given the novel’s subject matter: consciousness, AI, personal identity, and a few doses of Ovid. The work alludes constantly to mirrors, hive-minds and fractured identities. Whole theories of mind and of mathematics are reduced to glittering aphorisms. Using the name Alec Pryor is a way of saying this could be you — an uncomfortable thought. But then Murmur trades on discomfort, and part of its success is in how it handles the necessary trade-off between accuracy and coherence.
Finally, a couple of in-depth reviews from the New Yorker, both focusing on new books that sound as if they have some urgent energy behind them. In the first review, Katy Waldman wrestles with Jordy Rosenberg’s slippery metafictional novel Confessions of the Fox:
Before he became the pickpocket and prison escapee immortalized as Mack the Knife in Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera”, Jack Sheppard was a nervous kid trying to talk to a sex worker at a pub. Or so Jordy Rosenberg would have it in Confessions of the Fox, a début novel that weaves together the “found” memoirs of London’s eighteenth-century arch-renegade with the annotations of a rogue professor, Dr. Voth. (Voth intersperses critical commentary with tales of his own present-day loves and losses.) … An implied pun on “vox” — both Vulpes and voice — flickers beneath these “Confessions”. Which people get to tell their stories? Who gets erased?
And Dan Chiasson has a typically smart, sympathetic review of Terrance Hayes’ new collection of seventy sonnets, American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin, written in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump:
For this latest collection, [Hayes] made one big choice at the outset: all the sonnets share the same title, “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin.” This repetition is superstitious, a tribute paid to the imagined assassin, as if the poems can buy back time in fourteen-line reprieves. Like a coin toss that keeps coming up heads, iterated titles suggest an occult lucky streak bound to break.
The “assassin” takes many shapes: a stinkbug, the gang that lynched Emmett Till, a bunch of white girls posing for selfies, Donald Trump, and, unsettlingly, Hayes’ own reflection. These adversaries, dreamed up in Hayes’s poems, are also confined there: “I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison, / Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.”
And that’s all for this week! See you back here on Monday…