Weekendnotes, July 7-8

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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It’s the start of summer, so perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that literary criticism has been pretty thin on the ground this week. But there’s still some good stuff out there, not least Oscar Yuill’s review of Will Eaves’ Murmur for Review31:

If art is defined as concealed effort, Murmur is high art. Though at times prone to prolixity, it is nevertheless an exquisitely crafted novel, best read in a single sitting to experience the shape of its dreams and its pay-off of moral indignation. Even if it were merely another tale about a courageous man or woman overcoming the odds and discovering the fruits of love, nature and memory, it would still be a very original handling. In taking those themes and weaving them with our anxieties about the future, it is among the first and best of its kind.

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And in Asymptote, Sarah Booker has chimed in with the first in-depth review of Fish Soup, the début story collection by Margarita García Robayo (pictured above), translated by Charlotte Coombe and soon to be published by Charco Press:

There is a consistent ambiance in this collection that could be defined by the opening lines in ‘Waiting for a Hurricane’: “Living by the sea is both good and bad for exactly the same reason: the world ends at the horizon. That is, the world never ends. And you always expect too much”. The ocean, horizon, and sense of marginalized space persist throughout the narrative in terms of geography, emotion, and tone. The littoral setting of the stories creates a sense of melancholy; water is ever-present, casting an ominous feeling and limiting movement. That horizon, which so often functions as a symbol of hope but that here marks a limitation, provides a point of escape while also acting as a constant marker of confinement…

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Meanwhile, in Full Stop, Leah Dieterich tried to put her finger on the experimental pulse of Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel:

[The title essay] is the most experimental essay of the sixteen — a series of aphoristic statements written in the second person, which blurs the line between reader and writer. By using the pronoun “you,” rather than, “I,” [Chee] queers the notion of autobiography making it more capacious and inclusive, allowing the essay and its advice to be both general and very specific.

Even the essays that are not explicitly about writing deal with the theme of being the character and author of one’s own story, the problems of doing it incorrectly and the salvation of doing it right. Early in the collection, in an essay called “The Querent,” [Chee] cautions those [including himself] who would try to give themselves Tarot readings or write autobiographical novels, “You can’t give yourself the impersonal reading you need . . . few of us know enough about our lives to know our place in them.” Knowing ourselves completely on both an individual and collective level may be impossible, but Chee doesn’t despair that fact. Instead, he shows us how trying can be transcendent.

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And finally, in the New Yorker, Benjamin Moser offers an overview of the life and work of Machado de Assis, upon the publication of the author’s Collected Stories in an “heroic” translation by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson:

Throughout his stories, Machado delights in showing the tenuous sanity of eminently respectable people. But the real humor is in his sentences. Many critics, including the one who accused him of belonging to a “sub-race,” have missed it. Much of what makes him so funny is his calm way of saying the opposite of what he means. … Machado’s narration is always indirect, and so is any moral or political message. The early stories, with their opera-buffa plots, capture the superficiality, venality, and laziness of the upper crust of nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro. The social critique is implicit, even charming; Machado was never a zealot or a preacher.

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And that’s all for this week! See you back here on Monday…