Weekendnotes, July 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?


In home news this week, Dana Diehl’s chapbook TV Girls is now available to pre-order from New Delta ReviewTV Girls won the NDR chapbook competition earlier this year and will be published on August 7. Dana recently spoke to NDR editor-in-chief Justin Greene about the inspirations and intentions behind TV Girls:

Throughout the project, I’ve been interested in the roles that women play in reality TV. In The Bachelor, we see the same tropes season after season: the crazy girl, the mother, the cool girl, the manipulative seductress, the girl with the tragic backstory. In the narrative of the show, women are allowed to be complex, but only to a degree. They have to be complex in a way that can be explained in ten minutes and resolved by the end of the season. I’m critical of this simplification of human experience, and yet, as a viewer, it is sometimes comforting to watch. In real life, our experiences often seem confusing and random, but reality TV gives us a version of reality that has a narrative, has meaning. In my stories, I wanted to push back against this sense of comfort I feel. I wanted to challenge these tropes.


Elsewhere, however, it’s been a pretty light week for literary criticism, with only a handful of high-quality essays appearing online. Top of the crop is Brian Birnbaum’s review of Lost Empress, the new novel by Sergio de la Pava (pictured above), published in 3:AM Magazine. Birnbaum calls Lost Empress a “great novel” that achieves the “cumulative effect” of “transcend[ing] the concept of genre, not merging [genres] but jettisoning its relevance in favor of a narrative conversation between author and reader”:

Sergio De La Pava’s affinity for the absurd surprises no one possessing the slightest familiarity with his work. His debut, Singularity, set in New York, contained such elements as weeks-long sub-zero ice storms, extended forays into the life and times of boxing legend, Roberto Benitez, and hilarious dialogue tangents, including the likes of an extended bad-taco-diarrhea anecdote, which leaves readers doubled over their armchairs. With Empress, De La Pava dares to turn the absurd up to eleven — as if it he hadn’t already — with still greater narrative control.


Meanwhile, over at Full Stop, Daniel Green has been singing the praises of Hilary Plum’s Strawberry Fields, particularly for the skill with which Plum articulates an ethical position using formal experimentation:

…both Strawberry Fields as well as Plum’s previous novel, They Dragged Them Through the Streets, are strongly informed by the conceit of investigation or inquiry, the desire to know, but in both cases the desire can’t really be fulfilled; the novels are as much about the limitations of our ability to know as they are their ostensibly more immediate subjects, about which we are given hints and intimations rather than definite answers to the questions their situations prompt. Thus, in Strawberry Fieldswe are given reasons to suspect that a shadowy military contractor called Xenith (likely modeled on Blackwater) might have been responsible for the killings in each of the cases Alice covers, but finally they, as well as Xenith itself, continue to be murky and mysterious.

This, however, is a strength of the novel rather than a narrative defect or a sign of the author’s lack of commitment. Few novels could be as literally plotless as Strawberry Fields, but this is because the novel resists the sort of narrative progression plot brings with it, progression that entails a kind of closure that Plum wants to suggest is unavailable at a time when events seem determined by forces beyond our reach…


And also at Full Stop, Scott Beauchamp added his voice to the chorus of appreciation for Wolfgang Hilbig’s Tidings of the Trees, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole:

Ash blows through most of Hilbig’s books. It permeates The Tidings of the Trees, his most recent work to be translated with appropriately arch sobriety by Isabel Fargo Cole. You might say that the book is about a writer named Waller and his obsession with grotesquely enigmatic “garbagemen” who not only survive but seem to be living out an elaborate culture within a giant trash yard. The government and its citizens want to forget their past. They hide away the used material effects of their lives and leave it to be sorted through reverentially by the homo sacer garbagemen. But the plot is only as important as the dust which also fills the pages, which itself is as mute as the languageless garbagemen.


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