Those who know me know that I probably rave about Brian Evenson more than any other author. At this point, I may have actually become a parody of myself, using any excuse I can to champion him, but whatever. The new issue of Black Clock is out and is election/politics themed, a theme I, quite frankly, have trouble getting all that excited about. But, there is a new story by Evenson and as expected it is another amazing story. It has some great moments that actually made me laugh out loud (humor being one of the things that is too rarely noted about much of Evenson's work) as well as the more typically noted elements of his writing. I really encourage everyone to go out and pick up the issue.
Secondly, I finally got in the mail yesterday the new Aliens novel, written by one B.K. Evenson. I read the first chapter this morning and, granted, I am only a chapter in but... holy shit! I love it. It is possible that all the Aliens books are this intense and I've just been mission out but Evenson has already grafted a number of his best "themes" (ugh, I hate that word; sorry) -- violence, sense of identity/insanity, having to do what is "right" while that may be the most horrible thing you could do -- to a story within the Aliens universe. I wish I didn't have class today and could just sit around and read this all day!
This interview needs to begin with an apology. Millet was a very gracious and intelligent subject and I, your not anywhere near humble enough interviewer slash jerk was distracted, busy, and slow as hell. I even managed to lose one of her answers.
But it's a good interview. She's very good, anyway. We discussed her amazing little novel My Happy Life.
The book that I thought
about when I was reading My Happy Life was Candide by
Voltaire. In Candide, Voltaire satirizes the philosophical
belief that we live in the world God made for us, and because of
that, it is the best of all possible worlds. He does so by torturing
the hell out of his protagonist, while allowing said tortured schmuck
a shocking inability to feel the many lumps he takes as a clear
indication that the world just isn't as perfect as he has been led to
Here's what I found to
be a really interesting contrast between the books: Candide
has the voice of Voltaire ringing out loudly, page after page. You
can never get past the fact that he judges the
best-of-all-possible-worlds philosophy as completely bonkers. It's
right there from the beginning to the end. The narrator of My
Happy Life—as tortured as Candide—is (as you
said in an interview I saw with you recently) incapable of any
judgment. And giving the book's voice to that sort of narrator by
using first person, you've hamstrung your own ability to make
judgments in any overt way.
But, when I read the
book, the narrator's disposition, the way she seems thankful for
every physical experience as an experience unto itself without larger
implications (like psychological scars that would follow her
forever—though she has plenty of physical scars), it occurred
to me that the book was an argument for the philosophy that this is,
in fact, the best of all possible worlds.
So, am I off base? Any
arguing with Voltaire going on here?
I was a fan of
Voltaire in high school and you're dead-on, My Happy Life was
partly inspired by Candide, which left an imprint on me. But
as I get older, I have a little more sympathy for Leibniz, whom he
was lampooning. The assertion that this is the best of all possible
worlds wouldn't be my own, exactly, but it's more intriguing and
complex than Voltaire lets it be. In My Happy Life the
narrator is utopian and dystopian at once: I wanted to suspend her in
a place without judgment. But not for the purpose of ridicule. The
book looks at subjectivity that doesn't judge, sure, and at the
social and personal perils of that, but it does so less to offer up a
political argument or theology than to try to let a reader feel the
beauty that can emerge out of empathy—out of, in this case, a
boundless empathy whose underpinnings are less rational than
Brought to you as a small service of your loyal Hobart blog, a quick and thoroughly subjective review of six books, four of which I've recently read, one I'm about halfway through, plus Randa Jarrar's "Map of Home."
Virgil, "The Aeneid" (Penguin Classics, David West Translation). I was oh-for-two on attempts at "The Aeneid," Virgil's classic knock off of Homer's epics "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." As you know, Virgil wrote "The Aeneid" to give Rome its own Trojan War epic, and you can't read it without thinking that, at some point, Octavian must have handed the Roman writer a copy of Homer's masterpieces and said, "something along these lines; see what you can do." Virgil outdoes Homer in a couple of places -- the whole Trojan horse thing, for example, is amazing -- but as great as it is, "The Aeneid" still reads like a sequel. What I'm saying is, my experience has been that if you're not reading a great translation, this one can be a little hard to get through.
(I'm breaking this here, so you won't be dissuaded from reading Matthew's excellent interview with Josh Bearman. More on David West after the jump, as well as pocket reviews of Imre Kertesz, Isaac Babel, Junot Diaz, Keith Gessen, and another shout-out to Randa Jarrar.)