Monday, May 6, 2019

Fiction and poetry by Ottessa Moshfegh, Jennifer Kronovet, Domenico Starnone, and more

My classroom was on the first floor, next to the nuns' lounge.  I used their bathroom to puke in the mornings.  
--From Homesick for Another World, a collection of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin, 2017).  These lines are from the story "Bettering Myself," which first appeared in The Paris Review
My husband had warned me about the cameras before we moved to Guangzhou, saying that there would or wouldn’t be video cameras hidden all over our apartment and that someone in the Chinese government would or wouldn’t be watching us at all times.  He told me that there was no point in having a password on my computer because the cameras would see what was on my computer screen.  That’s how good the cameras that did or did not exist were.
--From "The Cameras," a short story by Jennifer Kronovet, Bennington Review, Issue 6.

Today they are talking on the radio about 
how to remember your infant, . . . 
--From "Lost Body," a poem by Jordan Rice, The New York Times Magazine (February 10, 2017).  "Lost Body" is from Constellarium, Jordan Rice's debut collection of poems (Orison Books, 2016).

In case it's slipped your mind, Dear Sir, let me remind you: I am your wife.  I know that this once pleased you and that now, suddenly, it chafes.  I know you pretend that I don't exist, and that I never existed, because you don't want to look bad in front of the highbrow people you frequent.  I know that leading an orderly life, having to come home in time for dinner, sleeping with me instead of with whomever you want, makes you feel like an idiot.
--From Ties, a novel by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (Europa Editions, 2016).  Originally published in Italian as Lacci (Laces) (Einaudi: Torino, Italy, 2014).

That was the summer it rained and rained.  I remember the sad doggish smell of my sweater and my shoes sloshing crazily.  And in every city, the same scene.  A boy stepping into the street and opening an umbrella for a girl keeping dry in the doorway.  
--From Dept. of Speculation, a novel by Jenny Offill (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

Hélène could not remember having ever experienced a perfect moment.  When she was little, she often surprised her parents with her behavior--constantly tidying her room, changing her clothes the moment there was the slightest spot on them, braiding her hair over and over until she obtained an impeccable symmetry; she shuddered with horror when they took her to see Swan Lake because she alone noticed that there was a lack of rigor in the alignment of the dancers, that their tutus did not all drop down together, and that every time there was a ballerina--never the same one--who disrupted the harmony of the movement.
--From The Most Beautiful Book in the World, a collection of short stories by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions, 2009).  Originally published in French as Odette Toulemonde et autres histoires (Odette Toulemonde and other stories) (Éditions Albin Michel: Paris, France, 2006).  These lines are from the story "A Fine Rainy Day." 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A little poetry for Spring 2019 and Poetry Month

garden party

Not what you might think: not tea & cakes & ices.
Just the neighbors, come to clean the yard,
taking rakes & clippers to dead leaves & bracken,
piling debris on tarps to drag out to the brush heap.
My sister falls asleep reading on the daybed.
Three hours later, the yard’s raked clear.
A shower comes, an almost double rainbow.
We watch it fade, admiring the neatness
of the flower beds, the rain-rinsed brightness
of the lawn.  Just then the woodchuck slithers up
from his burrow, starts chewing iris blades.
My sister raps on the window.  He looks up,
stares, chews more.  She raps again, harder,
& as he scoots off, we call out, laughing,
Your days are numbered, pal!  Ours, too.
But first, this green, this flowering.

—From “After My Sister's Mastectomy,” a four-part poem by Lynne Knight. Read the full poem in the Spring 2019 issue of the Apple Valley Review (Volume 14, Number 1).

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Spring 2019 issue of the Apple Valley Review

The Spring 2019 issue of the Apple Valley Review features short fiction by Jeff Ewing and Jeff Moreland; poetry by Mark Belair, Gail Peck, Doug Ramspeck, Eric Vithalani, Idris Anderson, Christopher Todd Anderson, Richard Jones, Sue Chenette, Lynne Knight, and Matthew Murrey; and cover artwork by Félix Vallotton.  

The Apple Valley Review is a semiannual online literary journal.  The current issue, previous issues, subscription information, and complete submission guidelines are available at

Friday, April 12, 2019

Work by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Dan Chiasson, Ruth Reichl, Roz Chast, and more

Once there was a patient in the hospital who was still feeling rather poorly, especially at night.  Part of the problem was a conversation he kept hearing through the wall, day and night.  
--From Through the Wall, a tiny book containing five stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, translated from the Russian by Anna Summers and Keith Gessen (Penguin, 2011).  Three of the stories published in this Mini Modern Classic were first published in English in book form in There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby (Penguin, 2009).  The remaining two stories were published for the first time in English in this collection.  Through the Wall might be a little difficult to find in the U.S.; I was lucky enough to find a used copy at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon. 

Out late and the night is a ruin, my voice says
the night is a ruin, my voice doesn’t say a thing,
my poem says my voice doesn’t say a thing, . . . 
--From "Tulip Tree," a poem by Dan Chiasson.  Knopf included it in their Poem-a-Day mailing for National Poetry Month on April 12, 2019.  "Tulip Tree" was published in Natural History, a collection of poetry by Dan Chiasson (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).

Most mornings I got out of bed and went to the refrigerator to see how my mother was feeling.  You could tell instantly just by opening the door.  One day in 1960 I found a whole suckling pig staring at me.  I jumped back and slammed the door, hard.  
--From Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, a memoir by Ruth Reichl (Broadway Books/Random House, 1998). 

My mother's name was Miriam, but most people called her Mim. . . .  I've got Mim Tales by the dozen, and I've used them for years to entertain my friends.  As a writer I've always known how lucky I was to have so much material, and my first book opened with Mom accidentally poisoning a couple of dozen people at a party.  After the book was published people kept asking, "Did she really do those things?"
--From For You Mom, Finally (previously published in hardcover as Not Becoming My Mother), a memoir by Ruth Reichl (Penguin, 2010).

A Note on the Author [Me, age 9, lying in bed reading The Big Book of Horrible Rare Diseases
--From Theories of Everything, an enormous collection of cartoons by Roz Chast from 1978 to 2006 (Bloomsbury, 2006).  

A quick side note: 
I don't typically mention book tours because they have a relatively short life span, but Roz Chast is currently on tour with Patricia Marx for their book Why Don't You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? A Mother's Suggestions (Celadon Books, 2019).  Attend an event if you have the opportunity; they are good friends and very entertaining.  (I'd also recommend seeing Ruth Reichl if you can; she is on tour to promote Save Me the Plums.)     

Our friend came over the other night.  He and his terrible girlfriend had finally broken up.  This was his third breakup with that particular girlfriend, but he insisted it was going to be the one to stick.  He paced around our kitchen, working his way through the ten thousand petty humiliations and torments of their six-month relationship, while we cooed and fretted and bent our faces into sympathetic shapes in his direction.  When he went to the bathroom to collect himself, we collapsed against each other, rolling our eyes and pretending to strangle ourselves and shoot ourselves in the head.  
--From You Know You Want This: "Cat Person" and Other Stories, a collection of short stories by Kristen Roupenian (Scout Press, 2019).  This selection is from "Bad Boy," which first appeared in Body Parts Magazine.   

Monday, March 18, 2019

Poetry and nonfiction from The New Yorker, and books by Per Petterson and Milena Michiko Flašar

A car's tires thu-thunk
over the rubbery black trip wire at the oil change, 
triggering a fat bell, 
and a group of girls in silver leotards are reflected 
like spatters of sap in its windows--
--From "Strawberries," a poem by Gabrielle Bates, The New Yorker (June 4 & 11, 2018), p. 57.

In California, my mom worked an entry-level job at what now might be called a Silicon Valley tech business.  It made audiocassettes.  My dad made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and popcorn.  He picked me up from preschool, strapping me into the yellow child seat mounted at the back of his bike.    
--From "What Is Possible," a short piece on parenting by Mohsin Hamid, The New Yorker (June 4 & 11, 2018), p. 71.

In the park he was the only salaryman.  In the park I was the only hikikomori. Something was not quite right with us.  He should really be in his office, in one of the high-rises, I should stick to my room, within four walls.  We should not be here, or at least not pretend we belong here.  
--From I Called Him Necktie, a novel by Milena Michiko Flašar, translated from the German by Sheila Dickie (New Vessel Press, 2014).  Originally published in German as Ich nannte ihn Krawatte (Verlag Klaus Wagenbach: Berlin, Germany, 2012).

Dad had a face that Arvid loved to watch, and at the same time made him nervous as it wasn't just a face but also a rock in the forest with its furrows and hollows, at least if he squinted when he looked.  
--From Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes, stories by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Graywolf Press, 2015).  First published in Norwegian as Aske i munnen, sand i skoa (Forlaget Oktober: Oslo, Norway, 1987).  First published in English by Harvill Secker, Random House (London, 2013).  

The white houses sank and withdrew into the countryside and slowly the fjord grew wider.  The Vistula passed Drøbak and sailed on through the sound where the wreck of the battleship Blücher lay on the seabed by Oscarsborg fortress.  They had sailed over it and perhaps the dead bodies were still there.  The skies turned dark, but not by much, for it was Midsummer Night, and then it happened, what he was waiting for.  The little boat from the town of Horten appeared from behind an island and chugged across the fjord in a wide arc.  The noise from the Vistula's engine went quiet until he could barely hear its thrumming, and the spray from the bows ceased.  The Vistula glided through the water, waiting, and Arvid waited too.  The little boat approached and turned until it was in line with the ship.  Arvid could see the skipper at the helm and his white cap, and a couple were standing on the deck with a suitcase between them.  The man was holding his hat and the woman was looking straight down.   
--From Echoland, Per Petterson's debut novel, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Vintage/Penguin Random House UK, London, 2017).  First published in Norwegian as Ekkoland (Forlaget Oktober: Oslo, Norway, 1989).  First published in English by Harvill Secker (2016).

Someone gives a little cough and says: "I don't think there's anyone there yet.  It's probably too early."
     I know that voice, it's the lady from the kiosk next door.  I have known it for years.  She is right behind me.  I could pick her out with my eyes shut in the middle of Aker Brugge on a crowded Saturday afternoon in June.  I've been buying Petterøe 3 tobacco and Dagbladet and a Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bar from her since 1981.  And then I remember.  I do not work here any more.  I haven't worked here for three years.  
--From In the Wake, a novel by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2006).  A paperback version of In the Wake was published by Picador (2007).  First published in Norwegian as I kjølvannet (Forlaget Oktober: Oslo, Norway, 2000).  

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Travel, two chronicles, and the presence and absence of women

I could have taken the 7:50, or even the 8:53.  It's Monday.  Mondays are dead quiet at work.  It's just that I couldn't take it anymore.  What was I thinking, staying Sunday night.  I don't know what came over me.  Two days are more than enough. 
--From The 6:41 to Paris, a short novel by Jean-Philippe Blondel, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press, 2015).  First published in French as 06h41 (Buchet/Chastel, Paris, 2013).

Anastasia Finizio, the older daughter of Angelina Finizio and the late Ernesto, one of Chiaia's leading hairdressers, who only a few years earlier had retired to a sunny and tranquil enclosure in the cemetery of Poggioreale, had just returned from High Mass (it was Christmas Day) at Santa Maria degli Angeli, in Monte de Dio, and still hadn't made up her mind to take off her hat.  Tall and thin, like all the Finizios, with the same meticulous, glittering elegance . . .  
--From "Family Interior," a short story by Anna Maria Ortese, from her collection Neapolitan Chronicles, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee (New Vessel Press, 2018), pp. 35-62.  Neapolitan Chronicles was first published in Italian as Il mare non bagna Napoli (Giulio Einaudi, Turin, Italy, 1953).

It turns out that MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières, AKA Doctors Without Borders] has no house for us.  We're going to have to find one.
In the meantime, we're living in the "guest house." It's where expat field workers live when they pass through the capital.  
The ground floor is taken up by MSF offices.  
For the first few days, I hole up on the top floor, while Nadège takes on her new duties.
Upstairs, I keep my eyes glued on Louis.
--From Burma Chronicles, a nonfiction comic by Guy Delisle, translated from the French by Helge Dascher (Drawn and Quarterly, 2008).  Originally published in France as Chroniques Birmanes by Editions Delcourt.

Two days later, at two in the afternoon, the yellow Saab 900 convertible was fixed and ready to drive.  The dented right front fender had been returned to its original shape, the painted patch blending almost perfectly with the rest of the car.  
--From "Drive My Car," the first story from Men Without Women, a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen (Knopf/Vintage/Penguin Random House, 2017).  Originally published in Japan as Onna no inai Otokotachi (Bungei Shunjū, Tokyo, 2014).

Women were occasionally allowed to study but not to get a degree in anything because of their small heads.  
Very occasionally a woman would learn a foreign language, go abroad to study, and come back qualified as a doctor, but that didn't prove anything except that women cause trouble as soon as you let them out.  
--From The Trouble with Women, a comic by Jacky Fleming (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016).  First published in Great Britain by Square Peg.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A short memoir, a collection of essays, and three novels

We had moved to Cairo in October, 2011, during the first year of the Arab Spring.  We lived in Zamalek, a neighborhood on a long, thin island in the Nile River.  Zamalek has traditionally been home to middle- and upper-class Cairenes, and we rented an apartment on the ground floor of an old building that, like many structures on our street, was beautiful but fading.  Out in front of the Art Deco façade, the bars of a wrought-iron fence were shaped like spiderwebs.  
--From "Morsi the Cat," a personal history by Peter Hessler, The New Yorker (May 7, 2018), pp. 22-28.  (The online version appears with the title "Cairo: A Type of Love Story.") 

Though there's an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age.  The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you'll acquire a guest room.
--From "Company Man," the first essay in Calypso, a collection by David Sedaris (Little, Brown and Company, 2018). 

All this happened quite a few years ago.  My mother had been unwell for some time.  To put a stop to my brothers' nagging and my father's especially, she finally went to see the doctor she always saw, the doctor my family had used since the dawn of time. . . . When [the results] finally arrived, three weeks later rather than two, it turned out that she had stomach cancer.  Her first reaction was as follows: Good Lord, here I've been lying awake night after night, year after year, especially when the children were small, terrified of dying from lung cancer, and then I get cancer of the stomach.  What a waste of time!    
--From I Curse the River of Time, a novel by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson (Graywolf Press, 2010).  First published in Norwegian as Jeg forbanner tidens elv (Oktober Forlag, Oslo, Norway, 2008). 

I was thirteen years old and about to start the seventh class at Veitvet School.  My mother said she would go with me on the first day--we were new to the area, and anyway she had no job--but I didn't want her to.  
--From It's Fine By Me, a novel by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Graywolf Press, 2012/Picador, 2013).  First published in Norway by Forlaget Oktober, 1992, and in Great Britain by Harvill Secker, a division of Random House Group Ltd, London.   

Oki was alone in the observation car [of the Kyoto express].  Slouched deep in his armchair, he watched the end chair turn.  Not that it kept turning in the same direction, at the same speed: sometimes it went a little faster, or a little slower, or even stopped and began turning in the opposite direction.  To look at that one revolving chair, wheeling before him in the empty car, made him feel lonely.  Thoughts of the past began flickering through his mind.
       It was the twenty-ninth of December.  Oki was going to Kyoto to hear the New Year's Eve bells.  
--From Beauty and Sadness, a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, translated from the Japanese by Howard S. Hibbett (Vintage International, 1996).  First published in Japanese as Utsukushisa To Kanashimi To (Chuo koronosha, Tokyo, Japan, 1961).  First published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf (1975).