Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

"Pushcart prize XLII" by Bill Henderson (ed), (Pushcart, 2018)

624 pages for £15.99! The idea is that small presses and magazines around the world (actually just from the US?) nominate poems, stories and essays from which a selection is made. The magazines aren't always that "small" - sources this year include The Paris Review, Brevity, Ploughshares, Poetry, Graywolf press, Agni, etc. Authors include Caroline Forché, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates, etc.

I liked "The Plate-spinner" by Steve Stern (post-apocalyptic Jewish traveling performers). "The home for buddhist widows" by Blair Hurley, "The Leash" by Ada Limon (poem), "Zombies (an essay) by Daniel Harris ("The zombie genre is itself a zombie"), "Freedom" by Rachel Cusk (about a surprisingly wise hairdresser), "Elegy" by Keith Woodruff (short prose), "Funny Bird Sex" (an essay by John R. Nelson), "Famous Actor (by Jess Walter - "First sex is like being in a stranger's kitchen, trying all the drawers, looking for a spoon").

Some passages caught my eye -

George Saunders has an article admiring the style of James Salter. He likes "Lights were appearing in parts of distant houses". He says "I don't know why" adding that a lesser writer might just have said "Lights were appearing in distant houses". He quotes this -

Finally we emerge at the roaring iron galleries where meat is handled. It's like coming upon a factory in the darkness. The overhead lights are blazing. The smell of carnage is everywhere. The very metal reeks with an odor denser than flowers. On the side-walk there are wheelbarrows of slaughtered heads. We stare down at the dumb victims. There are scores of them. The mouths are pink, the nostrils still moist. Warm knives with the edge of a razor have flensed them while their eyes were still fluttering, the huge, eloquent eyes of young calves. The bloody arms of the workers sketch quickly. Wherever they move, the skin magically parts, the warm insides pour out. Everything is swiftly divided.

Saunders adds "Its beauties are many but they're irreducible. They have to do, yeah, with rhythm, with strategic omission, with the great sympathetic human heart present behind the writing ... How did he do it? I have no idea."

Christian Wiman writes "People who have been away from God tend to come back by one of two ways: destitution or abundance, an overmastering sorrow or a strangely disabling joy. Either the world is not enough for the hole that has opened in you, or it is too much. The two impulses are intimately related, and it may be that the most authentic spiritual existence inheres in being able to perceive one state when you are squarely in the midst of the other".

What's striking is that I like most of the prose but don't even understand most of the poetry.

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