experimental

A story structured in shards

March 8, 2017 | 22 Comments

Solnit’s ‘Faraway Nearby’

August 8, 2013 | 13 Comments

Rebecca Solnit tried to leave home at fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. At last, at age seventeen, her jealous mother and her indifferent father sent her into the world like a girl in a fairy tale:

“For that odyssey my mother would not let me take any of the decent suitcases in her attic but gave me a huge broken one in which my few clothes and books rumbled like dice in a cup. My father gave me a broken travel clock that he said was worth repairing and I kept it for years before I found that it was not.”

The Faraway Nearby opens with 100 pounds of apricots, collected from her ailing mother’s tree, ripening and rotting on Solnit’s floor, a bequest and a burden as if from another fairy tale. The fruit was a story, she explains, and also “an invitation to examine the business of making and changing stories.” So Solnit tells her own story, shows how she escaped it by entering the wider world of others’ stories, and how she changed her story as she better understood her unhappy mother.

What sent her mother’s indifference toward her into permanent rage was when she asked young Rebecca, age 13, for sympathy when she got a lump in her breast, and Rebecca, who hadn’t received much sympathy herself, failed to supply it. With effort, as an adult Solnit realizes that her mother had had a hard life, was trapped in her own story of victimhood, and must’ve cared for her before memory: “She gave me everything before she gave me nothing.”

Out of duty and from solidarity with two of her brothers, Solnit ends up tending her mother through her long decline from Alzheimer’s. The apricots arrive near the end of this sad period, which Solnit terms a serial emergency. Having hooked us with this, her story, Solnit tells us it doesn’t much interest her anymore.

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Fiona Maazel on loneliness

May 23, 2013 | 6 Comments

A novel approach to the absurdities of mass desolation.   Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel Graywolf Press, 336 pp., $26.00. Guest Review by Lanie Tankard We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story . . . —John Steinbeck, to the Paris Review A Google search for the term lonely can yield 287,000,000 results in less than twenty seconds. A Facebook Community called “Loneliness” has …

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Whither the postmodern memoir?

March 19, 2013 | 10 Comments

  Beyond ‘crazy shit’ content: stories that intrigue, inform, illuminate.  I want to believe we can think of memoir in terms of the author’s personal connection to the ideas in the book; that the form, at its best, can use personal experience to gather up the distinct threads of a book and bring them together into a narrative of thought that is more compelling and nuanced than a simple summary of the crazy shit that happened. Perhaps memoir can be …

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Swamped by ‘Infinite Jest’

January 11, 2013 | 13 Comments

On failing to finish David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece novel.   Carry nothing even remotely vegetabalish if in the path of a feral herd. —Infinite Jest To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, “It’s a terrible thing to quit a book. To take from it less than it has to give.” I don’t believe that about books—we should quit any one that’s not working for us and start another—but David Foster Wallace’s 1,079-page novel Infinite Jest is a special case. And I’ve …

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The sum of their parts

November 10, 2012 | 11 Comments

Graphic memoirs like Speigelman’s & Bechdel’s merit attention. Guest Post by Janice Gary At the beginning of my third semester of a graduate writing program, the professor handed out a reading list that included Art Speigelman’s Maus. It seemed an odd choice for a nonfiction program, even if was autobiographical. I knew about Maus. In fact, I had avoided reading it for years. The book dealt with the Holocaust, which was so personally painful that I avoided any books or …

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A new flash nonfiction manual

October 21, 2012 | 14 Comments

The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers edited by Dinty W. Moore. Rose Metal Press, 179 pp. They furnished off an apartment with a two-room Roebuck sale The coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and ginger ale But when Pierre found work the little money coming worked out well C’est la vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell —Chuck Berry, “You Never …

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