Showing posts from October, 2016

On Robert Aickman

Electric Literature  has published an essay I wrote about Robert Aickman , one of the greatest of the 20th century's short story writers: Thirty-five years after his death, Robert Aickman is beginning to receive the attention he deserves as one of the great 20th century writers of short fiction. For the first time, new editions of his books are plentiful, making this a golden age for readers who appreciate the uniquely unsettling effect of his work. Unsettling is a key description for Aickman’s writing, not merely in the sense of creating anxiety, but in the sense of undoing what has been settled: his stories unsettle the ideas you bring to them about how fictional reality and consensus reality should fit together. The supernatural is never far from the surreal. He was drawn to ghost stories because they provided him with conventions for unmaking the conventional world, but he was about as much of a traditional ghost story writer as Salvador Dalí was a typical designer of p

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth by Katherine Towler

     Dawn again, and I switch off the light. On the table a tattered moth shrugs its wings.      I agree. Nothing is ever quite what we expect it to be. —Robert Dunn Katherine Towler's deeply affecting and thoughtful portrait of Robert Dunn is subtitled "A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship". It's an accurate label, but one of the things that makes the book such a rewarding reading experience is that it's a memoir of struggles with place, solitude, and friendship — struggles that do not lead to a simple Hallmark card conclusion, but rather something far more complex. This is a story that could have been told superficially, sentimentally, and with cheap "messages" strewn like sugarcubes through its pages. Instead, it is a book that honors mysteries. You are probably not familiar with the poetry of Robert Dunn , nor even his name, unless you happen to live or have lived in or around Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Even then, you may not

A Long and Narrow Way

And if my thought-dreams could be seen They’d probably put my head in a guillotine — "It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)"  First, some axioms. Points. Nodes. Notes. (After which, a few fragments.) From Alfred Nobel's will: "The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction..." Even if every winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature were universally acclaimed as worthy, there would still be more worthy people who had not won the Prize than who had. Thus, the Nobel Prize in Literature will always be disappointing. The history of the Nobel Prize in Literature is a history of constant, repeated disappointment. The Nobel Prize in Literature's purpose is not to recognize the unrecognized, nor to provide wealth to the unwealthy, nor to celebrate literary translation, nor to br

Reflections on Samuel Delany's Dark Reflections

At the Los Angeles Review of Books , I have a new essay about Samuel R. Delany's 2007 novel Dark Reflections , which is about to be released in a new and slightly revised edition by Dover Books . Here's a taste: In many ways,  Dark Reflections  is a narrative companion to Delany’s 2006 collection of essays, letters, and interviews,  About Writing . In the introduction to that book, Delany says that its varied texts share common ideas, primary among them ideas about the art of writing fiction, the structure of the writer’s socio-aesthetic world both in the present and past, and “the way literary reputations grow — and how, today, they don’t grow.” The book is mainly, though not exclusively, aimed at aspiring writers. It provides some advice on craft, but it circles back most insistently to questions of value, and especially to questions of the difference between  good writing  and  talented writing  — and what it means, practically and materially, for a writer to shape a li