Showing posts from 2020

Screen Tests / Undying

This review was first published in the Fall 2019 issue of Rain Taxi Review of Books . Anne Boyer's The Undying  went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. (I have kept the page references in my text that are provided for the Rain Taxi copyeditors, but which are cut from the printed version.)  This review in many ways intersects with my later essays  on Zambreno's  Drifts and  Jeff VanderMeer's Dead Astronauts , parts of something I've been thinking of as "the asterisks project". What will come of it, I don't know, but it is ongoing, in fits and starts (more fits than starts these days, but c'est la vie). Screen Tests Kate Zambreno Harper Perennial ($16.99) The Undying Anne Boyer Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($26.00) reviewed by Matthew Cheney In Screen Tests , a collection of prose pieces, Kate Zambreno says that she writes to “announce to myself, as well as to the drifts of former intimates that amass into one giant coronary heartbreak, t

A Decade of Films

Recently, I was curious what my top films of the 2010s were. It's not something I have an encyclopedic memory for, but, luckily, I've used Letterboxd for a few years now to keep track of some of my movie viewing. Letterboxd has a decade filter, so you can now see all the films you've logged that were released in the 2010s. Mine is a likely incomplete list, as I've use Letterboxd somewhat haphazardly, but it's better than memory.  I thought, for a diversion from the general apocalypse we're living through, that I would look at my top-rated movies and see what I think of them now. I'll list those films here, with a few comments and links to further reviews if I've written of them. This is purely a list of personal favorites — while I do think some of these are cinematic masterpieces, some are surely not, but I love them nonetheless. Lots of movies I liked aren't on this list, too, as this is a list of the ones that either blew me away on a first watc

Artificial Jungles

The Museum of Wax  by Charles Ludlam The overall effect is one of denseness and kitsch exoticism. It is clear that these people are creatures of fantasy. —Charles Ludlam, stage directions for The Artificial Jungle 1. For a few weeks now, I have been bothered by the question of why so much American short fiction is, in comparison to poetry and theatre, unadventurous. I got to thinking about this while watching lots of YouTube videos of Taylor Mac . Why, said I to meself, is little to no American short fiction as interesting and provocative and pleasurable as a performance by Taylor Mac? This is unfair, of course: very little of anything is as interesting, provocative, and pleasurable as a performance by Taylor Mac. But still. I wonder. I began to bother a friend, whom I will call Richard, because that's his name. "Richard!" I screamed out to the sky (he lives a ways away, and so I must scream to the sky if he is to hear me), "Why is there little to no American short

Asterisks for Dead Astronauts

At my author website, I've published an essay titled "Asterisks for Dead Astronauts". It is an exploration of reading, grief, poetry, the end of the world. It began as an essay about Jeff VanderMeer's recent novel Dead Astronauts and then ... sprawled. The essay has a lot in common with my recent post here on Kate Zambreno's Drifts , and, indeed, the post was deliberately meant as a kind of companion piece. (It doesn't matter the order you read them in, but I do think they benefit from each other.) I'm slowly working toward a new book project called Asterisks . I don't know that the form, shared between the two pieces, will hold for a book-length work, but the general concerns are ones I'm continuing to explore, and the style feels right, and adaptable. I wrote "Asterisks for Dead Astronauts" last fall, and it has gathered rejections from publishers since December. I'm tired of sending it out, and can't think of another publisher


* Kate Zambreno's new book, Drifts: A Novel , was written before the novel coronavirus upended the world and forced us all into more limited lives. But it is a book that feels of this time. Not of this time in subject matter, though its questions about how we make meaning and art and life are certainly heightened now. Rather, the book feels of this time in its structure, in its commitment to shards and fragments.  (Now, as a Nobel laureate once said, everything is broken .) Zambreno has made something of a career of fragmentation. A glance at her books might suggest monotonous similarity, all those unindented paragraphs separated by blank space. There are similarities, too, across the characters and voices. But each book is quite distinct. Each has a different focus, and they often have a different emotional core, a different sense of the problems or questions that inspired them. Like Jean Rhys, a writer clearly important to her, Zambreno writes books that often feel diaristic, mem