Under a Volcano

Earlier this week, I took part in the Book Report Reading Series. And I read a report on Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. Just…maybe not the version you remember.

Under the Volcano was the first in what was was intended to be a trilogy. Lowry’s Over the Pond followed, with Just About Level With the Butte completing the trilogy, killing off two of the three students and elevating the third into a kind of superhuman being. The two books that follow — Inside the Wind and On a Diagonal From the Northeast Corridor — take as their main characters Dolores, the younger sister of the demigod Harrison; Robert, killed off in Just About Level With the Butte but resurrected with a robotic body; and the man-book hybrid Alfonso, an immortal being cursed with a condition that resembles, but is not actually, aphasia.

(It was a whole lot of fun.) Also, I might as well post this song, which is almost related, in that it mentions volcanoes.

On Laird Hunt

The first time I encountered a mention of Laird Hunt’s fiction was in The Believer — Rick Moody had written a glowing essay about his work, and (given my fondness for Moody’s writing) I was hooked. Not long after that, I read Hunt’s novel The Exquisite, which is both head-twistingly plotted and one of the best evocations of early-21st-century New York City I’ve read. (Much like Moody’s “The Albertine Notes” and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City, Hunt’s use of surrealism to evoke that period of time seems like a wise choice.)

Hunt has a new novel out this year, titled Kind One. And in a new piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books, I looked at Hunt’s body of work with an eye towards what his latest novel might say about his progression as a writer.

Finding a label for Hunt’s six books isn’t easy; he juxtaposes pulp traditions, ambiguous narratives, and a fondness for referentiality in them, but never at the expense of being readable. His latest novel, Kind One, seems to be his most traditional — it’s set in a specific and distinct historical moment and features a linear narrative. But even here, Hunt’s eccentricities manifest themselves, leaving Kind One as an expansion of what his fiction is capable of achieving.

You can read the whole thing here.

The West


Went out to Seattle and Portland. Saw good friends, bought some books & some records, and rediscovered the pleasures of wandering through a city at night, half-buzzed on too much coffee. I hope to be back out in that part of the world before long.

Cellists & Serendipity

Synchronicity is weird.

I recently read Paul Elie’s Reinventing Bach for a profile on Elie; it was there that I learned quite a lot about the life of the cellist Pablo Casals…

…who was in turn referenced in one of the stories in the Paris Review anthology Object Lessons, which I was also reading for an assignment. It was also in that anthology that I first encountered the fiction of Jane Bowles…

…who shows up repeatedly as a point of reference in Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, which I’m presently reading. Strange how these things line up…

Hair Metal & Writing Consultations

Potentially of note: the fundraising/pre-ordering campaign for Hair Lit now has a new bonus offered. For $20, one can get (along with your copy of the anthology) a consultation with one of several contributors to the anthology. Susannah Felts, BJ Hollars, Nick Ostdick, Ben Tanzer and I are all participating in this, so if you’ve ever wanted to talk short fiction with me over Skype, now’s the time…

Getting Retro

I’m happy to announce that I have fiction in the second edition of Joyland Retro. Specifically, the story “An Old Songwriter’s Trick,” which appeared on Joyland a few months ago. If the first edition is any indication, this will be a handsomely-designed print edition; if you’d like to order it at a discount, you can do so here, with the code 9HK4J57J.

Thoughts & Questions After Reading John Brandon’s “A Million Heavens”

Not long ago, I read John Brandon’s novel A Million Heavens and later wrote a short review of it. Brandon’s novel is a sprawling, complex work; there’s less of an overarching plot than a series of intertwined subplots that eventually reach a satisfying point of convergence. Writing said short review wasn’t easy: this is not a book that lends itself well to neat summaries. I could probably have written two thousand words on it without losing stride; it’s a book that occasionally recalls some of Robert Altman’s more sprawling efforts, and its conclusion serves as a neat payoff for its numerous winding threads.

And yet, reading it, I did find myself with a couple of questions that I didn’t have space to bring up in the review. Ergo…

  • A now-dissolved cult band figures heavily into the structure of the book; one former member of the band spends the novel in the afterlife, while his former bandmates feud over their musical legacy. At times, they seem to tap into a sort of contemporary suburban angst; at others, they seem so strange and iconic that easy descriptions don’t seem to fit. Arcade Fire meets Sun City Girls, maybe?
  • There are references to home cassette recordings made in the novel, though the book’s setting is contemporary. I don’t know many home recordings these days that aren’t done on computers — is this meant to be a sign of one character’s economic straits? Is it a mark of stylization?
  • There’s a reference to “Nevers” in the book — is Brandon making a reference to the film Hiroshima Mon Amour, where a Nevers reference is prominent?

Bringing the “Homeric Detail” at Manhattan Inn

Sign denoting the writers’ table.

Last week, I read at Manhattan Inn with Karolina Waclawiak and James Yeh. The event was the first installment of Hearken, a new series started by John McElwee. It was a pleasure taking part in this event alongside Karolina and James, as both are remarkably nice folks whose work I also enjoy reading. And delivering one’s work in the round made for an interesting and unique experience.

And now, Kai Tammoh at Electric Literature‘s fine blog The Outlet has posted a recap. For the record, I will gladly accept the adjective “Homeric.”

“Hair Lit” Now Has A Cover

Possibly of note: Hair Lit, the anthology of hair-metal-inspired fiction in which I have a story, now has cover artwork. And there’s a lot of neon there.

The list of writers is pretty fantastic, and it’s an honor to be a part of it. More details to come on when it’ll be out in the world and available to be ordered; hopefully, there will be a New York City release party, and I’ll have details on that as they emerge as well.


Reading at the Manhattan Inn

Possibly of note: I’m reading later tonight at the Manhattan Inn, at 632 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. Also on the bill are Karolina Waclawiak (whose novel How To Get Into the Twin Palms is quite good) and James Yeh (who edits Gigantic and is a fine writer to boot). Doors, so to speak, are at 7. No word yet if the venue’s piano will be in use. Perhaps I will bring some sort of atonal improvisational playing to the work I’ll be reading. (I won’t.)


In the end, it wasn’t being mistaken for a Sasquatch that got me to quit drinking. Most people get that part wrong. Admittedly, if I’d known everything would go to shit that soon afterwards, I never would have taken off my shirt. But moshing on the rooftop had seemed like a genius idea, and it was a July in New York; I’m not particularly small, and anything I can do to minimize my own sweat is the best possible idea at that moment. And so I took off, a one-man circle pit, tracing my own circumference and never fearing dizziness or a stumble that might drop me to the sidewalk five stories below.

That’s from a new story of mine, titled “New Evidence of the Kings County Sasquatch,” that the fine people at The Fanzine have just published. I originally read it at at Storychord event at Housing Works. I’m hoping to do a bit more with this narrator — I have a couple of other stories in mind that will involve him.

I also like the idea of writing a character who, from this point on, won’t be drinking — an editor who turned an earlier story of mine down commented that my characters spent a lot of time in bars. I took that as a challenge, in the best way possible — or maybe not a challenge as much as someone pointing out a device I was using a little too frequently. We’ll see where this ends up, but if you notice future stories featuring an unnamed narrator with an aversion to booze and references to cryptids…

(This post’s title, for what it’s worth, is borrowed from Malcolm Ingram’s Drawing Flies, a film in which Jason Lee leads a group of unemployed Vancouver residents into the woods in search of Bigfoot.)