Thursday, October 9, 2008

What came in the mail

Here's a hodgepodge of stuff from this week's mailbag. The main thing was my box of books from the UK. About twice a year I put in an order, so that I can get my hands on some of my favorite British writers' books before they come out here. Mostly mysteries. In this fall's box I've found new stuff from Tom McCarthy (and by the way, how on earth did the guy get such a huge Wikipedia page? Consider this an official request: somebody please plump mine up, I don't have the chutzpah to do it myself), Karin Fossum (not a police procedural this time around, but apparently a literary venture), and Arnaldur Indridason, along with the latest from Barbara Vine and P. D. James.

I've read the latter two, and thought they were both OK. Vine/Rendell is reliably good, especially in her Vine mode, but this new one (The Birthday Present) is strangely subdued and unsuspenseful. And the James (The Private Patient) feels a bit as though she's going through the motions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the act of reading these books, and picked them up with great eagerness in the evening, despite their shortcomings. Why? It's the way these writers create and maintain their settings. In Vine's case, it's London, with particular attention to the workings of Parliament; in James's it is Dorset, and a former manor house that has been converted into a private plastic-surgery hospital. There is a lushness and comforting realism to these places; both writers are masters at describing streets and roads and interiors, never in terribly thrilling prose, but always with steadfast professionalism. Both books were genuine pleasures in a personally anxious week.

Yesterday's mail also brought the latest Paris Review, featuring two items of note: a new short story by a guy I've never heard of, Jesse Ball (yes, yes, that website is pretentiously uninformative, but hey), and a new poem, "October," by our own Ed Skoog. The Ball story is about a starving poet who applies for a mysterious job--he fills out a bewildering application, and then endures an interview with an inscrutable man; the result is a hundred-thousand-dollar gig trying to avoid being murdered by another applicant. It sounds hopelessly Chuck-Palahniuk, I know, but it's really more like a less tired, more driven Paul Auster--spare and cryptic without seeming coy. I strongly suspect it's the first chapter of Ball's forthcoming novel.

Ed's poem I have read before, in a manuscript copy of his forthcoming book, Mister Skylight, coming out from Copper Canyon around the same time next year as my new book. The money shot:

It's eleven-eleven, time
to make my daily wish,
catch the stilt legs of those
two birds who land twice
a day inside the clock.

And finally, for fans of my better half: Rhian's return is nigh. Stay tuned.


E. said...

Ooooh, JRL, I am in the tank for Jesse Ball! (with Jesse Ball? over Jesse Ball? what does that even mean?) His novel, "Samedi the Deafness," was a finalist for the VCU First Novelist Award this year (my TA job is to coordinate the award). And his first short story in the Winter 2007 TPR, "The Early Deaths of Lubeck...etc." is one of the best stories I've ever read. For some reason it really resonated with me; opened me up as a story writer by showing me things I didn't know were possible. Ball is a poet; maybe that accounts, in part, for the subtle but startling things he does with language in his prose.

Here's a link to that first TPR story, which I believe won the Plimpton Prize:

Enjoy, and looking forward to Rhian's return,

Hugo Minor said...

I agree - I really enjoyed "The Early Deaths..." novella, and it inspired me a lot too. You might like his earlier book Vera and Linus. The book feels like a puzzle. The pages are numbered in such a way to designate who wrote what (he co-wrote it with his wife), and what character the section is about. Something like that.

5 Red Pandas said...

I love those lines by Ed. When I catch the clock at 11:11 I always make the same wish. I can't wait for it to come true so I can start making a new wish.

Looking forward to Rhian's return. Not that you haven't ably manned the ship...just missed Rhian's voice.

Dusty said...

Glad to see Jesse Ball getting more and more recognition. For those who can't wait for his next novel, he's got a little story collection through a new journal called The Cupboard. The collection's titled Parables & Lies and it's incredibly good.

And I'm not usually a fan of short-shorts.

Oh, and welcome back (soon), Rhian!

Anonymous said...

Pandas, I miss her too, and I see her every day ;-)

So does Jesse Ball have a cult, the way McCarthy does? I do feel as though DFW's death has left a void in the erudite/entertaining/mysterious/experimental department...I keep thinking I should charge up that part of my own aesthetic. But perhaps these guys have it covered. I will look for Ball's other stuff, and thanks for the link, e.

Dana said...

Did you have anything in mind for your beefed up Wikipedia page? Justin and I could get on this, but no guarantees it would be grounded in reality.

Mr. Saflo said...

Write about that time he slayed the dragon from outer space. You know, the one with heat vision and the jetpack.

Anonymous said...


Honestly, I was only half serious. I want it to be accurate. But of course if I really cared I'd just write it myself, like everyone else does.