Month: February 2016

Write shit. Then write. By Vicki Entreken

Write shit. Then write. By Vicki Entreken

“What no wife of a writer understands is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.” – Burton Roscoe Before I took my writing life seriously, I lived in the banking world. Productivity and quality were the lifelines to how much cash […]

Harbor Mandala by Michael Collins

Harbor Mandala by Michael Collins

Finishing Line Press, 2015 ISBN: 978-1-62229-918-8 Paperback, 22 pp., $12.49 Review by Christopher R. Vaughan As though it represented 21 walks along the harbor, each one different from the next, Michael Collins’s collection, Harbor Mandala, is a study in range: the cross-section of wild and […]

Illustrations: Devyn Park

Illustrations: Devyn Park

Devyn Park is an illustrator born and raised in Kailua Kona, Hawaii; educated in Providence, RI at RISD; and currently residing in Bellingham, WA. When she isn’t drawing or painting, she is often exploring antique malls or playing Raiden II at her local arcade. Her work has been featured in Narratively, Little Village Mag, WhatsUP, Polyester Magazine, The Pulp Zine, and The College Hill Independent. Devyn and her work can be found all over the internet, including Twitter (@devyn_park), Etsy (DevynParkDesigns), Tumblr, and Instagram (@devyn_park).

I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast by Melissa Studdard

I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast by Melissa Studdard

Saint Julian Press, 2014 ISBN: 978-0-9889447-5-6 Perfect bound, 62 pp., $12 Review by Andrew Carroll and Nicole Reese Woman comes through, not the door, but the wall, vaginal; eyeing the crescent moon’s reflection in a chalice, smiling with a self-awareness of her criminal intrusion. Yet, […]

Get a Grip: An Interview with Kathy Flann

Get a Grip: An Interview with Kathy Flann

Interview by Jen Grow Get a Grip, Kathy Flann’s second collection of short stories, was recently released by Texas Review Books, and was winner of the George Garrett Fiction Prize. Her first, Smoky Ordinary, published by Snake Nation Press in 2008, won the Serena McDonald […]

Paintings: Jia Sung

Paintings: Jia Sung

Jia Sung is a painter and illustrator, born in Minnesota and bred in Singapore. In her spare time, she is a professional cephalophore, chronic complainer, whinger extraordinaire, velocipedestrienne, flâneur, domestic sensualist, and bon vivant. Clients include Charleston Magazine, Huffington Post, Harvard Asian American Policy Review, Artists Against Police Violence, WILD Magazine, Clerestory Magazine. Her work has been featured with the Society of Illustrators LA, RISD XYZ, the Art Directors Club, Charleston Magazine,  and Constructedby. Visit her online. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates.

Copia by Erika Meitner

Copia by Erika Meitner

BOA Editions Ltd., American Poets Continuum Series, Sept. 2014 ISBN: 978-1938160462 Paperback, 104 pp., $16 Review by Chad Frame Erika Meitner’s Copia is a wonderfully eclectic poetry manuscript that explores the excesses of capitalist America’s consumer culture and the dystopian abandonment left on the downswing. […]

Later, Knives & Trees by Maureen Alsop

Later, Knives & Trees by Maureen Alsop

Negative Capability Press, 2014 ISBN: 978-0-942544-98-5 Paperback, 52 pp., $14.95 Review by Cynthia Reeser Later, Knives & Trees by Maureen Alsop is a book that rewards a second reading: it is then that the deeper nuances of the imagery come through, in the hints of […]

Frye[d] Pears: A book review of Arcadia by Iain Pears by L. Shapley Bassen

Frye[d] Pears: A book review of Arcadia by Iain Pears by L. Shapley Bassen

Arcadia by Iain Pears
Knopf, Feb. 2016
ISBN: 978-1101946824
Hardcover, 528 pp., $27.95
Review by L. Shapley Bassen

Over the December 2015 holidays, I missed my chance to see J.J. Abrams’s new Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 3-D and didn’t see the point of going to a 2-D showing. Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 dictum, “The medium is the message,” has never been more zeitgeist-true than now. Three years ago in autumn, it turns out, J.J. Abrams collaborated with author Doug Dorst on a much-heralded hardback novel, titled just S. Says Abrams in a New York Times interview,

The multilayered conceit of the thing almost makes it a play interacting with a book. That is, there is the novel itself (‘Ship of Theseus’), which stands alone as its own story, and then there are the notes in the margins: a conversation and investigation and mystery and love story between two people, which is both connected to and separate from the central text. Then, there is the editor of the book, who appears in an introduction and in footnotes. So there were many characters and points of view to balance. It felt less like film or TV, and more like concocting something insane and very special.

That same May, 2013, author Iain Pears was invited to give a seminar talk at Oxford, which he called Egos in Arcadia: Telling Tales in a Digital Age. The clever pun of the title of his book/iPad app then work-in-progress alluded to the 17th century Poussin paintings of a tomb in a pastoral idyll and echoed the classical phrase, Et in Arcadia ego, whose translation [“Even in Arcadia, there am I”] is a reminder of 4th dimensional, temporal perspective: in the midst of even the best of life, death is present.

And now for a 21st century, more than 3-D version/vision of Arcadia by novelist Iain Pears that takes the Abrams/Dorst recipe up an Emeril Lagasse notch, BAM! Gluten-free and delicious utopia/dystopia, time, and story are major ingredients in Arcadia. No need to rue the roux: mixtures of metaphor and everything else stirred together in Arcadia make it a truly movable feast. Also no need for me to repeat the rave review summaries that the novel began to receive last autumn; they do a fine job of guiding you through the book’s Mobius strip structure that also calls to mind Escher’s famous image, “Relativity.”

"Relativity" by M. C. Escher
“Relativity” by M. C. Escher

The hearty takeaway/takeout I’d like to share is that anyone interested in cooking up a story would be well-served by sous-chef Pears, whose new novel Arcadia, together with Chef Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, would make a cordon bleu semester course in any MFA writing program. Bon appétit!

Arcadia is Faber & Faber’s first novel to have been written primarily with digital readers in mind. The British publishers believe it to be the first book of its kind in existence. Shortly after its iPad appearance, the 596-page hardback was published last September 3rd. This February, 2016, Knopf presents a 528-page US edition. “While the hardback is 180,000 words, the app comes to 250,000, offering additional stories and expanding those told in the hardback.” In all iterations, its main character is a British contemporary of [Canadian] Marshall McLuhan, named Henry Lytten, a 50-something Oxford don in 1960, who is also a fantasy writer [in an Inklings-like afterhours group] and a retired WWII spy. Henry Lytten meets his incarnation, Henary the Storyteller, in a 26th century, post-apocalyptic, pastoral England that is the result of the novel’s sci-fi time machine plot. Henry and Henary cross paths in an Arcadian Arden-forest complete with not just one Rosalind [Rosie], but two.

This interview with Iain Pears sums it up nicely:

The three plot lines in the book are: a realist spy fiction set in the 1960s; a sci-fi one set centuries later in a nightmarish overpopulated world; and a fantasy one in a rural paradise, Anterwold… Woven in with this are landscapes derived from Claude Lorrain, a curious girl rather like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, scenes from As You Like It, and asides on and references to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. But, unlike both those authors, Pears rigorously excludes magic.

‘The fantasy bit is without gods or magic. Tolkien almost did that, but he always slips in a bit of magic, and C.S. Lewis depends on magic. But I didn’t want any talking lions. The point about Anterwold is that it’s an attempt to create an ideal, stable society that could actually exist.’

It’s all fantastic fun and, in spite of its complexity, a swift read. It is divided into chunks made deliberately bite-sized, in deference to the reading habits of the young, but which also spare the tired minds of the old.

[…] Pears got his crucial idea from an article he read in a science magazine, which said that many of the problems of physics would be solved if time could be disregarded and everything happened simultaneously—a notion used in the movie Interstellar.

From the Independent, readers are wisely advised to “treat this novel, and its app, as a meme-park where a whole menagerie of tropes, themes, myths and motifs from centuries of fantasy and romance can frolic”:

As Rosie remarks about Anterwold, ‘You steal ideas from everyone.’ Shakespeare, Sidney, Carroll, Bradbury, Huxley, Orwell, Tolkien-and-Lewis, Le Carré, Fleming – to label Arcadia as ‘derivative’ would be both to miss and to make Pears’s point. In a world (or worlds) menaced by terminal risks, he builds a story-ark: a granary or seedbank of genres.

When you read the novel in hardback, the stop-start intercutting of chapters becomes an experience of time travel in/of itself. Nineteenth century Dickens and 20th century Asimov are more consistently linear, but 21st century Pears intentionally leaps from locales/characters to others so that your first experience of every chapter is getting your bearings again, literally finding yourself at the same time as you do the characters/storylines. The hardback reading results in a real suspension of routine experience of linear time reality. The digital rendering of the whisked-together stories allows a reader to follow the addition of one ingredient at a time, but that freedom implies that 2D is an illusion. At the same time contrasts with one at a time to great cumulative effect: [1] recognition of the questionable reality of our primate-evolved, cause/effect linear assumptions about Time; [2] recognition that Arcadia moves free of time just as subatomic particles do and we can in memory and speculation. This is real fun and food for thought.

And now, to the Fry[e]ing pan: Iain Pears plays a game of friendly three-card monte, not only with space-time, but also with storytelling formats. One of the most influential literary critics of the 20th century, Northrop Frye, would frolic through Pears’s pages/screen. Frye’s four Anatomy modes are the destinies manifest in Arcadia.

Frye’s clockwise-seasonal circle of four story types
Frye’s clockwise-seasonal circle of four story types

Just follow the seasons. Spring: Mistaken identities and disguises revealed at story’s end come right out of Comedy mode, as does the Angela-mother/Emily-daughter generational handoff. Comedy is the vernal promise of reconciliation of the old generation with the new, and it usually ends with a celebration/wedding/party. Summer: The Asimov-worthy sci-fi plot [consider the time travel novel The End of Eternity and short story “Spell My Name with an S”] pits a dystopian evil villain Oldmanter [name out of Dickens] against a dynamic duo of time machine-maker mother and her daughter, an environmental/cultural conservator reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451. When superhuman good defeats superhuman evil, you’re reading/writing Romance. Autumn: Tragedy is the story of homicidal disorder caused by flawed superiority with order restored at great but ennobling cost. In Arcadia, time travel enfolds the tragedy of atomic apocalypse within its overriding Romance plot. Winter: When dystopia prevails or utter confusion of definitions of identity/reality takes over [also momentarily in Star Trek Next Generation‘s Moriarty holodeck episode, “Ship in a Bottle”], you’re in Irony. But since Pears serves up the wish fulfillment half of Frye’s wheel [Comedy/Romance] rather than the realistic quadrants [Tragedy/Irony], freedom relieves entrapment in most, but not all, cases.

MFA Alert: Frye’s catalogs in The Anatomy of Criticism mean that readers, students, and writers of stories need not reinvent the wheel, but just keep the one above snowballing into the future just as Pears does in Arcadia. There, nothing is ever lost but stays afloat in his “story-ark” when a time-traveling scholar-author meets a facet of himself in a future society where storytellers are its most valued citizens. Consider the creative power of recognizing pattern: you need not get lost in history, nor repeat it. Instead, it can be a guide to your own story.

Together, Frye’s Anatomy and Pears’s Arcadia are buoyant ark and ark of literary covenant, encyclopedia, and study guide for a superior full-semester course. Some savvy 21st century students could even create their own digital iPad concordium of the critical primer and novel. Either way, hardback or digital, reading Arcadia is as mind-altering as walking on a Mobius strip. Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams’ 2-dimensional novel S. has much in common with Pears’s Arcadia, the real digital 3-D deal that calls for film adaptation. It even ends with the promise of a sequel. May the Force be with it.

And in case you thought I forgot: here is a different delicious recipe for fried pears.

Maps to the Other Side by Sascha Altman DuBrul

Maps to the Other Side by Sascha Altman DuBrul

Microcosm Publishing, 2013 ISBN: 978-0-978866-50-1 Paperback, 189 pp., $15.95 Review by Andrew T. Powers Sascha Altman DuBrul is a freight train-riding punk who suffers from manic depression and advocates for mental health and food justice. He has told a lot of stories over the years […]