“Brahms’s Lullaby” in Arts & Letters.

I don’t recall, now, how I stumbled across the story, but I was reading something—probably half into some Wikipedia hole—when I came across a small anecdote about the early days of recording technology. The story went like this: Thomas Edison had sent an associate to Vienna in the late 19th century to get a recording of Johannes Brahms. The recording—using the nascent technology Edison’s labs had developed—still exists, and involved Brahms playing a few pieces on piano, a few comments in English, and some other indecipherable things.

Having always been fascinated with, and a fan of, Brahms, the story instantly struck me, and I wondered, exactly, what must have transpired during that recording. I pulled a couple Brahms biographies and tried to put the visit into context, and it was there I stumbled—always stumbling, because that’s the best way to find a good story—on the history of the Wiegenleid, his famous lullaby. Suddenly it all fit: the recording, the lullaby, and everything that was going on in my life, which included the stress and joy of being a new father. I’d never written historical fiction before, so this story ended up being a fun experiment, too.

Much of that, to use a musical metaphor, was transposed into this story. Theo’s not me (though Theo was the associate’s real name his personal background is all fiction) and the Brahms in there probably isn’t quite the real Brahms, although the actual pieces he plays, his apartment’s location, the panoply of trash cans, and many other details etc., are all real-life things.

You can purchase the issue here.

Review of “Plaza Requiem.”

My review of Martha Bátiz’s fine collection of stories, Plaza Requiemhas been posted up over at Literal Magazine. On this blog, I wanted to share a few thoughts that didn’t make it into the review.

Reading Bátiz’s stories, I was struck by another short story collection I’d read recently, which, for reasons that should become apparent soon, I will leave nameless. The other book, which has received a reasonable amount of critical claim, was terrible. I’d read writers gushing over it on Twitter, and other rave reviews. It was by a young, Latin American writer, who covered some of the same themes that Bátiz writes about in her collection. Yet those stories, I thought, were—with one or two exceptions—insipid.

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Recent Work.

Hi, everyone. I’ve been working on some longer projects these days (some fiction and a longer essay), so the only things that have recently seen the light of publishing are a few book reviews. Fortunately I’ve reviewed some interesting books, so I hope they make for some interesting reading:

  • On Here in Berlin by Cristina Garcia, and its eldritch collection of postwar German voices;
  • On The Idiocy of Perfection by Jesús Silva Herzog-Marquez, a collection of metaphorical and sharp political essays; and
  • On the story collection The Tower of the Antilles, by Achy Obejas, showcasing the depth and struggles of the Cuban-American identity.

Otherwise I’m reading a couple books I’ve been meaning to get to (but won’t be reviewing) right now: Ronald C. White’s biography of Grant, American Ulysses, and the Tournament of Books-winning The Sellout by Paul Beatty. (Everybody is talking about the Chernow bio of Grant now, and that may be great, but White’s bio really is fantastic.)

The Lip of the Grave: On “Imagine Me Gone” by Adam Haslett.

Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett’s second novel, achieves something difficult: it manages to dramatize depression and mental illness without being tiresome, fatuous, or boring.

The novel opens in the mind of John, an Englishman who suffers from the something he calls the “monster.” When John had been hospitalized for depression, Margaret, his American girlfriend at the time, decided to stay with him. They married, and had three children: Celia, Michael and Alec. While the kids’ interweaving life stories—dealing with their father’s eventual suicide—make up the bulk of Imagine Me Gone, the true focus is on Michael, who replays his father’s tragic illness in a different key.

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Two Recent Reviews.

This summer has brought a couple more book reviews o’ mine:

I have a couple short stories out for submission, and while they’ve received some really, really nice comments from a few editors—especially for the weird little tales they are, one set in a Mongol Kingdom and other in 1891 Vienna—so far neither has found a home yet.

New review of an old fave.

Slightly late to posting: my review of Javier Marías latest novel, Thus Bad Begins went live awhile back at Literal Magazine. I have written about Marías before, having reviewed his penultimate novel, The Infatuations, for The Millions.

Here’s how my review starts, picking up on a line I had mentioned in my review of The Infatuations:

Javier Marías doesn’t want to be “what they call a ‘real Spanish writer.’” These are authors who, Marîas says, prominently feature themes and motifs of classic Spain, including bullfighting and passionate women. While these tropes are certainly absent from his novels, which tend more to involve analytic and voluble narrators dissecting the vagaries of life, Marías is still obviously fascinated with the Spanish character, and with its gestalt, and perhaps that is in no clearer form than in his latest novel, Thus Bad Begins.

“Gaddafi in Drag” at Drunk Monkeys.

Many thanks to Drunk Monkeys for accepting my funny little story “Gaddafi in Drag.” You can read it here. And here’s how it starts:

And then Gaddafi came in, totally in drag. Not just eye shadow, which he was famous for, but a full evening dress, pearl necklace, and hose. Rouge on his cheeks. Four burly female bodyguards tailed him, holstering guns. Besides the slight dip in volume of conversation, no one at the party acted like anything was askance. Gaddafi’s lips were the red, it occurred to me, of that “Say goodbye a little longer” chewing gum, and it was that commercial jingle that played in my head as I watched him walking in heels like he practiced it. It wasn’t like he didn’t have the facial features to cross dress: thin cheeks and high cheekbones like a model’s. (This was before age sunk his face into a permanent scowl, before he insisted on that comb mustache and that sweep of a rug under his chin.) Perhaps this was because I was trained to spot such disguises, but it was obvious to me from the moment he walked in.

Funny enough, this is (oh very very loosely) based on a real story, albeit one that was hearsay on top of hearsay. Of course, for fiction, that’s all part of the fun.

Five Favorite Albums of 2016.

Nobody asked me, but here are my 5 albums of 2016, in no particular order:

  1. A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
  2. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson
  3. We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service,  A Tribe Called Quest
  4. Sunlit Youth, Local Natives
  5. 22, A Million, Bon Iver

Since subscribing to an unlimited service, it’s been fun to explore my tastes, but it’s funny how this list still features three old favorites: Radiohead, the Tribe, and Bon Iver.

If I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably go with the Bon Iver. That album seeped its way into my consciousness and wouldn’t let go. It made yard work a bit more bearable.

Edit: Somehow not until after I posted this did I finally listen to Blackstar by David Bowie, which definitely deserves to be on my list. So consider it Six Favorite Albums, then.

The first in a series.

savetwilightMy review of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight: Poems (from City Lights Books) is up at Literal Magazine. It should be the first in a multiple reviews for Literal, where I have been given the opportunity to regularly write on Latin American and/or Spanish language literature.

If you know me, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Latin American lit, from my days obsessing over One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school to discovering Dagoberto Gilb and Sandra Cisneros in college. As much as one can lump such disparate books together, there is something to these books that I respond to, that speaks to me in a louder voice than other novels and stories. More recently, many of the books I tackled for Necessary Fiction—including Álvaro Bisama and Eduardo Lalo—have been from the region, but I’ve also become deeply interested in the works of Spanish writer Javier Marías.

In fact, it’s to Marías that my next review turns: his brand-new Thus Bad Begins.