Under the Influence #12

written by Kurt Baumeister July 9, 2019


Wherein Jamie Blaine celebrates the grit of Raymond Chandler, Jesi Bender praises the prose mastery of Carole Maso, Michael T. Fournier shares how Douglas Coupland saved him from a life of suburban drudgery, Ryan Werner breaks from a guitar solo just long enough to laud writing idol Amy Hempel, and Kurt Baumeister (That’s me!) lauds the epic literary courage of Salman Rushdie.

Amy Hempel

by Ryan Werner

Four Essential Moralities from Amy Hempel:

1) It’s better to say something deeply funny that hints at the personal instead of the other way around—unless you’re writing a diary or a review of your friend’s new haircut.

2) The sentence is where a story lives or dies. A quotable sentence is where your wit lives or dies.

3) Mystery can rise above discovery if you just happen to see God and the murmurings of your youth whenever you take a bath.

4) Take advantage of the fact that we all forgot about how the world is too big to be any one thing.

Ryan Werner is a cook at a preschool in the Midwest. He plays in lots of bands and has written some books. His website is www.RyanWernerWritesStuff.com but since it’s never updated, you can just add him on Facebook.

Douglas Coupland

by Michael T. Fournier

In Generation X, Douglas Coupland’s characters live in group houses, work McJobs, and share a mood of “darkness and inevitability and fascination.” Prior to reading Coupland, I thought, in my rural teenage isolation, that my path was clearly marked: college, career, marriage. I knew nothing else. But I was already writing fiction. I hoped to find people of a similar mind. I wanted to live in a city with them, see punk bands, make sense of it all through words. The first depictions of a different lifestyle made me think that maybe I could do it, too. And I do.

Michael T. Fournier is the author of Swing State and Hidden Wheel (Three Rooms Press) and Double Nickels on the Dime (33 1/3). He’s a regular contributor to Razorcake –America’s only non-profit punk zine — and his writing has appeared in the Oxford AmericanViceSubmergingPitchfork, The CollapsarVol. 1 Brooklyn, and more. Fournier and Maine poet Lisa Panepinto co-edit the broadsheet journal Cabildo Quarterly. He plays drums in and writes songs for Dead Trend. He and his wife Rebecca live on Cape Cod with their cat. More at michaeltfournier.org.

Carole Maso

by Jesi Bender

Carole Maso’s Defiance is as close to a perfect novel as ever written. While there is much to admire in her other enigmatic novels, Defiance has a mystery and melody all its own. I love its layers and how it unfolds. I love its anger. I love how even at the apex of its fantasy we are still broken and alone. Carole Maso is the master of prose that is poetry and poetry that lights minute moments with a searing immediacy and importance. At once, it is the most relatable as well as one of the most challenging works of art I have ever encountered.

Jesi Bender is an artist from Upstate New York. She runs KERNPUNKT Press, a home for experimental literature. Her first novel, The Book of the Last Word, was released in May 2019 from Whisk(e)y Tit and her shorter work can be found in Split LipLunch Ticket, and Paper Darts, among others. www.jesibender.com www.kernpunktpress.com

Raymond Chandler

by Jamie Blaine

 “She had the kind of body that would make a bishop poke a hole in a stained-glass window.”

That one staccato sentence struck me like brass knuckles on a bloody lip. Not anything like those other boring authors we studied in English Lit. Even misquoted, the words were so salty I had to say them out loud, to feel their cadence and grit, to spit them with menace through clenched jaw and clenched fist. I found The Big Sleep at our branch library and read it long into a stormy night. I knew what I had to do.

Jamie Blaine has worked at megachurches, rehabs, radio stations, and roller rinks. His writing has been featured in venues such as SalonThe RumpusRelevantModern DrummerBass GuitarGuitar PlayerThe TennesseanWashington Post, and London Scene. He is the author of Midnight Jesus and Mercy Never Sleeps and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Salman Rushdie

by Kurt Baumeister

The 80’s were a sort of Golden Age in Postmodern Brit Lit, writers such as Ishiguro, Winterson, and Amis rising to prominence. Perhaps no writer better symbolizes this era than Salman Rushdie, a highly lauded, bestselling author who was forced into hiding by violent religious extremism, the effects of which we continue to deal with to this day not only in the Muslim world, but, it seems, more and more, in “Christian” America.

The Satanic Verses, the book that made Rushdie both a household name and a hunted man, is a magical, postmodern retelling of Islamic myth. Not only structurally but on a sentence level Rushdie plays with linear logic in The Satanic Verses, looping back and forth seemingly at will, juggling maximalist prose and humor, big ideas and political commentary as he does. The courage it took Rushdie to write this book—to speak his truth regardless of the consequences—inspires me to this day.

PAX AMERICANA: Coverage on National Book Critics Circle Blog by Daisy Fried

Nov. 8 NBCC/Lit Mixer, plus new bios of Vladimir Lenin, James Wright, Alexander Calder and More

by daisy fried | Nov-06-2017

NBCC and Lambda are hosting a literary mixer next Wednesday, November 8th at Folksbier in Brooklyn. Details are available here.

John Domini interviews Jenny Erpebeck for Bookforum, and praises her novel Go, Went, Gone as “a fresh career benchmark.” In Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Domini reviews Kurt Baumeister’s Pax Americana, which he enjoyed for its “whack-a-mole action and rabbit-hole getaways.” Of Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House, Domini wrote, in The Brooklyn Rail, “For hours on end, I wanted no other company.”

NBCC VP/Online Chair Jane Ciabattari‘s Literary Hub column this week includes new biographies of Oriana Fallaci, Vladimir Lenin and poet James Wright, a surprising look at the Ku Klux Klan, and James McBride’s new story collection. Her BBC Culture column features a new novel from NBCC fiction awardee Louise Erdrich, a two-century look at hoaxing ending with “fake news” by NBCC finalist Kevin Young, and an anthology of translated poems edited by NBCC honored poet Martha Collins and former NBCC board member Kevin Prufer:

Jenny Yacovissi ​reviewed Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, Schieffer and Schwartz’s Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News, Katy Tur’s Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, John Haskell’s The Complete Ballet: A Fictional Essay in Five Acts and Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour, all for the for Washington Independent Review of Books.

Rebecca Kightlinger reviews Kim Michele Richardson’s The Sisters of Glass Ferry, in the November 2017 Historical Novels Review.

Cliff Garstang reviews Jia Pingwa’s Happy Dreams, translated by Nicky Harman, for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Frank Freeman reviews three books about Henry David Thoreau (Robert M. Thorson’s The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years, Richard Higgins’ Thoreau and the Language of Trees, and Laura Dassow Walls’ Henry David Thoreau: A Life) for America Magazine.

Julia M. Klein reviews Pete Souza’s Obama: An Intimate Portrait for the Chicago Tribune and Thomas Childers’s The Third Reich for the Pennsylvania Gazette. She also reviews Masha Gessen’s https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2017/10/26/lessons-for-american-putin-rise/GzM9xcKPHk1YyW5eOhc50M/story.html”>The Future is History for the Boston Globe.

Karl Wolff reviews John Ashbery’s final book of poetry, Commotion of the Birds, for the New York Journal of Books

Steve Kellman, former board member and Balakian recipient, ​reviews Bill Mckibben’s novel ​Radio Free Vermont for the Texas Observer.

​David Nilsen reviews David Brazil’s poetry collection Holy Ghost from City Lights Books. novels

Hamilton Cain ​reviews Jed Perl’s biography of Alexander Calder: The Conquest of Time; The Early Years, 1898−1940 for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Balakian Finalist ​Roxana Robinson writes about teaching Madame Bovary for the New Yorker.

For the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, NBCC Board Member Katharine A. Powers reviews novels by Arundhati Roy, Gabriel Tallent and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton.

Past NBCC President and current board member Tom Beer‘s​ picks ​for the Times Herald-Record are, in honor of Veterans Day, all about war this week. And here’s his What’s New column for Newsday.

NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. With reviews, please include title of book and author, as well as name of publication. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​ We love dedicated URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.