A Year in Reading: Kevin Brockmeier

December 20, 2011 | 1 book mentioned 4 2 min read

Several writers I have long admired impressed me anew with their latest books — among them Kate BernheimerPeter S. Beagle, Goncalo Tavares, Cesar Aira, and Karen Russell — but let me concentrate on two authors whose names I had never heard before this year:

covercoverFirst is the Israeli writer Alex Epstein, two of whose collections were recently translated into English by the poet Becka Mara McKay and published by Clockroot Press: Blue Has No South and Lunar Savings Time. If you took the short forms and odd structural techniques of Lydia Davis and wedded them to the fantastic impulses of Ray Bradbury, you would get something like these books, which together contain some two hundred strange, pliant, elliptical, yet surprisingly tender treatments of angels, rain, lullabies, minotaurs, moons, zen masters, literature, and time travel. A glimpse at the titles should be enough to tell you whether they are the kind of stories you would enjoy: “On the Mourning Customs of Elephants,” “The Number of Steps on the Moon,” “An Instruction Manual for a Rented Time Machine,” “The Angel Who Photographed God.”

covercoverSecond is the Czech writer Michal Ajvaz, two of whose novels were recently published by Dalkey Archive Press, both of them fantasies of the kind that upend rules so fundamental you might have forgotten they were rules at all. The Other City is about a man who discovers a book written in an enigmatic foreign script and soon finds an other-world of lost souls, talking animals, and shadowy doorways seeping through the structures of his city. The Golden Age is about a visitor to a small Atlantic island where the people yield themselves up to the forces of flux, so that every feature of their lives — their families, their language, their religion — is constantly turning into something else. Ajvaz’s sentences are filled with unexpected slues and inversions, and you sense that he could try writing a work of suburban domestic realism, and it would still brim with uncanny meanings, oceans of the bizarre and the mysterious expressing their way through the dishes and the wallpaper, the throw pillows and the neckties.

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is the author of the novels The IlluminationThe Brief History of the Dead, and The Truth About Celia; the children's novels City of Names and Grooves: A Kind of Mystery; and the story collections Things That Fall from the Sky and The View from the Seventh Layer. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was raised.