If you’re not already a fan of Will Self, his new book, Shark, may not be the best place to start. As Walker Rutter-Bowman points out, the book dispatches with many of the conventions of modern writing, including line breaks, paragraphs and dialogue tags. But it’s still an effort worthy of its author, he writes: “Here is a hunk of modernism that poignantly, beautifully, and, it seems, genuinely renders mental states of sanity and insanity while smudging the gradations in between.”
Ayobami Adebayo is interviewed by Abigail Bereola for Hazlitt and it’s fantastic. They discuss proverbs, romantic love, sickle cell anemia and writing your first book. “At the risk of sounding very narcissistic, I’m going to say I write for myself ultimately. And maybe my sister. I think that when I’m working, it’s very difficult for me to think about an audience, perhaps because sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming. I’m trying to figure out so many things that I really don’t start thinking about the idea that other people might read this thing until, ‘Oh my God, it’s publication day’ and I have a panic attack like ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ I think the awareness of an audience is something I’m just coming into because this is a first book.”
Novels that focus on obsessive characters hinge on persnickety details. The need to depict accurately the mind of an obsessive demands that the novelist overemphasize the trifling and tangential. In The Kenyon Review, Vanessa Blakeslee reviews a new and representative example of the form, The Understory by Pamela Erens. Sample quote: “When the smaller steps of daily life are magnified, does that narrative reach its greatest potential for a unified and powerful resonance?” FYI, Erens has written for us.
“Every sense cleared about three hundred percent and stood up on its hind legs waving its feelers.” Eighty years ago, James Agee got an assignment that entered him into history, though not during his lifetime. Let us now celebrate Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. See also: our essay on famous artist-writer collaborations, like Agee’s with Walker Evans.
New this week: Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney; Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss, Jr.; How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee; Moonstone by Sjón; and Still Here by Lara Vapnyar. For more on these and other new titles, go read our Great Second-Half 2016 Book Preview.