Samuel Ligon – Drift and Swerve. In this collection of sharp, unforgettable stories, Ligon’s wayward American men and women slog through cities like Providence and Orlando and are always looking for something else, something not quite attainable. Ligon’s work is sometimes called bleak, but there is great humor and hope and humanity in these stories.
It is summer again and the breasts rise up everywhere, calling out to me, demanding my rapt, empty attention. Every woman over fifty has disappeared as the various bare portions of breasts present themselves, tops here, sides over there, a trophy set at the beach unwrapped and bronzing. Carla watches me watch and I try to restrain myself, but they are everywhere before me, and even a quick glance or a longer glance is a sign of my restraint.
The way Ligon captures this conflicted narrator’s predicament, from the fragile relationship to a family tragedy, is classic storytelling.
Blake Butler – Scorch Atlas. This collection of interwoven stories concerning broken and confused survivors depicts, amongst many other things, different types of rain, none of them good for the environment, or what’s left of it. Butler’s post-apocalyptic world is relentlessly dark and frightening, and yet it’s beautiful. In “Television Milk” we have a mother held hostage by her children, who feed on her.
The children let me out around the time for dinner and brought me downstairs to milk. It’d been several years since I’d nursed but somehow my glands could still produce. At first it’d taken some coaxing, a pinch, a punch, a howl, but eventually they had me gushing.
Perhaps Scorch Atlas can be read as a survival guide for December 21, 2012. Either way if you love language and how it can move across the page and burst in your ear this is a must-read. If there is a what’s next in American Letters, Blake Butler is it.
Peter Markus – Bob, or Man on Boat. This is transcendent music, a 133 page song of incredible beauty from America’s preeminent poet of earthly and heavenly matter. No other writer can make from mud and river and fish and moon the luminous world Markus paints here in this story of a father and son fishing on the river. Open the book anywhere and you will find the spare and haunting prose Markus has become renowned for:
I once saw Bob, at dawn, standing up in his boat, facing where the sun was rising, and what Bob was doing, it looked like to me, it sounded like to me, was he was screaming, though what he was saying, what he was hollering, this I could not hear.
When I told this to a friend in town who is no stranger to Bob, what he said was that Bob was yelling at the sun, that he was telling it to stay where it was, for it to go away, because Bob didn’t want the night, and the night’s fishing, to come to an end.
Likewise, you will not want to see Bob come to an end, or at least, you will count the days till Peter Markus’ next piece of music.
Brian Evenson is the author of eight books of fiction, most recently The Open Curtain, which was a finalist for the Edgar Award and the International Horror Guild Award, and was named by Time Out New York as one of the best books of 2006. He is the recipient of both an O. Henry Award and an NEA award.I’ve decided I should exclude books I blurbed (like Peter Markus’ Bob, or Man on Boat or Michael Kimball’s Dear Everybody or Atilla Bartis’s brilliant but harrowing Tranquility), books by my colleagues (such as Forrest Gander’s As a Friend), books I reread (ranging from Beckett’s Molloy to Peter Straub’s Koko), and books that I loved but will have forgotten about until just moments after this is posted. Of books that came out this year I genuinely enjoyed Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters. It contains a couple of stories published in her earlier collections (including one of my favorites, “The Specialist’s Hat”) as well as a number of previously uncollected stories. Link walks the boundary between literary and genre (including YA) fiction in way that draws on the strengths of both and always surprises. Check out “The Wizards of Perfil” and what she does with shifting narrative attention or the way she handles dialogue in general. And the storytelling is always good.In terms earlier books, I read Wyndham Lewis’s The Revenge for Love (1937) for the first time this year. It’s a beautifully written and sophisticated book, often very funny, quite uniformly vicious toward all groups and factions. It’s an utterly original and unjustly neglected novel, and Lewis’s style is unlike that of anyone else.And finally, the story that has stuck with me most this year is Yu Hua’s hard to find “One Kind of Reality” (I found it in Henry Zhao’s anthology The Lost Boat but it’s in at least one other anthology), which does things with violence, lack of affect and family relationships that I’ve never experienced before. It’s a truly terrifying story, and well worth reading for anyone interested in transgressive fiction.More from A Year in Reading 2008