Short People

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A Year in Reading: Joshua Furst

Joshua Furst is the author of The Sabotage Cafe. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been the recipient of a Michener Fellowship, the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Ledig House. Furst is also the author of the story collection, Short People, as well as several plays that have been produced in New York, where for a number of years he taught in the public schools. He lives in New York City.Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, which I read this past summer in an out-of-print Collier edition called 3 X Handke, but which I’ve since learned is back in print thanks to the crusading efforts of the New York Review of Books, is the most searing example of prose literature doing what no other art form can do – engaging the conflict between thought and emotion, building a narrative out of the intersection between ideas and lived experience – that I’ve come across in years. It’s a hybrid form – not quite memoir, but not exactly fiction either – about the life and suicide of his mother, written in the months immediately following her death. Handke struggles with whether or not it’s possible to fully comprehend and articulate her experience, given the depth of feelings this event triggered in him. But this makes the story sound dry and academic. It’s not. It’s shattering, one of those books that invade your consciousness and forever alter your reality.The most interesting work of new fiction I’ve read this year is also a hybrid form. Mike Heppner, the author of The Egg Code and Pike’s Folly, has been carrying out a literary experiment of sorts. He’s written a series of short fictional pieces questioning the role art plays in the world and the relationship between artists and their own work. Each of these pieces has been brought to the public via a different mode of dissemination. The first, Man Talking, about a mid-career writer’s loss of faith in his ability to communicate, can be downloaded from his website, which also explains the project in depth. The second, Talking Man, about a young child being lectured by his scientist father about all the reasons he shouldn’t waste his life making art, has been published as a chapbook by Small Anchor Press. The third, Man, is a fictional biography of a failed writer named Mike Heppner. If the means of production were the only thing of note about this project, I’d be tempted to call it a clever trick. It’s not though. Word for word, sentence for sentence, these novellas come closer to rendering what it’s like to live right now than most anything else out there.More from A Year in Reading 2008

A Year in Reading: Sana Krasikov

Sana Krasikov is the author of the short story collection One More YearSea of Poppies by Ami-tav Ghosh. I was reading my nephew The Neverending Story when I picked up Sea of Poppies. In some ways it’s exactly that sort of adventure book for adults. It opens on the eve of the British “Opium War” with China and moves on to Calcutta, Bengal, various colonial Asian ports and villages where poppies are cultivated and processed into opium. It’s the first book in what’s going to be a trilogy.Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower (This book will be out in April 2009). I’m reading a galley of Tower’s stories after a self-imposed moratorium on short stories. There’s just something about the way Tower throws you smack in the middle of his characters’ lives that I love. No preliminaries. The wonderful bluntness of it reminds me a bit of another totally irreverent collection I read and enjoyed a few years ago, Josh Furst’s Short People.The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez. One of the smartest and most thoughtful books I read this year – as much social history as novel. About two Barnard Roommates coming into their own at the tail end of the sixties. Don’t be misled by the “young adult” looking cover – Nunez’s book is anything but. It should be required reading for anybody trying to understand the mixed and complex legacy of feminism in America.More from A Year in Reading 2008

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