February 13, 2009


Come by and hear some great writers of unconventional fiction chosen by the editors of Harp & Altar and the Mad Hatters’ Review.

Joshua Cohen is the author of four books, including the novels Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto (Fugue State Press, 2007) and A Heaven of Others (Starcherone, 2007). Another novel, Graven Imaginings, is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press. Essays have appeared in The Forward, Nextbook, The Believer, and Harper’s. North Vain, Bluff, from which the piece that appears in the current issue of Harp & Altar is excerpted, is the second book of a series entitled Two Great Russian Novels. He lives in Brooklyn.

Tim Horvath, whose fiction appears in the current issue of MHR, won the 2006 Raymond Carver Short Story Award and the ‘06 prize of the Society for the Study of the Short Story. His stories are out or forthcoming in Alimentum: The Literature of Food, Fiction, Web Conjunctions, SleepingFish, Sein und Werden, and elsewhere. He teaches a class for Grub Street Writers in Boston centered on the application of findings from brain science to writing and literature. His novella Circulation, called “a glittering narrative performance” by David Huddle, will be released as a short book by Sunnyoutside Press in January 2009. He is currently working on a novel in which one or more (it is unclear which) microscopic counter-novels fester in the interstices of the typeface and must be eradicated lest the infra-structure come crashing down.

Joanna Howard is the author of Frights of Fancy, a collection of short prose forthcoming from Boa Editions. Her work has appeared in Conjunctions, Chicago Review, Unsaid, Quarterly West, American Letters and Commentary, Fourteen Hills, Western Humanities Review, Salt Hill, Tarpaulin Sky and elsewhere. A chapbook In the Colorless Round, with artwork by novelist and artist Rikki Ducornet, is available from Noemi Press. Her “Seascape” appeared in Harp & Altar #2.

Mary Mackey, with poems forthcoming in MHR Issue 11, is a poet and novelist who lives in Berkeley, California.  She is the author of five collections of poetry, including Breaking The Fever (Marsh Hawk Press); one experimental novella, Immersion; and fourteen novels, including A Grand Passion(Simon & Schuster), The Year the Horses Came (HarperCollins), The Notorious Mrs. Winston(Putnam/Berkley Books), and The Widow’s War (Putnam/Berkley Books–in press for Fall 2009).  Mackey’s works have been translated into eleven foreign languages including Japanese, Hebrew, Greek, and Finnish. She has lectured at Harvard and the Smithsonian, is past president of the West Coast branch of PEN, a Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Professor Emeritus of English at California State University. A member of the Writers Guild of America, West, she wrote the screenplay for the award-winning feature film Silence. More information about her can be found at www.marymackey.com. and at www.marshhawkpress.org

FOREVER VALLEY by marie redonnet


this slim volume’s a revelation. an understated experimental novel. its perfection has something to do with this pared-down style, where the details are few but exquisite. at first it seems like a quaint country narrative, it then soon reveals itself to be something more–perhaps an allegorical tale. but in the end, while maintaining some of the aspects of allegory, none of FOREVER VALLEY’s symbols map completely to ideas or reality as much as they manage to point uncannily back at themselves.

Interviewer: Reading the triptych, one sometimes catches a glimpse of something like a rigorous structure…

Redonnet: What you call structure or composition is indeed a determining factor. Each book adheres to a rigorous structure, at the same time mathematical, architectural, and musical, which transforms itself from book to book: the elements multiply, the combinatorial system grows richer, space and thus mobility becomes more important, the story grows more complex. This structure is part of the language that I invented for myself in order to write, a language built from a lexical and syntactic emptiness that I had to impose on language. Maybe this very idea of structure takes the place of that lost rhetoric, becoming a means of generating another language, and thus another history.


and elsewhere about images and cinema’s relationship to writing:

The reader creates the film of the story as he or she reads, a private cinema. This requires a release of the imagination if the book is not to remain forever closed to the reader… [T]he fact that the image is born of the power of language alone means that it is not only an image, but also a thought that creates meaning.

I would like that to be my revenge as a writer, at a time when we are entering into a culture of the all-powerful image, which threatens to kill literature: to invent a language that would be capable, by liberating the vital forces of imagination and thought, of resisting the images– seductive, manipulative, stultifying, alienating — that invade us from all sides.

the above quotes from the interview provided in FOREVER VALLEY–the latter and a bit more about redonnet found at Dennis Cooper’s blog.

part of a triptych, the other two are: HOTEL SPLENDID and ROSE MELIE ROSE

a bibliography.

buy from the publisher or find it at the library.

SLUMBERLAND by paul beatty


a sly and outrageous book that i don’t know why isn’t getting more attention or wasn’t on any of the mainstream best of 08 lists. it may be provincial to say but i’ll read a hundred beatty’s before i read a book about friggin cricket.

a strange curse to be the smartest comedian in the room. my two pfennigs: paul beatty is the funniest american writer alive. a riff master, there‘s so much comic bravado packed into this one i had to keep putting it down to walk around the room, big grin on my face. comedians are a dangerous breed, sacrificing a lot for the punch line but needing the vinegar of truth to make it sting.

on race — SLUMBERLAND’s sub- supra- and ur- text — beatty’s not 100% right, but who is. and beatty’s usually nudging us to surprising recognitions. on the other hand, when he’s less honest or more cheap, we get: just gags or cheap shock and awe tactics.

structurally and language-wise, the book, which thankfully shows beatty recovered from the sophomore slump of TUFF, is whipsmart and quick-footed but not groundbreaking. it starts out irregular — a black american DJ in 1989 berlin — and turns quickly comic book-y irreal. or maybe: para-paranormal. the DJ is in berlin searching for a quasi-legendary jazz musician who was last heard on the soundtrack of a bestiality porn flick, specifically one where a man fucks a chicken (the man in the blue vid turns out to be a prognosticating stasi agent). the jazz musician — dubbed the schwa because his sound, “like the inderterminate vowel is unstressed, upside-down, and backward” — eventually reveals himself at the eponymous slumberland bar to perform a percussive tour de force using only a beat up copy of a faulkner paperback.

it weakens just a bit in the middle when the berlin wall falls and the narrative stalls discussing african east german experience with an oddly overly-academic sociology angle. characters are introduced to make points but not so we really need them. but that’s okay. DJ darky — our lead protag — has enough character to spare. (also, it’s impressive but a little tiring to read convincingly about all the various musical ecstasies, which happens alot) …but before too long the book re-finds its pace and hilariously works itself up to its plot crescendo of an ending.

a cliché and prolly a gratuitous aside: i think your contemporary comedian is one of the most tragic of beasts. absolutely self-willed to be impervious, there’s no possibility of intimacy. perhaps this is the point of the book — inescapable loneliness — and maybe i’m wrong, but the thing that seems to prevent SLUMBERLAND from sounding the real depths it seems capable of is its glibness.

but then. maybe glibness is the wrong word. the book seems to be fighting itself sometimes to exhaustion — jacob and the angel type combat — trying to become. and i felt very sympathetic in its struggle to be conflicting things at once. and maybe its glibness is in fact a method.

beatty on black humor: “I wish I’d been exposed to this black literary insobriety at an earlier age. It would’ve been comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one laughing at myself in the mirror.”

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