Tag Archives: fiction

Dusting Off: Love Minus Zero

A delete bin’s worth of autobiographies released over the past decade by ex-punkers who have settled into memoir age hasn’t necessarily made for collective appraisal beyond a garage-tinged look at the sex, drugs, slam-and-roll counter-culture of their youth. Love Minus Zero, Lori Hahnel’s 2008 novel based on her role in Calgary’s first female punk bank, The Virgins, is poignantly different. Set in the late 70s/early 80s First Wave of punk in which fictional all-female Calgary band Misclairo briefly rise, it is a sombre exploration of the personalities that drive counterculture and what happens when the initial energy fades. 

Misclairol and associates quickly experience the smoulder-out of their own movement as it provides the kindling for a more violent and less-inclusive hardcore scene. Subsequent forays into reality and adulthood for the band and scensters means an uncomfortable normalcy for some, or following the nihilism to its logical end for others.

Hahnel’s writing style is suitably punk rock, in the First Wave sense. Rather than an anarchic hack at narrative that draws more attention to technique than substance, she uses straightforward, unadorned prose that, like the music, is all about getting to the throbbing heart of the matter.

Join the pogo here.

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A Read of Kaaterskill Basin Lit Journal (with all the lights on)

​Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal

Issue 1.4 (Fall 2016)

94 pages

Modern horror is less a genre than a feeling: you know what it is when you see or read it, but can’t necessarily describe it (certainly not as traditional eerie suspense). Horror can be a detailed study of the mutability of the flesh – usually into many bloody pieces. It can also be a psychological work, wherein the nature of reality is revealed to be grown from just as delicate tissue as the body. Or a bit of fantasy. Perhaps some speculative fiction as well?

The pages of the Fall 2016 issue of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, wrapped around a horror theme, are full of all, but focused through subtler, more ‘L’iterary lenses. Such as through verse.

Poetry on horror themes can be tricky. One can easily pit-fall into melodramatic goth, or take too much of a staid, serious and lukewarmly academic approach to generate any chills. While the most easily identifiable mode for poetry of a terror-filled kind is narrative that is derived, forevermore, from Edgar Allen Poe, the best poems in Kaaterskill are crafted from short, condensed stanzas and feature modernist, imagistic flavours. (Think William Carlos Williams producing Saw rather than writing Paterson.) For example, Gayane Haroutyunyan’s “Pain” is the quite sharp, literal dissection of an oddly ‘giving’ relationship. Larry D. Thacker’s “Respect”, where “bones in the yard…float up out of the black dirt” is an ode to the buried history of small town secrets, like what you might see if Stephen King had co-written the lyrics to Nebraska.

The short fiction contains much of the mutability aspect. Both “The Creature from Flathead Lake” by Theodore Carter and “Feeding the Fish” by Bron Treanor illustrate the inner transformations of characters through very similar physical mutations, but with different, though equally grotesque, outcomes. There is also the more cut-and-paste (or hack-and-graft) transformation in “Gin Stitches” by Daniel Lynch, which kicks off with the beautifully deadpan and irony-spattered, “Jack has identity issues” and goes wonderfully off the rails from there. 

The horror includes the more fantastical variety, too. “Mute” by Timothy Day is a dark, sci-fi mind-bender that shares space with some of M. John Harrison’s latter work. “Creeley’s Drop” by Ethan Leonard suggests Kathe Koja-edged Alice Munro; that is, an unsentimental portrait of innocence outlined by existential menace and dread. Leonard’s story in particular demonstrates the other strength of this themed-issue: Kaaterskill isn’t simply interested in delivering hardboiled horror. The theme may be raw genre, but the writing is precisely cooked, as Leonard demonstrates via such passages as the beautifully circular:

“It was easy to keep the bottomless pit a secret. Once a person stood at its edge, there was no way to put it in words. The new girls on the track team came to me, in the locker room, and I saw what they’d seen reflected in their eyes, so I started talking.”

Oh, and it makes for a pretty good set of page-turners, too.

Peek over here, if you dare.

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A Read of Fante Bukowski

Fante Bukowski
By Noah Van Sciver
Graphic Novella
80 pgs
Fantagraphics Books
2015

The most direct leap to satire is through the cartoon frame. Take a figurative blowhard, morph him or her into a literal one through exaggeration of specific physical traits, push ’em out et voilà: instant ridicule.

In Fante Bukowski, Noah Van Sciver blows the parodic target of a struggling, self-centered, and self-stylized writer up into a bearded buffoon with all the pretension and faux-suffering accoutrements – albeit a genuinely earnest one who still retains some soul.

Twenty-three year-old would-be poet Fante Bukowski (née Kelly Perkins) presents a figure familiar to anyone who has been driven to pen/pencil and/or typewriter/keyboard by the existential need to express themselves, but with no real idea of what that self is, past a template of their favourite writer. The protagonist here is, obviously, going for the stylized Skidrow Bard image his namesake, the poet Charles Bukowski, created for himself, with a little John Fante-spice on top. However, this Bukowski lacks the actual talent and, having just (perhaps ill-advisedly) quit his dad’s lawfirm, actual experience of living a back-alley existence.

Narcissistic would-be artists aren’t exactly slippery targets. But Van Sciver isn’t interested in barn-broadside shooting practice. His characters, while flaunting the requisite exaggerated traits, and despite being literally two-dimensional in this graphic novella form, also show more depth than stooges in a drawing room farce. Van Sciver is more interested in exploring the growth of the artist figure, rather than in excoriating artists.

“[H]ighly-respected” literary agent Ralph Bigsburg is played partly for pretension but also as an honest (if hyperbolically) exasperated foil for runaway, untamed and untrained enthusiasm. Fante’s new girlfriend, Audrey, is a writer with an actual publication track record and alternative press image (razored-bald head and razor attitude) but reacts to his primitive approach to literary rebellion with delighted amusement rather than scorn. Fante himself, who beer-sweats the same youthful naievte as anyone who has first cracked the spine of a Black Sparrow Press book, is more sympathetic symbol than simple strawman. And Fante’s main barroom companion, an utterly banal example of someone whose simple dreams have let him down, meets an utterly banal but tragic end, in a scene that punctures any pretension and lets the dirty realism whistle sharply in.

As satires go, Fante Bukowski is more gentle Horatian than barking Juvenalian. Van Sciver uses stark, simple drawings and a very earthy colour palette. These subtle tools ease the reader into Fante’s abrupt awakening to a more expansive existence after his failures in the artistic urban jungle quickly grind him down. An ending which marks, perhaps, his real beginning, as both artist and individual.

Read more on Fante Bukowski (and more from Fante Bukowski).

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Reading (A Vandal’s) Confession

Vandal Confession
Mitchell Gauvin
Now or Never Publishing
153 pages
2015

The romance of the road has long entranced the more rebellious side of the North American literati, though the ditch on the side of the post-Beat literary highway is crowded with Jack Kerouac’s poet-hobo descendants, stranded on their own would-be quixotic destinies. So, literally, is Xavier Bernard, the burnt-out-before-his-time narrator of Mitchell Gauvin’s Vandal Confession.

The On the Road echo may be a faint one here, but it is an apt shotgun partner for the reader who meets Xavier in transit with his friend Felix in Felix’s beat-up Jaguar. The pair stalls on a nondescript rural route in a nondescript part of Central Ontario and, to kill time while waiting for a tow, Xavier hands Felix a copy of the autobiographical novel he has been working on, based on his own nondescript life cruising the boundaries of the Greater Toronto Area.

Vandal Confession, though, is actually an anti-road novel. As the post-Gen Xer/pre-Millenial unheroes wait for assistance on the side of the highway, Xavier’s meandering recount of a standard suburban life takes over. In typical Late-Slacker fashion, he is all snark, nicknaming his nondescript residences (his boyhood home, “Slanty McGee”; his later bachelor pad, “Whitey McConcrete”) and casually tossing off interactions with a set of interchangeable directionless friends and hapless authority figures.

Subtle angst riffs with his constant cultural observations. He notes that “[w]hen built, Whitey McConcrete proposed that living further from the ground translated somehow into being worthy and unique. No one foresaw plumbing problems, flooding fountains, elevator malfunctions – the hamsters in their little wheels would go hungry.” He describes his father as “full of movie quotes and recanted scenes, mementos to simplified truths and rewritten familiar stories that were increasingly irrelevant. He thought he was speaking sincerely of sacred teachings and essential social lessons, but watching Rambo never taught anyone life lessons; watching Wall Street never taught anyone how to do business; although watching Crocodile Dundee will teach you why no one likes the 1980s.” 

These observations may not be the stuff of philosophy but serve double-duty: showcasing Xavier’s sitcom-sidebar wit while also turning out the lining of a consciousness nurtured by Friends rather than the literary Canon.

At the lightly-balanced centre of this short book is a tension between creative and destructive impulses. Xavier’s desire to build meaning into his life and give it some sort of direction is evident from the names he’s tagged his homes with, to the fictional liberties that, as Felix points out, glare vividly from various sections of the manuscript. But Xavier can’t quite hide (or doesn’t quite want to hide) a latent impulse to violence that fractures his milquetoast image. Bold acts of arson (the literal vandalism in the book), threats to old acquaintances with firearms, and spray-painting over the truth (the figurative vandalism) are at odds with his placid self-portrait, and start to twist the reader’s perception with what has gone on before.

As a confession, this vandal’s is couched in a compact hymn to early 21st century existential angst rooted in the detritus of pop culture. But this isn’t about the artistic impulse so much as what can coil behind it. Reconciliation comes with a sinister change of tone when Xavier doesn’t smash the mirror but, rather, welcomes another image of himself into his own confession in what seems an ominous acceptance of his darker side.

Which enforces the notion that you should always be wary of who you pick up at the side of the road…

Pull up here.

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More Than Fifty Reads of paperplates

paperplates has been an on-going literary concern for well-over a decade, and has earned esteem above its tag-line of a “A Magazine for Fifty Readers” for a number of reasons, including the scope of its potential appeal. This is not a lowbrow, highbrow, or middlebrow publication, nor one that can be tagged with the limp “general interest”. Each issue just simply contains a range of good reads, whether the pieces are pedagogical, theological or a bit more scatalogical.

The latest issue (vol. 8, no. 2) contains personal essays that are as accessible as, say, those on the Globe and Mail’s Facts & Arguments page, but that also take deeper dives into universal experiences (look at the witty and touching “Brownies or Jazz”). There are short stories that can echo at emotional depths (the upturned immigrant family-focus of “After everything”) or take the piss out of the literary culture itself (the slashing self-parody of “Cutting Edge”). There are poems that meditate with controlled lyrical reflection, while others are soaked in booze as they scrape the grit off the bottom of the ashtray at the end of the night.

Variety + quality provide the gravity here.

Add to the count at:  www.paperplates.org

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Literary Archaeology Pt. 3

A small blog advertising illumination of the outer fringes of literature lies, itself, dark – cobwebbed words – dust in the virtual essence…

…or something like that.

For now, until we get back on track, check out Cirque, Vol. 4. No. 1. It’s a self-described “Literary Journal For the North Pacific Rim”, published by Clock Point Press a-ways up in Anchorage, Alaska. There are stories, non-fiction and reviews, but the poems are the most noteworthy. They are crisply austere and cinched tightly with the kind of short, hard syllables that must reflect the landscape and rhythm of the lives of these poets (mainly Northerners themselves).

The two poems by Doug Blakensop, in particular, seem to have emerged, sharply formed, from the frozen native, soil. Kaija Klauder’s zen vision of winter is like something akin to a Northern Riprap. And there is also a fine, chilled reminiscence by Patrick Lane that shines like diamond ice.

Travel North a while, via http://www.cirquejournal.com 

 

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A Read of The Review Review

A serial publication dedicated to the appraisal of other serial publications may not seem immediately ripe for a critical look itself – or is brazenly sticking its chin out, depending upon your point of view.

The Review Review is a web-based literary publication that, simply (sic?) put, reviews other Reviews. The general scope of study is mid-level publications, rather than products of the blood-and-sweat-micropress – allthough mid-level publications such as, say, The Kenyon Review or Ploughshares, are hardly in everyone’s mailbox.

That said, The Review Review reviews the gamut, from A Cappella Zoo to Zyzzyva, with pieces that are lengthy but breezy. This isn’t abstract academic analysis but gentle criticism during which the reviewer guides you through the subject, pointing out the shine of a well-wrought verse here, the energy of narrative crackle there. The aim is for plain language that is slightly at odds with the higher-brow material. But this technique works to offer a way into serious literature for curious, general readers who might be browsing the rich shop of the Review’s neatly-indexed and searchable site.

The Review Review also features well-researched interviews, presented in edited transcript form that hum and buzz with energy. A recent posting with Sandra Allen, Managing and Essays Editor of Wag’s Revue, for instance, has a balanced mix of questions that focus on the character of the publication as well as the editor’s own opinions, fusing the two in a way that illuminates Wag’s fulsome personality as the product of its material and the people behind it.

As a web publication, the entirety of The Review Review is archived and within a few clicks, making it a true trove to dig through.

Start in at: http://www.thereviewreview.net/

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