Instead of anthropomorphizing animals, in this collection, people act like animals. There’s a closeness explored between humans and animals, sometimes wild, sometimes their pets. In one story about a young mother addicted to Oxy, she turns her face from her boyfriend’s meanness, “like I’d do with a wild dog, like if I avoided the eyes, that alone would keep it from lunging into me, snapping me at the neck and shaking me dead” (134).
Unlike the fetid and static water evoked by its title, the writing in Dead Aquarium is amazingly fluid and lucid; and it flows, flows easily and effortlessly, so that there is not a single obstruction or blockage, not one awkward, clumsy boulder of a sentence to interrupt the easy procession of prose.
The Stendhal Summer takes the risk of being uncomprehended, yet pays us the compliment of presuming we have lived a little. Thus, mentions of Jean-Louis Barrault, Yves Montand, and Louis Malle’s My Dinner with André (1981), to name just a few examples, either mean something to us or they do not. When they do, they conjure a world of meaning, or an image captured in time, or the tone of a conversation. Such resonances are strange and powerful.
Chang’s cool precise descriptions, reminiscent of her great American contemporary Jane Bowles, are spiked by preternatural attentiveness to light and colour, as in an early scene when Julie walks in the campus grounds where, ‘The sun had baked the red flowers in the blue ceramic flower pots, and had transformed them into little black fists, and had bleached the sea to a faded blue, like old blue linen drenched in sweat.‘
The life of the town centres around the pub, and the way in which the death provides a source for gossip, intrigue and transformation, but also in some respect brings the town together to support one another is charming. Cedar Valley is immensely readable and progresses in ways that are unpredictable but also smooth and natural.
Inspired by these true events and the impact on his life, author David Sklar—an emergency physician, researcher, and professor—writes from the heart and the mind with a broad scope as he tells his story. The author states that he too was subjected to the nude photography and somatotyping as part of a so-called research project while a student at an elite New Hampshire prep school.
The eleven stories in Jendi Reiter’s collection, An Incomplete List of my Wishes are innovative in both form and content. Reiter depicts fraught human relationships with insight and hope, showing many survivors of violence going on with their lives.
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It is entertaining for anyone familiar with the works it lovingly skewers (note the culinary metaphor) and it is strangely compelling even if, like me, you haven’t read Conrad for a long time. It is quietly witty and also serious. It manages to borrow something of the gravitas of Conrad’s novel and – like all good parody – it makes you want to return to the original for a fresh look.
It is impressive the ability of Sommer to fragment the narrative when we encounter Sofia’s visits to the psychiatrist. We read about her participation in Milongas, asking relatives about her past, and about love and its many facets. All of these interspersed with poetic descriptions of place. Sydneysiders will recognise many areas of the Eastern suburbs in Sommer’s vivid imagery.