Winter Lit Roundup

The Art of Horrible People
The Art of Horrible People

The Art of Horrible People by John Skipp Publication Date: August 1, 2015 Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press

I quit reading John Skipp’s The Art of Horrible People during the first story, where it reads, “Kristy, pale and lovely, a lithe redhead sprite in a green summer frock. Drea, bursting out in voluptuous dark starlet splendor, like young Jennifer Connelly in a blood-red contour-clinging dress. Together they looked like the world’s best Christmas present.” Ew.

But, because in the intro it says, “He [Skipp] will introduce himself as a monster and then shake your hand with a buzzer,” I flipped to the middle and tried reading it from that point on. I skimmed “Skipp’s Hollywood Alphabet Soup of Horror” and felt that it was maybe true in its points on failing in Hollywood, but that it was written in a way that tried too hard to be clever. The next story though, smack-dab in the middle, “Zygote Notes on the Imminent Birth of a Feature Film as Yet Unformed,” was probably my favorite. It starts with the narrator in the car with his elderly father, thinking about a film that is beginning to form in his mind, a film that takes place in Manitou Springs, Colorado.  He then takes his father to his nursing home, where he is disturbed by all of the sick and dying, and he ponders death in a way that made me feel sympathetic. The narrator displays meaningful insight into the kindness that people adopt preceding their death. Then he hops in the car and drives to Manitou Springs. He introduces some interesting characters there: a man who does not want to be seen, and a crazy guy on the street who sells him a DVD of fractals after talking nonsense about different dimensions.  He sees the Garden of the Gods and says “Fuck Stonehenge. Fuck the Crystal Cathedral” in awe of the profoundness of the stones. He really appreciates the beauty and is totally stunned. Then, in the middle of the story, he decides to tell us about how he has to take a “serious, much-needed dump,” and that, along with many other unnecessary bodily mentions in the book, turns me off until I can shake it.

The last and longest story in the collection, “Food Fight,” is structured differently from the rest. Each section, ranging from one paragraph to a couple of pages, is titled with a woman’s name in bold. Each introduces herself and explains her position in an apocalyptic setting. The story unfolds through the perspective of everyone involved, and it involves a lot of objectifying women’s bodies and mixing the hypersexual with the ultraviolent. As a woman, this annoys me and causes me to wonder why people think it is necessary to mix the two, and then I am reminded that this is extremely common in horror genre fiction. I am disgusted by mentions of released male patients raping women, by the idea of “mercy fucks,” and by the final paragraph in which a dying woman punches holes into herself so that John Doe, a.k.a. death, can enter her from all over. Then she dies, and the story is over. There are some pretty powerful female characters who murder men, but they are still sexualized, and it still seems that, in the end, death is the surrender of feminine energy to the masculine, which finishes off life by an act of penetration.

I was not the intended audience for this collection of stories. John Skipp has 25 published novels, some of which have been translated into several languages, and he is the founder of something called “splatterpunk.” Apparently he has a following, but I am not a part of it. Oh, and the stories weren’t actually scary.

—Shy Watson

The Story of My Teeth
The Story of My Teeth

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli Publication Date: September 15, 2015 Publisher: Coffee House Press

Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth is a bizarre collection of stories about teeth. Originally commissioned as part of an art exhibition sponsored by Jumex Juice Company in Mexico City, The Story of My Teeth is a collaborative “novel-essay” of philosophy, locale, storytelling and lies. Central to the novel’s theme is the notion that objects gain or lose value based on the stories associated with them. It follows Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, better known as Highway, and his teeth. The story of his teeth is, of course, the story of his life, and along the way there are many intertwining stories of teeth and the lives of those who, Highway alleges, once owned them. He is the self-proclaimed “best auctioneer in the world,” a collector of unusual objects, a spinner of elaborate tales, and the owner of a highly unfortunate set of teeth. In his travels, he collects, barters, and sells in order to obtain better teeth, which he claims are those of Marilyn Monroe. In an attempt to reconcile his guilt for being an absent father, he later auctions his precious teeth, still attached to his body, to his estranged son, Siddhartha. That’s when the story gets weird.

The Story of My Teeth was written in installments, published as chapbooks, and distributed to workers at the Jumex factory. A few workers formed a reading group to discuss reactions to each segment. The group’s meetings were recorded, sent to Luiselli, and later incorporated into the novel. The book should be considered in four parts. First is the story of Highway. At the conclusion of Highway’s tale is a photo series depicting locations mentioned in the story; this is the second part. Each photograph is accompanied by a quote, also relevant to Highway’s tale, from the likes of Voltaire, Jorge Ibarguengoiyia, Charles Baudelaire, H. G. Wells, and others. The inclusion of this photo series, with photographs taken by Luiselli and a couple of workers from the factory, lends legitimacy to one of the novel’s themes: how elaborate stories, even in the context of exaggerated truth, shape perceptions of reality. The element of “reality” is important in this novel, but perhaps more important is the idea that reality exists only as the stories we tell. The third part is a cultural/historical timeline detailing the references mentioned in Highway’s story, written by the book’s translator, Christina MacSweeney. This chronological list of events is helpful in order to contextualize Highway within his cultural surroundings. The last part is the afterword: the book concludes with an afterword by Luiselli describing the uncommon collaborative process for writing the novel, along with a comment on the novel’s purpose—to illustrate that stories and perceptions attributed to art contribute to the work’s creative or artistic worth.

I loved this book. The story is engaging and cleverly written. It adeptly balances an intellectually complex subject with a well-crafted story about an eccentric yet likable character. Though replete with cultural/artistic/philosophical/literary referential content, it is never pretentious. For all its density, it is an incredibly easy and fun read.

—Megan Lambert

Fake Fruit Factory
Fake Fruit Factory

Fake Fruit Factory by Patrick Wensink Publication Date: September 15, 2015 Publisher: Curbside Splendor

Patrick Wensink's Fake Fruit Factory centers around the small town of Dyson, Ohio, as it faces threats of extermination both general (the decay and decline that affect all small communities) and ultra-specific (a meteor that may have Dyson in its path.) Really, though, the meteor is just a device to introduce us to a host of characters. Wensink has created a small town brimming with unique individuals, part of a great American cultural tradition spanning media and tone from Sherwood Anderson to the Gilmore Girls. Wensink has clearly put a lot of thought into these characters who comprise the heart of the town: there's the youthful mayor obsessed with hand sanitizer and the domineering faux-Native American lottery winner and the opera singing cop and the alcoholic ex-mayor and the mummy...

Oh yeah, there's a mummy. And the fact that said mummy (or alleged mummy?) slips so seamlessly into the cast of characters is less a testament to a successful integration into the story as it is evidence that the book is simply overstuffed. No single character receives enough ink to become developed fully enough to feel real or important. Near the end of the book, I paused at what I think was meant to be an emotionally revelatory scene to remind myself That's right, he's obsessed with hand sanitizer. The detail hadn't been mentioned in perhaps 200 pages. Similarly, while there are many intriguing subplots that could have felt impactful if developed further, they're frustrating left as is. What I believe was supposed to be the climax of the novel was, instead, a scene that had me scrambling back 10 or 20 pages to try to figure out why I was supposed to care. And the most attention-grabbing storyline—that damn mummy—receives the weakest, most disappointing resolution of all.

What's left, then—and what's ultimately most crucial to a book described as "a stick-slapping, gut-punching comedic novel"—is whether or not the book is entertaining. For this reviewer, the answer was unfortunately but undeniably no. The prose has a cadence that suggests humor, but I found myself waiting for whatever was supposed to be funny about it. Still, I'm certain that others will feel differently: the book's back cover features an endorsement from Gary Shteyngart, whose work gives me a similar sense of frustrating not-quite-humorousness. Since many will disagree with my assessment of Shteyngart's work, I imagine they may be similarly entertained by this novel. For me, however, Fake Fruit Factory was little more than an exercise in patience through frustration.

Miranda Fisher

The Heart Goes Last
The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood Publication Date: September 29, 2015 Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Charmaine and Stan are broke, living in their car with little comfort or safety. Charmaine’s attitude of at least we’re here together does little to inspire Stan of a good future ahead. The country has keeled, belly up, leaving people jobless and desperate. Hope comes in the form of The Positron Project in the town of Consilience, a walled civilization away from chaos and poverty. In Consilience, a home and job are basic rights. The beer is watered down and the music is limited to Bing Crosby and Doris Day. Led by Charmaine’s excitement for a life with fresh linens, she and Stan sign the dotted line, forever forfeiting their option to leave.

But Consilience has its own rules. Inhabitants are given a job, home, food, and clothes, and in exchange, every other month is spent in Positron Prison. “Do time now, buy time for our future,” they say. While in prison, an “alternate” goes into the world of Consilience. Charmaine and Stan live together, switching to Positron while their alternates, Max and Jasmine, come to the house and call it their own.

Stan discovers a raunchy note from Jasmine to Max, developing a fantasy for the woman behind the note’s purple lipstick mark. Although against the rules of Consilience, Stan attempts to meet Jasmine, who he imagines to be a luster of skin, sweat, and smudges. Iggy Pop had it right when he sang “Lust for Life”: it seems no one can stay sterile, watching The Wizard of Oz forever. There needs to be lust. The blood must boil. This is what keeps us alive.

Stan’s divergence from the rules is a point of no return. Lies, affairs and corruption rise, unveiling betrayal in our loving couple and the malevolent intent of Consilience—particularly the process of eliminating rogue individuals. One simple shot, administered by the virginal Charmaine. In light of her modest appearance and temperament, Charmaine reveals herself as morally and sexually convoluted. This complexity stirs confusion in the reader, who doesn’t know whether to hate Charmaine or try to understand her.

Consilience insiders put to motion a plan to expose the illicit practices of the seemingly perfect community, which lands Stan in Charmaine’s chair, needle prepped. A choice is made, but within the simplicity of deciding what a character can, should, and does do comes the stunning part of Atwood’s craft. Even as the likelihood of outcomes narrows, we are stunned by what transpires.

The pace of Atwood’s prose is quick and unexpected. The story moves to unimaginable places—a sex-bot factory, an Elvis escort service in Vegas—and this is the best part. Situations as wild yet deliberately constructed as those in The Heart Goes Last are otherworldly. Although some readers may be deterred by the schizophrenic series of events, in a world of formulaic plot turns, Atwood’s imagination is rousing. The Heart Goes Last reaches into pockets of the mind that have long been vacant, igniting the darkness.

—Jahla Seppanen

Weird Fucks
Weird Fucks

Weird Fucks by Lynne Tillman Publication Date: October 1, 2015 Publisher: New Herring Press

Weird Fucks, by Lynne Tillman, is a 1978 novella, long out of print, republished by New Herring Press and accompanied by abstract paintings from visual artist Amy Sillman. At a modest 56 pages (including the paintings), it serves as a quick run-through of the various intimate relationships of a single woman. The characters with whom the narrator interacts vary widely in both appearance and demeanor. From an American society boy to a quiet French-Vietnamese man, it seems that our narrator has seen it all. Tillman’s stories bring to mind Chloe Caldwell’s Legs Get Led Astray, with its descriptions of particular people and what happens when they are together, except that it takes place in an earlier time. With lines like, “he was in a Godard film,” and mentions of postcards and letters, readers will quickly realize that they are reading something from a bygone era.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Tillman’s work is the way in which she drops mention of traumatic events without warning, only to quickly and casually brush them aside.  For example, she writes, “I fell asleep in the front of his Mercedes as we drove away from Rome toward what I supposed were the suburbs. I awoke in the car which was parked next to a field. After he raped me, he said, ‘Now we go to my sister’s house.’” At another point, she quickly and without explanation mentions the murder of some Israelis. Tillman’s short stories often contain gut-punch sentences that beg for further elaboration; however, she does not give in to our curiosity. As it is stated in the foreword, “Again and again Tillman brings us to the edge of the sex encounter and then eludes it, or having finished, escapes us, showing that the actual encounter she’s interested in is not at all what we think.” Often it seems as though we are provided with teasers to films that we wish were much longer.

The paintings in the reissue of this text go well with the stories and the era in which they occur. They are at the same time both chaotic and tender with their blunt, black brush strokes and delicate pastels. They are in direct conversation with what is happening within Tillman’s text.

Weird Fucks not only transports its readers through time and different instances of intimacy, but also through different cities and countries: New York City, Athens, Amsterdam, and London, to name a few. At times, the text can be alienating in its assumptions that the reader is familiar with so many places, cultures, theater groups, and, at one point, a secret society. However, the descriptions of characters and interactions are grounding and relatable enough that readers won’t get pushed too far away.

Reading Weird Fucks is a little like watching Girls: it only takes about an hour, it offers detailed descriptions of romantic interactions, and it is far too addicting.

—Shy Watson

The Tsar of Love and Techno
The Tsar of Love and Techno

The Tsar of Love and Technoby Anthony Marra Publication Date: October 6, 2015 Publisher: Hogarth

Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno is cut from the same cloth as his bestselling debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. It can be considered something akin to a B-sides album—indeed, the novel is structured like an album, with a “Side A” and “Side B,” interrupted curiously by an “Intermission.” This sort of mixed metaphor is an appropriate lens through which to view Marra’s latest work: it is meticulously thought out, and a pleasure to read, but, taken as a whole, it never quite adds up to something more than the sum of its parts.

Marra himself seems aware of the collection’s shortcomings. He uses a quote from the Chechen painter Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets to preface the book: “It’s a minor work.” The epigraph is a consideration of the painter’s 1843 work, Empty Pasture in Afternoon. This painting plays a major role throughout, serving as the pivot around which the characters in each of these stories swing. We begin with “The Leopard,” one of the stronger tales and the only one that could really work as a standalone piece. Roman Osipovich Markin is “an artist first, a censor second,” although this bit of braggadocio quickly rings false, as we learn that Roman spends his days erasing enemies from pictures for the Soviet state. His brother was one such enemy, and Roman is forced to eradicate the remnants of his existence. Wracked with remorse, he takes to drawing his brother into the pictures he censors, smuggling him into crowded backdrops. The ramifications of Roman’s actions reverberate in unexpected ways throughout the book, as we meet Galina, a ballerina-turned-movie star-turned-oligarch’s wife; her high school sweetheart, Kolya, and his techno-loving brother Alex; Ruslan, the head of the Grozny Tourist Bureau, and his blind partner Nadya; and a slew of other characters. Initially, each story seems discrete and unconnected, but slowly the ties become apparent.

At its heart, The Tsar of Love and Techno is an ambitious work that comes just short of its potential. Although it is billed as “stories,” it is not quite a collection, nor is it a novel—the individual strands do not come together to form a tapestry, as they did in Marra’s previous work. We spend much time learning extended backstories of characters who abruptly vanish, and we lose track of characters who we’re supposed to feel for, but whom we’ve grown so disconnected from that our sympathy is blunted. That said, each individual chapter teems with beauty and poignancy. Scenes of Koyla and Alex swimming with their family, or smashing plates after their mother’s death, resonate with heartfelt tenderness. On a sentence level, the prose is frequently impressive, although Marra sometimes succumbs to over-narration. Lines like “he couldn’t shake the sense that he was the architect of a city made entirely of off-ramps, all leading away from him” are juxtaposed with clunkers like “He missed his brother more than he’d ever thought he could miss someone he hadn’t exchanged bodily fluids with.” Some details are better left unsaid.

In the end, fans of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena  and other charming, lightly philosophical and exotically themed works (e.g., Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red, or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated) will find much to like here. It may be a minor work, but as is evident from these stories, even a minor work can leave a lasting impression.

Sean Redmond 

Katherine Carlyle
Katherine Carlyle

Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson Publication Date: October 6, 2015 Publisher: Other Press

Stripped of Rupert Thomson’s delicate, deliberate prose, Katherine Carlyle could read like any other book about a young girl searching for her identity: a coming-of-age story complete with a strong, sassy, and sometimes irritatingly petulant protagonist. “From now on,” Katherine (“Kit”) tells herself near the start of the book, “life will register directly, like a tap on the shoulder or a kiss on the lips. It will be felt.” Cue collective eye roll—are we really going to have to sit through 300 pages of this chick finding herself by “living life to the fullest?”

Then again, a novel named after its main character is likely going to be self-centered in nature: this is Kit’s singular story, and Thomson deftly draws the reader into her world. We learn that Kit was an IVF baby, stored away as a frozen embryo for eight long, cold years before being implanted in her mother’s womb. Somehow able to connect with her pre-nascent self, Kit is haunted by this nebulous time, struggling to understand why her parents abandoned her for so long. “The eight years are still with me, eight years in the dark, the cold. Waiting. Not knowing.” Now 19, Kit has lost her vibrant, charismatic mother to cancer and is left alone at her home in Rome for long periods by her father, a famous correspondent for CNN who is constantly traveling. Convinced that his physical and emotional distance comes from the fact that he blames her for her mother’s death (through a perhaps tenuously established link between IVF and cancer), Kit has decided to shirk her plans to attend Oxford in the fall and run away without a note or a word. She follows the “messages” and “leads” she has begun encountering (a conversation overheard about a man named Klaus who lives in Berlin, for example) with reckless abandon until she feels they have served their purpose and are no longer useful to her (e.g., after she has inserted herself in Klaus’s life, moved into his apartment, and discovered that he wishes to sleep with her). She eventually makes her way through Europe and then far north, to the Arctic, an obvious metaphor for her icy origins. Along the way she meets men who want to father her, more men who want to sleep with her, and a few instances of sexual violence that feel oddly glossed-over, almost dreamlike. For Kit, all experiences, whether good or bad, are a means to some unforeseeable end.

In fact, Kit is less running away than asking to be chased. Throughout her journey she imagines her father’s concern over her disappearance, envisioning the various characters and scenarios he might come across in his search to find her. It’s a wild, sometimes desperate plea to be seen and heard—and though Kit might come across unlikeable at times, Thomson’s writing fuels the reader forward. Kit’s journey seems at moments surreal, the landscapes she traverses depicted in spare, thoughtful prose: “The Isfjord lies ahead of us. The pinched mauve light makes the water look translucent, dense, almost congealed, like vodka when you keep it in the freezer. In the distance, on the western horizon, is a ghostly range of mountains, cloaked in snow. My heart dilates with a pleasure that is pure and undiluted.”  Although the novel’s ending feels a bit abrupt, packing several powerful scenes into a few short, unsettling pages, Thomson’s storytelling is never heavy-handed, always retaining its subtle delicacy. What the reader is ultimately left with is a lovely, meandering, haunting story about one woman’s personal struggle with the universal elements of loss, longing, and being.

Michelle Lu

Upright Beasts
Upright Beasts

Upright Beasts by Lincoln Michel Publication Date: October 13, 2015 Publisher: Coffee House Press

In his debut collection, writer and editor Lincoln Michel asserts himself as a singular voice in the landscape of contemporary surrealist fiction. Upright Beasts is a solid, if uneven, work that draws from masters like Kafka and Barthelme, but retains enough of Michel’s own sensibility—bold yet vulnerable, cynical yet sentimental—to move itself beyond the realm of mere pastiche.

Michel, an editor of Gigantic (which he also co-founded) and Electric Literature, hails from the modern school of writer who is so well-read and so well-trained that his work sometimes feels like an exercise in creative writing. Indeed, with a staggering twenty-five stories in just over 200 pages, Upright Beasts has so much variety that it does seem like Michel is flexing his writerly muscles: stories range from matryoshka-like, old-world fables (“My Life in the Bellies of Beasts”) to nightmarish Southern realism (“Halfway Home to Somewhere Else”) to delightfully dark absurdity (“Our Education”). Fortunately for us, Michel’s workout routine is less like squat-thrusts at the gym and more like running around a playground until he collapses, breathless and exhausted and joyful. Unfortunately, he sometimes runs out of breath mid-story; his less memorable entries limp to a close after an exuberant start, imbuing the entire collection with a rushed, unfinished feel.

But in its best moments, Upright Beasts more than makes up for these unsatisfying semi-conclusions. Beneath the diverting trappings of genre lie genuine, universal emotions—loneliness, heartbreak, isolation, insecurity—and Michel excels when he lets these shine through. He succeeds most in his realistic stories, like the brief but haunting “The Deer of Virginia” and the disconcertingly intimate “Some Notes on My Brother’s Brief Travels.” (A passage in the latter story, concerning an encounter with a stranger on an airplane, may be my favorite in the whole collection.) That Michel writes realism well does not detract, however, from the sheer exuberance of his most adventurous writing. “Our Education”—a sort of modern-day, upside-down Lord of the Flies—may not illuminate humanity’s shameful, unifying truths, but it is one hell of an opening story. Likewise, Upright Beasts is one hell of a debut collection.

–Alyssa G. Ramirez


Submission by Michel Houellebeqc Publication Date: October 20, 2015 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Submission, Michel Houellebecq’s new work of heady political fiction, centers on the inner life of embittered and apathetic Huysmans scholar François through an unlikely conversion to Islam as Europe undergoes a political seismic shift. Francois is no departure from Houellebecq’s signature repellent, misogynist male misanthropes. Despite the Sorbonne professor’s brilliance and prestige, he is joyless and without purpose, swilling wine and surfing escort websites, “with no real desire, only an obscure Kantian notion of ‘duty toward the self.’” In François, Houellebecq does what he did best in early acclaimed novels: write a terminally flawed, decadent man who manages to invoke both horror and charm. Nihilistic truisms pepper the novel, barely keeping the reader from overdosing on loathsome François, who quips, “As I got older, I found myself agreeing more with Nietzsche, as is no doubt inevitable once your plumbing starts to fail.”

Submission moves at a slow pace; Houellebecq writes a new, united Europe in 2022, almost entirely converted to Islam through a series of clever political maneuvers by a few men. The reader learns of these urgent world issues as apathetic François does, in snippets from ancillary characters. All the action occurs in the background, as François drinks his way through major political upheaval, the embodiment of “Après nous le deluge.” In the novel’s backdrop, Houellebecq crafts his seemingly impossible political future in a series of intricate small leaps, each rational, though highly imaginative, as inventive and far-fetched as Franzen’s Lithuania in The Corrections. The few scenes depicting Parisian violence, so soon after the November 13 Paris attacks, add an unsettling layer to reading that Houellebecq could not have intended.

Submission is a clever, disconcerting, reference-heavy book best recommended for scholarly readers, especially those who are already fans of Houellebecq’s earlier work. For newcomers, The Elementary Particles would be a better introduction to his style, purposeful vulgarity, and originality. In one interesting metacommentary early in the book, François posits that the best of his life and work is behind him, as Huysmans’ was after À rebours, and as celebrity novelist Houellebecq’s may well be. In Submission, Houellebecq asks, “Once you’ve written a book of such powerful originality… how do you go on writing?” François, the Huysmans scholar, answers, “En rade, which follows À rebours, is a disappointing book. How could it not be? And yet its faults, its air of stagnation and slow decline, never quite overcome our pleasure in reading it.” The same holds for Submission itself.

—Sarah Jane Quillin

One Out of Two
One Out of Two

One Out of Two by Daniel Sada Publication Date: November 3, 2015 Publisher: Graywolf Press

The Gamal sisters, Constitución and Gloria, are inseparable and indistinguishable. Born—or, cursed, as they sometimes refer to it—identical twins, the women are orphaned at a young age and taken to live with an overbearing but well-intentioned aunt, whose sole wish for them in life is that they marry. But the twins have other plans: to find work as seamstresses, live without luxuries, and avoid caprice, believing in a dogged dedication to their craft, frugality, and reason. “What young women they were!” the narrator tells us. “And old ladies, as well!”

Eventually, the twins leave their aunt and set up shop in a new town where they work side by side, each day rote and without excitement, except for the occasional late night of drinking and dancing, alone together. They have little use for love, preferring instead to take “a stand against love’s conventions [and] the relativity of the flesh.” But an invitation to a wedding tempts the sisters, who suddenly become aware that their similarities, their looking-so-alike, might cause problems for a potential lover, which they both now think they want. They agree one sister will attend the wedding. Afterwards, she returns home, radiant because she met a man.

Bound by a promise they made to each other as young girls—that what belongs to one belongs to the other—they devise a plan to deal with the beau, Oscar, who visits weekly. Emotional torment ensues and Constitución and Gloria—tied together forever and in ways no outsider can fully understand—begin to drift apart. We wonder: for what good? One Out of Two displays romantic love as upheaval rather than opportunity, as conventional, unnecessary, and a little bit illusory, illuminating the danger of preoccupation with marriage as an ideal end-goal of a relationship.

Full of contradictions and questions, quick movements from past to present, and an ever-present sense of the twins’ self-awareness, the narrator speaks as if through thought, stitching together a novel through many incomplete and incoherent sentences that reveal the consistencies and inconsistencies of its subjects: two humans, separate, but inseparable. Consider the following passage:

The upshot, alas!: love sprouted, and grew, like ever-searching ivy: inwardly: by               necessity: never flagging: a secret force that loses its way because it’s all so                                 unfathomable; in the same way, hypocrisy was born: between the twins: how                                unbecoming!: and although they sensed it, they didn’t utter a peep about this dreary                      development because they wanted to avoid, they thought, a probably foolishconfrontation. Their usual kindnesses: everything they had so diligently nurtured to avoidanger between them, now—and this now looms quite large—: they no longer cared; theyhad vaguely fallen in love, like two capricious adolescents, and that’s why they wereteetering on the verge of hysteria… Well, really because there was a subject theycouldn’t broach between them: the blessed nuptials, the critical future.

The florid language, so unlike most contemporary English writers, reminds us at once that One Out of Two is a translated text. Its translator, Katherine Silva, was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship in 2013 and, in her statement, remarked that Sada’s "intricate, complex, and wildly inventive prose presents a particular challenge to the translator. It is not hyperbolic to compare his linguistic originality and his radical and redemptive shredding of the complacent use of language—the subversion of the expectation of the sentence as a unit of thought—to that of James Joyce.” Translation can be a sticky wicket. In the capable, meticulous hands of Silva, Sada’s inventiveness and wit, not to mention his unconventional style, shine through.

Liz Blood