Three Fine Fools Get a Schedule: Triangulated Blogging on Gerry Alanguilan, Eric Basso, Javier Marias, and Helen Oyeyemi

Jeff VanderMeer • January 17th, 2011 @ 12:43 pm • Book Reviews, News, Uncategorized

If you’ve followed this blog lately, you know that Larry Nolen, Paul Charles Smith, and I have formed a blogger book club. Every few weeks we read a book and then post our reviews of it, without sharing our opinions with each other ahead of time. I then also post the book info and snippets of the reviews to the Amazon book blog. So far, we’ve covered Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps, Matt Bell’s How They Were Found, and Michael Cisco’s The Narrator (with guest J.M. McDermott).

Since these reviews have seemed useful in spreading the word about under-appreciated weird books, we thought we’d continue—and not only continue but formalize a schedule for those who want to read along. If you do read along and post a review around the same time as ours, I’ll add the link to our coverage.

Here, then, is the tentative schedule for our posts, which we’ll update with each new round of book reviews.

Early February: Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan (graphic novel)—”Gorgeously drawn black-and-white artwork combines with outstanding storytelling in this modern-day fable of ethnic strife, identity, friendship, and family. The titular character has been a writer all his “human” life, keeping a secret diary that his son Jake discovers and reads after Elmer’s death. Along with his newly engaged sister and gay movie-star brother, Jake returns to his childhood home for Elmer’s last days, stays on for his funeral, and helps his newly widowed, delicate mother. Oh, and Jake and family are sentient, well-spoken chickens.”

Late March through May: The collected works of Eric Basso. This writer of what I would call avant garde gothic/weird literature is criminally under-appreciated and under-reviewed, and requires an extensive re-visiting. (His “Beak Doctor” is included in Ann and my The Weird antho from Corvus.) Therefore, we will be reading multiple texts, with others read as reference points for the main volumes under review. We’ll have writer Matthew Pridham joining the team as a special guest sharing his opinion as well. We will cover, in multiple blog posts:

The Beak Doctor and Other Stories: 1972 to 1976—”For years, Eric Basso’s novella, “The Beak Doctor,” has sustained a cult reputation among a hard core of avant-garde writers. This collection of short stories begins with a tale of death and hideous resurrection, moves on through a quest for the great horse who rules a subterranean polar kingdom, an atmospheric cycle of short prose pieces, a tragicomic roman noir set in Istanbul (in which the great horse appears in a new guise), and concludes with the harrowing odyssey of a masked man in a fogbound city turned upside down by a plague of sleeping sickness: “The Beak Doctor.”

The Golem Triptych: A Dramatic Trilogy—”According to Jewish legend, the golem is an automaton in human form created through magic, a spirit that could be called upon to perform tasks for its master. The central character in this dramatic trilogy, Joseph Golem, is an old man who dies in a prison camp and is brought back to life by a young woman. Moving through time and various identities, Joseph finds himself in 16th-century Prague, where he assumes the identity of Rabbi Judah Loew, creator of the golem.”

Bartholomew Fair (novel)—”Set in London during a killing heat wave, the novel unfolds as a terrible cataclysm is about to devastate the city. Begun in the Middle Ages as a religious festival in commemoration of St. Bartholomew the Great, over the centuries Bartholomew Fair passed through several metamorphoses. Now it has gone underground. Its lone survivor recounts the story of the Fair’s final, sordid incarnation, and the bizarre odyssey which brings him face-to-face with the unspeakable.”

The Sabattier Effect (novel)—”An investigation into the death of an old man takes place in a French village, but nothing about this investigation is as it first appears. Its prime witness, a photographer, is interrogated by a police inspector about the dead man, his connection with two mysterious younger women, and the enigmatic painting the man had hired him to photograph. His account of events triggers a series of flashbacks in which the immediate past comes dangerously alive. The investigation becomes a desperate quest to rescue a present threatened with extinction by the unpredictable past that is about to engulf it.”

We will also be reading and referring to the following by Basso:

Decompositions: Essays, Art, Literature 1973-1989—”Decompositions collects all of Basso’s essays on art and literature in one volume. Basso approaches his subjects not as a critic but as an artist reflecting on the works, lives, deeds and frailties of other artists. These studies cut to the quick of what it means to create, and be created or destroyed by, a great poem, story, novel or painting.”

Revagations: A Book of Dreams, Vol. 1: 1966-1974—”In these pages, we discover an unconscious life laid bare in a myriad of bizarre adventures and intrigues.”

Accidental Monsters: Poems and Texts 1976—”Completed in six months, on the eve of the poet’s twenty-ninth birthday, Accidental Monsters was Eric Basso’s first collection of poems. The author carries us through a world where landscapes and interiors merge, a terrain vague of fleeting visions, gnomic adventures, enigmas, grotesque creatures and bizarre mechanisms. We eventually journey to an unnamed planet, and are witness to several sinister tableaux.”

Catafalques: Poems 1987-1989—”A dark magic works here, sustained by poetry that is often complex, ironic, disquieting, impassioned, and sometimes even wildly comic. In these pages we are confronted with the poet in midair, the Walrus Voluptuary, a tree that becomes a woman, a man with the head of a black swan.”

June-July: Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias. Writer Kai Ashante Wilson, who suggested Marias’ work, will join us as a special guest blogger. This is a three-volume novel, and will probably require three separate posts. Here’s a description from PW of volume one: “In his leisurely, incisive latest, these preoccupations fuel a plot with a spy-novel gloss. Jaime Deza, separated from his wife in Madrid, is at loose ends in London when his old friend Sir Peter Wheeler, a retired Oxford don, introduces him to the head of a secret government bureau of elite analysts with the ability to see past people’s facades and predict their future behavior. A cocktail party test proves Deza to be one of the elect, and he goes to work clandestinely observing all sorts of people, from South American generals to pop stars.”

August: Helen Oyeyemi, novel(s) to be determined.

14 Responses to “Three Fine Fools Get a Schedule: Triangulated Blogging on Gerry Alanguilan, Eric Basso, Javier Marias, and Helen Oyeyemi”

  1. John Stevens says:

    If I can get ahold of them, I would love to join in on the Eric Basso readings. I am very intrigued by what little I know of his work.

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Cool! They’re all on Amazon.

  3. James says:

    Looking forward to your collective take on Javier Marias’s book(s). I think they’re great, but they succeed partly by going right out to the edge of badness. The trilogy is like an exploded diagram of a spy novel.

    I confess that I’ve never heard of Basso, but your intro is intriguing. Next stop on the innertubes–Googling Eric Basso. I think your link to Bartholomew Fair is off, by the way. It sent me to The Sabattier Effect instead.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    James–thanks for that–fixed it!

    Marias looks really interesting.

  5. Bryan Russell says:

    Javier Marias is one of my all-time favourite writers. His books are an adventure of interior consciousness, though, as James said, there may be a slight disconnect from expectations created by that ‘spy’ label. I haven’t finished the trilogy yet, but I’ve read (I think) everything else by him that’s been put out in English. I’m curious to see what you think of him.

  6. Empty Your Heart Of Its Mortal Dream says:

    [...] down on what we will be covering for our weird little troika in the coming months, you can find it here. Tags: troika Posted by Paul Charles Smith at 8:38 pm   Uncategorized   Permalink   [...]

  7. Daniel says:

    I’ve found these joint reviews immensely helpful in opening up a new realm of fiction that I’m enjoying much more than anything genre right now (No hate on genre books, I still love them, I just want something different). I’ve found your reviews, and respective blogs, an incredible resource in my hunt for difference.

    Just wanted to voice the deep appreciation and respect I have for what you guys are doing.

  8. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy says:

    Marias is one of my favourite novelists too. I’m two volumes into Your Face Tomorrow, the only trilogy not by Moorcock that I’ve bothered reading in lo! these many years. I’d personally have thought that All Souls would have been a better intro to Marias (it also has a passing reference to Arthur Machen), but this is a profoundly challenging (and rewarding) work and I look forward to the troika’s take on it.

    I’m not especially fascinated by what I’ve read about Oyeyemi’s books, but Basso looks like an author I must investigate immediately, thanks!

  9. sarah says:

    I highly recommend you a novel entitled Sunnyside, by Glen David Gold (Carter beats the Devil). Here’s the Amazon synopsis:

    “Sunnyside opens on a winter day in 1916 during which Charlie Chaplin is spotted in more than eight hundred places simultaneously, an extraordinary delusion that forever binds the overlapping fortunes of three men: Leland Wheeler, son of the world’s last (and worst) Wild West star, as he finds unexpected love on the battlefields of France; Hugo Black, drafted to fight under the towering General Edmund Ironside in America’s doomed expedition against the Bolsheviks; and Chaplin himself, as he faces a tightening vise of complications—studio moguls, questions about his patriotism, his unchecked heart, and, most menacing of all, his mother.

    The narrative is as rich and expansive as the ground it covers, and it is cast with a dazzling roster of both real and fictional characters: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Adolph Zukor, Chaplin’s (first) child bride, a thieving Girl Scout, the secretary of the treasury, a lovesick film theorist, three Russian princesses (gracious, nervous, and nihilist), a crew of fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants moviemakers, legions of starstruck fans, and Rin Tin Tin.

    By turns lighthearted and profound, Sunnyside is an altogether spellbinding novel about dreams, ambition, and the dawn of the modern age.”

  10. jeff vandermeer says:

    Daniel: Thanks for that! Glad to know the reviews have been of use. jv

  11. David Stone says:

    I am pleased to see the coverage of Basso. I have long appreciated Basso’s work,have published many of the poems in Blackbird. There is a tremendous range of genre;poetry,fiction,drama,mastery of the rare art of the prose poem and recapturing dreams. Basso holds the prism up to depths that are the finest in the tradition of western literature.

  12. Kirpal Gordon says:

    I love your approach toward the weird & the avant garde, & though I have eyes for all the authors you are reviewing, I am especially moved by what you offer on Eric Basso, particularly your attention to his output over many years rather than just a single title. I have been reading him over all that time & am all ears as to what you make of his gothic brilliance.

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Thanks for that. I must say we’re massively pleased to be able to feature “The Beak Doctor” in The Weird from Atlantic (October).

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