Posted by Tobias Carroll
I arrived at Bookcourt on a brisk Tuesday night to find their beskylighted space abounding with red wine and sea salt-crusted brownies. The occasion was the second installment of said bookstore’s small press reading series, here spotlighting the work of the Minneapolis-based publisher Graywolf Press. It was introduced by Emma Straub and Adam Wilson, the latter of whom read a essay citing the role of independent presses in spotlighting work under-appreciated in its day. The phrase “manifesto” was used — slightly tongue-in-cheek, though not incorrectly.
Jessica Francis Kane was the first to read, with two sections (one long, one brief) from her novel The Report. These sections moved from omniscient narration to a much closer third-person perspective, both establishing the historical context of Blitz-era London and supplying details of the psychological residue settling over said city’s residents. Kane introduced this as an examination of “tragedy, and how we reckon and commemorate tragedy,” and what stood out were the small details, almost incongruous in their arrangement: an artist sketching a body sprawled and elevated in a tree; a mother’s misplaced shoes on the way to shelter.
Mark Slouka was next, the only nonfiction reader of the three. His essay came from his book Essays From the Nick of Time, and began with a strictly structured account of the seasonal invasion of a phoebe nest by a cowbird egg. From there, Slouka turned to the inherently human instinct to impose stories on spaces where stories may not be permitted to exist. Softspoken, Slouka nonetheless held the room rapt, escalating his argument through dimensions historical and deeply personal.
Benjamin Percy closed out the night. In her introduction, Straub commented, “Ben Percy could eat you for breakfast,” and having seen him read, I don’t think I doubt that. The man possesses an intensely sonorous voice: if he was in a band, the comparisons to Nick Cave and
Wovenhand would flood the earth. If the excerpts that he read from his novel The Wilding were unnerving (and they were), his discussion of said novel’s genesis was modest, with plenty of self-effacing moments. He ended his reading on a cliffhanger, which did a fine job of selling at least one copy.
An interesting note, as something of a post-script: two of the evening’s readers invoked James Dickey: Percy in a reference to Deliverance and Slouka in a citation of Dickey’s poetry.