It’s the end of December. As I write this, I’m sitting on a couch in a basement in central New Jersey. I’ve made with some giftwrapping for gifts for family members, and I’m not quite ready to call it a night. David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks sits beside me, and I suspect that I’ll be reading a bit more of that before sleep claims me.
I’m fairly tempted to say that the final week of 2014–of any year, really–is a time of doubling back for those who are in the practice of making year-end lists. Specifically: it’s a time of weird regrets, of catching up with the works that might’ve made it to our best-of lists had we only a bit more time. I’m pretty sure The Bone Clocks will end up in that category. I’m pretty sure that a few more of these books will, as well.
Andre Alexis’s Pastoral derives its structure from a Beethoven symphony. Like Alexis’s short novel A, there are questions of the divine here: the central character of the book is a priest, recently arrived to a small town in Ontario, where he finds himself making unexpected connections to several members of the town’s population and witnesses a couple of events that seem to be miracles. The broad outlines of the plot–young, philosophically questing character finds himself in a town populated by eccentrics–could be deeply awkward in other hands, but Alexis keeps the pace measured and opts for quiet moments rather than broad comedy. And the novel ends on a final image that’s both emotionally honest and lyrically beautiful.
I’d been meaning to read Saeed Jones’s poetry collection Prelude to Bruise for much of the year, and finally settled down with it a few days ago. Together with Natalie Eilbert’s chapbook And I Shall Again Be Virtuous, it makes for an astonishing double bill: both write about horrific episodes of violence (physical and emotional), laced with questions of race (in Jones’s case) and gender (in Eilbert’s). At the same time, the command each has of their craft makes for a gripping reading experience, even as the events described in these poems haunt on any number of levels. Essential reading, both.
Also: after years of hearing writers I like laud his writing, I figured that I should read something by Thomas Ligotti. Jeff VanderMeer’s guide to Ligotti for newcomers was invaluable, and I ended up picking up his My Work Is Not Yet Done. The bulk of this is a long novella (or a short novel), followed by two shorter works, all of which graft horrific elements onto stories of corporate intrigue. In the title story, a man falls victim to a particularly nasty bit of office politics; after a mysterious event, he returns to embark on a supernatural revenge, becoming increasingly monstrous as he does. It’s bleak, (intentionally) nasty stuff; needless to say, it’s likely that I’ll be reading more of Ligotti’s work before long.
Also: I’ve been catching up on The New Inquiry. Specifically, their “Dicks” and “Sick” issues–particularly Colin Dickey’s article in the former about dodgy publications in the early 20th century repurposing badly edited science in the name of pornography, and Natasha Lennard’s essay in the latter about depression and suicide. I should also note here that the esteemed Mairead Case assembled a playlist for the former issue, where plenty of fine music can be heard.