Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Drinking Vessels and Miss Things

I have flu. Or something. It's very very boring. So to spice things up I thought I'd show off my latest drinking vessel!

Nice, eh? I was getting more White Road & Other Stories postcards printed (100% recycled paper, mmmm) and amongst the myriad of other tat they offered me, I couldn't find the strength to resist this. It's B&W, and I am not a fan of shiny white mugs, but still, it kind of cheers me up. Silly!

On a more serious note, I very often want to blog about books I've just read and loved, and very often get distracted and don't quite make it. Now I have time on my hands and am not too feverish, I'm grabbing the chance to rave about this book: Miss Thing by Nora Chassler, published by Two Ravens Press. I won a free copy in a Two Ravens giveaway, and was not really sure what to expect. But I was utterly blown away by this book.

First, this is not a short story collection. That might seem like an odd place to start, but I would actually rather say what this astonishing book is not than what it is. To call it a novel would, in my opinion, diminish its power. It is a book-length work, written in compelling, astonishing prose, twisting and winding several characters' stories together, so excellently that I couldn't put it down. I have recently read several books by Well-Known Authors, which I won't name, which did this in different ways and all frustrated and disappointed me enormously. One book started with a main character I got very attached to, then, in the next of what I would discover where 4 sections, moved to another main character, then another and another, never returning to the first. I felt utterly cheated. Another book had about 100 main characters -honestly! - and there was no one character I could attach myself to. It made me dizzy. What is this all about?

But Miss Thing does this extremely well. It feels natural because these characters' lives are bound up together, and because Nora Chassler dips you in and out of each of them, it never disorients.

Also, there is a wonderful quirkiness about the fact that the whole book is not someone narrating but seems to be each character writing down parts in different formats - a journal, a note to another character written on the back of a paper bag, the first draft of a play. This could be a "gimmick" but it wowed me. The ending is oddly optimistic and also felt very right. I worry when I read a "novel" that I will immerse myself and then it will simply trail off and I will regret the time I spent. Not here. If there was any justice, this book would win major prizes (and if they were under the "Novel" category, I wouldn't care).

An excerpt:
Basically, you just know to look in the sky for the moon and not under the park bench you’re sitting on – that’s Heidegger’s Comportment. He says it’s an inherent logic, an ingrained connection between me and the world. Well, sorry guy, but on a subtler level I don’t know where the hell to look. Today (back in school after being subjected to a lecture / saki-soaked lunch special with a sleazier-than-ever Lew) I embarrassed myself in ‘Kafka in Context’ because I hadn’t noticed that the protagonist in The Judgment, uh, kills himself at the end. Plus, I like, REALLY LIKED IT. I read it like THREE FUCKING TIMES. 
I will attempt at some point to see if I can interview Ms Chassler about Miss Thing and get a little background to it. In the meantime, read an interview with her in the Sunday Times. I imagine it was fiendishly hard to write. I don't say this often, but if you love truly original and powerful writing, get a copy.  

Just briefly, another great book I just-read-and-loved, which is a story collection, was And Then We Saw the Flames by Daniel A. Hoyt. Jason reviewed this book for the Short Review, and to thank me (unnecessarily!) Dan Hoyt was kind enough to send me a copy of his book, refusing all monetary recompense. I was thinking I would dip into it every now and again. Then I started reading and couldn't stop. I loved these stories. Quirky, yes, but entirely in the service of the story. Here's an excerpt from the story Amar:

Yesterday Amar ate a half box of raisins, two crusts of bread cemented together with toasted cheese, seven grapes, and three squares broken off a chocolate bar. He didn’t even have time to be hungry. Benji required the hours of the moon, and the restaurant demanded the hours of the sun, and the skinheads, their hate as dark as an eclipse, stole ticks of the clock from both celestial objects.

The skinheads were rude, beer-smelling, shaven but unwashed and pimply, and they wanted to grind his business under them, under feet shod with boots and cruelty. They took up the brain cells that Amar had reserved for other things: the dew of his (now-absent) wife’s morning kisses, how Benji had metamorphosed from babying to crawling to toddlering to talking, the pleasure of Istanbul receding into the horizon. Instead, the skinheads demanded this space, etched their thick black swastikas into the flesh of his memories.
Read the rest of the story in the Kenyon Review.

So, a new mug and two new writers whose next books I am eagerly awaiting. I wish I could list all the other books and stories I've loved recently but my flu-addled head is having a bit of trouble with it all. I am getting writing done though, which does say something about the state of mind you need for those first drafts. Hmm.


Lauri said...

Hope you get better soon. Love the mug. Off to read the interview.

Rachel Fenton said...

Yay - you're getting writing done! Good for you - long may it continue (the writing part, not the flu thingy!) Get well soon :)

Love the mug shot!

Rob said...

If I owned that mug, I'd be constantly tilting it to read the writing, and pouring tea into my lap.

Get well soon.

Tania Hershman said...

Thanks, Lauri, am getting there.

Rachel, that's something, at least. The mug is fun, eh?

Rob, I've been heeding your warning, no spillage so far! Nice of you to pop by.