Reading Lately: Jeff Jackson
The stack next to the bed seems to grow taller every week. The books in the office must be breeding, too. Piles teeter in every room, excellent books get buried and go unread for long stretches, and good intentions too often come to nothing. To try and gain some control over my reading, this year I made a resolution to devote more time to new releases from some of my favorite small presses. Several months later, I’ve started to make good on my promise. Two Lines Press has been releasing some of the most exciting fiction in translation for several years now. I’ve been pouring over Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous, which comes with an introduction from no less than Lazlo Kraznahorkai. It’s an addictively bleak book that’s somewhere between a novel and thematic story collection, evoking a scarred apocalyptic landscape that’s populated by characters chained to brutal memories. It also just happens to be Germany. The prose is adept at painting evocative pictures and fleetly switching between tonal registers – all while remaining steeped in mystery. One section ends: “The words were hard to understand, like a noise I’d left far behind me, and they were swallowed by the stillness. Or drowned out by the town as it awoke at last.”
[[Two Line Press books I’m still reading: Toni Sala’s The Boys about the sinister aftermath of a car accident and Joao Gilberto Noll’s Quiet Creature on the Corner, which is marked by a hushed and unsettling surrealism.]]
One of the things I love about The Song Cave is how defiantly out-of-step their beautifully designed books tend to be with current poetry tastes and trends. It’s hard to imagine another press releasing Christian Schlegel’s Honest James, which evokes 19th century poetics in its references to Wordsworth and Hardy, not to mention Balzac and Poe. But there’s also a tribute to Raymond Roussel, which suggests there’s a more modernist sensibility at work than you first might assume. This is a deeply odd and enchanting book that concludes with a series of variations/translations/interpolations of Goethe. I don’t entirely know what to make of Schlegel’s work, but it’s always a pleasure to sink into his elegantly estranged verses.
[[Upcoming Song Cave book to celebrate: A reissue of Kenward Elmslie’s The Orchid Stories, first published in the early 1970s by The Paris Review. It’s hard to imagine them featuring this sort of formally experimental and seriously playful prose now. A marvelous one-of-a-kind whatsit.]]
And finally there’s Dorothy, a publishing project that showcases the work of new and neglected women writers. They only release a couple of books a year, but editor-in-chief Danielle Dutton makes sure each one counts. They’re one of those presses where you can confidently buy up their entire backlist. Their most recent batch features Joanna Walsh’s short story collection Vertigo and Marianne Fritz’s novel The Weight of Things. Walsh’s stories are filled with narrators who plumb seemingly mundane moments until they uncover rich veins of fraught thought, unexpected conflicts, philosophical flights, and flickering revelations. Fritz’s novel is a savagely satirical and fiercely compressed story of history and manners. It’s the first work translated into English by this acclaimed Austrian writer who was admired by both W.G. Sebald and Elfriede Jelinek.
[[Next on the pile: Danielle Dutton’s own novel Margaret The First, recently released by Catapult Books.]]
Jeff Jackson is the author of the novel Mira Corpora, published by Two Dollar Radio. It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and appeared on numerous Best of 2013 lists. His short fiction has appeared in Guernica, Vice, and The Collagist and been performed in New York and Los Angeles by New River Dramatists. He edited the literary anthology Topograph: Fiction from the Carolinas and the Landscape Beyond. Five of his plays have been produced by the Obie Award-winning Collapsable Giraffe theater company in New York City. Dream of the Red Chamber: Performance for a Sleeping Audience debuted in Times Square in Spring 2014 and Botanica was selected by the New York Times as "one of 2012's most galvanizing theater moments." He holds an MFA from NYU and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Hambidge Center.