Tin House #50 – A Review

I finally finished the ever interesting Tin House this week. As usual, there were some excellent pieces and some that, while not bad, weren’t as interesting. The big piece in the issue was an excerpt form Michel Houellebecq’s newest book, The Map and the Territory. I’ve only read Platform and found parts of it interesting, this piece, as is the case with most novel excerpts, did little to interest me, or better said, I would like to read his book in spite of what I read here. On the other hand, Maggie Shipstead’s You Have A Friend in 10A mines in some way similar territory as Houellebecq, but makes it a little more interesting. Essentially, it is the story of a Katie Holmes like actress who is trying to survive the escape from a Scientology-like group. It is a dark picture of control, a story one knows or thinks one knows after passing the magazines at the checkout counter so many times. She had several rhetorical touches that made the story interesting and lifted it above the cringe worth stories of drugs and depravity that can come from this subject. Eric Puchner’s Little Monsters was a nice change of pace, telling a science fiction story of a race of young people who are manufactured and who kill any older adults who were created through sexual intercourse. It isn’t exactly a new idea, I know there is a Star Trek story along those lines, but he brought an impressionistic sensibility to what could have been cold science fiction. And as the two young characters learn to take care of a dying adult, the transformation doesn’t bring about a revolution but does cast the brutality of their lives into a new light. The best story of the fictions, though was Quintan Ana Wikswo’s The Little Kretshmar, a story about a couple learning to deal with their disabled son. What set the story apart is Wikswo strips the story down, removing all temporal and physical baggage so that it is just the actions or results of actions that exist.:

For now, the rings dangle on short strings around their necks. When they lean over the little Kretschmar, the rings swing and dangle. But the little Kretschmar cannot see them, nor can he grab at them. The rings swing in peace as the little Kretschmar rolls to the left, and then to the right.

It is all a reminder of the sauna, of Saturday, of sex and disgust and shame. He will no longer look at her rich, high breasts. She turns away when he unbuttons.

And they avert their eyes from the little Kretschmar when he cries, and tuck the rings inside their shirts.

The accumulation of the little pieces, almost devoid of emotion are more arresting, and do not weigh the story down with the extraneous details about time of day or the color of the sun.

The best piece of non fiction in the issue was Sonia Faleiro’s piece Leela, The Mumbai Bar Dancer. The opening is an excellent example of stretching the essay form. Faleiro starts off in what is third person but is really a playful first person between her and Leela, a kind of dance that Leela plays out with all her clients. It gives a great sense of Leela because it characterizes her, lets her act and speak on her own (even though this is just an illusion), instead of a description of her. She manages to capture more than just the working conditions, but a sense of Leela.

Tin House 49 – Cesar Aira Interview and Excerpt, Ben Okri, Kelly Link, and Oliver Broudy – A Review

Tin House issue 49, The Ecstatic, arrived last week and in a fit of diligent reading I finished it off in a week’s time, I’m rather pleased with this. Anyway, the issue, as always, had some high points and some forgettable pieces. What I was most exited with was Scott Eposito’s interview with Cesar Aira which was quite good (unfortunately it is not available on-line). Scott is a good reader and had some great questions to for Aira. Most interesting is his way of working which is a revisionless writing that only continues until he is uninterested or his idea is exhausted. (He does spend a day or so per page, so it isn’t exactly revisionless writing). The review and the excerpt did make me want to read his work. The excerpt which will be out in 2012 was interesting, more than most excerpts, is about a Panamanian government official who writes a master piece by accident. It has potential and I am interested in knowing where he is going with it. The only thing that annoyed me was that tedious statement that says the only way you can enjoy something is in the original language. Not true and rather limiting. I wish writers would stop with this kind of nonsense. There are limits, but there is no other way for most of us to read the world.

The interview with Ben Okri was interesting, if a little too much about NY. It is on-line but you’ll have to a little diffing to find it. The short story from Kelly Link called the Summer People was very good. A mix of the fantastic and the surreal about a young woman who is the care taker for the mysterious inhabitants of an old house. They are never seen, but communicate telepathically giving her their wishes. Anytime she does something they reward her with fantastically create objects, often wind up toys of undescrible complexity. But they are a strange people who though never seen are described in terms of queens and workers, as if they were a form of bee. Link was able to build a fascinating and complex world that has no explanation and though cannot exist, seems like it just could. My only criticism is it was filled with southernisms and while I’m not against them it seems as if they were more stereotypical than real. I haven’t been to the south in years, so I don’t know if they are real, but they felt a little forced.

Finally, Oliver Broudy’s non-fiction piece about a kung fu master who is running a school to train the next masters of white crane style was great. As someone who grew up on kung fu, to read about a man who has gathered a handful of students in a ten year course of study, living a monkish lifestyle of training and asceticism was fascinating. He told the story, in part, from the perspective of a poor young American who seemed the most unlikely to finish the training. The conflict between the easy American life, even in a run down part of Pennsylvania that has no future, and the hard work of kung fu is an almost insurmountable tension. In many ways, it is evocative of problems facing the nation.


Tin House Spring 2011 – A Review

I thought this issue of Tin House was a bit more hit and miss, especially with the fiction, but it still had some good moments. The them was The Mysterious and most of the essays delved into either crime fiction, or true crime. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge mystery fan. Sarah Winman’s overview of domestic thrillers was quite good and has given me an interest in reading some of the authors she mentioned, some of published 100 years ago. Eddie Muller’s call for a new noir was interesting, since he said stop imitating the 40’s and write for today. It was refreshing since noir for most people is 19401-1959. It was even more interesting coming from a guy who hosts noir festivals (I’ve been to 3 of his). I can’t agree, though, that Mulholland Drive is that interesting a movie. I was intrigued by Paul Collins history of the Murder Off Miami (A Murder Mystery)
book/game and its approach to story telling through artifacts, something that has been over done since.

The only fiction I thought was really interesting was Luis Alberto Urrea’s story Chametla that envisions memories as physical objects  that have their own life after one dies. It was perfectly brief and understated. Maurice Pons’ story had that refreshing element that I often found in European short stories: it doesn’t tell you what to think at the end, in other words, there was no epiphany. And like the Urrea, had the virtue of leaving many questions unanswered in the central mystery of the story. Kenneth Calhoun’s piece was also quite good and used language in a refreshing way, starting each paragraph with Then, until the build up of conflicting events actually leads the reader to what has happened.

This issue wasn’t as good as the last one I read, but it still had its moments.

Tin House Summer 2010 – A Quick Review

I picked up the summer issue of Tin House because, a. I was at writers conference and I felt bad for the person selling them, b. it had an interview with Etgar Keret, someone whose work I really like, and c. I got two issues for the price of one. The Keret didn’t disappoint, although, is probably not worth the price alone of the Tin House. Also included is an interview with David Shields, but it was quickly uninteresting to me as I find his stance tedious (you can read the article on line here). What was a welcome change was the quality of the fiction. I had never read a issue before and I was unsure about the quality of the work. Over all the whole magazine was quite good. There were several stories worth noting.

Snow White, Red Rose by Lydia Millet was a solid set of twisting revelations from a narrator who befriends two girls. The questions, naturally, is what is going to happen. She holds the suspense well, but as often happens when you are heading into criminality, the ending suffers because the crime is always so mater of fact is undoes all the excitement you had with the suspense.

The White Glove by Steven Millhauser reminded me of some of Cristina Fernandez Cubas short stories. Both deal with events that seem supernatural, or threatening, but are never quiet revealed to be as horrid as you might think. It is as if the author plays with the tension to let you imagination get away with you even as you are reading. A narrator tells of his enchantment with a girl in his class and her family. The family is perfect, yet she wears a mysterious white glove and he is uncertain why she seems so shy about it. Is it abuse? What could be happening?

The Wheelbarow from Sophie McManus’ story of a vet just back from a war zone showed great comfort with slang and in its economy made for a taught story rich with details. It was a good change to have to puzzle out some of the expressions; it invigorates the writing.

In Defense of Writers Who Don’t Read So Much; or Here’s to You Tin House

Tin House recently instituted a new policy for accepting submissions that requires writers to submit a copy of a receipt from a local bookstore purchase. While it is a laudable goal and I buy as much as I can from mine (Elliot Bay Books), the problem is when you write you don’t have time to read. It is one of those disappointing facts of authorship that you only have so much time and if you don’t live off your writing, in other words have a day job, what little time that could go into reading, goes into writing. I agree it is inexcusable for writers not to read. Writing is one long continuum of writers influencing each other and I’ve read more than enough bad writing to know a studying a few more authors would do some a world of good. But having to buy a book at the local bookstore just to submit is too much. I can’t buy any more, I’ve just got too many books already and at 20-30 a year (not counting technical tomes) I’m never going to finish. It also feels like a pay to play  or a literary contest with an entrance fee and I don’t like that. It is a fools bet and I prefer to make those bets with the state lottery: the pay off is so much better. Perhaps, when I read the two copies of Tin House that I bought in May and have been sitting on my coffee table ever since, I’ll change my mind. Until then, though, I’m just going to let other hopefuls play this game.

The full text:

PORTLAND, OREGON (JUNE 30, 2010) In the spirit of discovering new talent as well as supporting established authors and the bookstores who support them, Tin House Books will accept unsolicited manuscripts dated between August 1 and November 30, 2010, as long as each submission is accompanied by a receipt for a book from a bookstore. Tin House magazine will require the same for unsolicited submissions sent between September 1 and December 30, 2010.
Writers who cannot afford to buy a book or cannot get to an actual bookstore are encouraged to explain why in haiku or one sentence (100 words or fewer). Tin House Books and Tin House magazine will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains: why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore, why he or she prefers digital reads, what device, and why.

Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site.

Tin House Books will not accept electronic submissions. Tin House magazine will accept manuscripts by mail or digitally. The magazine will accept scans of bookstore receipts.