Board Recs: 9/25

The second novel in an engrossing trilogy, Transit, by Rachel Cusk, follows a British writer and her family through a series of vignettes. In focus, here, is the world around her, even more so than in other novels; we learn fairly little about the narrator, and much more about the interlocutors she meets in passing, a chapter at a time. A large part of the book takes place in a house undergoing renovation—one of the only novels I can think of that does so. It’s quite a wellspring of material, turns out. —Griffin Brown

I just finished Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Ruby Moonlight, a collection of poetry that traces the fleeing of a young Aboriginal woman following the destruction of her home and family. The woman becomes friends and lovers with an Irish man named Miner Jack. Eckermann just won the Windham-Campbell Prize at Yale, so I got to hear her read some of her work and speak about her writing. She talked about poetry as being a gift which a poet releases into the world. “Ruby Moonlight” quietly and assertively gifts the reader with new language, new syntactical rhythms, and a heart-breaking story.

The language is beautiful, strange, and full. Eckermann writes: “there is a bend along the river / where fish slow in shallow water” and “the desert of her mind has determined wanderings / longer than forty days and night / led only by instinct.” The poems speak for themselves. They suggest and create and overflow. And she somehow manages to balance the creation of a dynamic narrative with a close attention to the yearnings and delicacies of language. —Rachel Kaufman

She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks is a collection of poetry by M. NourbeSe Philip, a woman of color who was born in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago but now lives in Canada. The book struggles with writing as an art form, especially in a language that was forced upon your ancestors. The poetry is beautiful and form-defying, and the essay at the end of the book is also fantastic. Philip takes the English language and makes it her own, fighting against its oppressive history. —Zoe Huber-Weiss

This summer I was a little bit obsessed with the work of Dorthe Nors, a Danish author who has published two books in the U.S. through Graywolf Press. The first, Karate Chop, comprises fifteen very short stories, most about six or seven pages, about the delights and devastations lived out by ordinary people: a woman drawn to cemeteries; a mother and daughter disappearing into the fog; a maid and a courier, brought together by a big tomato. Nors is a queen of understatement. Her prose is wry and playful, and makes the darkness lurking under the surface (and sometimes very much above it) all the more unsettling. 

In her second Graywolf book, So Much For That Winter, Nors applies her signature voice to some formal experiments. The first, “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space,” is written entirely in “headlines,” like the status updates of early Facebook. The second, “Days,” consists of dozens of lists. Both deal with women “on the brink of disappearing,” as Nors puts it, trying to carve out a place for themselves. They’re equal parts sad and funny. I’ll be rereading them, along with the stories in Karate Chop, until Nors’s novel Mirror, Shoulder, Signal—already out overseas from Pushkin Press, and short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize—joins her growing body of work available to us over here. —Tom Cusano

I’m Supposed To Protect You From All This, by Nadja Spiegelman, is a book about mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and the complicated relationships in between. Albeit lots of tension in this book, she writes so romantically and enchantedly that it makes you feel overwhelmed and at peace all at once. Nadja Spiegelman is a Yale alum and was recently named Online Editor at The Paris Review! —Allie Primak

A culmination of his pilgrimages to Venice for almost 20 years, Watermark is Joseph Brodsky’s powerfully seductive elegy to the city. It draws both from the writer’s autobiographical experience and his theorization of the space. I finished the prose poem in one take during my 10-hour plane ride to the U.S., dazed in Brodsky’s gracefully idiosyncratic vision. As he describes: “the eye in this city acquires an autonomy similar to that of a tear. The only difference is that it doesn’t sever itself from the body but subordinates it totally.”

For another unorthodox, wildly immersive literary experience, I cautiously recommend Gao Xingjian’s 1990 novel Soul Mountain. Gao is a true pioneer in his relationship to the Chinese language. Written only in first and second person pronouns, Soul Mountain is an interactive odyssey into the landscapes of Central China. The literature both weaves and deconstructs the individual experience against the dramatic backdrops of the Cultural Revolution. Sprawling, intuitive, yet undeniably self-indulgent. —Elaine Wang