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Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): Nothing Was The Same by Drake. We started from the bottom now we’re here.
Lauren Perez (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): How many year end lists do you think Beyoncé‘s BEYONCÉ screwed up? All of them? It’s an amazing album. She samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on one of the songs. I just don’t know what else anyone could possibly want.
Diane Chonette (Art Director, Tin House): My favorite/most listened to album for 2013 is Trouble Will Find Me by Brooklyn-based band, The National. Its dark, visceral lyrics and heady rhythms often nest in my brain for days. As with their last release and the one before that, I have fallen in love with front man Matt Berninger all over again. Maybe I just have a thing for smart, anxious, melancholy men or maybe its just his sultry baritone voice. Whatever the reason, this latest effort is still my default listen when nothing else seems right.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant, Tin House): Kirin J. Callinan‘s Embracism was the album of 2013 for me not because I think it’s as great as Bowie’s or McCartney’s or Costello’s comebacks, nor as infinitely repeatable than the SOHN and Fyfe EPs, or as solid and enjoyable as that Lorde album we waited forever for, or even as fun as Daft Punk or Justin Timberlake or R. Kelly, but because Embracism feels like it’s an album cut from stone and ever since I heard it I feel like I’ve been carrying it on my shoulders and sleeping underneath its weight. It’s a brutal album—raw like scraped knuckles but also pretty in a punch-drunk way. In the incredible upside-down video for “Landslide,” Callinan hangs by his feet, covered in mud, with the surface of the ocean inches from his head and sings “The stars are all dirt / The stars are all dirt / The stars are all dirt…”
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): With apologies to Yeezus and his celebrity friend (and the hands-down best concert I attended in 2013), my favorite album of the year comes from another, less sacrosanct Chicago MC. Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape might not have the narrative ambition of last year’s standout record (Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city), and it may not be the straight sonic experience of one my runners up (Death Grips’s Government Plates), but playfulness is an underrated quality in hip hop, and nobody’s done it so delightfully since maybe Weezy’s 2007 run. Chance’s dense, nasally delivery owes something to Lil Wayne, but even when he shifts to crooner mode, his lyrics are stacked with internal rhymes (Rapper song-singer, suspended, subpoena/For misdemeanors, dreamer, held-back ass is low key, still a senior). He’s good with light-hearted nostalgia (Used to like orange cassette tapes with Timmy, Tommy, and Chuckie/And Chuck E. Cheese’s pizzas, Jesus pieces, sing Jesus loves me), but when he turns his attention to more serious matters–and there’s plenty, considering he comes from our newly minted murder capitol—it’s clear he’s not just a clown (It just got warm out, this this shit I’ve been warned about/I hope that it storm in the morning, I hope it’s pouring out/I hate crowded beaches, I hate the sound of fireworks/And I ponder what’s worse between knowing it’s over and dying first/cause everybody dies in summer/wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it’s spring). And sorry, Black Hippy. Too bad, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. No clique flies a banner as cool as Chance’s: The Save Money Crew.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): Gracias, by the Ernesto Tito Puentes Big Band. From the title track “Gracias” to “Yo Quiero Vivir Tranquillo” to “Siempre Siempre,” the tunes on Ernesto Tito Puentes Big Band’s latest CD is lush and rich and syncopated à la salsa. With his 20-musician band with members from Cuba, Venezuela and Columbia, this is music not to be missed. Bonus: the final track, “Divertidas,” is divinely danceable.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer, Tin House): Cindi Mayweather, the time-traveling, robotic champion of freedom and love, returns in Janelle Monáe‘s The Electric Lady. The album continues Monáe’s Metropolis-inspired sci-fi concept series with smooth R&B, ferocious funk, and rich jazz. Monáe is cooler than you and possibly nerdier, too—film, literary, and political references abound. This is an irresistibly stylish album. Other greats from this year: Mazzy Star’s Seasons of Your Day and Solvents’s Ghetto Moon.
Holly Laycock (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): Reflektor by Arcade Fire. I bought the single “Reflektor” before the album came out and listened to it nonstop for two weeks, awaiting what other musical masterpieces could come from my fallback favorites Arcade Fire, and the ingenious James Murphy. I will say that I was not immediately taken with the (double) album that I had so longed for (it just as well could have been condensed to one album), but being the persistent fan that I am, I soon grew to love this collaboration between greats. What Arcade Fire lacked in build ups and counterintuitive rhythms, Murphy more than made up for in production value—listen to “Porno” and “Afterlife” respectively. This album is a sort of stepping away for Arcade Fire, which diehard fans may find disappointing initially–it lacks the cohesion that previous albums have had. However, this new direction, if we remain open-minded, is equally as driven, definitely more danceable, and still my favorite pick for 2013.
Veronica Martin (Columnist, The Open Bar): I think I have to go with James Blake’s Overgrown as standout album of the year, if only for the song “Retrograde” (which is also my favorite cover song of 2013, sung by Casey Dienel of White Hinterland). There is something like layered sparseness in these compositions, just such agonizing bleakness and then, there, a little warmth, rich and climactic. Even though it was released in the spring, this album feels like winter, forested and hushed and candlelit.
Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): James Blake. Overgrown. With headphones, volume up.
Lance Cleland (a.k.a. DJ Mas y Menos): While this was the year I rediscovered my love of the hip-hop album: Chance The Rapper, Pusha-T, Danny Brown; groovy dance tunes: Blood Orange, The Limiñanas; classic rock jams: Parquet Courts, Kurt Vile, Dick Diver; and experimental whatever: My Bloody Valentine, Forest Swords, Darkside, Violeta Vile, the two tunes I have hummed the most in the shower, endlessly made up my own words to while singing in front of the mirror, and permanently ingrained in my lovely, patient fiancée’s brain are Deerhunter’s “T.H.M.“ & King Krule’s “Easy Easy.” Both contain simple yet infectious hooks that propel narratives that don’t easily reveal themselves on the first listen. King Krule’s opening lines of “Well same old Bobby, same old beat/Well yeah they got nothing on me” are sung with such confidence that I wanted to kick in a door every time I heard them uttered. I think you can make a pretty damn good argument that we haven’t heard a voice like Archy Marshal’s since Jeff Buckley (and like Buckley’s recordings, I found the King Krule record to be a bit uneven, with the highs more than making up for the minor lows). As for Bradford Cox, it is hard for me to believe he was once better known for wearing a dress on stage than for being one of our most innovative and ever changing musical geniuses. His ability to mix melancholy vocals with a dance beat is the most effective emotional charge I received via my headphones in 2013. While there might be more complete albums from this year that I would take with me to that proverbial desert island, these two songs are the first ones going on the mix-tape.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Joanna Arnow’s documentary I Hate Myself :) is the smartest, riskiest, and most engrossing movie I saw this year, hands down. I Hate Myself :) tracks Arnow’s relationship with her poet and “racial provocateur” boyfriend, James, to ask the central question of whether or not they should be dating. The answer is immediately clear to viewers—NO—and so the question then becomes what’s keeping Arnow in the relationship, what she gets out of it, and what kind of a narrative she’s building out of their story. Arnow’s depiction of herself is brutal but relentlessly smart, especially as it hits on meta-questions about how the making of the film is also shaping her relationship. Can’t recommend this highly enough.
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): I loved Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Allen is in great form with this soft-touch film about a Manhattan socialite, played flawlessly by Cate Blanchett, abandoned and left penniless by her Bernie Madoff-like husband (Alec Baldwin). There are expert performances all around—Louie C.K. is wonderfully slimy, Bobby Cannavale is a perfect Chili, and Sally Hawkins delivers my favorite performance as Jasmine’s sister Ginger, who—no matter how awful Jasmine gets—stands by her.
Nanci McCloskey (Publicity Director, Tin House Books): I was blown away by McConaughey’s performance in Dallas Buyers Club. Skeletal thin and stripped of his good looks, he still manages to charm and seduce. McConaughey’s transformation from a rodeo-riding playboy to a drug dispensing AIDS activist manages somehow to be believable, and I was swept up in his journey of self-discovery.
Holly Laycock (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): Side Effects, directed by Steven Soderbergh. [Warning, spoilers ahead –Editors] Not particularly a fan of Channing Tatum, I thought this movie would be a slog through bad performances. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how angry (in a good way) this film made me despite Tatum’s demise. I was annoyed with Rooney Mara when she couldn’t get over her strange social anxiety that made her act like a wet blanket for the first half of the movie. Then I was legitimately pissed at her when I realized she was getting away with the whole shebang. But oh, the glory when she tasted revenge. Mara in particular was a brilliant pathological nutcase, and the way the story was told was a scintillating brain tease. Except for the whole lesbian angle. . . That I could have done without.
Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna, directed by Sini Anderson. The documentary about the Riot Girl pioneer is beautifully put together and surprisingly moving.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer, Tin House): Kathleen Hanna and the rest of the Riot Grrrl movement played a huge role in my life as an alt/indie/hippie teen in the Pacific Northwest of the ’90s. (I still have my Kill Rock Stars T-shirt though it’s kind of dingy and I outgrew it some time after 9th grade.) Hanna was (is) a force of nature. She owns the swagger of a lead singer, but never shies from her own femininity or hides her valley girl lilt. As the frontwoman of Bikini Kill, she provided a much-needed feminist voice in the aggressive grunge/punk scene of the time, insisting on respect for women in the audience with her “girls to the front” policy. You can imagine my excitement when I heard about Sini Anderson’s documentary on Hanna. The Punk Singer is a loving tribute to her influence, from the days of Bikini Kill, to her sudden retirement from Le Tigre in 2005, to her recent return with The Julie Ruin. The film also shows Hanna at her most vulnerable (she was diagnosed with late-stage Lyme disease in 2010), making for an intimate and well-rounded portrait. Other favorites from this year include: A Band Called Death, The Stories We Tell, Gravity, The East, and You’re Next.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): 20 Feet From Stardom. Morgan Neville’s documentary exploring the life and times of backup singers is spirited, at times melancholy and absolutely fascinating. Focusing on singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, and the Waters, it is Love who explains that, “My life has been all about trying to make a success of the gift I have.” And Neville’s documentary is a study of what success is, what it can be—and at times, what it isn’t.
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. Polley’s investigation into the mysteries of her family and her long-dead mother could have been myopic, but instead she made it not only about a parent but about the memories we construct of them and of each other, the myriad ways those fictions play out. What could have been a cheap “gotcha” reveal instead cast ripples across the entire film. Plus, Sarah Polley has the taste to have adapted an Alice Munro story for film—she’s my favorite literary filmmaker at the moment. (And a TV mention for the wonderful, short-lived TV series Enlightened, both seasons of which are out on DVD. Amy Jellicoe, played by Laura Dern, is a corporate employee who went a little crazy, did some spiritual rehab in Hawaii, and returned to the company as a subterranean drone working beside series co-creator Mike White. Somehow Enlightened is never what you expect: Amy’s story really begins with her aiming for a New Age-inflected enlightenment, but she still has to work in the business world and live with her mom to get out of debt. As a character she is both easy to root for and painful to watch: Amy is too flawed and layered to be a mere hippie joke. Every character on this show is too flawed and layered to be reduced to a joke or a villain, and that’s part of what makes it so brilliant. It’s addictive and discursive, dipping into other characters’ lives with aplomb and empathy, making the mundane thrillingly weighted, and it never ever takes the cheap way out. I finished the final episode last night and I miss it already.)
Lauren Perez (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): Stories We Tell was far and away the best movie I saw this year. Polley’s Stories We Tell looks at how we build narrative out of events. Polley investigates her dead mother’s life, and also Polley’s own life, her family, and the mysteries of her own childhood. She interviews surviving family members and looks at “archival” footage to try and figure out what her mother was like, and what her mother’s life was like. Written out like that it sounds dangerously close to saccharine, but it’s not. Polley’s too smart a filmmaker, and too good a storyteller. As much as it is an investigation of a life it is an investigation of the writing process, and Polley doesn’t try to make her mother’s life neat, nor her family’s. I’m just going to admit here that I cried a little and leave it at that.
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. See this on the big screen and be prepared to learn something about yourself when you do.
Veronica Martin (Columnist, The Open Bar): The Great Beauty. This decadently graceful and almost reverent film seems like the right note on which to end the year cinematically, as one long punctuated aria to Rome, and to a certain life. Within the first few minutes watching Great Beauty in the dark of the theater, I heard someone remark on its strangeness, in frustration instead of in admiration, and there was at least one pair of theater goers who weren’t so taken in as I with the swirling but calculated chaos that is the opening scene—an modern Roman party— and who left without giving the narrative of the film a chance to come through. Be calm with this film! It is, indeed, a thing of great beauty and surrealism. It does not seem subtle, full of bright colors and stylized movement to thumping euro pop, high emotion and the impending slip to the periphery of society for a certain group of aging writers and artists. But it is subtle, in that there is a great quiet underneath all of this brimming life, coming through in the joyful regard of Jep, our aging, wealthy, nostalgic party boy and protagonist of letters, in the gentle slumber of a visiting 104-year-old almost-saint found—after dinner in her honor—on the floor of Jep’s bedroom, in the flock of migratory flamingos at sunrise resting against the backdrop of Rome’s Coliseum, in a disappearing giraffe, in a young girl throwing paint and her body and her tears against a canvas for a brood of outlandishly dressed adults, and in the men and women populating this Rome, for whom the city has either been a great joy or a quiet disappointment, at times both and perhaps undecidedly so. In a scene I keep thinking about again and again, Jep’s editor, a dwarf with jet black hair, dark glasses and an intensely observant wit, her character one of the more deeply enigmatic and alluring in a film made up of characters who are practically all so, sits across from Jep having soup in her office as they discuss his next project. Unexpectedly, she calls him “Little Jep” and he inquires as to why, since nobody has called him that since he was a little boy. She responds, in a deeply knowing and affectionate voice, there are times when we need to make our friends feel like children again.
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): While I’ve mentioned it in this space before, I can’t help going to bat again for The Act of Killing. Months later, Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary still nags at me, the cracks in mass-executioner Anwar Congo’s smiling façade still haunt me. The film is no simple expositive historical recounting or political tragedy porn. By handing a camera over to the architects of Indonesia’s genocide, and allowing them to recreate their pasts through Hollywood genres of their choosing, we see how capable humans are of justifying their atrocities, but also how we can never be completely free of our pasts. Oppenheimer’s also interested in exploring the relationship between films and their viewers—the way the medium can probe at us, but also its potential as a sort of salve on wounds that perhaps aren’t ready to heal. When a volunteer from a local humanitarian organization stood up to introduce the movie, I was prepared to take my documentary medicine, to sign some petition, to see something Important. But the film surpassed my every expectation: it’s funny in the most deeply uncomfortable ways, it’s edifying on the most personal levels, and it’s as concerned with universal ideas about cruelty and suffering as it is with Indonesia’s particulars.
Lance Cleland (Two-time City Ball Player-of-the-week): With apologies to No, The Great Beauty, Mud, Lore, Stories We Tell, Before Midnight, Dallas Buyers Club, and Behind the Candelabra, my favorite movie going experience this year was Pain & Gain. Prior to the screening I attended, I encountered a group of middle-aged men smoking pot from an apple in the theater parking lot. I would later see the same group cheering Mark Wahlberg on as he attempted to repeatedly extinguish Tony Shalhoub’s face by means of a tire. Apparently this was a film people decided to get up for, as my mid-film bathroom break included two gentlemen snorting cocaine in their respective stalls (they were standing up, for those of you worried about my proclivity to snoop). Although only one had a slight trickle of blood coming down from his nose, both were really excited about Anthony Mackie’s performance up to that point and wild about the idea that the story was based on a “series of truths.” I’m not sure if they were referring to the personal growth mantras of the bumbling, roided-out protagonists or the real-life events of the source material, but I shared in their enthusiasm for the product on screen. Michael Bay’s “most personal film” might be a tad long, but no one in the audience that night seemed to care. We wanted a ride through our collective glittering obsession with upward mobility and never ending youth and we wanted it served via the pectoral muscles of the leader of the Funky Bunch. And when the Rock quoted scripture while ingesting blow by the mouthful, some of us in the audience knew that the film was speaking to our America more than others.
My neighbor is burning his mail again. My neighbor is a postman so his mail is not the mail he receives but the mail he delivers, or the mail he should be delivering but instead is burning. We live in a duplex and I can smell the smoke, seeping through the walls. I bake a pie, which is a thing I do when the postman is burning his mail or when I miss Jane. I bake a pie but my apartment does not smell like pie. My apartment smells like burning envelopes and I am alone. I go next door. I bring the pie—in case you need a break, I tell the postman. He is thinner than last time and I am fatter. The postman says he has no time for breaks. He cannot burn his mail fast enough. Towers of mail are stacked on the counters, the coffee table, the mantle. Coupons are scattered across the floor. The fireplace crackles and churns. The postman sticks in hospital bills, report cards, appeals to alumni to give back. He says the investigators from the post office are closing in. I did not know they existed. I ask the postman if I can help. He says there is a reward for leads on the missing mail. I can turn him in if I need the cash. I do, but I won’t. I owe the postman too much. He was the one who let me know Jane was having an affair. She was writing love letters to her pharmacist. On the return address she took his last name as her own. The postman was suspicious. Then there was an accident down at the post office; a machine tore open a letter. This was also suspicious. The postman read the letter, though he did not let me read the letter. He said that would be illegal. I suspect he was shielding me from the particular details. Anyway Jane left and I am alone baking pies and imagining particular details.
Don’t the investigators know where you live, I ask the postman.
They are tracking the missing mail, not me.
Don’t they know what mail you deliver?
They are a little disorganized down at the post office, he says. But soon enough it will lead to me.
He throws credit card offers into his fireplace. General interest magazines, their subscriber labels melting and dripping. Smoke fumes out to the ceiling. I deserve to be caught, he says. I have done awful things.
I do not see it that way. People are not getting their mail, but this doesn’t seem so bad to me. What do people ever get in the mail but bad news? Maybe if you are a person who has affairs you might get illicit love letters, but I am not a person who has affairs. I get debt notices and electric bills and Jane’s lingerie catalogues and postcards from her niece. Jane has left but they keep coming. Or: I was getting all those things, before the postman stopped delivering my mail. It is better now, not getting them. He has let me burn a few myself: Jane’s J.Crew catalog, her AAA card.
Are you sure about no pie? I ask. It’s rhubarb.
Smoke curls around towers of packages. The postman creeps to the window, unsteadily, like his legs have not been used in some time. His calves used to bulge. I can tell he has not been eating. He peeks around the curtain.
That’s them, he says. They’re here for me.
I take a look. That’s just Ms. Mulvaney with her dog, I tell the postman. I open the window for ventilation. You remember. Didn’t she bite you once?
Who? Ms. Mulvaney?
I smile, but I can see he is remembering that day when fear and pain butted up against a duty he still felt.
You never know, he says. They will come quietly. The post office does not need any more PR problems. You should call them while you have the chance. Big money.
Probably it is not big money. But it suits his sense of self to imagine the punishment of his crimes is worth so much.
Here is an irony, says the postman. I started burning my mail so I didn’t have to deliver it. But now I am beholden to this. There is so much to burn, to cover my tracks. I would have been better off delivering it. Why did I not just do that? He says, things beget things, which sounds plagiarized from something biblical, but I am not a person who would know.
The room is filled with smoke. The postman wipes his forehead and rests an arm against a stack of packages, which topple across the floor. I drag the postman from the debris, out onto the porch, then the street. I help him sit on the curb. Ms. Mulvaney asks how Jane is. I say she is likely very happy. The postman offers his ankle to her dog. She does not even growl at him, like she does not recognize him as a postman anymore. He is only a civilian now. His breath is smoky, his lips charred, his fingers sooty. He takes out his cell phone and dials. How will you spend your reward?, he asks. Motorcycle? Bears season tickets? He hands me his phone; it is ringing.
I wonder why Jane and her pharmacist wrote each other letters, but I suppose it suited their sense that their passion was too great for modern technology, a relic from a more romantic time. I suppose it suits me to pretend I know what they desired.
Smoke billows from the postman’s chimney, thick and black, proof that things are flying away from us. The smoke is probably suspicious, since it is summer. Probably they will come for us soon. Probably our lives are over. Hello, I say. I am here to claim my reward.
Ben Hoffman is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Together, Apart, winner of the Origami Zoo Press 2012 Chapbook Contest. His fiction appears or is forthcoming in Zoetrope: All-Story, Fugue, and Monkeybicycle, among others. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he is working on a story collection.
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts: Stories (FSG, March 2013) was–hands down–my favorite story collection of 2013. It’s funny, sad, tender, and unforgettable. Not totally sold? If you read just one story, pick “Deniers,” (in my mind, the standout of the collection) a tale of unlikely love in a cardio ballet class in a New York Jewish Community Center. After reading, you won’t be able to put The Fun Parts down.
Lauren Perez (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): Amina Cain’s Creature. Dorothy, a publishing project, is one of the best-curated micor-presses going, and Amina Cain’s collection Creature is further proof. Clocking in at 144 pages, it looks like it’s going to be a quick read–the stories are slight on the white space of the page–until you start reading. And then re-reading. Not as strange as your Museum of the Weird (Amelia Gray) or your Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell), the stories here are shadowed and shadowy. As painfully close as you get to Cain’s characters, there are things they’re not going to say, things that won’t be revealed. They seem like people who have survived something sublime and retreated with it. cain’s prose is deft, and the sly, dry humor of the stories relieves the sense of suspense for an event that has already passed.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant, Tin House): I’ve mentioned this book in this space before, but the Dorothy Project’s collection of three Manuela Draeger stories, In the Time of the Blue Ball, was the most exciting thing I read in 2013. Draeger is a French writer of children’s stories and is a fictional character in the novels of Antoine Volodine (pen name of an secretive but presumably French writer). The fact that this is fictional fiction would of course be inconsequential if the stories weren’t as good as they are, but once you know, it’s hard to forget that these beyond-surreal stories are meant to have been written by a librarian living in an already surreal world. Brian Evenson’s translation is bouncy, fun, and delirious.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer, Tin House): It’s been quite a while since I read You Only Get Letters from Jail and I still worry about the lost boys and girls within. Jodi Angel’s prose is sharp and true as she exposes the confusion, disappointment, and turmoil (The fucking turmoil.) of the adolescent badlands. Her words come at you like a ’71 Mach 1 with a stoned teenager behind the wheel. You’ll fare better than Elbow Ritchie’s victim in “Firm and Good,” but you’ll be different—different and better—for having read these stories.
Diane Chonette (Art Director, Tin House): Jodi Angel’s short stories have been entertaining me since we first published “A Good Deuce” in the Tin House summer reading issue back in 2011. Her writing is so gritty and real and you can’t help but be slightly knocked off balance to find that she is writing from the perspective of an adolescent he. You Only Get Letters From Jail is a collection that easily sits at the top of my list for 2013.
Holly Laycock (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): You Only Get Letters From Jail by Jodi Angel. Is it biased if I pick a Tin House book? At the risk of this sounding like a cheap plug, I’m championing Jodi Angel’s You Only Get Letters From Jail as my favorite of 2013 because, Tin House Book or not, it’s still the best I’ve read all year. The adolescent boys she writes about are boys that I grew up around–country kids with simple pleasures in that strange, murky inbetween of boyhood and manhood. Reading her stories, I was transported back to my teenage years–entire days out by the lake, drinking cheap beer in parking lots, and not really knowing what was next. Just like her characters, every page of this collection has a bristly, raw smack of reality to it that I just couldn’t put down.
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): Rebecca Lee’s debut story collection, Bobcat, is a perfect book. Within the first few pages, I knew I wasn’t going to want it to end, and so I limited myself to one story a day to stretch out the experience as long as possible. I won’t attempt to summarize the collection, but I will say that each story is equal in the beauty of its prose and the strength of its emotional wallop, each story memorable in its own original and haunting way. I know this is a collection I will return to again and again.
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories, by Karen Russell. Russells short stories are strange and energetic, alive and peculiar and never stuck in some old model of rising action and falling action. Thank god!
Brandi Dawn Henderson (Intern, The Open Bar): This summer, I worked in a remote area of Alaska, and was gifted with a gorgeous amount of reading time. Mostly, I alternated between Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels and short story collections by Charles Baxter. Though, as the leaves began to drop and the wearing of gloves (indoors) made it more challenging to turn the pages, I finally dug out what would be the prize novel of my literary summer. It was magical like Marquez, and it dealt with “everyday folks” just like in Baxter’s stories. The difference, though, was that those ordinary people were actually former U.S. Presidents reborn as horses; or little girls sold into silkworm slavery, their bellies swollen with colored thread; or lemon-sucking vampires tired out by an immortal marriage. Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell, is not only the best collection I’ve read this year, it’s the best book I’ve ever read. I can’t count the times, since finishing it, that people have stared blankly at me as I try to convey how brilliant it is that Russell delivers the reader Rutherford B. Hayes living a second life as a horse in a stable, location unknown. It is impossible to communicate the delight of Russell’s ideas without having a personal experience with the razzle-dazzle of her imagery, without the ordinariness with which she presents magical notions. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is so weird, so compassionate, so smart, and Karen Russell is my hero.
Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): I can’t just pick one. George Saunders Tenth of December. Whew, what dark, disturbing book, inventively exposing the raw, weird failures of unfettered capitalism better than any nonfiction book ever could. Similarly, Jess Walter’s We Live in Water follows those on the economic margins, and does so with Walter’s trademark wit and playfulness. For pure imaginative flair with a deep emotional current, Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove won me over.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): The first time I read “Anything Helps,” the opening story in We Live in Water, I was staying with my extended family on a trip. It was about one in the morning when I finished, and I remember reeling, emotionally gutted, on my bed for a few minutes, then wandering around the house, knocking on bedroom doors, looking for someone else to make read the story and share in the gutting I’d just received. This to me is the highest sign of a story well told: that feeling that what you’ve just read is too big to keep to yourself. All of Walter’s writing in this collection has this in spades. It’s not just that Walter is the most superb sort of narrative craftsman; it’s the faith Walter’s writing places in those who are down on their luck, in addicts and blue collar dads, that make his work so compelling and will make you want to press this book on loved ones and strangers alike.
Veronica Martin (Columnist, The Open Bar): Lydia Davis’ short “The Language Of Things In The House” in the Paris Review this past summer—one of the five shorts in Five Stories published in Issue No. 205—has sort of lodged itself in my head. The piece is a list of the sounds made by everyday actions, translated into a spoken language: “The wooden spoon in the bowl stirring the pancake mix: ‘What the hell, what the hell.’ … Cat jumping down onto bathroom tiles: ‘Va bene.’ … Water running into a glass jar: ‘Mohammad.’ … Rubber flip flop squeaking on a wooden floor: Echt.’ Those words become at times a mantra, a lullaby, a work song, a prayer. Perhaps they are words you need to hear before you even know it, or they are words you like, or maybe it’s just that you’ve heard them recently. I think of them as a given language and accent particular to their certain ceramic curve or grain of wood, a language with a million interpretations, a million translations, a million resonations.
Victoria Savanh (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg. This collection had a lingering effect on me, perhaps because of its determination to accept and subtly emphasize that often times there is no grand conclusion or epiphany. From “Acrobat,” one of my favorite lines is “I don’t believe in consequences. There’s just what happens and what doesn’t.” The stories revolve around women who are in between, seeking escape somehow, and navigating the results of their actions. It’s a deeply satisfying collection that I’m sure I’ll come back to again and again.
Matthew Spekctor, author of American Dream Machine:
Novel: I hate playing favorites, but Owen King’s Double Feature takes on the movies at once so persuasively and with such esprit. It’s hard to think of a new novel that gave me more sheer pleasure this year than this one.
Short Story Collection: Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, for being so ceaselessly and charmingly and sadly inventive. Plus, Karen Russell herself. I’ve built an effigy of her in Red Vines, which sits on the edge of my desk.
Film: American Hustle! This probably isn’t a great film –I know it’s not– but for sheer exuberance, a certain reckless and ridiculous energy, it’s unbeatable. It’s hard to find such joy in a theater these days.
Record: Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel was my jam of jams. Television, Richard Thompson, Sun Ra and Spacemen 3, all happening at once.
Jodi Angel, author of You Only Get Letters from Jail:
Novel: I loved every book that Tin House put out this year, and though I haven’t read them all yet, they are stacked in my “To Be Read” pile because every one of them sounds like something I MUST read. And they are beautiful books.
Short Story Collection: My favorite collection would have to be George Saunders’ Tenth of December because it pulled me in and held me there like a tight fist and I couldn’t do anything but read and then re-read, and then read it again because every word was like a small stone I wanted to carry in my mouth and suck the flavor out of.
Poetry Collection: I just started reading Mira Gonzalez’s I Will Never Be Beautiful Enough To Make Us Beautiful Together, and I am sort of in love with her poetry because it makes me laugh and feel uncomfortable and awake and flawed and better than some people and worse than most, but alive—completely and tragically alive.
Film: I saw the re-release of The Wizard of Oz in Imax 3-D on a Tuesday afternoon and that pretty much gave me brain damage for about two days, but I think Dallas Buyer’s Club was the best thing I have seen thus far. I’m really more excited about what is yet to come, since the Oscar contenders are still making their way to the gate, so I plan on spending my money for seats to see Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in IMAX 3-D because I want to spend about 4 hours watching 1/3 of one movie.
Record: This was a decent year of music, and a lot of good albums came out, and even though Motorhead came out with a new album, and so did Black Sabbath and Rob Zombie (c’mon, who can resist song titles like “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy”), I find myself returning to California X’s album, California X when the weather gets cold because it’s an album that feels like summer and driving with the windows down and not caring about where you end up or what time you get there. You might not even go.
Novel: It’s gigantic and serious and I’m only halfway through, but The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis is unbelievably good, absurdly ambitious and beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s not cool in a certain boring way, and I worry that people haven’t really been hearing about it as much as they should. Same thing happened with this book called Moby Dick, by this fella named Herman Melville. Consider yourself warned!
Short Story Collection: It’s been a crazy good year for collections of stories, so this is tough, but I’d have to say Laura Van Den Berg’s Isle of Our Youth. Her stories are so startling, so apt. They’re shockingly original, but they somehow manage to not come off as gimmicky.
Poetry Collection: The frowning barefoot kid on the cover of Ed Skoog’s Rough Day is his mother, circa 1939. She has her pet crow perched on her lap. In an interview, Skoog said, “The book is about a lot of things, and one is trying to reconstruct a sense of self after loss. For me that’s the passing of my mother almost 10 years ago. How to rebuild the world after rupture.”
Novel: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner: I devoured this book in a few days (no small feat for a mother of two small kids) and was blown away. In the months since, I’ve found myself circling back to it, arguing with it in my head. I’m less wowed by it now than I was at first, but the fact that it’s kept me engaged months later is perhaps a greater testament to its strengths than that initial awe it inspired.
Short Story Collection: You Only Get Letters from Jail by Jodi Angel: Angel renders the teenage boys at the heart of these stories with deep, clear-eyed empathy and an arresting quality of attention. An excellent collection, heartbreaking in all the right ways.
Poetry Collection: Monogamy Songs by Gregory Sherl: I’m going to call this a collection of prose poems, but it doesn’t really want to be pinned down that easily. Call it a memoir. Call it an autobiographical novel in snapshots. Read it, if at all possible, in a single sitting, with your phone far enough away that you won’t be tempted to text any ex-lovers when you’re done.
Novel: The Land Across by Gene Wolfe: Wolfe generally liked to bury things rather deeply, but it won’t take the savvy reader long to discern the double meaning in the title. A sometimes baffling but constantly magnetic blend of Kafka-esque Cold War thriller alchemically blended with supernatural vampire horror.
Grapic Novel: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg: Framed by an achingly sweet and improbably love story, this collection of myths and stories from a fantastical prehistory that may or may not be ours is deceptively simple and visually stunning.
Nonfiction: The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling by David Shoemaker: Finally, a book about wrestling that goes beyond the spectacle, acknowledges and moves past the idea of “fake,” and honestly yet smartly explores the place of wrestling in American pop culture as well the relationship its fans, many of whom are a great deal sharper than the unfortunate stereotypes convey, have with the sport.
Film: Upstream Color: Such a gorgeous, layered, beautiful, visual and hypnotic experience that words fail me. Finally, a contemporary film that is not simply driven by narcissism, snappy dialogue and concrete plot beats at all cost. Visionary.
Record: Romance Language by Majeure: Two side-long tracks of warm sci-fi synth rock occasionally buying drinks for dance beats. Like Miami Vice having sex with 2001: A Space Odyssey at the NASA building.
Novel: Burmese Days by George Orwell. I was in Thailand when I read this novel for the first time. If you ever need reminding that foreign empires are doomed to collapse from the inside this is a good book to turn to. Sublime descriptions of heat and rain and rampant vegetation.
Short Story: All of the stories in The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro because every sentence she writes calls up the whole life behind it.
Film: Frances Ha. I watched this film with a mixture of horror and delight. It convinced me that no-one should ever be nostalgic for their youth, not if they’re being truthful. It’s an agonizing time.
“Let’s just take a sec to acknowledge that if 2013 was about anything, it was about defining, or really re-defining, the reader. Personally, I was redefined by some poems. Tony Hoagland and Mary Ruefle and Mary Szybist and Frank Bidart, in particular.”- Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor, Tin House Magazine)
Veronica Martin (Columnist, The Open Bar): Soul in Space by Noelle Kocot. Read around a campfire at the coast, read in the morning under a bouquet of flowers and then taken back home to the city from the sea and re read, even after the flowers had long dropped all of their pollen, this collection of poems has resonated with me in all geographies over the past year. Kocot’s defined meditations—“To give up something is to re-kill it” and “How often we say things we don’t mean/ Fully, with our full selves” and “Talking about oneself is rarely intimate”—are laced with nature, with bees and super-meadows and mosquitoes, and let go into an eventual verse that soothes as much as it empties: “You see, I’ve learned to stretch the canvas/ Of my life into a boundless river,/ To elongate and subtly alter the lie/ By taking the F from the ineffable fiction/ Of the original word and grinding it up/ Into a pigment that bathes these walls/ In a seascape which I leave behind/ In hopes that you may someday swim/ With fullest reverence past it.” “How often we say things we don’t mean/ Fully, with our full selves. But this is/ All right, since we cannot make sense of/ The growing weeds, the things that go/ Where only blue travels.” Kocot’s poems are full of statement and nature and longing but also something stronger, punctuated with the telling of a loneliness. The life on the page is a calculation, a reflection and also an invitation into this geography of silos and summer ash and bed sheets. These poems feel like linens left out to dry in a vast unpopulated and silent space, the world more woven into their threads with every breeze, not forgotten but regarded, left intentionally, so we might at once observe and inhabit the decomposition of their soul and the creation of a new entity: “I don’t/ Want to sound coy or even ridiculous,/ But after all, the azure of a face drawn/ In sand at the edge of a sea is my own/ Two deaths. The first one happened 7/ Years ago. I’ve grown all new cells since/ Then.” She leaves us “Lost in the harp of your grey dress” and lying in “…an overturned/ boat, the arc of modernity, the poem.”
Allyson Paty (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): Shane McCrae’s Blood. Where blood is familial bond and lineage, carnage and injury, McCrae’s poems engage American slavery—and the cultural inheritance of slavery. Violence instructs the prosody, and McCrae’s use of line is singular and galvanizing. An awesome book, in the true sense of the word.
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): King Me by Roger Reeves. I have not read a first book of poems this year so exciting and ecstatic! Roger’s narratives flow with the life-blood of a Neruda energy, his images explode and reassemble in the heart of anyone reading these poems. This is an important book from a young poet who’s voice we hear traveling through the American landscape of race, gender, sorrow and joy. King me is a book that does what Anne Carson once wrote: he kinged my mind.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant, Tin House): I have to go with Portland poet James Gendron on this. His Sexual Boat (Sex Boats) is one of the funniest, most absurd books of poetry I’ve read in a long time, yet it has undeniable staying power. Although to be honest, I’m probably making this decision based on some new poetry (all about witches) I saw him read this fall. Watching through drunkly wet eyes as Gendron (and our own infinitely charming Matthew Dickman) closed out Lit Hop PDX—an epic literary bar crawl through SE Portland—remains one of my favorite non-sober moments of 2013.
Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): While my poetry highs of the year were Patricia Lockwood’s “Rape Joke,” my introduction to Bianca Stone’s work via her upcoming Tin House/Octopus publication, and Mary Szybist’s well deserved National Book Award, the collection that has stayed with me is Frank X Walker’s Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers. In its 49 poems, the book recounts the life and death of the civil rights activist through a variety of voices, including Byron De La Beckwith, his assassin. As you might expect, the book fluctuates between love and hate, empathy and rage, and the fact that those emotions can sit so comfortably side-by-side on the page is what makes Walker’s work so vital. It is a testament to both the author and his treatment of the subject matter that events that took place some 50 years ago never feel distant. Part of my love for this collection stems from my discovering it during the Zimmerman trial. And while it is sad that the echoes of hate found in Beckwith’s voice still find us today, I take comfort in knowing that poets like Walker are not distancing themselves from the fight.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing is a response to George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write,” and in her memoir, just over 100 pages, Levy combines sharp wit and a dark sense of humor along with questions about literary influence, childhood and wanderlust. Lyrical, probing, full of thoughts on longing and belonging, the quote on the book’s front cover brings into focus (and with capital letters as noted here) the compelling story in Things I Don’t Want To Know: “To become a WRITER, I had to learn to INTERRUPT, to speak up, a little louder, and then LOUDER, and then to just speak in my own voice which is NOT LOUD AT ALL.” Published by the London independent publisher Notting Hill Editions whose “commitment [is] . . . reinvigorating the essay as a literary form,” the book itself is beautiful, with a marine blue cloth-bound hardback cover and thick cream-colored pages. Things I Don’t Want To Know is definitely a memoir to know all about.
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor. From the author of The History of the World in 100 Objects comes this fast paced look at Shakespeare through the people and things that made up his time on earth.
Nanci McCloskey (Publicity Director, Tin House Books): Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. I have to say right off the bat, books like this one are like candy for me. I love biography and I love insider publishing gossip, and Boris Kachka combines both in Hothouse. I feel like I’m intimates with Roger Staruss and Robert Giroux, both iconic figures, and I couldn’t help to wonder if people like them still exist in publishing.
Lauren Perez (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): Crapalachia: A Biography of Place, by Scott McClanahan. Oh man, how am I just finding out about Scott McClanahan? This book is amazing, and wild, and funny in that special way that only gallows humor can reach. It’s a thrillingly unsentimental book, and the myth building warps and works in strange ways. Mostly because McClanahan’s not cutting anybody any slack, least of all himself. In a bravura move SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER he reveals in the Appendix where he lied, combined figures in his life, fabricated events for the sake of the story. He pulls the rug out on you, because even as he’s building the myth he can’t let it stand. But likewise, he’s not about to bore you; McClanahan understands the power and the joy of a good story. It’s the best example of the best kind of memoir, and everybody needs to read it right now.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Sister Mother Husband Dog, Etc., Delia Ephron. One of my favorite books as a kid was Do I Have to Say Hello?, a super-sarcastic manners guide that spoke to my black little elementary school heart. This fall I was trying to track down a copy for my nieces. Imagine my surprise to discover it was written by Delia Ephron, a name lost on 7-year-old me (oh, provincial youth!). It felt serendipitous, then, when I spotted Ephron’s essay collection Sister Mother Husband Dog on my next trip to the bookstore. The wide margins and slight page count of Sister Husband Mother Dog give the impression that Ephron’s publisher was looking for a way to get the collection’s (wonderful) lead essay on Nora Ephron’s death out into the world in a book. But no matter. All of Sister Mother Husband Dog has made me happy in a way no other book has this year; it was the nicest possible treat to find that quippy, perceptive and self-deprecaticing, most-loved voice of my childhood waiting here for me as a still-ill-mannered adult.
Rob Spillman (Editor Tin House Magazine): Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander. A synthesis of Hofstadter’s longtime work on how the brain builds out patterns of associations, aided by his French colleague Sander. The wordplay and gaps between languages make for a highly entertaining read.
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): Jess Walter’s Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family, originally titled Every Knee Shall Bow. I am often fascinated by writing about crime, but good God, the actual writing can be so terrible sometimes. So I was thrilled when I saw that among the list of past works for the wonderful writer Jess Walter was a book on the infamous 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff with Randy Weaver. That standoff, which resulted in the shooting of Weaver’s wife Vicki, among others, besmirched the FBI for good reason, but I was never fully clear on what led to it in the first place. Walter takes the reader not just into that final, thoroughly avoidable, standoff, but into the Weavers’ relationship years earlier, the relationship dynamics and the echo chamber of their ever-metastasizing beliefs, that led them to an isolated mountaintop in Idaho. The events may be 20 years old, but the radical fringe the Weavers inhabited has hardly gone away.
Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): Between 1961 and 1972, 159 commercial flights were hijacked in the United States. “All but a fraction of those hijackings took place during the last five years of that frenetic era, often at a clip of one or more a week. There were, in fact, many days when two planes were hijacked simultaneously, strictly by coincidence.” The stories behind those staggering statistics make Brendan I. Koerner’s The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking an addictive and often head shaking, how-in the-hell have-I-never-heard-of-this read. Focusing on a young couple who pulled off the longest-distance hijacking in US history (armed with a fake bomb and copious amount of marijuana), the book includes vignettes about Black Panthers living in Algeria, Detroit hit-squads, a grumpy Fidel Castro (almost all the hijacked planes landed in Havana), an amazingly sympathetic French legal system, and the various ways the airline industry fought tooth and nail from implementing any sort of security measures that might have stopped their planes from getting stolen. Above all, this is story about Vietnam-era disillusionment and the way love can help temporarily mask the scars of trauma. Already cinematic on the page, I hope you read the book before the inevitable Hollywood adaptation arrives on screen.
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. For me, Lawrence Wright’s investigation into the Church of Scientology is worth it for one scene alone: L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons attempting to summon the Antichrist by chanting and masturbating onto a piece of parchment (Crowley’s old “invocation of the wand,” wink wink). Of course, the book is far more than that: a phenomenal character study of man as strange as he was charismatic, an exegesis on one of the most successful religious cults in American history, and a clear-eyed look at power from the perspective of those that wield it and those seduced by it.
Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor, Tin House Magazine): Going Clear, anybody? To attempt to talk about this book is to find oneself already in a web of qualifying clauses that end, at bottom, with dumb fascination, mute terror. (e.g. the little taste of onanism TP cites ^above^.)
Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner. I haven’t been as engaged and invested in a novel in a long time. The unsettling mix of art and politics that bounces between New York and Italy in the 1970s was the most satisfying reading experience of the year for me.
Nanci McCloskey (Publicity Director, Tin House Books): Well I’m afraid I’m completely unoriginal, but The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner is my pick for best novel of 2013. I was captivated by the originality, and the beauty of the language. There are scenes from the book that will stay with me forever, and I know it’s a book I’ll read again.
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I love a big group of a novel, and while I’ve always enjoyed the wit and precision of Wolitzer’s prose, she hit a new high here. It’s not just the class concerns—what happens when the scholarship kid among the economic elite has nothing to fall back on?—or the complicated emotions that govern blood family and adopted family, but the way Wolitzer follows her characters from beginning to end and makes each step feel surprising and right. Also two other mentions: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves By Karen Joy Fowler managed to be original, heartfelt, painful, and funny, and I’ll never look at a fellow primate in the same way again. Plus an extra shout-out for the most wonderfully uncomfortable and immediately regrettable sex scene in Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland. I won’t spoil it by saying anything else, except that it has haunted me, in a wonderful/horrible way, ever since I read it.
Allyson Paty (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): Is it fair to say the NYRB reissue of Renata Adler’s Speedboat is my favorite novel of 2013? Not only was I much in need of a new copy (multiple readings reduced my first copy to a sad stack of pages I kept in a Ziploc bag), but also the number of people who have read and will talk about the book with me have increased substantially. Foremost, Adler’s sentences are incredible; I never fail to be transfixed by the varying clip at which her phrases move. For me Speedboat holds the all the pleasure and insight of To The Lighthouse, only in reverse—the quality of passing though time brought to light through extreme exteriority and fragmentation in place of interiority and focus.
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): It’s hard to pick a favorite novel of 2013—there were so many greats. One that stands out, though, is As Flies to Whatless Boys by Robert Antoni (Akashic Books, September 2013). The breadth of Antoni’s imagination is inspiring. There were times I had to put the book down and catch my breath. After reading, I went out and picked up two more copies as Christmas presents. It’s just too good of a story not to share.
Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): I was tempted to select Keith Ridgeway’s Hawthorn & Child as my favorite story collection of the year, but as the good folks over at New Directions have called it a novel, I will abide. Ostensibly a detective story that centers on those that commit and solve the crimes of north London, Ridgeway is less concerned with the solutions of investigations but rather in what those investigations reveal about the communities involved. Our lead detectives for whom the novel is named float in and out throughout the ten or so “cases” presented, with the melancholy and increasingly unreliable Hawthorn as our guide through the criminal mist. As a protagonist, if you will allow me to stretch the meaning of the word, Hawthorn is one of the most memorable and compelling characters I have encountered in recent years. Openly gay and forced to endure a constant barrage of jokes from family and colleagues alike, the strain of the personal and professional takes a toll on Hawthorn as the book progresses, eventually calling into question whether or not what we are reading is nothing more than lucid dream from a broken man. In one of the most memorable sequences of the novel, we are given alternating memories of a group sex encounter Hawthorn had at a gay sauna, a family gathering, and his participation in a crackdown of a demonstration. While none of these memories necessarily pertain to the case at hand, they allow the reader to better understand the lens in which Hawthorn views his job. Despite (or maybe because of) Ridgeway’s channeling of classic noir language and tone, Hawthorn and Child is a surprisingly moving novel, full of emotionally powerful fragments that chisel into your memory. And while some readers might find the lack of a traditional narrative nothing more than a clever parlor trick, I found the innovative way it plays against the conventions of genre to be both effective and unlike anything else I read all year.
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor, Tin House Magazine): The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. A creepy and beautiful short novel that you should read alone in bed.
Meg Story (Editor, Tin House Books): The best novel I read this year was Anthony Marra’s debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, set in Chechnya, which is beautifully written and heartbreaking and somehow manages to depict the atrocities of war while conveying a sense of the absurdity that pervades it. (For example, a doctor who has not had any news of the outside world in years confuses Ronald McDonald for Ronald Reagan. When he learns who Ronald McDonald is, he is horrified by the idea of people eating hamburgers cooked by a clown. Given the circumstances he’s been living under, his reaction to this information creates a moment of humor, and, well, he does have a point.) But more importantly, the book made me realize that despite the news stories I heard and the statistics I read and my understanding that a lot of people were dying somewhere far away, I knew very little about the actual people living in Chechnya and how the conflict affected their daily lives. Marra’s novel reminded me that one of the biggest reasons I read fiction is to learn about the lives of others, especially lives so completely different from my own.
Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor, Tin House Magazine): Sometimes words no good come and wonder you how writers make good words together come in strings and lined up like a goodly something and depicting thought stuff and brain noodlings with pictures positively sharp-made like a whatsit and emotions of a human person’s emotions and so human and 2013 was no different howsoever books so good made to drool envy slobber down your chin upon a desk to pool and so many books and novels goodly made perforce difficult one from one of many winners to asseverate so with hands droolwet with slobber I knock on soggy keys The Flamethrowers and mean that and so many other goodly I words don’t have to conveyance.
How about you, dear reader?
Low Down: Junk, Jazz, and Other Fairy Tales from Childhood
a memoir by A. J. Albany
has been adapted to a film starring John Hawkes,
Elle Fanning, Peter Dinklage, Glenn Close,
Lena Headey, and Flea.
Low Down, A. J. Albany’s fond memoir of a fractured childhood in the hot center of Hollywood’s 1960s noir jazz scene, began as an essay in Tin House magazine. Former Tin House editor Jeanne McCulloch first heard of Albany from Epoch Film director Jeff Preiss, who met her on the set of a commercial he was filming in Los Angeles. He urged her to write down some of her anecdotes of life with her father, Joe Albany, a great jazz pianist. With an eye toward Tin House’s upcoming music issue, McCulloch asked to see the pages Albany had written. The result, Albany’s essay, was published as the lead feature in Tin House’s Winter 2001 Music Issue to great acclaim. Eager to start a book publishing arm, Tin House publisher Win McCormack thought a full-length memoir of Albany’s recollection of life with her father would be a fine first book to launch the press. With Low Down in mind, Tin House Books and Bloomsbury Books formed a partnership and the book was published in 2003. Tin House Books (no longer associated with Bloomsbury) reissued the memoir this November.
Check out these great stills from the set!
Low Down will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday, January 19.
I have a recurring dream that my father is puttering around in his garage, waiting for me to come help him fix his aging Dodge Dakota. He sits there on his Craftsman stool, unburdened by the pains of chemotherapy, brown eyes shining with mirth and wisdom, bent over an old water pump. “Hey, Chief, can I help with that?” I ask. Burnt engine coolant mixes with the clean smell of his freshly laundered work shirt. As he smiles and places a reassuring hand on my back, I wake up.
My father seemed to be beating the cancer until my cells entered his body.
I had met with donation coordinators at Johns Hopkins at least ten times before the transplant took place in January. As a near-clone of my dad, a veritable reproduction of his personality, humor, and mannerisms, it was no surprise that I was a perfect bone marrow match. They had tested me for every communicable disease in existence, took enough blood to satiate an entire town of vampires, and asked me if I was doing this of my own accord. I was, I thought. The oncologists and hematologists warned us of the major risks to my body and his life, but we charged onward, ever optimistic, like we had for every other problem that snarled at us from the shadowy side of life. The biggest threat to me was sore hip bones. The biggest threat to him was an often fatal reaction to the donor cells, called Graft-Versus-Host disease.
A little marrow meant nothing to me, and everything to him. I showed up on the day of surgery with no reservations, all jokes and youthful confidence.
From a medical standpoint, the transplant went perfectly. The needle-wielding surgeons got more of the thick red blood cell slurry from me than they had anticipated, and my dad processed it with no issues. Much to the surprise of the nurses caring for both of us, he was up visiting me before my spinal block had even worn off. He looked good then, when he still had that mop of salt and pepper hair and that cheeky British smile. As I waited for the numbness to retreat from my legs he teased me, “Now I get to be a pain in your ass for a change.”
Immediately after the transplant, I had a much rougher recovery than my dad. The spinal block irritated vertebrae which then swelled in protest. I was sent to neurologists to make sure no permanent damage had been done, and given a heavy course of prednisone to quell the inflammation. My dad claimed he felt great, better than he had in a long time, now that the majority of the chemotherapy was out of his system and he could dedicate his energy to recovery. Being the one in pain for a change felt appropriately sacrificial. He deserved a break after three years of cancer misery.
He began taking the anti-rejection medicine, labeled under the medically innocuous name “Tacrolimus.” As I steadily got better, he got steadily worse. He did his best to mask the symptoms with his characteristic grin and playful chuckles, but his lack of energy and greying complexion were impossible to hide. Long midday naps became expected and no cause for concern. He’d never admit how he felt, ever full of fatherly pride, but the pain and frustration flickered in his tired eyes.
When my mother, the ever vigilant nurse, needed a break and went to see her family in England, I volunteered to cover her shift. I spent a week with him in the oppressive July sun, hoping to relive or revive the memories of my beach-washed childhood. But he had changed so much from the cheery, involved father of my elementary school years; he ate very little, laughed even less, and slept more than the black and white stray cats that begged for food on the back porch. I took the time off of work to care for him, lift his spirits, but he insisted he was fine, that all would be better once he stopped taking the Tacrolimus. He swore to me he didn’t feel sick. I wanted to believe him, so I did.
“Although it was only six o’clock, the night was already dark. The fog, made thicker by its proximity to the Seine, blurred every detail with its ragged veils, punctured at various distances by the reddish glow of lanterns and bars of light escaping from illuminated windows. The road was soaked with rain and glittered under the street-lamps, like a lake reflecting strings of lights. A bitter wind, heavy with icy particles, whipped at my face, its howling forming the high notes of a symphony whose bass was played by swollen waves crashing into the piers of the bridges below. The evening lacked none of winter’s rough poetry.” ― Théophile Gautier, Hashish, Wine, Opium
Lauren Perez (Publicity Intern, Tin House Books): I just picked up Matthea Harvey’s Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form and I’m in love with it. Phrases and words bleed into each other, double in meaning, turn slippery on the page. Better still, Harvey is unexpectedly funny, and this collection is an absorptive read. A great companion for nights spent huddled next to the electric wall heater.
Victoria Savanh (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): Pamela Moore’s Chocolates for Breakfast, a controversial 1956 bestseller, was reissued earlier this year, and I was sold on it after reading Emma Straub’s enthusiastic foreword. This novel did indeed make me swoon, and I’ve been suggesting it to anyone who loves The Bell Jar. Courtney Farrell, a fifteen year-old who has grown up too fast, leaves her elite East coast boarding school to Hollywood, to live with her struggling actress mother, then to high society Manhattan. Between boozy brunches, cocktail parties, and love affairs, Courtney is unapologetic in everything that she does. Refusing to be the victim, she states, “People always think a girl’s first lover takes advantage of her. But I wanted it, nobody took advantage of me.” She’s far more aware than her peers, and sure, prone to melancholy, but it never weighs too heavily thanks to her straight up and sarcastic disposition. The tragedy is that Courtney is girl of substance, floating through an empty world, knowing too well that superficial pleasures are not sustainable.
Jamie Carr (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): Because Russian literature is best read in winter and Gladstone Street is coated in powder, and because the wind whips at your face like an angry god from the coast you so fervently fled, open Robert Payne’s translation of Anton Chekhov’s Forty Stories. Let the wolfish soldiers, gloomy princesses, and low-lit castles preheat your December blues. Lose yourself in the plush, self-indulgent descriptions. A commander traipses through a cemetery, wild dogs howl, and no one ever gets what they want when they want it—this is Chekhov’s brilliance. You’ll be curled up in bed but also with them, on an icy veranda. Staring up at the moon.
Molly Dickinson (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): August Kleinzahler’s collection The Strange Hours Travelers Keep was one of the first poetry collections I read as an eager high school student that understood the world as I did: a place of overwhelming modernity, a sometimes unbearable expanse of stimulus and over stimulus. What instead marks Kleinzahler’s new collection, The Hotel Oneira, is a notable quietness and a steadied focus on moments of stillness, absence, tenderness. In Strange Hours we were caught up in the urgency to capture the anomalies of awkward hours and the awkward peoples who inhabit them, in Hotel Oneira we are the calmed traveler, settled in and calmed by the environment we suddenly discover ourselves in. I feel both great nostalgia and fresh thrill upon reading this collection. Kleinzahler’s shifting perspective is strongly apparent yet he remains an astounding manipulator of the English language.
In light of news that Chimamande Ngozi Adichie features on “Flawless,” a track from Beyoncé, the new self-titled surprise album from Queen Bey, we present Adichie in conversation with critic Parul Sehgal, from Issue 56.
Write the Book You Want to Read
A Conversation with Chimamande Ngozi Adichie, by Parul Sehgal
Sinclair Lewis wrote that “every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile.” Few writers have so flagrantly flouted these pressures as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the celebrated Nigerian author of Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck. Her new book, Americanah, will be published in May by Knopf and, like its predecessors, it’s a thrilling and risky piece of writing that takes on taboos, shatters pieties, and combines forthright prose, subversive humor, and a ripping good story.
The fifth of sixth children, Adichie grew up in Nsukka, a university town in Nigeria, in a house once occupied by the celebrated Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who became a great influence on her.
“It was Achebe’s fiction that made me realize my own story could be in a book,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. “When I started to write, I was writing Enid Blyton stories, even though I had never been to England. I didn’t think it was possible for people like me to be in books.”
Adichie studied medicine briefly and moved to the United States at nineteen, eventually receiving an MFA from Johns Hopkins. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), was well received; her second, Half of a Yellow Sun, was a sensation. An unflinching look at the horrors of the Biafran War of the 1960s, it earned her an Orange Prize and comparisons to Achebe. In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur “genius grant.”
“Here is a new writer endowed with the gift of the ancient storytellers,” Achebe praised her. “She is fearless.”
In Americanah, Adichie fearlessly takes on what is so euphemistically called “American race relations.” Our heroine, Ifemelu, a Nigerian transplant to the United States, writes a blog, the tartly titled “Raceteenth or Various Observations about American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black,” in which she scrutinizes Obamamania, white privilege, the politics of black hair care, interracial relationships, and the allure and savagery of America.
Adichie and I chatted over e-mail.
Parul Sehgal: I just finished the book and find myself moping and missing Ifemulu beyond all reason. She feels terribly real to me. Where did she come from? More broadly, how do your characters announce themselves? As a gesture? A voice? An argument?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: All of those, and more. Sometimes a character just forms in my head; other times a character is based on somebody real (although the character often ends up being quite different from the “real” person). Ifemelu is a more interesting version of me. Both Ifemelu and Obinze are me, really.
PS: How so?
CnA: I think I have Ifemelu’s questioning nature, Obinze’s longing. Like them, I’m always looking to learn. A bit of a romantic, but I hide it well.
PS: Ifemelu is the “Americanah” of the title, yes? Can you unpack this term a bit?
CnA: It’s a Nigerian (actually, perhaps more regional than national, it’s more often used in the southeast, where I am from) way of referring to a person who affects Americanness in speech or manner, or a person who is (genuinely) Americanized, or a person who insists on her Americanness. It’s not exactly a polite word, but it isn’t derogatory either. It’s playful. Continue reading
We had scores of submissions, sent in from all over the world. The competition was stiff and all the stories memorable. A huge congratulations—and lots of great prizes—go out to our winner Pazit Cahlon! We also want to extend a hearty shout-out of praise to our first runner-up, Bill Gavula and our second runner-up, Megan Taylor! So, without further ado here is the winning story Let Me Tell You (all of the prose in bold is the original work of Shirley Jackson). Enjoy!
“How discombobulating and pleasurable, to judge a contest in which writers do their best Shirley Jackson impression, as if I’d been invited to a masquerade party, where everyone has come dressed up as Shirley Jackson. (And why has no one every invited me to this kind of party before? Pin the tail on the Shirley Jackson story?)
Of all the finalists (and each of the finalists was, in its own way, a success), the prose here had the kind of particular, wiry energy that animates Jackson’s own work. It introduced the kinds of complication, pricking discomfort, that are part of Jackson’s territory, her landscape. This did not feel like pastiche to me. Not a parlor trick or an impersonation: instead it felt like a genuine engagement with Jackson’s own writing, her rhythms and sensibilities, her liveliness.”
Let me tell you about this girl, she’s prettier than I am, but she’s my best friend. We have fun together. When we go to a party or to the country club dancing or horseback riding─we ride at Becket’s; no one rides at Wilson’s anymore─or ice skating or even just out for a walk, we make jokes together and tell each other everything. She’s got dark hair and dark eyes and she wears black a lot; her mother doesn’t mind. Her name’s Hilda. She’s fourteen, like me, and neither one of us believes in going steady. That’s no fun.
I try to do a lot of the things she does, but of course she’s always better. When I steal something from a store I always get caught and they call my father. Hilda has lots of things like slips and sweaters that she’s stolen from stores, and once she even stole a coat but of course she nevers wears it. We get all our clothes from the fashion shop. Everybody does. You just don’t wear a coat from anywhere else. She’s allowed to drink gin, her father’s a psychiatrist. I’m allowed champagne and a pink lady if my father makes it. My father’s a lawyer. It’s important what your father is. Also it’s important have a swimming pool only not the biggest swimming pool. One family moved into our part of town and right away they built the biggest swimming pool of all and of course no one would dream of going near it. But the most fun Hilda and I have is with the common people. The riffraff. The hoi polloi.
The way we have fun is this: we get a ride into town with someone, usually Hilda’s mother or mine, when they are going into the doctor’s or to a matinee, or on one of their shopping trips. Then we make all kinds of promises about when we will be home, and how, and usually when to meet somewhere to get home. Then we take a streetcar to some part of town where the common people live and go around and eat and talk and all the other things that people without advantages like them do. They drink beer─we’ve watched them do that─and buy clothes in department stores, and they talk to each other a lot. That’s where we have our fun, talking to the common people. They all have bad teeth. They don’t take care of themselves. They bathe, of course─everybody does, after all─but they don’t know how to cook. They eat hamburgers and french fries.
One day we got into town with Hilda’s mother and said we would meet her on the corner of nation and main at five o’clock and I guess she thought we were going to a movie. She said did we have enough money and Hilda said sure, and then she said well, have a good time, and we said sure. She never worries about our meeting bad men or something the way my mother does. My mother always wants to know exactly where we’ve been and whether any dirty men spoke to us, and Hilda and I always have to think of something to tell her, although I don’t remember ever seeing a dirty man in my life. Once we told her a man had spoken to us because Hilda had read about it in a book. She’s allowed to read anything she likes. My mother told my father and for a while they wouldn’t let me go anywhere except with people they knew. Now I’m fourteen, though, my father says it’s time I got used to the idea of the world being the way it is. My mother just says if any men speak to us we must run, unless there is a policeman nearby. Hilda’s mother doesn’t care, Hilda’s allowed to speak to anyone she wants to. This day Hilda’s mother brought us into town. She was annoyed because Hilda was wearing her brown coat, and Hilda couldn’t tell her that where we were going she couldn’t wear her fur. Anyway she let us off and said did we have enough money and then she drove away and Hilda and I stood on the corner for a minute arguing. I wanted to go downtown to some of the stores first, but Hilda had it in her mind that she wanted to go far out on the streetcar to the end of the line. Hilda won, of course; she always does because she says she won’t be friends anymore. We got on the streetcar and Hilda sat down next to a girl about twenty who was really dressed in a most ghastly fashion and I sat down next to an old man who smelled. We never got to the end of the line because Hilda kept looking at the girl next to her out of the corners of her eyes and kind of smiling and when the girl got up to get off Hilda waved her head at me and got up and we followed the girl off the bus. We like to follow people sometimes and this girl had taken Hilda’s fancy. “Did you ever see such clothes?” Hilda whispered to me when she got off the streetcar and I had to admit I never did. She was all kind of cheap perfume and everything too tight. “I think she’s a prostitute,” Hilda said, “and when we follow her we’ll find out where prostitutes go.” She was a very disappointing prostitute if she was one because she didn’t stop anyone or talk to anyone or anything, just went on down the street, and we walked along some distance behind her, talking and trying to pretend we weren’t following. We were in a very common neighborhood; there were little dirty stores and little dirty houses, and everything close up together and dirty in the streets. There were a lot of people, probably because it was a Saturday afternoon and Saturday afternoon is when the common people come out and sit on their front porches and watch ball games on television and drink beer. The girl we were following went right down the street without stopping and then she turned suddenly as though she had just thought of it and went into a little grocery store, so we hurried and came right into the store after her. It was a little store, and dark, and we stopped near the door because there were quite a few people inside and our girl standing waiting her turn.
I don’t much care for getting up close to people, and I certainly don’t like being close enough for them to touch me, but Hilda doesn’t care about anything, and so I kind of stayed near the doorway while Hilda went a little further in, kind of touching things and looking as though she had something she wanted to buy. Hilda has nerve, and she’s fun, and I wouldn’t do some of the things she does. If my mother ever found out I wouldn’t get a car for my birthday.
All Bianca, all the time. That has been our motto of late.
Not only will Octopus Books and Tin House be publishing Bianca Stones’s collection, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, in March, but we are also lucky enough to be bringing her out to our 2014 Summer Writer’s Workshop.
To help tide you over until then, our Winter Reading issue features an excerpt (which you can read here) from her collection.
As we will do from time to time, we asked Bianca a few questions about her contribution to the issue.
Tin House: What was the biggest obstacle in writing “from Practicing Vigilance”?
Bianca Stone: The subject matter. This poem went through many drafts. It was hard to write about my father. I hated it. At first the poem was so damned vague–I couldn’t touch it. Then I was horrified by saying too much. I had to find a balance with my anger. It was probably the hardest poem I’ve ever written.
TH: When you read this story in the future, what do you think you’ll associate with the period of writing it?
BS: I’ll associate it with watching Star Trek, drinking too much, and reading War and Peace. But seriously, I wrote this poem in a very transitional time. I was realizing I had to be a warrior. I was scared, but I was determined to make it through. It was a dark and necessary time.
TH: Do you have any writing rituals?
BS: A holy hour: right after I make my cup of coffee/listen to WNYC, and before I check email. That’s when I love to write, one of the first things I do for the day. I’ll also bang away on my typewriter, so the poem’s raw; I can’t edit as I go. It helps me relax and not over-think things.
TH: The last sentence you underlined in a book?
BS: “You are allowed to leave out the bouquet toss, etc.”-A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene
TH: What is the next poem I should read?
BS: “Publication Date” by Franz Wright, from his book God’s Silence. Damn, that poem speaks to me.
Bianca Stone will be reading in Portland this Saturday as part of Bad Blood XXI.
Heavily influenced by a family of writers and artists, including the late poet Ruth Stone, Bianca Stone began writing poems at a very early age. She collaborated with the poet and essayist Anne Carson on Antigonick, published by New Directions in 2012. She lives in New York City.
Tin House Reels is pleased to screen Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s “Dark Matter,” a short film dealing with sadness, “the unexpected weight of the universe.”
“[The film] came about when a very close friend, who works in the sciences, tried to explain dark matter to me,” says Rowan. Her friend’s scientific description of a mysterious weight in the universe seemed to help explain the inertia of depression: When ill, you can make plans to live differently, but the plans are almost impossible to lift up or carry out. That “inability to follow through on…plans becomes the most crippling part of the illness. I hoped scientific language could provide an alternate narrative…that was precise.”
To create the film, the individual segments were inked and watercolored, then assembled in Photoshop.
Visually, Buchanan “was inspired by a paper theatre I had as a child. It had background scenes that could be slotted in and out, and characters who moved across the stage on long paper tabs. My brother and I would lie on our bellies and tell stories. Internet animation can have a similar feeling of peering into a small and personal space.”
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan was born in London, has lived in New York and Tokyo, and is currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. She writes fiction and poetry, and pairs her writing with illustration on her blog. Her previous work has appeared on NPR’s Selected Shorts, Tin House’s Literary B-SIDES, and in The Columbia Review.
Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.
We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also send us a file directly.
Lance Cleland’s our decades-long fascination with Ethan Hawke, Tin House sent its ace reporter, Emma Komlos-Hrobsky, to Lincoln Center Theater to catch a recent performance of Sir Ethan’s Macbeth.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky: Look, let me say this up front: I like Ethan Hawke. For one thing, I really like Winona Ryder and so by extension, The Hawke has my blessing in thanks for Reality Bites. But it’s more than that. I like his nonchalance. I like his focus. I like that’s he’s taken the risk of sometimes looking like Mark McGrath. I saw his White Fang in elementary school and wanted to frieghthop my way to Alaska.
Let me say also that this may not have been his best performance. The Hawke’s Macbeth makes me think of his vampire hematologist from Daybreakers–mostly sullen and prone to pacing, but capable of a good scream when the occasion calls for it. This is a Macbeth who could keep a Livejournal, who probably spent most of his adolescence lying on his floor in the dark, listening to Evanescence. He’s got a lot of anger, but is too wrapped up in himself to know what to do with it without a little goading from Lady M and the witches. The Hawke’s Macbeth gets into regicide in the same way you can imagine a high schooler getting power-hungry and tweaked on the idea of blowing up something in a microwave. But his heart is never in killing Duncan. The instant shit gets real with the murdering, he’s a wreck.
LC: What was the pre-play Hawke buzz like? Did you get the sense there were any Shakespeare fans in attendance or was this strictly a Hawkeites crowd?
EKH: Given the reviews the production has received, I was surprised by how many people seemed to be at the play for the Shakespeare and not just to pay obeisance to our hero. The people with whom I shared a cocktail table in the lobby were talking not about Ethan but about macaroons and their divorce. Fair enough. But we may all have been a bit distracted from Hawke-centric conversation by the merriment going on in the lobby; many of us were guests at an arts blogger reception before the performance, where we were plied with charcuterie and complimentary “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” salad tongs, arranged in a tableau with a bloody head in a sack.
LC: If this production follows tradition, The Hawke does not make his entrance until the third scene of Act 1. Was there any sort of booing or hissing going on from the pro-Hawke audience who couldn’t wait to get their first look at him as the General? What happened to the room when he finally emerged?
EKH: During the performance, my fellow Hawke Followers and I contained ourselves in advance of Macbeth’s arrival. (Perhaps we were on our best behavior having been admonished by an announcement to please pre-unwrap any hard candies we would need to eat during the performance. Clearly this was a theater staff that wasn’t messing.) Still, the crowd got agitated when The Hawke entered. It was exciting to see him spit as he said his first lines.
After the show, I spotted Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan leaving the theater, so The Hawke may have had a few ringers in the audience, too.
LC: A lot has been made of Scott Pask’s production design for the play, with some critics arguing that the elaborate sets and fantastical lighting upstages Hawke’s Macbeth. Is this even possible? I mean, we are talking about an actor who has overcome scenery-chewing exhibitionism from the likes of Denzel Washington and Selena Gomez.
EKH: The Hawke has a lot to contend with by way of production design. Imagine the Lord of the Rings (or maybe I’m just thinking about Tolkien since I can’t shake the memory of the shades-of-Gollum hellion in fur-trimmed bicycle shorts that romped around with the witches and ate drumsticks off the pentagram table) if Peter Jackson had allowed Ke$ha to direct the art, and all the actors had been given a Bedazzler and invited to stud their own motorcycle boots. There were so many boots.
The stage was inscribed with a gigantic pentagram, and parts of it would rise from the floor to serve as banquet tables/surfaces for murdering, or would descend to make cauldrons for the pouring in of baboon’s blood. There were projections of mirrors that Ethan Hawke smashed with his fists. There were bouquets of roses that changed colors or lost their petals as if by magic. Once, there were velveteen scrims of falling leaves. Anyone that got killed onstage got killed with a scythe, or during a thunderstorm, or both. The witches appeared in drag. At least one had pink eyebrows. Sound production included Enya, tribal drumming, owl cries, and bagpipes.
LC: The Hawke is well-known as an actor who helps induce career-making performances from his female leads (who else has made Gwyneth so lovable?). I wonder about his influence on his fellow actresses in the play. I know Francesca Faridany’s Hecate has been getting a lot of attention.
EKH: My favorite parts of the play, aside from a pair of blue silken skinny jeans which Macbeth evidently wears to bed, were Lady Macbeth and Hecate. Lady Macbeth, played by Anne-Marie Duff, is fantastic in her first monologue, the only genuinely creepy moment of the entire production.
Hecate I liked for different reasons. Hecate has the face of Cyndi Lauper and again seems to have been dressed by Ke$ha. I cannot explain why she offers her prophecy to Macbeth in three different voices, or why she smokes a (crack?) pipe. Your mind will be blown by how much time she spends on stage given how little you remember her from reading Macbeth in college.
LC: In every Hawke performance, there is a moment of grandeur. I am thinking of the swimming contest in Gattaca, his Violent Femmes turn in Reality Bites, the entirety of Mystery Date. In these moments, time becomes still, your pulse becomes in-tune with the rhythms of the sea, and for a moment, it is just you, the Hawke, and endless possibility. How many times during Macbeth did the Hawke transport you to another realm of existence?
EKH: The Hawke’s best turn comes during the dinner that happens midway through the play.
Here’s the scene: Banquo’s been offed and the whole gang’s gathered at chez Macbeth to sup, when who should materialize in spectral form but the recently deceased? Macbeth’s right to be spooked; if memory serves, Banquo’s still got a scythe stuck through his neck. (There’s another time either he or the ghost of Duncan shows up with a crown of shards of bloody mirrors, but the production builds towards this look.)
For once, Macbeth truly raves at the horror of what’s happening front of him, the horror of what he’s done. The Hawke gets so deranged in all the right ways here that it’s hard to believe any of the guests don’t make a citizen’s arrest then and there, dessert be damned. This is the Hawke we know and love, the Hawke that makes you forgive him his final the slo-mo battle sequence (“Noooooooo!” “Ouaaaaahhh!”), the Hawke that has you remembering why you brought the vial in your purse should any of his enuncitory spit fly your way.
For those of you who wish to experience Macbeth firsthand, please follow the link for your chance to purchase discounted tickets.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky is an assistant editor at Tin House magazine. Her writing has appeared in The Story Collider, Hunger Mountain, and Bookforum.com. ddd
Lance Cleland really wants to
be meet Ethan Hawke.
“The horror! The horror!”
Gaze upon The Heart of Darkness, ye mighty, and despair! All right, we’re mixing up our quotes, but it’s often hard to describe the effect of art upon the spirit—especially images as eerie, vibrant, and vicious as Matt Kish’s illustrated edition of Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness. Check out this wonderful video (courtesy of the Tin House Art Department—Diane Chonette and Jakob Vala) of Matt Kish’s Heart of Darkness. Kish’s rich, imaginative drawings and paintings mirror Conrad’s original text and serve to illuminate Marlowe’s journey into the heart of the Congo, and into the depths of the human soul. Heart of Darkness is a text ripe for analysis and argument, formally and thematically; it explores matters of imperialism, racism, gender, and the duality of human nature. Kish’s illustrations add another layer, and another voice in the conversation. Heart of Darkness is an essential edition for fans and students of Conrad’s work, but is, above all, a piece of art all its own.
“The brilliant mind behind Moby Dick in Pictures is back to illustrate Joseph Conrad’s classic.”
Matt Kish is a self-taught artist from Ohio, where he lives with his wife, their two frogs, and far too many books. He has created one illustration for every page of Moby-Dick, fully illustrated Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and had his work appear in The Chicagoan, Propeller Magazine, and the Salt Hill Journal. He has also illustrated The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss and the upcoming The Desert Places by Robert Kloss and Amber Sparks.
“Pauline had a large face, a strong jaw, and blue eyes forever darting, gesturing, scanning the room, scanning the faces and the backs of passersby – salesmen, bosses, other girls from the secretarial pool – taking everything in with one set of eyes, avid and hungry, and then turning another set, triumphant, well satisfied, to Mary, leaning over her typewriter to report what she’d seen, a bit of gossip, a bit of outrage, a bit of indecorous truth (did you see the shine on his coat, the bad toupee, the yellowed tooth, the pimple, the belly she’s getting?), all of it the same to Pauline, all delightful to savor, all evidence to be used.” -Alice McDermott, After This
Facial description continues to challenge even the most accomplished writers, and when the writer wants the description to give the reader insight into deep character, the task can become daunting. Alice McDermott never fails to rise to the occasion. Her description of her main character’s office co-worker in After This begins benignly enough with the commonplace details that are the stock-in-trade of many MFA fiction students. For “large face” substitute “round face,” “oval face,” “small face,” “flat face,” and for “strong jaw” substitute “square jaw” or “weak jaw,” and you can see how easily this sort of description begins to fall into the abyss of cliché. Add the color of the eyes to push the sentence over the cliff. Yet no such fate awaits McDermott’s deceptively simple and straightforward rendering of Pauline’s physiognomy. Those blue eyes provide the departure for a description that takes my breath away every time I read it.
With a series of present participial adjectives, McDermott animates her character and her sentence, allowing the reader to witness exactly what Mary, her main character, has witnessed day after day in the office pool. We see those eyes dart and gesture, and then they begin “scanning the room, scanning the faces and backs of passersby,” and all of us can picture exactly such a person in our readers’ minds’ eyes. Those em dashes set off a triple appositive for “passersby.” No need for the reader to supply a singe detail here, to wonder who these folks might be. McDermott then, in a masterful stroke of parallel construction, continues those participial descriptors and allows us to understand that Pauline’s complexity encompasses seemingly opposite emotions, opposite needs. She is both “avid and hungry” and “triumphant, well satisfied.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) tells us “avid” comes from the Latin avidus, meaning “to long for, crave,” and it gives a single definition for the word: “ardently desirous, extremely eager, greedy.” Of the three examples the dictionary gives of the word in use, the last is from an 1866 translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis: “Or dragon avid for his prey.” Pauline is indeed a dragon greedy to find a meal, to feast on bits of other people’s lives, and when she does, she becomes triumphant. Thus McDermott, keeping her writer’s attention focused on Pauline’s face, on her eyes, lets us know exactly what excites this woman, exactly what pleasures she can encounter without leaving the office pool.
Now with her eyes fixed on Mary and “leaning over her typewriter,” Pauline reports what she has seen. McDermott gives the adverbial, transitive infinitive “to report” a triple object, and here she uses repetition as a means of conveying both the habitual nature of Pauline’s behavior as well as its pettiness. That third object, that “bit of indecorous truth,” lets McDermott provide the reader with the specifics, the concrete images, that instantly establish verisimilitude. In that parenthetical aside, I hear Pauline, and I see each of those items McDermott has so carefully chosen. Pauline’s delight in the coat with the shine, the toupee, the tooth and pimple and increase in belly fat pulls me right into the scene with instant recognition. Don’t we readers all know someone just like this, someone who finds satisfaction in others’ foibles and blemishes? In her stunning conclusion to the sentence, McDermott again uses repetition. Rhythm moves writing forward, speeds it along, and here we again get a sense of Pauline’s habitual behavior. All this reporting, all this scanning of faces and bodies gives her a reward in the present and an expectation of reward in the future when she will have the material she needs “to be used.” But that phrase “delightful to savor” brings the sentence to its logical end. Among the definitions for “to savor” the OED lists, one stands out: in modern use, “to taste with relish . . . fig., to give oneself to the enjoyment or appreciation of.” That greed behind those “avid and hungry” eyes finds its fulfillment at last. Yet Pauline’s satisfaction pales in comparison to my own savoring of this treat, this sentence that achieves what a lesser writer could only accomplish with many.
Edward Perlman is the publisher and senior editor of Entasis Press, an independent literary press publishing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous journals, and he received an artist fellowship grant from The Washington DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the NEA. He teaches in the M.A. in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University.
Recently, I was reminded that this was the last Veterans Day of our Iraq and Afghanistan wartime era. Since 2001, war has been the backdrop for a large part of many people’s lives. We must ask ourselves, now what? I’m not naive enough to think we’ll revert back to an antiquated notion of peace time, but there will soon be a tremendous re-adjustment in the country, especially for veterans. If we go back and read literature from our country’s previous long war (Vietnam), much of it written by veterans, we get a peek into what may lay ahead.
“For just as happiness is more than the absence of sadness, so is peace infinitely more than the absence of war,” Tim O’Brien wrote in his Vietnam war novel Going After Cacciato.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created so many voids that cannot possibly be filled in their newfound absence. Many returning to civilian life will worry about jobs and feel restless about routines that aren’t as structured or as rewarding as the military. And as we—civilians and veterans alike—transition to this new peace, I occasionally wonder if we will fall victim to America’s short collective memory. I’m not the only one, apparently. I had received an email before Veterans Day from a veterans group telling us that this year “it’s more important than ever that we are united as a community.” Are we afraid that the outside support will fade away, the lessons learned discarded like rubbish, and the true worth of sacrifices made overseas never fully known?
These concerns are nothing new. Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes wrote, in his brilliant and comprehensive novel, Matterhorn, about the disillusion of honor and morality overseas, and whether it mattered in the end. “And it was his worth that was the joke. He was nothing but a collection of empty events that would end as a faded photograph above his parents’ fireplace. They too would die, and relatives who didn’t know who was in the picture would throw it away. Mellas knew, in his rational mind, that if there was no afterlife, death is no different from sleep.”
One only has to examine previous literature spurred by war, most of it from veterans, to realize those experiences will never be entirely forgotten. They are haunting and beautiful lessons that are handed down from one war-weary generation to the next. As an Army veteran, these war novels are my postwar map to understanding my own experiences. I wonder how my preconceived notions of the military would have been different if I were to have read these novels before enlisting, instead of watching films that, after the fact, appear to have portrayed an unrealistic and glorified hero worship of combat. More often than not, literature details the effects of war rather than the actions.
In a couple of books written by Vietnam veterans, readers learn about the struggle for veterans to find meaningful postwar lives. In Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann, Paco Sullivan, the lone survivor of a battle, returns home, only to be haunted by his dead comrades. He is restless, but initially settles into a menial job at a lunch cafe in Texas, feeling isolated, as if just a backdrop to other people’s lives. Five years after leaving the Army, I still feel like an unacknowledged character in the background. Absent is that camaraderie in which you are not just present, but also acknowledged and understood without having to constantly explain. The sense of purpose is lacking.
In Stephen Wright’s Meditations in Green, readers see how war, and an opium drug habit spurred by it, tragically follows veterans home. They are unable to escape from the recent past, but also unable to return to the distant one before it. “My problem is I don’t know whether I’m addicted to the O, the war, or that stupid sweet kid who was once me,” Spec. 4 James Griffin says. Often I wonder if I ever was that stupid sweet kid in the first place, or if I am exactly the same person after Iraq that I was before. War has a funny way of replacing that prior memory so that it doesn’t matter either way. We are now byproducts of war.
During Independent Booksellers Week in the UK this year, I blogged about an American woman I traveled with in the far east, who told me that she felt at home in towns whose bookshops stocked Noam Chomsky.
When I fret over the troubling numbers of indy booksellers who are going out of business, I am troubled by the loss of community identity when these places vanish, as much as by the loss of livelihood. The stack of books on the tables of Waterstones or Barnes and Noble tell me little about the town I’m in, and while I feel more at home in Waterstones than in other juggernauts like Tesco or Ikea, a big bookstore doesn’t give me a sense of place.
Like the woman I traveled with, I navigate by books, and I want to know where I am. So I’ll tell you about the indy bookshop that rooted me to the city that became my second home.
I was 21, living in an unheated flat in the Southside of Glasgow, earning less money in a week than the average politician claims for lunch. I’d been in the city for about six months, but I did not yet feel at home in Scotland. I was beginning to long for the plain intelligence of Atlantic Canada, the first home I’d abandoned.
I was wandering around the west end of Glasgow on a rainy day, which isn’t an uncommon sort of weather. We have the kind of rain that lingers even after it stops. It gets into everything, especially if you live in an unheated flat made of crumbling sandstone, with a bad boyfriend who’s always stealing the duvet and opening the damn windows for a cigarette. The rain will penetrate your winter coat, seep into your boots and give you a cough that lasts all winter. And yet, people will stand at a bus stop with a soggy cigarette in one hand and a wet paperback in the other, grim but absorbed, fingers turning purple.
One dark winter afternoon on Otago Lane, a small road that lurches over the River Kelvin, I went into Voltaire and Rousseau. It’s a landmark in the city, but I didn’t know it yet. I knew, however, that I would be there for a while. The entryway was filled with piles of £1 paperbacks, the indy booksellers slush pile, pushed against the walls to create a pathway to the main room. That’s where I found a spotty Mordecai Richler hardcover propped on a stack of CanLit in a vague kind of display. It wasn’t just the CanLit; it was the notion that a display doesn’t need to be pretty to be effective. It tipped over when I touched it, upsetting a cat who was sleeping on a stack of medical journals. The cat relocated to a yellow velvet chair and I replaced the books; as the years went on, I’d learn that avalanches were common in Voltaire and Rousseau. So were peculiarities like CanLit stacked next to medical journals and distinctive cat hair between pages.
It isn’t a place to find what you’re looking for. There are more organized indy booksellers nearby, the excellent Thistle Books & Alba Music, and Caledonia books. Those are the places I went for specifics. I went to Voltaire and Rousseau for the books I didn’t know I wanted. It’s a place to linger, to inhale, to be surprised by books you’ve never heard of or by authors and titles you thought you’d forgotten. I arrived in Glasgow in 2001, not long after Scottish devolution, and the books that gave me insight into the complex political identity of my adopted country were often sourced here, accidentally.
I was wet and cold. There was a hole in my new tights. I was used to dressing for a deadly Canadian winter, but I didn’t have the knack of dressing for insidious Scottish damp. Nobody does, as it happens. A treacherous-looking electric heater in the corner belted heat at the customers. The edges of books curled and steam rose from wool scarves. A heap of umbrellas wilted next the wooden desk which separated the solemn bookseller from everyone but the cat, who had the run of the place.
(I would find out years later that the cat, featured in guide books to the city, was only a visitor. The owner told me that he had no idea who the cat’s family was. It arrived every morning and left every evening.)
Edwin Morgan was everywhere. So were Liz Lochhead and James Kelman, sandwiched inside stacks of their international colleagues, novelists and poets and polemicists, historians, philosophers. I picked up a copy of Eddie Morgan’s Collected Translations after a woman in a grey duffle coat and scarlet scarf sifted through his pages, smiling, then left him balanced on a pile of terrible romance novels. I read for a long time, standing in my torn tights and wet boots, then spent a precious £3 and took him to a coffee shop. I stayed all evening and went home shivering on a late train.
That dark afternoon in Voltaire and Rousseau altered my perception of Glasgow. It would take me some time to build a good life in the city, but I did, because I knew where I was and I knew I wanted to know the place. More than that, I suspected the place might want to know me. Eddie Morgan’s language that I heard echoed around me, the grace of the freezing fingers that handled his books, the woman who smiled while she read, showing the smoker’s lines around her red-lipsticked mouth, and the piles of books that meant there would be no quick exit. Glaswegians, I understood over time, are lovers of books and are scornful of product placement, soundbites and the status quo. Nothing made that so clear to me as Voltaire and Rousseau.
Miriam Vaswani is a writer whose work has appeared in international publications including Gutter, Valve Journal, Retort and Newfound. She is a Pushcart nominee and fiction editor at Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine. She blogs at Little Bones and tweets as @miriamvaswani.
“The blizzard seemed to be dying down, and it was now possible to enjoy the sight of the buildings and embankments and bridges smothered in the diamond-dusted whiteness. There’s always something soothing in the snow, thought Gabriel, a promise of happiness and absolution, of a new start on a clean sheet. Snow redesigned the streets with hints of another architecture, even more magnificent, more fanciful than it already was, all spires and pinnacles on pale palaces of pearl and opal. All that New Venice should have been reappeared through its partial disappearance. It was as if the city were dreaming about itself and crystallizing both that dream and the ethereal unreality of it. He wallowed in the impression, badly needing it right now, knowing it would not last as he hobbled nearer to his destination.” ― Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorarama
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): A few birthdays ago, my dad gifted me a subscription to The New Yorker. And even though I have a subscription, when he reads an article or essay he really likes, he will photocopy it and mail it to me. I was recently embarrassed when I opened a package and found a pristinely folded copy of Paige William’s wonderful profile, Composition in Black and White from the August 12-19th issue signed Love, Dad. This came to me in October and I hadn’t read it yet. Over Thanksgiving, I sat down to read and I’m so glad I did.
The stars of the profile are Bill Arnett, a seventy-four-year-old collector of Outsider Art, and Thornton Dial, an untrained artist and one of Arnett’s greatest discoveries. Arnett bet on Dial early in his career—offering the financial backing to let Dial focus on art full-time. And Dial has been successful. Two of his pieces were included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial, though no major museum owns a large number of his works. Sadly, Dial’s hundred-pound paintings have yet to breakout into the mainstream. But Arnett holds out hope: “It is my nervous and trembling, but history-based and always optimistic, prediction that great culture will outlast corrupt bureaucrats and their heavy-handed abuses of power, and the greed-driven, callous, and destructive tactics of bloodless profiteers. So, metaphorically speaking, I am betting on Art.”
Lance Cleland (Director, Writers’ Workshop): “There is nothing like winter in the company of a keg of brandy and the complete works of Simenon.” So says the Chilean artist Luis Sepúlveda, and while I am not going through the complete catalog, I have recently been reading a few of the early Maigret novels (along with a nip of the hard stuff). For those that have never be on a case with the famed French detective, Maigret Stonewalled is an excellent jumping off point. You get all the trademarks of the portly master sleuth: astute psychological observations that have nothing to do with the murder, smoking, exclamation points at the end of every sentence of dialog, and melancholy stops in the pub for a pint and solution to the most seemingly mundane, yet often baffling cases. And here is what sets Stonewalled apart; there is an actually mystery to be solved! Part of the charm and frustration of Simenon’s Maigret novels are the sloppiness and utter disregard the author sometimes has for the case at hand. Facts are rearranged on a whim, logic is disregarded in favor of aesthetic, and solutions are sometimes an afterthought. Stonewalled though is Maigret’s locked room mystery and as such, it offers the reader the perfect blend of a jigsaw puzzle and roman dur. Throw in a keg and you have the perfect winter afternoon reading experience.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant, Tin House Magazine): I thought Irmgard Keun’s After Midnight would be a good novel with which to ease back into German—I remember it as a straightforward narrative, with a simple cast of characters, and language that is accessible and immediate. What I forgot was how gripping it is, or rather how it embraces the reader (the German word is umarmen, which fantastically translates to around-arms-ing), and how unforgiving its intensity and humor is to the kind of slow double-half-reading I was giving its German text, referring every other line to Anthea Bell’s English translation in the beautiful Neversink edition from Melville House. Eventually, I stopped relearning German and started redevouring Bell’s translation of Keun’s chilling, heart-sinking story.
Prewar Frankfurt is cold and dark and dangerous. With Sanna, the young woman at the center of the novel, we take a trip from one deathtrap conversation to the next; through barrooms full of alternately affable and terrifying fascists; train stations, apartments, and Nazi motorcades. Sanna and her friend Gerti are preoccupied by preoccupations so typical they defy danger: friendship, fun, infatuation, wondering what love is and where and when it comes. Keun delivers their youthful exploits with as much warmth as can be afforded in 1937 Germany, and with endless hope. It’s hard not to read with an extra chill of historicity, though. Keun had the prescience to leave Germany in 1937, the same year she wrote this book, before the war and the Holocaust. But After Midnight is hardly prophetic. Rather, it’s so of its time that those horrors are felt as a shapeless, crushing atmosphere of fear, rather than a distinct memory.
One day in the spring Olivia’s mother made vichyssoise and black bread with butter and she was allowed a half glass of wine, and afterward her parents led her into the den. There were places, her father said in his gentlest voice, where entire populations were without symptoms of allergic rhinitis. They were backwaters, remote parts of Africa and the Pacific Isles where the eradication of helminths had never even been attempted. Allergies, he said, were evolved as an immune response for expelling parasites, and the hookworm had evolved to shut that response down. You couldn’t get them in the States, but if she wanted, they would take her to Ethiopia or Burma or Papua New Guinea and she could get them there. It could be their birthday gift to her. Thinking bluntness his ally, he explained the process of transmission, which begins when worm larvae enter the feet of someone who has gone without shoes through a place where a host has defecated on the open ground. From the feet they move through the vascular system until they reach the lungs, where they are coughed into the trachea, swallowed, and passed to the lower intestine. There they rivet themselves to the walls and fill up with blood, sending their eggs through the excrement of the new host. Olivia, nonplussed, replied that she would rather die.
The season took root. Angelfire and nettle bloomed. The air was saturated with pollen. Olivia was bound to the indoors, and from the smooth-finished countertops and the waxed and sanded floors a wilderness of desire arose. All her visions of love left her exposed in yellow meadows and flowerfields, grasslands in the surge of thunderheads, leaves stuck like ribbon leeches to Billy Loomis’s skin.
She allowed Billy to kiss her in his urgent way under the stairwell, but whenever he swept his thumbs up her belly or pressed the front of his jeans against her thigh she would step back and announce that she knew where to find the ice cream maker, or whatever it was they’d been pretending to look for. Maybe in the fall, she said, if there was an early frost, she would let him take her to the dunes. When her birthday did come, in the middle of July, it was Billy who brought the mask.
It was wrapped in a white box with a lid tied down by a big white bow, nestled inside with yellow chiffon stuffcloth, an Israeli civilian gas mask. It was a relic from the years of the Iran-Iraq war but the filter was in date and the rubber was uncracked. She pinned up her hair and pulled the harness snug until the chin pocket kept a seal. The eyepieces were round, like a fly’s. The filter hung like a proboscis. She could feel the strain in Billy. She let him press her shoe into his crotch.
They met that night by the trestle, where Billy still associated the oily scent of creosote with the magazines he’d been bringing there for years. Olivia couldn’t smell anything and she wanted the dark woods, so they picked their way downriver to a path through the scrub pine until they came to a clearing on the edge of the old growth. Here the grass was long and the wind brought it down in waves. They undressed. Olivia lay down and the grass blew over her. It was ticklish in an itchy sort of way and when a gust subsided it drew back trembling.
The ground was lopsided and hard. There were ants. They got up and moved to a different spot but there were ants there too. She couldn’t not think of them, the hills flattened underneath her and the tunnels crushed. The panicked melee for the eggs.
When it was done Billy went to look for a place where they could stay and watch the stars without ants. Olivia left her clothes in the clearing and walked with the long grass under her knees. She hadn’t meant to go far but she was pimply with hives and in the effort to distract herself she soon reached the river. The water was silver where the moon hit it and depthless black in the shadows. She stepped in and let it curl around her shins and she stayed like that for a while.
Two boys on a night float came on, innertubes black on the black water, moving as smoothly as satellites. She stayed, and they saw her, but nobody said anything. The boys rotated their faces as they kept steadily on, and that was all.
One of the boys would tell the story many times, about the girl in the gas mask, buck naked, a mile from nowhere in the middle of the night. It illustrated a point he would come to make in his work as a finance adviser, that there were no guarantees, only probabilites. If he stopped off with a client to invest in Johnny Walker, he’d say, there was nothing to stop them running into a yeti eating spaghetti. What he could offer was the calculated odds that they would not.
The other boy, the younger, never told anyone. But he would evoke her image without meaning to, at all the wrong moments, on the Blackfoot when the steelhead struck before the lines could slack, on the crisp night when his team won the Series. For every thing that clicked and coupled there were a hundred of these, bug-eyed products of incalculable events, accidents impossible to anticipate, that left things inside out and backward, love ruined, money burned. His friends said he went around with a black cloud over his head. That was how it had always been and you could point to bad planning, poor decisions, it was no big mystery. But he saw her each time as though from the blue, all tits and blisters in the poison air, augered in his path, still as a stone.
Nate Ochs lives in Missoula, MT, where he works as a smokejumper for the U.S. Forest Service. He is from Minnesota.
Tin House Reels is pleased to screen André da Loba’s “Tuttodunpezzo,” a short film about the too-perfect man. The kind of man who never loses patience, never forgets an item when he travels, and “doesn’t give his heart away to anyone.” One day, he falls into a hole so deep that he breaks in three — then marches on until he puts himself back together.
Da Loba created his animation with Illustrator, creating images reminiscent of linoleum prints, pairing the work with piano music by Renato Diz. Da Loba has said that the process of turning a printed book into a movie contains a balancing act between “a heavy-tangible-static version and a light-intangible-motion version—to see how [a] book [can] benefit from the moving image and vice versa.”
The film was awarded a Gold medal by the Society of Illustrators.
André da Loba is a published and exhibited artist whose work has received international acclaim. As an illustrator, animator, graphic designer, sculptor, and educator, Andre’s combination of curiosity, experience, knowledge and unknowing serves as the constant medium with which he creates and inspires. His work is an invitation and a challenge to change the world, however big or small it might be. Born in Portugal, he lives in Brooklyn where he is secretly happy.
Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.
We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your previously unpublished videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to email@example.com