by Weston Cutter
There have been way too many great books out recently, and I’ve been way too busy for complete coverage, so I’m apologizing at the start for under-covering the following, all of which are really, really great and worth way more of your time than these short reviews.
In Canaan by Shane McCrae and There Is Something Inside, It Wants to Get Out by Madeline McDonnell
A good friend told me I was an idiot for missing McCrae, and of course he was right, but even knowing McCrae’ll knock you sideways isn’t enough: In Canaan will ring the same bell in you that Morrison’s Beloved did, or, at least, the overlap’ll make you wake and take notice—both feature runaway slaves weighing values none of us would ever want to be pressed to measure (life, freedom, slavery)—but the thing’s just seething alive, the language is..how to say this. You know those poems which feature wonderfully precise language? Those are good. And the ones that feature language which feels more chaotic, more wild? Those are also fun. And then those rare ones which somehow feature chaotic and precide language? That’s McCrae. His book’s to eat and carry for long stretches.
And McDonnell’s Something Inside is a trio of stories which, unless you’re missing something, will remind you why you like stories at all, or why you ever did—or, I suppose, it could be a collection which’ll finally make you like stories, after all this time of not having liked any. Here, for instance, is a bit from “Trouble,” the third story: “On second thought, the trouble started years ago. It started in December.” That may seem like an insignificant pair of sentences, but they immediately follow a woman running a red light. There’s more goodness in this book than is totally fair.
Both books, by the by, are from Rescue Press, which is absolutely the best press I’ve seen in a long, long time. Honestly, I can’t think of the last small-ish press that’s made books this gorgeous. I like Five Chapters, and their books are great (review coming soon of Jess Row’s Nobody Ever Gets Lost—it’s really, really good, read it now, buy it now), and certainly Ugly Duckling Presse does amazing things, but hot damn, these Rescue Press books, as objects, are as sexy as they come, and with only a few releases they’re blazing a hot-shit trail to keep an eye on. For real people. Get in on the game early.
I don’t want to go too much into the fact that I literally had never read Wright until this book, and how stupid I feel for that fact, but please know this: this book’s achingly, insanely gorgeous. I’m now fairly tempted to go buy every bit of Wright’s stuff I can find, all the way back to his earliest stuff. It’s unbelievable what he does—the touch is so incredibly light, the eye so mesmerizingly exact. I started this book as I was about to go to bed one night and then didn’t sleep for hours, read instead. I’m serious, too: read Wright. Everything he’s got. His old interview from Paris Review is pretty phenomenal, too, maybe obviously.
This is the first Dean Young book I’ve had an advance of, and so I’ve of course spent the last, what, month, feeling cool, and if you don’t know enough about Dean Young yet, google him and dive deeper, but at least know the following: 1) he needs a new heart, literally (holy shit update! He’s got a new heart! This is fantastic, fantastic news—whoever you are, be happy), 1a) he used to be (or at least trained to be) a nurse, so his own awareness of the trick and slipperiness of life’s probably a bit more thorough and grounded and attuned than, say, mine, which is dominated by fear and my lack of knowledge, 2) he came out with The Art of Recklessness last year which I’ll put money on being, eventually, one of the single most important pamphlets released in the last thirty plus years—there’ll be whole handfulls of us who’ll track back to that book over and over, digging into it for its hidden, strange instructions (the book’s a huge joy and necessary reading if you’re at all interested in creative writing—hell, creative thinking), 3) he is, far as I can tell, one of about 5 writers who almost everybody now reaches toward in some way or another, or at least a good swath of the writers you either already do or should care about—he’s surrealism and the New York School but with a realer, bigger heart (his large heart [not ironic] is, in fact, what’s always been most mind-blowing about him—he’s hilarious, yes, and jittery smart, but it’s real shit going on in his great, great books [for my money, the best entrance is stillFirst Course in Turbulence]). Anyway, there’s more about Young—not least that he’s apparently recently found new love—and Fall Higher‘s his hands-down most interesting book yet. Sure, okay: I fell away from DYoung for a bit recently, got Elegy on Toy Piano and couldn’t really feel what I thought I should’ve been feeling, didn’t get Embryoyo and only cared real recently about Primitive Mentor, and who knows if it was my fault as a reader or what, but whatever blip in Young’s ouvre may or may not even exist doesn’t matter: Fall Higher is fucking insane. There’s…I don’t know how to describe it. It feels riskier, somehow—there’s never been much bullshit to wade through in Young’s stuff, but this latest book’s been almost comically bull-shit-scrubbed. Plus this: there’s rhyming poetry. If you know Young’s stuff, you know that’s not what to expect, usually. I’ll say this: I don’t know what the man intended in using rhyme, but somehow the framework and singsong of rhyming stuff and the fact that Young’s poetry is almost entirely about stuff not lasting, about the beauty and brevity and comedy of everything, makes the rhyming poetry—the poetry which makes obvious the work necessary in design while somehow simultaneously commenting on the everything-slips-away nature of all life, designs included—weirdly large emotional items to come up against. There’s more (“If only my body wasn’t borrowed from dust!”), and it’s almost all gorgeous, and if, by the end of Fall Higher, you don’t feel your heart trembling in your throat, you need massive anatomical help, pronto.