by Weston Cutter
Mary Gaitskill, Don’t Cry
If you read the NYTimes or Slate or, really, if you pay attention to literary stuff, you already know that this book’s out. Maybe you’ve seen Secretary, the movie based on a Gaitskill story that came out several years back. Maybe you’ve read Gaitskill’s stuff in the glossies, or read her last novel Veronica, which seemingly everyone loved tons. I don’t know. What’s happened now is that Pantheon’s published her latest collection and the stories within are, as usual, disturbingly good—hard to read in the best ways, giving a feeling like you’re wrestling with something intractable. She writes better than most writers in any genre, and she’s got an unsettlingly sharp eye for weakness which’d be just gutpunchingly wrecking if she didn’t also have an enormous capacity for something like pity or empathy. I feel like every short story collection gets praised for showing the flawed but ultimately luminuous nature of life, and boilerplate like that’s probably the best anyone can do in the face of Gaitskill’s stories: she’s dazzling and tough and true and very very very good.
Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
Along the same lines as the latest from Gaitskill, it seems like everyone and their uncle’s talking about Tower’s debut collection (ahem, NYTimes Sunday Book Review cover). And, again, along the same lines as the latest from Gaitskill, I can’t see how I can add much to the already din-like hurrah about this book. I don’t, for the record, find it quite the dazzle everywhere else seems to claim it is—Tower’s fiction’s good, but I’d rather read his nonfiction any day of the week—but it’s a solid and engaging read, and, sentence-for-sentence, there are stories in here (“Down Through the Valley” and “Door in Your Eye” especially) that are knock-down good, as good as anything else you’d see in Tin House or The New Yorker or elsewhere. And the title story: yes, it’s really good; read it and enjoy yr vikings.
D. A. Powell, Chronic
I’ll absolutely admit that I couldn’t get my head even a little around Cocktails, Powell’s last book (from 2004). I’ll also admit that Chronic took like a week and a half, two weeks, of sitting and reading and looking crossly at and wondering aloud just what the hell it was doing before, somehow, the thing just opened, early-spring-flower-like. I can’t find a soapbox big enough to stand on to shout about this, but, honest to God, Chronic might be the best hugely-complex book of poetry I’ve read since the last Jorie Graham or C. D. Wright—he’s that good, that complex and gnarly. Honestly? The best thing to do is buy the book but don’t read it right away. Treat the book like you’d treat some new strange animal: give it time and air and space for awhile. Dip into it for a week or so, two weeks (I realize I’m advising doing what I did, so, yes, I’ll admit to feeling like I got something significant from this book because of the approach). Keep yr distance. But then, after you’ve gotten used to the book in your life, sit with it for two hours, or three, and read it through and through, and just be flabbergastedly dazzled. It’s a magnificent book which contains, yes Whitman echoes, multitudes.