PRAIRIE, DRESSES, ART, OTHER

An unassuming work of literary theory that will dazzle hungry scholars.

A shimmering and perplexing work that challenges the constraints of traditional prose.

In her finely tempered collection of essays and experimental writing, Dutton, author of Margaret the First, explores a conceptual take on storytelling involving the ineffable feeling of a text, beyond mere words. Her work is highbrow while remaining mischievously playful, reminiscent of the form-smashing thrills of writers like Lydia Davis and Anne Carson. The first section, “Prairie,” features five abstract stories that eschew plot in favor of hazy, memoir-like fragments. The poetic and peculiar “Dresses” is an artfully arranged list of excerpts from poems and novels that include mentions of a dress. Despite the content coming from outside sources, their collaged curation transforms the texts into something unsuspectingly resonant. The revelatory essay in “Art” helps unlock Dutton’s puzzles. Here, she discusses contemporary art and the practice of ekphrastic writing, a technique that not only describes visual art in words but also aims to render in language and tone how a work makes a person feel. The author explains her interest in writing a text that can expand beyond its edges and open “a space within which we attend to the world.” “How might a story embody a specific way of looking?” she asks. “Other” further develops these ideas. In the short narrative “Not Writing,” Dutton briefly discusses the minimalist paintings of Agnes Martin and how scholar Olivia Laing noted “they aren’t meant to be read, but are there to be responded to.” Dutton asks, “Is it wrong to want to write towards what isn’t intended to be read? What I want is a story that’s an object that can turn itself inside out.” The author not only introduces big ideas; she shows her readers how to grapple with her lofty questions.

An unassuming work of literary theory that will dazzle hungry scholars.

Pub Date: April 23, 2024

ISBN: 9781566897037

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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