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PRAIRIE, DRESSES, ART, OTHER by Danielle Dutton Kirkus Star


by Danielle Dutton

Pub Date: April 23rd, 2024
ISBN: 9781566897037
Publisher: Coffee House

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.