Dread Country: Colin Winnette’s ‘Coyote’

This week I reached into a pile of January galleys and removed a hideous green object called Coyote. It’s written by Colin Winnette, an author I’ve never heard of, for Les Figues Press, a publisher I’m not overly familiar with. It was selected for the 2013 NOS Book Contest, a prize I don’t know, by Aimee Bender, a writer who I’ve been meaning to read.

Poised somewhere between a long short story and a novella, Coyote selects a handful of clichés from the rural imaginary — missing children, trashy talk shows, crime procedural, domestic violence, etc. — and overcooks them in the deranged mind of its protagonist. This is a good thing. In order to write about rural America, writers must deal with its viciously circular self-image: the rural imagination is mediated by its own minstrelization on television and in cinema. It has absorbed a representation of itself that it never authored in the first place. … Read More

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The Forgotten Modernist: ‘The Country Road’ by Regina Ullmann

The forgotten Swiss poet and writer Regina Ullmann, whose story collection The Country Road has just been published by New Directions, was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1884. She was “a dreamy, slow, difficult child” — according to one of only a few biographical entries in English — born to a comfortable family of Jewish origin. When her father died, Ullmann and her mother relocated to Munich, where she came to know a circle of avant-garde poets and thinkers, including Thomas Mann, who claimed her authorial voice to be “something holy,” and Rainer Maria Rilke, whose literary sponsorship helped keep her afloat in dark times. … Read More

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The First OK Novel: On Miranda July’s ‘The First Bad Man’

Miranda July — the visual artist, performance artist, auteur, writer of short fiction, and now, novelist — is by every indication compulsively interdisciplinary, but not unselfconsciously so. Recently in The New York Times, she praised the story collection Man vs. Nature by Diane Cook, adding, “I don’t usually say this, every single story could make a great movie. (Not that I condone adaptations or think it is necessary.)” Earlier this week, in an interview with NPR about her debut novel, The First Bad Man, July referred to the “delicate processes of making the book.” Making, not writing, as if the novel were a film or an art object. … Read More

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Bienvenido Okey-Panky, New Home for Short, Weird Lit

Today marks the launch of Electric Literature’s Okey-Panky, an online magazine of “short, darkly comic, ironic, and experimental fiction, essay,… Read More

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2014: The Death of the Postmodern Novel and the Rise of Autofiction

The postmodern novel is dead. It is no longer what William James would call a living hypothesis: no committed literary novelist would now choose to write a postmodern fiction. Sure, genre and YA novelists may continue to churn out commodified, page-turning, loosely Victorian versions of the postmodern novel, but the robust fictional project of Pynchon, DeLillo, Coover, and even David Foster Wallace no longer holds sway over literary writing. In 2014, instead, many of the best novels were autofictions that vigorously reasserted the self. … Read More

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Leaving It All Behind: 2014’s Literary Trend Toward Solitude as Feminist Statement

There’s a section of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre that often gets glossed over in discussion, in favor of the novel’s central gothic romance. After Jane realizes her intended, Mr. Rochester, is a bigamist, with a mad wife in the attic, she runs away. She does this without much money, and quickly loses what money she does have — she finds herself utterly destitute, hungry, and exposed to the elements, wandering around the moor towns for days with almost no human contact except for begrudging, halfhearted charity. … Read More

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10 Obscure Nonfiction Books by Your Favorite Fiction Writers

Sure, your favorite fiction writers probably have a book or two of nonfiction in them, be it a collection of essays (personal or critical) or a memoir about what it was like growing up to be them. But what about the outliers, the strange nonfiction journeys of our best writers? Did you know that E. Annie Proulx has an expert’s knowledge of cider, or that Willa Cather may have written a biography of a young woman who discovered her own religion? These nonfiction anomalies in a fiction writer’s life can tell us about the author’s passions — or, at the very least, what they wrote about for money. Here are our ten favorite nonfiction oddities and adventures by some formidable fiction writers. Some of these books are rare and out-of-print; some are still readily available (and worth your time). … Read More

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Debut Novelist Sean Michaels Wins Scotiabank Giller Prize, Speaks Out Against Misogyny

The most unexpected—and welcome!—winner of the literary awards season so far is Sean Michaels, who last night won… Read More

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In Praise of Literary Failure

I’ll be honest: I’m baffled by the contemporary mania for the slogan “fail better.” Sure, in context, I appreciate Samuel Beckett’s famous line, but I can’t shake the notion that it comes from a piece called Worstward Ho. “Ever tried,” he writes, “Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” The way it’s often used today, “fail better” implies that we’re lurching and stumbling, toddler-like, toward a better world. But the speaker in Beckett’s fiction isn’t moving toward success; he’s moving worstward. If we take the Oxford English Dictionary’s first-order definition of failure as a “lack of success,” we can appreciate that to fail better is to screw up more drastically, more spectacularly than ever before. To “fail better” is to lurch and stumble ever closer to the abyss. … Read More

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