Staff Picks: The Musical Brain

Fernando recommends The Musical Brain and Other Stories by César Aira:

This is the first collection of short stories by the Argentine writer César Aira available in English. To say that nobody writes a story like Aira is an understatement—in a publishing world with a dearth of prolific writers of anarchic, surrealist, fearless fiction, his work comes as a relief for readers thirsty for the healthy unknown.

These stories actually feel more like surrealist paintings at times, or like complex art installations taking up an entire room. Even when a story starts off as an innocent childhood memory, however pastoral, it quickly unravels itself into a complex landscape. For instance, in one of these stories titled “The Infinite,” Aira recalls a game he had as a boy with a friend where one would say a number, then the other would say a higher number, and so on until they reached the highest number they possibly could until infinity. Or infinity times two. Or infinity times infinity. Or infinity times infinity times two.

In another story, the Mona Lisa melts into a thousand drops to finally leave the gallery and experience a sense of adventure. One of the drops starts a factory in Japan, while another starts an ad agency. Another has an intense sexual identity crisis, and eventually comes to own its individuality, while the other drops have their own unique experiences.

The best writers are the ones who puncture the yolk of what you thought storytelling could be. Aira’s work definitely does that, and it joins ranks with other great Argentine writers like Silvina Ocampo, Bioy Casares, and, yes, Borges. Every story in this collection is like a simple equation that ends up taking the entire chalkboard before you get to the end.

Staff Picks: Potted Meat

Kelsey recommends the novel Potted Meat by Steven Dunn:

Steven Dunn’s Potted Meat (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2017) will make you take a beat. You will use this beat to think about everything and then nothing at all. His words will conjure up from the pit of your stomach things you try to ignore. Meaty bits, fuzzy beats. Hurtful things. It is an extraordinary book.

Potted Meat is a novel separated into three acts—Lift Tab, Peel Back, Enjoy Contents. Each act contains a series of vignettes that chronicle the life of a boy living in a small, southern town in West Virginia. These vignettes showcase a wide range of humanness—everywhere and in between from experiencing emotional and physical abuse by the hand of your family, to the flutter of being young and seen. There are silences in these traumas, and Dunn plays widely in this space.

Some of the most poignant examples of these silences in the novel occur after conversations between the narrator and his sister.

She says, If you actually found love what would you do with it.
That’s a stupid question.
No it aint, she says. Just answer it. What would you do with love.

The body and survival are important characters in Potted Meat, but love finds its way in and creates the silences in the novel that ring most crucial. Love is heavily juxtaposed in this novel with pain—sometimes these two things become inextricable. Familial boundaries, racial boundaries, physical boundaries are all pushed and pulled. Dunn flexes his talent for this movement using a voice sensitive to the visual.

On the narrator’s “Usual Route,”

Draped across the tops of three trash cans are large bouquets of funeral flowers, wilted off-white and droopy pink roses buried in full deep green leaves. The sun peeks over the mountains, rays poking through fog, tinting everything soft yellow.

A stunning experiment of the economy of words and space, coupled as a masterful example of visceral imagery, Steven Dunn presents us a contemporary bildungsroman that we should read, re-read, and cherish. Potted Meat is a novel of great power and importance.

Staff Picks: Hackers

Swedish poetry aficionado Taylor Jacob Pate recommends Aase Berg’s seventh collection, Hackers:

THERE IS A THREAT
THERE IS A FEMALE FREEDOM
THERE IS A WAR & THERE ARE WAR MACHINES
THERE IS A HYBRIDITY
        RABBIT
        HORSE
        MUD
        BLOOD
        BIRD
THERE IS A WAY IN
THERE IS A TRAP

Just lean back / and come along for the ride
The alternative ending / slits its own throat

A puzzling thrashing dance
Playful, perhaps, at moments
Not tangle, a direct spiral, like sutures
If: you have to ask/Then: who is the parasite

to hack: to chop: to cut: to hollow: to hew: to cleave: to cleft: to groove: to gap: to slice: to split: to sever: to bore: to notch: to gash: to crash: to assail: to breach: to invade: to incise: to infest: to impale: to crack: to drill: to puncture: to pierce: to ax: to jag: to open

to open
to open
    open

this book is piercing/quiet    this book is angry/music    this book is hyper/active    ANONYMITY IS NOT THE SAME AS NAMELESSNESS    this book is a survival/code now is the war of the worlds    now everything is electronic    this book is not/propaganda    this book is a mirror: you are an animal body      too              ARE YOU HOLLOW    this book is a dark/lamp    this book is biological/theater: the players are the bodies with & without names: the bodies are no longer empty: full of  full of    full    this book is a flood/body/belly/before before    this book is a ghost/algorithm     there are three ways of handling danger        Fight: playing dead is not the same thing as being dead

Staff Picks: The Babysitter at Rest

Fernando recommends The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George:

Jen George is as close to being a rock star as anybody who is not a musician can be. 

Her debut book is put out by the independent press Dorothy, a publishing project, which is one of the most daring, innovative presses out there. Every story in this collection pulsates with energy that is entirely original and fantastic.

Speaking as a person who never went to college, if I’m reading contemporary American fiction I’m foremost drawn to writers that didn’t attend an MFA program. Though I didn’t know Jen George was one of these rare specimens when I started reading this book, after the first story I felt right away that this author is something special and I rejoiced. I am grateful for the rarity of this collection.

I realize in a review you’re supposed to describe the characters and “plots” of some of the stories in the book being reviewed, but part of the fun of this collection is experiencing it on your own. Kinda like trying to tell somebody why the record Philosophy of the World by The Shaggs is a masterpiece. It can’t be done, you just have to experience it.

In South Texas the expression ‘throw you corner’ is used when somebody backs you up with something (example: You: “I gotta go tell that obnoxious guy to move his car.” Friend: “I’ll go, too, and throw you corner”). I can say that reading this book, you definitely feel Jen George is out there somewhere throwing you corner. And there’s not a lot of young fiction writers you can say that about these days. Unless, of course, they’re put out by the Dorothy project.

Choosing Wisely at Malvern Books

If you fancy treating yourself to a splendid new book but you’re not that familiar with indie press offerings—or you’re simply overwhelmed by choice—we’re here to help!

We feature information on a lot of our recent arrivals on our New Books page, so that’s a great place to start. And our In The Store page shows photos of our monthly displays, helpfully organized by theme (like our Short Novels display, pictured above). Our erudite and enthusiastic Malvernites also post their Staff Picks here on the blog.

And be sure to take note of our Shelf Talkers cards when you visit the store. They feature personal recommendations from our staff, often with a comparison to a writer you already know and love.

If you like Ursula K. Le Guin, progressive ideas, and innovative fiction, the Ravicka Trilogy by Renee Gladman is for you. (Start with Event Factory.)

If you like Kurt Vonnegut and the Wu-Tang Clan, you’ll love The Free-Lance Pallbearers by Ishmael Reed.

If you enjoy the films of Tarkovsky, grimness, and the fantastic, you’ll love the work of 20th Century Russian writer Andrey Platonov.

If you like the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky or Andrei Tarkovsky, then try the cinematic novel The Glacier by Jeff Wood.

And if you don’t follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@malvernbooks), you really should, as we post heaps of photos and info on new arrivals and old favorites, plus links to rave reviews that should help you pick the perfect new read(s)!

In The Store: May 2017

It’s hotting up, and we have just the ticket… short stories for shorts weather, including Deb Olin Unferth’s debut collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance.

And for Memorial Day, a display of books that focus on themes of war, conflict, and remembrance, including Tom Sleigh’s Army Cats, which the Kenyon Review described as “a dynamic book in which Sleigh sets down his own wrestling with identity, and we are captivated by the multiplicity of selves that emerges.”

And our new t-shirts have arrived, featuring a fiercely adorable leonine design.