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What We’re Loving: Pulp Fiction, Struggles, Kuwait

August 2, 2013 | by

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Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an anthology of “domestic suspense” fiction written by women between the forties and the seventies, makes for perfect subway reading: not only are the stories magazine-short, but the book’s terrific, pulpy cover is a real conversation starter. In her introduction, editor Sarah Weinman makes a compelling case for the genre’s subversive impact, both on society and the modern psychological thriller. But influence aside, the stories are just plain fun: whether it’s Patricia Highsmith’s highly-strung nanny, Shirley Jackson’s paranoid runaway, or a noirish housewife with a sinister secret, the cast of characters will haunt you long after you’ve reached your stop. —Sadie Stein

My first read through Geoffrey O’Brien’s new collection, People on Sunday, induced a kind of dazzled bafflement. The language is precise but the turns are hard to follow: “It’s the opposite / of dreaming,” he explains in one poem, “except that objects / are alive and episodic, connected / by comforting blurs.” I especially liked a poem set in New Mexico (“This land was always postnuclear, / Out of time while in it”), and another about riding the F train (“it’s embarrassing / still to be riding this system, antiquated / As reading a newspaper or choosing / The semicolon”). After a second and third reading, I find that O’Brien’s most urgent theme is the difficulty of writing public-spirited poetry at a time when “the poem / Is now believed to be the most distant / Object ever seen.” You might think this would make for a poetry of despair or irony, but oftentimes it’s just the opposite: “We decided to rebuild our home again / In the intermittent sun, strangers with arms / Linked to protect the thing behind them.” —Robyn Creswell

The summer issue of Banipal surveys the fiction of Kuwait, with an array of stories by revered writers such as Ismail Fahd Ismail—one of the few known in the broader Arab world—but also a large number from young novelists, including Bothayna al-Essa, Saud al-Sanousi, and Abdel Wahab al-Hammadi. The work reflects the reality of contemporary Kuwait, a country that only recently embraced modernism with the discovery and export of oil. Don’t read this for stylistic experimentation; the style is, consistently, plain, direct, heartbreaking, and, somehow, utterly relatable. “After twenty years of being a wife, and a mother to five children, a man looked at her from afar and smiled,” writes Yousef Khalifa, “and she remembered she was a woman.” —Justin Alvarez

This spring I recommended J. R. Ackerley’s novel We Think the World of You as a cure (or consolation) for the blues. New prescription: one packet smuggled cigarillos, two glasses cold vodka, and Ackerley’s memoir My Father and Myself. The first time I read the book—Ackerley's memoir of his outwardly respectable Edwardian father and of his father’s secret life—what struck me was the author’s self-hatred. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Edward St Aubyn, maybe my contempt dials have simply recalibrated themselves, but now My Father and Myself doesn’t sound self-hating at all. What I notice is its humor, forgiveness, and almost heroic self-acceptance, especially when Ackerley writes about his own life as an English homosexual in the first half of the century. Guaranteed to get you through a rainy night. —Lorin Stein

I ordered Part 1 (yes, this is the six-volume epic autobiography) of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle after writing press releases for the interview with the author that we published on the Daily a few weeks ago. Knausgaard wastes no time in getting to the most profound of thoughts, so neither will I: “For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops. Sooner or later, one day, this pounding action will cease of its own accord, and the blood will begin to run toward the body’s lowest point, where it will collect in a small pool, visible from outside as dark, soft patch on ever whitening skin, as the temperature sinks, the limbs stiffen and the intestines drain. These changes in the first hours occur so slowly and take place with such inexorability that there is something almost ritualistic about them, as though life capitulates according to specific rules, a kind of gentleman’s agreement … The moment that life departs the body, it belongs to death. At one with lamps, suitcases, carpets, door handles, windows.” —Nikkitha Bakshani

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