September 26, 2016 | by Randy Rosenthal
Moonstone, Sjón’s latest novel, has been called “the gayest book in Iceland.” It follows the sixteen-year-old Máni Steinn, a queer hustler and cinephile whose life becomes upended by the Spanish flu of 1918 when the pestilence ravages Reykjavik. With the country fearful of any bodily contact, Máni can no longer pick up “gentlemen,” and the cinema houses are shut down. Máni finds solace in a new friendship with Sóla G, a beautiful feminist who rides a motorcycle and dresses all in black. When Máni gets tangled up in a sodomy scandal that threatens to humiliate the homophobic country, Sóla is perhaps the only person who can help him.
As with Sjón’s previous books—The Whispering Muse, The Blue Fox, and From the Mouth of the Whale—the magic of Moonstone lies in language. Máni Steinn doesn’t just love movies but “lives in the movies. When not spooling them into himself through his eyes he is replaying them in his mind.” Máni is illiterate, and as he struggles to read, “the letters of the alphabet disguise themselves before his eyes, glide between lines, switch roles in the middle of a word, and might as well be a red cipher to which he does not have the key.” Sjón’s easy way with words goes back to the Icelandic sagas he devoured as a child. He has internalized the lyrical language of epics, myths, folktales, and religion—“the old great narratives,” as he calls them.
Moonstone has been praised all around, with David Mitchell calling it “Sjón’s simmering masterpiece,” and it has won nearly all of Iceland’s literary prizes, including the country’s most prestigious: the Icelandic Literary Award. Sjón and I met once in New York in 2013, to discuss his earlier works; this month he was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him about Moonstone over e-mail. Read More »
August 30, 2016 | by Irina Reyn and Emily Barton
Last month, after her reading at the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, New York, Irina Reyn sat down for an onstage conversation with the novelist Emily Barton. Reyn had read from her new novel, The Imperial Wife, in which two women—Catherine the Great in eighteenth-century Russia and Tanya in contemporary New York—negotiate marriage and ambition, on two very different registers. Barton’s third novel, The Book of Esther, was also published this summer. It imagines a nation of Turkic warrior Jews transposed from the Middle Ages to World War II–era Europe and follows one woman’s Joan of Arc–style quest to defend her people. Unsurprisingly, the conversation quickly became a lively discussion about the writing of both novels, gender and work, and the standing of women in the current political climate. —Ed. Read More »
August 9, 2016 | by Meg Lemke
Brandon Graham draws late into the night, so he promised me he’d set his alarm to wake up for our interview at ten A.M. his time. He was up when I called him by Skype in Vancouver, then we dialed in Emma Ríos in Spain, where it was already evening. “Let’s pretend it’s morning across the world,” Graham suggested. Ríos and Graham are the editors of the monthly comics magazine Island, launched last summer, which they have modeled as a kind of global conversation about the form. Printed in color and bound in an oversize format, each hundred-page-plus issue is a mix of comics, essays, fashion illustrations, and other pieces that approach the medium from diverse angles. Island has attracted significant talents—among them, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Fil Barlow, and Emily Carroll—whose work is published alongside that of lesser-known creators and recent art-school graduates. The anthology is currently nominated for a Harvey Award for Best Anthology. The tenth issue will arrive later this month.
Graham and Ríos balance their work on Island with other projects. Ríos is the artist on the best-selling, Eisner-nominated Pretty Deadly, with writer DeConnick and colorist Jordie Bellaire. Graham writes and runs the popular reboot of Prophet. Together, Ríos and Graham also edit another series, 8House, in which discrete stories take place in a shared fantasy universe.
Ríos and Graham founded Island as a platform for experimentation; they wanted to create a space in which artists could feel comfortable exploring riskier work. The first issue of the magazine opens with a short comic by Graham in which God bestows the “ultimate freedom to do whatever you wish with your time on earth,” adding, “don’t screw it up.” Island is about taking comics seriously, but, as Graham says, it’s still “a very serious joke.”
What was the response when you launched the anthology?
It’s a risky thing, because anthologies are generally not thought of as a good idea in the comics market. But then, just as the first issue came out, Grant Morrison announced he’s taking over Heavy Metal. And suddenly people are talking about magazines again.
Was Heavy Metal an inspiration?
Island is a product of nostalgia. Magazines from the eighties, like Heavy Metal and Métal Hurlant in France and Zona 84 here in Spain, came immediately to mind when Brandon proposed starting a magazine. Island doesn’t look like Heavy Metal, but it shares the desire to collect different story lines, include articles, and expand the medium as well as the viewpoint of readers. Those magazines are where I discovered artists like Moebius. I’d buy an issue to follow someone in particular and by chance discover new creators. In Island, we are bringing together artists from Europe and Asia—creators whose work we aren’t used to seeing on the shelves in the U.S. every Wednesday.
We’re following the history but also working against Heavy Metal. That was a very “teenage boy” magazine, and we’ve been conscious with Island about making comic books for ourselves, as adults. We are trying to make inclusive work that isn’t just made for—no other way to put it—masturbatory fantasies. Heavy Metal was very high-minded when it launched in France as Métal Hurlant. The modern equivalent became a bit of a joke, an airbrushed Amazonian woman on every cover. If you were a woman or gay or otherwise didn’t fit into the minor slot of its readership, Heavy Metal wasn’t the ideal magazine for you. Island is for a bigger community—not just dudes who like sexy barbarian women. Read More »
July 27, 2016 | by Zinzi Clemmons
In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collection. Look inserts military terminology into intimate scenes between lovers, refashioning hollow, bureaucratic language from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms with a human touch. (Even the collection’s title has an alternate military meaning: per the Department of Defense, a look means “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of influence.”) At a time when the U.S. automates acts of murder, Sharif insists that war is still personal—perhaps today more than ever. In one of its most quoted passages, she writes, “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY OF LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you.”
“By simply placing words from the Defense dictionary in small caps, and deploying them in scenes of intimacy,” John Freeman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Sharif has begun the process of renaturing them, putting them in the readers’ hands for examination.” Look confirms what I’ve known since 2014: Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East. I spoke with her about her influences, the role of the poet in today’s world, and the stories behind Look.
In an essay you wrote for the Kenyon Review, you said, “When I am asked to describe my poetry on airplane flights, at dinner parties, I describe it first as ‘political.’ Then, ‘documentary.’ And these two things seem to, for some, preclude aesthetic rigor.” There’s a popular conception that overtly political can’t have aesthetic value—that a political message degrades the aesthetics. Is your work a deliberate effort to rebut this notion? Read More »
July 22, 2016 | by Alex Dueben
Morgan Parker has a long résumé—she teaches and edits—that somehow hasn’t precluded a prolific career as a poet. Her first collection, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night, came last year; her second, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, is due out in 2017.
A few months ago, Parker’s poem “Hottentot Venus” appeared in the Spring issue of The Paris Review. Her use of famous names and long, playful titles (“Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-shirt of Macaulay Culkin Wearing a T-Shirt of Ryan Gosling Wearing a T-Shirt of Macaulay Culkin”) suggests that she’s light of heart—but she is, as one reviewer put it,“as set on understanding the world as on changing it.” Race and femininism are central to her work, which explores ways to look at the present through the past, to examine ordinary life through pop culture, and to consider the events of her own life. We spoke recently about the joys of lengthy titles, how her many jobs intersect, and the process of crafting a personal mythology. Read More »
July 19, 2016 | by Caitlin Love
Emma Cline’s debut novel, The Girls, may be loosely based on the Manson murders, but it isn’t really about Manson at all—it’s about the women around him, those attracted to life at the edge of the world. Though the book circles around the blunt facts of Manson’s crimes, it sidesteps the particulars, reducing him to a pitiful, failed musician named Russell whose only talent is tending to his wilting garden of devotees. Instead of dwelling on him, the novel follows fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd, who’s increasingly enthralled by one of the older girls in Russell’s circle.
Cline, a winner of The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize, writes with the kind of beauty the painter Agnes Martin once described as “an awareness in the mind.” “Marion,” Cline’s story in the Review’s Summer 2013 issue, opens with the line, “Cars the color of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways.” The Girls is set against a dreamy, at times abstracted, California landscape. Her descriptions shimmer on the page: trying to mimic a girl she admires, Evie stands straighter, “holding my head like an egg in a cup”; a teenage boy’s room reeks of masturbation, “a damp rupture in the air”; girls are “swampy with nostalgia.”
Though she’s encouraged by the warm response The Girls has received, Cline eschews the public eye. “I’m used to the isolated part of writing, the part where you’re doing a lot of work alone, in solitude,” she told me. When we spoke on the phone last month, she’d just landed in LA for a reading. I asked her how long she’d be out West. “Just another week or so,” she said, “and then I’m at large.” Read More »