Readers of Michal Avjaz are on familiar ground when, in his story ‘The Wire Book,’ lengths of wire bent into whole sentences are discovered lying on a seabed, and later turn out to be the work of the dead son of a country’s new president.  The wire book is entrusted to a team of restorers all sworn to secrecy regarding its contents, gagged until the ‘book’ is cleaned of clinging sea creatures and ready to be shown to the public.  That day comes some months later and a deal is brokered to publish the book that the people have been waiting so eagerly for, ready to be moved by the stirring words and themes of justice and freedom from tyranny one would expect from a martyr.  But what’s this?  The novel defies all expectations, confounding critics and advocates alike.  Experts can make no sense of it and so, like hermit crabs, empty it of meaning and fill it with their own.  The first two sentences freed from the metal tangle will serve to indicate the general tenor of the novel:

As Richard’s car plunged toward the green hillside of the Chapultepec, a dark figure holding a sub-machine gun leaned out of the back window.  There were three flashes and the sound of three short bursts of gunfire.

Car chases and gunfights and demons and roadside motels are the stuff of the novel and to the noses of the educated such genre trappings are as odious as the sea-slime that the words once hooked.  Like hermeneutists they stood ready to receive the message and enlighten the myopic masses as to its meaning, but the message was not one they had prepared for.

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Borges famously said that it is a “laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books,” and to that end never wrote anything more than a score pages long.  Trending thought it did toward the small, yet his work cannot be labelled minimalist.  There are pages, rather, that contain entire worlds, paragraphs as vast as the universe, and sentences that hum with the impossible magic of quantum mechanics as their limit approaches zero.  Borges’ stories are profound and playful and the delight he took in the paradoxical palpable.  He was a puzzler who knew the value of a puzzle is not in its solution; games of ontological chess were played with adversaries such as Nietzsche, Plato, Zeno of Elea, Bergson, Schopenhauer, & co.  With formidable erudition and singular vision it was inevitable that Borges should become as influential as he is.  But, lest the reader think this the preface of an article on his greatness, allow me to turn to the matter at hand: a few pale and wanting thoughts on the short fiction of Peter Adolphsen which, it will be noted, exhibits Borgesian traits.

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My review of Andrzej Stasiuk’s (trans. Bill Johnston) book Dukla is up on the M/C Reviews website.  You can read it here.


Toomas Vint’s story ‘Beyond the Window a Park is Dimming’ opens with the closing of the day.  Dusk is settling, the light is fading and Vilmer, “a relatively well-to-do businessman of fifty-eight” looks out from his apartment on a darkening park as he waits for his date to finish whatever she is doing in his bathroom.  (She is certainly taking a long time.)

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A prisoner arrives at a Soviet hard-labour camp and is asked the length of his sentence.  “Twenty five years,” he replies.  “For what?” he is asked.  “For nothing.”  “Impossible, for nothing you get ten years.”

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Asymptote, July


Be sure to check out the new issue of the poetry and translation (and more) journal Asymptote.  There is, inter alia, Sven Birkerts on Bolano, an excerpt from Viktor Shklovsky’s Bowstring (translated by Shushan Avagyan) recently published by Dalkey Archive Press, and a story from Berlin Stories by Robert Walser (translated by Susan Bernofsky), forthcoming from New York Review of Books Classics.

My first thought on reading Frenchman Eric Laurrent’s ‘American Diary’ was on the reception it might get from American readers.  The story is some dozen entries of a diary written by a Frenchman (thus inviting us to identify the diarist with the author, a presumption Laurrent does nothing to dissuade) that reads as xenophobic and dismissive, the condescension of a refined man of taste touring a glittering cultural wasteland.  Laurrent’s distaste is there from day one as he describes the imitation of Gothic Venetian architecture and the bastardization of high art (Boticelli’s Venus as a bathing-suited, roller-skated tourist sans the shell) of the Venice Beach hotel in which he is staying.  What follows is a satirical slideshow of the diarist’s misadventures as he travels from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Salt Lake City and in between.

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