The Wounded Angel | Hugo Simberg 1903 via Wikipedia
Gorgeous issue, bumper crop of fiction, beautiful essays, important reviews, everything suffused with a significant melancholy and a glimmer of hope in the transformative nature of art. We are all wounded angels being taken in for repair.
The painting above, by Finnish artist Hugo Simberg, is one of the illustrations from Paul Pines’ essay “Trolling with the Fisher King: The Archaeology of Dreams,” wherein the author, a poet and psychotherapist, engages his obsession with the mythic figure of the Fisher King, the wounded king of the Grail legends, an ancient, deeply mysterious image of sickness, transformation, and regeneration.
For several years after returning from Vietnam to the bewildering streets of New York’s lower East Side, I spent hours every morning at Nick’s Diner on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 4th Street recording dreams. The images that I brought back nightly from sleep, embedded in dramas that pointed to meanings I could almost but not quite understand, were irresistible and relentless. The old Greek proprietor in his lightly stained white apron and half smoked cigarette, the pale blue eyes peeking out of thick, black rimmed glasses was a guardian at the gate. At Nick’s I could sink into my dream-world and feel safe. —Paul Pines
Ben Woodard has, in the October issue, a major interview with Noy Holland, and we have a piece of her new novel Bird to go with the interview. Holland is often mentioned in the same breath as Gordon Lish, as one who came under his influence, and this, of course, extends NC’s ongoing exploration of all things Lishian. We also in this issue two stories from Greg Mulcahy (interviewed in the August issue), who also worked with Lish (Greg and I were being edited simultaneously by Lish in 1993 at Alfred A.Knopf).
She thinks of a boy in Kansas hung up on a swing, cripple boy, a boy they saw once, a little rope swing, a log on a rope, among the shadows. Among the signs. She and Mickey drove a Drive Away out, setting out from Brooklyn, dark, when the stars lined up how they sometimes do and anything you look at, everything’s a sign. SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP, the sign says. It says, Move while you still can. —Noy Holland, from Bird
Frank Richardson has written for us what amounts to the best review/introduction to the work of French novelist Michel Houellebecq I have ever read, the first review that put the emphasis on Houellebecq as writer and not simply as controversialist.
Submission is a chimera. It is a quest story, political fiction, philosophical investigation, and dark comedy. Houellebecq is a master of the somber joke, for example: “While I was waiting to die, I still had the Journal of Nineteenth-Century Studies” (39); “It’s hard to understand other people, to know what’s hidden in their hearts, and without the assistance of alcohol it might never be done at all.” —Frank Richardson
And, yes, two stories by Greg Mulcahy, brilliant in the short form, brilliant with irony inscribed in the grammar and le mot juste. As I say, we interviewed him in August. Wonderful to have some fiction to add to the interview.
Singer had a chromed .25, cheap, from his youth, more an idea or sentiment than credible weapon, but Singer was glad to have it. Singer pulled it aggressively and yelled some obscenity-laced threats Singer had probably heard in a movie. —Greg Mulcahy
Also from Ireland, Gerard Beirne’s monthly toast to the green, we have a story from Claire Hennessy, who, along with Laura Jane Cassidy and Eimear Ryan, recently launched the hot new online lit mag Banshee.
She used to imagine going to the Debs with him. Not just that, but other nights, other events. Maybe weddings, even, one day. Maybe. She used to imagine the romance, the magic. Rose petals on a hotel bed and his blue eyes fixed on hers as he slotted inside her, all so stupidly movie-like now she wants to slap her past self. She used to imagine he’d tell her she was beautiful, and that she’d know it was right. —Claire Hennessy
Oscar Wilde wrote an essay in favour of lying, and Victoria Best’s contribution to this issue extends the conceit, only she had something to lie about — suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she too long kept a secret that seriously redisposed her life. Weaving literary reference and her personal recollections, she composes here a brilliant text on being wounded and the necessity of fiction.
The thing about lies – or we can call them stories if you prefer – is that they are just too essential to our survival to be given up. They hold cherished parts of ourselves that have been driven out of sight; they allow us to express the truth of experiences that no facts can convey; they are often the repositories for realities that no one really wants to face. We want the lie to be a unit of genre fiction, a nice, clear readable chunk of badness, when really it is a highly complex literary construct. A thing of layers and implications and irresolvable paradox. And in the desire to master our lives, to be the people we want to be, and to explain ourselves as best we can, we all get really good at them. —Victoria Best
Julie Trimingham is obsessed with nothing. A small topic, a mere nothing, you might think. But she knew a physicist who shared her passion for, well, nothing. Lawrence Krauss and Julie Trimingham here combine interview with essay to make something out of nothing (ah, the trick of art, isn’t it?).
The simplest kind of nothing is–which is in fact, I would claim, the nothing of the Bible–is emptiness, is an empty void, space containing nothing, infinite dark. No particles, no radiation, just empty space. But then there’s the kind of nothing which is more deep, which is no space itself and no time itself. —Lawrence Krauss
We have in this issue, honoured to have it, the first published story by Cree author Darrel J. McLeod (who began life in a trapper’s cabin in northern Alberta), a moving account, based on Darrel’s family experience, of native children being transported to a residential school and, miraculously, escaping. This is a little story of triumph amid a long history of defeat, a sign of hope.
Early that morning, just before breakfast, were caught again – talking Cree. Bertha had found herself alone, one on one, with Margaret and so she whispered to her fervently for a few stolen moments. They huddled to one side of a statue of the Virgin Mary, which sat on a large pedestal at the end of the main hallway. “Ninohte Nigawi, ninohte Nigawi” Bertha mumbled over and over, squinting to hold back tears. Margaret cooed as she ran her fingers through Bertha’s hair, then gently wiped away a single tear. —Darrel J. McLeod
Also a double introduction: an exciting, compulsively readable short story of pre- and post-Iron Curtain Romania by a tremendous ethnic Hungarian writer, Zsolt Láng, and the first piece in NC by Romanian translator Erika Mihálycsa, who already has two more texts scheduled to appear in the magazine. (This all started when Erika submitted a What It’s Like Living Here piece, how we discovered her — wonderful discovery.)
In Ildikó’s head the pain is growing unbearable. It occurs to her she should turn around, go back up to her apartment, call Ervin to tell him straightaway that there is something more she needs to tell him about Pista Tavi that bears no delay, but which she will only tell if… Then something bursts in her head. With eyes wide open she acknowledges how the pain disappears at once. So suddenly as if it were a sign. A sign urging her not to go back, to leave Ervin alone, to forget everything, start a new life, step onstage again, play all the roles she had never played, to play as she alone can play. —Zsolt Láng
For poetry in this issue, we have the third and final installment of David Spitzer’s “Genealogy of the First Person”, a poem that is both epic, an engagement with three characters from the book of Genesis, and phenomenological, an exploration of the construction of the self. Mystical, brilliant poetry, sublime intellect.
I begin in another name, a name
clung to wings of flame, to
a body of fire. —D. M. Spitzer
Also new original fiction from Shane Jones, whose work we have twice reviewed on these pages.
At my father’s house I noticed the large wooden sculpture he had added onto for years. Nick and I jokingly referred to this as the, “burial ladders,” because there was something intrinsically morbid about them, purchased from a local gardening warehouse shortly after the death of our mother at fifty percent off. —Shane Jones
And an omnibus review by Jeff Bursey of two major works on the late great (neglected) William Gaddis.
With the movement of Gaddis from an outlier to a National Book Award winner for J R—or, alternately, now a writer who, in Moore’s view, is “anchored in America’s literary traditions” that include Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain—his position in the literary world should have been secured, but his second wife decamped a few years later and he was in debt from advances for a novel that had taken many years to write and, despite the award, did not sell well. —Jeff Bursey
And there is more! NC at the Movies, a review of the latest J. M. Coetzee by Jason DeYoung and yet another review, this one of Bill Hayward’s monumental new memoir in photographs, Chasing Dragons.