Another brilliant issue. I’ve said it before. I don’t know where they come from. It’s always been my intention to assemble a small community of intelligent people for whom art and writing are as important as breath, people who love beauty and a well-turned sentence, people who want to create meaning against the empty culture all around, where bluster and bravado and the constant measuring of penis sizes (deals, bank accounts, brands, commercial fads, media blather — have I mentioned before how much I loathe the word microfiber?). Making meaning, achieving grace, and valuing silence are from before the Flood, ancient and subversive activities. The magazine is a little space for that.
Genese Grill is Numéro Cinq’s answer to the Vale of Trump, a politically engaged, passionate artist-writer who makes everything she touches beautiful. We have an essay from her this time, an essay called “Making Meaning: Italian Journeys” that takes off from a recent sojourn in Torino, where, as she is quick to point out, Nietzsche went mad. We also have images from an artist’s book she made — “An Apology for Meaning” — that isn’t an apology in the current degraded sense but rather a celebration of meaning in a gorgeously ramified foldout of painted images and words, also from the Torino venture.
Read the essay, meditate upon the images, and think about why the magazine is here.
There was a secret restaurant where a small fierce woman named Brunilde roughly took my order, displayed magical cakes with her wide toothy smile, briskly removed the empty plates that once held the most delicious food I’d ever eaten, brought me a shot glass with grapes soaked in absinthe with dessert, if I pleased her by ordering it, but growled me out the door if I was too full or too stupid to partake of her pride and joy. I was in residence at the Fusion Art Gallery on Piazza Amedeo Peyron, presided over by the wise and warm painter, Barbara Fragnogna, who told me about the market across the way which sold beautiful mushrooms, wild strawberries, and bread sticks with huge, juicy olives. When I wasn’t eating, or wandering in museums, I was building an elaborate book which folds and unfolds, and is painted and glued and stitched, and “gold-leafed” with foil wrappers from the many gianduji chocolates I enjoyed. —Genese Grill
Brian Leung (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke)
But there’s more of course. I love this short story by Brian Leung about the improbable friendship between “a Chinese-something gay boy” and an eighty-two-year-old African-American woman named Niola, and her decline and death. It’s a story about making family, about responsibility to others, and about dying. Immensely sad and touching at the same time.
When the police called, they asked about my connection to “an elderly African-American woman.” They didn’t use her name because she wasn’t carrying I.D. They didn’t tell me that she was dead, only that they were trying to locate someone who could identify her. I told them who she was and gave them my information and told them who I was and what had happened the night before. Maybe it wasn’t in that order. I could barely think because it had finally happened, Niola had gone off and gotten lost and now she was sitting in some police station frightened and confused. Breathless, I gave the police her son’s Oakland phone number. It was the second time I’d done that. Fucking Hebron. Fucking me. I slid to the floor, because for months I’d heard Niola but apparently only half-listened. —Brian Leung from “Where Went Niola?”
And Laura Michele Diener does an exquisite job with her review essay on Laura Thompson’s The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters, a book about six remarkable, scandalous, prolific sisters (intimates of Hitler and Evelyn Waugh) who were for a while at the epicentre of 20th-century literary life.
Few families experienced quite such unique interesting incarnations of unhappiness as the Mad Mad Mitfords, the six sisters and one brother whose fates spanned the ideological spectrum of the twentieth century, and whose lives read like great English novels, except they actually wrote the novels, or they were friends with the novelists. Unity Valkyrie, the sister who adored Hitler, was conceived in the town of Swastika, South Africa. What writer could have invented a more perfect irony? As Laura Thompson, author of The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters, declares, “Never again will there be six such girls, raised in such a way, at such a time.” And what times they were, those bright young years between the wars, before the world caught wholly afire. Nancy Mitford, the oldest of the sisters, although by no means the only authoress, wrote about the fictional Radlett family in her bestselling novel The Pursuit of Love, that, “they lived in a world of superlatives.” —Laura Michele Diener on The Six
Wave 16-1, 12x13x7″, stoneware and paint: Anne Hirondelle
Ceramic artist Anne Hirondelle is a discovery, guided our way by Rikki Ducornet (who also introduced us to Dave Kennedy in the last issue). Wonderful, swirling, shapes; liquid torrents frozen momentarily.
Dave Lordan via West Cork Lit Festival
From Ireland, yes, always something new from Ireland, we have a hyperbolic, scabrous, strange, blunt, insistent, slyly comic story from Dave Lordan. Reminds of John Banville. You can hear the Irish in the voice of the narrator.
I am racked day and night by pangs of regret that I did not wait until The County Manager had announced to me his reason for calling to my door so interruptedly in the middle of the night, before sticking him through the neck with my dagger – overwhelming surprise at the end of his life, that bloody exclamation mark I climaxed his story with. I must allow for the possibility that there was no reason atall why he called, and therefore that he died, and I killed, for no reason atall.
—from “The County Manager,” Dave Lordan
Already from our new poetry editor Susan Aizenberg: Fierce, lovely poems by Pamela Stewart.
Conceived at the edge of a cliff, born
into propriety, I was the wrong fish
in tiny denim overalls playing
with that red, wind-up bird which had flown to me
right out of my father.
NCNCNC—from “Trakl’s Daughter,” Pamela Stewart
Agustín Cadena via Union Hidalgo
We also have a short story from Mexico, Agustín Cadena’s “Maracuyá,” translated by Patricia Dubrava, a deft tale of intrigue, mystery, and sexual fluidity.
“No problem,” I told him. “Anyway, I can’t join you. I have a date with a friend at Maracuyá.”
It wasn’t true, but I wanted to leave them alone. The role of complicit cuckold isn’t comfortable. But a cuckold who knows himself cuckolded, accepts it and still makes a nuisance of himself is the most pathetic of all.
—from “Maracuyá,” Agustín Cadena
Also we have an essay by our own Mary Brindley on her biographical quest into the secrets of a mid-20th century Belgian opera singer, José de Trévi, who stumbled into her life in the form of a stack of faded handwritten letters in a Paris flea market. Little did Mary know how difficult her quest would become.
At first, it was all fun and games—deciphering his handwriting, translating his letters from French to English, digging into archives to read reviews of his performances. I fancied myself a kind of private detective, and everything de Trévi wrote about the opera, the people he spent time with, the way he spent his days, even his tone and the expressions he used, were clues into who he was. But de Trévi’s life still remained largely a mystery. I could find nothing about who Elsa was, why de Trévi left the opera, or even how he died. I followed every lead and hit hundreds of dead ends and gave up on the project altogether more than once. And then, after a time, I’d feel the nag of unanswered questions, and I’d return to the books, the operas, the letters, and let de Trévi lure me back into the lonely hole of biographical research.
José de Trévi
Mark Cox graces this issue with a clutch of prose poems, touching, complex, edgy texts (micro stories) on childhood and death. Bleak in a sense, but beautiful. Lovely writing.
Their skeletons are still below the spillway. There is even some ravaged hide left, if one would call it that. Tough way to go, the boy thinks. The two goats even seem to be facing each other, just as they must have on the dam itself, barring each other’s passage along the narrow walkway. Not quite halfway across is where it seems to have happened, they met here and could go no further. The boy kicks a stone down and feels it in his stomach as it drops and strikes the earth. It hasn’t rained much this summer, the crops are withering, the county lake is low. The spillway is as dry as–well, as dry as these bones, now uncovered and bleaching in the high sun. Goats are gifted climbers; even plain old billies are nimble by nature. It would have been easy enough to pass. Or for one or both to turn and walk the other way. Headstrong, his mother calls it. She says it with a mixture of disdain and resignation, and just a touch of pride.
—from “Headstrong,” Mark Cox
Carolyn Ogburn took a break this month from interviewing composers to write an insightful review of Nell Zink’s newest novel Nicotine.
In Nicotine, Zink returns to areas she’s taken on in her previous novels: identity and identity politics, class, race, and sex. Lots of sex. But it’s really the stories surrounding these rather than any particular issue itself that seems to interest Zink, and she’s not writing to convince anyone of anything. In fact, she doesn’t seem to care what the reader believes, or doesn’t believe. Zink’s writing is immersive, demanding the reader’s trust. You’re either on board, or you’ve missed the boat, with Zink.
And Jeremy Brunger returns after a hiatus. He recently started an MA degree at the University of Chicago, and this essay is a meditation on his arrival in a new city, its contradictions of class and race, and his place therein.
That, of course, is the crux of my wonder: privilege is another word for access, and the underside of college towns is that their long-term residents rarely study past high school. I have access to an oasis in Chicago because I have a certain kind of privilege largely denied to those who want to escape those economic black holes which pepper the city. I am white—whiter than white, I already have a college education, which negates my lower class socioeconomic status—and so can graze the finest courses of education this country has to offer. The city of Chicago has one of the biggest, most developed economies in the country, and manages its own stock exchange, but half of the population starves for the fruit of that industry. Poor Chicagoans get murdered outside of one- or two-storey apartments with names riffing on Martin Luther King and faux-Parisian boulevards, not in front of Trump Tower.
Joe Schreiber does his usual masterful and magisterial turn reviewing the novel Panorama by the Slovenian author Dušan Šarotar.
Some literature defies simple description. Case in point, Panorama, by Slovenian poet and writer Dušan Šarotar. One might be inclined to define it as a meditation within a travelogue within a novel. Or perhaps you would prefer to rearrange those terms, it probably wouldn’t matter, because in spite of its subtitle: A Narrative about the Course of Events, Panorama stands at a curious angle to space and time. It is a novel of remembering, of telling and retelling, narratives within narratives, bound together by a coarse thread of repeating themes that are at once timeless and timely.
—Joseph Schreiber on Panorama
Jeff Bursey reviews Jim Gauer’s explosive novel Explosives, and we have an excerpt.
…we’re going to have to order another bottle of the Araujo, a wine that combines extraordinary power and richness with remarkable complexity and considerable finesse, a saturated purple/black color in the glass, followed by aromas of sweet vanilla and crème de cassis, intermixed with riveting scents of black currents and exotic spices, with overtones of minerals, coffee, and buttered toast, a subtle yet powerful giant of a wine, a wine that should age effortlessly for 30 or more years, though in this case we’re drinking it at the tender age of four, and while it is, undoubtedly, an alcoholic beverage, it’s so fucking tannic that you can’t feel your teeth, which seem to be cracking under the wine’s brute ferocity. Parker’s rating? Precisely a 98.
—from Explosives, Jim Gauer
And there is more. Always.