Sunday, June 26, 2016

Recent Counternarratives Notes

天恩's Tweet of their live sketch of my reading and conversation
with Naomi Williams, author of the marvelous novel
Landfalls, at Asian American Writers Workshop, May 4, 2016.

It has been over a full year now since Counternarratives was originally published in hardcover in the US by New Directions, followed by a May 2016 paperback edition, and two months since it appeared with Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK, so it's very good news to me and my publishers that it continues to generate positive reviews and responses.

Among the recent US notices was Lucy Ives' brief and praiseworthy mention in her online New Yorker discussion of Danielle Dutton's new novel Margaret the First: A Novel (Catapult, 2016), "How Archival Fiction Upends Our View of History," in which she also praises Marlon James's multi-award winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead, 2014). This is excellent company by any measure.

To quote Ives:
Keene’s polyvocal narratives masquerade as “primary-source documents” and present convincing first-person testimony, while at the same time establishing undercurrents that undermine the victors’ tales—and any hope that we will ever fully settle on the truth.


While in Los Angeles for the Associated Writing Programs Annual Conference, I had the opportunity to chat about Counternarratives with Michael Silverblatt for his renowned KCRW FM program Bookworm. Though our conversation flowed like spring water and exceeded the allotted time, I wasn't sure how it would turn out. The result satisfied me tremendously, and I hope it's the same for Bookworm's and KCRW 's listeners. Many thanks to Michael Silverblatt, Alan Howard, Connie Alvarez, and everyone at KCRW, as well as Mieke Chew at New Directions, and Alan Felsenthal at Sound Cave.

You can find the conversation here.


Last December, Daniel Green posted on his blog
The best book I read in 2015 was John Keene's Counternarratives. Since I will have a review of the book upcoming in Kenyon Review Online, I will not delineate its virtues here, except to say it's the kind of challenging, formally innovative work that is also simply enjoyable to read. In the meantime, an interview with Keene from On the Media:
This is the highest praise, so I was curious to see what his review said about the book. It has now appeared at Kenyon Review Online, and is quite laudatory. Thank you, Mr. Green. Here is his conclusion:
In its engaging, often exhilarating use of alternative or unorthodox forms, Counternarratives abundantly demonstrates what “innovative” fiction at its best can accomplish: sometimes narrative content that challenges longstanding presumptions can be adequately expressed only through equally challenging extensions of form.

On the UK side of the Atlantic, the Times Literary Supplement "Summer books" section, which went live June 22, 2016, included a shoutout by editor Ben Eastham, who included it in his reading picks, noting that it sits at the "summit" of one of his stacks of books. Since his review is brief I'll quote the heart of it, which says that
Keene is among the contemporary American writers pushing at the boundaries of fiction, his angry, exhilarating stories about race and American history another counter-example (if it were needed) to the lazy assumption that literary innovation should be confined to the ivory tower.
Thank you, Ben Eastham and TLS!


In addition to the TLS's mention, another British publication, The New Internationalist's May 2016 issue included a concise but praiseworthy review of Counternarratives, which became Counter Narratives, in keeping with the book's title on Fitzcarraldo's cover. (The review, unfortunately, is only accessible to subscribers.)


Lastly, the French version of Counternarratives is slated to appear from Éditions Cambourakis as Contrenarrations on August 17! I had the pleasure of reading Bernard Hoepffner's precise and exacting translation, which manages, I think, to capture the spirit of the book and most of its style, but in ways that are profoundly French, so if you are in France in a few months then, please grab a copy! It does not yet have a cover (several good options are under debate), but the Advanced Readers' Copies are circulating, so below is a photo.

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