Saturday, June 17, 2017

Boston Globe Picks Counternarratives + Matthew Cheney on My Sentences

Counternarratives originally appeared roughly two years ago in hardcover, and since then has received a host of reviews, on these shores and across the Atlantic. What has not occurred since July 2015 (and The Wall Street Journal's positive take) was for a major US newspaper to review the book. So it was both surprising and encouraging that the Boston Globe selected Counternarratives, among a host of other books, for its Summer 2017 Reading Picks, and reviewer Anthony Domestico offered one of the better rationales to check out the book, a one-sentence summary that could serve as a perfect little blurb:

"Keene’s story collection is truly radical — in its politics, in its stylistic restlessness, in its rethinking of the myths we tell ourselves about race and sexuality in the history of the Americas."

The Boston Globe blurb
Beach reading? Why not?


It is National Short Story Month--did you know that? I didn't!--and author, blogger and critic Matthew Cheney has chosen to write one of the best short critical assessments of Counternarratives' prose for his friend, Dan Wickett, at the Emerging Writers Network. Titled "Keene Sentences," it provides a perspicuous reading of what he sees the Counternarratives' sentences--and the prose, spreading outward to the stories' structures, and the collection as a whole--undertaking and achieving.   He gets it, and gets it right on target. Here's a quote:
Here, again, deferral: “It was […] the very first thing he saw.” Because of it’s structure, this is not a sentence most readers will absorb fully on one reading. It is a sentence that explodes from the inside, its substance packed in between subject, verb, and object, and as such it enacts many of the ideas of this book — for instance, that the detail and complexity of experience is lost by some ways of telling stories and using language and constructing histories. What Keene is up to in this sentence, and in much of the book generally, parallels some of what Chinua Achebe achieved with Things Fall Apart, reflected in the painful, ironic final sentences of the novel (“One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger”).
The reference to Achebe's writing I take as the highest praise, and I thank him for this deep and illuminating reading, which is what authors hope for from critics. If you want to read more of Matthew Cheney's writing, you can purchase his Hudson Prize-winning short story collection, Blood: Stories, published by Black Lawrence Press in 2016. A fine review of the award is available here, and you can hear Matthew talking about Blood: Stories on New Hampshire Public Radio.

You can also read his 14-year-long blog, The Mumpsimus, which brims with smart literary and cultural readings and critiques, sharp as a laser but never wielded like a blade. In his most recent post, he writes about watching the films of the late German wunderkind director Rainer Werner Fassbinder now. (I keep thinking and hoping that Fassbinder's aesthetically innovative, critically engaged art and his guerrilla approach to filmmaking will inspire younger generations of queer, especially queer POC, filmmakers, and perhaps that's happening, perhaps on YouTube or Vimeo or another platform, so if anyone knows whether this is the case, please do post a comment.

In other recent posts, Cheney has explored Guido Mazzoni's A Theory of the Novel, and earlier posts walk readers through Samuel Delany's temporally-reversed Dark Reflections, and a book by an author I often recommend to students interested in speculative writing and good storytelling, Kelly Link's Stone Animals. There's a lot more at Mumpsimus, so definitely check it out, and pick up his collection if you can.

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