We mourn the loss of Dactyl Foundation advisory board member Angus Fletcher.
Epistemological Poetics: A Walk with Angus Fletcher by VN Alexander
In 1994, considering a course on the “Literature of Nature” at the Graduate Center of the City University New York, initially I thought it be would too pastoral for my tastes—in those days I thought I was interested in art not nature—and I almost passed it up, but the fates intervened in the form of Linda, the all-knowing and benign department secretary, who said to me, “It’s Angus Fletcher,” and, without waiting for my response, wrote my name down on the roll. In this propitious way, I was introduced to the distinguished Renaissance scholar, whose methods fitted perfectly with his subject and whose work has been, ever since, a steady spring of inspiration. In manner as well as appearance, Angus might be described, with his vibrant white hair and beard, as a classic sage. He tends to think aloud in class—about Faust’s contract or the contrapuntal voices of a fugue or Whitman—and encourages students to join in as his wanders in his mental lake country. Joan Richardson has called Angus Fletcher “a magically gifted teacher in whose presence we hear what thinking feels like.” Indeed the synesthetic experience of his poetic logic was always instructive, leading inevitably to the unforeseen vista. Memories of 1994 recall that at some auspicious point in each ninety-minute session, he would suddenly deliver an inspired oration that would leave us all physically moved. To come upon such depth and breath of erudition is to feel precisely what García López de Cárdenas must have felt when he unexpectedly came upon the Grand Canyon. [continue...]
November 1, 2016
Marcella Faria earned her MSc in Biochemistry at the University of São Paulo and her dissertation subject was the controls in mammalian cell cycle. She earned a Ph.D. in Biophysics at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, studying the artificial modulation of gene transcription. She has been a Post Doctoral fellow at The Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and at the Collège de France in Paris always interested in the molecular controls of cell fate transitions. She has held a young talent grant leading her own research group at the University of São Paulo, and has been an associated researcher at the Butantan Institute in São Paulo. She contributed more than forty scientific articles in indexed journals and book chapters, edited two books, supervised students, and is in the editorial boards of Current Medicinal Chemistry – Central Nervous System Agent, Journal of Biosemiotics, and Cadernos de História da ciência do Instituto Butantan. In 2017 she will be joining Dactyl Foundation as a invited researcher to work on multidisciplinary projects, with special emphasis on word games in cell biology, and the various concepts of “fate” adopted during the 20th century in literary fiction and in cell biology.
The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind by Billy O’Callaghan
Posted on October 10, 2016 by Dactyl Review
What to say about Things we Lose (New Island Press, 228 pages) a book that stunned me, time and again. I might call Billy O’Callaghan a “writer’s writer,” if that term did not immediately consign a writer to obscurity. (In the USA, Richard Yates is often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” and until the movie Revolutionary Road, few people, apart from those who taught in MFA programs, knew his name.)
I would like to invent a new way to describe what I think Billy O’Callaghan will leave as his literary legacy. I would call him a “human’s human” (with a pen) or an “explorer’s explorer” of our dreams. I would call him a poet of the spirit. Or, maybe, to use a more prosaic analogy, he is a housekeeper who assiduously dusts the cluttered rooms we keep closed, even from our conscious minds. Continue reading →
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
Posted on August 1, 2016 by U.R. Bowie
Like many who have read this first novel, written by a young woman still in her twenties, I marvel at the very existence of the The Tiger’s Wife (Random House, 338 pages).
How could someone this young have written a narrative this complicated, this full of insights into human nature, this teeming with art—this GOOD? I have read several reviews of the book online and I marvel once again at the caviling, the failure to appreciate the book on the part of some reviewers. Have American readers become so inured to the genre of “domestic literary realism,” this dull, insipid stuff that dominates the publishing world these days—stories of ordinary Americans doing ordinary things, told, for the most part, in flat ordinary language—that they fail to appreciate something with genuine verve and brilliance? Continue reading →
Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, translated by Miriam Schwartz
Posted on July 25, 2016 by U.R. Bowie
So here we have one more translation into English of Anna Karenina (Yale University Press, 754 pages) the greatest novel ever written in the history of world literature (my opinion, but not only mine). The publicity announcements and blurbs make big claims for this book. Marian Schwartz, a renowned translator with extensive experience, “embraces Tolstoy’s unusual style—she is the first English language translator ever to do so.” Hmm. “Clearly a labor of love—over a decade in the making—this translation is the most accurate Tolstoy we have in English.” Hmm. Marian Schwartz “bequeaths us not a translation at all but Tolstoy’s English original.” Huh?
Such grandiose blurbery places quite a burden on the shoulders of the translated text. Let’s see if the text can bear such a heavy weight. Continue reading →
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Posted on July 20, 2016 by U.R. Bowie
I’m ten years late getting around to reading The Road (Alfred A. Knopf, 287 pages), but since it has to rank among the most powerful pieces of American fiction written in the past ten years, it remains more than worthy of discussion.
McCarthy here tells a tale of “nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.” We’re in the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Bad times have descended upon the U.S. and the whole world, consequent upon some enormous Catastrophe. We are never told what happened—it could have been a nuclear war—but one thing is obvious: something really big has blown, leaving ash all over the earth and floating through the air. Apparently most animals are extinct, and the few human beings who survive face fellow humans who are, largely, living beastly lives. Continue reading →
The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon
Posted on July 17, 2016 by U.R. Bowie
A literary truism: good comic writing, any comic writing that professes to call itself literary fiction, must be undergirded with a firm foundation in seriousness. Nikolai Gogol was/is the greatest comic writer in Russian literature; his works are profound. Vladimir Nabokov wrote the following about Gogol’s long story, “The Overcoat,” widely considered the best story ever written in Russia: “The diver, the seeker for pearls, the man who prefers the monsters of the deep to the sunshades on the beach, will find in ‘The Overcoat’ shadows linking our state of existence to those other states and modes which we dimly apprehend in our rare moments of irrational perception.”
Too many contemporary American writers of literary fiction are under those umbrellas on the beach. If they are swimming at all they are swimming in the shallows. There are depths to be plumbed through the art of writing creative fiction. Why not plumb them? Is it too risky? Is it easier to wade into tepid waters and potter around there? Time to take a deep breath and dive down deep now, modern American author. Time to stop your “shit-swimming” (Hemon’s term, taken out of context) in the literary shallows.
The Making of Zombie Wars (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 307 pages) begins with Hollywood silliness—amateur screenwriters pitching ideas to one another in a Chicago workshop—the idiocy and mindlessness of Hollywood (and of the whole U.S. A.), lurks in the background all the way through to the end. Practically all of Hemon’s books with American characters in a U.S. setting present a picture of our country teeming with idiots. This novel is set in 2003, just as we were embarking on what will surely go down as one of the most idiotic foreign-policy decisions of the twenty-first century: the invasion of Iraq. Continue reading →
Going Dark: Selected Stories by Dennis Must
As I read Going Dark, Selected Stories by Dennis Must, (Coffeetown Press, 170 pages) I saw a realistic foundation in each story. Here is a recognizable world with real people suffering real-life anguish. What interested me, however, was the way the author then handled time, space, and imagination. To come to grips with it, I had to invent a literary term—lyrical surrealism—to distinguish Must’s work from fantasy which, to my mind, means dragons and dragonspeak, time warps, elves and men with long beards carrying oaken staves and speaking some dialect of incomprehensible origin.
Continue reading →
Posted in just literary fiction | Tagged magical realism, surreal writing style
Minimum Maintenance by Carolyn Colburn
The protagonist and narrator in Minimum Maintenance (Bonnie’s Mews Publications, 240 pages) by Carolyn Colburn is a thirteen-year old girl named Sugar, named so because her mother didn’t want to say “shit” on camera. Sugar bumps along in the wake of her untethered mother from Minneapolis to Up North to Montana, Oklahoma, Nevada and parts in between, smoking cigarettes and joints, working on a tattoo and making fleeting friendships along the way. The title indicates the nature of Sugar’s childhood along the back roads, where dead cars pile high and outliers hang onto reality for dear life, doing what they do with drugs, booze, guns, sex, and hair dye.
Continue reading →
Posted in coming of age | Tagged gritty literary fiction, nonlinear narrative
The Conductor by Sarah Quigley
It is easy to understand how The Conductor (Vintage, 303 pages) stayed on the best seller list for weeks and weeks in New Zealand. The story is compelling, and Sarah Quigley knows how to tell it. Against the background of the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War Dmitry Shostakovich is writing his Seventh Symphony, struggling to finish it while German bombs are falling all around him. Meanwhile, the main character, Karl Il’ich Eliasberg (1907-1978), the second-rate conductor of a second-rate orchestra, goes about his life of quiet desperation, unaware that circumstances are coming together so as to place him at the center of history.
Continue reading →
Posted in just literary fiction | Tagged postmodern literary fiction, realism in fiction
Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon
I’ve read all of Aleksandar Hemon’s books. They have been blurbed and reviewed by the most enthusiastic of blurbers and reviewers: “dazzling, astonishingly creative prose” with “remarkable, haunting autobiographical elements.” The latest Hemon offering, Love and Obstacles (Riverhead Books, 210 pages), is a series of short stories, most of which continue in Hemon’s now familiar reminiscent strain. They amount to a kind of Bildungsroman, the story of a guy from Sarajevo who comes to America—in a word, Hemon’s own story, and therein lies the problem. Or, to put it more precisely, there may have been no problem when he started writing in this nostalgic, reminiscent vein, but by now the problem is obvious. What I’m writing about below is, primarily, that problem.
Continue reading →
Posted in just literary fiction | Tagged innovative writing style, striking metaphors |
The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
The Betrayers (Little, Brown & Co, 267 pages) begins with a Russian expression on a young woman’s face. A pretty blonde woman working as hotel clerk in Yalta is berated by a young woman from Israel, who insists she be given a room. The clerk “endured the assault with a stiff, mulish expression. A particularly Russian sort of expression, Kotler thought. The morose, disdainful expression with which the Russians had greeted their various invaders. An expression that denoted an irrational, mortal refusal to capitulate—the pride and bane of the Russian people.”
Continue reading →
Posted in just literary fiction | Tagged character-driven story, realism in fiction, unassuming literary style |
One of the many great events scheduled for the Millbrook Literary Festival.
The 8th annual Millbrook Literary Festival will be held on May 21, 2016, from 10AM to 5PM, carrying on the vision of Festival founder Scott Meyer, who sought to engage the local community, share his love of books, and encourage writers.
The 2016 Festival will feature nationally recognized authors, including Lauren Belfer, K. L. Going, and Valerie Martin, and introduce up-and-coming authors such as Owen King, the graphic novelist son of Stephen King. The Festival will support our talented local and regional writers with a workshop meet-up, a publishing panel, book-to-screenplay writing panel, and a new writing award in honor of Scott Meyer. With funding from the New York Council for the Humanities, we will present Peter Meineck, offering a program specially designed for veterans and their families. Our many community development programs include a panel with Fountains residents sharing their experiences with young readers and, as always, our Young Writers’ Showcase, as well as a number of fun children’s panels. Many more authors and illustrators will be participating throughout the day at the Millbrook Library on Franklin Avenue. See our website for updates on participating authors.
We are seeking your financial support to make this year’s Festival a success. Here are some details about our projected budget:
$1,200 tent, table, and chair rentals
We are expanding this year to provide space for more authors.
We’ve got most of this covered. Thank you, Millbrook Tribute Gardens!
$300 Projects for Children and Young Adults
We’ve already got this covered. Thank you, Millbrook Rotary!
$100-$500 Honoraria for Authors
We want to attract talented authors to the Festival and reward them for their valuable contributions. Help us recruit more exciting authors for 2016.
We’ve got some of this covered. Thank you, New York Council for the Humanities and Millbrook Free Library.
$1,200 Signage / Community Outreach / General Overhead
Yard signs, fliers, posters, radio and print ads, and etc.
$250 Scott Meyer Award
Open to any local / regional author. See writing award details on our web page.
Help launch this annual literary award to honor our Festival founder!
This year the Dactyl Foundation (dactylfoundation.org) will be helping raise money for programming and outreach by accepting your tax-deductible donations on our behalf. Donations can be made online at the Festival website or by sending a check payable to “Dactyl Foundation,” with “Millbrook Literary Festival” in the memo section, to Millbrook Literary Festival, P.O. Box 1349, Millbrook NY 12545.
We also have opportunities for businesses to advertise in our printed Festival program. Please contact me directly if you have any questions at email@example.com. On behalf of the committee, I thank you for your support for the Millbrook Literary Festival. Your generosity will be acknowledged in the Festival program and on our website millbrookliteraryfestival.org
Chair, Millbrook Literary Festival
Sea of Hooks (McPherson & Co) was nominated by Barbara Roether, author of This Earth You’ll Come Back To. In her review of Hill’s unusual novel, Roether writes, “There is a paradox that floats through the Sea of Hooks, which is that the experience of reading it is almost the opposite of how it is written. That is to say, while the story is told in its short collage-like segments, their effect is an almost seamless classical narrative. The way sections move from multiple perspectives, dreamtime, real-time, then meld together with such cohesive and penetrating storytelling, is a testament to the author’s insightful eye for detail and character.”
We can say that Sea of Hooks is a long narrative prose poem, which may be the essence of what it is to be a literary fiction novel.
Continue to Dactyl Review.
The wild horses in The Wild Horses Of Hiroshima (240 pages) are certainly intriguing, as with the title and cover art, and play a strong role at the story’s end by appearing in the streets of Hiroshima to wander about as a healing force, cared for by the citizens. They derive from the imagination of a novelist who is also a character in the novel, who is also creating a narrative. The horses seem to emphasize purity and nobility, pounding through the city in herds, a shield against nuclear war and against the violent nature of the human species itself.
This novel inside the novel begins approximately half way into the story, following a background beginning with the atom bomb attack on Hiroshima and its hideous devastation. A young American man has been a penpal with a young Japanese girl, and after the war, he goes to Hiroshima to find her. They marry and move to New Hampshire, bearing a son, Yukio. Yukio becomes a strong, husky young man who survives the attack of a bear which kills his father. He and his mother, Miyeko, return to Japan where he becomes a sumo wrestler. Time passes and he retires to write novels. The novel within a novel begins, with occasional returns to the exterior story of Yukio and his mother, plus Yukio’s geisha, Satoko. [continue...]
Throughout most of our lives, we can ignore our fears about the threat of non-existence that yawns beyond the casket with as much reality as the non-existence out of which we came into our cradles. But when facing death, our own or that of a loved one, we feel compelled to review the idea of after life. Believers ratchet up their beliefs and atheists, like Hal in Jim Snowden’s Dismantle the Sun (Booktrope, 324 pages), hang tough.
According to conventional wisdom, atheists are imaginary creatures. No one (except other atheists) believes they exist, certainly not in the foxhole of impending death. This is why deathbed conversions are expected, even in the most “literary” of end-of-life novels, despite the fact that one of the accepted roles of a literary fiction author is to question how we make sense of our lives. If most novels have the same after-life-affirming answer, I wonder if these novelists are really asking themselves the question, or merely posing it rhetorically for the sake of a denouement. Every deathbed conversion, it seems to me, is another failure to actually question the meaning of life.
Snowden’s courageous refusal to backslide into belief for the sake of an emotionally “satisfying” ending makes him a strong contender for this year’s Dactyl Foundation Award for Literary Fiction (nominated by Paul Xylinides, see review). If the award were given for lack of sentimentality alone, Snowden would win, hands down. The novel is about Hal Nickerson, a high school teacher in Michigan, whose wife Jodie is dying of cancer in the dead of a Great Lake winter. Defending his individuality, Hal largely resents others who try to console him with their own death stories: how accurate was it for them to mix their “pain with Hal’s, as if they and the rest of humanity were manufacturing some sort of agony hash? Surely every death had its own, flavor, its own texture and temperature.”
Continue to Dactyl Review.
In the last two weeks of the year, Dactyl reviewers posted seven excellent reviews of some very fine works of fiction. Thanks to all those who participated in Dactyl Review in 2015.
Sea of Hooks by Lindsay Hill
Posted on December 31, 2015
Lindsay Hill casts a magician’s spell across his Sea of Hooks (McPherson, 348 pages). On the surface his world is rendered in bright pixels of quivering light, while underneath a seamless narrative undercurrent pulls us into the mysterious depths of experience. For the reader willing to dive under, this journey is unforgettable.
Sea of Hooks is, on the one hand, a fiercely original Bildungsroman set in San Francisco in the 50’s and 60’s. Christopher is an overly imaginative boy, part Holden Caulfield and part Little Lame Prince, who lives in precarious affluence in a darkish Victorian on the edge of Pacific Heights. His delicate, high-strung mother is obsessed with Japanese culture and dead by suicide in the first paragraph. Dad works in finance on the Pacific Stock exchange, until he doesn’t anymore. There are prep schools, bridge games, Dickensian neighbors like the wise and wonderful Dr. Thorn; along with house fires, a very nasty tutor/pederast from Stanford, a trip to Bhutan and encounters with Buddhist monks. Hill’s rich prose makes us feel Christopher is someone we have always known, a boy who lives in a house we have been to, whose eccentric mother we’ve had tea with, whose city we are walking in. Continue reading →
This Earth You’ll Come Back To by Barbara Roether
Posted on December 30, 2015
This vivid, lyrical, character and place-based story (McPherson, 250 pages) begins with Rose Healy Koehner’s youngest daughter, Stephanie, searching a rural Ohio cemetery for Rose’s grave in 2008 while the deceased Rose watches from above and embarks on her life’s story told in the first person. The prickly, fondly contentious, mother-daughter relationship is apparent from the start in the underlying current of criticism that Rose levels at her daughter:
“Course you couldn’t find it right away…You should have used the sense God gave you and asked your brother…Why you always insist on making things hard for yourself I’ll never know; but it’s just like you to take a simple errand and turn it into a full-blown crusader pilgrimage.”
Stephanie, the youngest daughter of Rose’s ten children, has returned home after decades of wanderings, having run away at an early age, in part as a result of abuse that her family refused to confront. Continue reading →
Emma Who Saved My Life by Wilton Barnhardt
Posted on December 28, 2015
Every once in a while a reviewer receives a book he puts on the shelf and just wishes it would go away. Emma Who Saved My Life (St Martin’s, 496 pages) is that kind of book.
Cursed with what is arguable the worst title ever given a novel ( and double-cursed with a depressingly ugly dust jacket), it had press releases that touted it with superlatives that would make Gore Vidal blush. It’s in the fist person and has one of those woesome post-adolescent narrators. Worse, it’s a first novel by a guy named Wilton who is at Oxford working on a doctoral thesis about Henry James.
Eventually I opened it and started reading with a promise to break off after the first chapter (or 10 minutes) and go mow the lawn. When I reached Page 75 I realized that I hadn’t been counting either chapters or time but was totally caught up in this stunning, witty story of a young man’s attempt to become a New York actor.Continue reading →
Isaac: A Modern Fable by Ivan G. Goldman
Posted on December 27, 2015
How should we suppose poor Isaac felt — son of a father all-too-willing to sacrifice him at the suggestion of some voice in his head? Christians are wont to overlook the obvious horror and absurdity of the Biblical tale. According to some (less awful) Jewish interpretations of events, it was perhaps Satan, as an agent of God, who spoke to Abraham, which would make more sense to those who imagine God to be not quite so sadistic. Either way though, what kind of man would this traumatized son become? In Isaac: A Modern Fable (Permanent, 223 pages), Ivan G. Goldman has arranged it so that Isaac, after the mishap at the altar, has been granted the gift of eternal youth. The identity of benefactor is not clear; the gift may be from Satan or from Jehovah. Isaac himself has never been able to decide, as his immortality and eternal youth often seem to him like a curse.
Goldman’s Isaac has spent a couple thousand years bouncing around from identity to identity, never amounting to much, despite his miraculous powers of longevity. Continue reading →
Dead Woman Hollow by Kass Fleischer
Posted on December 19, 2015
In these Instagram days it seems any book can find itself tagged a #ForgottenClassic a little more than an hour after its published, and so the best books have to await the time when we find them, just beyond the nearest rise, waiting for us when we get to them. Kass Fleisher’s Dead Woman Hollow (SUNY Excelsior Editions, 194 pages) is one of the latter, a book for the ages, published just short of four years ago as I write, a historical novel in three parts and with two intermezzos, titled “Before” and “After” respectively and perhaps unsurprising. But that’s all that’s unsurprising about this tightly woven, triple-stranded, tragic yet transcendent, even triumphant, ages-of-women chronicle set in the mountains of twentieth century Appalachian Pennsylvania.
It’s a hard book to describe though an easy, and compelling, read. NPR luminary and poet Andrei Codrescu describes it as “tak[ing] its place alongside True Grit, My Antonia, and Deliverance,” a list that will strike the careful observer as taking a bloody turn at the end.Continue reading →
Wanderer Springs by Robert Flynn
Posted on December 13, 2015
Up in that part of state just east of the Cap Rock, south of the Red River and west and north of Wichita Falls is a region of the country the residents continue to call “East Texas,” although, even at 70 mph it is hours from Amarillo, Lubbock or Spur, a half-day from San Angelo and Odessa, and a long, hard, hot day from Ozona or El Paso.
It is a part of the country that rhetorician Jim Cordon once called “terra incognito,” forgotten by most of Texas, ignored by everyone else. It is a hard land, filled with rattlesnakes, mesquite, winters that freeze livestock and people, summers that dry the ground so hard it cracks.
It is an area where sandstorms, “blue northers,” tornadoes, floods, droughts, insects and wild animals are the norm, and where the greatest accomplishment many folks can boast about is their ability to seek prosperity in an environment that is at its best inhospitable and at its worst hostile. Continue reading →
California Rush by Sherwood Kiraly
Posted on December 11, 2015
Ted Williams once said that the hardest thing in the world was to hit a baseball with a bat. The second hardest thing, he continued, was to throw baseball where a batter couldn’t hit it with a bat.
Williams might have added that the third hardest thing to do is to write an original novel about baseball. Oh, it’s been done. But for every home run such as Ron Hays’ The Dixie Association or Ray Kinsella’s Field of Dreams, for every Bull Durham and The Natural, for every book by Ring Lardner, Jim Bouton and Lawrence Ritter, there are volumes of strikeouts. Continue reading →
The abecedarium has a long literary history, and some of its best-known examples, such as Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary or Gustave Flaubert’s Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues, play with the form’s implied authority for purposes of satire. Recently Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby used the template to convey hellish fragments of an environmental dystopia. Suzanne Scanlon, author of Promising Young Women (2012), turns to a woman’s experience in contemporary America and offers a probing and artful inventory in Her 37th Year, An Index (Noemi Press, 161 pages). Continue reading →
Dactyl Foundation offers a $1000 award to any literary fiction author, writing in English, who has published a book-length work, novel or collection of short stories. To be considered for the 2016 award, an author must be nominated by a peer, another published literary fiction author who must submit a review of one of the author’s works to Dactyl Review by December 31, 2015.
The Dactyl Foundation Literary Award is designed to encourage authors to work together to promote literary fiction. The way the publishing and awards system is currently organized, too few people are in control of what books become known to the public. Too often the people making the decisions are more interested in the expected market performance of the work than in its literary merits. Dactyl Foundation wants to make it possible for more literary fiction writers to have a voice in deciding which works are recognized as literary. Dactyl Review does not have a staff of reviewers or judges; instead the literary fiction community is called upon to review and judge the works considered for the award.
See more: http://dactylreview.com/2015/11/09/nominate-your-favorite-literary-fiction-author-for-the-1000-dactyl-award/
The eighth annual Millbrook Literary Festival in Millbrook, NY is being planned for Saturday, May 21, 2016, from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Why do we need literary festivals? Whether we prefer printed books, ebooks, or audiobooks, reading is not something we do strictly in isolation. The Millbrook Literary Festival, in beautiful Dutchess County New York, brings together a vibrant community of readers and writers to discuss how what we read — in history, culture, science, politics, and etc — relates to our everyday lives. Unlike any other media, books really immerse us in different perspectives, giving us the opportunity to better understand a new idea before accepting, rejecting, or adapting to it. And this helps us develop empathy as a society. Every year, the Festival brings nationally recognized authors and promotes our talented local and regional writers, with panels that are accessible and interesting to all ages. The Festival programs are designed to keep interest in literature alive all year long.
The Millbrook Literary Festival, begun in 2008, was inspired by Merritt Bookstore founder Scott Meyer. Always with a vision to engage the local community, share his love of books and encourage writers, Scott drew on a committee of authors, editors, teachers, scientists, retirees and students to launch the first festival. Now hundreds of people attend the Festival every year, filling the restaurants and local businesses with visitors from neighboring towns, New York City and from all over New England and upstate New York. Together we celebrate the good and the joy of reading and attract new people to the wonderful world of the written word.
Support for past Festivals have been provided by Millbrook Library, Merritt Bookstore, Bank of Millbrook, Fountain Press, Millbrook Rotary, Millbrook Business Association, Hudson Valley Parent and Millbrook Tribute Garden. This year the Dactyl Foundation will be helping raise money for programming and outreach by accepting your tax-deductible donations, 100% of which will go directly to pay for Festival expenses.
Like the Festival Facebook page to keep up with announcements: https://www.facebook.com/MillbrookLitFest
VN ALexander will be available to give public lectures through the New York Council for the Humanities. Qualifying non-profit organizations in New York State can apply online at nyhumanities.org
PUBLIC SCHOLAR, NOV 2015 – NOV 2017
Alexander will be lecturing on the following topics: [continue...]
“I was pleased to discover in myself an uncanny knack for interpreting the hermetic language of alchemy, as if my book learning had been but a preparation for decrypting enigmatic texts, reading meaning into that which, on the surface, seemed meaningless.”
So says the unnamed narrator of Charles Davis’ The Pilgrim of Love: a ludibrium, an obsessively researched and elaborately plotted parody of an historical romance. (Parody, as I understand the term, is best written by an author who actually loves his target, but who can put some ironic distance between himself and his subject.) The story is set in the abbey of the legendary Mont Michel in 1621, when the absence of roadway access meant visiting pilgrims had to make their way around quicksand between dangerously unpredictable tides. The landscape always plays an important and often symbolic role in Davis’ novels. The pilgrims must interpret the patterns in the sand to avoid sinking in the lise.
continue to Dactyl Review
The Talkative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger
Review by Frank Marcopolos
Lurking in the shadows of the seedy underbelly of the American heartland are the kinds of people you’re probably scared of. The kinds of people you, perhaps, don’t think of often. The kinds of people who just scrape by, praying for lottery-ticket miracles, and Heavenly rewards, and three consecutive days of tranquility and security. People like John Jaggo.
John Jaggo, of course, is long dead. He did, however, come up with an ingenious way to preserve his thoughts about his rough daily life circa 2011-2012—an electronic diary, unearthed by future geologists-cum-psychologists, which becomes the narrative of The Talkative Corpse (CreateSpace, 192 pages) an intriguing novel by Ann Sterzinger.
Continue to Dactyl Review
Norwich 1144 – A Jew’s Tale by Bill Albert
Review by Charles Davis
In the preface to his latest novel, Norwich 1144 – A Jew’s Tale (Mousehold Press, 256 pages), Bill Albert recalls the encounter that inspired his story:
“I was in a sixteenth century synagogue in Safed, a town 1000 metres above the Sea of Galilee. The rabbi, who looked as if he had been with the building since it was built, asked me where I lived. I told him I lived in Norwich, England. He looked alarmed, and then without missing a beat he turned and spat dryly over his shoulder three times. Having thereby ensured that the Evil Eye was placated, he told me the story of William of Norwich.
“In March, 1144, the body of William, a 13-year old boy, was discovered in Thorpe Wood, near Norwich. His death was blamed on the small community of Jews in the city who were alleged to have killed him as part of a religious ceremony. Mob violence erupted against the Jews. About five years later, Thomas of Monmouth, a monk in the Cathedral Priory, wrote a book that helped to transform William into a local saint. This was the first documented accusation of the ritual murder in Europe of a Christian child by Jews – what was to become known, in somewhat different circumstances, as the Blood Libel.
Continue to Dactyl Review
Dismantle The Sun by Jim Snowden
Review by PaulXylinides
“Someone had to die for Hal Nickerson to live in the house that he and his wife Jodie bought for a song seven years ago.” So begins this dry-toned, cool, and detached novel Dismantle The Sun (Booktrope Editions, 324 pages) with a line and a sentiment that prove to be something of a mantra for its main protagonist and a lynchpin refrain for the narrative arc. In the world of nature — in the world of man — something has to die for something else to live. Some persons — the Nickersons — include this in their ample proof of the non-existence of a beneficent Creator, while others — the fundamentalists — attribute the state of the cosmos to original and ongoing sin. Both take it all very personally. Hal Nickerson’s atheism in conjunction with that of his wife informs all of his sensibility while providing a certain distance from the most basic issues of life and death, love and hatred.
As rational nonbelievers they try to live as much in accord with the laws of nature as they perceive them. Their aforementioned house had been designed in the clean spare fashion of the architects Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright:
“The cold inhumanity of Bauhaus fit well with Lloyd Wright’s desire to build in harmony with nature because Upper Michigan was a frozen despairing waste six months out the year.”
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Save the Date: May 30th 2015
10AM – 5PM Millbrook, NY
“The Millbrook Literary Festival [is] the best possible way to spend a summer day–walking, talking, listening, and thinking about books. It’s great fun…” -Valerie Martin, local author, winner Orange Prize for fiction
Dactyl Foundation is proud to be a sponsor for this year’s festival which will present over 50 timely, thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining authors and illustrators participating in panel discussions, readings, and signings throughout the day at the Millbrook Free Library on Franklin Street in Millbrook New York, 80 miles north of NYC, accessible by Metro-North Harlem Valley line. More info. [continue...]
March 23, 2015
We had many outstanding nominations for 2014 (and several late entries, hence the delay in announcing the award), and we are happy to congratulate Dennis Must for his fine work, Hush Now, Don’t Explain (Coffeetown Press in 2014), for which he will receive a $1000 prize.
In his review, Jack Remick called Hush Now, Don’t Explain, “a unique American novel, written in the language of the heartland before Jesus became a pawn in the political battle for the American soul. It is written in a subdued, subtle, understated lyrical style. It is as rich and diverse as America herself. It is at once a romance complete with trains, whorehouses, steel mills, and the death of the drive-in-movie theater.”
Here is Must:
These colossal land ships (trains) with spoked iron wheels taller than three of us…these were the engines of our dreams…Not like in the Pillar of Fire Tabernacle, where Christ hung on a cross and a single candle flickered under this feet…Everything inside the round house was glistening black, oil-oozing soot, except the hope curling out from under the bellies of those locomotives and their stacks, rising right up to the clerestory windows, then out to the sky and heaven. (109)
Thanks to Jack Remick for contributing the review. For more information about the Dactyl Award click here.
As I begin to write this on January 20, 2015, the news from Buenos Aires isn’t good. Albert Nisman, the federal prosecutor assigned to finally uncover the truth about the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, a Jewish community center, was found dead in his apartment. Nisman was about to reveal a high-level government conspiracy to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing, which killed 85 people. Argentina has long struggled with corruption and politicization of its government institutions, making it almost impossible for the nation to confront its demons—from sheltering Nazis to the 1970s/1980s rounding up and killing of leftists, communists, intellectuals, and Jews who became known as the desaparecidos opposed to the ruling right-wing Junto. The powerful are usually protected.
In the past four years, Dactyl Foundation has concentrated on growing the literary fiction community, which has dwindled over the past twenty years as publishing houses began to focus on big sellers ignoring the niche market of fine literature. In 2010, we launched Dactyl Review, a community of literary fiction writers who review literary fiction and nominate works for Dactyl Foundation’s $1000 annual prize. The contest is open to any living literary fiction writer, regardless of date of publication or type of publication. We are especially interested in books that came out some time ago and have not yet received the recognition they deserve.
Award recipients for past years are The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann, Cocoa Almond Darling by Jeffra Hays, and Shadowplay by Norman Lock. Read reviews of nominated works and vote for your favorite on dactylreview.org The final decision and announcement for the 2014 winner will be made early January.
Support this worthy project now by donating $100 or more. There are a lot of great writers out there who need encouragement. We can’t do it without you. Thanks in advance for your support. Dactyl Foundation is a 501 c3 organization, and your donation is fully tax-deductible.
Your friends in art and thought,
Neil Grayson, Director, Visual Arts
Victoria N. Alexander, PhD, Director, Programs for Thought
One after one, exotic characters, each with a miraculous tale to tell, come to visit comatose Rosa and her troubled family in Karen Wyld’s When Rosa Came Home (Amazon, 238 pages). Many of these visitors are circus performers or former circus performers. Some are human, some not. The Ambrosia family home is a remote vineyard and becomes yet another magical character — reacting to and affecting the actions set there. It’s trees and gardens fall into shadows when trouble prevails, and burst with light and life when joy arrives.
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In Vox Populi: A Novel of Everyday Life (Texas Review Press, 211 pages) an unnamed narrator endures various brief encounters with strangers while out on errands—waiting for, paying for, or ordering something. Clay Reynolds must have been keeping a journal for years because his little tales ring true in their preposterousness. Truth is stranger than fiction. It is hard to believe people can be so rude, so tactless, so pushy, so dumb, and yet people are. Usually the unrelated event described in each chapter involves some implausibly insensitive and very loud person disrupting the normal course of humdrum business with performances that are as outrageous as they are unfortunately common. We’ve all have been shocked and appalled to witness such scenes in our own daily lives, and once home we say to our spouses, You’ll never believe what this crazy lady did at the grocery store, etc
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Flight (223 pages, Tramp Press) by Oona Frawley, is a novel set in Ireland, the United States, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe that explores how its characters have been affected by both old-style colonialism and the new colonialism–corporate globalism that began to rise in the 1990s. Themes center on migration and immigration, on feeling homesick and rootless at the same time. It’s about writing letters home, some of which are sent, some of which are kept.
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“This morning I crossed a river on a horse made of lightbulbs.”
That’s just another day (June 4, to be exact) in Bob Schofield’s The Inevitable June (theNewerYork Press, 120 pages), an agreeably strange book structured around an unnamed narrator’s calendar for the month of June. Using text, cartoons and distinctive graphics, it is unclassifiable in terms of genre but it manages to create a self-contained world of its own.
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April 12, 2014
Based on a talk at the Leonardo Art and Science Rendezvous (LASER) meeting in NYC, Victoria N Alexander, PhD discusses how scientists can benefit from interaction with artists. This is the second video in the “Science, Art and Biosemiotics” series, produced and directed by Lucian Rex.
This video features painting, Epiphany, 1998 by James Gilroy
Tokyo, 1994. Japan is now well into what observers will later call the “lost decade,” a downward spiral triggered by the Japanese central bank’s bursting the speculative bubble of the 1980s. The seemingly inviolable climb of the Japanese economy—and society—has reversed.
Triangle, the 2001 novel by the respected Japanese writer Hisaki Matsuura released in its first English edition by Dalkey Archive Press (233 pages) this month, is an attempt to transform the Japanese downward spiral into a metaphysical thriller. But novels—even literary ones—based on conceptual ideas rarely work.
continue to Dactyl Review.
Liam Howley opens The Absurd Demise of Poulnabrone (Jagged C Press, 344 pages) with an introduction to Cornelius Solitude Conlon, an aging man who, I assumed, was the primary protagonist. In fact, my assumption continued throughout a good portion of the novel, even though the narrative shifted to various other characters as I read along. Nevertheless, as the story progressed, Cornelius became but one piece in the game board that is Poulnabrone.
It is, in fact, Poulnabrone that is the centerpiece of this story. Primary and secondary characters appear on the scene, make an impact, and leave. Some return later on, some never appear again, yet others remain present to weave the fabric of the tale as it is spun along, carrying with them the thread of continuity without overshadowing the main premise. Continue reading on Dactyl Review.
Claire Vaye Watkins writes as if she scratches her stories from the grit and mining detritus of the Nevada desert she grew up in, then transforms the elemental by gathering language as rich and as natural as the sand or minerals found there like an alchemist. The work is as layered as the often brutal human history of the region, a history she both draws upon and to which she will surely add her own narrative. And like the harsh landscapes and histories that everywhere informs these brilliant stories, when you peer long enough, closely enough, at what seems an empty, heartless place, you not only see its unforgiving beauty within the parched hills and among the tailings castaway after decades of exploitation, you also find glitter among the hardscape, the glint of silver and gold. Like the characters in her story collection Battleborn (Riverhead Books, 283 pages), the truths Watkins unearths require strong stomachs and strong wills to digest but reward the reader with sparkling prose, hard but achingly accurate portraits of unforgettable characters, and gemstones of hope among the chaos of despair and interior pain.
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Thursdays, this spring, 1-3PM
The CompostModern forum is made up of artists, poets, fiction writers, playwrights, scientists, mathematicians, musicians, actors and any one else interested in joining. Instead of presenting formal lectures or panels, we open the floor to the community. Featured guests and audience members are able to talk freely and on equal terms about everything from beauty and meaning to pop-culture. As the name implies, the CompostModern forum aims to re-cycle our rich aesthetic history. If the project of postmodernism was to deconstruct traditions, it has left us with a fertile soil out of which new forms may emerge. It is with the belief that all new forms of art must evolve from a history that we approach the guiding question of the forum: What is creativity?
This is a unique American novel, written in the language of the heartland before Jesus became a pawn in the political battle for the American soul. It is written in a subdued, subtle, understated lyrical style. It is as rich and diverse as America herself. It is at once a romance complete with trains, whorehouses, steel mills, and the death of the drive-in-movie theater and a coming of age novel in which the protagonist emerges from the chrysalis to transform into a singing butterfly.
Continue to Dactyl Review.