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Here is an except:
THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD by tara stillions whitehead
“A photograph never remains innocent. Just like a mirror is never innocent.” —Doug Rice
Those in search of a Faulknerian novel set in Pittsburgh will find themselves easily absorbed by Doug Rice’s lyrical meditation, Here Lies Memory, a book that skillfully braids myriad existential themes to form a multi-tiered narrative suspended between forms. From the relationship between identity and place to the speciousness of sight and words, Rice investigates how simulated realities and gentrification’s continued oppression of already marginalized groups—minorities, the indigent, the addicted, and the psychologically afflicted—distort collective memory and perpetuate dominant culture’s legacy of violent hegemony within the social narrative. Parallel narratives and succulent prose convey this tall order of emotionally charged themes and do so with a sophisticated understanding of narrative balance.
Readers are first introduced to Elgin, an African-American Vietnam War vet and widower whose despair over witnessing the continued gentrification and ultimate disappearing of his neighborhood and its history leads him to will himself into blindness. As with many of the characters in Rice’s book, Elgin seeks self-preservation, and blindness is his only means of doing so. “Going blind,” Rice writes, “saved Elgin from the oblivion being created by a world that was too full of things to see. It stopped him from losing what remained of the world that was worth saving…The old neighborhoods were becoming invisible. Renaissance this, renaissance that. Call it what you want, to Elgin it was stealing stories. Memories were dying. Outside, in the world of the seeing, the past was being erased more and more. All that was true was being forgotten.” Disappearing neighborhoods are not the only things at risk of being lost in a world with little regard for the past; Elgin’s memories of his beloved and deceased Thuy, the Vietnamese woman Elgin brought home from the war and married, are equally at risk. And Elgin and Thuy’s teenage grandson Johnny is, for Elgin, the greatest potential threat to her and the family’s eventual disappearance.
The bulk of Elgin’s story involves persistent attempts at making Johnny conscious of his naïveté and complicit ambivalence, and through these encounters, Rice’s commentary regarding the labor involved in creating dialogue between generations becomes apparent. Through sightless Elgin, we also see the importance of the oral tradition of storytelling in keeping blood memories alive. “Your story,” he tells Johnny, “began before you ever began. Before your mother cried her first tear. Before I kissed your grandmother. Before. That’s when words begin making you. In the before.” The before is Elgin’s father, Clarence, whose vitriol regarding the loss of his first love is, according to Elgin, an important part of who Johnny will become. One has to ask, though, is Rice arguing that aspects of one’s history are beyond escaping? Are we forever prisoner to our blood memory? Johnny’s quest to find his great-grandfather’s ghost and, presumably, confront the despair he would rather ignore, is a journey towards knowing the answer; in the end, Johnny’s passive observation of the spectral image of Clarence’s riverside mourning leaves no concrete resolution. Arguably, the final moments of the book foreshadow Johnny’s likely lapse into the same self-preservation that eventually takes Elgin, and Johnny’s surrender to storytelling as the answer to the things we do not know and therefore fear unsettles an otherwise staunch argument about the importance of increased visibility among the marginalized.
Rice explores place and memory simultaneously, removing them from the abstract via analogy: The city of Pittsburgh is as much a physical place—made of words—as it is an amalgamation of memory, or that of touch. Additionally, Rice explores experience and the human condition as something of a script, or a text that is rewritten and storied by the individual and culture. The problem with revision is the lack of consensus. Tenderness for one is violence for another; the simulated is…
-from American Book Review, Volume 38, Number 2,
HERE LIES MEMORY is available worldwide on Amazon.
BLACK SCAT REVIEW #16: The Obsession Issue. Featuring works by Alphonse Allais, Adrienne Auvray, Paulo Brito, Violet Capers, S.C. Delaney, Tony Duvert, Farewell Debut, William L. Gibson, Rachel Greenberg, Arya F. Jenkins, Samantha Memi, Agnès Potier, Mercie Pedro e Silva, Doug Skinner, and Greg Autry Wallace. [cover photograph by Farewell Debut]
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“Mr. Rice has accomplished something incredibly difficult and has done so with superlative skill. He has made the surreal feel real, he has blurred the lines between the macrocosm and the microcosm, and he has somehow managed to contribute to the conversation of trauma and abuse in a manner that is not only unprecedented but which feels entirely necessary. Here Lies Memory is a fantastic work that will require multiple reads to fully process and will never make you regret picking it up.”
CLICK HERE to read the full text of this rave review,
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MISSING MYSTERIES: A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF NONEXISTENT MYSTERIES by Derek Pell has just been reviewed by the influential RAP SHEET blog.
The following review by Laura Hinds is reprinted from Pacific Book Review:
Where do I begin? At the beginning or the end? Or should I jump right into the middle? In all likelihood, it doesn’t matter a whit. Officially, I will call this “Science Fiction.” Unofficially, I will name it “Science Fiction Science Philosophy Genre Bending Fiction.” I think that the author will appreciate this, and that it will give readers fair warning (and thus build anticipation) as to the nature of the book they are about to delve into.
Author Tom Whalen has an amazing phantasmorgraphical imagination. Perhaps he is from a higher level dimension than the rest of us mere mortals. I’d like to think that I’ve been intellectually and spiritually challenged, if not, in fact, enhanced by “The Straw That Broke.”
The book centers around “Encyclopedia Mouse,” a small creature who has the massive ability to save the multiverse. There are stories within stories, and frankly, words that must be unique to the author that left me feeling uncertain as to which way was up. Yet, as a determined reader, I buckled down and plowed ahead to figure things out. Encylopedia Mouse is spinning a web of tales to several minor mice, with himself in the role of Nuncle (uncle) Mouse. The Mouse faces off against enemies galore, with no shortage of narration that deftly weaves everything from philosophy to history into the story. Encyclopedia Mouse faces challenges with an inner strength that many men do not possess. He goes up against his Doppelganger, and must save the multiverse by narrating it, without regard for time nor space. Will he, or won’t he be able to defeat his Dopplelganger, and will author Bulwer Zetford finish “The Cosmic Messenger? “There are so many characters and unusual situations in “The Straw The Broke,” that the best way to read it may be one chapter at a time, and absorb that before you move on to the next, in which you will be confronted with an entirely new set of circumstances.
I am not sure if Whalen is attempting to amuse, enlighten, or educate readers, but I’m sure he will do some of each for every individual reader. I wish that I’d had the chance to read the previous book, or books, I’m not really sure, in this series, as it may have made things clearer. Or not. Nevertheless, I was vastly amused, highly intrigued and overall would recommend this book for anyone looking for answers beyond your wildest imagination about that nature of reality, from a valiant mouse perspective, with a multidimensional twist.
If you know a Sci-fi fan who thinks they have seen it all, heard it all, and read it all, “The Straw That Broke” by Tom Whalen would be the book you want to get for holiday gift-giving. They won’t be able to put it down, and you will be rewarded with much gratitude, and lots of peace and quiet as they read for hours and hours!
Falling somewhere between short stories and prose poems in fluid translation by Ellen Nations, Surrealist Texts is an indispensable introduction to this fascinating writer.
—Lucina Schell, READING IN TRANSLATION
“Nations’s translations admirably resist the urge to clarify or normalize Prassinos’s surrealist prose. Complemented by Bruce Hutchinson’s beautiful watercolors in a limited edition of only 85 copies, Surrealist Texts makes a lovely gift for connoisseurs of surrealism. But the significance of this collection extends beyond its historical value. Like most surrealist literature, the stories are strange and even off-putting on the surface, but plumbing their depths reveals repressed truths, hidden within the subconscious, that are no less painful or true than when they were written.”
Read the complete text of Schell’s glowing review at the link below:
Doug Skinner’s sublime translation of Alphonse Allais’s Captain Cap (Vol. I) has received a rave from the prestigious Leonardo Reviews in the UK. The complete text is now available online at this link
The review was written by Edith Doove (University of Plymouth) and here are a few excerpts:
“The translation into English of Captain Cap as the first in a series of three is both welcome and very timely. It is welcome since the Absurdist Texts & Documents Series by Black Scat Books project has filled an important void since the only other English venture into Allais’ writing, The World of Alphonse Allais, translated by Miles Kingston and published in hardback by Chatto & Windus in 1976, was made available in a paperback in 2008. But apart from long awaited, Captain Cap also comes at a timely moment because of the fact that its ironies are particularly opposite today as we witness global intellectual colonisation. The importance of not forgetting about the French context and its originality for a true understanding of this text was underlined by the former director of the National Library of France Jean-Noël Jeanneney when he launched a counter-attack against the American (U.S.A) imperialism by Google Books in which search results for European writers initially were mostly provided in English, (which resulted in the establishment of the Europeana Libraries – http://www.europeana-libraries.eu). The first book that Jeanneney showed in the course of recent documentary ‘Google and the World Brain’ (BBC, 2013) was Diderot’s Encyclopédie, which, without wanting to be overly chauvinistic, does put things in the right order. He dryly remarks (in French with English sub-titles) that on being confronted with the gift of a small thermo flask, brought to him by a Google Book VP in order to win him over, it was clear to him that they clearly did not understand who the director of the National Library of France actually was, or better, what he (commercially) represents. The documentary also identified similar misunderstandings or even better ‘misreadings’ by Google Books when, for example, the initial cataloguing of Walt Whitman’s famous book of poems ‘Leaves of Grass’ went under Gardening, and when it failed to recognize that Japanese books need to be scanned vertically rather than horizontally, turning any search result in complete nonsense. Such faux pas are hilarious after the event rather than the absurd way in which Allais’ texts actually points to – even anticipates – these kinds of dangers in an indirect or implicit way. So aside from the sheer pleasure of meeting an old friend, his observations have relevance now more than 100 years later.”
“This publication of Captain Cap is a little gem. It is wonderful that not-for profit publisher Black Scat Books, which seems to operate in true pataphysical tradition with former bookstore owner Norman Conquest (sic) as its ‘Président-Fondateur’ clearly respecting its French origins, has taken the initiative to bring Allais’ text to the attention of the English-speaking world.”
And on that note, let us remind you the edition is limited. You can order a copy here while they last.
Hooray for Captain Cap!