Tag Archives: Books

Best Literary Sex: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

BEST LITERARY SEX is a new Weird Sister series paying homage to the hottest, most memorable sex scenes in our favorite books.

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I couldn’t have been more than twelve or so when I first got my hands on If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin’s gut-punching 1974 novel about Tish and Fonny, young lovers struggling to fight a racist and corrupt justice system in 1970s New York. It had been placed in the mahogany bookshelf in the living room, right above the double rows of Encyclopedia Britannica. I remember flipping through it, scanning the pages until my eyes caught the passage about Fonny’s “sex stiffening and beginning to rage against the cloth of his pants.” In an instant, I had stumbled upon my first literary sex scene. I’ve come across a few since those days but, my gosh, there’s nothing quite like the first time. Continue reading

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FROM THE STACKS: The Last Woman Alive – Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall

From the Stacks is a series on Weird Sister wherein we pull a book—old, new, or anything in between—from our bookshelves, and write something about it.

*Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall

I first encountered Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (originally published in German as Die Wand) searching for audiobooks to listen to at a Sisyphean temp job, in the second level basement “B2” of the downtown library. I put books on carts and scanned them, I boxed them and stacked the boxes five high. I did this every day for eight hours. I can’t recommend the audiobook version of The Wall because it’s mostly whispered, a reading that does disservice to the confidence of its narrative. There is no word in the text that wavers. It is a near perfect book, a quiet meditation on the end of the world, a thriller that could put you to sleep. Written in 1963, The Wall still feels prescient. It knows the end is near, and also not.

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Marlen Haushofer, 1935

The Wall is a dystopic Walden, written with total control and impassive cool. The style reminds me most of Elena Ferrante, but the “weird family” of The Wall comprises only one woman, one cow, one dog, one cat and her kittens. The title refers to an invisible wall that shows up one evening and separates the narrator from the rest of the world, who appear to be dead anyway. The Wall nearly ignores the most fundamental rule of writing human beings, namely, that there has to be two of them. Emphasis on nearly; it’s hard not to talk about the genius of this book without spoiling the ending, which is swift, elegant, and gemlike in its precision. It happens in a gasp. Continue reading

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If Society Breaks Down :: An Interview with Vanessa Blakeslee

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Set in a tumultuous time of Colombia’s history, Vanessa Blakeslee’s novel Juventud explores the equally complex relationships between Mercedes, a young privileged teen in love for the first time; her father, a secretive man with a dark and crime-filled past that Mercedes has only heard whisperings about; her boyfriend Manuel, a young believer seeking changes for his nation; and her mother, a woman living in America whom she hasn’t seen since she was a baby. A dizzying and heart-rendering tale of the complications between these relationships, Juventud exposes the longings of young idealists and the pressures set upon us to protect the ones we love.

I spoke to Blakeslee about the story of Columbia, the dangers of first impression, the way she’s learned to shoot a gun and more:

Kati Heng: Your novel Juventud not only takes place in, but is entirely connected to the story of Colombia itself. What is your connection to Colombia? What about the country fascinates you?

Vanessa Blakeslee: At Rollins College I became acquainted with several students from Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. They told stories of getting driven around by private chauffeurs in armed cars, having maids dress them until they were twelve; one young woman in particular, from Colombia, told a harrowing story of how she believed her father had somehow been involved in a tragic incident with her first love, after which she was convinced to finish her studies in the U.S. Continue reading

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If Swimming Transcends Sports: An Interview with Sara Jaffe

Dryland, the first novel from Sara Jaffe, former guitarist for Erase Errata, has, much like it’s creator, way more than one thing going on. Starting quietly, simply, as the tale of sophomore Julie being convinced by one of the popular girls to go out for the swim team, Dryland moves on to explore ideas of persistence, of family ties, of sexuality, same-sex experiments and mentorships between opposite sexes, friendships, high-school crushes and so much more. Joining the team already in the shadow of her older brother, a one-time Olympic level swimmer who has moved to Germany, keeping a sure distance from his family, Julie struggles to find a place on the team separate from the expectations placed upon her. Labeled, as Jaffe herself finds funny, as a “sports genre fiction” story, Dryland is instead the story of dedication and finding out for oneself who and what truly matters.

 

Author Sara Jaffe

Author Sara Jaffe

Kati Heng: Most people know you as a musician first thanks to Erase Errata, but how long have you been a writer?

 

Sara Jaffe: I’ve been writing pretty much my whole life. I was one of those kids who was 7 years old and wanted to be a writer. I always played music as well, but it was almost surprising when music became my main thing for a number of years. I think I always sort of knew that writing was what I would ultimately pursue.

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Past the Unreliable :: An Interview with Selah Saterstrom

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Slab (small title continued: “On That Hallelujah Day When Tiger & Preacher Meet”) is one of those novels that hits you fast and hard, that you finish in one sitting, gulping down like an ice-cold glass of water, yet fail to be able to fully recall or explain the experience even moments after it ends. What’s for sure is this: the story of Slab centers around Tiger, a woman named for the color of her hair, a dancer, a dreamer, a girl fully rooted in the post-Katrina South, who may or may not be narrating the entirety of her story to Miss Barbara Walters. It’s little use trying to quickly describe Slab or its character Tiger, who is, after all, only as complex and fascinating as the author of the beast, Selah Saterstrom. In our brief interview, Saterstrom explores religion and its possible “anti-heroes,” Southern roots (and holds), even the heroisms of Nancy Drew. If you enjoy even a piece of this interview, go, fast, and pick up Saterstrom’s Slab (and all her other works).

Kati Heng: The setting of Mississippi seems to hold such a prominence in the story of Slab. Could this story have taken place anywhere else? What would it have looked like elsewhere?

Selah Saterstorm: The de-categorizing hand of the disaster doesn’t mind manners or borders. In this sense, the story could have taken place anywhere. Capitalism and politics, however, are sickly-bloated with border-fetish. In this sense, the disaster that was FEMA very much locates the story in Mississippi and Louisiana.

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Character Comes First: An Interview with Anna North

author Anna North

author Anna North

There’s no way to talk about author Anna North’s latest novel, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, without centering the conversation around its title character. Told throughout the viewpoints of the people in Sophie’s life (who often become the main characters in the films the young director Sophie creates), the woman’s life is revealed piece by piece, from insight into her bullied childhood as witnessed by her brother, to early success as a filmmaker as seen by her lover Allison, to frustrations and struggles with relationships as disclosed to us by her husband. An awkward yet elegant and oddly alluring woman, Sophie’s relationship with art, and her much heavier flawed relationships with those around her, make for a melancholic tale of the search for perfection and the costs it may take to get there. Continue reading

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