Recently by Kelly Cherry:

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The Meanings of J. Robert Oppenheimer is an entry in the Iowa Series in Contemporary Literature and Culture. I was drawn to it because I am drawn to all things Oppenheimer. I was not prepared for the approach the author, Lindsey Michael Banco, takes, which might be likened to a statement exponentially increased since it is not so much a portrait of Oppenheimer as a series of portraits of Oppenheimer, not so much history as a history of history. Banco himself declares that “the book explores the workings of Oppenheimer as a ‘principal metaphor.’” In the course of this book, we are reminded of the uses that have been made of Oppenheimer as a central image, the ways in which books, movies, television shows, museums, his own writings, and even children’s books have presented him in relation to his personal history, the Manhattan Project, WWII, technology, science, literature, and visual art. If you have not yet read one of the standard and solid histories about The Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer’s role in it, this is not the book for you. But if you have, you will find it fascinating. (I did.)
More… “The Eternal Oppenheimer”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Every place has a rhythm. You must echo that rhythm in your writing. A character in New York City will not be as mellow as a character on the beach. A character in Wyoming will have a more expansive view than the character in Los Angeles. Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick might have had the grandest and most inclusive vision of all had he not permitted that vision to curdle into one single, obsessive focus. But that is Melville’s character; Melville himself is determined to make his novel as commodious and comprehensive as the ocean. Or consider E. M. Forster’s beautiful and foresighted A Passage to India, in which the English author dissects the tensions between native Indians and their British rulers. More… “A Gun in the First Act”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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In the Soviet Union, the name of the game was denunciation. One person would denounce another. A third person would denounce the second, i.e., the first denouncer. And so it went, the denunciations resulting in the executions of countless citizens, many — perhaps most — of them innocent. Others were sent to Siberia, which was simply a somewhat slower death. The game was an infinite recursion or regress, and if Boris Yeltsin had not mounted a tank to announce the end of the system, at some point there would have been nobody left to guard the crowded prisons. More… “The Soviet Illusion”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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In her essay “Place in Fiction,” Eudora Welty wrote that “place is one of the lesser angels.” She said other considerations were more important than place — “character, plot, symbolic meaning … and feeling, who in my eyes carries the crown, soars highest of them all and rightly relegates place into the shade.” She did not mean by this that place is a minor or accidental consideration in fiction. She meant that place is what anchors the fiction, gives it a reality to stand on even when everything standing on it is unreal. If you can make that place palpable to the senses, it doesn’t matter whether it is an imaginary place or a place in outer space or a momentary vision. As long as it can be perceived via our five senses, the reader will accept it as true even knowing it is not true.

Fiction is about people making something happen or responding to what is happening. Whatever happens, happens somewhere. It takes place. Therefore, fiction takes place too.
More… “Whatever Happens, Happens Somewhere”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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This is one weird book — but in a good way. In fact, in a wonderful way. The author, José Eduardo Agualusa, a much-praised Angolan writer, has published 24 books of short and long fiction and poetry, including one young adult novel. Five of these books have been translated into English by Daniel Hahn. Agualusa has won several heavyweight grants and two significant awards, the RTP Great Literary Prize in 1997 and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2007. He is the first African writer to receive the latter award since it began in 1990. From his website I learned that his books have been translated into more than 25 languages. I might mention that his website is in English, Portuguese, French, and German.
More… ““In this house all the walls have my mouth””

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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The Girl From Krakow is Rita Feuerstahl, a Jew who speaks both Polish and German. She is twenty, tall, blond, and blue-eyed — “almost beautiful,” in our author’s words — and very smart. She wraps herself in a trench coat. Because she is Jewish and there are quotas for Jews, she audits some classes offered by the law faculty, but she finds she prefers hanging out in the philosophy library, making her a girl after my own heart. In one of her law classes she meets a young doctor named Urs Guildenstern and marries him. He is cautious and methodical, perhaps because caution and routine allay his anxiety. Rita is not in love with him, but is pleased to acquire some creature comforts from the marriage.
More… “The Girl From Krakow”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Anton Chekov, master of internal conflict
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The truth is, almost all of us want more than just one thing. The child who wants water also wants to share it with his mother. The mother wants her child to have water and also food.

Take a look at Chekhov’s stories. Maybe you already have and are already acquainted with his distinctively realistic stories. Anton Chekhov was a doctor and a writer. His writing included four plays and many short stories, almost all of which are justifiably described as great. He had a particular ability to capture the Russian culture in the second half of the 19th century: Its mixed mood of melancholy and ennui, of longing and not being willing to do anything about it. Sometimes his work approaches satire — there is a long tradition of satire in Russian fiction — and indeed he wrote satirical pieces to earn money for his college tuition, but far more often, as he begins to write longer stories, his work is leavened by the delicacy of his descriptions and the efficiency of his narratives. His characters are so real that one remembers them as one remembers people in one’s own life. Most of us in this country have to read his work in translation, and we are fortunate that excellent translations are available.
More… “Desire is Complicated”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Real people are conflicted. So was Hamlet.
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It is standard advice to state that the main character or characters should want something. That it is wanting — desire — that motivates characters to act and action that creates the story, novel, perhaps even the persona in a persona poem. It’s not bad advice; genre fiction can get a lot of mileage from it. But if you are after something that goes deeper than the usual mystery novel, sci-fi, romance novel, or YA book, note that characters don’t always know what, or which, they want. They want to rob a bank but also fall in love. They want to fall in love but also rob a bank. Humans are ambivalent, and if characters are to come alive for a reader, they need to be ambivalent too. Sometimes they want what they want and at the same time do not want it. They are conflicted. The conflict within the character creates a subtler drama, a deeper layer of meaning. The reader ponders the character’s choices, the various possibilities open to the character. The reader is now paying attention to the character, not just what the character does, but what the character feels, what the character believes.
More… “Everybody Wants More than Just One Thing”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Deborah Levy’s short book of short stories is pitched at a relatively high key but a deeper note of sadness underpins it. Her characters are splendidly individual but share a sense of having strayed from home, or of not having a home, or of wondering what it might be like to have a home. In “Black Vodka,” the first and title story, a writer of advertisements at “a leading agency” refers to himself as “the crippled poet,” but that does not stop him from sleeping with a colleague’s girlfriend. Or maybe he feels being “crippled” entitles him? Sleeping with friends’ girlfriends might be how he takes revenge on men whose spines are not misaligned, men whose backs lack humps. It is he who gives the name “black vodka” to a flavored drink to be marketed in formerly Communist countries where noir is trending.

Levy, an English author who was shortlisted for the Man Booker for her novel Swimming Home, is equally perceptive about men and women. There are ten stories here, and each is something like — well, not a bon-bon. More like a sip of whisky or a quick slam of Black Vodka to the back of the throat. As “the crippled poet” says, Black Vodka is “the edgy choice for the cultured and discerning.”
More… ““Only Some of This is True””

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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If you missed part I of Kelly Cherry's examination of writing style, read it here.
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And now, to examine an entirely different style, consider this line from Ben Marcus’s experimental and lovely first novel, The Age of Wire and String, published in 1995. The author’s postmodern premise is that when we look at an object, our desire destroys it. It opens thus:

This book is a catalog of the life project as prosecuted in the Age of Wire and String and beyond, into the arrangements of states, site, and cities and, further, within the small houses that have been granted erection or temporary placement on the perimeters of districts and river colonies. The settlement, in clusters and dispersed, has long required a document of secret motion and instruction — a collection of studies that might serve to clarify the terms obscured within every facet of the living program.

He includes a kind of mini-dictionary with which we can interpret the very short stories in eight sections that make up the book. Sadness, the dictionary tells us, sadness “can be eradicated with more of itself, in which case the face results in a placid system coursing with water, heaving.” A “wind bowl” is a “pocket of curved, unsteady space formed between speaking persons.” “The mother” is “the softest location in the house.”
More… “…And How To Get It”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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