Brent Hendricks has always been obsessed with endings (namely the apocalypse), but his relationship with death became much more complicated when, in 2002, his father’s body (along with 338 others) was discovered at the Tri-State Crematory in Georgia. The bodies thought to be cremated were found decomposing in broken refrigerators and out back in the woods. Some of them had been there for years.
The Order of the Good Death calls Hendricks’ book about the Tri-State Crematory Incident, A Long Day at the End of the World, “an incredible read we cannot recommend highly enough.” Check out The Order’s interview with Hendricks for the first installment of their new series, Real American Death Heroes.
You may not care for the blues. You may not have been mesmerized by a “particularly vivid montage sequence” in the 1994 documentary “Crumb.” You may have never even picked up a guitar and felt its strings beneath your fingers.
But under no circumstances can we imagine you reading the opening lines of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” and not being instantly sucked down the rabbit hole into prewar American music (“Early jazz was a thing in hip circles, but only a few true freaks were into the country blues”), the “so-called Blues Mafia” whose contribution to our national soundtrack is “past accounting,” the living room of a census man who has become custodian to one of the most precious and unwieldy archives of American cultural field work, and arriving, finally, at the feet of two women who, save for a haunting, breathtakingly few extant records, had almost eluded history altogether.
March Madness is upon us. By which, of course, we mean The Morning News Tournament of Books, the literary world’s antidote to college basketball—or, perhaps, its capitulation to the national obsession with bracketology. There are some serious problems with this year’s tournament: Notably, the absence of any FSG Originals titles (how do you have a no-holds-barred competition and not include Donnybrook?), and specifically, the failure of The Isle of Youth (or even Originals’ hardcover-favorite Hild) to move from the long list into the tourney itself, presumably because the organizers were looking to preserve some element of parity and suspense in the competition. But the panel of judges is acceptable—we’re looking forward to reading John Darnielle weigh in next week, and of course John Freeman are famous for their irresistible discernment. But the smart set says the real action is in the comments section. And how can we disagree when today’s Match Commentary opens with:
I thought Freeman’s judgment was tremendous—it’s not surprising for those of us who know his work (I highly recommend How to Read a Novelist)...
The (also not surprising) fact is, we don’t disagree at all—Freeman’s judgment is in fact tremendous, and that fact that the tremendousness is unsurprising shouldn’t stop you from reading his noble effort to step beween The Son and Eleanor and Park, a pair of books who’ve clearly been itching for a match-up all year long. It may not be 2014’s great Cinderella story (but maybe it is! No spoilers here!), it’s well worth reading—an eloquent and inspiring example of a critic reading two very different, accomplished books on their own terms, and then unapologetically doing what the Tournament demands: anointing the better book. Naturally, we also agree that that sheer tremendousness of Freeman’s judgment should spur you to read How to Read a Novelist. It is in fact chock-full of upsets, nail-biters, and Cinderella stories.
First, last week the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Laura van den Berg the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for The Isle of Youth. The prize recognizes “a young writer of considerable literary talent for a work published in 2013.” You’ll hear no argument from us. We’ve been crowing about Laura’s considerable literary talent for months. And we are thrilled, honored, and grateful—maybe not quite so thrilled, honored, and grateful as Laura herself, but still pretty damn thrilled, honored, and grateful—to have the American Academy join the cause. Especially when you look at the Rosenthal’s recent winners: Claire Vaye Watkins, Teju Cole, Monique Truong, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Chris Adrian… Hot damn!
In People Who Eat Darkness, Richard Lloyd Parry showed that he could write about unspeakable tragedy with uncommon sensitivity and grace. Now, in “Ghosts of the Tsunami” in the London Review of Books, Lloyd Parry addresses tragedy in Japan on a less intimate scale—those who died or disappeared in the tsunami of March 11, 2011. It also happens to be the topic of his next book.
OK, so maybe Pulphead 2 is overstating it, but in the recent Tennessee Music Issue of Oxford American, John Jeremiah Sullivan pens a piece that’s in many ways a follow-up to one of the best-loved pieces in Pulphead, “The Last Wailer,” the story of Sullivan’s trip to Jamaica to meet the legendary Bunny Wailer.
In “That Chop on the Upbeat,” Sullivan goes after even more elusive quarry—the origins of ska. In Sullivan’s words:
I ran into the riddle that bedevils every person who gets lost in this particular cultural maze, namely, where did ska come from? That strange rhythm, that chop on the upbeat or offbeat, ump-ska, ump-ska, ump-ska…
We’ve come to expect surreal and inscrutable women from Catherine Lacey, and her latest, Betsy Cohen, doesn’t disappoint. Here’s the difference: unlike Elyria in Nobody Is Ever Missing,Betsy is a real person.
Betsy, profiled by Catherine in The Aesthete’s article “Spirit in the Material World,” is a social worker turned psychic medium. Her spiritual awakening began when a bad fall left her with a dangerous hole in her spinal cord, and since then, she’s been leading seances. According the Catherine, Betsy “subverts expectations of how a psychic should be.”
“[Science Fiction] is my home shelf, my home planet, my essential genre,” says Robin Sloan, author of FSG’s Digital Original Ajax Penumbra 1969 and its sequel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But if the genre is less of a “home planet” for you and more an alluring, distant star, Robin’s Book Bag on the Daily Beast might be the perfect place to get you on your way.
In her debut novel Nobody Is Ever Missing, Catherine Lacey sends her heroine hitchhiking across New Zealand, and the results are harrowing and surreal. In “Small Differences,” her brand-new short story in Granta’s New Voices series, the settings are more familiar but the stakes are no less high. Check out the full story here, where Catherine follows her narrator’s search for human connection from Team Jesus Cheer Squad to cat-sitting.
As part of New Voices, Granta has also included an interview with Catherine. She talks about her fascination with dystopias, her thoughts on faith, and the books she’s reading now. And check out what album she listened to on repeat while writing Nobody Is Ever Missing.
This week The Hairpin learned a lot about Amelia Gray. We knew her already, of course—her book THREATS is disturbing and tender and only the first novel to come from this talented young writer—but here, in her exchange with an unsatisfied reader named Earl from Louisiana, Amelia manages to be both gracious and biting, and she also gives John Grisham a bit of burn.