• Shanley McConnell

Week Ten: The Monday Review

Updated: Oct 1

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1. Astonishing The Gods, Ben Okri


Astonishing The Gods is a book that highlights the theme of invisibility. The notion of "invisibility as history," as a sort of "paradoxical condition of redemption" is evident in the novella, one that Okri acknowledges himself in the introduction. He opens with:


"The hero of this novel finds what he did not seek, and goes where he did not intend to go. As I diid in writing it. I set out to find one thing, but found another. Maybe what seeks us is better than what we seek. Maybe accidental discoveries constitute the magic heart of creativity."

---introduction.


This book is so poignant in its themes. The tension between illusory elements and explicit address was perhaps more noticeable. Similar to some of his other books, Astonishing the Gods is compiled from eight books with separate chapters in each. This allows Okri to travel between focused moments.


One of my favorite parts of reading any Okri story is his dialogue. It is rich and simple. Each sentences questions the one prior to it and asks that the reader reconsider his or her own assumptions to such queries, whether they actually pertain to the narrative or not. I highly recommend Astonishing the Gods if you are interested in more philosophical texts.


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2. Hear The Wind Sing, Murakami


Hear The Wind Sing is an unusual novella, Murakami's first. It tells stories narrated by its focal character. About his love lives, his town, the trajectory of a summer in the span of 18 days.


It quotes 'literary-influencer' Hartfield with "Writing is, in effect, the act of verifying the distance between us and the things surrounding us," and tackles the question of whether novelist should then approach the world with sensitivity or a measuring stick.


A fascinating part about this reading was its introduction, written by Murakami himself, in which he talks about "The Birth of [His] Kitchen-Table Fiction." About the moment he decided he could----would---write a novel. The way his life 'structured' seemed to oppose the Japanese societal conventions. I liked this section the most because it spoke to the novella; gave precedence to the narrative's setting and simple, rich style.


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3. Visitor, Bryan Washington


Published by The New Yorker, Bryan Washington's short story "Visitor" relays what happens when a stranger knocks on the door of a son, young as his father was in the days when this stranger recalls memories shared. The stranger was "mid-fifties, Asian. Short hair, messy and curly, sloped just below the nape of his neck." He carried a duffel and had travelled from Kingston to Houston to visit the grave of the only man both characters knew, and knew intimately.


The young son grapples with the unknown history of his father, especially in the uncertainty of whether such things could be (or rather, were) true. Funke, the character's coworker at the nearby convince store makes an astute assessment on how likely it was for someone to know so much and still fool another into believing an untruth. She states: "Of course it's possible. We all live many lives. [...] Knowing is a privilege."


This statement is almost fact here, juxtaposing the idea of truth in a poignant way. It leaves one thinking.


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4. The Past and the Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees: Bristlecone pines have survived various catastrophes over the millennia, and they may survive humanity, Alex Ross


Another short story published Jan 2020 by The New Yorker is Alex Ross's "The Past and the Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees." With gorgeous, Robert Macfarlane style writing, Ross's short story is an easy, engaging----academic read. It brings the readers to that place in the desert where Bristlecone Pines find their fame; these post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, centuries-old trees. It was my favorite short read of the week.


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5. Tender Taxes, Jo Shapcott


Published by Faber & Faber, Tender Taxes is a collection of poems that examines and re-imagines the French-style lyricism of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) in the brief, focused lines of English forms. Nearer to the end of his life, the poet composed nearly four hundred poems in the French language. As is written on faber.co.uk: Rilke and Shapcott are brought together in the shared incognito of a foreign language, 'speaking English through a French mouth.'


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