Books in Brief

October 2020

Grandparents in hiding. A child born with an extra set of teeth. Hyper-surveillance devices tracking humans in a rain-starved world. Valerie Sayers’s The Age of Infidelity and Other Stories follows narrators of all ages through a range of times and places, from the dystopian to the deeply ordinary. Her characters are utterly convincing, thoroughly embodied, sympathetic, and unromanticized. The stories are wryly funny, even under the bleakest circumstances: stalked by a strange doppelgänger; living with a mother practicing mind control; sharing office space with a perky coworker who uses “I” as the object of a preposition. Still, each protagonist manages to find hope while living “at the edge of the dying world.”

The Age of Infidelity and Other Stories
Valerie Sayers
Slant Books
146 pp. | $16

 

“There is an under, always.” That’s how poet Christian Wiman makes sense of life’s ever-present frustrations, disappointments, and sorrows. His particular pains, both major and minor—an ongoing struggle with cancer and the recent death of his father; the occasional lassitude brought on by academic and suburban life—have never been more articulately or poignantly expressed than in this latest collection, the fruit of more than six years of work. To be clear, Wiman is hardly complaining. As long as failure finds a “form” and unbelief a “space to breathe,” he writes, both can be transcended. What makes Wiman’s journey from doubt and ego to faith and communion worth reading is the timeless theological wisdom it reveals: the love of God, as the apophatic mystics have always known, is not “a thing one comprehends / but that by which—and only by which—one is comprehended.”

Survival Is A Style: Poems
Christian Wiman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
112 pp. | $24

 

The observations in Ben Ehrenreich’s Desert Notebooks predate the pandemic, but his descriptions of living through catastrophic “Vertigo Time” are remarkably prescient. (“Time no longer proceeded evenly and sequentially, but according to a strange logic of dread.”) Ehrenreich questions the deeply ingrained notion of linear human progress by revealing the violent colonial underside of this narrative. But how do we find our route away from this destructive, unsustainable path? Perhaps through stories from cultures we’ve pushed aside or erased, like those of the Chemehuevi people or the Ki’che’ Maya; through philosophies that reimagine the way we chronicle time and ourselves; or through our own experiences with nature: the swooping shadow of an owl overhead, the smell of creosote, the constellations we can only see once we’ve traveled far from city lights.

Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Times
Ben Ehrenreich
Counterpoint Press
336 pp. | $26

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