Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Morning Reading: "laden with extreme beauty"

In the February 20 Sunday New York Times Book Review, Leah Hager Cohen reviews Michelle Latiolais' new collection of stories, Widow.

On the front page.


...Michelle Latiolais (by which I mean not the writer but her specter, whose presence wafts and fumes and writhes and blooms across each page) could not be called easy company. Her new story collection, “Widow,” lets us make no mistake about this. The very cover forewarns us, with its detail of a medieval painting depicting a sword-bearing woman in armored gloves, and its ascetic title evoking fairy tale fathoms of dread. To scan the table of contents is to have one’s impressions confirmed: the slender column contains 17 entries, most no more than a single grim word (“Thorns,” “Gut,” “Hoarding,” “Burqa”), like pearls spat from a queen’s mouth.

Here is the opening line of the first and title story: “She is sitting on the examining table wrapped in a paper gown, one of those dull pretty colors chosen for women, mauve, and she might as well be trying to cover herself with a refrigerator box, as the paper gown is all eaves and walls and encloses her like a shed or fallen timbers.” Already we know so much about the world of this fiction. It provides inadequate comfort to the naked. It pretends to care, but barely, and its desultory efforts at displaying this (witness the mauve gown) only intensify the mood of alienation. It lacks a sense of clear agency and identity (witness the passive voice, the nameless woman; the most powerful character here is, scarily, the anthropomorphic paper gown). It is a world in which things do not remain as they should (witness the rapid-fire shifts of the gown: from patronizing pink cover-up to incongruous, stiff container to something like a benevolent shelter — those eaves for nesting — to something like a ruin). In this world things may change in an uncanny rush, and nothing comply with our expectations, and nothing be counted on to remain certain or safe.

This is the world of the entire spare collection: bracing, exposed, ruthlessly mercurial and, for all its spiked bales of barbed wire, laden with extreme beauty...

To read the rest, click here.

Latiolais will be reading sometime in April at UCI -and will appear at the LA Times Festival of Books in April.


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