Daily Postings
literature : word choice

Three Poems

by Linnea Ogden

The Way We Did It Was

“Going through something”
As though a spaceship made of marsh gas
Hovered overhead
The work of a moment mildewed
Along the edge
The press bed’s relenting skin
Sick at throat with hibiscus
Or rose hips
Our digressions
Black houses on a black street, hanging
Over dog-pawed ground

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literature : word choice

It’s Private

by Eric Ellingsen

That’s what we said. At the Ows-land-er-be-horde, the office for foreigners, pantheon of come backs of stays of goes, place to renew and apply. You have to make an appointment weeks ahead of time to renew. We made an appointment, then we missed that appointment. But today you don’t have to have an appointment, though it is advised.

So, my wife Hope and I had an appointment to renew, and we missed it. My wife is named after Bob Hope, Hope’s dad Jules says. And I know hope (the concept) fits this story, but it’s also the way it is. I’m a bit torn here—to change Hope’s real name to something more believable but less true. Her name could be Charity. Mercy. I’m friends with a Brazilian Ding. Freelanced with a Corner. I even briefly loved a Brie. The memories burst in on me. I could even make her a heart surgeon, say that gives her the right.

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literature : interview

Joshua Cohen

by Dan Duray

Tech moguls, syllable counting, computerized criticism, and the singularity.

Most people probably discovered the fiction of Joshua Cohen with the appearance of his short story “Emission” in the Spring 2011 issue of The Paris Review. In it, a man fights for dignity amidst search engine optimization after someone blogs a story he tells at a party, and his name becomes associated with a sex act. That story was later collected in Four New Messages, which James Wood singled out as one of the best books of the year in 2012, writing: “I was excited to read this young writer, and uncalmly await more.”

In fact, the now-34-year-old author already had a lot more. At that point, he’d published the novels Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto (2007), A Heaven of Others (2008), and Witz (2010), a winding, 800-page experimental work about, literally, the last Jew on Earth. If any press releases exist about him they probably contain a line like, “Cohen explores themes human and everlasting with humor, wit, and pathos.” His new novel, Book of Numbers (Random House, June 9), is the culmination of efforts seen in Four New Messages and takes us through the ghostwriting of a tech mogul’s autobiography. The mogul’s name is Joshua Cohen, as is the ghostwriter’s. The novel vaguely follows the structure of the biblical book for which it is named, but its most impressive section is the second, a raw interview with that mogul, which comprises some 400 pages.

The real-life Joshua Cohen also writes the New Books column in Harper's magazine, and as a critic he neither shows off nor pulls punches. In The London Review of Books, he began his review of Jonathan Franzen’s translation of Karl Kraus with the question: “What’s the German for a writer who resurrects a writer who would have hated him?” Born in Atlantic City, Cohen speaks in a way that is quick, vivid, and dense, like William Vollmann mixed with a capo from a Martin Scorsese movie. We conducted this interview at my place, which he had previously likened to “a Tampa drug dealer’s apartment in the ’90s, because everything sucks, but the stereo system is good,” over iced coffee and cigarettes.

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literature : interview

David Winters

by Andrew Gallix

“It seems to me that style becomes a kind of crucible—an acid bath in which the self is broken down, producing something unique, something new.”

Robert Musil regretted publishing the first volumes of The Man Without Qualities due to “the fixity they imposed on his ever-evolving work.” Similar misgivings almost led David Winters to shelve his debut collection of essays, from which the above quote is lifted. In conversation, the young English critic is given to qualifying—and even disavowing—past pronouncements, always returning them, with academic precision, to their rightful contexts. He is loath to see his provisional reflections turned into eternal truths, and wary of being co-opted by some dogmatic school or other. Infinite Fictions (Zero Books, 2015) is thus a snapshot of the author’s state of thinking over the last couple of years: a work in progress frozen in time.  

Spurning any fixed theoretical position, Winters strives to preserve in his own essays the indeterminacy that lies at the heart—but also on the smudged margins—of literature. Given that the novels he writes about resist summation or translation, he has developed a contrarian brand of criticism that gestures towards what radically escapes it.

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literature : word choice

One Poem

by Tyler Flynn Dorholt

Gramercy Park

When I get off the sun skates in backward & blows the flags into their American fist pump, elbowing wind in the eyes / friendship is that which entirely leaves entirety & jangles the fish back into shade / to parse a line this city thumbs around invisible dogs & where the street fences the bodega with the hands that collect water is again an idea that I have to splash on my face in the lower east gate, taking hand fall & the meaning seconds leave—slant of the slant of these people who will finish their days in squares behind walls / I can’t believe in extension or gesture as in comparison to reaching an arm out we only have to preach from the harm inside ourselves & put hair into fingers before punching the night out ...

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literature : interview

Suzanne Scanlon

by Kate Zambreno

Index as fiction, mess as virtue.

I first met Suzanne Scanlon just under a decade ago, both of us in a small conference room filling out forms for adjunct teaching gigs at an arts school in Chicago. I remember looking at this composed, smiling woman in that yearning kind of way, as I was longing for female friendship, especially with other writers. We were both, as I was later to learn, there to teach literature and writing, but I don’t think we had a conversation about it then. Being a writer wasn’t something either of us announced. I really met her, I think, through her writing, as she confessed to me several years later that she kept a blog (I had started one, too). I remember reading entries on her blog that became drafts for her book Promising Young Women and being completely struck by this intimate and searching voice, this memory project, and also a library of a mind inhaling and referencing literature voraciously, as if it was a crucial life force. It was through Suzanne’s blog and our correspondence that I began to feel a sense of community as a writer. I felt this same admiration and kinship reading Her 37th Year: An Index (Noemi Press, 2015), her fictional essay of a life and a marriage.

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Hyperbolics

by Valeria Luiselli

An excerpt from The Story of My Teeth

Our first lot is a piece in a somewhat deteriorated state. Yet, considering its antiquity, the overall condition is good; one might even say excellent. Significant flattening of the point leads to the supposition that the original owner, Mr. Plato, talked and ate continuously. He was five feet five inches tall and thirty-three and a half inches broad; he was of medium height but robust, with a fighter’s build. He had a long, cotton-woolly beard, light brown in color; thick hair of the same hue and texture. Mr. Plato flaunted the conventional fashions of the day and wore his toga loose, without a belt. Neither did he wear sandals.

Mr. Plato once made a comparison between the period of dentition and a man falling in love: “In this state, the soul enters into effervescence and irritation; and this soul, whose wings are just beginning to develop, can be compared to a child whose gums are inflamed and enervated by its first teeth.” Lovely, don’t you think?

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literature : interview

Tim Parks

by Scott Esposito

The international novel, mistranslation, and blogging in print.

At some point in 2011, everybody I knew in the international literary community was suddenly talking about the columns Tim Parks was regularly filing at the NYRBlog. At long last, here was a columnist at a major periodical actively engaging with the questions that most mattered to us: What was this new globalized novel genre taking shape right before our eyes? How can we best understand the psyche of that schizophrenic entity known as the Nobel Prize jury? And why in God’s name do the Germans like Jonathan Franzen so much?

“Looks like Parks is working his way toward a book,” one of my friends commented back then, and he was right. This spring NYRB Classics releases Where I’m Reading From, some 240 pages of lightly edited and meticulously arranged postings from Parks’s four plus years as a blogger. I’m as skeptical as anyone of collections of pre-published material—particularly when it’s work that just happens to be sitting around for free online—but the writing in Where I’m Reading From really does take on new dimensions as a printed, choreographed book. Arranged into four linked sections, these pieces deal with what the novel has become in the 21st century, how globalization has impacted it, the authors most relevant to it, and where Parks himself fits into this equation, both as a reader and a writer.

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literature : interview

Michael Wiegers

by Peter Mishler

Fable and fact—an editor's perspective on the poetry and cult of Frank Stanford.

Frank Stanford was a prolific American writer who published several collections of poetry and left behind numerous unpublished works before his death at the age of twenty-nine. His poems have received attention through various posthumous editions, but What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford—just released by Copper Canyon Press—serves as the most complete and thorough survey of his work, now nearly forty years after his death. What About This deftly compiles both published and unpublished work, drafts, prose, an interview, ephemera, and excerpts from his 450-page poem The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. In June, Third Man Books will release Hidden Water: From the Frank Stanford Archives, a companion collection of outtakes, alternates, and ephemera not included in What About This.

I first encountered Stanford’s poems as a student, through a loaned copy of an earlier selected poems. I was struck immediately by his obsessive and recursive image-making and idiomatic style; how he used the page to exorcise his head of symbols drawn from the speech and mise-en-scène of the American South in which he lived. As I began making my own poems, Stanford was an assurance for me that I could approach poetry as a means to define and redefine my own private symbology in a language both strange and everyday. I corresponded with Michael Wiegers, executive editor at Copper Canyon Press, editor of What About This, and co-editor of Hidden Water, to discuss these new editions of Stanford’s work.

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literature : word choice

Three Poems

by Melissa Barrett

Mother Is Only One Letter From

Homer, the father of culture. And yet he was never born.
And yet he gave birth to a hero who wanted to go home.
Home. Two letters. Let her journey, too. Culture, one letter from ulcer.
A moth laying eggs on your good suit. On the suitor’s leather.
The books on motherhood change every year, but they all say there will be blood.
Saddam Hussein popularized the expression “the mother of all —— ”
when he referred to the Gulf War. The first one. The second was his redheaded stepson.
All wars create gulfs, and all wars are motherly, since from death comes life.
Cf. forest fires. They’re part of a forest’s natural ecology.
From death comes heat. From heat comes tea. Find our way back to this scene,
carrying a knife, a camera, a book of myths.
That’s Adrienne Rich. My children cause me the most exquisite suffering.
Poor Penelope. It’s not easy being the first cock tease, the original single mom.
She suffered, too. Molly Bloom said yes I said yes I will Yes. What hyperbole.
And Penelope, No. Please. Smothered by the suitors, the rumors, fidelity,
a son. T is for Telemachus, two letters from machetes. 

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literature : word choice

The Cow

by Hernán Ronsino

I hear about it from my old man. He calls Buenos Aires early in the morning and tells me, in a weary voice, that Pajarito Lernú has died. He says that it happened last night. They found the body in a ditch, on the dirt track to the cemetery. Two policemen came in the middle of the night to give him the news and ask him to pick up the body—one of the cops was the boy from Cejas and he seemed drunk. Two idiots, my old man says, at that hour. I threw them out. But when he went back to his bedroom he was hit in the chest by a wave of unbearable anguish. So he stayed there, waiting for the light to filter in through the window so he could call me. Then he says that he needs me. The last thing he tells me is that a few hours before he died Pajarito Lernú gave me a cow. It’s a wounded animal, he says. He stole it from Negro Soto.

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literature : interview

Georgi Gospodinov

by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Empathy in literature, public reminiscence, and the long half-life of socialism.

Here we have an author whose “immodest desire is to mold a novel of beginnings, a novel that keeps starting, promising something, reaching page seventeen and then starting again.” An author who incorporates flies, pseudonyms, minotaurs, and nested memories into his unclassifiable books, and who has hoped critics might say, “this novel’s good, because nothing’s ever certain in it.”

Georgi Gospodinov’s astonishing debut, Natural Novel, was published in 1995, just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and immediately went on to be translated into twelve languages. On the face of it, the novel described a marriage’s dissolution, with a backdrop of Bulgaria in the ’80s—but its pages contain more: a chapter about the language of toilets, a consideration of whether the alphabet’s letters have sexual characteristics, a bit about Linnaeus and whether man should be the measure of all things…

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literature : word choice

Two Poems

by Graeme Bezanson

Eclogue

Music parts to reveal the famous antiquity, a fine lace
Of gasoline in the tapwater, an anomaly of pinkish light.

See now how the cheek of South America pulls away from
Our kisses. My wife, the compound-adjectived,

Dappled by a net of starlight, hands in a deathless
Watermelon: Everything you find in the trough of a U

Is rising: Peregrine insects, sap in the fir tree, imperative
Sentences containing just one or two words. Or you might have

No views on the rolling table, borrowing where it’s cheap to borrow,
Sleeping where the beds are huge. This is why we’re in your

Wheelhouse, looking for sapphires. Refracted by treetops.
I can’t tell if I’m the flotilla or another wayward curl.

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literature : word choice

from Where the Bird Sings Best

by Alejandro Jodorowsky

In those good old days, Salvador Arcavi, the first of a long series of Salvadors—traditionally all his descendants had the same name—though respectful of the Holy Book, decided he was not to going to be a prisoner to its letters. Following the prophecy Jacob made to his son (“Your hand will be on the neck of your enemy. Your father’s sons will bow down to you. Judah is a young lion.”), he became a lion tamer. His way to draw nearer to God was to study those beasts and to live an itinerant life, giving performances in which his union with his animals surpassed the limits of reality and reached the miraculous. The lions jumped through flaming hoops, balanced on the tight rope, danced on their hind legs, climbed up on one another to form a pyramid, spelled out the name of a spectator by choosing wooden letters, and, the greatest test, accepted within their jaws without hurting it the head of the tamer, then dragged him through the sawdust to draw a six-pointed star.

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literature : from the editor

BOMB's Biennial Fiction Contest

Our fiction contest returns. We are pleased to announce this year's judge is Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be? and Ticknor.

The winner will receive a $1,000 prize and publication in BOMB Magazine’s literary supplement, First Proof. All submissions will be read anonymously.

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literature : word choice

Communist Bun Shop

by Gerald Etzo

Sitting in the Communist library next to the old man who spits into a jar. Him there leafing through a broadsheet newspaper and sweating pork bun—its sweet essence, a long, slow, milky journey through the body. Breath of air conditioning. Now the librarian leaning over, musky, asking me to please close the window. Me staring out this window at the Communist bun shop directly across the street.

Trying to read. Difficult when hungry, as is writing, and thinking is always difficult, hungry or not. And that is what I’m doing here, what has been asked of me, and what I’ve chosen, lord help me, to do here in the Communist library—to read writing about thinking, think thoughts about thinking and then write them down. The endless garden. But the stink of a pork bun, even under the lapel or caught in the wiry hair of an old man spitting into a jar, maybe also clinging to his mouth or carried in his sweat, can remind you that you’re also such a creature, also an aching, intemperate body that needs to be fed.

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literature : interview

Can Xue

by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen

“One day of cold doesn't freeze three feet deep.”

After reading through all the available interviews with the Chinese author Can Xue (pseudonym of Deng Xiaohua), the novelist Porochista Khakpour wrote in summation, “All that opposes my training, my literary culture, and even my gut instincts as a writer lives in her self-presentation. Here is the writer as true iconoclast, the uncompromising original.” Don't say you haven't been warned.

I've had the absolute joy of corresponding with Can Xue for the past half-decade, sharing drafts of translations and discussing all the peripheral details of publication; her kindness was a constant as her novel The Last Lover made its gradual way into English. In a way, I suspect she and I know each other better through her writing and my attempts to render it in English than through our actual correspondence. I have come to share, along with many other readers, the confidence in her writing she demands in this brief manifesto on experimental fiction and the conversation that follows. For intrigued readers, Can Xue's body of work in English is substantial, including several story collections and two novels from among the hundreds of short stories, novellas, novels, essays, and criticism published in Chinese over her thirty-year career.

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literature : word choice

Five Poems

by Omar Pérez

Why Does Yemayá Need Blue Cloth Scraps?

At coral reefs we have observed, among many sorts of garbage,
scraps of blue cloth as large as a square meter
which devotees toss to the goddess
we put forth this hypothesis:
Yemayá doesn’t need those, what could she do with them, wipe down a big rock?
observing anthropomorphic infatuation Yemayá notes one advantage, the cloths
proliferate across rocks and sands, in so doing they attract attention from scientists
who can usually get the attention of impresarios
who will know how to persuade the whole world that gods need nothing at all

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literature : word choice

A Vindication of Hypnosis

by Sergio Pitol

Suddenly, during a pause in his monologue, Federico Pérez cautioned me not to become too lost in circumlocution. I should lay everything on the line, he said. I replied that I had already done that the very day I made the appointment by phone. I was trusting that his treatment by hypnosis, about which I had heard great things, would help me give up smoking. If I had gone into too many details at the beginning of my explanation, it was to clarify what my relationship with tobacco was and had been. I do not remember his exact words, but he did allude to the evasiveness and circumlocutions in my speech. He added that he thought it was a manifestation of insecurity, a defense mechanism behind which I was hiding. I do not know if the doctor’s intervention, his interruption and description of the structure of the story, which unbeknownst to me had become unnecessarily and painfully labyrinthine, was part of the treatment, an attempt to stimulate a particular reaction, the beginning of subjugation. I defended myself with literary arguments.

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literature : interview

Norman Manea

by Morten Høi Jensen

“You heard everywhere talk of the end of ideology, the end of history—what end? If people are alive, there is no end.”

Norman Manea’s life began where so many others ended. At just five years old he was interned along with his family in a concentration camp in Ukraine; four years later they emerged with their lives intact only to begin anew in different kind of prison: Stalinist Romania. By 1965, when Nicolae Ceaușescu became General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, Norman Manea was quickly emerging as one of the occupied country’s most promising young writers: he would publish his first novel, Captives, in 1970. That novel has just been made available to English-language readers for the first time by the venerable folks at New Directions. Called “an enduring work of literature” by the Chicago Tribune, it is a furiously complex novel by a remarkably protean writer. It offers readers an immersive experience in the oppressive universe of Soviet Romania—“in the black corridors of a destiny without Sabbath,” as the narrator has it. It is a universe that abounds in a past it cannot address, in which memories “burst forth from their shroud of ashen fog,” and will not be forgotten. Though Norman Manea worries in the course of this interview that the novel is not really suited for an American audience, the experience of navigating the complex narrative of Captives, seamlessly rendered into English by Jean Harris, is a deeply rewarding one.

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literature : word choice

from I'm Very Into You

by Kathy Acker McKenzie Wark

Oh will I remember all that you just wrote? Memory slips even more than... what?... gender (is that self? not here)... and I was going to email, I can’t even remember spelling, to just quickly tell you about the movie I just saw, Todd Haynes Safe... and your email!... now I can’t remember all you said ’cause I want to tell you, emotion taking over, see Safe, it is WONDERFUL hits the spot (advertisers make correctness) makes the art world into the stupid nothing it is... well it is so great seeing something that good... I saw it with RU we’re friends again which is great ’cause I hate losing friends there aren’t enough and it is my family, my friends... so now all is dream... Australia and this usual life melding, here where I do my emailing at two in the morning and wake up figuring out deals business how to give my publisher his share of daily grief oh will I get enough hours to write? I’m so greedy to do that... not like Sydney passing days drunk roaming through the bookstore with you... oh no please “analysis”? For me, “analysis” means “Kathy’s being insecure and needs to breathe a few times.”

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literature : interview

Jeremy M. Davies

by Scott Esposito

“A very specific, peculiar sort of universe-in-a-bottle.”

Jeremy Davies just might be reclaiming comedy’s place in the frequently dour, futile world of modernist literature. His first novel, Rose Alley (Counterpath, 2009), told the disintegrating story of an attempt to make a film about the satirical, bawdy eighteenth-century figure John Wilmot, all while Paris comes to pieces in 1968. Excessive but reliably deadpan, Rose Alley proved both hilarious and experimental. Now he gives us Fancy (Ellipsis Press), a long-winded monologue delivered by a crazy-old-cat-man, who, in between cranky rants about seemingly every irrelevant topic on Earth, sentimentally rhapsodizes the key moment in his long-lost youth: a few blissful months when a fellow librarian used to fellate him in the stacks. Alternately slapstick and pokerfaced, and impeccably timed, Fancy is laugh-out-loud funny, even while it forges new ground in the line of the unstable Thomas Bernhardian narrator. It’s also deeply metaphysical—or maybe not, in which case, the joke is on you, reader, and you’ve just listened to the mock-philosophical, unhinged ravings of a lonely old quack. It was my pleasure to interview Davies over email, and my one hope is that none of me ends up being fodder for his next unreliable narrator.

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literature : word choice

Cecil Taylor

by César Aira

Dawn in Manhattan. In the first, tentative light, a black prostitute is walking back to her room after a night’s work. Hair in a mess, bags under her eyes; the cold transfigures her drunkenness into a stunned lucidity, a crumpled isolation from the world. She didn’t venture beyond her usual neighborhood, so she only has to walk a few blocks. Her pace is slow; she could be going backwards; at the slightest deviation time could dissolve into space. What she really wants is sleep, but she’s not even conscious of that any more. The streets are almost deserted; the few people who usually go out at this time (or have no indoors to go out of) know her by sight, so they don’t examine her violet high-heeled shoes, her tight skirt with its long split, or her eyes, which wouldn’t return their glassy or tender gazes anyway.

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literature : interview

Danielle Dutton & Richard Kraft

Magpies, comics, paradoxes, and the spirit of disruption.

Leaps—the kind that ask you to embrace the sense in nonsense, to surrender, to let go of what you might expect in favor of what you might discover. There are few other artists and writers capable of the extraordinary leaps Danielle Dutton and Richard Kraft make both in their respective works and in their collaboration Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera. In this book, Kraft reassembles a Cold War-era comic book about a Polish spy infiltrating the Nazis, densely layering each collaged page with material from Amar Chitra Katha comics of Hindu mythology, Jimmy Swaggart’s Old and New Testament stories, the English football annual Scorcher, and various images from art history, encyclopedias, and so forth. Frames are broken. Time collapses. The world is in flux. Dutton meanwhile, with masterly command, renders this ever-mutating world into language. Her sixteen “interpolations” punctuate Here Comes Kitty, and they are marvels of nimbleness and imagination. Here collision and juxtaposition may very well be more revealing than logical causation.

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literature : interview

Ned Beauman

by J. W. McCormack

Read, rave, and research.

Poor Ned Beauman. At twenty-nine years old, with two acclaimed and technically astonishing novels behind him and his third, Glow, just out in the US in hardcover, this Cambridge-educated winner of multiple prizes, whose work combines philosophical fascination with actual entertainment, must shoulder the most complimentary curse in all of blurb-ese: inexorable comparison to Thomas Ruggles Pynchon. It isn’t specifically that Beauman is somehow unworthy of the Pynchonesque pedigree—both write the kind of associative, pop-culture-infused novels fetishized by kid-geniuses and highly-educated drug users—but that, while Pynchon is supposed to have once declared “Every weirdo in the world is on my wavelength,” Beauman seems set to a more universal frequency. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone quibbling with his first novel, Boxer, Beetle (Sceptre, 2010), in which a contemporary frame story about a fish-smelling collector of Nazi memorabilia is intercut with a cat-and-mouse game between a gay pugilist and a devious entomologist in the ‘30s. And what kind of monster, I wonder, wouldn’t fall in love with his second novel, The Teleportation Accident, a historical slapstick about a sexually-frustrated theatre director who flees Weimar Berlin for LA only to become entwined in a Chandleresque scheme involving tycoons, mad scientists, and H. P. Lovecraft?

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