Wednesday, November 15, 2017, 7:00 pm
A-Mill Artist Lofts Performance Hall
315 Main St. SE, Minneapolis

Join us in welcoming beloved and best-selling author Anne Fadiman to the Twin Cities! Renowned for her two scintillating essay collections, At Large and At Small and Ex Libris, as well as for her eye-opening and utterly engaging The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award), Fadiman will present her new book, The Wine Lover’s Daughter (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). As Adam Gopnik puts it, “The ostensible object of Anne Fadiman’s wonderful new book is the wine cellar of her father, the once-omnipresent critic Clifton Fadiman. But its real subjects include the insecurities of American Jews, the glories of mid-century ‘middlebrow’ culture, and, above all, the always intricate, often exasperated, and finally deeply tender relation of father and daughter.”

This event is FREE and open to the public, but your RSVP helps us plan accordingly — and all advance responders will be entered in a raffle for a prize to be awarded at the event!


“If Anne Fadiman’s book about her father were a wine, it would merit a ‘100’ rating, along with all the oeno-superlatives: ‘smooth,’ ‘elegant,’ ‘brilliant,’ ‘with a dazzling, heart-warming finish.’ But as it is a book, let’s call it what it is: a stunning, original, beautifully written, clear-eyed yet tear-inducing account of a daughter’s love for her famous father; and into the bargain, the best family memoir yet to come out of the Baby Boom generation.”
—Christopher Buckley

“This book is as good and rich as one would hope, no small thing, given that it’s written by one of the best essayists of our time about her father, one of the more interesting critics of another. Uncork this book and watch one master go to work on another. I was reminded reading it of what the man himself once wrote about tasting a great vintage, that it was ‘to savor a droplet of the river of human history.’”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan

Adrian Matejka - Gymnopédies No. 3 Broadside

This broadside, featuring a new poem by Adrian Matejka, was printed by supersessionpress on the occasion of Adrian Matejka's appearance in the Rain Taxi Reading Series on September 16, 2017.

Limited edition, letter press broadside measures 11" x 13". Limited to 50 copies. Each copy is SIGNED by the author.

Richard Stephens of supersessionpress pulls another beauty from the letterpress printer.

Available with a donation of $50 to Rain Taxi, a nonprofit literary organization. Donations are deductible to the extant allowable by law.


Adrian Matejka read from his poetry at SooVac Gallery in Minneapolis.

Twin Cities Book Festival Poetry Bus

Twin Cities Book Festival, Minnesota State Fairgrounds
Friday, October 13, 2017: 6-7pm Reception; 7-8pm Opening Night Talk
Saturday, October 14, 2017: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Get on the bus! Each hour at the Book Festival, a different poetry workshop or activity will be taking place on the vehicle with various poets and you.  Drop in for just a few minutes or hang out longer—whatever you need, poetry has it.  Here’s our list of poetry happenings:

10 am - Poetry Drop

Take a minute to drop off a poem that you’ve written, to add to the collection of poetry on the bus for readers to dip into and enjoy all day.  Our featured poets in the programs below will be reading these poems and marking their favorites; we’ll be posting their top choices on our website after the Festival!

11 am - Dream Poems with Brett Elizabeth Jenkins

Drop in to write a poem based on a dream you’ve had—or a dream-like poem, if you’re the type of person who can't remember their dreams! Brett Elizabeth Jenkins has published four chapbooks, including 2017’s Over the Moon

12 pm - Protest (or Gratitude) Songwriting with Brian Laidlaw

In the mood to protest? Learn how to turn your thoughts into great lyrics with an acclaimed poet-songwriter. Not into protest?  Write a gratitude song instead, because it’s still a beautiful world. Brian Laidlaw has published the poetry chapbook/folk album Amoratorium and the full-length book The Stuntman, which also contained a companion album of original songs. 

1 pm - Poetry Mad Libs with Paula Cisewski

Drop in to add your own parts of speech to a well-known (or new-to-you) poem and watch the meanings multiply before your eyes! Paula Cisewski's fourth poetry collection, ​quitter​, won Diode Editions' Book Prize and her third, The Threatened Everything, won the Burnside Review book contest; both were released earlier this year.

2 pm - Poet Laureate Tell All with Juan Felipe Herrera & Robert Casper

Join the 21st U.S. Poet Laureate and the Head of the Poetry and Literature Center of the Library of Congress to learn what exactly the Poet Laureate does and to share your ideas about how poetry can be more visible in our country. 

3 pm - Silent Reading

Feeling overwhelmed after a day at the Festival?  Hop on the bus to read some poems to yourself and recharge your batteries. Bring books you’ve bought or dip into the bus’s own trove of books.

Return to the main Festival page

Matthew Rucker

Annie and her Pet Tornado, oil on canvas, 60" x 96"

Matthew Rucker is a colorblind painter who loves to play with color. He is a surrealist who believes that life is too short to spend it painting things as they are, so he paints things as he feels they should be. He is an artist who combines depth and humor to create paintings that simultaneously challenge and entertain.

This painting is for sale! You can contact Matthew and see other wonderful works on his website at matthewrucker.com

Volume 22, Number 2, Summer 2017 (#86)

To purchase issue #85 using Paypal, click here.


Mary Troy: Fluidity of Time | by Ryan Krull
Denise Duhamel: Feminism and Other Isms | by Allison Campbell


On The Islands: Ten Books Toward a Better Understanding of Hawaii | by Mike Dillon
The New Life | a comic by Gary Sullivan
Remembering Joanne Kyger (1934-2017) | by Jonah Raskin


Cover art by Sean Smuda


Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges As Told by Iggy Pop | Jeff Gold | by Maria Damon
Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character | Kay Redfield Jamison | by Brooke Horvath
Tell Me If You’re Lying | Sarah Sweeney | by Kenny Torrella
Romanian Notebook | Cyrus Console | by Jenn Mar
The History of the Future: American Essays | Edward McPherson | by Kasey McKee
The New Midwest: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction of the Great Lakes, Great Plains, and Rust Belt | Mark Athitakis | by Garin Cycholl
Not A Place On Any Map | Alexis Paige | by George Longenecker
Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises | Lesley M. M. Blume | by Ryder W. Miller
Blood Too Bright: Floyd Dell Remembers Edna St. Vincent Millay | Jerri Dell | by Paul Buhle


Huck Out West | Robert Coover | by Ben Sloan
Mexico | Josh Barkan | by Adam Conner
Void Star | Zachary Mason | by Kelsey R. Taylor
Our Dolphin | Joel Allegretti | by Trenary Hall
Wicked Weeds | Pedro Cabiya | by Peter Grandbois
St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin | Thomas McGonigle | by Douglas Messerli
Me Against The World | Kazufumi Shiraishi | by Erik Noonan
2084: The End of the World | Boualem Sansal | by Mari Carlson
The Long Dry | Cynan Jones | by Bethany Bendtsen
Russian Absurd: Selected Writings | Daniil Kharms | by C. Mehrl Bennett
Exit, Pursued | Dalton Day | by John Bradley


Galaxy of Love | Gerald Stern | by Warren Woessner
Hagar Poems | Mohja Kahf | by Julia Stein
Morning, Paramin | Derek Walcott & Peter Doig | by Florian Gargaillo
Field Guide to the End of the World | Jeannine Hall Gailey | by Sarah Liu
Radiant Action | Matt Hart | by Laura Winton
Abandoned Angel | Burt Kimmelman | by M. G. Stephens
Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems | Hirato Renkichi | by John Bradley
Into The Cycloram a | Annie Kim | by Jennifer van Alstyne
Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue | Jorge Esquinca | by Kelsi Vanada
after projects the resound | Kimberly Alidio | by Greg Bem


Trump: The Complete Collection Essential Kurtzman, Volume Two | Harvey Kurtzman, et al. | by Paul Buhle
Mooncop | Tom Gauld | by Steve Matuszak
A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel | Tom Phillips | by Richard Kostelanetz

To purchase issue #86 using Paypal, click here.

Rain Taxi Print Edition, Vol. 22 No. 2, Summer 2017 (#86) | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

Volume 22, Number 3, Fall 2017 (#87)

Volume 22, Number 3, Fall 2017 (#87)

To purchase issue #87 using Paypal, click here.


Tom Rademacher: Driving into the Fire | by Molly Sutton Kiefer
Gabrielle Bell: “I do try to give people souls” | by Kevin Huizenga


The New Life | a comic by Gary Sullivan
Ursule Molinaro: The Fallacy of Identity | by Ben Shields
Vivid Particularity: Four New Asemic Books | by Jeff Hanson
Works and Interviews | Michael Jacobson
Unknown Messages | Spencer Selby
zinc zanc zunc | Rosaire Appel
Codex Abyssus | Volodymyr Bilyk
Remembering Jack Collom (1931–2017) | by Elizabeth Robinson
Remembering Burton Watson (1925–2017) | by James P. Lenfestey


Cover art by Matthew Rucker


What is Poetry? (Just Kidding, I Know You Know): Interviews from the Poetry Project Newsletter (1983–2009) | Anselm Berrigan, ed. | by Patrick James Dunagan
Interweavings: Creative Nonfiction | Carol Smallwood | by Ronald Primeau
Little Magazine, World Form | Eric Bulson | by Matthew Cheney
Demand the Impossible! A Radical Manifesto | Bill Ayers | by Michael Workman
In Praise of Litigation | Alexandra Lahav | by Spencer Dew
Certain Relevant Passages | Joe Manning | by Micah Winters
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry | Neil deGrasse Tyson | by Ryder W. Miller
Sirens | Joshua Mohr | by Chad Parmenter
Quaestiones Perversas | Betriz E. Balanta & Mary Walling Blackburn | by Jeff Alford
Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law | James Q. Whitman | by Michael Workman


The Shape of Bones | Daniel Galera | by Chris Barsanti
The Teeth of the Comb | Osama Alomar | by John Bradley
Florence in Ecstasy | Jessie Chaffee | by Lizzie Klaesges
Fire. | Elizabeth Hand | by George Longenecker
Literally Show Me A Healthy Person | Darcie Wilder | Meghan Daly
We Could’ve Been Happy | Keith Lesmeister | by Bret Farley
Prosopopoeia | Farid Tali | by Abby Burns
The Drop Edge of Yonder | Rudolph Wurlitzer | by Garin Cycholl


Aloha/irish trees | Eileen Myles | by Semina Cooper
Conflation | Rae Armantrout | by Semina Cooper
The Conference of the Birds | Attar | by David Wiley
Surge | Opal C. McCarthy | by Heidi Czerwiec
Complete Poems of Richard Elman 1955–1997 | Richard Elman | by M. G. Stephens
Madwoman | Shara McCallum | by Jennifer van Alstyne
The Diary of Kaspar Hauser | Paolo Febbrato | by Robert Zaller
Cutting Room | Jessica de Koninck | by Sharon Tracey
Lowly | Alan Felsenthal | by Daniel Moysaenko
Bronzeville at Night: 1949 | Vida Cross | by Ian Bodkin
Power Ballads | Garrett Caples | by Chris Oakley
The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded | Molly McCully Brown | by John Bradley
Lion Brothers | Leona Sevick | by Ruth Chasek


You & a Bike & a Road | Eleanor Davis | by Steve Matuszak

To purchase issue #87 using Paypal, click here.

Rain Taxi Print Edition, Vol. 22 No. 3, Fall 2017 (#87) | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

A Savage, Celibate Gaze: Cris Mazza’s Foray into Independent Film

by Michael Newirth  

Is adolescence a greater torment for the artist? If everybody in those years must face struggles about bodies, gender, identity, and sex, creative people may in particular wince when recalling the awkward growing pains of high school romance. For Cris Mazza, PEN/Algren award-winning author of eighteen books and the subject of the new hybrid “fictive documentary” Anorgasmia, her high-school romance with the kind, popular, new-in-town musician who would many years later reappear as her life partner was especially fraught—due, she now realizes, to a lifelong alienation from her own sexuality on every level. The memories remain etched for Mazza. She recalls, “On our second date, he wanted to go to the drive-in movies . . . and I didn’t like what he wanted to do at the drive in.” The teenaged Mazza castigated herself: “You’re supposed to like this . . . Something’s wrong with you if you don’t like this.”

Mazza, who on screen and in person exudes the ascetic, coiled intensity of a particularly prolific “writers’ writer,” had taken on these shifting matters of sexuality in her 2014 memoir Something Wrong With Her (Jaded Ibis Press). The memoir underperformed commercially, but it inspired filmmaker Frank Vitale to contact the author and propose a further exploration of the deficit at the memoir’s heart and the movie’s title: an inability to engage sexually so profound that it shakes the subject’s self-identity, role in the world, and ability to form human connection. The result is a spare, intense viewing experience that provokes empathy and difficult questions in equal doses; despite its personalized focus on Mazza herself (and a modest budget), they have produced a more universal look at intimacy’s fragility, especially when translated into our drive for sexual satisfaction.

In the film, Mazza plays an unvarnished, no-filter version of her real self, leading writing workshops and sparring with mansplaining colleagues in the Program for Writers at the poured-concrete confines of the University of Illinois, Chicago (that the film captures the brawny intimacy of life on its Brutalist Near West Side campus is one of its successes). The filmed narrative compounds aspects of her memoir; through both voiceover and a dramatic storyline, Mazza asserts that her lifelong discomfort with notions of femininity is pushing her towards the stripping down of her own physicality. She attempts to develop a transgender identity, and likewise explores the new (to her) movement of asexuality; she utilizes photography to document and criticize her own physique, made lean through a punishing regimen of weights. And throughout, she carries the anguish of anorgasmia, her own inability to recognize or give in to sexual satisfaction.

Mazza’s partner on this journey, on the screen and in life, is that former high school bandleader, musician Mark Rasmussen. After more than twenty-five years apart and multiple marriages, they reunited when Mark sought her out after a book publication, and he eventually moved from California to Illinois to be with her. In a film obliquely concerned with physicality, attractiveness, and age, Mark is a stolid, burly presence, a large man who has done some living, if on the monastic rather than the decadent side of the aging-musician spectrum. While the film (which deftly utilizes childhood and teenage footage of the principals) first establishes Mark’s full-bore hippie coiffure when he and Mazza first met in the 1970s, today his mostly bald head gleams, another reminder of the fragility of conventional attractiveness. Throughout the film, Mark’s struggle with Mazza’s self-abnegation in the face of his obvious adoration of her provides its counterpoint, its Jarmuschian suspense.

As Mazza brutally critiques her own physicality and the very idea of enthusiastically enjoying sexual engagement, Mark’s wish to be supportive, or at least to comprehend her perspective, manifests itself in an anguish which gradually overtakes him. At one point in the film, this is evidenced in his sad hesitation as they shop in an enormous, rural thrift store for appropriately run-down working man’s clothes, so that Mazza can complete her “transgender makeover” in time to appear at dinner at a colleague’s home. Later, as she describes her determination to include him in an intimate photographic portfolio presenting Mazza in a male role and appearance, his roiling unease and the fear of losing her as the woman he loves come to a head, in a tense confrontation, shot close-in. Mark claims, “To show my affection towards you as trying to be a man, that is asking me to live the biggest lie that I’ve ever tried to live for you. No, Cris. I can’t do that for you. It’s not in me, any more than I think being a man is in you.”

Throughout their funny and sometimes sad interactions that lead up to this scouring moment, Mazza and Mark seem to balance their real selves with slightly exaggerated, composite versions prepared as in fiction. Of this synthesis, Mazza noted in a conversation via email, “We—Mark and I—got better at it as we went along. It was recovering from the feeling of being watched as we lived out our lives that was difficult.”

The film likewise makes use of Mazza’s real-world literary compatriots, including novelist Gina Frangello, who appears as a similarly exaggerated composite of herself, as they discuss misadventures in vibrator shopping, as part of a well-meant attempt to address Mazza’s condition (“You said it was going to work!” she upbraids Frangello). Elsewhere, short-story writers Dan Libman and his wife Molly McNett (played by actress Christine Simokaitis in the film) host Mazza during her ill-fated experiment in masculine “passing.” While these scenes have a thrown-off aspect that would situate them well in Chicago’s mumblecore / micro-indie film scene, they also possess a sweet, awkward humor that unfurls a window into the supportive literary networks present here in “flyover country.” Mazza observes, “Writers were the only other people I knew who could understand the project quickly and work within the constraints. Also, these were the people who already knew my and Mark’s background. Working with a person from another area of my life, like a dog-training buddy, even a different colleague at UIC, might have been too awkward to then maintain any semblance of naturalness in the filmed scenes.”

Mazza is a sharp presence on film, and forces the viewer to contemplate what for most is a fearful path not taken—a life in which sexual pleasures and connections are alien—by showing how, in a writer’s life, so many outlets would otherwise become foreign. At one point the camera drifts on a dreary fall day through the crowded UIC quadrangle, finally voyeuristically settling in on the lower half of an undergraduate woman, who is essentially wearing clingy pajamas. “I can sort of understand how a man would see that and want to put himself there,” Mazza notes. “I asked one of my ex-husbands, what’s it like to be a man? And he answered, so quickly. . . ‘You walk around wanting to fuck everything.’” Mazza’s own bemusement when faced (along with the viewer) with the co-ed’s appealing rear end in clingy sweats (as Mazza muses, “She probably knew that, and that’s why she wore them to school”) shows her determination here, as in much of her fiction, to play with the invisible forces of sexual objectification (constructed here by the juxtaposition of a young student’s ass against the severe, urban backdrop of Brutalist learning) in ways that may discomfort the viewer, yet keep them tuned in for more. Still, Mazza clearly hopes the film stands on its own, apart from her fictional concerns, and making it seems to have been a mixed and at times exhausting experience, distinct from the control the novelist enjoys. As she notes, “Whatever intents I may have had that my body of work was part of this (really, only in a “Stage-of-career” way) were thwarted by decisions made in editing.”

Mazza’s film raises these issues—of enforced celibacy, of bodily alienation, against the savage stew of feminine objectification—with a plain and unflinching honesty that treats its autobiographical subject with thought-provoking empathy. Yet, its easily overlooked heart is the long-thwarted relationship between Mazza and Rasmussen. Given that neither are professional actors, their escalating on-screen intensity, and ability to step outside of their actual relationship to represent its fictionalized extremes while actually capturing the longing of both the years that passed between them and Mazza’s storm of sexual alienation, is nothing short of remarkable and admirable. The film ends, in a clever twist, with a return to Mazza’s sole quasi-sexual (as in romantic) fantasy, described offhand in an early scene: coming up on Mark playing jazz in a darkened bar, as her true, neutralized self (though as the viewer knows, still purely feminine in Mark’s eyes), only to make an unstated, public, celibate connection, an intimate visual acknowledgement. As the film’s understated climax, it represents a calm resolution one only hopes Mazza the individual (if not Mazza the restless, productive writers’ writer) receives.
Anorgasmia is available for purchase or online rental. For further information, please visit the film's website.


Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017


Science Fiction in the Critical Vein: New York 2140 & This Census Taker

New York 2140
Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit Books ($28)

This Census Taker
China Miéville
Del Rey ($16)

by Paul Buhle

As icebergs break off into the ocean and threats of mass extinctions gather, it’s normal (if “normal” is the word) for Science Fiction to re-emerge as a form of social exploration and social criticism. Happily, we have a handful of masters on hand to lead our imaginations along.

Literary scholars will eagerly point to historically distant origins of SF, and rightly so. But it’s good to understand how closely the American share of the genre has been tied to the book and magazine market at their lowest, most popular levels, and thus to their connections with utopian and anti-utopian political visions. A half century before H.G. Wells, meetings on Mars with gender experiments unacceptable on earth—notably women’s freedoms—were already being enacted in popular novels, part of the Yankee reformism of the middle nineteenth century. Toward century’s end, Populist standout Ignatius Donnelly sold tens of thousands of his vision of a destroyed and despotic future, anticipating Jack London among others, and added newer fictions of dread as the First World War approached.

Jump down to the 1920s through ’40s as the pulp magazine market, then the paperback market, found their way into the lower-class consumer world. Mostly filled with space cowboys and “BEMs” (Bug Eyed Monsters), these publications also contained much of the bizarre and politically radical. In Depression-era New York City, a circle of young, left-leaning, mostly Jewish intellectuals called themselves the Futurians. Only Isaac Asimov among these youngsters is likely to be remembered today, but the wider circle contained not only writers but also genre publishing experts establishing their own paperback imprints. By the 1960s, drug store readers looking beyond Ray Bradbury would find dozens of socially critical novels, not to mention short stories, about how the future looked a lot like . . . well, actually, Donald Trump’s America, with public schools privatized to cereal companies and all sorts of barbarism made respectable. The last of the Futurians, democratic socialist Frederik Pohl, passed away at ninety-three in 2013, still blogging for a transformed, cooperative order.

The literary picture, meanwhile, had become too complex for any easy overview. But postmodern science fiction, with a special inspiration from the British, made quite the splash in the 1960 and ’70s, willfully discarding the narrative in many a novel. For many readers, however, the tellable tale remained mandatory. Thus Philip K. Dick, whose Man In The High Castle, now adapted to video by Amazon Prime, has brought his name back with a bang. Thus Ursula K. Le Guin, feminist, ecosocialist, and literary standout of a political generation. Thus the young intellectual who wrote his PhD dissertation on Dick’s novels and then decided to become a writer rather than an English professor: Kim Stanley Robinson. Across many volumes, but memorably in his “Mars” series of the 1990s, the multiple award-winning Robinson combined a wealth of “hard” scientific knowledge with a radical critique of capitalism and hints of what a more cooperative order might look like.

A couple of decades ago, when I interviewed Robinson for In These Times, he was already a genre legend. My own father was a geologist, like Robinson’s wife, and that might help explain why the Mars series was so special to me. But hundreds of thousands of readers had the same impression: when he wrote, for instance, about “terraforming” Mars into a habitable (for humans) environment, he offered more than credible details. This was as far from sword-and-sorcery (of the old “Science Fiction and Fantasy” publishers’ category) as imaginable—and close to a tradition little understood.

Robinson has been so prolific that merely listing his works would be excessive. Suffice it to say that in one of his Mars books, explorers far in the future come across the physical remnants of an extra-planetary social uprising crushed by the mighty. The proletariat, let alone the socialists, do not seem to gain the victory over the earth-bound and interplanetary corporations. But then again, the struggle is never over. Unable to make desperately needed change, such as the abolition of the profit system, humanity must face itself and the consequences of its ecological foolishness.

Robinson’s next-to-most-recent book, 2015’s Aurora, concerns itself with the subject of such devastation. It makes sense that humanity, a couple centuries from now, would be exploring the solar system for a planet where at least a portion of society could start over. It also makes sense that success is badly against the odds, which favor our presence in the planetary ecosystem where we now live, no matter what we have done to it. But there’s something else here: Aurora happens also to be the title of the totemic mystical text by Jakob Boehme (1575-1624), a vision of abundance and presumably peace as well for all, animals included. This “legacy” Aurora is the presence of an absence in Robinson’s book, and yet it is there, somehow. From his home in Davis, California, Robinson works closely with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, and has been named a “Hero of the Environment” by Time, that historically reactionary publication now seriously worried about the future of American politics and profits.

It would not be giving too much away about New York 2140 to say that it depicts the city being continuously flooded, with new struggles of landlords and tenants, lenders and creditors, heading toward the riotous stage. Amazingly, not quite credibly, the Democratic Party is still at once hopelessly corrupt and a locus for progressive political work (the “Rad Dems,” a phrase that sounds curiously like Berniecrats). The protagonists are forever floating around, of necessity; there also seem to be a lot of beavers and muskrats, as pre-settlement water sources reassert themselves. New York 2140 is chock full of whimsy, as if Robinson is on a lark and wants us to know it, and yet the subject is serious, too. If capitalism does not yield, and Fascism does not crush all opposition, then something else is bound to happen.

If there is a younger version of Robinson in the English language, it must be China Miéville. More influenced by postmodernists like J.G. Ballard but also well within the socialistic literary lineage of science fiction, Miéville was born in 1972 and educated in International Relations and British Left politics as well as what he likes to call “weird literature.” No summary of his earlier work, ranging widely and twice from fiction to non-fiction (the latest is October, his own historical account of the Russian Revolution), can simplify it generically. So let us turn to his latest fiction, a little gem entitled This Census Taker.

Reading this spare journey into the life and mind of a boy growing up in the aftermath of some unnamed but terrible wars brings to mind not the dystopian literary fiction of the 1950s but rather the comic art version. EC Comics, about to go under from pressure of the Comics Code in 1955, featured the most realistic and therefore most anti-war war comics ever written and drawn—mainly by Harvey Kurtzman, also the founder of Mad Comics. Horror titles actually kept EC financially afloat, but a sidebar series of science fiction, drawn by some of the contemporary greats but adapted from Bradbury or pursuing similar themes, often had impoverished wanderers discovering destroyed cities. On the last page or perhaps in the last panel, they realized that the barely recognizable places had once been New York, Chicago, or anywhere else in the vanished United States.

Miéville’s protagonist, who seems to be in his early teens, is raised on a hill outside a village struggling, through the recuperation of handicrafts, to come back to life. His mother raises vegetables, his father makes keys, and he grapples with their inability to communicate with him about the world they inhabit; he also has a terrible (and seemingly justified) fear of what his father has done, and may still do, to people considered dangerous. He seems to find a community of his own, young ragamuffins in the collapsed village, but this, also, comes to almost nothing. The story is better in the telling of details than in any proposed conclusion, perhaps because in this world, no conclusion can be foreseen—as in our world today.

No doomsday crier, Miéville was himself among the founders of a UK socialist alliance initiative led by filmmaker Ken Loach, in 2013, and is doubtless in the camp of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn today. How will this affect his further fiction? Hard to say, but if there were ever a time for the resurgence of such politically astute SF as Miéville’s and Robinson’s, now is surely it.

Click here to purchase New York 2140 at your local independent bookstore
Click here to purchase This Census Taker at your local independent bookstore
Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2017 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2017

The Stories Choose You: an interview with Rosa Montero

Interviewed by Jorge Armenteros

The repercussion of the work of Rosa Montero in the world of International Hispanism is enormous. Ten books, thirty doctoral theses, and more than 120 academic papers have analyzed her work. In 1978 she won the World Interview Prize, in 1980 the National Journalism Prize, and in 2005 the Madrid Press Association Award. This year she has received the Professional Career Award awarded by the International Club of Prensay and the Manuel Alcántara International Journalism Prize from the University of Málaga.

Two of her novels, The Lunatic of the House (2003) and Story of the Transparent King (2005) received Spain's top book award, the Qué Leer Prize. Her other titles include the short-story collection Lovers and Enemies and the novels Beautiful and DarkMy Beloved Boss, and The Heart of the Tartar. Her work is translated into more than twenty languages.

Montero has been a visiting professor at Wellesley College, Boston and at the University of Virginia. She has taught creative writing at Bingham Young University, Utah, and Miami Dade College, Miami, and received a scholarship to lecture at Queen's University in Belfast, UK. Montero has taught literature and journalism in the School of Letters and the Contemporary School of Humanities, both in Madrid.

This interview was conducted verbally this past spring in Madrid, Spain. We met in her apartment, which overlooks el Parque del Retiro; surrounded by a multitude of sculptures, paintings, drawings, and amulets of salamanders, we spoke about literature and her last published book, La Carne (Alfaguara, 2016). I later transcribed the interview and edited the content for length and accuracy. Once edited, I translated the interview from Spanish into English.

Jorge Armenteros: At the beginning of La Carne, we find the subject of age. We know Soledad is on the brink of her sixtieth birthday—“Dogs’ age,” as you describe it in the book. What motivated you to choose her as the main character?

Rosa Montero: The truth is you do not choose the stories you tell, but stories choose you. You do not choose, therefore, characters either. Novels are like dreams you dream with your eyes open; they are books which appear in your head with the same apparent immediateness as they appear in your dreams at night. A writer always writes their obsessions and the truth is that all throughout life we end up writing the same thing in different ways. I am a tremendously existentialist writer; a contemporary novel is a novel that is very much marked by death, but mine is even more than the average one. Then all my books speak in a very obsessive way about death and the passing of time and what the time does to us or undoes to us, because our lives mean us being undone over time.

So it was natural that Soledad came out of nowhere. I mean, it is not that I chose her. On the other hand, Soledad has a feature I did look for. There was a conscious thing I wanted to find in her, and it is that I wanted to write a very extreme character who was close to turning sixty and who had never had a stable loving relationship. Soledad has had many lovers, but she has never had a complete everyday sentimental story. When we read the novel, we understand why: she has reasons for not having lived it. I wanted to write such an extreme character, because I wanted to ask myself how it is that someone, upon reaching that age, with such a life, can, perhaps, start to say to herself, “I will die without getting to know love,” and I wanted to do some research, I wanted myself to live within a life like that one to see how it feels, and what kind of wound can do that to you in life. But take into account that when I was already working on this character, I realized that it would not have been necessary to go so far, because I understood that there are lots of men and women who have been married for twenty years, or who have married and separated and remarried three times, and who, nevertheless, share the same experience with Soledad, because they feel they have never been loved the way they wanted to be loved. This might become such a deep wound that it destroys their life, that creates in them a radical frustration and that makes them feel they have thrown their lives away. And, in some cases, they might have gotten to this point due to bad luck. But in other cases, I think it is because we do not know how to live, which is another of the themes of the novel La Carne. We, humans, make out of our lives nonsense very often. There is a phrase from Oscar Wilde I love that says, “For most of us, real life is the life we do not lead.” Tremendous, isn’t it? Tremendous, but very truthful.

JA: There’s the following passage in the book: “Because one of the most widespread mirages is to think we are not going to be like the other old people, we will be different. But, then, age always catches you and you end up being equally shaky, unstable and drooling.” Would Soledad be able to overcome this overwhelming reality?

RM: No, absolutely, never, and nobody can. And, besides, we all believe it. As you grow old, you go telling yourself, “But not me.” You go challenging others if you are lucky, and if you are still physically fit and continue to look younger. I myself believe it, because I see people my age who look much worse, but it is not true. At any given time, if you live long enough, old age catches you . . . the only choices we have in life are either the impairment of old age or early death.

JA: Flesh and senses seem to enact guidelines in Soledad’s life. “Tyrant flesh enslaved everybody,” says the narrator of the novel. Is that just Soledad’s struggle, or do you propose it to be our struggle as well?

RM: No, no, of course, it is everyone's struggle. The relationship between the human being and the flesh has always been a matter of huge conflict. Since the beginning of time every religion has tried to take control of our selves, usually from a repressive point of view, most often than not inhibiting the body as well. Other times, on the other hand, as in certain eastern liturgies, empowering the body and doing away with the ego. But living inside this body never ceases to be a conflict. We are cultural beings and that clashes with our animal instincts. That’s where the title comes from. One day I came up with the title and I thought, what a title—so simple, so easy, so powerful, so telling. How is it that there aren’t twenty thousand novels titled La Carne? But there aren’t. So I kept my mouth shut, desiring at all costs not to have it stolen, until my book came out. In the first place, the flesh is what traps us, because no one has ever chosen his or her body to live in, has he? You are what you are and you didn’t get to choose it. It’s the flesh that traps us in the first place, the flesh that makes us sick, that makes us old and that eventually ends up killing us. But at the same time, it’s that glorious flesh that enables us to scratch heaven through sensuality, through sex, through passion. Paradoxically, the flesh that kills us will also make us feel eternal for a brief moment because that’s what we are in passion, eternal—we abandon ourselves, we merge, we give ourselves to the other, so much that when we are loving passionately, death doesn’t exist.

JA: Do you think Soledad truly loves Adam or does she only desire him, even though she is convinced otherwise?

RM: No, she is trying to convince herself of only wanting him, but what she truly is looking for is love. In fact, almost at the beginning, when she is about to call him on the phone, their relationship hasn’t even begun and she says: “More than a lover, I want a loved one.” She is afraid of herself, of that need for total love she has, of her loving passion. She has kept it under control for so long with all of her lovers and suddenly, with Adam, it just goes off.

JA: Soledad shares with Adam the frailty of those who have suffered, but that communion is not enough to keep them together. Is that the book’s central tragedy?

RM: No, truthfully, no. Because they are an impossible couple in so many ways. Let’s go back to the novel’s beginning. She is an exposition commissary, an educated woman, intellectual, nearing her sixty years, who’s had a lot of lovers, as we’ve established, but no serious significant others, who just broke up with one and who, in a final childish outburst, because love turns us into children, has no other brilliant idea than to try to make her ex-lover jealous in an opera performance, so she hires an extremely handsome gigolo. She doesn’t want to have sex with the gigolo, which she could, since he’s a prostitute; what she wants is to have that hottie by her side and make the other guy jealous. But we already know that us human beings spend life making plans and then reality comes along and tears them down in a single second, so there’s a violent and unexpected event that disrupts everything and they initiate a relationship. So, all the way from the beginning, it’s a wrong relationship. There’s a huge age difference and, besides, he’s a prostitute. That makes the relationship far more ambiguous than it already is. What’s really important in the novel is the edification of the mirror, the twins, the other one. She, the main character, has a twin. He, Adam, also has a twin. They are both like twins, one being a mirror to the other one. I believe in twinship—in my novels there’s lots of twins—and it’s exactly about that. It’s about all of the possibilities of our own being that we leave behind because one of the things that troubles me the most in life, that upsets all of us, is that we reach this world with the capability to be anything. But then life starts to confine us inside our small realities. And then, the shadow of those other possible lives stays to lurk us, which also sticks to you and you can’t shake it off, since it was so easy, it’d have been so easy to lead another life. We make twenty thousand small choices a day, and maybe one of those choices is the one that will take us to a completely different life. If you stop to think about it, it is vertiginous, hypnotizing and distressing. So, twins represent the other possible lives you could have led, which you drag behind you some way, in a ghostly way.

JA: The chase topic is important in the novel.

RM: Yes, it’s a novel of pursuit. I think Soledad is chased by her ghosts; she is certainly running away from her childhood. She has a very tough childhood and there are several terrors chasing her, such as the terror of going crazy, because she has a schizophrenic sister. Therefore, Soledad is constantly running away. That chasing could be self-destructive, but there is a redemption moment in the novel, a moment in which she forgives another person and she forgives herself, and that is going to let her end the book in a better situation. It’s not a happy ending, but it’s a much less desperate place than in the beginning of the novel.

JA: Do you think destiny is a tragedy or a chance to vindicate ourselves at the end of our lives?

RM: Well, it depends on what we consider destiny. Because if we consider destiny as closed, as they do in the East, then it would be a tragedy. Me, I belong to a Western tradition and I am strongly proactive, I think we can always do something. It’s true that a human being cannot control what happens to him. I can leave here now and a truck runs over me: I can’t control it. However, what we can control is how we respond to what happens to us, what we do with what happens to us. Even if the range of choice is minimal, there is always a choice. For example, in the Nazi concentration camps we have records and we know there were prisoners, poor men, that betrayed their mates—I insist they were victims, I’m not going to judge them—and on the other side, in the same circumstances, there were absolutely heroic prisoners who helped their mates. Even in that tiny little range of choice, you can choose. So, from that point of view, destiny is our battlefield. It’s not a tragedy; it is what we do with it.

JA: You appear in the novel as Rosa Montero, with tattoos and everything. Do you write like that, just like the book’s Rosa Montero explains, embodying the lives of all your characters?

RM: Totally. That thing about appearing, I don’t find it so pleasing. I have the feeling . . . no, the conviction, the certainness that reality and fiction are really mixed up. The frontier between reality and fiction is tremendously porous and slippery. And in fact, when I remember something that has happened to me a long time ago, let’s say twenty years ago, many times I’m not sure if I have actually lived what I am recalling, or I have dreamed about it, or I have written about it, or I have imagined it all. And the four possibilities have the same experiential force to me. That’s why there’s this game in many of my novels, in this border area between reality and fiction. Ana Santos Aramburo, who is actually the National Library Director, appears in La Carne. Moreover, she’s a friend of mine and the poor woman didn’t know I was putting her in a novel, so when I finished the first draft, I sent it to her and I told her: “Ana, look, you’re appearing there and you also talk a lot, so take a look at it and see if you’re OK with that.” Thank goodness she was! So, including myself in the action is also within this game. And the truth is I had a lot of fun looking at myself through the eyes of my character, because it’s me. And Soledad is right when she criticizes me. Yes, of course, I am a lot like Peter Pan. It’s true, I wear Doctor Martens boots, I have tattoos and I am dressed with young clothes . . . everything she says is true, it’s just that I’m not uncomfortable at all with that. Kids are the ones who create; I find it really great to have my inner child still alive. But besides this chapter, besides playing with the limits of reality and fantasy, it’s a key for the novel’s structure, because there I tell my character that imaginary life is also life, and that too helps my character to end the novel better than how it started.

JA: In what way does your journalism career influence in your fiction writing?

RM: You can’t make a living out of fiction writing. You can’t and you shouldn’t. I always tell everyone that is a huge mistake, because I have seen many writers get lost because of that. Novels should be an area of total freedom. It is already difficult to fight against the market pressure, against the pressure from your friends, your family, your editors, against the pressure of your own ambitions. All of that is already a fight. If you also have to earn money to pay for the mortgage, it’s fatal. I have seen how friends of mine, very good writers, who have left their jobs to make a living out of their books, started publishing every year really bad books, because they needed to get an advance payment. And they have been shot to shit—in very few years they have disappeared as writers. Incredible, right? I think you always need to have another job. I make a living out of being a journalist. The print journalism I do, reporting, is a literary genre as any other, and it can also be as sublime as any other. For example, In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote, is a spectacular book. I like journalism very much as a job. And I have learned a lot, really a lot . . . I have met many worlds, and not only geographic, but also inner worlds. But it is always a job, it belongs to my outer being, to my social being, hence I may get tired of it. I’ve been working as a journalist, now I keep working as an article writer, for more than forty years.

Fiction, however, is a different matter. Like many novelists, I started writing when I was a little girl, a very little girl. My first tales, I wrote them when I was five years old and they were about little rats that talked. My mother dated them and I have them around here. Since then, I’ve been writing fiction for as long as I can remember myself as a person. For me, fiction belongs to my inner being, is something essential which defines me—I am a fiction writer in the same way I am a woman, the same way I am dark-haired—it is something essential and structural. It’s like an exogenous skeleton that keeps me going. And I don’t know how I would manage to live without writing, working with words. But they are two extremely opposite genres; let’s say as essays are to poetry. In particular, within journalism, clearness is a value. The clearer and less misleading a work of journalism is, the better. In a novel, ambiguity is a value. The more readings a novel has, even contradictory, the better. In journalism, you talk about what you know; you have provided yourself with records, you have gathered information, you have performed interviews. In a novel, you talk about what you don’t know, because the novel comes from the unconscious. They are very different relationships with words and with the world. In journalism, you talk about trees; in the novel, you try to talk about the forest.

JA: Who are the American contemporary novelists you find interesting to read?

RM: Well, the United States is still the empire, so we read a great many American authors: Jonathan Franzen, Lucia Berlin, Paul Auster . . . Many. I will say there are two authors I consider my teachers, one on the most realistic side and the other one in the most fantastic side: one of them is American—Ursula K. Le Guin, who’s still alive, in Portland—and the other one is half American, Nabokov, although his Russian ancestry and his Russian works also influence me a lot.

JA: You have written many novels and you have won many prizes. Which aspects of your narrative do you aim to develop in your next books?

RM: The art path leads you to be increasingly free. That’s what you do. Maturity happens because of being increasingly free. And what does “because of being increasingly free” mean? Well, Julio Ramón Ribeyro, the Peruvian writer, used to say a mature novel demands the author’s death, not literal death but metaphoric death, which is the author has to truly erase himself. Therefore, to be truly free, you have to break free from internal and external pressures. The things that restrict the freedom of writing are thousands, from the fear of hurting someone to the will of pleasing someone . . . a lot of things. And you actually have to erase the self completely and become a sort of medium, let the story pass through yourself and let the story dance with you. For example, all my life I have been saying, and it’s a good advice for young authors, that you have to find the balance between self-criticism and arrogance. I mean, you have to fiercely criticize your own work, tell yourself “Oh, this is really bad. I am failing at this,” but at the same time, in order to not get blocked, you have to be confident enough in yourself to say: “OK, but next time I’ll do better and someday I will write the best novel ever written.” You must have this as a lighthouse, but when you’re already getting to a certain age, like me, for example, and you become a mature author, you have to lose even that, you have to lose even the ambition of writing a wonderful piece of work. You have to lose everything. You have to erase yourself.

JA: You’re talking about a complete, absolute freedom.

RM: Yes, yes, that’s right, and I’m following that path and now I’m also, I think, in the plenitude stage of my writing. I feel very close to that, I am increasingly free. I have written La Carne with a huge freedom. By being completely free, totally erasing the self, you can dance well, you can make love well, and you can write well.

JA: And with that spirit, are you working on any new project?

RM: Yes, now I’m going to make a third novel about my character Bruna Husky, whom I adore. This is the closest character, although she’s an android from the 22nd century, but she’s the character I feel the closest to. It’s a character I feel really close to, that I like a lot, and I’m going to write another novel about her. There are already two of them, which are Lágrimas en la lluvia (Tears in Rain) and El peso del corazón (Weight of the Heart), and I have a lot of notes about the third one.

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