Starred Review in Booklist

Booklist has given a starred review to The Painting and the City.

At a friend’s party in Manhattan, sculptor Jacob Lerner sees an 1842 portrait of a young woman and quickly becomes obsessed with it. He sets a librarian friend searching for information about artist and subject, which eventuates in finding the painter’s journal of his New York sojourn for the commission. Philip Schuyler’s testimony (which appears in two separately paginated inserts in a different typeface) discloses that the painting is one of five that together constituted a threat to the subject. That threat is tangentially related to the commercial growth of Manhattan, another of Lerner’s obsessions and the motive behind a pair of installation pieces, one a dour vision of modern New York, the other a serener conception. As he sleuths the painting and builds the installations, Lerner has hallucinations in which, guided by a glass marionette, he observes scenes related to Schuyler’s and his subject’s fates, in which a not-quite-conspiracy of property owners, dating from Manhattan’s Dutch colonial days, is implicated. Seemingly informed by an artist’s eye and driven by its fantastic elements, this complex, enthralling novel is concerned with relations between art and commerce, and nature and commerce; the importance of the past; the everyday oppression of capitalism; and how art may shape history. —Ray Olson

So run over to the PS order page and get yee a copy or two.


Interzone Review

There’s a new review by Paul Kincaid of Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed from Interzone 222 May/June 2009.  The collection has been out about a year so I thought I’d reflect a bit.

Kincaid’s review is mostly positive, but negative in interesting ways.  He dislikes the collection’s title and the first two stories, but that’s balanced by thoughtful analysis and a great appreciation for “Sidewalk Factory.”

“Best of the bunch, however, is…‘The Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Romance’, which is worth the whole of the rest of this chapbook put together. It is a sort of anti-utopia: the inhabitants of an island state subject to increasingly absurd government decrees. The geography of the island, its regimented social structure, and its relationships with the client states along the mainland all recall Thomas More’s novel, but then it is twisted to distort the image just enough to make it interesting. I loved the fact that if you were able to accept the surreal elements of the world, the whole thing made a coherent sense. This was a place just on the edge of being believable, and within that shape everything the characters do and everything that is done to them makes perfect sense. This could become one of my favourite stories of the year.”

I haven’t read Thomas More’s Utopia, but perhaps will soon. Wikipedia calls it a novel but the county library lists it as non-fiction. Probably because it’s old and revered. Maybe someday my novels will be considered non-fiction.

Reading the widely-varying reviews of Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed has been fascinating.  There has been no consensus. One reviewer’s favorite is another reviewer’s dog food.  It’s not good to dwell too much on reviews, but reviews do help indicate if the writing is connecting with a reader.

What I take from the disparity in reviewer tastes is that I’m doing the right thing. I’m not writing to please an audience; I’m writing because I’m driven to. I have ideas and I need to express them. I don’t expect to please everyone but I hope I please enough people so that I can keep getting published. That’s a pretty basic formula, and I’m sure every writer has their own way of approaching it.

And, speaking of connecting with readers, I was at Wiscon last weekend. A woman saw my name tag and said she bought the collection there last year and enjoyed it a lot. She especially loved “Suspension” and “Tales of the Golden Legend.” Which Kincaid did not care for at all. So, as I said, no consensus, but some interesting responses.

Something else Kincaid mentioned in his review is the use of surrealism.

The stories “are exercises in surrealism, an increasingly dominant mode among the upcoming generation of writers of the fantastic. But where some seem to feel that all they need to do is pile absurdity upon absurdity, not realising how hard it is to attract and retain the sympathy of the audience when anything can happen and so there are no consequences, Wexler introduces carefully controlled absurdity as if this is the way the world really is. It is that assumption of the real underlying the surreal that makes these much the better stories.”

He’s right about what I’m trying to do, convey the real and the surreal and maintain sympathy and empathy for my characters and situations. It’s funny that surrealism is an increasingly dominant mode in fantastic fiction because it’s what I’ve always done. If I allowed someone to read my horrendous early stories, starting with a creative writing class in 1982, they would see that I’ve been writing this way all along.

My interest in surrealism started with the visual art, probably Salvadore Dalí first, and then others. In fiction…I really can’t remember. Later, J.G. Ballard, Robert Coover, and Angela Carter, but when I first started writing I hadn’t heard of them. Kurt Vonnegut and Monty Python, definitely. Also, I was a subscriber to Fantasy and Science Fiction in the late ’70s/early ’80s and I’m sure I picked up some things there. The fat and fabulous 30th anniversary edition came out during that period.

Has it now become a “thing”? I hope someone does the definitive anthology, to go along with SlipstreamSteampunk, and New Weird. Or rather, I hope someone does the definitive anthology and includes me. Although, as I posted here, I’m part of the New Offbeat. Can I be both New Surreal and New Offbeat? It’s likely that the two are connected, with intertwined retinas and an auditorium full of attentive listeners waiting for the right color to crawl across their brains.