In his essay “Literature and Exile”, Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño begins by developing the idea that exile, rather than an idea determined by relationship to nation, is instead “an attitude towards life.” The exile, he writes, doesn’t “believe in countries and the only borders he respects are the borders of dreams, the misty borders of love and indifference, the borders of courage and fear, the golden borders of ethics.” But really the best part of the essay is an anecdote he shares about the great Chilean writer Nicanor Parra’s contributions to the never-ending debate among the Chilean literati about who Chile’s greatest four poets are. Bolaño writes, “There are those who say that the four great poets of Chile are Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Huidobro, and Pablo de Rokha; others, that they are Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Vicente Huidobro, and Gabriela Mistral; basically the order varies depending on the source, but there are always four chairs and five poets, when the logical thing would simply be to talk about the five great poets of Chile, instead of the four great poets. Then came the poem by Nicanor Parra, which goes like this: “Chile’s four great poets/are three: Alonso de Ercilla and Ruben Dario.”
Issue No. 123
On March 5, 2013—the night before my son’s fourth birthday, as I sat on the floor wrapping a book about the solar system—an email crash-landed into my inbox. It was from an American writer in Germany called Nell Zink. I had never heard of Nell Zink, nor—as far as I could tell—had anyone else. This fact was probably not lost on Nell Zink, since she introduced herself to me then as “an obscure writer of truly stunning obscurity.” She had a manuscript, she explained, and had happened to meet in Germany an old school friend of mine who’d told her about my press. Apparently this old friend mentioned that I was interested in books about “women’s issues,” and Nell assured me that her protagonist, Tiffany, was “as female as all get out.” Also, she knew Jonathan Franzen (Nell, not Tiffany), or she claimed to, which if anything made her seem only more confusingly mysterious. She’d been writing for years without publishing, it seems, and now here was a book about a European bird called a wallcreeper, an exceptionally beautiful bird, and also about Tiffany and her “red-hot husband” Stephen, and would I be interested in seeing it? She promised me it would be fun to read and exquisitely well-written. It turns out she was right on both counts.
I clearly remember beginning The Wallcreeper. Despite knowing nothing about who’d sent it to me, by the fourth or fifth page I was already imagining how I would lay it out, what the cover should look like, and, more than anything, wondering who the hell this person was who wrote like this and had never published any of it. (Keith Gessen, who kindly gave us a blurb for the book, must have experienced the same bafflement, as he starts his blurb by asking, “Who is Nell Zink?”) As I read on, the book only got better—it was funny, smart, sexy, weird, and exquisitely written—and now here comes October and Dorothy will celebrate its tenth title and fifth year—and celebrate all the amazing books we have already been privileged to publish—with a debut novel that every reader so far seems to love as much as we do. At the time I write this, The Wallcreeper has just received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and has been lauded (by PW) as “the hot indie book of the fall.” We’re thrilled to be publishing it. It’s a pleasure to recommend it—and Nell Zink—to you here.
Editor, Dorothy, a publishing project
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Excerpted from the novel by Nell Zink
Recommended by Dorothy, a publishing project
Elvis said he wanted to go dancing, which would involve staying out very late. Going dancing was his reason for being, and he wanted to share it with me. I wasn’t sure I could get that past Stephen, but I agreed to try. Stephen said, “That sounds like a date.”
“It totally is a date. Obviously this guy wants in my pants. But I mean, when’s the last time you went dancing? For me I think it was my sophomore year. And I wouldn’t know where to go. He’s a nice guy. I’m sure you know him. The guy with the beard at the gas station. He’s totally harmless. He’s a disciple of Slavoj Žižek.”
Stephen snapped the International Herald Tribune tight to turn the page. “That is the tiredest line in Christendom,” he said.
“I know. It’s not his fault he’s a tragic figure. It’s never a tragic figure’s fault. That’s what makes them tragic. But he says he knows this really fun place to go dancing, not a disco but, like, a bar where they play all kind of ‘mixed music.’”
“Do you need a chaperone?”
“Would you please?” I said. I couldn’t really say no. We picked Elvis up at his place. I had never been there. It was farther out of town, up at the edge of the woods. An old house. He came out as soon as the car pulled up. The street obviously didn’t get much traffic late at night. Elvis directed us to the most pitiful bar I ever saw. Young men unlikely to be in the possession of Swiss passports danced with eyes half-closed, snapping their fingers, while women in various states of disrepair jockeyed into their axes of attention. Lumpy, lantern-jawed, pockmarked, bucktoothed, short, tall, or simply drunken women, here to pick up devil-may-care subaltern gigolos for a night of horror.
I saw Elvis through new eyes. “You are so much beautiful,” he would often say charmingly as he worshipped at the altar of my body. Looking around, I could only think that a bar where I am the best-looking woman by a factor of ten is not a bar where I want to be, and that beauty is apparently relative. I felt both better- and worse-looking than before. Better because I was suddenly reminded that the world is not all college girls and secretaries and trophy wives, and worse because everything in the whole universe is contagious if you look at it long enough. Just opening your eyes puts you in front of a mirror, psychologically speaking. Garbage in, garbage out. Or rather, garbage goes in, but you never get rid of it. It just lies there turning to dust and slowly wafting a thin layer of grime on to every other object in your brain. Scraping the gunk off is not only a major challenge, but the chief burden of human existence. That’s why I keep things so clean. Otherwise I would see little flecks of Rudolf-shit everywhere I looked, from Fragonard to the Duino Elegies.
“I am not staying here,” Stephen said. “Do you want to stay?”
We are great fools. “He has passed his life in idleness,” we say. “I have done nothing today.” What! Haven’t you lived? That is not only the fundamental but the most illustrious of your occupations. “Had I been put in a position to manage great affairs, I would have shown what I could do.” Have you been able to think out and manage your life? You have performed the greatest work of all. In order to show and release her powers, Nature has no need of fortune; she shows herself equally on all levels, and behind a curtain as well as without one. To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, to rule, to lay up treasure, to build, are at most little appendices and props.
It’s been awhile. We shouldn’t have kept you waiting. But we’re here now.
Join us for PROJECTTILE READINGS SERIES, Vol. 5 -
SUMMER READING PARTY!
ft. readings from:
& DAWN TEFFT
SATURDAY AUGUST 23 @ 7PM
UNCHARTED BOOKS 2620 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60647
It’s yr summer reading list, full of nontraditional writing with a feminist bent.