Despite any strained complaining that the small press is dead, I think more books have come out this summer than maybe ever before. Like, in all of history. There are so many new books coming out every month you could practically build a house out of them and bury yourself in it, reading your walls and your bed and your toilet until you go insane. Among the massive list of new shit, here are five of the more recent small press titles that got my skin going, each of which in their own way reconfigure the ideas of genre, notion, and form.
Troublers by Rob Walsh [Caketrain]
It’s pretty rare that a collection of short stories does anything for me beyond making me feel like I’m watching someone exercise. Rob Walsh, though, comes out of nowhere with Troublers, taking one insane premise after another and exploring them with sentences that catch you off guard at every turn. There’s a story where a guy builds a playpen for his baby daughters and leaves them in the playpen for 40 years, until he dies. There’s a woman who spends years digging a hole in her backyard for no specific reason. There’s a baby who keeps waking its parents up in the middle of the night, touching their bodies strangely. Among the book’s many tricks and traps and desperate people, it is the constantly stunning logic of Walsh's sentences that hold the ship together, at once both aurally resonant and bizarre, like, “By glancing between my own bites, I supervised my wife’s eating.” Overall, a good weapon kit of strange air for people who like Gordon Lish mashed against Matthew Derby and George Saunders after being locked in a closet for five years.
Throne of Blood by Cassandra Troyan [Solar Luxuriance]
Throne of Blood opens with the casually terrifying sentence, “Every year just about spring the drained lake muds with the girls of winter bloated and tangled at the bottom in the wreckage of tree artifacts” and then pretty much goes everywhere from there. Troyan is hell-bent on bending hell into the idea of bodies and communication, to such extent that the book is constantly shifting gears, constantly refocusing your attention through dialogues with killers and text messages from medically demented sex fiends. Any time you might settle into the idea of having a direction, the book switches from anorexic to starving to melodramatic to terrified to pissed. “CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH / CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH / CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH” it says on one page, and on the next: “I have been a woman for too long / in that fall there is levity / and the skullfucked panorama of / the future.” An insane quasi-monologue straight out of the death dream of Artaud stuck in the body of a 20-something female going fucking bananas on the internet, this shit is nice.
Grace Period: Notebooks, 1998-2007 by Aaron Kunin [Letter Machine]
Grace Periodcomprises a decade of notebooks from quasi-conceptualist Aaron Kunin, whose previous works have become known for their ability to re-approach old forms in ways that make them seem entirely different. Here, over the course of 19 different journals spanning periods of often somewhere around six months, Kunin opens up his personal sets of individually numbered inquisitions, aphorisms, lyrics, dialogues, cryptic fragments, dreams, commands, and all other sorts of jotted ideas. It’s interesting to watch Kunin’s mind switch through modes over the course of the book, developing preoccupations, ways of thinking, and passing ideas, which slowly accumulate into an image of the development of a highly provocative vision. “Some people have the right to touch you,” says a note from an early notebook, in 1998; then, in 2002, “I get annoyed at art that asks me to participate, which is just to say that I don’t like being told how to participate,” and in 2005, simply, “The bed breathing under your back.” In total, these complied ideas are a strange museum, somehow comforting to peel through, fall around in, eat from, poke, and roll.
The Skin Team by Jordaan Mason [Magic Helcopter]
The Skin Team reads like a patchwork catalog of bruises, weaving segmented blocks of methodical narrative threaded together into something kind of beyond categorization, as far as novels go. There’s a story here, but the story keeps mutating, and dissecting itself as it goes on trying to understand the strange relations between its characters. Bizarre teams named after colors ride horses through the woods, birds flock in the sky in disturbed patterns among smoke coming from nowhere, kids communicate hidden information about water telepathically, calm suicide notes concerned with jumping off of bridges quietly change hands between passively violent scenes of adolescent sex. “The horse’s death was not investigated,” reads a single sentence stranded on a page alone near the middle of the book, “mostly because all investigative energy was spent on figuring out who started the fire.” There is certainly a sense of the Lynchian, as well as the novels of Dennis Cooper, carried in sentences that together feel close to the same long slow gravity you might have felt exploring a strange relative’s house as a child, expecting on any wall to find a button that would open up into a larger, hidden room.
Murder by Danielle Collobert [Litmus Press]
This is the first novel by Danielle Collobert, an experimental French writer who killed herself in a hotel on her 38th birthday. Known perhaps most widely for her poetry, which often combined small, strange, nearly robotic fragments that somehow disturbed physics and sleep in the same breath, Murder is the first work of longer prose to appear in English, and like the rest of her writing, it’s as unsettling as clouds of smoke rolling through low dark. Originally published by Gallimard in 1964, Murder was written while Collobert was living as an exile in Italy during the Algerian War. Despite what its blunt title might suggest, Murder is an extremely sleek and mystifying book, bent on the exploration of a destructive feeling looming over all. The narrator has trouble remembering her name, often gets lost in public as if being pushed into a labyrinth in daylight, finds dead bodies in fields, animals go insane. She keeps waiting for something to happen, and yet it is the weird meditative pauses, the blank between the signals, that is the most unnerving. Memories might carry the worst damage of all. “They tortured me,” the narrator tells us, “kneaded me, dilapidated me, trampled me. My bones are an erosion. I have no more support. I’m lying down, forever paralyzed. If someone had the idea to stand me up, on my feet, I would spread out like an enormous drop of some liquid, formless. A mass.” The same way a murder mystery is most stabbing leading up to its reveal, Murder lingers long inside the blank before death, haunting anyone who will get near enough to share its air with calm-faced corridors of sentences.
Previously by Blake Butler - Rachel Glaser’s Hypercolor Multitude of Moods