three of swords & what i've been reading

Mairead sent me a letter and I opened it on the train and spilled sequins everywhere, oops, and everyone looked at me funny and I felt young and silly and full of promise for a moment, the way you feel when you move to a new place for the first time and your heart is an adventure and you are reckless and misunderstood and brave, trailing glitter and ghosts in your wake. Inside the envelope was a three of swords patch, do you know this card? It’s about living with pain and also surviving it; small heartbreaks that build up the scaffolding around that perilous and fruitful muscle, or the huge heartbreak of living as a breathing human in this crumbling world and choosing every day to go to work and be in love and be generous and kind, and understanding that the hurt might never lessen but that is no excuse to let it swallow you whole. Keep loving, keep fighting: that’s the three of swords. It’s not easy. We’re still here.

It is cooler now and I have been reading more serious books, let me tell you about them! Eve Out of Her Ruins just came out in translation from Deep Vellum Press (do you know this press? You should!!! Everything they do is awfully good and I am quite excited about many of the books that are coming out soon as well) and I read it in two huge swallows on the train and then did that embarrassing thing of being so wrecked by a book I started weeping in public and everyone around me politely averted their eyes. It is a hard book, I’m not gonna lie, but also one of the most gorgeous things I’ve read in a long time—I didn’t think of Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy until I read this excellent review, but it does in fact echo both that book and The Bridge of Beyond (have you read those books? well, you need to) in the extraordinary precision of its language and the ways in which it addresses how women, especially young women, navigate the ongoing traumas of colonization and gendered violence. Set in the fictive Mauritian neighborhood of Troumaron (literally: asshole; there are a lot of great language jokes in this book), Eve’s narrative is split between four people—Eve herself; Saadiq, the dopey teen-boy poet who’s in love with her; Clélio, a baby hoodlum, incandescent with rage and thwarted ambition, who’s living for the hope that his émigré brother will come back from France and airlift him out of Troumaron; and Savita, the girl Eve falls in love with. And while the events of the book are straightforward—and often brutal—the masterful interleaving of voices becomes a kind of Greek chorus of trauma and resistance; each narrator is wildly different, and has wildly different perspectives on Eve’s selfhood and strategies for survival, but taken as a whole the book reads as a beautiful and complex chord whose disharmonies combine into something shimmering and fragilely resonant.

I also read Vi Khi Nao’s Fish in Exile, which is probably the funniest and most intelligently magical book about losing a child you’ll ever read (do you know about Coffee House Press? Have you read all their books, too? Well, you should), and which somehow manages to combine Greek myth, duct tape, jellyfish, sleeping with your weirdo neighbors, overwhelming sorrow, and Cheerios into a multilayered masterpiece that does things I had no idea a book could do. It is a hard book to describe well: it is addictive, but for quite some time you have no idea what it’s even about; like Eve its narrative is split and multivocal, and different people have different versions of what’s happening; but it’s not until well into the book that you learn what the central event that underlies its entire trajectory actually is. The language ranges from frank gallows humor to unexpectedly devastating, as if you’re at a party exchanging sarcastic witticisms with a stranger and then she suddenly hits you over the head with a brick—but the book never loses its playfulness with language even in its darkest moments, so that, while it’s about the wild and loopy things people do when dealing with utterly debilitating grief, it never feels like something you can’t carry. And while its construction is often experimental, or fragmented, it has an inner momentum that never leaves you in doubt that the author knows exactly where she is going and how she plans to get there. It is confident and sharp and filled with moments of sparkling genius and maybe it’s weird to say you enjoyed a book about dead children, but I did.

I just started Sherri L. Smith’s Pasadena, which is a little bit Francesca Lia Block and a lot Raymond Chandler if Philip Marlowe were a super cranky teenage girl with a dead best friend, an anger management problem, and a lot of barbed asides about race and class and gender. Catnip, I tell you! Catnip. And I reread my beloved Cristina Moracho’s A Good Idea, which you had ought to put on your list right this minute, because it is coming out in February and it is going to fuck you up. (Spoiler alert: it is actually about very bad ideas.) I am about to start Larissa Pham’s Fantasian and am quite pleased about it, and of course Hidden Figures, and also Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. Phew! That is a lot to do but I have got a long commute most days so a person needs a lot of books.

Last month a theoretical physicist published a paper about an artificial black hole he created in a laboratory (I know what a Bose-Einstein condensate is now! thank you physics camp) to test Stephen Hawking’s prediction that black holes radiate particles: you think, don’t you, that those insatiable vortices suck everything into their maws, annihilating matter and light and maybe the stuff of dreams. Do you know what he found? His baby black hole sings. Even the strongest darkness is no match for the faintest scraps of hope. Keep living, keep loving, keep fighting, babies; I’ll see you around.