Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening, Pt. 2: Caren Gussoff

Beautiful and Resilient
by Caren Gussoff 

2015's done.

You feel my relief, typing out those two little words, a dicyanoacetylene blue fire in ozone. Right?

And there's no one, nearly, around me who's sad to see this year go. This year choked itself with tragedies, small and large, personal and global. Many of my most-loveds wrestled demons and heartache.

And there was Trump.

In direct contrast to the anguish-smeared offal potpourri that was 2015, however, some remarkable work happened, reminders that humanity can be beautiful and resilient, that anything is possible tomorrow, and that there are wonderful ways to escape your present, if it's filled with as much grief and trouble as we've seen.

~Pretty Much Dead, Daphne Gottlieb (Ladybox Books): As much fable as love-letter to pre-tech wealth San Francisco, Gottlieb's latest collection of short stories are ugly-beautiful in the way only cities, themselves, can be, when you're hungry and uncomfortable, and struck by how apartments are more like stacked people nests than sensible shelter and subways are dragons. The workmanship in these pieces is unbelievable; I only put this book down in order to occasionally feel sorry for myself that I hadn't written sentences this good -- a feeling I honestly haven't had since the first time I read Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son in college.

~A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, Lucia Berlin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): When Lucia Berlin died in 2004, commercial success had eluded her (like the rest of us). In her case, though, I have no idea why: her quiet stories of love and failure, addiction, jealousy, pain and redemption are kinder, more true, than Raymond Carver's (yes, I understand what I'm claiming). While literary fiction can fall over itself with its frosty sophistication, Berlin was devoted to her characters, whether they did right or wrong, and wrote with such love, it's impossible to not feel loved. Most of the stories in this new book are culled from her previous collections, but re-reading them together was fresh and a fine perspective across an underappreciated genius's body of work.

~The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf): I have to admit, I have a thing for Ishiguro. It's a lot like my thing for Chip Delany. I can't guarantee you that I wouldn't love 800 pages of the word "fart" if one of those men wrote it. That being said, The Buried Giant was awesome. It's a sad book. Books about forgetting are always sad -- at least to me -- and it's pretty standard Ishiguro to be extra bittersweet about it. There's also the whole Ishiguro plot where what's happening is not what's actually happening, and you only get hints at what's actually going on with Axl and Beatrice, and, if you haven't enjoyed that feeling in Never Let Me Go or The Unconsoled, you aren't going to be happy with this one either -- regardless of how many critics wrote that The Buried Giant was a "…departure" for him. And, if you've never read any Ishiguro, my genre-friends, this one has magical creatures and all kinds of toothy speculative elements to sweeten the deal of reading a book by one of the greatest stylists anywhere.

And with that, friends, I officially close out the year. May 2016 be filled with better times, high hopes, and books we hold high to toast lives lived in boundless joy.


Caren Gussoff's currently publishing a serial mystery novel, Last End, right now on Three Songs for Roxy, her First Contact novella, was published as a Conversation Piece in 2015, and her pandemic zombie math novel, The Birthday Problem, preceded that by a year. Her latest short work will be out in Black Static sometime soon. For all and more, visit her at

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