Na Hong-Jin, “The Wailing” (2016).

The Wailing

Na Hong-Jin’s The Wailing (Gokseong, 2016), like the film’s shadowy outsiders who are not what they seem, is a shapeshifting horror movie: it starts off resembling a police procedural, but veers off into unexpected territory. A series of rage-provoked murders in a rural town seem to be unrelated — an epidemic of sorts, perhaps caused by ergotism — and so I sat back waiting for the zombie plague to begin.


Further Thoughts on “My Family’s Slave.”

The other day I attended a panel discussion entitled “My Family’s Slave and the OFW Experience,” part of the Filipino American International Book Festival held at the San Francisco Public Library. (I don’t think I need to summarize Alex Tizon’s article, published in The Atlantic in May of this year.) It was both a puzzling but ultimately instructive experience, as it seemed to replicate, to an odd degree, the Filipino reaction to the article itself.


On Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution.”

In early December of last year my friend Becky took me to a Diesel- and Mrs. Dalloway-sponsored “book talk” at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley. The occasion happened to be the release of Bernie Sanders’ latest book, Our Revolution, but it was less of a book talk and more of a muted political rally. “I wrote a book,” Senator Sanders said, “but there are a couple of things I want to talk about first,” and he proceeded to discuss just about everything other than the book. I expected as much. He didn’t read from the book at all, and barely mentioned it (though early ticket buyers — thanks Becky! — received signed copies as part of the price of the ticket), and it’s not often that a writer is constantly interrupted by applause, enough so I lost track of the number of times:

“This is not a time to think small.” [applause]

When asked about how he was able to jump up and get back to work after losing the primaries, he responded dryly, “It is appropriate, when you lose, to take a day or two off.” [even louder applause]


At Adobe Books, 5/22, for The Racket reading series

I’m part of a fine, fine group of people reading at San Francisco’s Adobe Books for Noah Sanders’ reading series, The Racket.

I see too that — other than the fact we’re from the Bay Area — a bunch of us were published recently in Joyland. (My story, “We Were Professionals,” was published in February.)

  • Tom Pyun [readers may remember his piece from The Rumpus last year]
  • Jenny Xie [whose work I’ve admired for some time — here’s “If You’re Reading This,” from Devil’s Lake]
  • Hugh Behm-Steinberg [some readers (I do!) might recall his prize-winning story “Taylor Swift“]
  • Maurisa Thompson [here she reads a poem at LibroTraficante]
  • Heather Marléne Zadig [read her story, “Vivisection,” in Joyland — so creepy]
  • Benito Vergara [that’s me!]

The topic for the reading is war, so this’ll be the first time I get to read from my novel-length work in progress about this Filipino guerrilla leader and his soldiers during the Philippine-American War.


Some Notes on Eley Williams’ Attrib. and Other Stories.

I held my breath while I read these stories. Eley Williams’ Attrib. and Other Stories leaves you stunned, or speechless, or rather, stunned into speech. Whatever the inverse or obverse may be — the reading experience fills your head with the wordiness of words, their meanings slipping and skittering off into the corners, and you’re left pondering how the consonants tasted.

Some stories are sketches, with characters turning words over in their heads, gauging their mouthfeel, drawing them out into the light. To me it seems an apt image for what Williams does: promiscuously mixing metaphors, delightfully stress-testing words, to see if they break or bend. Like damming a river to watch it spill and what if it did.

In some pieces the narrative, all paragraphed and indented proper, breaks into line breaks without telegraphing the reader. (Things I prefer neat: bookshelves, whiskey, the border between poetry and prose except for prose poems, which makes no sense but I am irrationally biased that way.)

And yet “Alight at the Next,” to select just one example, is one of my favorites because I read these breakouts into poetry as some sort of controlled irrepressibility, reflecting “the whole cadence of my composed speech set to work in time with the slowing of the Tube train,” as the narrator thinks.

All throughout is a veritable Joycean eruption, one flowing over our own hyperactive modernity: puns, slips of the tongue, hesitations, and an obsessive untrammeling and unbuckling of words and sentences and even (in “The Alphabet”) the letters themselves, their loops and serifs. Even in the more conventional stories, song lyrics derail the trains of thought; hedgehogs float in a backyard pool like punctuation marks.

It all feels messy and a little out of control and you think the writer has lost the plot until you realize you have been glamored by the grammar, fooled by “the tricksiness of language,” as it says on the tin; this is masterful shit, wiry and high-wire, this is serious serious play.