Earlier this month I asked Walker about what he was reading. His reply:
The most recent book I read with total purposelessness—that is, not Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which I re-read for the course I’m teaching; not Assembling California, by John McPhee, which I started as research for a new novel; and not Goodnight, Moon or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which I read daily to my wide-eyed daughter—is Jenny Offill’s fractured and beautifully broken novel Dept. of Speculation. Offill assembles the novel from riveting moments of attention, often no more than a paragraph or a few lines long. Her style reminds me a little bit of Mary Robison, gem-like sentences in an arrangement always on the cusp of disorder. The narrator of Offill’s book is a new mother and the novel has the most brilliant way of rendering the dizzy, sleepless, animal world that newborns and their parents inhabit: “The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.” Careful observations like this are stitched together with language in a different, more philosophical register: “A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.” It’s a compelling, exciting alternation, and it makes haunting and lovely reading.Follow Casey Walker on Twitter.
Learn more about Last Days in Shanghai at the Counterpoint Press website.
The Page 69 Test: Last Days in Shanghai.