Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sara Jaffe

Sara Jaffe is a fiction writer living in Portland, OR. Her first novel, Dryland, is now out from Tin House Books. Her short fiction and criticism have appeared in publications including Fence, BOMB, NOON, Paul Revere’s Horse, matchbook, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She co-edited The Art of Touring (Yeti, 2009), an anthology of writing and visual art by musicians drawing on her experience as guitarist for post-punk band Erase Errata.

Jaffe holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, RADAR Productions, and the Regional Arts and Culture Council. She is also co-founding editor of New Herring Press, a publisher of prose chapbooks.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Jaffe's reply:
Are all books about adolescents automatically coming-of-age stories? What happens when a teenaged character doesn’t necessarily “become” anything, but simply wades around the mire that is adolescence, accumulating experience if not learning from it? What does it look like to write about teenage characters for an adult audience? This is the sort of narrative of adolescence I tried to create in Dryland, and one that I’m consistently drawn to—but while I was writing the book, I didn’t want to let myself read other books that covered similar terrain (for fear I’d decide I was going about it all wrong). What a pleasure, then, to finally be able to read the various anti-bildungsromans I’ve accumulated over the last few years.

There’s Lucy Ives’ Nineties, which looks at adolescence (in this case in New York City in the titular decade) as a kind of performance, or a series of performances, sometimes contradictory, each acted out with equal insistence. Experiences are at once visceral and mediated through the distancing mechanism of utter self-consciousness.

In Rachel B. Glaser’s Paulina and Fran, young women make art and learn more and less about themselves. I’m particularly taken with the fact that self-knowledge is not the endgame of this book—if anything, one might believe that the characters know themselves less well at the end of the book than they did at the beginning.

Suzette Mayr’s Monoceros is told in the aftermath of a gay teen’s suicide as a series of vignettes from the perspectives of multiple characters affected by this death. Usually alternating POVs bug me, but what I like here is that the different perspectives don’t jigsaw together to tell “the complete story”—rather, they show how such a story is infinitely complex, always incomplete.

I’ve just begun Douglas Martin’s Once You Go Back, and am so taken by his beautiful sentences, the way the narrative simultaneously moves forward and verges on disintegrating with each bloom of childhood pain.

Also on the list: Dia Felix’s Nochita. Lidia Yuknavitch’s Dora: A Headcase. Upcoming reissue of Eileen Myles’ Chelsea Girls.
Visit Sara Jaffe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue