It’s Independence Day, and I am sad to be so far away from home. Instead of whining about it, though, I’d like to present you with a round-up of the interesting things I’ve done lately and which you might have missed (especially if you don’t follow my Twitter):
For example, I recently looked at the legacy of Twin Peaks in the post-Soviet world (did you know? The original show had a cult following there in the 1990s) and discussed it with Marco Werman on PRI’s The World.
I have to add that I feel like we’re really lucky that David Lynch was not interested in pandering to nostalgia when he set out to make Twin Peaks: The Return. Will hopefully be able to devote more writing to that this summer – particularly since for years I’ve been able to observe how turning nostalgia into yet another natural resource has made much of mainstream Russian culture into something sadly provincial.
Speaking of non-provincial Russian culture, however, I have also written about Andrei Zvyagintsev’s new film, Loveless, which recently premiered in Cannes. Loveless is fantastic and, I think, ultimately a much angrier movie than Zvyagintsev’s Oscar-nominated Leviathan. It’s the anger that appeals to me greatly.
Of course, my REAL big news is that The Fox Head Barks Facing Seaward, my newest short story, was published in Strange Horizons last month. I’ve had a love affair with Strange Horizons since college, and I’m really glad that it was this story in particular that has found a home there. Fox Head works as a kind of protracted echo of this earlier story, but it’s also its own thing.
Over at the Anti-Nihilist Institute, I’ve had some strong words for fake Russia experts. And the Woke Vets series has continued, with me interviewing Tim Hardin, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan (where he served as a USASOC soldier), on everything from civilian casualties to the importance of free public education.
In Politico, I discussed the recent French election in light of Russian meddling (would not have personally gone with that headline either, but I guess winning is in the eye of the beholder). I think this piece of mine on BNE actually nicely balances out the Politico one – by pointing out that Putin is not some superhuman Bond villain (though he’d like you to believe that).
Finally, I was recently on the Power Vertical with Brian Whitmore and Mark Galeotti. We started out discussing the dueling messages of the Kremlin and the Russian opposition, and wound up discussing Pornhub and the importance of political sex appeal, which is what happens when you have me on your podcast.
Life After Life: I’m a Kate Atkinson groupie and I love her recent spate of crime novels, but was so glad when she came back to playing with time and family and gnarled old fate in “Life After Life.” Maybe it’s the groupie in me talking, but I feel that Atkinson so rarely gets the kind of ecstatic praise she truly deserves. I think people don’t quite allow themselves to understand how truly brilliant, how landscape-altering her writing is, because it’s commercially successful and hits all of the right notes and has a robust plot. Atkinson walks along the raggedy edge and dips her toes into the sublime. “Life After Life” is a novel of starts and stops on the surface – but the closer you look at it, the more you see that this is the kind of book that takes the idea that the universe is “elegant” and applies it to the novel and wins.
The Passage and The Twelve: Thanks to an agent friend in NY, I fell in love with Justin Cronin this year. His apocalyptic vampire trilogy is fantastic so far, and I can’t wait for the final book. Cronin doesn’t just get horror – he gets people. He gets what it means to bring a child into a terrible, terrible world. I’m a parent – and Cronin hits me where it hurts. He reminds me of the idea that the apocalypse is not some single event fixed in time – rather, its a narrative told and re-told every time an innocent is killed. There is nothing escapist about his writing – the “escapist” label is actually one I truly despise, particularly when it gets slapped onto genuine works of art that grapple with the issues we face every day by utilizing an imaginative set of devices. There is a brilliant paradox at the heart of “The Passage” and “The Twelve,” the idea that a single life is nothing – and everything.
Children of Dust: The dude who blogs under the name Ali Eteraz is someone I consider an online friend – though while I’ve always been a fan of his wonderful writing, there was that performative aspect to it that made me feel resigned to the fact that I’m never going to see him fully. Forget about Russia being a mystery wrapped in an enigma – Eteraz totally has that notion beat. Well, his memoir “Children of Dust,” which came out a few years ago, doesn’t make me feel any closer to “the real Ali Eteraz” – and that doesn’t matter, because I discovered Amir in its pages (Ali Eteraz is a pseudonym, in case you are wondering). I still don’t think the memoir genre exists so that we can cozy up to the author – but damn, I felt close to Amir. And I loved “Children of Dust” for its cleverness, it’s humor, the longing contained within its pages, the philosophical debate the memoir has with itself. There are brilliant snapshots of Pakistan, the States, the Arabian desert. There is much sadness and joy and masks getting ripped off and new masks showing through – and the kind of artistic daring that people in the West rarely associate with Islam (which is a huge oversight, incidentally).
The Silent Land: Although this book also has the kind of robust plot structure I am a fan of, what it reveals in the end isn’t nearly as important as the way in which it portrays marriage and the transience of physical existence. This is the kind of writing that I would compare to a symphony that features this second track, this gentle murmur about death and dying and atoms coming apart and love being the only thing there is.