Despite numerous novice traveler mishaps, Cuba ended up delivering on its magic. To see the island now is to see a place in flux, to play witness to history and to get a glimpse into the Cuban people’s mix of emotions — anxiety, excitement, fear — over the coming shift. It is to observe mind-bending surreality, to see hints of modernity — like the crowds of tourists and locals slumped over smartphones and huddled around public WiFi spots — amid noisy, rumbling decades-old cars, the omnipresent reminder of a nation slowed by the embargo.
Elaine Scarry once observed that “a made object is a projection of the human body.” We must remember, too, that much is housed within the walls of the body: the senses, certainly, but also grief, difference, and the various narratives from which they arise. With that in mind, even the most commonplace items are inscribed with history’s discontents and inequities, a startling numbness in the fingertips that is inevitably externalized.
Three recent experimental texts explore the many ways difference is written onto the body, as well as the objects that surround us: “ill-fitting shoes,” “flowers carved out of thick glass,” “a cracked bowl.” We are presented with a sorrow that is contained in everything we touch, with the tears of things. Indeed, Lisa Fay Coutley’s Errata, Suzanne Scanlon’s Her 37th Year: An Index, and Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women conceptualize a sadness that is at once tangible and historical, a melancholy stitched into the seams of every dress.
Here's the big one: Do you think you can you swallow all of the above — forgive all the various failings of a book which is sometimes maddening in its refusal to be as good as you want it to be — if the payoff is worth it? Can you do it if I told you that Crouch sticks the landing in such a way that I rode an elevator up and down for 20 minutes one afternoon just so I could get to the end of one of his final chapters?
You know you’re in the presence of properly great fiction writing when you forget to question a single word of it. “This happened,” the author declares – and that’s it, you’re there, the book in your hand suddenly so much more urgent and alive than the world around you. Absolute narrative authority is a rare commodity, hard to unwrap and (I would argue) near impossible to teach. So what a joy to stumble across it here – along with prose of such exquisite precision and intensity – in this Dutch writer’s sixth novel.
What I don’t get, though, is that the quality of food in our hospitals has become a national scandal and that it took the brave efforts of my former colleague, the journalist Anne Johnstone, to expose it as such during a recent spell in hospital. What we serve our elderly and infirm, at a time when they are in most need of a decent meal, is processed slops prepared off-site by catering firms that have won the contract with the lowest possible tender.
And what I don’t get either is that as Glasgow has made a fetish of its food it has also become the foodbank capital of Scotland, with the numbers using this facility rising significantly each year. But hey, did you know that the city is becoming a European go-to destination for gourmet burgers?