April 16th, 2017
The essays in Calamities all start, until the final fourteen pieces, with the phrase “I began the day,” and I like how that phrase (depending on what follows it) is sometimes grounding/grounded, sometimes disorienting, which is maybe also how I felt about the book as a whole. These pieces sometimes feel like more or less straightforward narrations, sometimes like dreams, sometimes like life but abstracted or at an angle, poetic. There is a lot about reading and writing and teaching in this book, and also a lot about being a person with a body/in the space of the world, and also a lot of smarts and humor. There are pieces I love in their entirety (like one about Gladman going on vacation with her mom and two sisters, or one about Gladman’s experience of 1990s lesbian community, or one about watching Antonioni’s Red Desert with a class she’s teaching) and pieces I found kind of obscure, and pieces where certain lines or phrases were the highlights for me, like “as if someone had written a story about our day, where we stayed on this side of the snow that was falling, and the inside was our city” (87).
I love this, from the start of one of the pieces:
I began the day wanting these essays to do more than they were currently doing and even had a book alongside that I thought would help me, but it turned out I wanted more from this book as well. It was hard to be a book about engineering in architecture when an essayist wanted you to be a book about structures in fiction. But why were you called Atlas of Novel Tectonics, if I was not supposed to think of you this way? (73)
There is a whole lot in this book about narrative and language and the idea of the line and the mark and mark-making, about writing and drawing. Near the end, there’s a great passage, too long to quote in full, that includes the image of language as being “like a live wire set loose, a hot wire, burning, leaving trace” (103). I love that image, and the idea of “leaving trace” feels central to what this book is doing: tracing patterns of living, of being, of thought and intention, traces of the shapes of days.
Elsewhere: I really like Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s review of Calamities in Tarpaulin Sky and also Juliana Spahr’s review of it in the Brooklyn Rail. You can read two short pieces from this book on the Granta website.