oudeís - talks of unnamed worlds, without life yet possessed by some unliving, sentient force, whose spheres have drifted to the most distant regions of outer space; or, more properly, into the nothingness that reigns illimitably outside of space, where it has been speculated that no laws of nature can exist. Gigantic, otherworldly graves abound in rhyming descriptions of lifeless geographies


oudeís, the spiral consilience, gnOme, 2016.
read it at Google Books

This chapbook starts by directly addressing humankind’s connection to the vastness of outer space, and sets forth the premise that death (as a permanent state of being) is of the same substance, or soul, as whatever exists outside of the Universe. It then veers off on a tangent into stranger territory, and talks of unnamed worlds, without life yet possessed by some unliving, sentient force, whose spheres have drifted to the most distant regions of outer space; or, more properly, into the nothingness that reigns illimitably outside of space, where it has been speculated that no laws of nature can exist. Gigantic, otherworldly graves abound in rhyming descriptions of lifeless geographies. Monuments, catacombs and buildings, all deserted and of unknown origin, are lyrically narrated into existence deep beneath the surface of the Earth, as well as on and under the surfaces of distant asteroids. Alien cenotaphs resembling something Hugh Ferriss might have sketched from a fever dream are articulated through regular, metered verse. A sinister thread connecting all these massive structures with the aforementioned sentient force, which we are told holds all life and death in its grip, runs through the poems. Hymns to the universe in all its barrenness are juxtaposed with landscapes of horror, all elegantly unscrolled in lurid poetics that are made all the more disturbing by their intentional symmetry. The final poem seems to be a negation of itself, plus all of the other poems in the volume. The book ends with several prose statements of a negative nature concerning the fate of humanity in the Universe.

Odysseus, in Homer’s Odyssey, plays upon his name—Ou-déis/Ou-tis meaning no-one/no-thing—in order, through nomenclatural disorder (or rather: divisiondivergence), to outwit and outwitness the Cyclops, a creature of singular vision and ultimately also of unbounded blindness. Oudeís, in The Spiral Consilience, sings a similar siren-song and sets out on a similar voyage, albeit one over the course of which the Ulyssean body, in turn, makes a rather mèticulous U-turn and turns out to be a Mètic Mœbius itself (the Mètic Mœbius stripped Bare by her BachelorsMastersDoctors and Readers). “Time left no corpse but infinite space”: here, in the first words of The Spiral Consilence, the corpus—the collated collection qua bound book—corporealises out of an excised yet all-the-more exquisite corpse. This excision is, precisely, an exacting and enacted kenosis: an open negation that finds affirmation on the very next page and then onwardon and on, from siren-song to siren-songvoid vocalisation to vocalised void—to the ever-approaching parousia/ousia beyond the vale of the valley of death/revival/regression/recision-and-reclamation. The recitations herein—the{ir} excisionsrecisions, and incantatory reclamations—are those of a rabid iconovore, and each of its devoured figures or forms informs in its deformation and in its devouring the various epitaphs (or rather, chronotaphs: there where time left no corpse but infinite space) of an incomplete whole, of an ongoing hole-complex, full of cross-cutting tunnels as vast as The Great Wall of China: there where they are digging The Pit of Babel qua Garden of Forking Paths (pace Borges and Kafka). Oudeís, in The Spiral Consilience, engraves in each chronotaph-epitaph—each poetic page—the gist and the widening/planet-wide gyre of the grave-digger, but a grave-digger set adrift on the seas, digging into the tides of today with the oar of Odysseus: that oar of {y}ore which turns out (in yet another Ulyssean U-turn) to be a Golden Rod or Rod of Divination, singing in its Sea-Slicing qua Dowsing-of-the Deep the siren-song of Wor{l}dly Icons and Other Conjurations.” —Dan Mellamphy 

Cergat - a truly fascinating, singular work that carves our descent into unknown ‘Earthmare’ terrain. A dark combination of daring and brilliance guides us here, through vast territories of consciousness and vision (those of the barbarian, the exile, the sea people). A book like no other.”

Cergat, Earthmare: The Lost Book of Wars. gnOme, 2017.


In mid-October 1997, two clay tablets marked in wedge-shaped signs, were discovered inside a cave in the Accursed Mountains in Albania. The local shepherds who found them, took the artifacts to their pastor, an amateur linguist and folklore aficionado, who at first glance identified the cuneiform writing as Sumerian. He visited the discovery site and found several other fragments prompting him to further continue his search. In the winter months from November 1997 to February 1998, four more tablets were put together out of thirty-seven fragments collected in the interior of the cave. Six fragments (frgs. 2, 5, 18, 13, 27, 9) did not match any of the partially restored tablets, suggesting that more pieces may lay hidden deeper into the cave. These were not discovered until the end of September 1998, when a landslide revealed a separate cave pocket, enclosing a wooden ark adding three more tablets to the collection.
Clearly, the artifacts did not belong to the local culture. Their scattered condition suggested that similar earlier landslides might have caused loose tree-roots and mud to close part of the cave off from its mouth. As the texts have only been partially translated, it is as yet unknown whether the last three pieces made up the full set of the original tablets. Most of what we know comes from the notes of the pastor, who for nearly ten years worked in isolation to decipher a good part of the scripts from a language he initially believed to be the original Indo-European, but subsequently identified as the lost language of the Pelasgians. In a later note, he writes that this was a mixed language, reminiscent of Odysseus’s description of Crete, where many barbarian tongues were spoken side by side and mingled with one another (Hom. Od. xix. 172-8). After decoding the cuneiform, he translated their texts into Albanian, trying to keep as close to the original as possible. What emerged was another version of Genesis, a creation  full of strife the pastor called “the lost book of wars.”
Dating back to c. 1400-1100 bc, the tablets are among the oldest apocrypha materials ever found. They are as well of particular interest not only for their content, but also for the unusual site of their discovery. Following recent archaeological finds revealing the Philistines to be only one of a conglomerate of tribes that fought against God’s chosen people (see e.g., Bierling 2002), these ancient warriors have been conjectured to be the ones who brought the tablets from Israel.
In his description of the Sea People pirate alliance, Ramesses II (c. 1285 bc) names some of these tribes, among them the Dardanians (Da-ar-d(a)-an-ya), who, after attacking Egypt, turned their attention to Israel. As it is well known, these were Aeneas’s people, the Trojans’ allies in the war. In ancient times, however, there was also a Dardanian kingdom in present-day Kosovo, likely one of the several colonies of that branch of the Dardanian tribe that traveled westward after the sack of Troy. The pastor came to consider these people as the possible carriers of the ark and the cuneiform tablets.
Assuming that this might be what Israel called the Ark of the Covenant, which was lost to the Philistines in the wars described in 1 Samuel, the warriors who buried its contents in the Accursed Mountains may well be the ones referred to in the Bible as the giants, Goliath and company. These are the mythical giants north of Greece (ancient Gr. gegas), whose demonym still survives in the Gheg tribes of northern Albania.

“This is a truly fascinating, singular work that carves our descent into unknown ‘Earthmare’ terrain. A dark combination of daring and brilliance guides us here, through vast territories of consciousness and vision (those of the barbarian, the exile, the sea people). A book like no other.” — Jason Mohaghegh

“Earthmare documents a wound around/inside a hole, a hole both excavated by God and indiscernible from him, a hole the universe crawled out of in spite of itself, deranged, demonic, cancerous, riddled with paradox, coated in etymological layers of increasingly rarefied and scarified tissue. An encyclopedic drop of poison in the void. A book about beginnings and of beginnings that is beguilingly and honestly lost for any credible place to start, which is exactly where it finds itself.” — Gary J. Shipley

“Tearing open the wound of the Beginning, Earthmare installs within each who reads it a unique secret protocol for never having been. As light as it is deep, occult as it is clear, unsettling as it is consoling, the work also charts a new ancient home for intellectual practice, one that might be provisionally designated philological horrotics (cf. Pseudo-Dionysius, Lovecraft). If ever there were, for lack of better words, a noetic intersection of Agamben, Negarestani, and Cioran, as perforce there always already is, this is it—at least for now. Archaeology of the incognitum hactenus, the trouble with being torn . . . To read Earthmare properly is to have a palpably better chance of discovering what it means to escape the future the only way possible: by altering the past.” — Nicola Masciandaro


across & beyond - a transmediale Reader on Post-digital Practices, Concepts, and Institutions

across & beyond. ed. by Ryan Bishop, Kristoffer Gansing, Jussi Parikka, Elvia Wilk, Sternberg Press, 2017. 

 a transmediale Reader on Post-digital Practices, Concepts, and Institutions

Contributions by Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke, Jamie Allen and David Gauthier, Clemens Apprich and Ned Rossiter, Tatiana Bazzichelli, Benjamin Bratton, Florian Cramer, Dieter Daniels, Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, Daphne Dragona, Keller Easterling, Olga Goriunova, Louis Henderson, Geraldine Juarez, Olia Lialina, Alessandro Ludovico, Rosa Menkman, Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev, Erica Scourti, Cornelia Sollfrank, Telekommunisten (Baruch Gottlieb and Dmytri Kleiner), Tiziana Terranova, YoHa (Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji)
This collection of art and theory analyzes today’s post-digital conditions for critical media practices—across and beyond the analog and the digital, the human and the nonhuman. The contributions also look across and beyond the field of media art, staking out new paths for understanding and working in the transversal territories between theory, technology, and art. The concept of the post-digital is a way to critically take account of, contextualize, and shift the coordinates of new technologies as part of contemporary culture. The post-digital condition is not merely a theoretical issue but also a situation that affects conceptual and practice-based work.
The program of the transmediale festival in Berlin, celebrating its thirtieth year in 2017, has reflected these changes, and this book gathers new contributions from leading international theorists and artists of media and art who have taken part in the festival program over its past five editions. Divided into the thematic sections “Imaginaries,” “Interventions,” and “Ecologies,” this book is not a document of the festival itself, it is rather a stand-alone exploration of the ongoing themes of transmediale in a book format.
The reader is developed as a collaboration between transmediale and Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.

Daïchi Saito proposes a personal reflection on language and the image, a meditation that does not strive to theorize practice, but to recount it.

Daïchi Saito, Moving the Sleeping Images of Things Towards the Light,

Daïchi Saito offers a personal reflection on language and image. Saito doesn't write at an expert to theorize practice, but instead offers a meditation as an observer of what happens.

Moving the Sleeping Images of Things Towards the Light is the first book of Daïchi Saito, director and co-founder of Double negative Montreal collective. Preface by André Habib, professor of film studies at the University of Montreal and a specialist in experimental cinema.

“A confused mass of thoughts, tumbling over one another in the dark; when the fancy was yet in its first work, moving the sleeping images of things towards the light, there to be distinguished and then either chosen or rejected by the judgment.” – John Dryden
I guess that I’m familiar with Daïchi Saïto’s experimental films. I would have seen All That Rises and Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis at Café Ex and then Never a Foot Too Far, Even at the Blackwood Gallery. But it would be hard for me to correctly recall them. Seeing them were striking and captivating experiences where familiar places were being de-familiarized through light, colors and sounds. Fleeting memories that come to mind include abrupt footage of an old alleyway, colorful light gliding through trees, and two projectors in a gallery flashing light towards a wall.
Saïto is part of the Montreal Double Negative Collective whose poetic and illusion-bashing manifesto includes statements like, “We locate cinema in human experience, in the eye, hand and heartbeat, not in the well-worn tropes that pass for meaning and feeling in conventional moviemaking.” As the recent issue of 24 Images attests, with its feature on the fifty years of video art, Montreal has always had a vibrant alternative film community (cf. Vidéographie 70 by Luc Bourdon). Double Negative Collective builds upon this since it is not only a filmmaking cooperative but also organizes experimental film screenings.
Since Saïto’s works aren’t available, which contributes to a stronger aura around their screenings, a recent publication from Les éditions Le Laps of Saïto’s writing Moving the Sleeping Images of ThingsTowards the Light with a nice preface by André Habib (who also wrote about him for the 24 Images feature on one-hundred contemporary filmmakers) offers a nice aide-mémoire for his films.
“The alternation of brief phrasing of images with black pauses in All That Rises, or the soft flickers in Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis, are what gives life to the films. Breathing in, and breathing out, until the light goes off and we return to the darkness.”
Saïto in his essay (which is available in both English and French) discusses some interesting topics: his background, life, solitude, previous jobs, inspiration, artistic practices and the Double Negative Collective. His first language is Japanese. He is an autodidact with an interest in literature and philosophy. He is an admirer of the Arachi school poets and the Japanese novelists Kenzaburō Ōe and Shiro Hasegawa. And so on.
Saïto who processes his own films (and whose dual projected Never a Foot Too Far, Even allowed one to look at them), writes about their aesthetics, “My films are often characterized by rapid bursts of fleeting images.” And more on this, “Wonders are many in the art of film, and none is more wonderful than this simple fact: the radical gap that exists between the manifestation of a finished film when projected on the screen and the actual physical material – filmstrips – the filmmaker works on.
Habib, on the other hand, offers some interesting observations on Saïto’s work from a film curator's perspective: it might be better to see them without knowing too much about them to better appreciate the experience and their singularity. Habib compares Saïto’s work to the photogram and highlights their paradox of being both fixed and always in motion. For Habib the Double Negative Collective renews the potential of ways to see in Montreal. I would add that, with Saïto’s work, they also renew the potential to see cinema and life, in general.


Maria Fusco - Combining fact and fiction, traversing scales of distance and intimacy, shifting registers to oscillate between creative and critical modes of engagement, Fusco offers an embodied, performative and imaginative relation to the Pombal Palácio in Lisbon

Maria Fusco, Legend of the Necessary Dreamer, VanguardEditions, 2017.                                
excerpt 2

'A modest epic written in real-time, Maria Fusco’s Legend of the Necessary Dreamer records some weeks in June 2013 when her narrator went every day to Lisbon’s Palácio Pombal in order to write about it. But 'it', of course, isn’t only the building, but the wraparound sensual act of perceiving. As she writes, I am trying to turn myself into a recording device…. Fusco’s book brilliantly examines what it means not just to look, but to think, feel and remember. Legend expands the bounds of discursion. It’s a new classic of female philosophical fiction.' —Chris Kraus

Legend of the Necessary Dreamer is an excellent work of spatial imagination. Fusco writes one-to-one scale between body and building. Producing space through her critical habitation of the extreme close-up, decelerating engagement, recycling history into atmospherics. A new taxonomy of site-based address.' —Eyal Weizman

 'Legend of the Necessary Dreamer is an extraordinary book. Combining fact and fiction, traversing scales of distance and intimacy, shifting registers to oscillate between creative and critical modes of engagement, Fusco offers an embodied, performative and imaginative relation to the Pombal palacio in Lisbon. Here, and following along each tightly-wrought sentence, we are encouraged to empathise with objects and materials, experience the everyday ‘made strange’, and follow lines of thought into the open. This is excellent writing. This is writing for our time.' —Dr. Kristen Kreider

 '"Where are the places I may more easily adapt to my own scale?" Maria Fusco, ghost phenomenologist, fuses dust and memory in her account of a residency at an ancient palacio in Lisbon. What's stucco; what's skin? And what are the kinds of work we can do on either? An ecstatic, lyrical investigation into the layers of the personal, historical and mythic past.’ - Joanna Walsh

Give Up Art
New Documents, 2017

Notes on Comic Face
If a Leave Falls Press, 2016   

  • Sailor extract
    Animals: Documents of Contemporary Art, 2016
  • Ordinary People: Knowing the Answer is Worth Nothing
    Gorse, 2016
  • Med A Bao A Qu – en läsning av When Attitudes Become Form
    Kritiker, Stockholm, 2016
  • some object writings
    Test Centre 6, 2016
  • Master Rock
    Artangel & Book Works, 2015
  • The Hare's Course
    Vanguard Anthology of Short Stories, 2015
  • Hoi Theatai
    The Burning Sand, 2015
  • Thirty-five Hundred Years of Consecrated Objects
    The Persistence of Objects, 2015
  • The Disappearance
    Grafter's Quarterly, 2015
  • unfinished odes to a video cassette, playing cards, a microphone, a vinyl record
    A Set of Lines, A Stack of Paper, 2015
  • The Two Roberts
    frieze, 2015
  • An Amateur's Prolegomenon
    Parse, 2015
  • machine oil smells sweet
    Vestoj, 2014
  • Denkmal
    Kate Davis's film, 2014
  • Donald
    Going on about Donald Sutherland, 2014
  • The Disappearance: fifty-nine seconds
    SIC zine, 2014
  • Glasgow International
    frieze, 2014
  • How Imagination Remembers
    The White Review, 2014
  • Three Stories
    2HB, 2014
  • Story of the Grid System
    New Reproductions, 2014
  • Art School
    Interview with Paul Winstanley, 2014
  • With A Bao A Qu Reading When Attitudes Become Form
    On the affect of reading, 2013
  • Populating Her Sparseness
    But We Loved Her, 2013
  • Start the Revolution Without Me: notes on comic face
    E.R.O.S., 2013
  • Gonda ciné-roman
    Sternerg Press, 2012
  • 1982, DOOM KNOTS
    Keine Zeit Busy, 2012
  • Notes on Three Happy Hypocrites
    Again, A Time Machine: From Distribution to Archive, 2012
  • Signed, Your Arm
  • Field Notes from the Urban Pastoral
    Beyond Utopia, 2012
  • Gonda film
    Screenplay, 2012
  • Death Park
    Blast Counterblast, 2012
  • The Myth of the Airborne Warrior
    Art Monthly, 2011
  • Poor it is
    Waking Up from The Nightmare of Participation, 2011
  • Therefore. Because.
    If Mind Were All There Was, 2011
  • Copulation Méchanique
    The French edition, 2011
  • I Love Dick
    frieze, 2011
  • Orton, Halliwell, Gillam
    frieze, 2011
  • Black
    Gimpel Fils & The Agency, 2011
  • The Mechanical Copula
    The collection of my short stories, 2010
  • Say Who I Am: Or a Broad Private Wink
    Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism, 2010
  • The Strange Power of Reality
    Forms of Imagining, 2010
  • Mardi
    Centre Pompidou, 2010
  • The Future is Primitive
    Mousse, 2010
  • How Hard It Is To Die: The Artist’s Novel
    Metropolis M, 2010
  • How You Lost the Stars
    Kadist Art Foundation, 2009
  • Their Nocturnal Poioumenon
    City of Women, 2009
  • The Personal Game
    MATERIAL, 2009
  • Re: Fictions
    Fillip, 2009
  • Ideal Syllabus
    frieze, 2009
  • The Incunabulum and the Plastic Bag
    A Manual for the 21st Century Art Institution, 2009
  • Don’t Say Yes - Say Maybe! Fiction Writing and Art Writing
    Telling Stories: Countering Narrative in Art, Theory and Film, 2009
  • MF Interview
    Metropolis M magazine, 2008
    ICA, 2008
  • Review of Hunger
    Art Monthly, 2008
  • The World in your Head & The World in your Hand & The World Tomorrow
    Fully Booked: Cover Art and Design for Books, 2008
  • Window Strikes
    Copy Work, 2007
  • The Penalty for Perfidy
    Fillip, 2007
  • Burger King Drinking
    Producta, 2004

  • Maria Fusco is an award winning Belfast-born writer working across fiction, criticism and theory, her work is translated into ten languages. Recent works include: Master Rock, an experimental radio play performed and recorded inside a granite mountain on the west coast of Scotland, commissioned by Artangel and BBC Radio 4 and the solo-authored books With A Bao A Qu Reading When Attitudes Become Form, 2013 (Los Angeles/Vancouver: New Documents, 2013), Gonda, 2012 and The Mechanical Copula, 2011 (both published Berlin/New York: Sternberg Press). She is currently a Reader at the University of Edinburgh and was Director of Art Writing at Goldsmiths.


    duncan b. barlow - Gilles, dreamer of dark and beautiful dreams, spinner of strange syntax, copper biter, spark shooter, cat chaser, tunnel explorer

    Image result for duncan. b. barlow, A Dog Between Us,
    duncan. b. barlow, A Dog Between Us, Stalking Horse Press, 2019.

    duncan b. barlow delivers tender shocks and the profundity of mercy in this poignant, delicate novel of loss and love. A Dog Between Us holds the reader between what can be said and what is unspeakable in our most vital relationships. this is an unforgettable novel of beauty and delirium. 

    “Early on, the narrator of Duncan Barlow’s moving A Dog Between Us offers a rule to live by: never state the important things. Lucky for us readers, this is a rule broken on every single page of this beautiful novel, a book haunted by the details of dying and grief, by the ways in which every once-hidden mote of a lost life’s minutiae can, once revealed, be made to shine, to glow, give back fresh heat and new light.” —Matt Bell

    A Dog Between Us is a loving and moving novel of heartbreaking loss that is also beautifully written—and it is through this beauty that Duncan Barlow provides the reader with some great comfort too.” Michael Kimball

    “In A Dog Between Us we are asked, “What words outline a human life?” If we could read the lines cast around our edges – our janky and shining, beautiful and hell-filled edges – what might we divine? Duncan Barlow’s compelling novel gives us a hint: it has something to do with generosity and fever; that moment when the shadows of the words that outline a life turn into a cloud of blackbirds. They break open your heart upon their sudden departure from the field where you believed so long you were standing alone.”  Selah Saterstrom

    I am not sure where to begin this review. While most who follow my blog know I review mostly genre novels that are Science or Horror fiction. I have to know Duncan for many years, our first books were released by the same publisher and I have followed his career closely since the beginning. I can't erase my bias towards him as a great person and artist but his last two books have still found a way to surprise me with their strength and depth. After the brilliant mind-fuck noir that was The City, Awake my bar was really high. There was a lot about that novel that made it my jam, so when I read about this novel I was not as excited.

    That being said I trusted Duncan Barlow and I am glad I did. On the surface, this doesn't sound like my type of book. An experimental character-driven story with no genre elements but grief and a feeling of dread through-out. for the record I don't just read genre, I love a character-driven novel as evidence check out my top ten last year with How to Set Yourself on Fire by Julia Dixon Evans. It also does two things I normally don't enjoy. This novel is first-person with time jumps and doesn't follow any conventional rules of grammar.

    Normally if a writer chooses to write a whole novel without quotes for the dialogue that would annoy me. Very few writers can pull that kinda raised finger at grammar off besides Kathy Acker or Cormac Macarthy. In this narrative, it makes sense since the entire story is one of personal reflection by the main POV Crag. No one is speaking really. Crag is recounting the death of his father and their relationship.

    A Dog Between Us is a thrill ride or filled with laughs. It is a novel soaking with emotional richness driven by raw and heartfelt prose. This is the type of novel that leaves you wondering how much of this is autobiographical? There are moments of gut-wrenching grief that is so powerful it is like an emotional knife's edge. The story jumps back in forth between touching and heartfelt love, clumsy disregard of youth and adult reflection.

    Duncan Barlow will never be a mainstream artist he grew up in Louisville Kentucky's underrated punk and hardcore scene. He is known for his hardcore bands By the Grace of God and Endpoint, but it was his band Guilt that has no comparison. Probably Barlow's most personal band of the time it mirrors many choices he makes as an author. Experimental without being so weird that the artistry and skill are forsaken.

    A Dog Between Us is as close to a mainstream novel as I suspect Barlow will give us. It is weird, just not as gonzo weird as past efforts. I loved this novel would consider a masterpiece like the last one. A Dog Between Us is Duncan Barlow's best novel to date even if I personally prefer The City, Awake. -

    The Light for Both of Us
    After the Ossuary

    "Dragging the Body of the Thing": An Interview with duncan b. barlow

    duncan b. barlow, Of Flesh and Fur, The Cupboard, 2017.

    When even the inner parts of a heart squall with want, calling out a compulsion to procreate, to propagate, to continue the family line with a child, a child—then a child must be had, by any means necessary. But in duncan b. barlow’s Of Flesh and Fur, what was once so wanted twists towards its own toothy hunger, smacking counter slabs and shrieking out the wrong words for a father's love. Squirrels scatter. The coyotes are closing in. There is only so much meat.

    Of Flesh and Fur is an ancient fable that comes from the not too distant future. Its fevered coyotes worry the bones of fathers who don't have sons, of those who are abandoned and abandon in turn. There's only hunger in these pages, fantasies of manliness that make thin feed. Barlow's spare prose spares us nothing. Read or be eaten. — Joanna Rucco

    Part post-modern creation myth, part eerie feral parable, duncan b. barlow’s Of Flesh and Fur is a viscerally stunning and unnerving novelette rendered in corkscrew-tight lines that silver-spiral their way deep into the raw meat of the reader’s psyche. In terse, hallucinatory, meditative chapters in which an accountant attempts to care for a blood-hungry baby cloned from his own genetic material, the story meditates upon fatherhood, melancholia, loneliness, and monstrosity with deft language and razor-sharp imagery. This primal howl of a story is disturbingly tender in all the best possible ways.
    Lee Ann Roripaugh

    This new chapbook from frequent Vol.1 Brooklyn contributor duncan b. barlow taps into threads both primal and futuristic. It tells the story of a solitary man who uses flawed technology to create a child; strange and bleak happenings ensue. It’s a disquieting read, and has us eager to read Barlow’s forthcoming novel. - Lidia Yuknavitch

    duncan b. barlow, The City, Awake, Stalking Horse 2017.

    “Barlow’s metaphysical noir The City, Awake is a novel of chemically induced amnesia, doppelgängers, fanatics, and killers. Saul, a man without a history, awakes in a hotel room with a note in his pocket. Hunting for answers, he must survive rival assassins, a millionaire with an axe to grind, a shape-shifting femme fatal, a silent hit man, and a psychotic who is only looking for an exit. Barlow evokes a vast mid-century modernist cityscape in prose that is by turns hard-boiled, then unexpectedly psychedelic and delicate. With temporal and spatial distortions reminiscent of A. E. van Vogt’s The World of Null-A, the novel that inspired Godard’s Alphaville, this is a vivid investigation of identity, scientific speculation, and Biblical Apocrypha. The City, Awake is a mirror maze of dark streets and darker secrets.” – James Reich

    Labyrinthine, lyrical, and provocative, The City Awake is part philosophical mystery, part dream-like meditation on what it means to be human, all wrapped up into a beguiling postmodern puzzle. Buttressed by Barlow’s luminous prose, The City Awake takes us on an astonishing journey through the darkened bars and hidden alleyways of an expertly-constructed, claustrophobic cityscape where hitmen are sometimes helpless, where femme fatales are seldom what they seem, and where grit and the angelic mingle on every page —a gorgeous surprise. McCormick Templeman

    The noir novel drops us into a world whose contours we know well: an urban sprawl of violence and sex and caustic pith, with a mystery (a murder, usually) at its center. At the level of logic—the how and the why of its wanton, crime-ridden ways—the noir world simply is. For the reader it must remain this way, through a suspension of disbelief, as her immersion in the narrative depends on not calling it into question.
    Initially, The City, Awake appears to be no exception to this rule; this gothic noir presumes its dystopic city and motivates only the particulars of the plot that unfurls within it. In fact, though, over the course of the novel Duncan Barlow subtly manages to overwrite these rules with those of his own devising—and with great profit.
    City begins with a series of lookalikes awakening in the same hotel room. Distinguishing between these counterparts is (naturally) difficult at first, until one realizes that Barlow’s numbering of the book’s chapters holds the key. Rather than proceeding sequentially, chapter numbers work to distinguish between counterparts: 7, 23, 29, 30, and 18 are the only numbers used throughout the novel to label its sections, each indicating which characters’ perspective we’re in; and we might use Duncan’s numbering system to distinguish the characters thus: David 7, David 23, David 29, David 30, and David 18, who early on decides that ‘Saul’ better suits him.
    All five of these lookalikes awake carrying the same note in their pockets: “You are David. You were made in God’s image. You are the author of all language, emender of sins.” Absent any memories, the men nevertheless find themselves full of knowledge; without recollecting the how or why of their being, they are able to attach words to the things they see, as well as to the abstractions that cross their minds.
    From the hotel room, they all follow a similar routine, as though preordained: they find a matchbook from a local bar, Smathers’, to which each makes their way. Thereafter the counterparts’ stories wobble off onto distinct yet similar paths.
    All of the Davids sans Saul meet a Mr. Erelim, who either confirms their faith in God and uses them as minions working toward His will (Davids 23 and 30), or disowns them (Davids 7 and 29). Precisely who Erelim’s “God” and “His will” is, we don’t yet know.
    Saul, for his part, is intercepted at Smathers’ door by a chameleon-haired woman called Merav, your femme fatale with an orange twist. Merav brings Saul to her boss, Mr. Uriah, an elderly invalid attached to insidious-seeming medical technologies (“a series of compressors, wire and metal”) that maintain his tenuous link to life. Uriah tells Saul he’s an apostate of the Council of the New Mystical Body, an alternative Catholic sect. As a younger man, he’d been the Council’s top representative, boasting of a connection to God so profound that he would fall into fits and seizures, speak in tongues, even have visions. Ultimately, he was found to have a brain tumor, the true cause of his episodes. He lost his faith soon thereafter. Saul’s response to Uriah’s tale is simply that “no god masters” him, which seems only to confirm that Uriah and Merav have “found their man.” As for Saul’s fate, Uriah reveals only this: “Names I can’t give you, for I don’t know them, but you’ll know when to fire when you see yourself.”
    Erelim and Uriah, the two opposing puppetmasters, aren’t forthcoming about their designs, other than Erelim’s devotion to the Council, Uriah’s defection from such, and their seeking to thwart one another. Though the orders they give ostensibly flow from antithetical viewpoints, they are in practice nearly identical: to track the movements of the opposition. Thus closed is the city’s circuit of lookalikes, Saul on one side and the Davids on the other, surveilling each other’s movements. Our only certainty is that violence must follow.
    Indeed, the plot’s pixilation is slow to resolve into anything like high definition. It isn’t until roughly a quarter of the way through this slim novel that we gather the first clue of true significance: instinct leads Saul back to the upturned hotel room of his waking, where he finds a conspicuous card with religious demarcations. Needing to decode it, he ventures an alliance within the city’s church—specifically, with Father Tentorio, the first man in whom Saul stakes his trust.
    Tentorio identifies the deity on Saul’s card as Rogziel, the angel of wrath, and links the card to the Council, a “heretical group” dating back to the Middle Ages that “believed that there were parts of the Bible removed for the sake of securing Papal power, ” including passages about the more “aggressive angels.” The Church, Tentorio says, moved to excommunicate the Council to avoid the “violent and wrathful ideology of those priests.”
    With Erelim established as the Council’s wrathful steward, and Uriah his redemptive adversary, Saul is still left in the dark: suspicious, confused, certain only of his presence, of being awake, and little else. He finds his purpose both meaningless and immediate, hopeless yet necessary, as the question of survival shrouds a deeper, more singular imperative yet to be realized. Without any memory to rely on, and allotted but crumbs of intel by Uriah, he carries out reconnaissance with strabismic eyes darting in any direction from which danger might arise. His wavering states of awareness and loyalty leave him as likely to turn on Uriah and Merav as to strike at his prescribed foe.
    The Davids take a different course. 23 turns vagrant, rebelling against the instinct he was bequeathed by his creator, Erelim. He sleeps in cardboard hovels erected in alleyways, using newspaper for blankets. He has dreams of his genesis in which men like him, lookalikes, lie prone in serried bathtubs filled with gelatinous fluid, attached to a network of tubes, and we surmise that Erelim is cloning from the amniotic fluids of “God” his army of “angels.” David 23 fights his violent instincts, which manifest as disembodied voices and visions of critters crawling from beneath his skin. Sometimes this leads to self-mutilation as he attempts to uproot the creatures; other times, he simply repeats to himself that none of this is real. Increasingly, he becomes aware of what he’s been created to do, what he is trying to stave off so desperately: the instinct to kill.
    Meanwhile, David 30 is utterly unfettered by this “God-given” instinct; in fact he seems propelled by it. Unquestioningly loyal to Erelim’s orders, he bears down on Saul, leaving a river of blood in his wake. Drawing closer to Saul, Merav, and Uriah, he offs, among others, a cab driver blowing up his stakeout and a pestering street urchin, each murder as much in service to his immanent need to spill blood as to Erelim and his occult aims.
    This waltz to the rhythm of factional surveillance continues with little additional broad-arc backstory and plotting, until we near the novel’s climax; whereupon, finally, we learn of Uriah’s chess-like use of Saul’s instinct to kill against Erelim and his minions. This isn’t to say City lacks for narrative tension. Saul’s relationship with Tentorio and David 23’s encounter with a gypsy busker provide a themed roadmap, pushing forth the story while scudding past the motifs that make up the novel’s thesis, which perhaps is delivered most pithily by Tentorio: “Son, one should never trust a man who tells him what to believe.”
    It is from this combination of predictably grim mise en scène and metaphysical mystery that Barlow synthesizes the book’s central achievement. More than the noir’s sprawl of violence/sex/pith, the reader begins to form a complex intuition about the logical underpinnings of something far deeper than plot and mystery—namely, about human agency and purpose, its paradoxes and limits, for both the characters in the book and its readers too.
    Over the noir genre’s paradigm of predictable violence and inscrutable crime, Barlow superimposes a set of characters who seem equipped with experiential knowledge yet who are unable to deduce, a posteriori, the cause and origin of what they know and feel; they are left to determine their life’s purpose solely from untethered instinct. Is this, though, so far from the general human predicament?
    Standard noir genre tropes absolve Barlow of having to explain certain absurdities, such as the string of murders left so blatantly unsolved, while simultaneously opening the door to a metaphysical laboratory. And contrary to such films as Brick or Memento, he’s able to utilize the technology of the novel, the written word, to unleash hard-boiled beauties such as this: “He stood quietly and waited…Patience, after all, was a virtue. When the novelty of his virtue began to wear thin, David rang the bell.” There are also more tender rhythms here, linguistic delicacies between the edgy noirisms, from which a very different novel might have been built: “The man behind him spoke a language that seemed to manifest only in his dreams. Sharp and angular. A language unfriendly to song.”
    Though Barlow’s narrative fog is slow to lift, these lurid strobes of language light it up. Perhaps this is best expressed by the author himself, when he writes, “He was looking past him to some space that only Jonathan could see, a thought metastasizing in the smoke.”
    Still, even more experimentally minded readers might find it more of a struggle to see than it ought to be. The reader’s instincts and intuitions are relied on a bit too much. Ultimately, though, whatever stumbles there are in City are only stray boughs fallen across a rigorously paved ontological path. Without some courting of obscurity—which admittedly furrows the brow almost continuously here—the novel would have been diminished in power from a thematic point of view. It also would have negated some of the readerly pleasure to be had in parsing Barlow’s distinctive novelistic logic.
    Indeed, perhaps more than any character in the novel, it is the reader’s mettle that Barlow wants to test. His ingenious tale will amply reward those who pass. - Brian Birnbaum

    duncan b. barlow, Super Cell Anemia, Afterbirth Books, 2008.

    "A man who is obsessed with germs is obliged to bite on copper strips to keep from electrocuting himself - or others. While chased by a mutant cat man, suspected by the police, and desperately searching for a cure, it's no wonder that dating presents a particular challenge."

    “In Barlow’s Cincinnati-gone-strange, a germ-obsessed electrified man finds himself at the mercy of a mutant cat man, an odd doctor, misguided policemen, and (perhaps worst of all) the terrors of dating. Unrelentingly bizarre and mysterious, unsettling in all the right ways, Super Cell Anemia is a strange and powerful debut.”— Brian Evenso

    “Prepare yourself, good reader, for you are about to have the great fortune of meeting Gilles, dreamer of dark and beautiful dreams, spinner of strange syntax, copper biter, spark shooter, cat chaser, tunnel explorer, vigilant neighbor and, most importantly, hero of this knockout novel. Go ahead, try it, see for yourself (the guy, like the book, is high-voltage)... shake his hand...” —Laird Hunt

    "In Cincinnati, there lives a man who sometimes emits an electric spark so strong that it burns holes in fences and household furniture. He spends his days and nights either at the office of a somewhat dubious occultist physician, with a Russian dancer who works at a sex shop, or in pursuit of a mutant half-man/half-cat through the abandoned subway tunnels beneath the city. The man’s name is Gilles and he is the protagonist of Duncan B. Barlow’s mysterious and strange new novel, Super Cell Anemia. Through first-person journal entries, third-person narrative, and the occasional tract of modern anthroposophy, Super Cell Anemia offers a wide-ranging jaunt into a gnarly and somewhat schizophrenic urban universe.
    Set over a period of thirteen days, the novel follows its main character through an extraordinary series of events and acquaintances. Gilles, an obsessive-compulsive young man afflicted by a rare illness that causes his muscles to generate large amounts of electricity, has moved to Cincinnati in order to be close to Dr. Moore, the only physician who has been able to help his suffering (all the others just sent him to a psychiatrist, assuming the illness to be psychosomatic). Dr. Moore has suggested that Gilles is in need of a muscle transplant and has prescribed copper strips for him to chew on as a way to control the potentially lethal electric surges in his body.
    Although the novel utilizes some conventions of speculative fiction, the premise of Super Cell Anemia owes as much to the legacy of Kierkegaard and Kafka as it does to H. G. Wells and Edgar Allen Poe. Questions regarding illness and perception figure heavily into the novel’s conceit, providing an intriguing search for rationality in a world generally characterized by irrationality and medical confusion. The language of the novel is often laden with a gothic lyricism:
    Gilles attempts to sit up, but four thick, black tentacles slither from the growing darkness and wrap around his chest. He can feel the bed sinking, and as it gains speed, he fears that his stomach might tear up through his mouth. For a moment, he can see himself with his stomach dangling out between his lips like a dripping wet balloon.
    Between visits to his physician, Gilles lives a nervous and unconventional existence. He develops a fledgling, if somewhat challenged, romance with Charlie, a Russian immigrant’s daughter who was trained to be “the nation’s best dancer” but who now works in a sex shop. Part of Gilles’s time is spent attempting to understand why there is a mutant cat-man (whom Gilles dubs Calicoman) climbing up the side of his building at night. After some investigation, Gilles comes to believe that Calicoman is the leader of a local conspiracy to harvest human eggs and that two of Gilles’s neighbors are involved in the scheme—one of whom is sculpting regurgitated walnut seeds into small nests to serve as incubation chambers for the harvested eggs. Not all the people who live in Gilles’s apartment building are in on the conspiracy, however; Gilles’s landlord, an ingenuous and unexpectedly normal character named Roger, seems to be as surprised as the reader to find that one of his tenants is hiding nests made of regurgitated walnut seeds in heating ducts throughout the building.
    The character of Gilles’s physician plays a central role in the novel. Because of his position, we might assume he is able to provide some answers for Gilles, whose world is characterized almost entirely by uncertainty. But Dr. Moore is also an outcast among the scientific community because of his passionate advocacy of the theories of Rudolph Steiner, the anthroposophist whose theories of education founded the Waldorf Schools and whose agricultural ideas were the first attempts at biodynamic farming. The novel has sporadic excerpts from Moore’s writings regarding “Spirit-Science” (the coming together of divine and corporeal realities that he believes Gilles’s electro-magnetic muscular condition embodies), as well as his social theories on community building. But the writings of Gilles’s physician are in a curiously antiquated dialect, and read like 19th-century religious tracts of an aristocratic prelate: “If a human lacks a connection to his spiritual side, he might never come to experience his full potential as a functioning member of society. Just as a blind man will never see, a percentage of degenerates will never come to good.” Although the doctor is represented as honest in his enthusiasm for his medical and spiritual causes, he also appears out of touch and not quite trustworthy in his analysis of Gilles’s condition or his own medical and theoretical pontifications.
    Constructed as a story of intrigue, Super Cell Anemia relies less on questions of narrative suspense than on its own inexplicable oddness to drive the plot. The reader is not so much compelled through the pages to find out whether someone will catch the Calicoman in the act of harvesting human eggs or whether the police (who have it out for Gilles after he called them on a false alarm) will arrest Gilles for a crime he never committed. Instead, a progression of poignantly bizarre circumstances cause Gilles (and the reader) to keep pushing forward in the hope of arriving at some explanation for what is happening. Despite the surreal quality of the novel, Gilles’s quest for understanding is at root a human one, and the reader consistently identifies with Gilles’s sense of unease and desire to get a firm grasp on his bizarre existence. But Barlow hedges in proffering any physical rationale for the narrative’s obscurity; rather than hone in on a “solution” to the novel’s mysteries, he instead drives the story deeper into its own uncanny nightmare. Gilles’s search for answers over the course of the book develops from being generally hopeful to one characterized by insecurity and paranoia. One night, he follows Calicoman into the subway tunnels beneath the city and observes a woman there he believes is Charlie’s co-worker, becoming convinced that even Charlie is involved in Calicoman’s conspiracy. As Gilles’s suspicions about those around him increase, the reader is forced to question the “truth” of the narrative, giving rise to the possibility that the story is less a recounting of events than a psychic contrivance of its protagonist—a sort of oneiric travelogue of a paranoid subconscious struggling to live in multiple realities. The final pages of the novel bring this issue of diegetic reliability to the fore, when Gilles’s confesses to Charlie his reluctance to trust people and his fear that everyone in the world is against him. Although Charlie suggests this fear is understandable considering his relationship with his mentally ill mother, for the reader, this admission addresses an issue that has dogged the story since the first paragraph, which indicated that all the doctors Gilles had ever seen said his afflictions were psychosomatic. Although the question of which reality is the “real” one is never entirely resolved, the novel does deal with Gilles’s own lack of mental self-control. Without giving away the surprise of the book’s ending, suffice it to say that the last moments of the novel are intensely unexpected and force the reader into reconsidering the events of the last 236 pages.
    A striking and often gripping debut novel by a writer with a prolific and energetic imagination, Super Cell Anemia is charismatic, intelligent, and driven by an intellectual curiosity that substantiates its extreme imbrication of dream, illness, and reality." - Christopher Lura"Super Cell Anemia is the first novel by author Duncan b. Barlow. From doing some snooping online, I found several of his short stories, a few critical articles, and a ton of sources about his former music career (he was a touring punk musician for many years before he quit and got his PhD in English). The novel was recommended to me from a friend who is an avid follower of Brian Evenson's work (Evenson does a quote for the back jacket of this book). This book plays with many genre conventions, but never completely commits to the genre, making it a strange but enjoyable read.
    The book centers around a strange, germ obsessed character named Gilles. Gilles has a problem whereby his body produces way too much energy and as a result of this, he begins shocking things. He fears that he may explode and begins to see a strange doctor name Dr. Moore. Gilles' paranoia begins to get the best of him and he believes that the doctor and his newly acquired love interest, Charlie, are out to get him. Throw in a strange hybrid Calicoman, a group of homeless ruffians, two misguided policemen, a man who regurgitates sunflower seeds to make sculptures, and an abandoned subway system and one can begin to see how deep and rich the world Barlow creates truly is.
    Duncan b. Barlow has a strange prose that reminds me of Franz Kafka's later work. It is dark but abounds with hope. It is political but in a very subversive way. Simply by choosing not to give into genre, is a political statement. "How is this?" you might ask. Barlow takes good care to walk a very difficult line between the real and the unreal. His work requires the reader to read actively, to make decisions and not expect the author spell it out for him. If you are expecting Barlow to tell you in the end "it was all a dream" or "he is insane," you won't get it. Barlow wants his readers to decide if Gilles is sane or insane. Whether or not Gilles is sane in an insane world or insane in a sane world is not an answer he wants to give easily; honestly, I don't think it matters because the end result is the same-Gilles is isolated.
    Super Cell Anemia is a journey. The language and lovely dark images Barlow creates makes it a journey worth taking. If you are anything like me, you'll never want the story to end. I hope to read more from this author soon." - Donovan Mansfield

    "Somewhere along the way, I read Super Cell Anemia by Duncan Barlow. Not that it is at all relevant to Thailand or this trip, but he gave me the book a long time ago and I hadn't gotten around to reading it and figured this was as good a time as any. Upon cracking the cover, I even discovered that he thanked me in the credits. Brian Evenson and Laird Hunt both blurbed the book, which was appropriate enough, as to me Duncan's writing style is like a hybrid between the two—macabre as Evenson, while being noir-sleuthy like Hunt.
    Gilles is the electrically charged (literally), obsessive-compulsive, germophobe hero/anti-hero. He periodically needs to chomp on copper strips to diffuse excess charge that builds up in his body. This strange condition provides a certain tension to the book—when you're reading for a while and he hasn't discharged, you almost feel yourself charging with him, in need of release. In a paranoid and hyper-aware state, Gilles navigates through a world of bizarre characters including a calico-cat man, a strangely sympathetic landlord and his confidante Dr. Moore who strives to understand Gilles' ailments, though he appears to have ulterior motives of his own, to use Gilles as his guinea pig. And there's his love interest, Charlie, through which Duncan exposes the strangeness of human dating (when you stop to think about it) by breaking "contact" down to a molecular, germ-obsessed level.
    I actually finished and left the book down on the beach in Krabi for some unsuspecting soul, the day after Xmas which was the fourth anniversary of the Tsunami, and I was watching a show on Thai TV on how animals can predict Tsunamis. In light of this, some of the wisdom Dr. Moore imparts on Gilles was especially interesting:
    "Not quite, Gilles; you will find that when one is completely in touch with his body that it will send small electric impulses to the mind when there are movements that might affect him—specific movements that directly relate to the future of the said individual. I'm not saying I can predict the future, but I have learned to develop certain certain reliable hunches from the information my body generates by way of its electro-bodily reactions."The book is full of such interesting well-researched anecdotes, that usually don't seem too forced or tangential. And even if they distract from the "story," what is it we read for anyway, these morsels of sensory interest? At times it was almost like reading an archaic lecture, or one or those old juju-science books like Devils, Drugs and Doctors. He even lists out categories in the book such as anthroposoph, psychosophy and pneumatosophy, which further break down into sub-categories of
    understanding the senses
    supersense in the human
    inner forces
    creative principle
    electric currents and the senses
    Appropriate enough for the censory name of this blog. There's even a bar in the book called the Frayed Knot—I'm assuming an inside reference to my favorite joke about the piece of the string that walks into a bar and orders a beer. Though the first mention it's called the Fayed Knot. There were a number of distracting typos in the book actually, which reflects on Afterbirth Books more than anything, and there's twelve pages of unsightly ads at the back of the book. Somehow this otherwise literary object got pulped, which I guess might make sense for it as it does fall somewhere in between (i.e. not overly pretentious or high-brow, but not mindless trash)—making it a good poolside read." -
    Derek White
    "A few summers ago I visited Cincinnati. I found it boring, quiet, placid. There were parks and museums and golf courses everywhere. I saw families riding their bikes together. I saw happy children at the zoo, waddling along with ice cream cones. Moms in minivans zooming to Kroger. Cincinnati is the sort of place described as "globally aware" or "old world" or "charming." In short, it was nothing like the Cincinnati portrayed in Duncan Barlow’s debut novel, Super Cell Anemia. Barlow’s Cincinnati is much stranger and darker. It’s more like Cincinnati’s psychotic doppelgänger.
    I cannot summarize the plot of Super Cell Anemia. For one thing, it is too complex—a beautifully meandering work—and for another, it contains too many surprises. Suffice it to say that the novel begins with its protagonist, Gilles, waking with an abnormal pain—thunderous electrical jolts rumbling through his body. It concludes with a disturbing and unexpected disaster brought on by another kind of pain (the ending is the biggest surprise, so I cannot tell much). In between, Gilles controls the jolts by biting down on copper strips given to him by the enigmatic Dr. Moore; he constantly worries about germs, going as far as to clean his cuticles every night with a microscope and a thin sliver of wood soaked in isopropyl alcohol; he chases, and is chased by, a mutated cat-like man (the Calicoman); he struggles to find love with an attractive sex-shop worker and ballet dancer named Charlie; and he evades some suspicious policemen. Put together, it tells a story of fear versus desire, faith versus reason, and reality versus illusion.
    But, ultimately, this fantastic debut novel succeeds not because of its plot or its characterization or its ideas; what makes Super Cell Anemia such a remarkable reading experience is its mind-jolting language. High-voltage similes crack and spark on the page, and there are enough electrifying vivid details in the book to light up a small room. I throw you a few instances: the Calicoman’s eyes peering through Gilles’s window are likened to "black coins floating in orbits of crème brûlée." The leaves of a tree are said to "clap together like an audience of tiny hands." Gray weather "creeps into the apartment like an old and sleepy white tiger." And a whisper in Gilles’s ear is "a breeze of peppermint laced with vodka." This is poetry of the most zestful and animated order; at the same time it is lucid and easily read. Barlow’s language has the sweet toxicity of a plum dipped in kerosene.
    Overall, the result is an absorbing novel with a special appeal for readers who yearn for something exotic and challenging. Super Cell Anemia is one of the finest first novels I’ve read in a long time." - Jason Moore"This is a debut novel, but I’ve been following the work of Duncan Barlow the artist for many years. My senior year of high school I would travel all over the Midwest to watch him play guitar in the legendary Louisville hardcore band Endpoint. On the surface Endpoint was just another hardcore act but their emotional shows and genre bending records played with convention. Barlow himself has said it seems like another lifetime. Duncan also played in bands such as the Lull Account, Step Down, By the Grace of God, Dbiddle and my favorite Guilt.
    The most important thing for those of you unfamiliar with Duncan’s musical work is that it was always powerful, original and deeply creative. So the when the news came that one of my favorite presses was set to release barlow’s first novel I was excited. The novel Super Cell Anemia proves in the medium of prose that Duncan Barlow is an artist that values creative expression.
    SCA is about Giles a germ-a-phobe who is so electrified that he relies on an experimental treatment (involving biting copper) to deal with his rare illness. Giles has moved to Cincinnati to continue this treatment and be close to his doctor. As you read the book you begin to wonder how much you can trust the journal entries that often competes with the present tense narrative.
    There are two great strengths to this book. The first is the subtle nature of Barlow’s take on the absurd. I enjoy the over the top whacky-ness of some Bizarro authors like Bradley Sands (also an afterbirth author) and D.Harlan Wilson Especially but this book has different take. Like a slow burn gothic horror novel the moments of the absurd are peppered brilliantly through the first hundred pages. From there the strangeness of the book expands like lungs sucking in a deep breath.
    The second strength is the structure. Giles neighbors get stranger, his doctor goes off on convincing pseudo scientific monologues and most unsettling is the half man calico cat Giles knows is stalking him.
    This is an unsettling debut in all the right ways. Effectively organized through journal entries, narratives from shifting perspectives, and chapters focused on the various rooms and neighbors in Giles building are an inventive touch that relates to the character nicely. My favorite was room 104 where Giles obsesses over the sound of his neighbors late night pisses.
    Super Cell Anemia is a doozy of a character based Bizzaro novel. Excellently written and everything I hoped for when I started it. Duncan Barlow has transcended my perceptions of him as an artist. He is a great novelist who happens to also be a pretty good musician. If you like a strange read this book needs to be on your TBR pile." - David Agranoff

    Places to read other stories: 
    "The Light for Both of Us" -- Banango Street
    "Phone Etiquette" -- The Denver Quarterly
    "Unintended Consequences of Utterances"
    -- The Collagist 
    "Nonconcentric" -- Matter Press
    "The World Dimmed" -- Masque and Spectacle


    Albertine Sarrazin - a cult rebel classic. Fear of capture, memories of her prison cell, claustrophobia in her hideaways: every detail is fiercely felt.

    Astragal - Serpent's Tail Classics (Paperback)

    Albertine Sarrazin, Astragal, Trans. by Patsy Southgate, New Directions, 2013.

    Patti Smith on the long-lost novel she’s carried with her for almost 40 years.

    As if the reader were riding shotgun, this intensely vivid novel captures a life on the lam. “L’astragale” is the French word for the ankle bone Albertine Sarrazin’s heroine Anne breaks as she leaps from her jail cell to freedom. As she drags herself down the road, away from the prison walls, she is rescued by Julien, himself a small-time criminal, who keeps her hidden. They fall in love. Fear of capture, memories of her prison cell, claustrophobia in her hideaways: every detail is fiercely felt.
    Astragal burst onto the French literary scene in 1965; its fiery and vivacious style was entirely new, and Sarrazin became a celebrity overnight. But as fate would have it, Sarrazin herself kept running into trouble with the law, even as she became a star. She died from a botched surgery at the height of her fame. Sarrazin’s life and work (her novels are semi-autobiographical) have been the subject of intense fascination in France. Patti Smith, who brought Astragal to the attention of New Directions, contributes an enthusiastic introduction to one of her favorite writers.

    'My Albertine, how I adored her! Her luminous eyes led me through the darkness of my youth. She was my guide through the nights of one hundred sleeps. And now she is yours.' At the age of twenty-one, a sad and hungry Patti Smith walked into a bookshop in Greenwich Village and decided to spend her last 99 cents on a novel that would change her life forever. The book was Astragal, by Albertine Sarrazin. Sarrazin was an enigmatic outsider who had spent time in jail and who wrote only two novels and a book of poems in her short life - she died the year before Patti found her book, at the age of twenty-nine. Astragal tells the story of Anne, a young woman who breaks her ankle in a daring escape from prison. She makes it to a highway where she's picked up by a motorcyclist, Julien, who's also on the run. As they travel through nights and days together, they fall in love and must do whatever they can to survive, living their lives always on the edge of danger. A bewitching and timeless novel of youthful rebellion and romance, this new edition of Patsy Southgate's original translation includes an introduction by Patti Smith.

    Astragal is amazing ... Anne is a wonderful anti-hero - a rare role for a woman - and her journey is thoughtfully and poetically expressed. She is the best of the bad girls: spend time with her. - Anna Fielding

    Astragal, originally published in France in 1965 and translated by the Paris Review's Patsy Southgate in 1967, evokes a grittier 1960s than Americans might be familiar with, a 1960s that evolved, eventually, into the revolution and revolt of 1968. Albertine Sarrazin was dead by 1968. She died in July of 1967, having just experienced the leading edge of literary fame, dead of a botched kidney surgery. The fear she expresses in Astragal, when Anne, the autobiographical heroine, is finally hospitalized for her broken ankle, a serious fracture of the astragalus bone, rings chillingly true in light of the author's tragically short, rough life. Sarrazin's novels, written during her own imprisonment, invoke lives as ill-starred and adventurous as her own. Born in Algeria, abandoned, adopted, abused, and eventually incarcerated, she was certainly no less revolutionary than her student inheritors. Anne and Sarrazin share lives of criminality and precocious intellects that, finally, can't save either. Sacrificial heroes, these wild radical girls prefigure the potential of 1968's revolutions, abandoned, like Sarrazin herself, in its nascence.
    Indeed, perhaps the most lyrical and melancholy chapter of Astragal evokes one of the Situationist slogans of the summer of 1969: "Under the paving stones, the beach." Anne travels on le train bleu from Paris to Nice, after some success as a prostitute. Yet Anne's unruly presence within this world of leisure and luxury seems truly revolutionary, especially because a successful heist has enabled Anne's leave, walking from the paving stones of Paris to the beaches of Nice.
    Until this point, Anne has persisted in such a fever pitch of fear and desperation that readers need her vacation on the beach as much as she does: "The warmth of the sun stores itself up in me, not yet radiating out: soon I'll be going back up into the cold again. I'll need my supply." After the beach, Anne gently confronts the Algerian heritage and the nearly-debilitating injury she shares with her ill-starred author,
    I could easily stay here until fall, stretched out, lazy... Shake yourself, girl, you're black enough, your teeth have whitened in your smile, and when they approach you people will ask: "Do you speak French?" Julien won't find the pale child of that first night, I will be a Negro and beautiful and I will please him like a new woman. Even the scar on my foot which has gotten tanned.... My asymmetry? Pff, I am a charming mulatto who limps a little, that's all.
    This suntanned disguise relaxes Anne because she is, throughout the book, a fugitive escapee whose ankle has been shattered by the ultimate leap, from imprisonment to freedom.
    As much as Anne is dogged by her status as a fugitive, she is also literally hobbled by her broken ankle. Kept from medical care for too long, she receives medical attention almost too late, and is told, in terror, "You know, you might lose it..." Through traction, surgery, pins, and various casts, Anne keeps her fugitive state secret, even as she senses that, especially in the institutionality of the hospital, her years in prison betray her: "I had also obeyed quite thoroughly, from habit, the 'Get undressed' of the nurse. Prison still surrounded me: I found it in my reflexes, the jumpiness, the stealth, the submissiveness of my reactions. You can't wash away overnight several years of clockwork routine and constant dissembling of self."
    This disassembling, and constant reassembling, of self that Anne must perform necessitates the beach vacation. She must always stay one step ahead of her pursuers: both the police and the men from whom she tries to maintain autonomy even as they pay her for intimacy -- and indeed, these pursuers seem to meld into the same kind of man. The walking that Anne spends the first part of the book yearning to be able to do becomes a minimal degree of freedom as she struggles to live outside the law. "Where can I find you?" asks an enamored client. "Oh me... I just keep walking," replies Anne.
    Astragal touched readers who were living through the cataclysmic years after the book's publication. Patti Smith's introduction to this new edition, "My Albertine," characterizes Sarrazin and her autobiographical heroines as "Not passing angels but the angels of my life." In Anne, the young Smith found both a kindred spirit and an icon, "armed with the discerning wit of Joan of Arc on trial." Smith's introductory essay not only situates Astragal in her own early life as an artist, but also, in a luminously elegiac tone, revisits Astragal's resonance in her artistic maturity.
    As the young Smith treasured her ninety-five-cent copy of Astragal and carried it as a talisman in her suitcase, so readers of this new edition will, I think, find in Albertine and her alter-ego Anne saints "of the disposable pen and the interminable eyebrow pencil," and bright stars of a 1960s too little recalled. Smith's essay and Sarrazin's crackling and incandescent prose make Astragal a gift, a memento of a decade that was both rough and radical, yet full of potential, and the testament of two astonishing lives, one real, one fictive, both self-invented and utterly extraordinary. - Madeleine Monson-Rosen

    French-Algerian author Albertine Sarrazin’s 1965 novel Astragal is the kind of slim volume so immediately captivating that one might easily feel compelled to read it straight through in one breathless afternoon. But it’s not so much the story — of a young, injured girl’s anxious days on the lam — that keeps the pages turning. Rather, it’s the girl herself. Astragal seduces through the intimate voice of its fugitive narrator, 19-year-old Anne. The story — drawn from Sarrazin’s own life — of Anne’s escape from prison, subsequent incapacitating ankle break (the book is named for the bone she snaps), and arduous recovery, is so alive with Anne’s voice that reading it, one wants simply to remain in her presence, to sit by her bedside as she squirms, frustrated, towards recovery. Anne makes good company.
    Anne and her lover and rescuer Julien live precarious lives. He pulls heists to pay for her care while she anxiously awaits his return, and later, when she can walk, she supports herself as a prostitute on the streets of Paris. But much of the book is more quiet, invoking the feeling of being submerged in the mind of someone who has been too long alone, thoughts circling round and round. We know all of Anne’s momentary cravings and discomforts. As she sits anxiously at dinner, she’s unable to go to the bathroom because she can’t walk on her broken foot. She writes:
    Since the beginning of the meal, I’ve reminded myself of a kid jiggling about shyly on a grownup’s chair: I dream of rising discreetly and with dignity, saying, ‘Excuse me a moment,’ and of walking, casually, as though there were no particular hurry, to the back of the ballroom where the corner “Toilet” has lost its neon but kept the letters.
    Later, in another hideaway, she sits deprived of cigarettes, attempting to listen to her host speaking to her, but instead thinking, desirous and distracted, of “the warmth of the smoke which flows, liquid, with a slight bitter edge, into your throat and chest, making your blood tingle . . . ” and “all of the ashtrays I’ve emptied in my life.”
    She spends much of her time thinking of Julien: what he is doing, what she owes him, in what ways she loves him. In this sense, Astragal is something of a love story. But Julien always remains shadowy. He is a protective and comforting — but also unpredictable and frustrating — figure, coming and going and saving Anne’s life while she’s stuck in bed. Anne sometimes wonders whether her love is just circumstantial: “Do I really want this man so much? He eases my idleness and pain, he is my joy, yes, but . . . If I were able to hope for something else, some other form of pleasure, would I have chosen him?”
    This sense the book gives, of a friend telling a story, is perhaps what lent Astragal such a talismanic quality for Patti Smith, who writes the introduction to the new reissue of Patsy Southgate’s 1967 translation. Smith writes of finding her worn copy years after having first read it in the early 1970s, and, strongly feeling the presence of Albertine herself, wrapping the book in a handkerchief: “It was as if I had Albertine, a battered blossom, beneath my twenty-first century version of sweat-stained tee shirts.” This sense of delicacy and damage comes partly from the fact that Sarrazin died at the age of 29, just a few years after her book was published. It becomes impossible to read Astragal or know its heroine outside of the context of Sarrazin’s own tragic story. Through Anne, Sarrazin emerges as a person fragile and vulnerable, yet full of a fierce energy, leaving some of the substance of herself behind in the form of her writing.
    Anne represents a kind of free and rebellious spirit that might, in the mold of Dean Moriarty of Jack Kerouac’s On the Roadpresent a tantalizing sense of dangerous possibility to young readers, as it did for Patti Smith. But this gets to an odd tension in Sarrazin’s story. Everywhere Anne goes she somehow finds herself confined to a “rectangle” of one kind or another. While Astragal at times recalls such tales of lovers on the run as the films Breathless and Bonnie and Clyde, this is not a road novel, but a story of imprisonment that is always present even if it sometimes changes form.
    Everywhere Anne is sitting or lying or strenuously trying not to limp. She does not move with ease. At once determined and resigned, she tells us “Jail is my right road,” and she never doubts for a moment that she’ll go back someday. While Astragal always maintains an edge of suspense as Anne teeters constantly on the edge of arrest or some other disaster, this is really a story of long convalescence and scraping by to just barely survive. Still, for all the tedious detail of hospital rooms and ankle casts, for all of the rectangles Anne can’t quite make her way out of, she remains an utterly romantic and engaging figure. We always want to spend more time with her. -

    There are author bios and then there are author bios. Try this:“Albertine Sarrazin (1937-1967) was a French-Algerian writer. At an early age she abandoned her studies and turned to a life of crime and prostitution. She wrote her first two novels in prison and was only twenty-nine when she died.”
    That’s from the inside back flap of Sarrazin’s 1965 novel Astragal, newly reissued by New Directions with an introduction by Patti Smith. It’s more of a grabber than finding out where someone got her MFA—but the real news here is that the book is so good it doesn’t end up being overshadowed by the author’s life story.
    Sarrazin knew how to start a novel. Astragal opens with a jailbreak, or rather, what looks very much like a failed jailbreak. Anne, the 19-year-old narrator, has just dropped herself from a 30-foot-wall that surrounded the women’s prison where she’s been locked up; on landing, she shattered her ankle bone—the astragalus or astragal, in case you’re wondering about that title—and can no longer walk. She manages to drag herself to the side of the nearest road, where, just before all is lost, help arrives in the hulking shape of a passing motorist, Julien, who seems curiously willing to help the mademoiselle in distress. There’s a reason Julien is so amenable. All through this hallucinatory opening scene, both flashbacks and Anne’s hardboiled argot (“I had escaped near Easter, and nothing was rising from the dead”) have established her as a tough piece of work; ruthless, amoral, a former petty thief and prostitute with no illusions about the fix she’s in. But she no sooner encounters Julien than the two of them experience a pleasant shock of mutual recognition:
    “... long before he said anything, I had recognized Julien. There are certain signs imperceptible to people who haven’t done time: a way of talking without moving the lips while the eyes, to throw you off, express indifference or the opposite thing; the cigarette held in the crook of the palm, the waiting for night to act or just to talk, after the uneasy silence of the day.”

    Anne’s only real lovers, we learn, have been other women, and her time turning tricks has basically taught her to despise men. But Julien’s membership in the criminal fraternity puts him in another league—and before long his “brotherly” attentions start to have an effect. “Julien was calling me back to men.”
    A teenage fugitive and her roughneck boyfriend taking it on the lam would seem to be irresistibly cinematic material, but in its first half Astragal is primarily intent on all the things that the movies usually leave out. To put it another way, this is a story about criminals, but it’s not a crime novel. The excruciating pain of Anne’s recovery and rehabilitation is matched by the excruciating tedium of the time she endures in hospital rooms and the increasingly shabby series of hideouts where Julien stashes her. The escapee appears to have traded one kind of prison for another.
    But Julien finally brings Anne to Paris, where she gets back on her feet and the narrative finds its legs, too. By now the couple’s affair has evolved into a no-questions-asked arrangement that sees Julien off on long absences where he’s pulling heists and tending to other filles. Pressed for cash, meanwhile, Anne returns to making money her way: by hitting the streets. Presumably because Sarrazin knew the life firsthand, Anne’s account of hooking dispenses with the sentimentality and the prurient appeal male artists often bring to the subject of prostitution. Here she is back on the job, and back on her back: 
    “I am absent, submissive, I don’t think about anything. I won’t even be late for lunch.”
    The detachment is chilling, but gradually we begin to realize that it’s a protective façade; for Sarrazin’s boldest gamble in Astragal is to convince us that Anne is in thrall to an intense inner life, one riven by a kind of romantic, even spiritual yearning.
    Initially that yearning is bound up with her previous lover, Rolande, a powerfully evoked presence who never actually appears in the novel. But as Julien’s absences grow longer and longer (he even does a stretch in jail), it’s evident that he is now the redemptive figure Anne needs to keep herself from teetering into the abyss. Finally, when the two of them reunite and hit the road as a prelude to a decisive getaway, Anne undergoes a humbling epiphany on the beach:
    “... a pain in my stomach or the pain in my leg I can put aside and move away from; but here there is no possible drug or dodge… I understand the terrible consistency of loving, and I am mad with pain.”
    But just as in a classical tragedy, the awakening always comes too late. From the scene on the beach it’s only a few pages to Anne’s long-deferred rendezvous with fate, in an abrupt climax that’s all the more wrenching for being so terse.
    This short novel, rooted in some of the grungiest, grimiest levels of experience, is an affecting parable of spiritual progress. Its depiction of an individual’s passage to grace amid a lowlife milieu is also inimitably French—as Gallic, you might say, as all the cigarette smoke that wafts from these pages—in a way that places Sarrazin in a long line of cultural heroes. To cite just one obvious reference point, while reading Astragal I was put in mind of Robert Bresson’s movie Pickpocket, but other readers may just as plausibly associate Sarrazin with a tradition of literary renegades stretching back to the 19th century.
    That makes it all the more appropriate for this new edition to come with the imprimatur of Patti Smith, the passionate advocate for Rimbaud and a host of other stalwarts from the too-cool-for-school school. Smith’s sensitive introduction, which describes how she first encountered Astragal in a Village bookstall in 1968 and later clung to a paperback edition for decades, also serves as a bracing reminder of how a good book can surface once and then disappear from sight for a generation.
    Here one also wants to hail the translator, Patsy Southgate, whose pungent idiomatic rendering of the original lets us forget that Anne isn’t, in fact, a native speaker of English, and to note that Astragal is as beautifully designed as most recent New Directions titles, a pleasure to hold and behold. (Less happily, the scandalous number of typos in the text makes one wish this publisher could take as much trouble with the insides of its books as it does with the exteriors.)
    I alluded to the sensational aspects of Sarrazin’s life story above, and even a quick search on her name suggests a more-than-passing correspondence between her biography and the events recounted in Astragal. But it would be a disservice to insist on an equivalence between the book and the life—as, evidently, some of its earliest readers did, in 1965. A fierce fictional presence like Anne deserves better than that, as does the woman who created her. Sarrazin’s career may have been tragically curtailed, but her legacy is a novel that grateful readers are discovering now, almost 50 years after her death. - Jeff Tompkins

    Albertine Sarrazin’s novel Astragal, originally published in 1965, is full of a free-wheeling, self-mythologizing attitude rare in modern fiction, but which evokes an era which thrived on heroes who took control of their own fates, seeking complete personal freedom even if it meant living beyond the law - an attitude which was a contributing factor in the conflicts of 1968. Albertine herself never made it to that date (she died in 1967 of complications following surgery, after a life spent in and out of prisons and reformatories), but the novel still reverberates with her energy and spirit.

    Albertine was born in Algeria in 1937, and was abandoned by her parents as a baby. Adopted and bought to France, she was an intelligent child, particularly good at Latin and Maths, but was abused by a member of her new family and placed in a reformatory school. This marked the beginning a life marked by transience and conflicts with authority. Escaping from the school, she travelled to Paris and worked as a prostitute, before being imprisoned in 1953 following a hold-up. She escaped from this prison, too, before meeting her husband. The two stayed on the run for the next decade, communicating by letters when one or the other was locked up. These are the experiences which went into the creation of the semi-autobiographical novel Astragal, written in prison in 1964, and published after her release.
    Astragal is narrated by Anne, a stand in for Albertine herself. The novel opens with her escape from jail, during which she fractures her ankle badly. She is picked up at the roadside by a man on a motorcycle, Julien. She immediately sees that Julien is a fellow outlaw, recognising ‘certain signs imperceptible to people who haven’t done time; a way of talking without moving the lips’. The opening passages are filled with a sense of possibility; ‘the sky,’ she says, ‘had lifted at least thirty feet’. As the couple drive away, she announces that ‘a new century begins’.
    This idea that one might meet one’s lover by chance, at the side of the road, go away together on the back of a motorbike via a series of safehouses and find your identity on the open road, is a common Sixties motif, referenced by everything from Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde and A Bout de Souffle to Natural Born Killers. Astragal, though, shows the experience from the point of view of the woman, frequently abandoned in a series of hostile or confining environments while her man goes off housebreaking. Held back by her damaged ankle, Anne spends her time on the run washing shirts, sewing ties and fending off pimps while Julian disappears for weeks at a time. She worries about being a liability to him, and about how she is going to pay for her board with the various opportunistic hosts Julian finds for her.

    Albertine’s prose is lyrical and impressionistic, filled with images of rebirth. Anne’s initial escape takes place at Easter, and she knowingly refers to her ‘resurrection’ after spending three days in a hospital bed. The narrative recognises that rebirth is not an easy process. While her healing ankle suggests development, or growth, it also holds her back, physically. In the first house they come to, Julien places Anne in a child’s bed. Here, she is nursed, and begins the process of learning to walk again. She doesn’t have the agency of an adult, struggling against the constraints she is placed under and the behaviour she has learned (‘prison still surrounded me: I found it in my reflexes, the jumpiness, the stealth and the submissiveness of my reactions… several years of clockwork routine and constant dissembling of self’).
    More important than this, though, is the mental effect of freedom: ‘suddenly I realised how much each cell, each drop of my blood meant to me, how much I was cell and blood, multiplied and divided to infinity in the whole of my body: I would die if I had to, but all in one piece’. In her introduction to this volume, Patti Smith, who encountered Astragal as a young woman thanks to a cheap edition in a Greenwich Village book stall, asks ‘would I have carried myself with the same swagger, or faced adversity with such feminine resolve, without Albertine as my guide?’ It is her powerful sense of self-definition, of control over her destiny, which gives Anne such strength. As a poor woman, on the run, many of the people she encounters are hostile, but she faces down individuals like the surgeon who treats her ankle but never ‘deigns to notice that, surrounding bone, there is a woman, an uncarvable being who works and thinks’.
    She is unwilling to compromise her sense of self in any way; in Paris, she begins earning money again, street-walking, and considers sending some of her earnings to Julien, who is in prison at this point. His family object, as she is not his wife and they dislike her association with their son, so she drops the idea completely, declaring that ‘to send Julien money under another name doesn’t interest me’. Gradually, Anne becomes more independent, but still continues to wait for Julien, believing that they are fated to be together, even as her lover becomes increasingly unreliable. Several times she almost breaks away, travelling to the coast, but she is always drawn back to the Parisian underworld they both inhabit.
    The narrative moves frequently between the present day and flashbacks, employing the kind of jump-cuts seen in a Godard film. Albertine never goes full stream-of-consciousness, but Anne’s interior monologue is brilliantly captured. She is also able to nail characters with a well-chosen phrase, such as Anne’s preening suitor, who is dismissed with the line ‘even the hairs of his moustache seem to have been planted’. Albertine Sarrazin is a rare literary voice, and Astragal is a compelling view of the counter-culture of her time, retaining a powerful sense of urgency half a century on from its creation. - 

    Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had in our 20s, while still bearing a literary feel that is more thought provoking than The Catcher in the Rye. Perhaps this is why Patti Smith, as described in the introduction, carried around the work in her travels for so many years.
    Astragal begins in a disruptive and disjointed style, evolving into a tragic love story and ending with the empowering breakup. The anti-heroine, Anne, escapes from prison only to injure her ankle after jumping from the prison wall. From there she crawls to the road, where she is picked up by a criminal, Julien, and taken to a defunct brothel on the outskirts of Paris run by Nini and Nini’s boyfriend, partners in crime. The longer Anne is in hiding the more necrotic her leg becomes, until she is eventually taken to the hospital by Nini, who poses as Anne’s sister to prevent recognition of Anne as the escapee. After numerous surgeries, Anne’s ankle bones are fused together resulting in a painful recovery and a permanent limp. This ankle injury, as you likely guessed, is a subtext for the innocence and often forgotten things in life that can cause inflated problems in our lives, i.e., prison, but once we overcome or move past them, they revert back to their innocent state—except now there is a residual existence manifested through memory and paranoia of their return.
    Of course Anne falls in love with Julien, who, of course, leaves often without any notice or indication of when he will return. The reader quickly gets a sense that Julien is involved in some form of smuggling and burglary, but always wins women through lascivious gifts so they will overlook the details of his existence.
    Anne, as expected, waits around a little too long and cares a little too much about Julien, causing her to withstand the prison-like conditions Julien has placed her in. That is, Anne has broken out of one prison only to willingly admit herself into a second created by Julien. To add fuel to the fire, the people she imposes on are only deferential when Julien is away or when Anne provides money. As Anne describes,
    I realize that my hosts feel a greedy sort of servility toward him, hidden under their friendly tone of complicity, poised between the two extremes of respect for the guy who knows how to steal, and condescension for the guy you’re doing a favor for.
    Eventually Julien is apprehended by the law and Anne is able to rediscover freedom, although through a man she is not attracted to and which she uses to hide the fruits of her own resorts to burglary.
    You have probably encountered slightly different versions of this story before, but Astragal is worth the re-exploration for Sarrazin’s frank yet poetical prose and lens of a life that cannot be led by the faint of heart. Astragal would not exist if it were not for Sarrazin’s tumultuous life. Like the characters, she was young, imprisoned, and died at 29 due to a botched surgery. (Is anyone reminded of Clarice?)
    As Patty Smith explains in her introduction, Astragal easily becomes a travel companion not only for its familiar love story, but also for its honesty on the daily life of someone hypersensitive to their relationship and also to physical pain, and who is now only identified by that relationship or pain.
    Due to the focus on slightly seedy characters living under the radar of the law, there is also something scandalous and addictive about Astragal. The reader is left to wonder why Anne never tries to escape from Julien’s arranged prisons or his life of crime. However, Sarrazin counters these feelings by leading the reader through Anne’s growth and maturation—“Little by little, I get organized, I have a steady income, shopping lists . . .” Despite maturity, Astragal leaves us to wonder whether we are all imprisoned through our loves and relationships. - Tiffany Nichols

    Laura Jordan: The Rebellious Artistry of Albertine Sarrazin

    Albertine Sarrazin (1937-67) was a French-Algerian writer. At an early age she abandoned her studies and turned to a life of crime and prostitution. She wrote her first two novels in prison and died at twenty-nine.Patsy Southgate (1928-98) was an integral figure of both the 1950s Parisian literary scene and the New York School.

    Albertine Sarrazin