Review of Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman

Wow. A stunning book.

An immaculately, intricately, eccentrically written, idiosyncratic soft-s-f, near-future, light-dystopian, quirky pseudo-mystery novel describing the ennui, outrage, absurdity, and maturity of an old-before-her-time child star, with all the camp of kid detective sitcoms and an oceanic undercurrent of eco-unrest. Elegant simplicity. Word-by-word delight. Sentence-by-sentence wonder, awe, and ecstatic enjoyment. A continually beguiling and endearing work of heart-fondling irrealism. My superlatives will begin to sound laxative, but I can’t exude enough enthusiasm. When I inevitably buy and read her other books, I’ll still remember this one clearly, and possibly reread it. It crystallizes in my mind, as I rehash eerie scenes of washed-out vaporwave off-color, watery Californian landscapes, unfolding in warehouses and film sets and virtual forums where conspiracy theorists with clickey keyboards dissect every pixel of our heroine’s filmography and implied psychic landscape. Paparazzi, media corruption, and intimate disinterest infuse the vibrant setting. Told through long dialogue-heavy scenes offering wry wit, surprising character details and moments of existential dread. Sprinkles of philosophic quandaries and poetic fancy. The interior monologues are magnificent, often reminding me of Bae Suah. A. K. will join the list of my favorite, on-the-rise writers, along with Elizabeth Tan. Other comps: Scarlett Thomas, Joy Williams, Dan Chaon and Lucia Berlin, or the countless films and shows describing suburban weirdness, tending toward a noticeable decline into post-apocalyptic predictions that are too on-the-nose.

Review of Intimations: Stories by Alexandra Kleeman

In this modest first collection, the author is often incredibly specific in her descriptions, stretching them to absurd lengths, and melding the boundaries of literary and speculative fiction. Not all of the stories are brilliant in my opinion, but they are all different and eerie.

1. Fairy Tale 2/5
2. Lobster Dinner 5/5
3. The Dancing-Master 3/5
4 A Brief History of Weather 2/5
5. I May Not Be the One You Want, But I Am The One For You 5/5
6. Choking Victim 5/5
7. Jellyfish 5/5
8. Intimation 5/5
9. Fake Blood 4/5
10. Hylomorphosis 3/5
11. Rabbit Starvation 4/5
12. You, Disappearing 3/5

More than once, a sudden confusion of the semi-consistent protagonist persona sparks an epiphany about the absurdity of her situation and the threatening aspects of the man or woman in her vicinity. This pattern emerges in several analogs leading to a startling dramatic tension throughout. A menacing cognitive dissonance hovers over the entire collection.

As she does within her novel, Something New Under the Sun, Kleeman defamiliarizes the familiar and familiarizes the weird, here verging into the somewhat bizarro at times, but glossing it all with the texture of literary fiction. Wisdom lurks under quirks, and her meditations on modern life through an oblique lens are always fascinating, whether she’s pondering lobsters, history, feminism, or beachgoers.

I preferred the more traditional stories in this book, more than the experimental departures and abstract collages. The former had arcs perfectly channeling the slowly dawning dread of displacement, danger, or humiliation. There is a palpable nostalgia for youth, a recurring reliance on college drinking, the wild freedoms subsumed by responsibilities, work, family obligations, her characters feeling inhuman in their roles, underappreciated, but mostly misunderstood. Within them all is a search for meaning, a quality of longing, and a subtle regret.

The surprises start with a Ben Marcus-esque collage, then moving to a detailed slow-paced romantic episode about dairy farming, where loneliness and fear prevents a relationship from blossoming.

In one tale, speech is portrayed as a dislodging of internal blockages. Motherhood is cast as a horrifying dilemma of sacrificial disruption.

There is also a peculiar allegory on domestic life, motherhood, and wifedom, which manages to be abstract, compelling, disturbing, telling of a hostage of the home, like an amnesiac homemaker, trapped in a sick game.

We are treated to a couple ambiguous endings. The resort tourist story was elegant, entertaining, and robust, showcasing the alienness of jellyfish, contrasted with the inscrutable and self-destructive desires of human beings.

We are given a sense of poseurship, an interpretation of authenticity, in the context of relationships, amid the consciousness of the male in gaze in the form of staring men.
A fabulous collection of bizarre social situations and interpersonal awkwardness, which constantly subverts your expectations.