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Category: Books

Victorine by Maude Hutchins

Victorine_1024x1024I picked up Victorine by Maude Hutchins after seeing her name on a list of nouveau roman writers on Wikipedia (a page I glanced at when thinking about Fra Keeler, below, but also looking for something new to read). I’d never heard of Maude Hutchins, so did some googling, surprised to find there’s not a ton of info out there. In what I did find on Hutchins, it’s often repeated that she’s “considered one of the foremost practitioners of nouveau roman in the English language,” a quote attributed (again, by Wikipedia) to Anais Nin in The Novel of the FutureI’d like to read the quote in context, and maybe should read more by Hutchins–Victorine didn’t feel particularly like a nouveau roman, at least not in the sense that I understand it (as described in For a New Novel). Victorine definitely doesn’t conform to the conventions of the realist novel–it’s episodic and more or less plotless–so in that sense, it’s certainly experimental. Not to get too hung up on labels, but became curious about how that bit about Hutchins became so pervasive.

Anyway, the NYRB describes the book in its product description for their edition as “a sly, shocking, one-of-a-kind novel that explores sex and society with wayward and unabashedly weird inspiration, a drive-by snapshot of the great abject American family in its suburban haunts by a literary maverick…” Victorine’s an interesting read, full of lively lyricism and great, almost kitschy humor. I feel like my interest started to fizzle about half-way through, but that’s probably me. I was surprised how much the novel–published in 1959–still pushes in terms of taboos around sexuality (especially around childhood sexuality), and the brother/sister relationship reminded me of Paul and Elisabeth in The Holy Terrors a little bit. Maybe I’ll have more to say on this at some point. I couldn’t find any criticism on Hutchins after a cursory search, but Victorine is certainly fascinating enough to make me want to read another novel by Hutchins.

Victorine at Powell’s

Victorine at Amazon


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What madness is this – Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi’s Fra Keeler

I just read Fra Keeler by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi, a short novel I’m planning on teaching in my upper division Contemporary Forms class this fall, a lit class for creative writers that investigates notions of “the contemporary.” I’m still figuring out the thrust of the class, though I know we’ll be using Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge as a way into the novels and poetry collections we’ll be reading throughout the semester.

I’m not alone in comparing Oloomi to Robbe-Grillet, but I’m struck by how (as in Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy) Oloomi leaves so much out of the novel–motivation, for example, and back story, and how what’s absent doesn’t prevent the narrator’s manic, paranoid investigation into the death of Fra Keeler to not only move forward, but to spiral and plummet. Despite what’s missing, the novel (at around 120 pages) still feels at once immediate and energetic while at the same time heavy and fraught. Fra Keeler is a detective novel where it seems that we only know half of the story, that what we’re left with–the narrator’s obsessive investigation (in the strangest sense of the word)–is all the narrator’s left with, too.

Here’s a great passage:

“My mind was as vast and infinite as the sky above, as though the sky had doubled itself inside my head. We are what we see, surely, I thought, that must be the case. Because now that I see the sky, I thought, my mind is another sky alongside it.” (pg. 79)

So much of the novel is concerned with what the narrator perceives, what he sees, and how he connects (or doesn’t connect those things) and the madness of signs. That’s probably where we’ll start our discussion this fall. A great, unexpected novel.

Here are a few more in-depth reviews of Fra Keeler:

LA Times


The Millions

Buy Fra Keeler at the publisher’s website.

Buy it at Powell’s.

Buy it at Amazon.


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