The OF Blog: November 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

L. Annette Binder, Rise

Mrs. Schrom wore a black halo the day before she died.  Raymond saw it when she spiked her tomatoes out back and when she walked her dog.  The next day her husband drove their horse trailer off the road.  On Route 50 just past Gunnison.  He lived because he was thrown from the truck, but Mrs. Schrom was wearing her seatbelt and she was strapped in tight.  His mom told him not to draw any lessons from the accident.  You should always buckle up, she said.  Mrs. Schrom was the exception that proved the rule.  Sister Mary Bee up the street wore a halo, too, but she was old and Raymond didn't notice at first.  You had to watch carefully if you wanted to see them.  They looked a lot like shadows.

The first time he saw one he reached for it, but his fingers went right through.  His mom apologized.  He must like your hair, she told old Mrs. Dreisser, who died the next day.  She went to sleep and didn't wake up, and her daughter said it was a blessing.  His mom had scolded him afterward.  She shook her finger and said it wasn't nice to point, and Raymond knew then she couldn't see the things he saw. (p. 93)

Back in 2010 when I was reading through dozens of lit journals and genre magazines to highlight stories for further consideration for the later-aborted Best American Fantasy 4 collection, I encountered L. Annette Binder's "Halo" in Green Mountains Review, XXII, #2.  The first two paragraphs immediately grabbed my attention, as the balance between the fantastical (the ominous black halos that seemed to foretell the bearer's impending death) and the mundane (a young boy trying to make sense of life and death) was very good.  The reasoning behind the halos is never explained, but instead of jarring the reader from a story about a boy coming to understand what death was, this narrative device served to strengthen it, to give it a more numinous quality than it might otherwise have held.

Therefore, when I learned several months ago that Binder's debut collection, Rise, was set for an August 2012 release, I quickly placed a pre-order because I was curious to see if the other stories in the collection would be of similar quality to "Halo."  What I discovered was a wide spectrum of tales, some of which contained elements of weird fiction, that use metaphor and symbolism along with elements of realist narratives to create tales that haunt the reader long after the story is read.  Very few writers, especially those with only a singular collection, manage to release such a uniformly strong collection.

Some stories, such as "Dead Languages," strike at the hearts of parents or would-be parents who have ever worried that their child might become "lost" to them:

She hadn't put down the grocery bags when her boy finally began to talk.  She hadn't even closed the door.  He stood there sure as the pope and pointed at her with sticky fingers.  Apo, her little Nicholas said.  He looked at the ceiling, and his eyes were shut.  Apo tou nun epi ton hapanta.  It sounded like a song.  It sounded like the martial arts movies Gary liked to watch.  She dropped her bags at the sound.  she let them fall to the kitchen tiles, and the eggs broke and seeped through the paper. (p. 73)

Here, instead of a toddler being walled away due to autism or deaf-muteness, he speaks in a mixture of Attic Greek, Etruscan, Ligurian and other languages long lost in antiquity.  The heartache it causes Nicholas' parents is real, but the deliver fashion, being so fantastical, prevents it from being just another tale of parents struggling to understand their special child.  Binder's matter-of-fact tone to something that is surreal and (at times) slightly uneasy creates a narrative dissonance that forces the reader to consider simultaneously the fantastical and the mundane, before the two merge together to create a short, sharp narrative.

The characters in Binder's other stories are an odd lot:  a giantess that is the offspring of an angel and a mortal; a mother haunted by her daughter's death preoccupies herself with numerous plastic surgeries; a teen who sees angels; and so forth.  Yet the strangeness of their situations and characters serves as a contrast to the often-quotidian settings which they inhabit:  a suburban housing development or a middle class profession.  Yet by the end of many of these tales, it is the seemingly "normal" that feels slightly askew, a bit out of place.  It is as if Binder tilted the narrative framework 10° off-center; the reader notices something is awry, but it may take her until the story's end for her to detect just what exactly that might be.

Binder's prose is subtle, yet cutting to the bone when the situation merits it.  Her characters often possess this fatalistic sense that things are not right or that something portentous is about occur, but this is in addition to their worries about their lives, their families, and their careers.  The quest to understand happenstance lurks beneath many of these stories, such as the grieving mother in "Galatea."  What is discovered, however, may not comfort the questing characters, but it is that seeking explanations in a sometimes cruel, capricious world full of haunted memories, recriminations, and weird developments that makes Rise one of the most compelling debut story collections that I have read in recent years.  Binder is a rising star (she won the 2011 Mary McCarthy Prize for Short Fiction) and Rise hopefully is the beginning of a long and fruitful career as a writer of fiction that straddles the lines between the mundane and the surreal, the realist and the weird.

William Faulkner, The Unvanquished

For most of the thirteen years leading up to the publication of The Unvanquished (1938), most of Faulkner’s short fiction and novels kept circling around the Ground Zero of Yoknapatawpha County:  the Civil War.  In “A Rose for Emily,” passing mention was made of Colonel Sartoris and his form of charity toward Emily.  Flags in the Dust (1929) follows the Sartoris family in its decline after the Civil War.  In Absalom, Absalom! we learn a bit more about the Compsons and their connection to the settlement of the county and their involvement in the Civil War.  “Barn Burning” introduced us to Ab Snopes, whose muddled role in the Civil War was, incidentally enough, first explored in The Unvanquished.  There are further ripple effects, forwards and backwards in Yoknapatawphan time, as the complex, tragic mix of pride, stubbornness, racism and classism, and the struggle of the everyperson to make his/her way through an often unforgiving environment all center around the real and fictional events of 1861-1865.

The Unvanquished, through seven episodes, tells the story of the Sartoris family during the second half of the Civil War, July 1863-April 1865, and into the Reconstruction years, ending in 1872.  Six of these seven episodes originally were short stories published between 1934-1936, with the seventh, “An Odor of Verbena,” appearing only with the complete novel.  It is told through the young twelve year-old eyes of Bayard Sartoris, Colonel John Sartoris’ eldest son, as he remains at home on the Sartoris plantation while his father and the other Yoknapatawpha men join the Confederate Army of the Mississippi in battles north and east of Jefferson.  The story begins with Bayard and the young slave Ringo playing a mock battle of Vicksburg when an older servant, Loosh, comes in and informs the boys that Vicksburg has fallen and that the Yankees are advancing through northeastern Mississippi toward Jefferson.  Soon enough, the two spot an advance Yankee patrol and Bayard pulls down a musket from the wall and shoots at him, killing a horse.  This opening episode, “Ambuscade,” reveals not just young Bayard’s naivety (he does not yet understand that there is an element of fear as well as respect in how Ringo and the other slaves treat him and his family), but also that turning point in the war where the advancing Union forces have begun liberating the slaves in the captured territories following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.    Faulkner later reveals the depth to which the slaves knew of Lincoln’s proclamation in the third section, “Raid,” through this eloquent passage:
We never did overtake them, just as you do not overtake a tide. You just keep moving, then suddenly you know that the set is about you, beneath you, overtaking you, as if the slow and ruthless power, become aware of your presence at last, had dropped back a tentacle, a feeler, to gather you in and sweep you remorselessly on. Singly, in couples, in groups and families they began to appear from the woods, ahead of us, alongside of us and behind…men and women carrying babies and dragging older children by the hand, old men and women on improvised sticks and crutches, and very old ones sitting beside the road and even calling to us when we passed; there was one old woman who even walked along beside the wagon, holding to the bed and begging Granny to at least let her see the river before she died.
The path of human migration was not limited to the slaves moving toward the Mississippi River (where the Union Army was stationed) but also to the movement of refugees driven from their homes by the fighting.  During the last full year of the war, Bayard’s family leaves the Sartoris plantation behind, as the Colonel has ridden into town and urges his mother, the Granny, to take the family silver to Memphis for safekeeping from looters from both sides of the conflict.  As Granny, Bayard, and Ringo travel toward their destination, they are waylaid, saved only by the fortuitous arrival of the Colonel’s cavalry as they try to chase down the thieves, who manage to escape but without the silver they had taken.  There are several funny events in the middle episodes, such as when Granny later goes to the Union forces and petitions for the return of the silver that the soldiers had later taken from the plantation after another patrol came upon it while searching for the Colonel’s troop.  Through a series of shrewd negotiations, abetted by the shady Ab Snopes, they have engaged in a mule smuggling/selling operation that allows the family to make back the money lost.  In this episode, there are shades of actual events late in the war where soldiers on both sides and civilians would sometimes engage in a series of complex and perhaps illicit trades in order for the latter to survive as their crops were devastated by the fighting and lack of labor for harvest time.

Dearth of supplies and food, while featured at times in these stories, takes a secondary role to Bayard’s personal development.  Near the end of the fighting, Granny is killed by the sinister ex-Confederate bandit, Grumby, as she tries to ply on him her mule-trading scam.  Betrayed by Snopes, Grumby has her killed.  Bayard and others in the household begin tracking down Grumby’s men, when they stumble upon Snopes, who had been tied up and left for dead by Grumby.  Eventually, Grumby is cornered, killed, and one of his hands is chopped off in retribution for the treatment Granny received.  In this, we see Bayard progressing from a callow youth to a young adolescent who is fierce in his defense of family honor.  Later, in the final episode, set in 1872, we see this sense of honor tested, with Bayard learning that sometimes there is a time and place for fighting and another for peacemaking for a good greater than that of the family.

The Unvanquished is difficult to discuss without laying out the events that occur.  Faulkner skips ahead months, if not years, between the seven episodes and at times the narrative is comic and at others very somber.  This likely is due to the episodes originally being six short stories that were later edited together to form a mosaic novel.  In places, such as the shift from the plantation to the family engaging in the mule-trading business, the transitions are very abrupt and feel rough and underdeveloped.  Yet on occasion this sense of disjointedness actually serves to accentuate the confusion and calamities of the final years of the Civil War and the massive disruptions and displacements that took place.  While Bayard’s growth into the future leader of the Sartoris family is a key unifying thread, there is much here about how the Jefferson blacks viewed the war, how there were unscrupulous individuals like Snopes and Grumby who profited from the war, as well as how chaste love, such as that shared between Bayard and Drusilla, serves as a thematic counterpoint to the fighting and hatreds that spilled out.  By itself, The Unvanquished is not one of Faulkner’s best written or developed story sequences.  But as a sort of quasi-prequel that ties together the references made in his earlier fiction, it serves to unify the disparate threads found elsewhere and to give a sense of loss, privation, and pride even in defeat that became the hallmark of so many of his post-Civil War-set characters and stories.  For that, it is an invaluable part of the larger tapestry of Faulkner’s fiction, even if by itself it is a weaker work.

Originally posted in March 2012 on Gogol's Overcoat as part of a weekly "Faulkner Friday."  Novels reviewed from January-April will be reposted here on Fridays, while the short stories will appear on Wednesdays.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reflections on reviewing

Over the past eight years (or 5.5 years, if you want to start with the blog reboot of May 2007), I have written close to 500 reviews for this blog, Gogol's Overcoat, and a couple of online and print magazines.  This month alone, I have written almost 40 reviews, book and cinema alike, as part of a 30-in-30 challenge that I set myself back in October (this does not count the reposts of earlier 2012 reviews of William Faulkner novels and short fiction that were originally posted at Gogol's Overcoat).  I will write either one or two more reviews by the end of tomorrow, likely L. Annette Binder's Rise and/or Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and in Shadow.  It has been a challenging review time, but hopefully there has been something of interest for at least some of the readers here.

Yet there are a few things that I've noticed while doing this review project that I thought might be worth exploring in an essay.  The first thing I've noticed is that I have to be careful not to write a review to fit a format.  Sometimes books demand more than just 850-1200 words (my typical review length, including quotes) and there are times where it feels that I have flattened the discussion of a book's merits and weaknesses in order to fit the review into a certain slot.  I think the poetry reviews for the five 2012 National Book Award finalists in that category largely avoided that, as I had to work somewhat harder to explain just what it was that I noted in the verses that was worthy of praise and which needed a more critical eye turned upon it.  However, I am more of a "layperson" when it comes to poetry (despite my nearly life-long love for the form and my experience in college having to translate portions of Books I and IV of Vergil's Æneid) and there certainly is not as much of a focus on technique as there could have been if I were reviewing a history or a fiction.

In terms of viewership spikes, the blog traffic has been relatively flat over the past four months, whether or not I was writing dozens of reviews that month or going almost a month or two without writing a single one.  This is not surprising, as with few exceptions there have been few retweets or links to my reviews from other people.  Some of this is likely due to the books being reviewed, even if they are 2012 releases, being of little interest to those who may wish that I would have read/reviewed the latest Joe Abercrombie novel (which I have little interest in reading) around its release date instead of reviewing Clair Vaye Watkins' excellent debut collection, Battleborn.  When I decided two years ago to forego soliciting review copies and to read/review what interested me more than the latest crop of epic fantasies that many other online reviewers cover, I knew that there would be a steady drop of traffic.  I honestly expected it to be a 33%-50% drop at least, but it seems that it's more in the 15%-20% drop range, with 2012 actually being about 10% stronger than 2011.

If I were concerned overmuch with stats and traffic, perhaps I could have ditched my plans and gone back to promoting "the latest and greatest" genre fictions.  However, that would run counter to my reason for reviewing and blogging.  The value in online reviewing isn't always in being the first (or one of the first) in a herd to review a book/series that has a good marketing budget.  At times, readers are searching for that singular review of a book that they heard about years ago or which they might want to read if only someone had written a review of a work that didn't receive the huge marketing push.  In addition, sometimes readers want to read more than just SF/F fiction.  It seems for those readers, those who use Google or Yahoo or some other search engine to find a review, that this blog and the others I've written for (Gogol's Overcoat, the mirror blog Vaguely Borgesian) are filling a niche.

In the future, I do not know what all I'll be reviewing or blogging about.  I have given some thought to resuming interviews, but focusing on writers and editors from outside the Anglophone sphere.  There probably will be some current SF/F being reviewed, but I think there will be a greater focus on translated/literary/weird fictions for the foreseeable future.  I have noticed that I am (slowly) receiving queries regarding my interest in reviewing literary fictions and I may accept a few of these, as these fiction types (I do not consider it to be a unified genre, regardless of what some SF/F apologists might argue.  Hilary Mantel and Blake Butler, for example, couldn't be more heterogenous in style, content, and focus if they tried.) do interest me these days and I hope some of the readers here will consider some of these.  Regardless of what I choose to review, I choose with with the knowledge that some will not be pleased with my choices, that they (if they haven't already abandoned reading this blog) will go elsewhere for the content that they desire.  This is fine; I seek to draw an audience that wants reviews of certain fictions that are rarely found outside of certain print/online outlets.  And if I were to review Diego Marini's New Finnish Grammar next to Victor Pelevin's The Helmet of Horror, perhaps there would be some who would be interested in both.

But in the meantime, it's back to writing about what I have grown to love and perhaps this will inspire a few others to read something that they otherwise would not have been aware of, much less interested in reading.  The time for discovery has not yet passed nor shall it for quite some time, I hope.

Joseph Brodsky, Watermark

One never knows what engenders what:  an experience a language, or a language an experience.  Both are capable of generating quite a lot.  When one is badly sick, one hopes, even against hope, to get cured, the illness to stop.  The end of an illness thus is the end of its metaphors.  A metaphor – or, to put it more broadly, language itself – is by and large open-ended, it craves continuum:  an afterlife, if you will.  In other words (no pun intended), metaphor is incurable.  Add then to all this yourself, a carrier of this métier, or of this virus – in fact, of a couple of them, sharpening your teeth for a third – shuffling on a windy night along the Fondamenta, whose name proclaims your diagnosis regardless of the nature of your malady. (pp. 77-78)

Joseph Brodsky's memoir/essay/prose poetry, Watermark, has haunted me ever since I first read it in July 2012.  It is hard to pin down exactly what it is; its protean qualities make it a mirror of sorts for the reader:  whatever might preoccupy your subconscious may come to the fore when reading this.  In a draft of a July letter that I wrote to someone dear to me, I focused on the metaphor of water.  This is what I wrote, with the quote above appearing in the middle:

As I said to you [...], Brodsky's Watermark was a dangerous book for me to read, as I have already re-read it once and thumbed through parts of it another.  The metaphor of water, which in liquid form possesses no innate shape and whose formlessness reflects and refracts objects rather than possessing the entirety of them, for life, the city, and time has occupied several of my waking thoughts (and a few of my dreaming images) these past few days.  Take, for instance, his comments on metaphors:

[quoted passage above]

I dream in metaphors, taking the concrete and bending it into something more malleable.  I do not possess the talents of the great poets (and Brodsky certainly ranks as one), but I do get some sense of what maladies afflict them.  Water as metaphor works because we grasp the futility of holding it; it always escapes us.  Water, however, flows through us, moves us, makes our very lives possible  It connects without being a part of a beginning or a terminus.  It envelops the square that contains the circle in which the points of a triangle struggle to pierce it.  Water perhaps is a metaphor for the Alpha and the Omega.

Yet this is only a singular impression of Watermark.  Re-reading it as the leaves have mostly fallen, with ashen skies and cold breezes, there are other passages that seized my attention.  The allusions to the preciousness of color in a wintry clime, of fog enveloping the streets, the labyrinths of canals and streets cloaked with this fog and the meandering paths that people take through the city – these are other elements of Watermark that complement (and provide a contrast to) the watery metaphors of other passages.  As a collection of 48 short essays on Brodsky's 17 consecutive winter visits to Venice, Watermark contains at least as much references to the symbolism of that month (and of Brodsky's love for coolness) as it does toward anything else.

Future re-reads no doubt will highlight over aspects of Venice and Brodsky's impressions of it.  This is one of the more attractive parts to the book, as Venice, like people, is constantly shifting.  In some guises, it appears active, bursting with activity, as might a radiant child playing in front of approving parents.  Yet there are times where the stillness of the city captures something else:

And you sense this light's fatigue as it rests in Zaccaria's marble shells for another hour or so, while the earth is turning its other cheek to the luminary.  This is the winter light at its purest.  It carries no warmth or energy, having shed them and left them behind somewhere in the universe, or in the nearby cumulus.  Its particles' only ambition is to reach an object and make it, big or small, visible.  It's a private light, the light of Giorgione or Bellini, not the light of Tiepolo or Tintoretto.  And the city lingers in it, savoring its touch, the caress of the infinity whence it came.  An object, after all, is what makes infinity private. (pp. 80-81)

Privacy certainly is another layer to Brodsky's text.  In his impressions of the city, ranging from the city as metaphor to the city as symbol, Brodsky's imagery feels intimately personal, as he struggles to convey what he feels each time that he perceives a countenance of Venice's many faces.  We are but interlopers here, Peeping Toms who witness his attempts to wrestle with the infinitude of symbol and metaphor to craft something approximating a "true view" of his beloved Venice.  As I said in the excerpted personal letter, "It envelops the square that contains the circle in which the points of a triangle struggle to pierce it."  Yet these approximations, close as they come to realizing infinity, by nature must fail.  And in that "failure" of Brodsky to define Venice, we detect that eponymous watermark that signals that this work is one of the most evocative works of the late twentieth century, one in which re-readings will yield different impressions each time his essays are considered.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

G. Willow Wilson, Alif the Unseen

Reza carefully laid out the pages he had transcribed during the creature's last visit.  He wrote in Arabic, not Persian, hoping that this precaution would prevent his work from being misused should it fall into the hands of the uneducated and uninitiated.  The manuscript was thus a double translation:  first into Persian from the voiceless language in which the creature spoke, which fell on Reza's ears like the night echoes of childhood, when sleep was preceded by that solitary, fearful journey between waking and dreaming.  Then from Persian into Arabic, the language of Reza's education, as mathematical and efficient as the creature's speech was diffuse.

The result was perplexing.  The stories were there, rendered as well as Reza could manage, but something had been lost.  When the creature spoke, Reza would drift into a kind of trance, watching strange shapes amplify themselves again and again, until they resembled mountains, coastlines, the pattern of frost on glass.  In these moments he felt sure he had accomplished his desire, and the sum of knowledge was within his reach.  But as soon as the stories were fixed on paper, they shifted.  It was as if the characters themselves – the princess, the nurse, the bird king, and all the rest – had grown sly and slipped past Reza as he attempted to render them in human proportions. (p. 4)
ا. Aleph.  Alif.  The letter that is not, the marker of short vowels that are unseen.  The beginning of semantics, of our language for the world around us.  There is a sort of mysticism about this Semitic vowel marker, both in its Hebrew and Arabic scripts.  Borges entitled one of his most famous collections (and stories), El Aleph, as a sort of reference to the occult knowledge some over the centuries have attributed to it.  Its symbolism persists even into today as a metaphor for that which is present and yet not.  It is therefore fitting that ا is the pseudonym for the protagonist of G. Willow's Alif the Unseen.

Alif is a young Arab-Indian hacker operating in an unnamed Persian Gulf city.  He runs a clandestine business that allows his clients to bypass the stringent internet security system established by the local government, but after a lover of his leaves him for the "Hand of God," the head of the state's internet security apparatus, his career and possibly his life are in danger.  Fleeing underground, Alif stumbles upon a copy of The Thousand and One Days, a book created by the jinn that is the "true original" of the human-translated The Arabian Nights and which apparently contains an encoding of data that could unlock more than a very sophisticated information technology.

Alif the Unseen can be read on multiple levels.  At the base is a technological thriller, as Alif and the "Hand of God" compete to possess the secret book and to decode it.  The action certainly is quick and the revelations that spur developments move at a brisk pace, with very few lulls in the action.  However, Alif the Unseen is also a commentary on faith and the belief systems in which we have encoded our own fears, superstitions, hopes, and desires.  Wilson draws upon nearly 1400 years of Muslim theology and philosophy in the dialogues that Alif has with the jinn and others.  Yet these references are, for the most part, not oblique to non-Muslims, as they contain references that people of other faiths (or non-faiths) can understand, such as referencing the piety of the suffering:

Alif heard the sheikh chuckle.

"I have had much experience with the unclean and uncivilized in the recent past.  Shall I tell you what I discovered?  I am not the state of my feet.  I am not the dirt on my hands or the hygiene of my private parts.  If I were these things, I would not have been at liberty to pray at any time since my arrest.  But I did pray, because I am not these things.  In the end, I am not even myself.  I am a string of bones speaking the word God." (p. 294)

This little passage finds resonance in other scenes in the novel, including the plight of the state's citizens, their attempts to find that precarious balance between the exigencies of life and of their faith in something greater than their oppressed state, and in the belief that the world contains things beyond human ken.  Wilson references these beliefs and the seemingly contradictory ways in which people may act on them (e.g.  the conflict between the emphasis on peace and the often-violent means of protest that the subjugated people employ to voice their dissent).  Too easily such socio-religious commentaries could be construed as being mawkish or cynical, yet with few exceptions Wilson manages to avoid both.  Her characters are not cartoons; they contain their own frailties and rocks of strength upon which they sustain themselves.

The prose is deceptively simple.  It is relatively sparse, focusing more on developing the action than on the situations, although at key moments, there are revelatory passages that further the plot without bogging down the action.  The characterizations are understated yet rarely is there the sense that any of them are underdeveloped.  Alif in particular is a mixture of knowledge and ignorance whose quest to decode the jinn's book works because we see his progression without feeling that he is a Dan Brown-like simpleton who has to explain every single point in laborious detail as if everything were truly a divine revelation.

If there were a flaw to Alif the Unseen, it might be that Wilson could have explored the underpinnings of Alif's society and their belief system just a bit more.  However, this is more a matter of personal preference, a desire to see the semantics of the meta-narrative outlined more, rather than a grievous fault.  Outside of this and a few quibbles about how quickly the novel ended, Alif the Unseen was one of the better 2012 releases that I have read this year.  Its mixture of Arabic mythology, cultural traditions, contemporary social concerns, with some elements of technological SF works very well and should appeal to a wide range of readers.

William Faulkner, "Hair"; "Nympholepsy"

This week’s two stories, “Hair” (1931) and “Nympholepsy” (posthumously published in 1973), illustrate the breadth and depth of his range as a writer.  The former is, on the surface at least, a study of a mysterious character while the latter is an exploration of character and life as seen through an intense magnification of a moment of struggle and despair.  Yet both, in their own particular way reference and reinforce several themes that Faulkner liked to explore in his fictions, novels and short fiction alike.
“Hair,” like most of his fictions, is set in the fictional town of Jefferson, Mississippi.  Hawkshaw, a mysterious barber who appeared in town some years ago, appears to have at best an odd and at worst a disturbing relationship with a young orphaned teenaged girl, Susan Reed.  Their relationship is frequently the talk of the town, as the narrator, a traveling salesman, notes.  Yet there is much, much more to Hawkshaw than what is first revealed and it is in that slowly-revealed backstory that “Hair” develops into something much more poignant.

Faulkner never has Hawkshaw tell his own story.  Instead, we see his entire life through the eyes of observers, the salesman being the one who fills in the gaps over a thirteen-year period in which his traveling circuit across Mississippi and Alabama has allowed him to intersect with Hawkshaw and to discover just why the barber asks for two weeks off in early April every year.  Here is an example of how this salesman describes Hawkshaw:
A little, sandy-complected man with a face you would not remember and would not recognize again ten minutes later, in a blue serge suit and a black bow tie, the kind that snaps together in the back, that you buy already tied in the store.  Maxey told me he was still wearing that serge suit and tie when he got off the south-bound train in Jefferson a year later, carrying one of these imitation leather suitcases.  And when I saw him again in Jefferson in the next year, behind a chair in Maxey’s shop, if it had not been for the chair I wouldn’t have recognized him at all.  Same face, same tie; be damned if it wasn’t like they had picked him up, chair, customer and all, and set him down sixty miles away without him missing a lick.  I had to look back out the window at the square to be sure I wasn’t in Porterfield myself any time a year ago.  And that was the first time I realized that when I had made Porterfield about six weeks back, he had not been there.
Faulkner contrasts this staid, everyman look with the mystery behind his travels through Alabama, Tennessee, and finally Mississippi.  Why would a barber, generally one of the more rooted members in pre-World War II Southern society, be seen for a year or two at a time in at least eight different towns before asking for leave in early April for two weeks, only to skip town for good except for his final stop at Jefferson?  What is so important about a closed house in a flyspeck town on the Alabama/Mississippi border where the villagers would tell the salesman about this same barber?  By using anecdotes to flesh out this mystery, Faulkner sucks in the reader, inviting them to try and puzzle out why the house is so important, what is symbolic about a missing portrait and lock of hair, and just what might be the connection with young Susan Reed?

“Hair” works as a story because there is very little exposition that occurs outside of the salesman’s recollections and even that is doled out in accordance with the unfolding narrative surrounding Hawkshaw and the young girl.  Although by the time the final reveal many readers may have already puzzled out most of the mysteries, there is also a short, sharp finale that leaves the story hanging in such a way that the reader may find herself dwelling upon what had just occurred over the past eighteen pages of text.  Within that brief space, Faulkner explores loss, determination, honoring debts, and the viciousness of town gossip not through declamatory protest or acclaim, but instead through a subtle juxtaposition of character comments and actions.  There is a surprising amount of depth to this little story, one that is belied by its length (with the exception of “A Rose for Emily,” this is the shortest Faulkner short fiction, other than the second one featured in this commentary, to be reviewed to date here).

“Nympholepsy” differs significantly from “Hair” in that it focuses on a key, decisive moment in a farmer’s life.  The opening paragraph sets the tone for the climatic moment to a story about which the reader will know so little:
Soon the sharp line of the hill-crest had cut off his shadow’s head; and pushing it like a snake before him, he saw it gradually become nothing.  And at last he had no shadow at all.  his heavy shapeless shoes were gray in the dusty road, his overalls were gray with dust:  dust was like a benediction upon him and upon the day of labor behind him.  He did not recall the falling of slain wheat and his muscles had forgotten the heave and thrust of fork and grain, his hands had forgotten the feel of a wooden handle worn smooth and sweet as silk to the touch; he had forgotten a yawning loft and spinning chaff in the sunlight like an immortal dance.
It is a day like and unlike any other:  another day of toil and sweat complete, the desire for something compassionate in a seemingly harsh and unforgiving life dependent upon the whims of God/nature.  This farmer feels he is going to die, or rather, perhaps intends to die in order to leave this dreadful state of uncertainty:
The rotten bark slipped under his feet, scaling off and falling upon the dark whispering stream.  It was as though he stood upon the bank and cursed his blundering body as it slipped and fought for balance.  You are going to die, he told his body, feeling that imminent Presence again about him, now that his mental concentration had been vanquished by gravity.  For an arrested fragment of time he felt, through vision without intellect, the waiting dark water, the treacherous log, the tree trunks pulsing and breathing and the branches like an invocation to a dark and unseen god; then trees and the star-flown sky slowly arced across his eyes.  In his fall was death, and a bleak derisive laughter.  He died time and again, but his body refused to die.  Then the water took him.
Here the edges between reality and dream become blurred.  As the night deepens, the farmer seems to be drawn through water and death toward a woman in the distance, whom he seeks to hold in his hands.  There is a disappearance, followed by a long, slow return to the patterns of before.  The very title, “Nympholepsy,” hints at just what sort of woman the farmer found himself beholden to; the final part the type of encounter.  It is a direct, raw, hallucinatory story, very different in form from most of Faulkner’s fiction.  In it can be seen most clearly the elements of the magic within the purportedly realist milieu.  Faulkner is often cited as an influence on the great Latin American writers of the “Boom Generation,” and “Nympholepsy” certainly contains that ethereal, haunting quality found in the best of their works.  It is not as much a story as a moment of magic on earth, serving not to provide an escape route for the farmer, but instead a confirmation of what he has lived.

Originally posted in March 2012 on Gogol's Overcoat as part of a weekly "Faulkner Friday."  Novels  reviewed from January-April will be reposted here on Fridays, while the short stories will appear on Wednesdays.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

F.L. Fowler, Fifty Shades of Chicken

Often parodies published quickly in the wake of mass marketing successes fail to hit the mark.  Either the humor is too forced or there is nothing humorous at all about what is being satirized.  But occasionally there are works that are so out there that their very titles capture the attention of readers.  One such example is F.L. Fowler's Fifty Shades of Chicken, which not only riffs on E.L. James' (in)famous Fifty Shades of Grey but also serves as a chicken cookbook.

Culinary aficionados have long recognized the eroticism latent in food preparation.  From the handling to the preparation to the delectable bites, food-based euphemisms have long been a part of erotic foreplay.  In Fifty Shades of Chicken, Fowler plays up on these ties with titles such as "Chicken with a Lardon" and "Dripping Thighs."  However, parodies can only go so far if they do not manage to do two things well:  send up the original and tell an interesting story of its own.  Luckily, the short passages that preface the 50 chicken recipes are short (1/4-2 pages), with rarely there being the sense that the parodic description goes overlong.  Take for instance this excerpt from "Chicken with a Lardon":

"What kind of stove is this?" I ask.

"It's a Wolf LP dual-fuel with six dual bras burners and an infrared griddle," he says offhandedly.

Wow.  Boys and their toys.  He flicks a knob and an outsize burner ignites with a roar of flame.  A heady aroma wafts from a gleaming skillet he's rested carefully on top of it.  Is that bacon?

I've been placed precariously on the countertop while Blades does his mise en place.  Once again I feel myself teetering on the edge.  The edge of desire, the edge of despair – the edge of the counter.  Crap.

It all happens in a flash.  One minute I'm falling, the next I'm in his arms and he's clasping me tightly to his chest.  He smells of bacon and imported onions.  It's intoxicating.

He stares down at me with a hungry look.  I'm so close I can feel the rumbling deep in his taut belly.  Slowly he peels me from my wrapper.  The plastic comes away, exposing my naked flesh.

Heat me, heat me, I silently implore, but I can't do more than cluck softly. (p. 23)

Based on what little I know of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, the prose is similar in its softcore (and apparently, later BDSM-like) eroticism.  Yet here in Fifty Shades of Chicken, there are hints of various cooking shows on the Food Channel and other such domestic TV shows, with the erotic-like qualities of handling and preparing the food, with descriptors such as "bursting with flavor" and "succulent" being used in such a sensuous fashion as to make some wonder if the chefs have a hard-on or are feeling a bit nipply while they are preparing their food.  The result is an amusing text that reminds readers not only of the E.L. James series, but also of the barely bearable cooking shows that they may have had to endure.

Regardless of the parodic qualities, no cookbook would be good if it did not include well-written cooking directions (and perhaps an enticing photo or three).  Fifty Shades of Chicken contains recipes that novices and experienced cooks alike can easily follow.  Yet even in these recipes, such as the "Roasted Chicken with Bacon and Sweet Paprika" (the recipe that follows the "Chicken with a Lardon" story snippet), there is a bit of a play with words:

1.  Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Finely grate the zest of the orange into a bowl.  Stir in the paprika, salt, and pepper.

2.  Massage the oil all over the skin of the chicken.  Sprinkle some of the paprika mixture into the cavity; massage the remaining mixture all over the bird (you'll know you've done a good job if you hand begins to redden).  Cut the orange into quarters the thrust the fruit deep into the cavity of the bird... (p. 24).

Of course, one can choose to indulge in their forbidden chicken habit in private, but Fifty Shades of Chicken is the sort of naughty cookbook that you surreptitiously leave about for your friends and family members to gawk at...and perhaps take a furtive peek into the food-lust-filled world of chicken marinating and roasting.  It might not be for everyone, but isn't that precisely the point in having books such as this come out?  Excuse me while I work up the courage to cook "Pound Me Tender."

Ian Cameron Esslemont, Orb Sceptre Throne

The challenge began as these things always do:  with a look.  A glance held a heartbeat too long.  In this case lingering across the beaten dirt of the practice grounds at the centre of Cant, the marble halls of the Seguleh.

Jan, in the act of turning away to call for a slave, noted the glance, and stopped.  Those of the ruling Jistarii family lineage out exercising that morning also instinctively sensed the tension.  The crowd parted and Jan found himself staring across the emptied sparring fields and wrestling circles to Enoc, the newly installed Third.  He watched while the young aristocrat's friends and closest supporters within the rankings crossed to stand at his side.  Without needing to turn his head Jan knew his own friends had come to his.  He held out his wooden practice sword.  It was taken from his hand. (p. 61)

Ian Cameron Esslemont's fourth Malazan novel, Orb Sceptre Throne, differs from his three previous installments in that it is a direct sequel of one of Steven Erikson's novels, Toll the Hounds.  Set on the continent of Genabackis some months after the events of Toll the Hounds, Orb Sceptre Throne is a novel that aims to fill in gaps in the backstories of disparate groups such as the Moranth, the Darujhistan Tyrants, the Seguleh, and a few notorious individuals who appeared in earlier Malazan novels.  It is a novel whose parts ultimately appear to be stronger than the whole, as there is less narrative cohesiveness compared to earlier efforts.

Orb Sceptre Throne approaches the issue of desire to power and free will through four distinct subplots:  the treasure hunt, including a former Bridgeburner, Antsy, to explore the remains of the shattered Moon's Spawn skykeep, where a mysterious power artifact is believed to be present; the rise of the Darujhistan Tyrant from his captivity; the search of the Seguleh for their origins and the legendary mask of the First; and the aftermath of Traveller/Daseem's grief over his killing of Anomander Rake.  While eventually these subplots merge, it is not as seamless of a process as was the case in prior Malazan novels, as hundreds of pages would separate some of the subplots, with resolutions that felt a bit sketchy and underdeveloped in comparison to the others.

Esslemont's prose, however, is better here than in his previous novels.  There is a greater balance between descriptive events and internal monologues.  The Seguleh Second, Jan, is a fascinating character who provides a window into the inner workings of that elite swordspeople society (it is a meritocracy of sword prowess that does not deny women access to the highest ranks, provided that they display sufficient acumen and skill) and its strictures regarding its ranks and its role in fulfilling an ancient prophecy of return to their homeland.  Even though he does not receive much "airtime," Daseem's remorse and grief after his slaying of Anomander serves as a commentary on the consequences of violence (an overarching theme in the Malazan books), providing a necessary contrast to the more adventuresome characters who appear in this book.

No matter how long Esslemont and Erikson collaborated in creating the characters and situations for their novels, it is not an easy task to take characters already developed by Erikson and continue to develop them without there being some questions as to the veracity of "voice" and action.  For the most part, the recurring characters do not differ noticeably from their prior appearances in the three volumes set on Genabackis.  The one possible exception might be the quality of Kruppe's devious garrulousness, but even that is a minor misstep in what otherwise is a good transfer of authorial control of these characters' narratives.  The "old" characters here act and think along patterns long-established and while there are a few surprises along the way, even these new developments feel "organic" and not the product of a new author getting details wrong.

The action, for the most part, is typical of the series:  a long, slowly building tension, followed by a climactic struggle.  However, Orb Sceptre Throne differs in that these events are a bit too "neat" in their resolution, with the denouements being perhaps too sharp, perhaps due to this being a likely end of the narrative road for several of these characters/groups.  Mysteries surrounding the Seguleh and Moranth are resolved in such a fashion that it seems unlikely that there will be a further revisiting of these groups by either author for volumes to come, if at all.  Normally, this is would acceptable, except that here the reasons for their enmity and the clash that breaks out transpires rather quickly, almost too quickly (even taking into account some foreshadowings that occurred in previous Malazan novels) for there to be a proper development of the mutual hostilities.  This rush into action can be seen in the events transpiring around the wreckage of Moon's Spawn, as groups (including the creepy/comedic trio from the Erikson novellas and Memories of Ice) fight for relic control/power with little insight given, not to mention that this subplot barely interacts with the others until very near the end of the novel.

Despite finding Esslemont's treatment of the theme of free will/tyranny to be fairly well presented and argued, Orb Sceptre Throne lacks a sense of cohesiveness to it.  The subplots, while they ultimate join together, feel too distinct even as they are resolved for there to be a good unity of action.  In addition, despite the characterizations on the whole being much better, there were a few places, particularly in the scenes set in Darujhistan, where the dialogue felt perfunctory, lacking a certain gravitas to it that would have suited the situation better.  Ultimately, Orb Sceptre Throne is the sort of novel probably best remembered for individual scenes or revelations than for the entire narrative itself.  It is not a poor novel, but it is one that could have been very good but instead is relegated to merely average status due to the flaws noted above.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I would love to get this book for my newborn niece

However, something tells me it just isn't available...

J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy

Krystal's slow passage up the school has resembled the passage of a goat through the body of a boa constrictor, being highly visible and uncomfortable for both parties concerned.  Not that Krystal was always in class:  for much of her career at St. Thomas's she had been taught one-on-one by a special teacher.

By a malign stroke of fate, Krystal had been in the same class as Howard and Shirley's eldest granddaughter, Lexie.  Krystal had once hit Lexie Mollison so hard in the face that she had knocked out two of her teeth.  That they had already been wobbly was not felt, by Lexie's parents and grandparents, to be much of an extenuation.

It was the conviction that whole classes of Krystals would be waiting for their daughters at Winterdown Comprehensive that finally decided Miles and Samantha Mollison on removing both their dauthers to St. Anne's, the private girls' school in Yarvil, where they had become weekly boarders.  The fact that his granddaughters had been driven out of their rightful places by Krystal Weedon, swifty became one of Howard's favorite conversational examples of the estate's nefarious influence on Pagford life. (p. 58)

Fairly or not, J.K. Rowling's new "adult" novel, The Casual Vacancy, will be compared to her bestselling juvenile Harry Potter series.  Some doubtless will compare certain characters and their portrayals with the characters found in the small English town of Pagford, but that risks judging this novel on something other than what it aims to be:  a dark, somewhat comedic look at the foibles and egos of a disparate cast of characters in a small town who scheme and screw each other (metaphorically and literally alike) in the immediate aftermath of the death of a parish councilor, Barry Fairbrother.  The Casual Vacancy, however, is the sort of novel that lacks anything approaching narrative creativity or wonder.

The story unfolds over the course of a few weeks, as the Pagford residents try to decide who will be the next parish councilor now that Fairbrother's seat has been vacated by the "casual vacancy" of death.  Rowling devotes roughly five hundred pages to a laboriously exploration of the townspeople's social structures, their prejudices, their hypocrisies, and futile attempts to hide their indiscretions and misdeeds from neighbors.  Taken singly or perhaps in say a grouping of three or even four subplots, Rowling's depictions of these characters might be amusing in her penetrating look at their shortcomings, but there is such an unrelenting excess of similar characters that the entire effect is reduced to a dull, drab look at the worst of contemporary English working class life.

Speaking of social class, Rowling's lower class characters, particularly the barely literate Krystal Weedon, come across as little more than mostly unsympathetic horny sex machines.  This is despite Krystal's PoV being presented several times in the novel; Rowling comes across here as being less interested in exploring the complexities of those who must maneuver through the straits of slum life, with its attendant expectations regarding sexual activity and drug culture, than in presenting a surface portrayal of a "oh, how tragic it is that such a girl has to put out so much to horny teen boys, none of which really have a clue about life beyond the next hump session."

The other characters fare little better, as many are reduced to ciphers in order to fit in with certain dark comedic roles:  the prissy, frigid wife; the husband whose infidelities are a matter of public knowledge and yet who thinks he can win their approval; the various, vacuous aspirants to Fairbrother's seat, most of whom have the depth of a puddle and the emotional range of a dead guppy.  There just is little ingenuity to these characters; they just merely occupy slots and their tragicomedic fates barely bring a chuckle nor inspire more than a slight sigh.

The Casual Vacancy despite these myriad flaws could have been a decent novel if the plot contained anything approaching originality.  Instead, it feels like an attempt to portray a pathetic collection of desperate, grasping people trying to seize some weak wisp of power that fails because the characterizations are wafer-thin, leaving the reader to wonder just what the point of reading the entire book might have been.  As it is, The Casual Vacancy is a dark comedy of ill manners that fails to inspire anything more than just a vague shrug of relief once the final page is turned.  Terribly dull and plodding makes this book one of the worst 2012 releases that I have read.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012 Man Booker Prize finalist: Will Self, Umbrella

The patient lies beached across her specially reinforced catafalque of a bed, and as he sponges around her pudenda she groans a'herrra! and grinds her teeth while her bare feet patter on his shoulders – several flies settle close to her very bits, but none of this matters.  She's mine now, my Twiggy...grown Redwood.  A bed sore in the region of her hip dressed, that dressing sheathed in underwear chivvied from reluctant staff, Busner fetches his tripod and Bolex camera.  He is operating intuitively – there is no clear idea.  In Willesden and before, he used photography to present objective images to the deluded with which to counter their disordered ones.  To the same end he employed a tape recorder after injecting them with sodium pentothal.  Sometimes he guided them on LSD trips – all of it, as he now admits, had only variable results.  This is different, however:  Leticia Gross is wholly inert, holed up deep inside her voluminous fat, and moving images of her colossal inanition seem entirely beside the point.  ANd yet...And yet... he has a hunch.  As with Audrey Dearth, he senses singing within her a crazy polyphony of exaggerated tics, a pickingitupandpickingitupandpickingitup, a hairflickinghairflickinghairflicking, a scratching and a reaching, and a perseverating.  He sets up the camera and she fills the viewfinder:  a Matterhorn, her eyes arêtes, her cheeks ice flows.  The light is drab, yet he presses the button and waits...and waits... (p. 127-128)

Modernist prose has long fascinated me precisely because it is not something one just picks up and reads with quick and near-total comprehension.  Sometimes, a reader should have to work harder at deciphering a text, plowing through its layers of intertextual symbolism and "crosstalk" to get closer to the substance of the passages.  Our world is not a singular narrative that flows lineally from point A to B; it pauses, interrupts itself, interjects a multitude of viewpoints.  Perspectives shift or transform in front our eyes and meaning, like time and space, seem to occur all at once and not at all.  Confusing?  Perhaps at first.  Worth the effort?  Depends upon the skill of the writer to convey a sense of fractured time through narrative forms such as stream of consciousness that capture this sense of multiplicity in a succinct fashion.

Will Self's Umbrella was by a fair margin the most challenging narrative of the six 2012 Man Booker Prize finalists.  Self consciously tries to capture the best of the Modernist techniques in a combination of three stories and four PoVs that span the length of the long Modernist/Postmodernist ages (roughly 1918-2010 for the novel).  It is a tale of movement among those who appear to be for virtually all extent and purposes the sleeping dead.  It is also a whole host of other things, all wrapped up in a multi-perspective stream of consciousness narrative that works on several levels.

Umbrella (the novel's name is explained in the epigraph, being a quote from James Joyce) concretes on two past/present narrators:  Audrey Dearth/Death (among other surname variations) was a victim of the 1918 encephalitis lethargica epidemic that left her condemned to a sort of waking death until a curious experiment conducted by Dr. Zack Busner involving LSD seems to reawaken parts of her mind.  Much of the narrative flow consists of pre-1918 Audrey's conceptualizations of the world, including her support for feminist and socialist causes being transformed through this 1971 LSD-induced reawakening into something that feels like a fissured reconstitution of this important period in 20th century British social history.  Mixed in with Audrey's past/present recollections are Busner's own thoughts and reminisces, both as the experimental doctor in 1971 and as the retired one in 2010 who is reflecting back on what was a mysterious series of events that occurred during that fateful summer.  Self intertwines their thoughts, past/present during these three periods (1918, 1971. 2010) in such a seamless fashion that it takes some effort from the reader to discern which Audrey is speaking and which Dr. Busner is conversing with his past/future/present self.

This narrative technique can be rather hokey if the author does not tailor the story to fit within the constraints of stream of consciousness.  For the most part, with very few slip-ups, Self eloquently captures the tenor and feel of three separate periods through stray thoughts and symbolic representations (including the transformation of WWI-era munitions into something quite different in Audrey's thoughts).  The name play (a fat woman with the surname of Gross, not to mention Audrey's various surname spellings?) is well-done, with the occasional onomatopoeia, such as that in the quoted passage being a nod to Joyce and his use of such to play with the narrative tone.

Yet a narrative can be as "daring," as "experimental" as possible and lack a "soul" to it.  This, however, is not the case in Umbrella.  Amongst the memories of old items for sale and pre-mass media marches and demonstrations lurks another narrative, that of the terrible 20th century and its dissolution of older traditions in order to create mass entities that mimic some of the past's cultural heritage while suborning it all to machine-like mass production.  Self's commentary on the century is not direct, but it can be pieced together through a careful look at what Audrey and Dr. Busner recall and how they react to it.  Through their eyes and through their real/symbolic states, much more is said on the century that was, on its great social movements and its blunderings toward horrific violence, than if Self had told their stories through a more conventional narrative form.

Umbrella was my second-favorite out of the six 2012 Man Booker Prize finalists.  I thought that Self succeeded in achieving most, if not all, of his literary goals, with the result being a complex narrative that yields only some of its fruit upon a first reading.  Re-reading passages prior to writing this review sparked memories of other times, other events that I had read prior to this novel and that too perhaps is part of the novel's goal of narrating and reshaping a turbulent past.  Umbrella may not be "accessible" (those who tend to use this word to describe novels frequently espouse a trite, Hallmark Card-style approach toward storytelling that sucks the narrative marrow dry), but it certainly is an impressive achievement and worthy of further consideration in the years to come.

The countries that appear in the list on my mirror blog

 Some of you are likely aware that I have another blog, Vaguely Borgesian,  that I started back in June 2007 to be a personal blog and which ended up being used as a mirror site for this one in case I ever decide to switch to Wordpress for my main blog (don't like picture constraints for WP, along with a few other minor features, or else I would likely have switched years ago).  But one thing I do find interesting is WP's new Country feature, which keeps track of the country IPs of visitors ever since February 25, 2012.  I knew there'd be a few dozen countries to visit every so often, but I had little idea that there'd be over 130 countries on the list for what is a much-less publicized blog than this one.  Thought a few of you might be interested to see the list and the visits since then (I only average a shade under 2000 page views/month there):
United States FlagUnited States6,513
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom1,004
Canada FlagCanada744
Brazil FlagBrazil491
Italy FlagItaly467
Australia FlagAustralia371
Argentina FlagArgentina340
France FlagFrance322
Spain FlagSpain298
Germany FlagGermany297
Mexico FlagMexico269
India FlagIndia253
Turkey FlagTurkey205
Poland FlagPoland196
Netherlands FlagNetherlands196
Sweden FlagSweden169
Belgium FlagBelgium154
Philippines FlagPhilippines153
Romania FlagRomania147
Serbia FlagSerbia125
Colombia FlagColombia121
Russian Federation FlagRussian Federation115
Chile FlagChile112
Finland FlagFinland102
Czech Republic FlagCzech Republic97
Portugal FlagPortugal89
Peru FlagPeru89
Ireland FlagIreland87
Norway FlagNorway84
Israel FlagIsrael82
Greece FlagGreece81
Japan FlagJapan81
New Zealand FlagNew Zealand80
Pakistan FlagPakistan77
Switzerland FlagSwitzerland73
Indonesia FlagIndonesia64
Hungary FlagHungary62
Ukraine FlagUkraine59
Malaysia FlagMalaysia57
Bulgaria FlagBulgaria53
Denmark FlagDenmark50
Taiwan, Province of China FlagTaiwan46
Korea, Republic of FlagRepublic of Korea43
Singapore FlagSingapore41
Slovenia FlagSlovenia41
Puerto Rico FlagPuerto Rico40
Croatia FlagCroatia38
Thailand FlagThailand37
Austria FlagAustria37
Hong Kong FlagHong Kong37
Costa Rica FlagCosta Rica36
Ecuador FlagEcuador32
Malta FlagMalta31
United Arab Emirates FlagUnited Arab Emirates31
Egypt FlagEgypt28
Iceland FlagIceland28
South Africa FlagSouth Africa27
Venezuela FlagVenezuela25
Bangladesh FlagBangladesh24
Bosnia and Herzegovina FlagBosnia and Herzegovina23
Guatemala FlagGuatemala20
Lithuania FlagLithuania19
Georgia FlagGeorgia19
Estonia FlagEstonia18
Kenya FlagKenya18
Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of FlagMacedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic18
Morocco FlagMorocco17
Slovakia FlagSlovakia17
Dominican Republic FlagDominican Republic16
Nicaragua FlagNicaragua16
Algeria FlagAlgeria16
El Salvador FlagEl Salvador15
Saudi Arabia FlagSaudi Arabia14
Nigeria FlagNigeria14
Albania FlagAlbania14
Viet Nam FlagViet Nam12
Tunisia FlagTunisia11
Belarus FlagBelarus11
Jamaica FlagJamaica11
Kuwait FlagKuwait10
Bolivia FlagBolivia9
Uruguay FlagUruguay9
Montenegro FlagMontenegro8
Lebanon FlagLebanon7
Luxembourg FlagLuxembourg7
Panama FlagPanama7
Moldova, Republic of FlagMoldova7
Jordan FlagJordan7
Sri Lanka FlagSri Lanka7
Honduras FlagHonduras6
Paraguay FlagParaguay5
Ethiopia FlagEthiopia4
Cyprus FlagCyprus4
Latvia FlagLatvia4
Guadeloupe FlagGuadeloupe4
Faroe Islands FlagFaroe Islands4
Oman FlagOman4
Tanzania, United Republic of FlagUnited Republic of Tanzania4
Trinidad and Tobago FlagTrinidad and Tobago3
New Caledonia FlagNew Caledonia3
Iraq FlagIraq3
Nepal FlagNepal3
Palestinian Territory, Occupied FlagPalestinian Territory, Occupied3
Cameroon FlagCameroon3
Mongolia FlagMongolia3
Bahrain FlagBahrain3
Uganda FlagUganda2
Zimbabwe FlagZimbabwe2
Sierra Leone FlagSierra Leone2
Syrian Arab Republic FlagSyrian Arab Republic2
Mauritius FlagMauritius2
Azerbaijan FlagAzerbaijan2
Libya FlagLibya2
Ghana FlagGhana2
French Guiana FlagFrench Guiana2
Haiti FlagHaiti2
Suriname FlagSuriname1
Congo, the Democratic Republic of the FlagDemocratic Republic of the Congo1
Rwanda FlagRwanda1
Papua New Guinea FlagPapua New Guinea1
Senegal FlagSenegal1
Gabon FlagGabon1
Jersey FlagJersey1
Bahamas FlagBahamas1
Isle of Man FlagIsle of Man1
Réunion FlagRéunion1
Belize FlagBelize1
Zambia FlagZambia1
Northern Mariana Islands FlagNorthern Mariana Islands1
Mozambique FlagMozambique1
French Polynesia FlagFrench Polynesia1
Sudan FlagSudan1
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