Reviewing the Book Review: Crawling at Night by Nani Power

Alaa El Fadel is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing, working on a fantasy novel and a screen adaptation. Her blog is Mountain Quill.

The passage through the mountainous regions of craft has left me with a permanent love of literature and the arts. Wonder, spirit, boundless imaginings – those are the things that are worth writing about.

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When I was studying book reviews with my students, I pointed out that some critics only review books they liked. In literary terms I don’t believe this is healthy. Reviewing books you don’t like can deepen understanding of yourself and literature in general. What worked and what did not work to appeal to your interests as a reader? Having said that, here is the review I wrote on Nani Power’s Crawling At Night:

Crawling at NightOk so I’m reviewing this book… well… hmmm. Honestly this is a very difficult book to review and you will know why in a bit.

Crawling at Night by Nani Power was chosen for an undergrad class I was teaching. The story revolves around the characters of Ito, an ageing Sushi chef and Mariane, an alcoholic waitress, whose lives intermingle with several other characters in bizarre twists of fate. Power’s story is emotionally grasping as we are absorbed by the character’s choices and history. With a non-linear structure, the past and present fracture to unfold the horrors of why Ito and Mariane are the way they are. Sympathy grows for each character as more is revealed about them. Secondary characters are quite realistic and entertaining as they clash with Ito and Mariane.

Power uses several techniques including fracturing text, capital letters, italic and bold formats for specific sentences or words, 3rd and 1st points of view, flashbacks, dramatic irony and foreign names and words. The post powerful technique was the use of lists. With an introduction to how lists dominate our lives, food items and other things are listed at the beginning of each chapter. Sometimes, the last item kicks the curious cat, like ‘Sleep’ or ‘Tears.’ It’s a lot of fun to check things off the list and figure out how they play a part in the story. Like menus, the novel begins and ends with a list, enclosing all the information a customer needs in between. All of these elements would classify Crawling at Night as an experimental book.

Empirical books such as this are always fascinating; they challenge our perceptions of novels and question the novel form. After all, the original meaning of novel meant ‘something new.’ (Dictionary.com).

The page before the first list explains the term ‘crawling at night.’ Night crawling or Yobai is the practice of an unknown man crawling into a woman’s futon for anonymous copulation. Yup, you read right… If the woman rejects the man, the man saves himself from embarrassment by wearing a cloth to cover his face. He simply, crawls away without being identified.

Wrapped within the sushi roll of the plot, a dominant theme of coition is read in excruciating detail with intimate moments between characters and the defilement of innocents. The novel becomes emotionally draining and difficult to continue. In two hours, I read three consented couplings and two forced ones.

I could not believe this book was in the syllabus, but I understand why it was. The novel has two major sides to it – the story and the distinguishing literature. As a story, I felt quite sad and uncomfortable after finishing it. It did not leave me with wonder or satisfaction. However, when looking at the prose, the novel was a masterpiece in writing. To write proper and effective back-stories is a difficult skill for writers to perfect and Power’s does it fantastically. The dynamic plot drip feeds the truth without losing our interest, all the way to the very last list. If you can stomach the events then this is a book to learn from as a flourishing writer. But Crawling At Night is not the only book with well written back story and is certainly not the last one we can learn all these techniques from. This is not a matter of censorship but one of personal choice. So the question remains – is it worth trading skills you can get some place else for emotional disturbance?

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Brian Evenson and J.Robert Lennon

You’ve got to be licking your lips at this prospect – two new guest writers /teachers confirmed at KU.

Brian Evenson and J. Robert Lennon, directors of two of the most prestigious writing programs in the United States –

coming soon at a spring workshop near you.

Brian Evenson

BRIAN EVENSON is the author of ten books of fiction, most recently the limited edition novella Baby Leg, published by New York Tyrant Press in 2009. In 2009 he also published the novel Last Days (which won the American Library Association’s award for Best Horror Novel of 2009) and the story collection Fugue State, both of which were on Time Out New York‘s top books of 2009. His novel The Open Curtain (Coffee House Press) was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an IHG Award. His work has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Slovenian. He lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island, where he directs Brown University’s Literary Arts Program. Other books include The Wavering Knife (which won the IHG Award for best story collection), Dark Property, and Altmann’s Tongue. He has translated work by Christian Gailly, Jean Frémon, Claro, Jacques Jouet, Eric Chevillard, Antoine Volodine, and others. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship. ( from http://www.brianevenson.com)

He is director of the MFA program at Brown University.

Bibliography

Fiction –

Altmann’s Tongue (1994)

Din of Celestial Birds (1997)

Prophets and Brothers (1997)

Father of Lies (1998)

Contagion and Other Stories (2000)

Dark Property: An Affliction (2002)

The Brotherhood of Mutilation (2003)

The Wavering Knife

The Open Curtain (2006)

Aliens: No Exit (2008) – as B.K. Evenson

Last Days (2009)

Fugue State (2009)

“Pariah” in Halo: Evolutions – Essential Tales of the Halo Universe  – B.K. Evenson (2009)

Baby Leg: A Novella (2009)

Dead Space: Martyr – as B.K. Evenson (2010)

Non-fiction

Understanding Robert Coover (2003)

http://www.brianevenson.com/

J. Robert Lennon

author of, most recently, Castle, a novel

and Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes –  which contains 100 very short stories

He is director of the MFA program at Cornell University.

Bibliography

Novels –

The Light of Falling Stars (1997)

The Funnies (1999)

On the Night Plain (2001)

Mailman (2003)

Happyland (2006; serial publication)

Castle (2009)

Short Story collections –
Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes (2005)

http://www.jrobertlennon.com/

here is the New York Times review of Castle and Pieces for the Left Hand, by Scott Bradfield:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/books/review/Bradfield-t.html

As if you weren’t excited enough.

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