The Sewanee Conglomerate
Named for the uppermost rock formation in Sewanee's corner of the Cumberland Plateau, the Sewanee Conglomerate is the magazine's blog. Check here for short pieces about books and current events written by SR staff and guest contributors.
With the season of giving (last-minute and otherwise) approaching, our staff rounded up some favorite books that may make a thoughtful gift for someone on your list.
Reading Lucia Berlin has always been, at least to this reader, an experience of immersion in the author’s life. Her autofiction is so compelling, so alive, and so, well, autobiographical, that it can be difficult to separate the Marias, Maggies, Mayas, Lauras, and Lisas who populate Berlin’s work from the author herself—like untangling a necklace with a straight pin.
The Sewanee Review was thrilled to have work from its 2017 volume recognized in two prominent annual anthologies, Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays. These publications nominate a distinguished writer in the respective genre to select twenty of the best pieces of fiction and nonfiction published by literary magazines nationwide. Best American Short Stories was selected by novelist and essayist Roxane Gay, while the Best American Essays were chosen by Pulitzer Prize-winner Hilton Als.
Dubus’s fiction is populated by people who’ve made big mistakes, the kind that come to define a life: murderers, rapists, absentee parents, lapsed Catholics, and whiskey priests. But the most self-lacerating introspection occurs among the most common of sinners—adulterers.
Future Perfect is best initially understood through its title, which strikes at the heart of anyone like me who suffered through, or, more rarely, relished, high-school Latin. In Indo-European languages, verbs conjugated into the future perfect tense translate into English with the prefix “will have . . .” as in I will have read the book by then.
Laura van den Berg’s second novel, The Third Hotel, piques our interest on the basis of setting alone: Cuba just after the easing of US restrictions. That’s only the first exotic touch. The protagonist, Clare, has come to Havana for a movie festival featuring an edgy new horror flick, and swiftly finds herself in a horror trope, coming upon her own private zombie: her dead husband Richard.
These serious little songs are colored by the racial and political context of our time, our anxious vacillation between online activism and lived apathy: “I ain’t mad at you, / Assassin. It’s not the bad people who are brave / I fear, it’s the good people who are afraid.” Binaries—courage and fear, sex and death, good and bad, past and future—inhabit many of these poems, because Hayes deals in facts that shouldn’t bear repeating, but desperately do.
Shane McCrae’s fifth collection, In the Language of My Captor, examines a demographic fact foundational to our nation’s identity: that the ancestors of one in nine US citizens were brought to this country as slaves, and today those citizens are still subject to the inheritance of bondage. McCrae first approaches this fact, via metaphor, in “In the Language,” the final poem of the book’s first section, whose speaker we find caged up in a zoo.
In the past year, whenever I return home to San Antonio, I’ve been having lunch with my grandmother and her friend, an elderly woman named Marian. Both suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Because I didn’t know Marian before she lost her memory, you could say my relationship to her is like that of a reader to a character: I’ve stepped into her life in medias res, unbeknownst to her and without prior knowledge of her history except what I’m told by others.