Mini reviews of titles I read this spring, all from indie publisher Dzanc Books: The Lost Daughter Collective, Animals Eat Each Other, and The One You Get.
Cofounded in 2006, Dzanc Books seeks to advance inventive writing from new and established voices alike. The press puts forth a small list of titles each year, hosts three annual competitions, and maintains a robust internship program that introduces dozens of students to trade publishing each year. I read several Dzanc titles while working for the press last fall and this spring; the experience gave me a sense of how small presses work, as well as how they differ from mainstream publishing houses. Included below are three of my favorite Dzanc books—two novels, one memoir.
(1) Lindsey Drager’s The Lost Daughter Collective: Pensive and philosophical, The Lost Daughter Collective contemplates what it means for a daughter to become ‘lost’ to her father: the novel considers that question from so many different angles that summary feels trite. Drager’s sparse prose and precise plotting mesmerize her reader, fostering an interpretive experience of the text that is at once immersive and strange. Grief and loss saturate the text, but a smart satirical undercurrent flows throughout the narrative that propels the reader’s attention forward. Because of its length, the novel can easily be read in one sitting. Its complexity of thought, however, invites multiple readings, and its splintered structure allows for the reader to hone in and reflect upon specific sections, without having to reread the entire novel.
(2) Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other: Short fused and explosive, Animals Eat Each Other spans the rise and fall of a three-person relationship destined to fail. The novel is less a romance, more a character study of the unnamed narrator’s tendency to self-destruct; it doubles as a scrutiny of the ways in which emotional intimacy between unstable people forms, is withheld, and disintegrates. Nash writes sharp, swift prose, and laces her work with a cynical sense of humor that makes it highly readable. Her book’s transgressive subject and style will repel some readers, but those aren’t the people she’s writing for anyway.
(3) Jason Tougaw’s The One You Get: Published as the winner of the 2016 Dzanc Nonfiction Prize, The One You Get is an eclectic mix of family lore, neuroscience, and autobiography: the memoir tells not just the story of the author’s coming of age but also the tale of his once-privileged maternal family’s slow descent into poverty and addiction during the 1970s and 1980s. To that end, Tougaw splits the narrative’s focus between his parents’ generation—Southern Californian hippies who came of age at the tail end of the ’60s—and his own—teens of the ’80s enmeshed in the New Wave subculture. The older generation features prominently in the memoir’s first half, the younger in the second, but themes of rebellion and dysfunction recur throughout the entire book. The result is a collage of stories about what it means to live an unconventional life.