In 1992, at age 19, novelist Sandi Tan wrote and starred in Shirkers, a feature-length road movie shot on the streets of Singapore. The title was inspired by Tan’s idea that in life, there were people who were neither movers nor shakers, but shirkers—those who evade responsibility and duty, escaping the confines of society. It starred Tan as S., a murderer and kidnapper on a mysterious mission to save children. One of Tan’s points of inspiration was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The plot didn’t matter as much as the mood, which Tan cultivated through carefully chosen locations, props, costumes, and music. Tan hired a friend to compose a soundtrack on his electric guitar, and hand-made many of her props, including a colorful board game that S. uses to plot her kidnappings. S.’s costume was a pink sailor shirt and blue knee-length shorts; she carried an old-fashioned camera on a strap, as well as a leather suitcase. “When I was eighteen,” Tan explains, “I thought you found freedom by building worlds inside your head.”
Isabel MeyersLost, Found, and Betrayed: A Review of Shirkers
Thank you to everyone who bought Issue 16, subscribed to receive a copy, or attended a launch event! To celebrate, this month we have three more contributors are here to give us peak at their bookshelves. Whether you’re in the mood for a classic novel, a contemporary essay collection, or an upcoming book of poems, our writers have you covered.
When I think of what it was like to grow up as a gay boy, I remember a particular kind of longing, a confusion over what to do with, or what might happen to, my heart. Most of us lived our earliest years without role models who think and love as we do, whether we looked to our own families or to TV and movies. As we came of age, for many of us, that confusion lingered but led to surprising, triumphant love once overcome. Gary Eldon Peter’s debut short story collection, Oranges, deftly portrays the life of its protagonist, Michael Dolin, as he navigates this trajectory from a childhood in Mason City, Iowa to adulthood in Minneapolis.
October Friday Reads has arrived, which means Issue 16 is not far behind! This month, check out reading suggestions from a selection of contributors from this month’s upcoming issue. Then, be sure to preorder to get Issue 16 in your mailbox.
Willa Cather once said, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” I thought of those words while reading Paula Saunders’s cinematic debut novel, The Distance Home, which she has said is based on her fractured 1960s South Dakota childhood. Saunders draws from a deep well.
The Distance Home joins such recent novels as Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone, Joyce Carol Oates’ A Book of American Martyrs, Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton that explore family dysfunction. Saunders asks us to consider the violent underside of American drivenness and its impact on a family’s most vulnerable members.
Though we love a quiet summer, nothing makes us happier than the hustle and bustle of a new semester. This month, we’re reaching for recommendations from the pillars of our academic community—the professors themselves. Please enjoy these recommendations from the Amherst College English Department!
Graphic novel written by BESSORA and illustrated by BARROUX. Translated from the French by SARAH ARDIZZONE.
Reviewed by JULIA LICHTBLAU
In 1994, the last year my husband and I lived in Paris, a Senegalese woman named Delphine cleaned our apartment, often bringing her baby girl. At some point, she asked us to help her resolve her immigration problems. The baby was a French citizen; Delphine had come to France to work for French expats returning from Dakar and been let go some years ago.
This month, we’re celebrating our wonderful summer interns who work tirelessly to ensure The Common’s excellence despite the heat. As Amherst College students, these three readers ask us to look towards the margins; the lines between civility and scandal, poetry and prose, black and white.
Willa Carroll was an experimental dancer and actor before turning to poetry, and many of the poems of her remarkable debut collection, Nerve Chorus, revolve around performance and the body. Her work reminds us that much of our experience transcends our verbal abilities. With personal subject matter and elegant, yet accessible, philosophical explorations, Carroll succeeds in maintaining a strong tonal unity and distinct lyricism. Like experimental dance, these poems invite a visceral experience. Meanwhile, they should be admired for their lyrical flexibility, the exactness of their imagery, their life-affirming quality, as well as their intellectual engagement. Though this is her first collection, Carroll’s poems have garnered attention for some time. She won Tupelo Quarterly’s TQ7 Prize for her poem “Chorus of Omissions,” and her piece “No Final Curtain” won First Place in Narrative Magazine’s Third Annual Poetry Contest.
Outstanding books often have a way of catching the reader by surprise, one insight, one unexpected narrative shift at a time. Niña Weijers, a debut novelist from the Netherlands, begins her book as a character study of her protagonist, Minnie Panis. Minnie is a conceptual artist of growing international reputation, whose career has been built on acts of public self-abnegation. With each turn of the page, Weijers extends her subject and thematic reach, keeping her protagonist in focus while exploring contemporary art, mysticism, Mayan beliefs, and early childhood development (among other themes) to enrich our understanding of Minnie’s character and the forces that govern her life.