Critics Page

Renee Gladman, Calamities

(Wave Books, 2016)

I began the day lying on the couch reading Renee Gladman’s Calamities, a book in which each section of the first section of the books begins with “I began the day…” This section is ninety-two pages long. There are fourteen sections in Calamities. Sections two through thirteen are a page or two each. Section fourteen is six pages. In these pages Gladman writes about what we might presume is her life. The narrator is someone who is writing a series of novels about a city-state called Ravicka, someone who in the first part of the book is teaching and talking about Ed Roberson’s and Eileen Myles’s work, someone who about two-thirds of the way through the book is dismissed from a university job with the phrase slam dunk, and someone who carries on writing and drawing and having lovers after that. Calamities has no genre designation. It is, however, written in sentences and one could easily include it in the genre of memoir. It might be about that weird way that making art is the only steady thing that perseveres in our lives, although that is an interpretation I am implying on top of this. Calamities describes, it does not emote or aggrandize. This sort of writing, I will confess, is my favorite sort of Gladman writing. I find her at her best when she is describing the world about us with an intense and detailed dissociation, dwelling for example not on the dismissal but on the way the president of the university used the words slam dunk as they dismissed the narrator and how this phrase might appear in a novel.


Juliana Spahr