On Christoper M. Hood's The Revivalists
by Alex Stanley
I must selfishly begin my introduction by saying that, like me, Hood is a graduate of the poetry side of UCI’s Creative Writing program. Knowing this automatically adds an additional layer of meaning to every sentence he writes. It is something a true poet can never run away from, and it does not take long to see Hood’s roots in poetry, as the very first words of The Revivalists are an epigraph taken from
Homer’s Odyssey. While this harkens to the beginning of Western culture and literature, the first chapter brings an end to any sense of said culture, collectiveness, thought, or art. Even with his salvoing homage to the Odyssey, the modern setting for The Revivalists does not much look like any landscape Odysseus traipsed through, nor the one that we currently live in. First, the ocean is one of asphalt. Second, the entire planet is recovering from a devastation Homer only imagined as happening in Troy. The world has lost sixty to seventy percent of its population from a virus dubbed the Shark Flu, and the setting feels more like McCarthy’s The Road than anything a Romantic poet would like to depict.
It is dystopic, savage, Hobbesian, albeit with a bit more humanity than McCarthy’s world. Dispersed bands of militia rule the roads our characters journey upon. There is no television, no news. Smartphones are of no use. If one has electricity, they must have already acquired a Tesla battery to store excess energy from solar panels. Nonetheless, humanity’s resilience hasn’t changed since antiquity, and its driving forces, hope and love. Hood capitalizes on a relationship dynamic that Homer never reached in the Odyssey with his similar cast of a single-child nuclear family. In The Revivalists, we have husband and wife united, the lost piece of the family being their child. Instead of the storied king and warrior, Odysseus, finding his way home to his wife and child, we have Bill, a
therapist, who, one Gen Zer in the novel calls a “woke, upper-middle class White dude.”
Then, there’s Bill’s wife Penelope, and although she shares a name with Odysseus’s wife, she is certainly more headstrong, unafraid to take the lead. She is a successful financier, a woman of color, for whom barriers are no obstacle. Finally, in lieu of Telemachus, searching for his lost father, we have Hannah, a student at UC Irvine, rebellious and smart. Her tangible absence throughout the story is due to her joining a cult in California, called the Revival. The novel centers around Bill and Penelope’s journey from Dobbs Ferry, New York, to Bishop, California in order to save her. At the core of the novel are questions of free will, first brought to light by three stoners, reminiscent of the Lotus Eaters, who have dubbed themselves Bud-hists, who Bill and Penelope meet by chance on the road. They tell Bill and Penelope to stay at home, that their daughter is perfectly capable of making her own choices, that maybe their intense drive to control her is what drove her away in the first place. Still, Bill and Penelope continue toward California, unfazed, their parental intuition guiding the way.
The novel’s great strengths are its twists and turns, our ordinary heroes setting forth, not knowing when they will run out of gas, food, or water, setting forth only because they know there is greater love on the other side of this present danger. The Odyssey parallels are subtly infused into each adventure, and looking closely enough, one can make out the forms of Polyphemus, Calypso, Nausicaa, Scylla, and Charybdis. Yet, as the poet Derek Walcott once said, “The classics can console. But not enough.” This novel is the next process in consoling, the reader and the author, as it attempts to make sense of the many anxieties we all experienced a year ago, as we waited for a viral wave to wash over us, breathless, and all that we imagined before coming up for air. And all this, happily, from one of our own, Christopher M. Hood.
On Rhoda Huffey's 31 Paradiso
by Kathryn Campo Bowen
I'm so honored to introduce Rhoda Huffey, author of the novels The Hallelujah Side and 31 Paradiso, as well as numerous short stories that have appeared in publications such as Ploughshares, Santa Monica Review, and Green Mountains Review. Rhoda is also a graduate of the MFA Programs in Writing here at UC Irvine, a longtime resident of Venice Beach, and a former resident of Monrovia, California, all of which may mean that if anyone is equipped to write about the southern part of our state, it is Rhoda Huffey.
And yet, there is something entirely unique to Rhoda’s Venice Beach, the terrain of her latest novel, 31 Paradiso. Venice Beach by Rhoda Huffey provides infinitely more than rote landscape or simple setting. Venice Beach by Rhoda Huffey is alive. Pulsing with an irresistible energy. Bursting with infectious absurdity. A vibrant home to outcasts and surfers, yodelers and animal lovers, tap dancers and dominatrixes, masseuses and Hells Angels, blue-collar workers and Bloods, Crips and ducks. Yes, ducks. But above all, Venice Beach by Rhoda Huffey is for
Because Rhoda writes triumphantly not just about her community, but about grief, religion, and shame. Family and loss. Time and trauma. Love and secrets, addiction and abuse. I don’t need to tell a room full of writers that it is no small feat to seamlessly weave such themes throughout a novel. Perhaps it is Rhoda’s lived experience growing up as the daughter of two Pentacostal preachers, or perhaps it is some innate quality—a preternatural compassion, an empathetic wisdom—but whatever the reason, you will not find Rhoda making Manichean
pronouncements on her characters. Unlike the decrees of scripture, she does not write in black and white, good versus evil. Instead of heros and villains, Rhoda depicts complicated people struggling to do their best, to be earnest, and sometimes failing, but trying, all the while, to persist, to cope, and she does so through kaleidoscopic detail, technicolor understanding, and perhaps most mind-bogglingly of all, laugh-out-loud humor.
See, that’s the other astounding element of Rhoda’s work: just when you think you might cry, you cackle. Just when you find yourself smiling, ear to ear, your eyes mist. I am consistently blown away by her ability to write with equal rigor about the tragic passing of a loved one—the one, a true love—and the comic nightmare of a combination family healing cruise and bible study. One minute, Rhoda will have you giggling about a recalcitrant massage client, and the next shoot chills through your spine with a description of late-stage cancer. You may catch yourself grinning at a riotous family dinner just before a vignette recalling incest stamps the
breath from your chest.
On a more personal note, this quarter, I had the tremendous fortune of reading 31 Paradiso in a class led by the one, inimitable, Michelle Latiolais [professor, director of UCI's MFA Fiction Writing Program]. So I conclude with something Michelle told us just the other day, about art and categorization and originality. Michelle told us that true artists cannot be neatly classified or codified. That true artists aren’t overly concerned with what other people are doing, or popular conversations about best practices for process. Because true artists are too busy creating. True artists are too busy beating their own drum. And I cannot think of a truer artist than Rhoda Huffey.
On Anna Hogeland’s The Long Answer
by Miles Parnegg
All everyone talks about now is story. Everything is a story. An omelet is a story, a lawyer’s face on a bus stop is a story, forty minutes on the 405 is a story. Didion’s famous line is now something you get tattooed on your ankles and put on Instagram. One is not a person but a story, neatly told and empowering and maximally palatable. What exactly is a story, though? Do we really know what we’re saying when we
say it, or has this once essential and sacred form been commodified, bludgeoned, and worn out to the point of meaningless?
Basically every page of Anna’s The Long Answer is an antidote to this bankruptcy of public discourse. The novel’s narrator is the kind of person who collects and absorbs stories, confidences and revelations from the strangers she encounters in daily life, and yet these stories in Anna’s hands are so complex and tangled and microscopically specific they resist even basic summary. One minute you’re at a prenatal yoga class, and then, moments later, the young woman on the mat next to you is describing the affair she's having with her sister’s husband, while walking home through a suburban subdivision.
She sponges up women’s stories: of lost pregnancies, vexed relationships, the overlooked difficulties of motherhood—and they blend and fuse with her own. It’s on the level of the sentence that the characters’ rich inner lives become legible, and Anna’s attention is always drawing us to the minute: The particular wetness and warmth of a lover’s breath on a bare neck, or the eerie technical language a doctor uses to describe a fetal abnormality.
At the bookstore where I work, I evangelize Anna’s novel, mostly because it’s a piece of high art but also because I want Anna to get insane royalty payments and build an in-law suite where I can live rent-free indefinitely. I’m struck by the readers who come back to the store to tell me about the book: how they found it so sad and so moving, how they found its writing courageous and fearless, of the political urgency of these women’s harrowing experiences. But I can’t help but inwardly smile at how incomplete these reactions are: there’s the aesthetical molding involved, the novel’s complex interlocking structure; the slipperiness between memory and narration, between character and author; and even the metafictional swerves that give the novel its precise scaffolding. “I don’t know how to begin,” says the narrator nearly halfway through The Long Answer, “This was never supposed to be part of this novel.” It’s a book that can’t be reduced or simplified, or anything less than felt in its entirety, on the nerves and in the skin. What a pleasure to get to hear Anna in these pages, and to be reminded of the existence and necessity of stories, of what that word really means.
Alex Stanley is a graduate of Boston College, and he received his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine. He is a former sports journalist, and his sports writing has been featured in Sports Illustrated. His published poems have appeared in seventeen literary magazines. He is a recipient of the 2021 Academy of American Poets Award. He resides in Costa Mesa, California.
Kathryn Campo Bowen is a Salvadoran American writer and second-year MFA student at the University of California, Irvine. Her stories have appeared in Salt Hill Journal, Issue 47, and have been selected as finalists in annual contests by the Sewanee Review and STORY Magazine.
Miles Parnegg is a graduate of the Programs in Writing at the University of California, Irvine. He lives in Los Angeles and works as a bookseller.