Matthew Battles does not write stories that move, develop or unfold. He creates worlds that hiss, snap, and rattle, and decorates them with objects that brood in black, glassine silence, or crumble into dusty revelation. Characters are left to grab at scraps of reality sent whipping about them at hurricane force. Ideas “run faster than memory can sieve them from the flow,” leaving vaporous reverie to fill the vacuum – dogs populate trees, demolition men bear holy forgeries, and a slick dark box siphons off synaptic vibrations.
The thrill and anxiety of the Uncanny is the engine of this debut collection by rare book librarian and cultural critic Matthew Battles. He invents a new Creole, one that combines the baroque grandiosity of 19th century industrialist with the sleek grandiosity of the 21st technologist. Traversing musty libraries and austere technology conferences, Battles quietly but ruthlessly discloses the beauty and grotesquerie of our present times, our infatuation with the New and our nostalgia for the Old both lovingly depicted and then slowly roasted on the spit.
In “The Dogs in the Trees,” man’s best friends deliver an enigmatic rebuke. The protagonist of “The Sovereignties of Invention” is enthralled by a gadget that plumbs the depths of the stream of consciousness. In “The Manuscript of Belz,” a librarian ponders the glamor of the book and the bloody limits of cultural experience. And “the Gnomon” seeks in Internet culture the same dark energies limned by Poe. Each story within “The Sovereignties of Invention” waits, still, dark and deep, to yield its unique shock of uncanny truth – the only choice is to dive in.
About Matthew Battles
Matthew Battles writes about culture, science, and technology for the Atlantic Monthly, the Boston Globe, the London Review of Books and a host of other publications, and is a founder of HiLobrow, an online magazine of critical culture named one of the best blogs of 2010 by Time Magazine. His first book, Library: an Unquiet History, was translated into six languages. He lives in Boston.
Matthew Battles brings such an unlikely collision of influences together in these stories that it is amazing they survive the impact, but again and again they do, emerging whole and strong. I will return to The Sovereignties of Invention for the multifold pleasures of its sentences, each one a bold painting in its own little frame of words, and for the quality of exploration in its pages, as adventurous as they are cerebral, as nimble as they are exact. — Kevin Brockmeier
As one might expect from the author of Library: An Unquiet History, Battles owes a debt to Borges#8212but it’s the right kind of debt. His fables unfold against a hi-res real world, with close attention to everyday detail, in a prose that is precise, concise, musical, and alive. — Lorin Stein, The Paris Review
“The Sovereignties of Invention,” by Matthew Battles
The Washington Post Book Review – June 20, 2012 (Excerpt)
Matthew Battles’s 11 “tales,” as they are called on the title page of “The Sovereignties of Invention,” cover the range of literary parable and fantasy. Several echo the tone — observant, factual, elegant — of our greatest living practitioner of this genre, Steven Millhauser. For instance, here is the opening of “The Dogs in the Trees”:
“The first sightings of dogs in trees were reported not long after the Fall equinox. Early rumor came in the form of videos shot at arms’ length on cell phones and hastily uploaded — grainy, shaky, shot with cock-angled intensity, the palsied depth of field swimming as it sought purchase amidst limbs and leaves.”
As the narrative develops, more and more dogs are sighted, quietly hunched among the branches. Tethered pets soon begin to bark and howl at night, maddened with desire to be aloft. Oddly enough, nobody makes any serious effort to lower the dogs back to earth. And eventually the animals begin . . .
Well, there’s no point in spoiling the story. But one can safely say that it remains mysterious and its final meaning elusive. Indeed, while all of Battles’s tales neatly hook the reader, he seems better at creating symbolic or allegorical situations than resolving them. I frequently finished a story by murmuring, “Huh?” or with the feeling that it was just a bit too precious and derivative, overwrought in both senses of the word. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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