Sunday Staff Picks: February 9th

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir / Anna Wiener / FSG, 01/2020 – $27 (Hardcover)

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

Everyone who’s worked in publishing has had the same dream: flee New York, join a tech company, and make barrels more money in an office filled with top-of-the-line snacks and California sunshine. Anna Wiener carries out the dream and chronicles how it dips into the nightmarish in her memoir, Uncanny Valley. Wiener extends a glance into Silicon Valley startup culture, that with its own cliques and rules. Economically, it is fascinating to watch sandy-haired 23-year-olds raise 10 million dollars from venture capitalists, often to see the startup fail. Sociologically, it is fascinating to watch Wiener, a woman in her late twenties, become a mom, a sister, and a friend to the small groups of men who become her employers. With a deft hand, Wiener picks apart why it is difficult to be a woman in Silicon Valley, particularly as a woman without an engineering or coding background. Enmeshed in startup culture and yet crucially one step away from it, Wiener questions how one can exist in the tech industry without capitulating to the industry’s demands of productivity, immortality, and apathy. She relentlessly interrogates both her own and others’ abilities to be thoughtful, connected citizens of not just the Internet, but the world. 

-Maddie Woda

Exquisite Cadavers / Meena Kandasamy / Atlantic Books, 11/2019 – $10 (Hardcover) – £6 (Hardcover UK)

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy

I’m a defender of the novel as a form. There is no other genre, no other art, that allows the reader to step into the mind of another. Yet, the novel demands of the reader a sort of submission—to submit themself to the narrative and the words of the author. Indeed, when I read, I am in the control of the author; my thoughts are theirs, written on the page before me. The project of Meena Kandasamy’s new novel—a piece of autofiction—explores this control, reflected both by the shifting power in Maya and Karim’s fraught coupling, and by the writing itself. The novel is hardly about its characters Maya and Karim, though their discussions of contemporary cinema (Karim is a Tunisian filmmaker) and culture—including gestures to Roland Barthes—point to Kandasamy’s main interest: the construction of Maya and Karim’s fictional relationship. Borrowing her title from the surrealist game cadavre exquis, Kandasamy offers an assemblage of text—the narrative relationship in the center, with personal notes in the margins. The marginal notes clarify her project; as she develops a fictional relationship, she keeps track of their real inspirations. 

Control moves between the central characters and the city that surrounds them. Control also switches between the fictional narrative and the thoughts of the author. Forced to toggle between two worlds—the fictional and the metafictional—the reader is at once thrust into a state of discomfort, no doubt meant to parallel the discomforts represented on the page, and a state of heightened awareness. The result is a novel that simultaneously constructs and deconstructs itself, questioning and demonstrating the mechanisms of control. Kandasamy creates a wonderfully destructive text, its beauty manifest in its collapse.

-Sam Wilcox