The Spoils of Awe: Jesse Ball on KCRW's Bookworm

on Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Two of my favourite literary stars collided this week, and while it was not quite the spectacular supernova I'd long dreamed of, it was still immensely satisfying. While reading through Jesse Ball's newly-released collection of verse and prose, The Village On Horseback, it just so happened that the author was featured on my favourite literary podcast, KCRW Bookworm. Those who have heard this fantastic weekly show would be familiar with Michael Silverblat's frustratingly droll voice and overly pregnant pauses but, like me, choose to still listen thanks to his brilliant insights and obvious rapport with anyone even vaguely literary. He is an writer's reader, a beacon of considered opinion; everyone who is anyone seems to queue up to be interviewed by him and each episode makes for mesmerising listening even if you have no interest in the particular author or topic. Perhaps Silverblat's greatest strength, however, is his willingness to throw new and exciting writers into the mix - so for every Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates we also get to discover the likes of David Vann, Tao Lin or indeed Jesse Ball. What's more, Silverblat gives the same time and depth of consideration to the rising stars as he does his heroes.

It was intriguing to hear Ball talk about his own work, all the more so to realise that he is as elusively elliptical in person as his is on the page. Half an hour wasn't nearly enough time to really break beyond the surface but if you are just discovering this promising heir to Calvino, Abe or Borges it's well worth a listen. Check it out at KCRW's website or subscribe on iTunes. Also worth picking up is The Village On Horseback, if only to witness the growth of someone who is sure to become one of the most important writers of our time. Comprised of aphorisms, prose poetry and two novellas, it is consistently surprising, prescient and full of imaginative explosions that will have you smiling while you scratch your head in sheer astonishment. I won't go into too much detail here - just trust me and buy the thing - but I will point out that, while he won the Plimpton Prize for the novella The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr, it is the earlier one, Pieter Emily (also included in this collection), that truly shone for me; a highly discomforting tale that might have even unsettled Poe.

I'm excited to have hopped on the Jesse Ball bandwagon nice and early. I'm also glad that his rise is not meteoric but slow and steady. Flashes in the pan tend to burn out while reputations built over time and on solid foundations are here for good. Expect big things... eventually.


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