57 Octaves Below Middle C by Kevin McIlvoy
"As if Blind Willie Johnson had stumbled through Alice's looking glass, 57 Octaves Below Middle C offers a thrilling mash-up of the soulfully executed blues riff and the wondrously weird. In McIlvoy's latest, beneath the artistry and the melody, the hilarity, the poetry, beneath every note (and all the octaves) in this extended ballad of precisely inflected narratives, is a cri de coeur. A tour de force!"
"McIlvoy's latest book sings strange songs of belonging—a man who collects lawnmowers ('I need to mow. I needed the right mower. Many of us do') encounters a lawnmower cult whose leader speaks entirely in haiku; another who turns doglike when suffering from migraines (the headaches are named 'Miss Luck' but also 'Death's substitute teacher with no syllabus') meets a pack of men who endure the same transformation; a brother and sister bond over their shared love of duct tape. Hovering between prose and poetry, the linked pieces in 57 Octaves Below Middle C are marvelously peopled with characters you've never seen before and full of tragicomic insight ('I was an extraneous adverb when my father, the very of the family, died')."
"57 Octaves Below Middle C gives the reader, in a series of meditative, dreamy, suspenseful, mind-bending, and sometimes hilarious stories, a vision we had no idea we'd been waiting all our lives to see, and to have brought to us so clearly, with such strangeness and such clarity. This is a whole new landscape—both inner and outer—and only a writer as attentive to language as McIlvoy could bring such a book into the world. He ignores none of the necessities of a great story in any of these, no matter how inventive he's being, because this isn't experimentation. This is work fully informed and appreciative of the conventions of storytelling, while playing round with them, wildly, and with total success. Because McIlvoy's completed original forms fulfill all of our traditional longings—to be scared, to be moved, to believe, to be changed, to laugh—this is a miraculous collection. It opens up possibility unto new possibility with every page. I had no idea that, for so long, this was the book I needed to read."
Part Muddy Waters and part Russell Edson, with more than a nod to Lydia Davis, Jean Follain, and Henri Michaux, 57 Octaves Below Middle C is no work of whimsy or fancy: for all McIlvoy's verbal riffs and musical interludes, he writes from deep pathos, attempting to peel back the constructed selves we shell about us in our daily lives. He makes us stranger to ourselves so that we can see ourselves again.
Kevin McIlvoy has published four novels: A Waltz, The Fifth Station, Little Peg, Hyssop, and a short-story collection, The Complete History of New Mexico. For twenty-seven years he was fiction editor and editor-in-chief of the national literary magazine Puerto del Sol. He has taught in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College since 1989; he taught as Regents Professor of Creative Writing at New Mexico State University English Department from 1981 to 2008. His novel, At the Gate of All Wonder, is forthcoming (2018) from Tupelo Press.