Two debut novels and a record by a band called Disemballerina
Alissa Nutting
Alissa Nutting

Two debut novels and a record by a band called Disemballerina

Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay’s debut novel has been written up everywhere, including here at The A.V. Club, since it came out in May—and now this prolific author is promoting another, Bad Feminist, while writing essays about race at Salon and recapping Outlander at Vulture. As a result, Gay is all over the media—and I am a few months behind on her work. Reading An Untamed State is the experience of leaving behind the Internet, where I first got to know Gay, and going down a rabbit hole into what might be seen as the antithesis of the media world—isolation, darkness, and fear. The story is one of a woman abducted and held for ransom in Haiti, but it’s not a thriller, or an adventure story, or a mystery novel. It eschews any such comfortable narratives of good guys versus bad guys, or the hero saving the day, or the problems of the world being even remotely solvable. Above all it is a portrait of trauma—experiencing it, in all its horror, and then trying to find a way out of it. Gay’s spare, strong prose is the most deceptive quality of the work: An Untamed State could easily be read in a day. But its readability is another way Gay depicts trauma: the frightening ease of slipping into an experience that will change you. [Sonia Saraiya]

Disemballerina, Undertaker

Disemballerina is not a metal band. Still, there’s something uncannily metallic about the group’s new album, Undertaker. The Portland-based ensemble plays chamber music using cello, viola, guitar, and harp, and the result is like a shiver of primordial apprehension vibrating just under the skin. The album is instrumental, which only adds to that otherworldly atmosphere; on songs like “Sundowning” and “Carpathia,” strings are plucked, sawed, and coaxed into a hypnotic, cinematic lull. But the sense of darkness and drama that infuses some of the best doom and black metal is also at work, with “Two Crows” being a particularly haunting example of what medieval metal might have sounded like. The album was mixed and mastered by Tad Doyle of the legendary Sub Pop sludge band Tad, but Undertaker’s overwhelming heaviness is paradoxically ethereal. Disemballerina is on tour now down the West Coast, and I’m bummed I won’t get the chance to see them weave their acoustic wizardry onstage. Luckily, I’ve got Undertaker to give me cold, creepy comfort. [Jason Heller]


Tampa by Alissa Nutting
After stumbling across Flavorwire’s “50 Excellent Novels by Female Writers Under 50 That Everyone Should Read” article last weekend, I discovered Tampa—the debut novel by Alissa Nutting—purchased it (my first e-book purchase ever!), and read it in a single night. As disgusting in subject matter as it is enthralling in prose, Tampa is 272 pages devoted to sociopathic protagonist Celeste Price, a 26-year-old female hebephile who uses her physical beauty to mask a monster lying within. The novel opens the night before Celeste’s first day as an eighth grade English teacher. From the get go, Nutting doesn’t hold back, describing in detail how Celeste spent the night in “an excited loop of hushed masturbation,” as she anticipated all the 14-year-old boys she would meet come morning. The book becomes more graphic as Celeste enters into relationships with her students. So, why did I speed read something like this? Simple. I was intrigued by this quote from Nutting: “Well, what are some novels that are about female sexual psychopaths? I really didn’t have many references for that, and I felt like that was a void in transgressive literature that I wanted to fill.” She’s right, and she’s also right to point out that men aren’t the only victimizers in inappropriate relationships. [Becca James]



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