Author(s): John Keene
Ranging from the seventeenth century to our current moment, and crossing multiple continents, Counternarratives' stories and novellas draw upon memoirs, newspaper accounts, detective stories, interrogation transcripts, and speculative fiction to create new and strange perspectives on our past and present. 'An Outtake' chronicles an escaped slave's take on liberty and the American Revolution; 'The Strange History of Our Lady of the Sorrows' presents a bizarre series of events that unfold in a nineteenth-century Kentucky convent; 'The Aeronauts' soars between bustling Philadelphia, still-rustic Washington, and the theater of the U.S. Civil War; 'Rivers,' presents a free Jim meeting up decades later with his former raftmate Huckleberry Finn; and in 'Acrobatique,' the subject of a famous Edgar Degas painting talks back.
"Keene exerts superb control over his stories, costuming them in the style of Jorge Luis Borges...Yet he preserves the undercurrent of excitement and pathos that accompanies his characters' persecution and their groping toward freedom." (Sam Sacks - The Wall Street Journal); "Counternarratives is an extraordinary work of literature. John Keene is a dense, intricate, and magnificent writer. " (Christine Smallwood - Harper's); "Suspenseful, thought provoking, mystical, and haunting. Keene's confident writing doesn't aim for easy description or evaluation; it approaches (and defies) literature on its own terms." (Publishers Weekly); "Only a few, John Keene among them, in our age, authentically test the physics of fiction as both provocation and mastery. Continuing what reads like the story collection as freedom project, in Counternarratives, Keene opens swaths of history for readers to more than imagine but to manifest and live in the passionate language of conjure and ritual." (Major Jackson); "Keene finds inspiration in newspaper clippings, memoirs, and history, and anchors them in the eternal, universal, and mystical." (Vanity Fair); "In Counternarratives, John Keene undertakes a kind of literary counterarchaeology, a series of fictions that challenge our notion of what constitutes "real" or "accurate" history. His writing is at turns playful and erudite, lyric and coldly diagnostic, but always completely absorbing. Counternarratives could easily be compared to Borges or Bolano, Calvino or Kis, but at the same time it is a deeply American, resolutely contemporary book, that asks us to reconsider our own perspectives on the past--and the future." (Jess Row); "Of the scope of William T. Vollmann or Samuel R. Delany, but with a kaleidoscopic intuition all its own, Counternarratives is very easily one of the most vividly imagined and vitally timed books of the year. I haven't felt so refreshed in quite a while as a reader." (VICE); "Keene opens up the spaces between words and their objects, to create room where fresh meanings can play." (Ben Ehrenreich - The Nation); "Queering the script, defying the imperative to be silent, however, does not require confidence or a vision of what progress means. It is, rather, in all its uncertainty and risk, the most basic stuff of--the very matter of--life. It is also the crowning achievement of one of the year's very best books." (Brad Johnson - The Quarterly Conversation); "Keene's collection of short and longer historical fictions are formally varied, mold-breaking, and deeply political. He's a radical artist working in the most conservative genres, and any search for innovation in this year's U.S. fiction should start here." (Christian Lorentzen - Vulture); "Counternarratives proffers a series of stories in which religion and spirituality, art and language, violence and subjugation, homosexuality and eroticism, may shine through a panoply of voices." (Patrick Disselhorst - Full Stop); "Practically every sentence in the book perforates, stretches out, or pries open literary modes designed to be airtight, restrictive, and racially exclusionary...An expert generator of suspense, Keene also turns out to be a skilled humorist, a mischievous ironist, a deft, seductive storyteller and a studied historian." (Max Nelson - Bookforum)
John R. Keene was born in St. Louis in 1965. He graduated from the St. Louis Priory School, Harvard College, and New York University, where he was a New York Times Fellow. In 1989, Mr. Keene joined the Dark Room Writers Collective, and is a Graduate Fellow of the Cave Canem Writers Workshops. He is the author of Annotations, and Counternarratives, as well as several other works, including the poetry collection Seismosis, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, and a translation of Brazilian author Hilda Hilst's novel Letters from a Seducer. He teaches at Rutgers University-Newark.