Counternarratives (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

With black and brown bodies being felled daily -- from Cleveland to Ferguson, Baltimore to Oakland -- by an assortment of institutional and systemic forces shrugging off protest when they are not stamping it out, the stories of these lives, or ones like them, are the stuff of histories untold by History. John Keene's magnificent collection of stories/novellas reads like an epic novel chronicling the colonized's defiant desire for justice and the slave's multiform attempts at retribution. These lives that matter . . . matter, and in Keene's hand spin the controlling narrative of History differently. The result is (I decided midway through 2016) my favorite fiction of 2015. 

— Brad J.

In the heart of the jungle, in 17th-century Brazil, a Jesuit priest strives to keep his true identity hidden from the next wave of colonizers, until one of his slaves—whose own power is far greater than meets the eye—collapses the distance between them. This is but one of the historical re-imaginings Keene presents in this inventive book of (sometimes not so) short fiction. His settings range up and down the Americas, and stretch back to the times when this continent was first deemed a New World. Keene uses forms of primary text to wrench in reverse a critical gaze we only seem comfortable using in the present; he reminds us that questions of race and sexuality, power and memory, have always been urgent.

— From Marc


Now in paperback, a bewitching collection of stories and novellas that are “suspenseful, thought-provoking, mystical, and haunting” (Publishers Weekly)

Ranging from the seventeenth century to the present, and crossing multiple continents, Counternarratives draws upon memoirs, newspaper accounts, detective stories, and interrogation transcripts 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 Haiti and a nineteenth-century Kentucky convent; “The Aeronauts” soars between bustling Philadelphia, still-rustic Washington, and the theater of the U. S. Civil War; “Rivers” portrays 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.

About the Author

John Keene is a former member of the Dark Room Writers Collective, a graduate fellow of Cave Canem, and the recipient of many awards and fellowships—including a MacArthur Genius Award, the Windham-Campbell Prize, and the Whiting Foundation Prize for fiction. Keene teaches at Rutgers.

Praise For…

Counternarratives is an extraordinary work of literature. John Keene is a dense, intricate, and magnificent writer.

— Christine Smallwood

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.

— Blake Butler

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
Product Details
ISBN: 9780811225526
ISBN-10: 0811225526
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: May 17th, 2016
Pages: 320
Language: English