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In Naomi Washer's novel Subjects We Left Out, a young American writer begins translating the work of a French poet whose book bears striking parallels to her own life. Diffident despite her talent and thoughtfulness, she struggles to understand and speak to the people closest to her, especially Alex: an exchange student from Florence whom she feels intimately connected to despite his elusive, almost aloof disposition. As she travels through Paris and rural northeast France to meet with the poet and pursue an idea for her own book, she reckons with the distance between herself and Alex and begins to speak of the life she wants for herself. A meditation on what is often said and unsaid between people—in silence, translation, interpretation, and miscommunication—and an account of an artist coming into her own, Subjects We Left Out is a novel that sees the reader as correspondent, inviting us to hear and be heard, see and be seen, and summon the courage to speak clearly.
PRAISE FOR SUBJECTS WE LEFT OUT
When a mirror is anything but a blueprint, what to do when you find both yourself and your muse reflected therein? The parallel lives contained in Naomi Washer’s Subjects We Left Out, which takes translation to its most appropriate and dreamy level, as well as the confluence of love, language, and the seemingly impossible task of making oneself understood and seen while attempting to keep true to the other and the self, will make this text—this deep and emotive study of living in the life lines of unknowing and reaching—required reading for those readers who know that love is inseparable from what we say, and what we mean.
—Jenny Boully, author of Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life
This beautiful novel of ideas explores the often-blurred lines between friendship, love, and the kind of intimacy that somehow goes nowhere. With its lovely evocation of the internal life of a literary translator, Subjects We Left Out simultaneously considers the great difficulty of achieving clarity in life as well as literature—and the eternal challenge of getting thoughts and feelings across to another person, and into another text.
—Aviya Kushner, author of The Grammar of God
“Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances,” the poet Robert Hass once wrote, and few novels have given over so much of themselves to those distances as Naomi Washer’s Subjects We Left Out. A novel of ideas—about translation, creativity, friendship, and affinity, among other subjects—it’s also a character study of a young woman artist practiced at evading overt acknowledgment of and responsibility for her own longing. Her writing’s passionate restraint and commitment to the elliptical communicate the intensity of intellectual and erotic attachments that leave their marks on her language without entering it directly. And thus, in the end, it’s also a novel about the risk at the core of the lover’s art: through words, those proxy bodies, we set out at last across endless distances to risk making the contact that could change us forever.
—Brian Teare, author of Doomsdead Days
I’ve walked away from books, people, places, and things because I could not see them, even if they were right there in front of me. (Someday I’ll tell you about California, and how I could not see it). Sometimes it’s easier, at first, to face the ones who turn away than to linger in the glow. But when we take the time to linger, we start to see the constellations we could never really see. A map begins to unfold—a map to uncovering.
The windows of my apartment look out on the gap between two brick buildings across the street. Every ten minutes or so, the Kimball train goes by. I hear it before it arrives, and then, for a brief moment, I see it in the gap between the buildings. At night, the windows of the train are a bright white, illuminating. First the train goes by in one direction, then the other. Sometimes, they pass each other at the same time. Then, the street grows quiet again.
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AMERICAN GIRL DOLL
In apostrophe reminiscent of Ginsberg's "America," Naomi Washer's
AMERICAN GIRL DOLL addresses the conditions, frustrations, and expectations of our monolithic and problematic country through a lens that seems both extrinsic and intrinsic, the self being called into the same rhetorical criticism as the setting that conditioned it.
America, the first bar I ever went to underage was McSorley’s. I was 18, they served only “light and dark beer,” I didn’t know which one I liked or how to order, it was Valentine’s Day in the East Village, I was sitting in McSorley’s, this formerly “Men Only” pub, do you know what that meant to me, America? To be sitting in McSorley’s when outside it was indeed New York and beautifully snowing?
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EXPERIMENTAL GARDENING MANUAL
Consider alternatives to amusement: commune with nature, vehemently
throw yourself at a traffic cop, saturate your sensory information processing system
for a period of thirty years in an oak and sealskin bungalow in an isolated archipelago,
and later on, devote your time to studying synthetic gum base and its resistance,
with the goal of demystifying common chewing gum and its social impact; carefully
confront those “I always wanted,” those “Maybe one day,” and those “I would have liked,”
then interrupt every strand of thought with rough draft sketches of a singular science.
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We gather orange peels in the palms of our hands. We huddle in stairwells, in schoolhalls, to dream. We believe in other versions of our selves. Where we roam is not our home but even so we live there; there where the leaves crunch beneath our feet and the doors creak and fall upon their hinges. There where we break in—through the window—with our boots—following this constant home-bound desire. If there are two kinds of fear, then we are ever fearful that the door we stay out looking for—the red door, falling on its hinges and peeling—will forever elude us, will forever be one state over, there where the other self is kissing his bride and going off to war.
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