cover image Night School: A Reader for Grownups

Night School: A Reader for Grownups

Zsófia Bán, trans. from the Hungarian by Jim Tucker. Open Letter, $15.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-940953-88-5

Bán’s off-kilter, exuberant collection guides readers into far-flung, disorienting regions. Each vignette is labeled with a loosely related academic subject (e.g., chemistry, physical education) and concludes with a droll prompt to apply the inapplicable knowledge gleaned from the cryptic tales: “WRITE AN ESSAY on your favorite holiday with the title, ‘Why I love Christmas’!” Particularly entertaining are the arch snapshots of artistic figures, including Gustave Flaubert in Egypt, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mourning his wife’s fiery death (“First the Civil War, now this”), and the two Fridas from Kahlo’s famous double self-portrait adjusting to a new school: “Everyone is constantly sizing you up, particularly if there are two of you, and even more particularly if the two of you are one.” Dystopian, absurdist tales touching on the totalitarian history of Eastern Europe mingle with experimental narrative exercises such as “How I Didn’t.” The collection’s highlights include “What Is This Thing Called the Exchange Reaction,” wherein four players engage in erotic-philosophical speculations during a doubles ping-pong match, and the deadpan “Self-Help,” whose charismatic, unhinged teacher extols the virtue of “the Nohoo,” knowledge to be deployed should her students be “swallowed up in the vortex.” Bán (Exposed Memories) marries Rabelaisian scholastic satire with a cerebral lyricism, resulting in a fanciful, if occasionally baffling, curriculum. (Jan.)