cover image Prairie, Dresses, Art, Other

Prairie, Dresses, Art, Other

Danielle Dutton. Coffee House, $17.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-56689-703-7

Dutton (SPRAWL), an English professor at Washington University in St. Louis, bounds across genres and artistic forms in these freewheeling meditations on art and literature. The “Prairie” section offers up uncanny fictional vignettes that contrast vivid descriptions of nature’s beauty with the unease of impending climate crisis. For instance, in “Nocturne,” a mother observes red clouds and “moon-faced flowers... white and alive in the night” as she drives her son home after visiting her parents during “the hottest week in the world,” when three-inch hail assailed Texas and massive holes opened in the Siberian permafrost. “Sixty-Six Dresses I Have Read” strings together brief literary excerpts about dresses from the works of Edith Wharton, Jamaica Kincaid, Joyelle McSweeney, and other authors, raising implicit questions about femininity, fashion, and social status. Elsewhere, Dutton reflects on writing “fiction in response to visual art because the process... helps estrange the world for me,” and presents a delightfully surreal, plotless one-act play (complete with stage directions for the audience) about storytelling’s power to preserve the impermanent and intangible. The eclectic entries make for exciting reading, adding up to a surprisingly cohesive whole that testifies to art’s ability to inspire new ways of seeing the world. Relentlessly surprising and thoroughly original, this dazzles. Photos. Agent: Cynthia Cannell, Cynthia Cannell Literary. (Apr.)