J.B. Blackford

Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.

Billie the Bull by xTx

photo (5)

Magic the Gathering cards are great bookmarks. The card + pen give you an idea of the book’s size.

This book is tiny, opposing the monstrous size of its title character. (Who is a woman, by the way.)

It’s so tiny that it got lost on my shelf of New Books to Read, to be rediscovered only recently. I read almost the whole thing in the time it took my husband to run out for cigarettes and ice.

But don’t let it deceive you.

I can’t take more words to review Billie the Bull than xTx took to write it, so I say only these things:

1) It is astonishingly massive. In only 63 pages it encompasses a whole life, or rather multiple lives, in a way that leaves you feeling full of story. As a student, I disliked the reader response theory, but the older I get, the more I think that readers can’t always have much more than that. I took away from this book another perspective on desire — we always want what we aren’t or can’t have — told in a way that I’ve never seen before. Billie also made me think about the cyclical blindness of life and parenthood, the way we may or may not make the same mistakes which we resented our parents for, and the even more horrifying prospect that we do it without cognizance. For me, the best books are those that invite their readers to dwell on archetypes of human experience and the range of responses to them influenced by our personalities and histories. I was stunned by the invitation here, and how it’s done with both atypical characters and format.

2) Billie the Bull reminds me me of Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, a novella I read after researching Guillermo del Toro’s influence for Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s been a pending addition to the Quality Filter for a long time, specifically because it contains so much in so few pages that I feel like each draft I write does it a disservice. Billie the Bull has the same haunting effect…I can’t stop thinking about it after I’ve read it, about how a story so distilled packs a punch as vicious and sweet as the Glenlivet I tasted last Christmas.

3) Both the editor and the reader are given elements to delight in. The reader’s imagination has fertile material to envision and “make real” in the mind. The editor’s love of language, form, and precision can exult in the purposefulness of structure, the poetry-like prose without one word too many.

An innovative, sublime story, worth the time to read more than once.





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