Persistent and perceptive artist-turned-writer Andrea Scrima knows both the scalpel and the parting skin. By subjecting her history and identity to laborious dissection, Scrima emerged from her literary gauntlets with an articulate tongue and an unshakeable constitution.
Brainard Carey, Director at Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies, Yale Artist Interviews
© 2010 Andrea Scrima Spuyten Duyvil Press, Brooklyn, New York
Second Edition February 2018 Spuyten Duyvil Press, Brooklyn, New York
To purchase the book: Amazon
A LESSER DAY is poetic, disturbing, elegiac, visceral, and beautiful. Scrima paints vivid, detailed memories of places to evoke a web of intimate relationships that emerges gradually from a temporal fog into shocking, unforgettable clarity.
Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man and The Astral; winner of the 2008 PENN/Faulkner Award
The East Village of the early eighties; a divided Berlin; Brooklyn approaching the end of the millennium. Alternating between the various addresses of a restless life on two continents, A LESSER DAY is a novel in which part of the story takes place between the lines, untold.
In the freezing studios and working-class flats of Kreuzberg, we meet Sabine from across the bleak courtyard, a sturdy mother of four who disappears one day and whose adolescent daughters gradually grow wild; Martin, the charismatic boy with an alcoholic stepfather and his own hidden streak of cruelty; Ivo, a Croatian car mechanic who returns home to fight in the war as the landlady’s nine-year-old son sets about throwing rocks at the windowpanes of his workshop.
When the narrator travels to New York to attend her father’s funeral shortly after November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell, a period begins in which her hold on reality grows increasingly tenuous. Hiding away in her studio with her father’s journals, her paintings building up inch by inch in a fruitless attempt to come to terms with human mortality, she sets about deciphering her father’s encoded script. Addressing a continually shifting “you” in a search for emotional understanding initially directed at the author’s dead father and then merging into a blur of intimate others, A LESSER DAY explores the mechanisms of memory and suppression in an era of political upheaval. Little escapes the author’s scrutinizing eye as she locates meaning in the passage of time as it inscribes itself into the myriad things around us: the mute, insentient witnesses of our everyday existence.
Read an excerpt on my website at www.andreascrima.com
A narrative kept closer than a secret, oozing in slow, soft, whispers …
The work is delicate, yet naked and unapologetic, and our collective consciousness
is greater for Spuyten Duyvil publishing this small, wondrous book.
— The Brooklyn Rail
The book’s mission is awareness, seeing … in the end, it is hard not to cheer on a mind so intent on reclaiming meaning from the abandoned, the forgotten, and the mundane.
— KGB Bar Lit
A LESSER DAY is a miraculous memoir intricately woven out of small wonders.
Scrima’s is a world in which nothing is unobserved, nothing unnoticed; everything is fraught with meaning, however difficult it may be to discern. Few of us have any but the dimmest understanding of the lives we lead, moment to moment. The bravery and beauty of A LESSER DAY is in the effort to understand, to make clear, to illuminate even the tiniest gesture. On the surface an elegy for a father’s death, it ultimately becomes a monument to the human struggle to survive, to remember, to understand, and to love.
— Robert Goolrick, author of The End of the World as We Know It and A Reliable Wife
Andrea Scrima’s brilliant debut novel, A Lesser Day (Spuyten Duyvil), creates a realistic psychological portrait of an artist’s life (…). The narrator and the reader are haunted by the unseen, the unspoken, the uncaptured, the unconscious forgotten details lurking in the vivid portraits of the artist’s memory. (…) A delicious unease slowly builds through the pages, suggesting that in every described detail there is a hidden meaning—a meaning often hidden even to the narrator. The fact that the narrator can remember so many minor details and the fact that even such a reliable, careful memory could be wanting is as terrifying to the reader as it is to the narrator. One of the delicate disturbances of the novel is the sense that if one’s memory can’t be fully trusted, no one can be trusted, even the self. (…) In a sense, each short chapter is like snapshot, the snapshots the narrator takes with the camera in her hand and the camera in her mind, wanting to capture some specific detail of each and every day—even the “lesser days,” when the washed-out details are so challenging to capture that even the most carefully framed photographs are unlikely to develop a vibrant image.
– Aimee Parkison in The Brooklyn Rail
Clarice Lispector has said that the approach to anything comes about gradually and agonizingly, and that’s exactly what Andrea Scrima does in A LESSER DAY. Her unnamed narrator, an American artist living in Berlin, attempts to “turn my attention to this moment, try to comprehend its immediacy, to trust in its reality; I tell myself that this is the present, this moment and no other.” Trying to come to grips with her father’s recent death, she waits “for these twirling bits of thought to slowly settle down at the bottom of the jar,” and, in the process, takes us along on a patient and enriching journey of discovery and reconciliation.
— Tsipi Keller, author of Jackpot and Retelling
As Andrea Scrima’s A LESSER DAY unfolds, form is repetition: time is day, narrative is place—as both departure and refuge. And each section a separate movement returns to that moment wherein the narrator watches the subtle shift of light as perception of time. This book is about observation; the way an artist watches light change. Scrima’s meditation on loss seeks momentum in image.
— Rebecca Goodman, author of The Surface of Motion
In Andrea Scrima’s A Lesser Day, the narrator recollects a life in a continual state of unrest. Her unfinished paintings hang on walls in Berlin or Brooklyn; her belongings move from lofts to sublets, or remain behind in storage. Like the boxes, her memories are itinerant, traveling to the places she once lived—to the coal oven, to the exposed plumbing, to the heat pipes that clank, to the rain that pools beneath the skylight in a windowless loft. (…) But all isn’t lost. Maybe memory’s ability to renew and transfigure is more its allure than its curse. Maybe the effort and the concentration remind her of what matters most: people are the places she wants to go.
— Kevin Evers, The Rumpus
With its shimmering pictures and elusive narrator, the pleasure of A Lesser Day stems from how it invites readers to see and to think. Even as Scrima keeps us at a distance, she shows us a singular view of the world.
Reviews of A LESSER DAY:
Hear an interview on Deutschlandfunk Kultur: Zwischentöne (German language)
Read an interview at 3QuarksDaily
Read an interview in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (German language)
Read an extensive interview with Madeleine LaRue in Music & Literature
Hear an interview on Deutschlandfunk Kultur (German language)
Hear an interview on Yale Radio
Hear an interview on Literadio from the Leipzig Book Fair (German language)
Read an extensive interview with Leora Skolkin-Smith in The Brooklyn Rail
Read the Book Notes to A Lesser Day and listen to an MP3 from Christian von der Goltz’s CD Wheels of Time
Read an interview from the blog Things I’d Rather Be Doing
Excerpts (translated) from the press coverage of the German edition of
A LESSER DAY / WIE VIELE TAGE, published by Literaturverlag Droschl, Graz, Austria.
“Everything I see around me, everything I touch: the chair I am sitting in, the paper I am writing this on, none of it is as ephemeral as I.” The narrator of Wie viele Tage takes her ambivalence, her “difficulty with the present tense” as the departure point of a quest in which writing becomes a means of merging with life. In her mind, she need only open a drawer in the old kitchen cabinet on Staten Island or imagine the Italian language primers from school or remember how, “in this vast empire of our childhood,” she invented “scientific facts” about the universe for her brother, and already the figures are set into motion, and it’s as though they could interrupt the narrator at any moment—that’s how alive they become in this writing’s imagery. This is a high art, and it testifies to the richness of a book that succeeds in freeing itself from any concerns of self-assertion to create a space in which the reader indeed begins to think more precisely, see more clearly—and become more receptive and sentient.
— Elisabeth Wagner, Die taz, weekend issue, February 10–11, 2018
It’s the small observations that make life what it is, because these are the things that determine our subjective perception of reality—and not the momentous events of history, the outside world. The aesthetic at work here lies in the ordinary, the everyday. In one of the novel’s most poetic sections, the protagonist becomes witness to the moment before the coffee trickling out of a discarded paper cup and a thin stream of dog urine converge on the street, in the precise spot where a slip of paper with an address on it has fallen, which she salvages in time. The thought that she was the only one to perceive the magic of this moment, these “three factors mysteriously interconnected in an equation meant for me and me alone,” induces a kind of vertigo—“and yet I understood nothing, nothing at all.”
— Isabella Caldart in Novellieren, February 20, 2018
A life in transit, back and forth between New York and Berlin. Here today, there tomorrow, torn between worlds and only temporarily at home. In her first book “A Lesser Day,” the American Andrea Scrima recounts the life of an artist in the 1980s and 1990s. […] She juxtaposes recollections with sketches of places she’s lived in, which flare up like Polaroid photographs. […] Reading the book, the first feeling to emerge is respect. Respect for the unerring resistance of a woman who searches out places to live her life and who firmly defends her identity as artist. […] The painter was never able to make a living from her art. But the narrator, continuously addressing a shifting, but intimate “you,” transforms the insecurity of her artist’s existence into a remarkable freedom of thought and agency.
— Claudia Fuchs, SWR2, April 3, 2018
Subtle, incredibly intense snapshots of a woman on the passing of time, loneliness, loss, and abandonment, and the ability to let go.
— Klaus Bittner, Buchtipps Spring 2018
Andrea Scrima is a master of seeing. A keen sense of perception allows her to break surfaces open to reveal the layers beneath. […] She writes the way she works: the way her seeing manifests itself in her art. The way she tries to capture her surroundings, her world; the way she familiarizes herself with it. How seldom she entraps herself in the process!
— Gallus Frei-Tomic, literaturblatt.ch, April 10, 2018
Scrima weaves transatlantic memories of her New York origins and her adopted home of Berlin throughout the 1980s and 1990s into an evocative web of finely narrated thoughts. With lyric buoyancy, Scrima meditates on the transient nature of everything that’s important to us and on the gradual disappearance of our own days.
— René Freudenthal, Carl-Schurz-Haus, April 2018
A linear narrative is sacrificed in favor of a porous, associative composition that blurs dimensions through its mantra-like “but that came later.” History becomes palpable as a background murmur. The reconstruction of the turbulent decade in which the narrator’s vagabond life takes place is achieved through newspaper clippings, which she appropriates artistically. What remains is an inquiry into the time-space continuum: to what degree is the artist today the person she encounters in the layers of her painting surfaces, her texts, the layers of her past? These are things Andrea Scrima writes about wonderfully in her autobiographically colored debut.
— Senta Wagner, Buchkultur 177, April 2018
The book, which consists of short biographical segments described in great detail, skips from scene to scene. Chronology is suspended from the start, all linear continuity rendered impossible. (…) A self (…) circles around itself like a foreign body, a mysterious thing that doesn’t quite lend itself to comprehension. “A look, nothing more, and a quiet avalanche is set into motion, a wordless disaster.” This could form the departure point of a poetics that explores how something apparently harmless can transform into something perilous.
— Anton Thuswaldner, Die Furche, special supplement “Booklet,” April 2018
It’s not we who remember places; it’s they that remember us. They’re the ones that no longer let go, and sometimes we can retrieve them in the crypt of memories—as Andrea Scrima has done in her sensitively written novel “Wie Viele Tage”. Nearly every section […] begins with an address: Bedford Avenue, Kent Avenue, Ninth Street, Eisenbahnstrasse, Fidicinstrasse. These are the streets where the artist and writer lived in the eighties and nineties; here are the apartments where recollections of times, emotions, states of mind have embedded themselves. And even if the locations and faces are in danger of disappearing, even if they sink a bit deeper each year into the memory crypt, some part of the self nonetheless remains. We don’t just remember places. We seem, in a kind of magical thinking, to inscribe ourselves into these places. They are the ones that no longer let go.
— Ulrich Rüdenauer, Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 3, 2018
When a person lives between two continents, two apartments, the transience of things becomes even more urgent. It’s a question that seems to haunt Andrea Scrima. Again and again, the objects that surround her are brought into sharp focus: objects that need to be packed, stored, and transported in moving boxes; objects the sheer force of human presence suffuses with meaning. Incessantly, the self attempts to catch hold of individual situations and moments in time, zooms in on them with an almost uncanny precision of perception to salvage them from the obscurity of the past and the unarticulated and to shed light on them. Not glaringly, but tenuously, with caution.
— Bettina Schulte, Badische Zeitung, May 17, 2018
In slow, circumspect sentences, the author strings together her melancholic thoughts. These are short, poetic episodes, contemplative and empathetic descriptions of Berlin and New York.
– Anna Bleibtreu, Weiberdiwan, July 14, 2018
A Lesser Day is an autobiographical book of prose comprised of sketches and recollections that oscillate between New York of the 1980s–1990s and West Berlin up to the fall of the Wall. Memories of upheaval, of a lost father and a love that came to a painful end—and again and again, of places—are linked in an evocative mosaic puzzled together from probing reflections and seismic observations of everyday life. Who are we, where are we when we remember? Scrima’s richly atmospheric meditations give rise to an interior poetic space in which the reader, confronted with his or her own personal memories, doesn’t experience an answer as much as the question itself.
– Andrea Köhler, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, July 30, 2018
Remarkably poetic and brimming with psychological tension.
– Wolf Ebersberger, Nürnberger Zeitung, August 24, 2018
The remarkable and wondrous thing about this novel is that Scrima has succeeded in using the expressive means of language to enable us to experience, at close hand, the ways in which the process of remembering actually functions. Instead of a meaningfully structured narrative, A Lesser Day presents us with a text composition that orders and categorizes as seldom as our memory when it leaves the present tense to attend to past experience. Our recollections are skittish; they jump from one image to another. And it’s usually the simplest things that wind up taking on importance: pieces of furniture we associate with a certain phase of our lives; the memory of having longed to have all our possessions in one place at last, to stop feeling as though we were constantly on the road. In this individual’s life, world history generally makes an appearance at a distance, while it’s the lives we lead within our own four walls and our perception of our immediate surroundings that shape and determine our existence. This lyrical novel, enriched in a unique and wonderful way by the influence of art, stands for all this; indeed, the power of language gives rise to visual images that rise up before the mind’s eye.
– Jana Fuchs, Literaturkritik.de, Universität Mainz, October 5, 2018