The Gift (or, Techniques of the Body) - a novel by Barbara Browning

What's inappropriate intimacy?

Winner of a Lambda Literary Award - Starred Reviews:

  • "In this exquisite meditation on gift-giving, intimacy, the body, and performance, Browning (I'm Trying to Reach You, 2012) dashes the boundaries between auto-fiction and novel and offers daring readers something more intimate and muscular than a mere book. Barbara Andersen, a clear stand-in for Browning, teaches performance theory in New York City by day and records ukulele covers by night. Enthralled by Lewis Hyde's The Gift, Barbara sends recordings to strangers she meets by chance on the internet as well as to prominent public thinkers like David Graeber and Lauren Berlant. "The recent implosion of the global financial system made it evident that we needed to try something else," Barbara muses about her impulses. Her fascination with "inappropriate intimacy" ultimately draws her into an erotic long-distance relationship with musical virtuoso Sami, an autistic man who lives in Germany. But when Barbara finally flies overseas to meet Sami in person, he has a breakdown that prevents their meeting and causes Barbara to question everything. Against this development, Barbara traces the work of her friend Tye, a gifted performance artist and trans man, weaving descriptions of his performances into details about her own teaching, activism, and art. At one point, Barbara reveals her struggles with memory, transforming the act of writing—and reading—this novel into a collaborative performance of recovery and creation between writer and reader. "It's not just that I seem to have erased quite a few unpleasant memories," Barbara writes. "Sometimes I think this is what opened up some space on my hard drive for imagining things." Browning takes a book that could easily exist in hypotheticals, layers, and masks and instead grounds it in the chaos of its time, including the disruptive politics of the Occupy movement, the infamous Pussy Riot protests and arrests in Russia, and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The effect is indeed intimate but never inappropriate. Browning is working at the edges of her craft, and it's utterly thrilling to watch. A delicious love letter to readers and co-conspirators everywhere." - Kirkus Reviews 

  • *"In this charming, erudite, and often devastating metafictional novel, a writer and academic from New York carries on an intense email correspondence with an autistic musician in Germany—who may or may not be who he says he is. Set in the early 2010s and centered loosely around Occupy Wall Street, Browning’s (The Correspondence Artist) novel takes an unabashedly digressive form. The narrator, who calls herself Barbara Andersen, dances from highbrow topics (the gift economy, performance theory) to anecdotes about her family members, lovers, and friends to accounts of her ongoing “conceptual art project” (she makes ukulele covers of various pieces of music and sends them to friends and strangers). Meanwhile, she makes repeated reference to the very novel we’re reading, a move that lends her pontifications about authenticity, fictionality, and representation—stirred by her fraught relationship with the musician, Sami—a sometimes comic, sometimes unsettling edge. All this might seem like so much postmodern hot air, but the narrator has an exceptionally graceful page presence: loony and profound, vulnerable and ingenuous, Barbara acts to unify the book’s central concerns, giving its intellectual flights of fancy a palpable human pulse. Maybe nothing in this book is exactly what it seems. But the sadness, at least, is real." - Publishers Weekly *

Praise for The Gift:

"[The Gift] is a smart, funny, heartbreaking and often sexy delight of a novel that presses hard against the boundaries of where literary and artistic performances begin and end." —The New York Times

“Barbara Browning’s winning and expansive novel describes one woman’s intimacies with lovers, strangers, culture and ideas, family and friends during several months in NY between 2012 and 2013. Browning brilliantly synthesizes her work as a scholar and an artist into a single identity, becoming at once a master monologist, storyteller, and historian of her amorphous tribe.”—Chris Kraus

“Barbara Browning’s gift is delicacy’s embrace of edge, daring’s embrace of openness, dance’s embrace of song, in open tuning: a blues for intimacy’s constant rupture and repair, held out in simple and miraculous gesture. I mean to say that her sentences are carefully held out hands signing the theory and practice of generosity, speaking with such plain obscurity that what has been covered—the lonesome miracle of what it is to be together—is now visible.”—Fred Moten

  • Barbara Browning, The Gift
  • Series: Emily Books
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press (May 9, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566894689
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566894685
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.2 inches

The Gift

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