Thursday, December 27, 2012

City on a Hill (Keely and Steven in the park)

      She let her hands drop and as she opens her eyes notices distinctly the light atop Klickat hill flashing on, then off, on and off, on... It seems reassuring to her, its cyclic duty evoking a kind of eternity. The longevity of the thing briefly puts her problems into perspective, renders the search for Jeff less urgent. The red not bloody or passionate or evil but existing without any symbolic connection. A lone object bereft of significance. As Keely turns she sees, for the first time, his face in the light. It is truly sad, with dark halfmoon eyes and delicate lips which appear partially feminine. The coarse hooded pullover and dark courdoroys he wears are, to Keely, exotic and mature. It takes time for his question to sink into her, to weave its way through her and make its mark, but when it does she realizes how natural it is. How many times she has thought this without really thinking it. The exhaustion, the tedium. 'Tired of being human' as if there is anything else to be, as if being human is a temporary state, a minor inconvenience. She could put this off as a joke, a slip of the tongue (tired? glad you mean?) insanity, and yet it fits. It fits well. Maybe she has never put this into the same words but has tiptoed around the edge of it, brief thoughts that skirt the edges yet never dare to dive in. To admit it. Anyways we can be shamed in our own thoughts can't we? Some two voices in opposition, even our own deep desires ridiculed by some jaded cruel part of ourselves. And the thought runs through her now, releasing locks, flipping long staid switches, opening doors with the two of them staring at each other now as the mist blows and swirls between, it's as if she has been ruminating on this thought for years, as if it has been a common thing, a defining stream within her.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

25 Points: Master and Margarita

1. It's Bul-GA-kof, apparently.

2. This isn't magical realism.

3. So Satan's in the book? I wouldn't get too hung up on this fact.

4. It's more like science fiction, in the way that a lot of things happen but nothing really happens.

5. Master and Margarita was a samizdat, which makes it kind of romantic and interesting.

6. You would think the communists would spend their time banning more inflammatory works.

7. Bulgakov isn't a very flowery writer, just the straight facts: "And then Koroviev this and Andreyevich that."

8. Until, near the end of the novel, when he drops this doozy:
"Gods, Gods! How sad the evening earth! How mysterious the mysts over the bogs! Whoever has wandered over these mists, whoever suffered deeply before death, whoever flew over this earth burdened beyond human strength know it. The weary one knows it. And he leaves without regret the mists of the earth, its swamps and rivers, and yields himself with an easy heart to the hands of death, knowing that it alone can bring surcease."
9. The book is certainly religious, or has religious themes, but in a remarkable and unique way. Bulgakov's take on religion is unlike anything you have read before. It manages to be satirical and reverent, authentic and creative.

10. The book is titled after fairly minor characters.

11. People talk about the scene where Satan's party occurs but i don't get what the big deal is.

12. This cat rolls his eyes at a display of human sympathy. This part made me laugh out loud.

13. The magic powers kind of go overboard.

14. Really...the balance is off with the powers, this kind of dented the book for me.

15. The novel has two pretty big things going for it: it's depiction of the 30's Moscow literary scene, and the religion thing.

16. There are a lot of characters for a book this length. It allows a decent range of interaction but Bulgakov spends too little time on too many, so few of the characters ever really flesh out.

17. The novel has a keen eye for the layout of Moscow and Jerusalem. I've been to one city but not the other. The city I haven't been to seemed more real in the novel, frankly.

18. I bought the Mira Ginsburg translation which was taken from an edition censored by the Soviets. Discovering this was unfortunate.

19. Not that I have read that many Russians but this seemed sort of...Unrussian. It was too funny, not enough dwelling on what the characters were thinking. Not a bad thing, but different from Tolstoy and D-sky.

20. There is this writer's association in the book MASSOLIT which I want to know if it was a real thing or not. It seems an unreasonable place, read that maybe it is a satire of Moscow's writing scene...

21. The book really is about the Master's work: a retelling of Jesus' death. The Moscow scenes primarily act as a scaffold to hold the master's work up.

22. The last section may or may not be extremely beautiful, it seemed very beautiful.

23. Unsure whether I will seek out more of Bulgakov's writing before reading the unredacted version of Master and Margarita.

24. Margarita is obsessed with the Master. It's like Bulgakov was trying to portray a perfect love but it came off as creepy to me.

25. She sews him a hat. With a gold M on it...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And in the wake of the day you will find your world, a slow flowing world

        Ben and Kelly had lived very near each other for about a year. Ben was in is his last year of college but since he had stayed on an extra year the majority of his friends had moved away to the city.  Because of this Kelly-who Ben had been dating for about six months-had become his closest and for the most part only friend. He was okay with this arrangement. They had one of the same classes in common, a chemistry class in the morning, and would sit in the front row. They would hold hands in this class. There were people in the rows behind Ben and Kelly who hated them.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review of Sky Saw by Blake Butler

   If you read my review of Nothing Blake Butler's memoir detailing his experience with insomnia you might wonder why I even bothered with Sky Saw. I found Nothing to be overwritten, pretentious and without focus. You may think I bought Sky Saw out of masochism or a sort of desire to trash a writer who has become successful.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Literature: a horriffic, pointless, bourgeois and narcisistic waste of time .

              The question of  'why read' has bothered me for some time. In school we were mercilessly encouraged to read, it was sold as a mind building activity, an intellectual act, a necessary skill for a successful person.

Quick note on theNewerYork

       Just gonna throw some quick ups at this newish journal called theNewerYork. Hope to do a proper review of individual pieces in the future but for now let it be known that this is a journal with some mega chops and potential. There is roughly equal weight here given to the words and the image and the general feeling is one of constrained eclecticity. The journal is about half height, well bound and of quality manufacture. There is a sort of disclaimer at the beginning of each issue which I found humanizing, reduces the distance between the reader and these jumbled works. The writing is all over the place. I didn't recognize any names but the quality is up there. It was hard to put my finger on it but the pieces generally flowed together, stitched together, they have this sort of quality that was hard to define but connected most of them. I guess they all have this 'fuck you' bit but that is well thought out. The art is killer, some pretty freaky shit, and there is a series of full color images in the middle of the journal that both separates the journal from the pack and gives a nice break from the monochrome of text. There are also a few 'hand written' pieces included as well. There is a lot here, the thing is $10 but you get something like 80 pages? Anyways they have two issues out now and I'm jumping on this early and seeing where it goes.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quote from 'Master and Margarita' by Mikhail Bulgakof

             "Gods, gods! How sad the evening earth! How mysterious the mists over the bogs! Whoever has wandered in these mists, whoever suffered deeply before death, whoever flew over this earth burdened beyond human strength knows it. The weary one knows it. And he leaves without regret the mists of the earth, its swamps and rivers, and yields himself with an easy heart to the hands of death, knowing that it alone can bring surcease."

(Mirra Ginsburg translation)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review of 'You Private Person' by Richard Chiem

       This is Chiem's first published book, he has two e-book's out and approximately one hundred million short stories published online. He obviously went hard for You Private Person: it's heart is beating and it is drenched in sweat.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bits and Pieces about Keep this Bag away from children vol. 2

            When Keep this Bag away from children Vol. 1 came out I dropped a mini shout-out at the end of a longer review of some other books. I've decided to go whole hog on Vol. 2 because this mag is worth it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012


It had been a run i had gone on.

It was the air that had been cold

My feet, but only for a little bit, were the things that had hurt.

It was the cruisy park that i had seen something

In the bushes I had seen

What had been eerie was the silence, really

Something that was there, and knowing that, but not having seen it in the...

To me anyways

Two legs maybe...

Yes two legs they had looked like

But no upper part


a torso

No torso

It had been a second, no more, that I had seen it

It didn't move

The branches are what had obscured it

For a second it had turned me inside out


my stomach was tightened

Sunday, November 4, 2012

This couple on the bus

     It had taken them years to find each other, but when they did they finally began to know happiness. Each had experienced a life full of the harshest trials which had etched themselves indelibly onto their faces. It was a strange ugliness however. This was not the caustic smoothing or wrinkling of years of alcohol nor the progeria of poverty (which will render a 40 year old with the face of an elder). Not the eternal exhaustion of chronic disease or the hunch and flinch of abuse. No this was a mark separate from all of these: a tiring of the very cells, a concentration of blood to strange areas of the face which gave them a wholly unique and beautiful ugliness.
     It was this, then, that had kept them alone for so long, these marks creating some unknown atavistic fear in those that they met. This indescribable and subliminal wear producing a revulsion in the very genes of the gazer. When they met each other however the mark, this untouchable ugliness, was recognized in the other immediately. And so they sit there, just down the bus from me, silent and smiling in their reward: eachother.

Friday, November 2, 2012

City on a hill (Keith at the party)

Look at this fucking done up piece of shit with his glued ass hair and white clothes I'd smash him into the ground grind glass into his faggot ass face needs some scars glistening in the moonlight probably
      -Fuck s every girl he wants with that pretty boy smile brushing twice a day with whitening toothpaste, fucking sitting in that dentist chair once every six months and I'd slip if I were drilling "Oops sorry sir! Seem to have missed there, seems to be a large hole in your face now. Well nothing I can do about it . Goodbye! So nice to see you again! Wonderful mouth really!" Even the playing field a little bit. God this shit tastes amazing
       -God this shit tastes amazing, it's...
       -I know right?!
       -It's like if 30 angels walked up and came in my mouth during some angel bukkake sesh God that was funny -Or like two angels one cup, and this is the cup. I guess two angels one can. What's with the camo on the outside?
      -I don't know, don't you love it it's so Iraqi! Like you could drink these during a war and be like "Okay!  I can drink while I fight. This is gonna be O-Kay."
      -Gonna be okay, Keith repeats this thoughtfully, looking off into the distance and stroking his chin, sprouting a meager Irish-red beard -Can I have another smokie-smoke?
      -Sure! Can your friend hook me up with a little more... A second's worth of pause as the words connect, spindles turn.
      -Yeah, yeah of course. Don't remember my fingers feeling like this, all not there and shit -So what's the deal with this little extra paper bit on the filter here, this little uh, tunnel here?
      -I heard it was so, during Vietnam, the snipers could smoke while they were looking in their little gun telescope things.
      -Wow really?
      -mmm hmmm God this chick loves it I am killing it she's getting kind of boring though and the fuck did Lana go? probably fucking some dude in the bathroom and is no one at that drink is that an unattended drink I will not allow neglected drink in my presence will not allow such alcohol abuse yoink
     -Oh my gosh! I love your dance it's so funny chelsea look at his dance!
I'm on fire tonight
    -I'm on fire tonight.
Wait what's the deal? is she just ignoring me now? What the fuck happened? Where are they going? The fuck is Lana at? We came here and she ditched me and this shit tastes awful...Okay I need a goal this will be good I'm going to set a goal for tonight and fulfill that goal and fulfilling that goal is going to make me happier. Okay the goal is to drinnnnnk to drink until I can't feel anymore which, yes, this is a noble endeavor for me to undertake. what is this can number 3? and it's a yellow one which is good because I like the yellow ones sort of lemony in a floor cleaner pine-soley sort of way which covers up the piss flavor well and  I guess I'm already sort of...
    -Now this guy knows what's up! What's up guy? Double-fisting over here? Gettin' double loco I like it!
is this
glued ass

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

City on a Hill (A Sun Rising)

          And then it was morning. With the amber sun shirking the rooftops low over Westham and the young families out walking in the cool air, the fathers in wrap around sunglasses and baseball caps, young mothers nervous and laughing too loud. An overabundance of polar-fleece. Babies. Too many babies.

piece in a zine

I have a piece in NADA.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of "Cityscapes" an anthology

        Jacob Steinberg is putting out this anthology called "Cityscapes" and I was given the chance to review it ahead of release. The collection ostensibly centers around the writer's cities and the experiences the environments form. It has a November 9th release date and will be available for free. Info can be found hereabouts. In a community that seems to has major international centers in New York, New York and New York the chance to get a sense of what people are doing in Chicago, Miami, Wellington, Dubai and the rest of the world is absolutely refreshing. Steinberg has done a nice job gathering pieces from the well known (Noah Cicero, Frank Hinton, Sam Pink) and the currently less well known (at least to me), as well as writers with a range of experience. As with any themed anthology the adherence to the theme varies considerably between pieces and ultimately has little correlation to the quality of the piece. The quality of the pieces does vary, though the majority are at the very least engaging, and a decent number are of high quality. I'll focus the review on the latter.  I will admit that my attention to the poetry was sparse, certainly not because I found the verse lacking quality but simply because I do not feel as adequately equipped to judge poetry.
        One of my few complaints with the anthology (and this isn't with the anthology so much as with the writers themselves) is that some of the pieces are woefully short. Some of these writers are the sort where a short piece can be a bad thing. Some of these are teases, leaving the reader (me) wanting more, wanting the thought to go on, develop, become something great when they don't. My other complaint is Steinberg found no one to rep Seattle.
       As for the writers...
       Frank Hinton's writing is in excellent shape here, hands down the best I've read from her and in a different style from her pieces I've seen in the past. This short story is down right terrifying: she depicts a descent into hell, a movement from the sterile comfort of the city to a hedonistic confused rural scene from which the narrator does not emerge unscathed. No punches are pulled and she avoids over-dramatizing the events that occur.
       Mira Gonzalez has a nice poem in which she whips the reader through the extremes of scale, replicating the enormity and isolation of city life. Breif and disorienting.
      Morgan Lent's piece is a series of vignettes of Los Angeles from different views narrated with an excellent voice and merciless wit. Within LA she encompasss the world from pole to equator and works the city theme for all it's worth.
      Mike Bushnell drops a breathless metaportrait of New York, switching voices on you without warning and replicating the driving ghost of the city.
     Janey Smith, a writer I had as of yet not heard of,  has a really nice piece of strange realism in which the narrator prepares to attend thier father's funeral. This is the sort of piece that has a quality that can't be adequately put into words, suffice it to say that it definitely stands out from the rest in it's degree of cohesion, development and heart. Certainly a writer I'll be looking into.
     Irene Gayraud's piece, translated by Caitlin Adams, is written with an ease and grace that hints at considerable talent. The fact that the setting is a pretty run of the mill relationship scene (one which could be portrayed a hundred different ways, 90 of them uninteresting) makes her piece that much more impressive.
      Noah Cicero predictably blows it out of the water with a trifecta of tiny funny poems. Just read them.
      Vivek Nemana's piece is one of the longer of the bunch and is socially and personally aware. This might be unsettling for those used to the often pathologically self-centered bent of internet writing, and Namana's piece certainly stands out for better or worse. I loved it.
      Viktor Iberra Calavera has these eye sharpening, fucked up word salads reminiscent of, though separate from, Sean Kilpatrick's style. I'm often lost in this style but Calaverra (with the help of Steinberg's translation) drew me in and shook me. It's all about the sounds.
      The pieces in "Cityscapes" are framed by a peroxide clean layout and Steinberg's terse and thought provoking introduction this is a well done anthology, definitely worth the money (it's free, duh) and your attention. Bask in your favorites, expand your horizons authorially and geographically.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New Art

Received two new pieces from Seattle artist Brandon Vosika:

George Washington

and Celly

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Strange things I believed as a child

I was a weird kid, I guess maybe no weirder than any other kid but I had some strange beliefs which I've recently began to recall.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

To feel uplifted press here

We stayed up late that night

watching the fireworks

with are basically flowers made of shit that they tack up in the sky

with raw horse meat

and it took for god damn fucking ever

just these explosions everywhere mussing up my religious adherence

and then

and then I was asked to eat food

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Short story: "Besame"

We had gone to an all you can eat sushi restaurant. We had eaten a lot and watched the Asian families, the Russian families. The ones with their kids, happy. The ones with their kids, unhappy, or at least not showing it…or quiet. We at all we could, tuna and green beans and California rolls and I ate sole and you ate tofu and it was good.

Short Story: "The Only Sensible Course of Action"

It’s one of these hip restaurants downtown that, around 7 or 8, dims the lights, sets out candles and serves appetizers and wine by the glass attracting the late 20’s early 30’s courting crowd.  They flock in, always couples, have a few drinks, look at the “funky” art on the walls, speak in hushed tones, form and break relationships. Every now and then the café will bring a jazz singer in though tonight it is just Norah coming through the small computer speakers in the back.

Short story: "Lovely Day for a Drink"

I thought about the end. I thought about the end too much so I became the end. Or at least part of the end, maybe. To say it best: a bit of the end became a part of me. Reclining under a tree one day the poisonous blackness of it all made itself readily apparent. Too readily apparent if you ask me. It waltzed up, a pale man in a black bowler hat who said jauntily:
            “My what a crushingly dreary day we’re having” adding with raised eyebrows above a crooked smile: “Eh?” I stood up. Seeing his bald, round, mottled head fuming under the canopy made me sick
            “I know…I know what you’re up to and it won’t fly one bit. Not here, not now, not with grass like…” I pointed feebly to the ground in an attempt to strike a pose “heroic” or otherwise forceful “…like this under my feet.”
            “Now now, no need for histrionics, deserved or otherwise. I’ve just stopped for a chat. For…a drink?” he reached into one of the pockets of his knee length overcoat, fingers plunging, up to the wrist, clawing deeper and deeper as if into a blind crate. Deeper still until his arm up to the shoulder had sunk into a pocket which appeared, by all external signs, to be no larger than any other. He rifled around for a moment, his face stuck writhing in a fit concentration until he broke into a smile and pulled out a weathered bottle and two jiggers. He poured out a shot into each, or rather a mess of fetid insects and arachnids fell and crawled into each, mumbling in the glasses. I stood staring awkwardly as he handed me one. I felt compelled to accept out of politeness. He held his glass up, curled centipedes and hornets roiling but obedient in their role as a swig, then looked me in the eyes. “Here’s to you, or rather: to me. Well…one in the same, really.” I brought the glass toward my face, tracking it all the while as it approached. Paused. Advanced the glass to my lips, the slithering gleaming, midnight conflagration it held pulsing hot fear through my scalp in lines radiant and ovals concentric, causing each ligament in my knuckles and spleen to pull against their tethers in atavistic fury. Tilting back  I expected an acid, stinging, pungent mouthful but the bugs tumbled out and mostly flew away, a few bouncing off my chin for a brief second before landing on the soil and sand and burrowing away to start lovely insect families within the loam. I looked up, my heart pounding, and found him leering out at me in glee, the jigger tossed over his shoulder. “Well I never drink before noon these days. And to be honest this really is swill. I hope it hit the spot for you, but don’t make it a habit! This stuff will kill you if you don’t keep an eye out for it.”

Short Story: "Archie"

When I was in college I lived in a house next to Archie. Archie was Swazi, and if you look on a map for Swaziland you will find what appears to be a small hole punched out of the north east of South Africa. This is Swaziland. It is a genuine monarchy where something like 90 percent of the people live on a dollar a day while the king lives an incredibly lavish lifestyle. The king practices polygamy and has dozens of children. I was never able to determine Archie’s connection to the king but they share the same last name so I assume they are related somehow. One in three Swazi’s have HIV putting Swaziland somewhere in the top three countries in prevalence of the disease. Somehow Archie got out of there and travelled to the US. He was a musician, a marimba player, and played all around the US.  He eventually settled in our small college city, surely out of complex reason and while I was curious why he lived here I never pressed the matter.
When we first moved in and he would come over on week nights, unannounced, just to hang out, or jam for a bit he would suddenly fall against the wall in the middle of an otherwise normal sentence. Looking back it seems obvious but for a few months we had to wonder why he did this. He was one hell of a cook though, loved making us vegetarian dishes. He wore red green and gold and talked about rastafi but I think this was just because the kids in our drunk small college city lumped him in with their go to musical/African archetype and just assumed he was Jamaican. Archie would busk with his marimba most weekend nights outside a bar downtown. The drunk bros loved him, would come up and sing with him and throw dollars in his case. Always respectful. At least he had that. He would spend the money on beer and stay up all night. He would stay up all night drunk on IPA or rum, too drunk to fall asleep, far past the point of vomiting. He got drunk like you wouldn’t believe. Archie would get full on dedicated to the core wasted and yet would usually stay on his feet. A few mornings I would wake up to Archie poundings on his marimbas at 5 am. I would look out my window and see him there banging on those marimbas and screaming the sky. I never saw him angry but I know that he was an unusually sad individual. His English was broken and so I a lot of people thought he was stupid. But he wasn’t stupid, he was just a drunk. Rumors suggested that at some point he had dated the heiress to the U-Haul fortune. They had broken up but she still held pity for him, or something. So even though Archie didn’t work, probably hadn’t for years, he lived in a 30 foot late model RV trailer and had money to buy food with every month. Archie was a hard drunk, one of those that drank all day but wouldn’t seem it. He loved children, really loved children more than anything in the world. He would busk at the weekend farmers market and the families would bring their kids over and he would beeline to them, hand them interments and have them sing along. His jaundiced eyes frightened them. He showed us a picture of his own son one time. A chubby kid who didn’t look much like Archie and lived in Hawaii.
After I moved away I only saw Archie infrequently, though he was still around. More often I would hear things about him. Heard one time that at a festival he smoked DMT. A week later his liver failed. Years of drinking rum all day and he blamed it on the DMT. Drunk logic. We confronted him one time, my friend Ana and I. Said Archie we love you and you hurt yourself and we don’t want to see you hurt yourself. He told us that if he didn’t drink he would have never spoken to us. It was hard to tell him that that would have been okay, the not drinking, not knowing him.
Every time I hear a story that starts “Did you hear what happened to Archie…?” I always think the story is going to be about his funeral. But somehow it never is. I saw him a few weeks ago, there on the street playing his marimbas. He says Hi, shakes my hand, says a few things but is shy. Probably sober. Gives me his CD. He knows everyone but doesn’t know their names.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: "State of Grace" by Joy WIlliams

          Too often the review is dominated by strong opinion. "I loved it", "I hated it" hyperbole is standard in the review and thus becomes the new standard. It's the way to get your opinion across but at a certain point you have to wonder about the sincerity of it all. Do these reviewers actually believe every other book is the "best one they have read all year", "absolutely captivating" or "absolute trash, not worthy of being burned"? I think not.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An intimate knowledge of rap

On the light rail last night there were two guys behind me both listening to hip-hop, one leaned over to the other and read him some lyrics off his phone and after every two bars or so the other would say,
          "Now to the uninitiated they would hear these lyrics and would be like 'Damn man! Are you on drugs? Are you smoking something?' but with my intimate knowledge of rap...I know exactly what he is saying."
He said this no less than three times, with minor variations on the theme:
         'To someone who doesn't know rap this would be meaningless, but I have an intimate knowledge of rap terminology and understand what he is saying completely."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

City on a hill (Confluence of forces)

          Wending out of downtown, aimless, sloshed to and fro along the sidestreets by the last vestiges of their doses and the invisible strings of the night Jeff and Keely wander. The become caught up in the middle of the street looking at a strange bug or the interplay of shadows on a fence. They laugh, they talk, the world seems new to them, all the anxiety felt earlier has dissipated. Keely listens more than Jeff, and is content with this. The night breathes cool on them, a slight breeze ruffles his hair along with the cadres of leaves which gather at every boundary on the ground: between street and curb, curb and lawn, lawn and home. At a certain point in time, where the descent of their reeling minds meets the brace of the rising chill, the decision is made to return home. They are spent, but in the good way. The walk back is quiet. Even Jeff is wrapped in the serenity of the night. The distractions are fewer, the allure of home too great now to allow meager stops.
But ahead: shouts.
        "Hey! The Fuck are you doing?" coming from behind a small house. It is unusual in this neighborhood, so steeped in its domesticity. Keely and Jeff look to each other for some explanation, some security. A few bobbing pulsing cherries emerge from the darkness of the front porch to form human shapes in the street light. They tentatively ease around the front of the house to peer along the side and into the backyard where the commotion lives and is growing. A tangle of flannel and pastel tumbles through the side yard rendered greyscale under the streetlights, those few watching from the front inch back onto the porch. Jeff and Keely pause, now directly across the street.
      "The fuck bro!?" It becomes apparent that there are two men, one obviously dominant, larger, his frame pulled back and up pushing another, the same height but shabby and stringy in all his characteristics. The larger one advances and pushes the other. He stumbles, and falls. In a move of pure instinct the larger closes the distance in two steps and finds him on the ground with two hands around his neck. "DON'T EVER COME TO MY HOUSE AND TRY TO FUCK WITH ME...AGAIN" the words barrel out, into the yard, into the street, the small crowd behind him them now watching, hands over mouths, eyes wide, unsure.
      Jeff is gone, sprinting toward the two, who have become a statue now: the two locked in fear and anger. From where Keely stands the actions unfold as a mobius strip of bodies and clothes, Jeff barrels in and becomes a part of the other two, fusing with them one sided and revolving into their bodies and the ground below. The one below pops up, a loaded machine, and takes off at an overdriven and embarrassed walk. Down the small hill from the house to the sidewalk in one bound, stumbling once and regaining traction then swigging from a double long can, swaggering off away from Keely. Jeff gets up a second later and trots after him. Keely is left staring, mouth open and hands locked before her. It all happened so fast, and now over seems as if it never happened at all. Within seconds the crowd dissipates back into the house, the incident already forgotten, the attacker even showing off as if nothing had happened, brushing himself clean and giving one last hard stare, the potential repercussions of his actions just barely peeking through his drunk to touch his last conscious parts.
    Keely looks for Jeff and spots him already at the end of the block catching up with the other figure. She crosses the street and approaches them but is waylaid by a yell from the porch.
       "Yo! Keely?" She looks up but only sees the bobbing cherries.
       "Who is that?" she shades her eyes from the streetlight but it doesn't help.
       "It's Cole. Hey what are you doing?"
       "Hey! I'm walking home." She moves toward the porch "Do you know what happened?" up the stairs and entering she discovers two couches laid out perpendicular full of silent bodies, male and female crushed together.
       "I donno I guess this guy was really wasted and Joel was talking to him and he just started cussing him out so Joel picked his scrawny ass up and and hauled him to the front. He fukin choked him out too, I can't believe he did that..."
       "Do you know who it was?" She leans back, out the porch and sees Jeff and the other still talking. How does Jeff know him, how did he pull him off?
       "Naw, I donno. I don't know how he got here." The door to the house opens and Keely looks up. The porch is so dark that the little light streaming from inside inscribes a halo around the body there leaving a hole, a human shaped void for a long moment. The door closes like a water rushing back over and yet the body is still obscured by tired rods and cones. As the porch returns to darkness Keely sees a man of average height, wearing loose clothes and a resigned look.
       "Is everything calm here? Now?" his voice rolls out smooth and deep and yet it seems as if no one pays him any attention. Keely notices he is looking directly at her and she answers:
       "Yeah." He steps over to her and extends an arm to her shoulder, she feels like flinching but is too exhausted to, his eyes settle on her only she can't see them can only feel them and when his fingers settle on her it's like insects crawling down her ski nfrom whe rehe ist ouch ing andhe say s
"You look distraught." and then "Is everything, O-Kay?"

       After they leave the street lays bare behind them.
The street lamps had stood for four years and would stand for fifteen more. The asphalt had lain for ten years and would lay for ten more.
The trees along the road had stood for thirty two years and would stand for one hundred and seventeen more.
The dirt below which ran hard packed and dry was lain down one hundred and fifty years before and was always turning, always changing.

Review of "Orange Eats Creeps" by Grace Krilanovich

             I rarely read books twice, but when I do I do it back to back, like I'll finish page XXX then start up again on page 1 with little to  no gap in between. I usually find myself rereading because I didn't like the book the first time and was hoping for more.

State of the nation

We are a nation of wanderers,

We all have a bit of the jew in us

You have heard them,

         you surely have heard them

during family reunions, and in bingo halls

at all day breakfast houses and feed lot buffets

at the chain coffee shops and supermarkets

speaking disparagingly of the one

that stayed in their home town

or as if it were a quaint and

old timey thing to have done

The child that didn't move across the country

or strike out on their own

after 30

As if the spirit of the pioneers

is so deeply rooted in our national genetic

that every new generation must pick up at a point

and haul out

to start anew

in some far off place

like Akron

or L.A.

or Tampa

as if everyone believes there is something better there

or at least there is something there

             which is not here

Friday, September 21, 2012

Interview with Mark Gluth the author of "The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis"

        Mark Gluth is the author of a "The Late Work or Margaret Kroftis" a terrifically sad and labyrinthine novella that came out in 2010. I reviewed it a few months ago and it left an indelible mark on me. I was fortunate enough to get to talk with him about TLWOMK, his influences, his interest in black metal, and his next novel at the Kulshan Brewery in Bellingham Washington on a stunning PNW evening.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The two Marias

               I come from a dancing family. a recently dancing family: my mom came into belly dance, and later flamenco, as her main hobby starting around the time I being formed born, roughly a quarter century ago. For a time I participated, learning the basics of flamenco, but  can one really dance flamenco if not Spanish? All with the duende and dolorous spirit? I think not. Not some gangly Jewish teenager. So I left it, but still my mother and sister dance regularly, religiously, it is everything to them that a religion is what with its pigrimages, revered teachers, rituals and transgression. Our teacher for a number of years was a woman named Maria, this sort of a force of nature from Los Angeles with bomb spray mascara and a disposition at the time compared just favorably to that of a Catholic school teacher. During my adolescence  I was terrified of her, but as time went on  I became numbed and we parted ways.
                I only recently came into contact with her again. I came home to interview for a job near my childhood home and needed a ride to it about half an hour away. Maria is deeply in debt to my mom favorwise and as she had nothing else to do on the foggy April Thursday she offered to drive me up. The drive up was uneventful: small talk, whatever. She was significantly more pleasant than I had remembered, and as we drove past a McDonalnds she let me know that later that afternoon she would be hitting it it for her daily hamburger which gets her all the calories she needs for day in one meal, plus the low price.
              We had some time to kill so we decided to get some coffee up the street from the building I would be interviewing at. Maria had seen a sign for a cafe and homed in on it, I couldn't tell why. The name of the cafe rhymed and she said it over and over, though it's out of my reach now. Inside the cafe was pretty bare, a coffee machine, a stand with some chips, pretty empty in terms of bodies as well. Damning too as it was that glorious time in the morning where everyone feels the have earned there first break for the day, around 10:30. They try to sneak away from their mundane activities with ever excuse to get a snack. The cafe had cheap Lebanese paraphernalia all over the walls: flags, pictures, little shiny metal things and this little Lebanese woman, hearing us, walks out from the back all smiles and perfume.
             We each ordered a coffee and Maria and I sat down for a moment. Maria walked up to the counter when the order was ready, then introduced herself, a sort of ethnic bond between them. Maria was second generation Latina or something like that, no accent but dark enough eyes and that almost haughty self conciousness that made her stand out sore from the WASP and Skandanavian crowds.
          "Hello, where are you from" Maria asked
          "I am from Lebanon," the woman smiling, so small and proud "and you?"
          "I am from all over. My name is Maria. What is yours?" and when Maria says this the little Lebanese lady laughed
          "I am Marya. We have the same name." And I kid you not there was this moments, the two of them, from so far apart, different parts of the world like two sister witches coming together, meeting for a moment, held together by their names, the name of the mother of Jesus and they took on the archetypal role that the name gave them, transcended a bit their cheeseburger eating coffee serving lives and became MARY halo and all, stabat maters staring at each other with infinite sadness and compassion over the creamer. The events of their lives mapping perfectly onto each other, the births and deaths and loves and movement experienced by each like the arms of a cross heading toward this moment, a moment of complete recognition. Then into divergence: back again separating, moving apart into other things, this name so common anyways, the meeting meaning nothing. The laughed a little and separated, Maria came and sat across from me putting the coffees down and sliding mine over across the table.
         "She had the same name as me..."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review of "Action/Figure" by Frank Hinton

          Though she is widely published online I haven't yet read much by Frank Hinton. A piece on Popserial maybe, but from what I can tell she is one of the more prominent names in the Alt-Lit scene and I have noticed her and her work referenced again and again. Action/Figure came out a few weeks ago on Tiny Hardcore press so this is some seriously fresh shit. The book itself is roughly half the usual paperback height,  pretty thick and the cover has this full color picture which is rare i feel on the small presses. This said it certainly stands out at first glance, though following the great maxim: judgement must wait until the cover is out of sight...
        The majority of Action/Figure follows two storylines disparate in setting but similar in themes and tone. The first opens with Rapunzel, who has suffered a strange accident in a foreign, war-torn country. We come upon her amnesic, blind, restrained and surfacing from delirium. She is cut off from those around her by the language barrier. When English speakers do begin to arrive and speak with her their intentions are not clear. The chapters alternate with the stories of Frank and Lili, two room mates in Halifax. Both are graduated students, aimless and confused about their imminent adulthood. While they only allude to past events it is obvious that in past years their house was once a chaotic party spot, but is now reduced to a shade of its former self as former room-mates left to pursue other endeavors. The way Hinton paints this setting, the ruin, and allows us to fill the gaps of the past through only a few dropped lines is quite impressive and allows each reader to potentially form a personal back story to suit.
        Rapunzel's story forms and resolves slowly as she, and we, learn about the events that lead up to her hospitalizaiton. At a certain point she begins to mention You. The reader or another, You are very important to Rapunzel and she did something very dire to attain You and which was the cause of her hospitalizaiton. You are home to Rapunzel, and in this foreign land her central desire is to get to you, to get home.
        Frank and Lili are almost defined by their inability to function in society, but in very different ways and Hinton mirrors this in their narration. Lili's chapters are told in first person and this fits well as she is wracked by an introspective obsession. When the novel opens she is on a "good" day and seems like any other 20 somethings, a little lost in the world but otherwise okay: she creates a city of clothes in her room, visits with her "boyfriend" with whom she has a confusing and complicated relationship and worries about a meeting with her family. In fact both Lili and Frank obsess over imminent meetings with their families, and both groups are toxic in appropriately different ways to each, their influence driving both into their respective mental cages. As time goes on it becomes apparent that this "good day" is a rare one for Lili, a fluke, and her insecurities begin to come out in disastrous ways. Frank's narrative is told in the third person; he is apart from himself, unable to connect with his thoughts, emotions or the world around him. He seeks and coerces sex from Lili and his cousin and seems unable to feel affection, simply screwing to pass the time and branding himself as abusive (and rightfully so). Frank's entire post college goal amounts to playing with action figures for half an hour a day to become more childlike.
       Navigating the hazy labyrinth between childhood and adulthood is a major theme of the novel. Frank and Lili are on the edge, either unsure or unable to commit to a stable adult life style. Along with Frank's action figure collection one night Lili takes cocaine with some friends and goes to a playground and meditates:
"I look around the playground. When is the last time I played on a playground? Why do people grow up and  work and do things? I imagine a society by balancing their time between self-sustaining farms and playgrounds. You work a little, play a little. You hoe a little, you slide a little. Why doesn't this society exist? Why can't I be the leader of a society like this? I want my childhood back." 
      The childish genius, the naive clarity of this statement... Some of us entertain thoughts like this every day, for others of us the very notion is completely ludicrous. Lili continues:
"I am going to unlock some secret from my youth in this playground. The secret will help to understand my adult-self more maybe."
          This is the thesis of the work, looking back to childhood to break through the barrier to adulthood, trying to find the spark that will carry one through the tedium and malaise of adult life. Lili and Frank are the casualties of this endeavor, and Hinton closes the novel before we ever learn whether they are successful or not. In a similar vein Rapunzel describes her first "awakening" in the hospital as a birth and she is cared for yet confined, much like as in childhood. At a certain point Rapunzel finds herself alone, yet free to do as she pleases and takes the first steps into the outside world. She describes this as a second birth: her attainment of a symbolic adulthood. Rapunzel attains what Frank and Lili fear and hope for and her story spirals off into a poetic journey into the heart of her forsaken country and ends ambiguously, at her darkest moment an apparent redemption arrives, perhaps.
        I felt a distinct sadness at the end of Frank, Lili's and Rapunzel's stories. Not a sadness for the characters themselves but that undefinable sadness one may feel as a really good journey ends, as you realize that the place you have been for the last few days or months is not and never has been real. The sadness that the world of the novel, no matter how flawed and dark was an almost realer place than the one we experience during waking life. I found this novel to be quite personal, Hinton allows enough room for the reader to fill in gaps and unconscionably make it their own.
        The final episode in Action/Figure is distinctly separate from the other two stories and follows a boy and a girl who eternally walk along an isolated shore. The prototypical love story: just two people finding solace in each other amongst the waste of the world. Perhaps this story is a dream or hallucination of Frank or Lili's, perhaps it is not linked at all. It does however draw the sadness birthed at the end of the novel out just a little longer and puts the relationship of Frank and Lili, Rapunzel and You into perspective. It brings out the flawed beauty of each and provides the ideal of love, unattainable except perhaps for in the realms of ourselves.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review of "Nothing" by Blake Butler

       There are a few things I'd like to get out of the way before I review this book. First: I haven't read any other reviews of Nothing as of yet so I am completely ignorant as to the book's reception among professional and amateur critics. I'm not trying to include myself or revolt against any mass sentiment for or against Butler that may be out there. Second: I've been trained (at the undergrad level) as a scientist and have some experience reading professional science writing so when I read any science writing I tend to compare it to professional research journals, text books, etc. This may result in my being overly critical of the sections of Nothing which touch on the science of insomnia. Third: I've read one piece of fiction by Blake Butler (Anatomy Courses) as well as his stuff in Vice and on Twitter all of which I have enjoyed but I haven't read either Scorch Atlas or There is no Year. I do intend to read those in the future, at some point. Finally: if you happen to have a rebuttal to this review, or think I missed something crucial please let me know, send me a comment or whatever. I'd be interested in hearing others thoughts about the book.
        Nothing is part "memoir", part "history" and part fictional account centered around Blake Butler's experience with insomnia. Each of these modes is interspersed throughout the book and each has a separate flavor from the other. Chapters will switch from one to the other with little warning and this breaks the book up well, gives it a sort of hyperactive quality though sometimes the switch can be a little jarring. The memoir sections were by far my favorite and I thought them the best written. Blake has an excellent way of portraying his subjective experience through idiosyncratic language (more on this later however) and puts you right in his shoes, experiencing the frustrating agony of insomnia first hand. One section approximates this (I think) with copious footnotes, the eye brought back and forth from text to footnote as the wandering insomniac mind from restless thought to restless thought. Butler has very strong feelings about how society, the ubiquity of media, our relationships with each other, and technology interact and makes his opinion known often. His views are nothing terribly new (computers pull us apart, the amount of information we are surrounded by is staggering, etc.) but he is convincing and it is always good to get perspective on the effects the internet has on our lives. Butler's family is always held at arms length in the book, his mother, father and sister making appearances but never becoming full characters. A little disappointing, as I found myself curious to learn more about the relationships Butler has with them and how this influenced his insomnia. Reality and dream frequently mix and the memoir can shift into a strange dreamlike tone without any warning.
       Unfortunately the strict memoir sections are far fewer than they should have been. Other parts of the novel are taken up by a look at the "science" behind insomnia and the treatments for it. Toward the beginning of the book Butler recounts a history of theories and treatments for insomnia, interspersing them with other inventions that occurred around the same time:
         "In 1949, Egas Moniz wins the Nobel Prize for popularizing the lobotomy. We further customize our homes. Ranch-style homes become popular for their open floor plans and larger windows, allowing in more light. The first U.S local TV station opens in Pittsburgh."
He goes on an on listing inventions that could be related to insomnia but often are not. I found this to be the first of some very tedious and entirely unnecessary sections. It is obvious Butler did some research into the science behind insomnia but it ultimately comes off as amateurish. He also places similar to this one a few times in the novel, one simply lists drugs another website names, and I  found them serving no function other than to up the number of pages in the book. He also seems to give much greater weight to discoveries and thought from earlier in the century while making little to no mention to recent thinking, of which there is a considerable amount, aside from huckstery online treatments. Obviously Butler is not a science writer, and  I appreciate that fact, but I strongly believe that if you are going to address the science you should do it thoroughly and do it well or at least hand it off to someone that will. Butler does none of these things. He also quotes frequently from other writers but often I had trouble connecting the quote to the surrounding text and there is rarely any explanation as to who these people are, or why we should care what they think. Perhaps one of the most inexplicable parts of the book was that Butler felt it necessary to explain to us that the Disney character Goofy is a "man-dog" but then assumes we all know who Johannes Gorannson is, and that we should be interested in his sexual tendencies.
         The other aspect of Nothing that I found endlessly frustrating was Butler's writing style. Butler is obviously a devotee of Gertrude Stein and her methods of writing. Stein is an excellent and varied artist from which every writer could glean some tool with which to enhance their own prose. She is also flexible enough to be capable of writing groundbreaking experimental verse such as that in Tender Buttons while also being capable of writing more straightforward prose such as that in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. But always she uses a style appropriate to the subject matter. Butler uses a nonstandard writing style in his memoir sections and while it could be argued he is approximating the "dream logic" that occurs in the areas between waking and sleeping during insomnia I found myself alternately cringing and lost far too often. Some sentences are simply incomplete, others ponderously overwritten. Butler seems deathly afraid of using certain words multiple times (or even once) but injects words like "meat", "flesh", "gloam", "troll" and "waddle" at seemingly every opportunity and subsequently beats the words to death, the repetition numbs the words leaving them bereft of any meaning. His obsession with how air interacts with objects, endless attention to the shape and nature of our homes and his repetitions of "[an object] within [an object]" is completely beyond me. I figure it has something to do with literary theory, though I may be wrong, in the end I just had no idea what he was getting at. While being difficult or obscure in literature is certainly not a bad thing by any means, in the past when reading "tough" books I would often go back and carefully parse what the author was getting at, if  I felt there were rewards to be had. I never got that feeling with Nothing and after attempting to decipher a few sections just gave up and glossed over them. I eventually eased into his style but toward the beginning I honestly considered setting the book down and letting it be, something that  I haven't done for years. This is such a shame as the concept and content of the book is very promising and is almost defeated by the "unique" writing style.
       The book concludes with Butler interacting with a confusing and malicious simulated text-based role-playing game which torments him and leads him through his home to himself. It was a nice ending to the book, a summary or prototype of that ever too common pre-sleep activity here wandering over into nightmare territory: the normally docile computer taking on the self-defeating, illogical feel of insomnia. It does not explicitly "bring the book together" but does provide an appropriate cap to the memoir. I was really looking forward to reading Nothing (perhaps one of the reasons I was so disappointed with it) and as I mentioned above am looking forward to reading Butler's fiction in the future. I found the book to be prety tedious and without many rewards, though I could see those interested in experimental writing styles or literary theory really liking this.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

City on a Hill (Jeff and Keely take a journey)

            -I think I'm coming down, Jeff sits up in the chair, brushes himself off and stares at the floor for a second.
            -Yeah. You wanna go downtown?
         They take time to remember how to put on extra layers, the temperature has been dropping outside recently and tonight is a full breath of autumn. Stepping outside Jeff looks at Keely, shivers and pulls out a cigarette. He offers one to Keely, she declines, has always declined every time he's asked. Either he has never learned to withhold from her or this offering has become a force of habit. Jeff stands just shy of six feet, a ring of forgettable brown hair sits above his pale face. He's got an army surplus parka on, German flag pasted on the shoulder for authenticity. She starts walking, passing him as he dallies to light up. He rushes ahead to catch up, they step into the back alley (always a shade darker than the rest of the world it seems, even on nights like this where the lack of light seems to transcend itself into a fifth dimension as ineluctable as space or time) shapes darting from car to bush, from fence to hedge.
      They are walking side by side, silently. He considers whether the silence makes his feel awkward, she is a holy enigma to him and he leaves her silence in reverence.
       -What are your parents like?
       -Uh. Haha, I donno...
She asks again
      -Well my mom is pretty cool. She works in Olympia, in the capitol doing something, like a secretary or something...
     -How old is she?
     -Uh let's see, she just turned 39 a few months ago I guess.
     -Wait, your mom was 19 when she had you?
     -Yeah. He laughs nervously -She was pretty young...
There is an increase in traffic, the lights around them rise in strength and warmth, they are nearing downtown.
     -What's your dad like?
     -Uh actually, he sort of ditched my mom pretty early on like when  I was a bay maybe? or before I was born, so I don't know him.
     -Yeah that was the same for me. He looks over at her, probably for the first time tonight. She is easily 7 inches shorter than him, her jacket envelops her, makes her seem even smaller, yet she seems to him to be, somehow very much in control. So composed. The holder of some sort of knowledge, elegance, or form that is fundamentally apart from him. -Yeah I mean my mom was a little older than yours when she had me but I never knew my dad either.
    -Yeah I guess my mom has his name and address and stuff and she said she would give it to me if I ever wanted it. They walk on in silence for some time. The activity downtown increases steadily until about 1 am when, inevitably, a handful of cop cars descend on a drunken fight or...
        No it's always a drunken fight which seems to clear out the majority of those wandering around, only a few of the most drunk stragglers waiting around, swinging on light poles, stumbling through crosswalks, yelling at bouncers, for something. They so far gone that the earlier diversion of gathering the attention of the meek and female has somehow lost its appeal.
    -Whatever I'm never having kids.
    -Really? Keely's tone has shifted, she seems surprised, concerned even. -Do you not think you would be a good dad or...They wait at a crosswalk, cars ambling past them toward mysterious goals and unknown destinations. Jeff does not speak until the light turns as if waiting for it to allow their conversation to continue.
    -I donno its like, the last conformity right? The last capitulation, the last loss of freedom. But I guess even now there is no rebellion. You have these 'cool dads' going snowboarding or whatever, fuckin' grups hanging around at our shows, talking about how they played with Mudhoney one time and now they come by our place and slam a six pack before slinking home to get yelled at by their wives. He seems mad, or confused, or sad or angry. All the same really, for him, never taught to emote properly, never schooled in the nuance of feelings that one is capable of generating. The opposite set of emotions holding horny, drunk, hungry, excited and novel. The majority of his emotions falling into one of these two categories, and if asked he would name them "un-chill" and "chill" respectively.
    -Jeff it's not all about rebellion, it about making yourself happy, its about becoming fulfilled. Her eyes follow the pavement ahead of her, thinking or conditioned by a few years out here (mostly alone those times) to keep meek, to avert her gaze.
   -Okay I believe you, but it's more than that. It's that I don't want to follow in the footsteps of those before me. I abhor tradition simply out of curiosity. Like...I want to experiment, I want to see other ways of living. That was what was great about all the subcultures, I think. Not the art, not the drugs...
     -Yeah bro! Drugs! This catches him for a second but as he looks up he notices the voice came from a meathead easily twice Jeff's size and anyways he is so caught up in his monologue that a witty quip is simply out of the question. Jeff doesn't realize it but he is getting worked up, his voice rising in volume and pitch.
     -But they set out to see if there were better ways to live their lives. Most of them failed, I mean that's why old hippies suck so much, or like these burned out punks are so shitty. But there has to be...His hands start waving wildly in his frustration to find a word. The movement causes him to expel little gasps of air which create awkward noises.
     -Another way? His hands drop, How did she know, like she can read my mind almost or is a part of me...
     -Yeah. I guess. But it sounds so corny you know...
       The city reels on around them oblivious to their miniscule desires. Movement and stasis, consumption and rejection tug at each other and intertwine forming the conversations remembered or forgotten the next day that shoot and whisper through the air around them. There is no morality here, neither good nor evil, simply a machine running through its paces, the cogs turning unaware of themselves, of the whole. Forces drag and burst unevenly following the grid of the streets, concentrating at nodes and dissipating to nothing at the edges.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review of "Chromos" by Felipe Alfau

           Felipe Alfau's lost masterpiece Chromos may very well be the holy grail of postmodern literature. The novel is satisfyingly meta, referential, and structurally experimental without the cloying baggage of hyper self-awareness and intentional obscurity for its own sake. Alfau's life and the strange history of Chromos can be found here. On the surface Chromos is a novel about the Spanish American experience in New York during the 1940's, written in the place and at the time. An attempt to translate the raw emotional narrative of a Spanish ex-pat into the vernacular of modern America. Looking further it exhibits a range of philosophical  metaphysical and humanistic themes.
             The nameless narrator and his friends, one nicknamed "Dr. Jesucristo", one "The Moor", another "The Chink" wander around their predominantly Spanish New York neighborhood drinking at their homes or a bar known as "El Telescopio" after all the drunk Spaniards gazing up into their empty wine bottles as if peering into the heavens. These wanderings never sink into monotony: Alfau's descriptions of the city are lively and imaginative, his depiction of the 40's refreshingly natural and subdued. At various points the narrative dips into various stories and novels written by the narrator's friend Garcia: one a casi (corny) epic family drama involving the rise and tragic fall of a Madrid jewelry shop. Members of the family which run the shop commit incest, engage in BDSM and other frowned upon conduct. Another of Garcia's novels follows the life of a man given the power to skip ahead in his life over the "boring" parts without waiting. A classical "you get what you wish for" story. He similarly rises to great heights: becoming a wealthy businessman, then is sent to jail and loses everything over petty jealousy. Garcia recounts meeting him in his old age, destitute forced to live through all the memories he skipped over. It is a chilling scene. Both of these stories are dramatic almost to the point of absurdity but Garcia insists again and again that they are true. These were no doubt manuscripts which Alfau wrote and was highly self-critical of. The narrator often breaks in and comments on the absurdity of certain passages and begs Garcia to skip over the erotic content rendering the soap opera like sections immune from outside criticism form the reader. The stories play no major role in the overarching plot, or better said: there is little outside plot and these embedded stories provide a structure to a novel which is otherwise predominantly philosophical and aesthetic.
         One section which takes place in New York concerns the narrator reading some notes his friend had written regarding his theory of space-time. These notes (and subsequent dialogue) argue that time is actually a fourth spatial dimension, light a fifth. Keep in mind Alfau was writing this less than 30 years after the theory of general relativity was published so his interest is notable. Alfau conveys the theory well and the skeptical narrator acts as the reader's avatar, poking holes in the theory at every turn. In another noteworthy series of sections the narrator sees into the mind of a strange, distinctly assimilated man. This results in bizarre, tortured scenes, one of which is almost identical to a scene in Sadegh Hedayat's Blind Owl. The scenes are by far the darkest and funniest in the novel and the dream like air lends a nice contrast to the bare realism of the New York meta-narrative. 
        Alfau was a music critic by trade and this is totally evident in the novel. Music plays a large role in Chromos and his descriptions of music and musicians are amazing:
        "He was playing again from Chopin, something sad, sorrowful to the point of lugubriousness: "He was a sick man, no doubt of that," he said half to himself, "but in other things he showed tremendous force and rebellion-vitality. Berlioz made a mistake in judging him with a banal cruelty induced by the desire, fashionable at the time, of making one more phrase. Chopin was not dead all his life. He has not died yet"
         The finale of Chromos is a perfectly paced slow crescendo of scenes and ideas that build in intensity of movement and thought into a swirl of dream and reality which then bursts at the seams leaving the narrator and the reader wandering the streets of New York dazed and spent. This is unlike the ending of any novel I've come across in strength and mastery aside from perhaps Gately's story at the end of Infinite Jest. This is one of the few 20th century novels (that I've read) that allows itself to finish with a bang and does it really well. 
        The writing, and Alfau's grasp of language is excellent. The prose flows easily, is crisp and imaginative and is punctuated every now and then by "tough words" which is to say the novel will gently expand your vocabulary. The novel as well moves along at an easy, enjoyable, castizo pace and never drags. Alfau protested that there was no reason to publish Chromos as it did not "make sense". The book is interesting as the gap between when it was written and when it was published means it had no impact on the literature of its time and Alfau was out of the scene by the time anyone had time to interact with him and his work. Chromos stands as a sort of lacuna in the progression of fiction, while retaining even yet the potential for great impact. If you are at all interested in Spanish culture, New York during the 1940's, or post-modernism I could not recommend this novel enough. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: "Last Week" by Giles Ruffer

Read it here for free

              When I picked up Last Week I expected a pretty standard Lin-school alt-lit deadpan romance with all the attendant stilted dialogues and awkward public moments. I was pleasantly surprised that, while this is a partially accurate reading of Last Week, Giles Ruffer does go above and beyond this overused style and displays at least the beginnings of a unique voice. Last Week winds the story of a relationship between two young characters: U. and I. with scenes from the life of a mysterious man referred to only by his "short black hair". The names alone provide some unusual moments as when I. (I) is talking to U. (you) etc. There are only a few other named characters in the novel, though because of their unusual names I. and U. retain a certain amount of anonymity, even though we get to witness the most intimate moments of their life. We see them go out to eat with friends, walk around a train station and exchange short statements, I. flirts with another girl from his past, but we never get to know them or their thoughts, if they even have any. Giles captures the comfortable/awkward, necessary/superfluous situation of a relationship for relationship's sake well: they make you cringe slightly, you want to grab them and shake them out of their rut.
              Inserted more or less between each vignette involving U. and I. there is a section following a man described only by his short black hair and scruffiness. Giles depicts him in the grainy closed circuit tape of any one of millions of suburban department stores and like U. and I. he is always kept at a mysterious distance. We are never aware of his motive or drive but he seems to have some vitally important mission that requires him to hang out in department stores inspecting dinnerware and harassing young female clerks. He sometimes attaches minuscule machines (recorders, transmitters, hallucinations..?) to people but their purpose is never revealed. The juxtaposition of the fairly transparent and facile relationship drama with the dark obscured wanderings of the man with black hair is a strange but good choice on Giles' part and provides some depth, some bite, a unique touch in the sea of awkward alt-lit romances.
           Giles' prose is unremarkable though this is sort of like faulting ice cream for not being nutritious, which is to say: that's not really it's job, ice cream's job is to be delicious, and Last Week's job is to paint a portrait of two young people in relationship in England. Giles' is English (as in from England) and this shows in his writing and adds something extra in a genre dominated by the New York and Chicago voice. My final criticism, and this is an aesthetically minor though professionally major one, is that there are what appear to be a few typos in the PDF. Giles writes infrequently on his blog so if you enjoy Last Week there is plenty more from him there. Giles has the beginnings of a unique voice and I would like to see it develop beyond the meandering relationship drama in the future. Last Week is a good start and a quick, free, enjoyable read

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And in the middle of the night...

               there is only yourself
basking in the ever present dark
and you only have your mirror to speak to
as it is now and as it always will be
and there is not pleasure and no pain
no facts or distortion
and memories seem like fiction
and you wander within yourself
and outside yourself
and they slowly begin
to meld into one
and fuse

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reviews of "I am Going to Clone Myself Then Kill the Clone and Eat it" by Sam Pink and "The Collected Works vol.1" by Scott McClanahan

Two collections of short stories I got the other day:
           Sam Pink is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary writers: his easy flowing, ultrapersonal sometimes surreal writing style is everything I like in writing: simultaneously funny and sad, apparently mundane yet touching on what makes us human. Plus he makes the art for his covers which I highly recommend checking out (and potentially buying, he's quite friendly). I am Going to Clone Myself Then Kill the Clone and Eat it is a collection of some short and very short stories from 2007 to 2009. They are rawer than the stories in Hurt Others or the second person narrative of No Hellos Diet. This is a very good thing for Pink. His manic highs are more grandiosely intense, the sporadic visions of violence more grotesque and absurd. Not as sad or introspective as the other works most of the chapters seem written off in a few moments, spare thoughts that came to Pink out of the blue. A few provide the instant gratification and cleverness which is so often attempted now (and usually failed at) in twitter posts. My favorite story was "Thing That Details a Trip to the Supermarket" where Pink describes an agonizing trip to buy food, his neuroses and obsessions constantly rising to the surface of his thoughts while he maintains a calm and ordered demeanor. There is also a little play between two family men discussing their lives while holding knives to eachother's throats. It reminded me of something that would come from some Franch Avant writer in the 20's or 60's and I would love to see it staged somewhere.
                                                In other news:
          Scott McClanahan busts out these really touching stories from his life in West Virginia with all the painful, funny, jarring events that come along with living in postcoal Appalachian. The stories look at events that occur to McClanahan or the burnouts that live in his town, where decades of poverty and crushed dreams seem to warp logic and reason: when a friend accidentally hits a deer (and it survives) it comes completely naturally to run it over again, then mash its head in with a thermos, and when McClanahan witnesses two car crashes he assumes he has the power to cause these crashes. There is a considerable amount of violence in these stories and McClanaham can switch from absurd hilarity to gore in the blink of an eye. He navigates the changes masterfully. McClanahan has this tendency to end a lot of his stories with one sentence that has "impact". This has a hit or miss quality that can make good stories great but after three or four instances of these I was left scratching my head and wondering if it was really necessary every time. McClanahan often addresses the reader directly and does it well. He makes you think, asks you questions, gives you his phone number...He writes like he's having a conversation and this brings you in, makes you care about the characters and his life. The first few stories have a particularly moral bent, not preachy but McClanahan seems genuinely concerned with and explores what makes an action "good": one's intent? the eventual outcome? He never suggests a right or wrong path but does ask that we look at our actions more carefully, and seems to be suggesting a jaded pessimism. At least toward the inhabitants of his town. He also touches on the modern taboo of religion, though ambiguously. It is hard to tell whether he is religious or not (it hardly matters) but it works in his writing and simply to have the balls to write what he does for a predominantly atheist audience is respectable in itself.  
         One story stood out particularity in which he explores those around him that have committed suicide, and posits that the drive to kill one's self is contagious like a fever and that by writing about it he has transferred the "fever" to the reader. I honestly found myself a little freaked out after reading this story but after a few minutes realized that this was simply due to the power of his writing. Anyone that convince you that you might kill yourself in the course of a short story is  powerful writer indeed. He's got at least three books out now and has two more coming out next year. Rejoice.
       Finally I just got on the boat of Keep this Bag Away from Children which is sort of the Journal of Alt Lit and has a print issue out which (among many fascinating things) has a great piece from Noah Cicero which I couldn't praise enough. Get it while it exists: this may be the holy grail of Alt-litana one day. Or perhaps just toilet paper, who can ever tell?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

City on a hill (Keith and Lana)

     She shoots through the door with a flourish, a tall girl in a striped dress and heels, her short brown hair curly and dissheveled. Slams it behind her and presses up against it in mock fear and excitement.
       -Oh my god Keith you are not going to guess what just happened...
On the floor a shaggy haired male hunches around an oversized graphic novel. He rocks back and forth imperceptibly. He has on an oversized sweater, paint stained, and a pair of thin grey sweatpants. It is obvious that he has been wearing these for at least a few days and has nothing on underneath. He is sitting on the floor at one end of the long attic room, its musty air lays thick around the floor and is sloshed to and fro by a small oscillating fan. He looks at her with indifference and mumbles out a,
       -What? This a mere formality, really, he knowing full well that if he outright ignored her (what he would have preferred to do, really) her drawn out, indignant response would have simply ruined his night.  She scuttles over, her heels pulling up the carpet as she drags her feet. There is a half drank bottle of cheap white wine beside him, at least one fiesta-ware cup filled to the brim with cigarette detritus is perched on every flat surface in view. Track nine of "Day Dream" plays on a stereo in the corner. She stops midway to the floor as she begins to sit, considers for a long moment, and pulls over a relatively unsoiled old copy of playboy, slides it under her adjusting her skirt so that as little as possible touches the floor. She has chosen a spot mere inches away from his body and he has begun to noticeably lean away from her, the unsolicited human contact causing extreme discomfort even through the cushion of the Reisling. Her eyes are wide.
       .she open her mouth too much.
     -Okay you know Trent, that guy from Orion house that always wears those cheesy suits?
     -Uh, sure.
     -Okay well he was fucking this girl Tanya, you know she has like that half shaved head and looks like a horse. So you remember the "Marriage Party"?
    -No I wasn't there but I...
    -Ohmygod it was amazing everyone got fake married so we like totally tore down the institution of marriage plus we got super wasted afterwards and lit a couch on fire.
    -Yeah I heard it...
    -Anyways he was there in this fucking grotesque blue suit and with Tanya and they were just fucking...making out all over the place and he was wasted of course, and then, can you believe this I walked into the kitchen and saw them in the corner and he has the fucking nerve to like, LOOK at me while he's sucking her face. Can you believe it?
    The fan finishes a circuit and returns, the gust of air it pushes spins an empty chip bag whose exterior of silver and orange whirls together and briefly form a metallic neon blossom on the carpet.
The air passes.
      The bag slows and
returns again to its natural state.
     -And then tonight he comes and tries to talk to me and be like "Hey how are you feeling?", When imitating him she lowers her voice, pulls her chin back and bobbles her head back and forth, -And "Why aren't you talking to me?" Which it should be completely obvious you fucking idiot why I'm not talking to you. God. Fucking chauvinist.
   Her fury is so great that she has failed to notice that his attention has been pulled back and sucked into the book. The page he gazes upon is without frames, a chiaroscuro mess where action bleeds from the top left right, then down to the bottom. There is no dialogue, the characters have no faces. A distorted dog picks up a knife and runs to the bottom of a page where he threatens a large breasted woman. Behind him a  bottle labeled triple X lies on its side, a small puddle forming at its mouth. The dog lunges at the woman and stabs her, a pool of blood erupts which runs and mingles with the alcohol from the bottle. The liquids swirl, congeals and a lump forms. This solidifies into a small body, the form of a man which steps put of the muck and bolts away. He enters a small brush nearby which, as he enters, becomes to him a forest. Thorns surround him as he travels deeper, they cut him, sabers relative to his size. He finds a small pool formed in the hollow of an earthbound branch. He stoops to it and drinks, catching his reflection for a moment. He pauses struck by something we cannot see. The page turns. He looks around, apparently wary of a a threat. What is it that lurks in the thicket? Has it caught the scent of his blood? He pulls a thorn off of vine, grasps it like a knife. Behind a stalk he notices a shape. Malevolent, surely. He rushes towards it, leaps off a branch his foot splashing the puddle. He comes down on the shadow driving the thorn through its body. The shape however is none other that a miniature of the murdered woman, lovely and untouched, her face bare but beautiful. Her blood leaks out, combines with water spilled from the puddle. He sits on the trunk of a bramble, stunned, holding his head in his hands. His head fills the page, black streaks, ersatz eyes. These few marks are enough to convey the sense of this strange creature. The liquids mingle and congeal, form a small lump...
The Page turns. All is white.
   -..And so I came over here because I can't even...stand her. She looks over at him, at the last second he had brought his gaze away from the book and met hers. -Well anyways, I got some coke so you wanna do that tonight? The shift is wrenching. He drops the book. While his eyes, his mouth, betray nothing, a subtle shift in the tension of his forehead relays his excitement.
   -Sure yeah. Here. he hands her the wine bottle. -Have some of this.
   -There's a party at Hayley's, we should go.
      She picks up the case of an Enya album.-Can I use this? He hesitates.
   -Yeah, I guess.. She taps out a molehill of powder from a baggy printed with red inverted crucifixes, cuts out two lines (one noticeably larger than the other) with a library card. Keith places the graphic novel and a sweater into a stained green Jansport, frayed at the seams, slings it around his shoulder and looks over at Lana presenting him with the plastic platter and a rolled up bill.

       No one has done the dishes in days, a plastic sheet that would protect the ceiling's recessed fluorescent lights is hanging down halfway to the floor and a bag of flour is snowdriftspilledout along the length of a countertop. As in Keith's room most of the horizontal surfaces hold a cup or plate filled to the brim with ash.
   -Haha! CHILLLL. Jeff is sitting in a ripped mustard yellow recliner lodged in the corner of the kitchen, Keely is atop a pile of newspapers with a tallboy in her hand. Keely is giggling to herself, Jeff's laugh bounces through the kitchen, fractures and rushes into the rest of the small house, seeming to reverberate back: the tines of sounds converging back in the kitchen so that he seems to laugh for two at once. Keely looks to the side, hides her face in her hand and continues to laugh. Keith and Lana descend the stairs, avoiding a full grown Siberian husky curled up on a small landing who tracks them with a dreadfully bored look, .
   -...Then I'm like, well fuck you, AND fuck your plastic abortion. Lana snorts out a manic laugh, too loud.
   -What up chillerrrrrs? Jeff pulls out the final syllable, gives Keith a cockeyed look, his eyes glazed over slightly. Keely looks up. squinting and unfocused, lets out a soft
  -We're going to Hayley's. I donno, there are a bunch of people over there...
  -Haha. Sounds chill. I guess. Jeff stops, -Wait a minute! Looks around as if coming to a profound realization.-...Hayley's not chill. Why...She isn't chill at all. Keely becomes very serious.
  -Most definitely not chill. They both laugh.
Keith and Lana turn to leave, Jeff has shifted to picking a string off the arm of the recliner, Keely turns as they go.

     Over many years of trampling feet this hallway has taken on that characteristic attic smell which is surely as revolting to other species as the scent of a barn, or mouse nest is to a well bred city girl. Reminiscent of old photographs and furniture, though this hall is mostly bare. Lana and Keith burst through the entryway laughing to themselves. Outside the roiling foam of drunken society burbles about, eternally attention starved and seeking validation, the alcohol uncovering oral stage insecurities which, when processed through the factory of a man in heat comes out (inevitably) as obscenity. Keith and Lana were apparently both asking for attention as, on the way over, they were stopped and yelled at numerous times. Keith ignoring the attention or laughing it off, Lana (militantly conscious of her status as a woman) provided impromptu
S.C.U.M Manifesto thumping sermons right there on the street before the unwashed and unsaved. This resulted in stunned silence or a flurry of nervous backtracking so embarrassingly common in a man confronted. Lana once (though not tonight) almost came to blows with a quite adamant (and quite drunk) gentleman hailing from out in the county before being dragged away bodily. She was livid for the rest of the week, telling the story with exponential embellishment to anyone within earshot. All this to say that downtown Westham is a cyclone of pent up id, frustrated drives, amplified egos and superabundant alcohol to which an undying crowd flocks, out of some unfathomable urge, on a weekly basis.
    They are looking for room 201 which one would assume would be a simple task though the drugs would say otherwise. After much frantic scrambling and running up and down the same staircase repeatedly Lana finally opens an unmarked door which reveals a mezzanine staircase which leads to an ancient part of the building. 201 is a rusty nail in the hall, the door has been painted black and a steady measured pulse leaks out into the rest of the building. Lana knocks, looks at Keith, vigorously rubs her nose. They laugh at her. The air pulses.
   -bitch. Lana pounds on the door
  -Open up bitch!, she sings. Giant smile plastered on her face. Keith sags, looks nervous. He hikes up his bag and cinches down the straps. The door cracks open a small girl wearing bright paint over her pointed nose and pleasing eyes pokes her head out, Justice dumps out of the room.
  -Yesss. What?
  -Hey! Ohmygod how how are you? Lana open her arms and steps forward but the door remains steady.
  -Can I help you? Lana lets her arms fall, the smile remains but is tarnished.
  -Uh we heard you were having a party. Hayley stares for a moment as if asked to compute an enormous sum. She glances at Keith briefly, no sign of recognition upon her face.
  -No. A man totally nude emerges from the darkness, painted in swirls from lascivious ankle to shaggy dome, and puts his arms around Hayley's neck.
  -FUUUUUUUUCK, Hayley shoves him off with surprising strength, he stumbles backwards and disappears into the constant movement behind her, movement which is cocooned fully in the threads of the darkness and is assures no human source.
 -Sorry! She slams the door, damming the music and leaving Keith and Lana in the humm of the hall lights.
 -fucking whore, Lana looks over at Keith who is tight lipped and clenched fists . -Well... She looks around, stunned, as if bereft of an intimate article -I mean, where else are we gonna finish off this coke?