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Not to have this be an all-out puff piece, but let me try and describe two types of virtuosity I like. Maybe it’s because I spent all summer watching basketball. Dunks and jumpers. Crossovers. If you hate sports, bear with me. But for instance, a jump shot. A technique to it, there’s a purity you can appreciate. That buzzer-beater, last second of the game, or even just pulling up in traffic, as they say, soaking wet; smartly, coolly executed, or from the couch, surrounded by snacks, even watching the pros do it, the effect is weirdly triumphant, gratifying.

Here’s the other type. Because, to get that jumper to go, to have that moment, there’s hours and hours you’ve got to spend, hundreds of thousand of hours, more than shooting, also dreaming, thinking about jumpshots. Let me go ahead and say Jane Liddle’s debut is about murder, not basketball. In that sense, Murder is about nuance. In that we’re all going to die. Right? Sooner or later. And we’re all capable of killing, probably. Consider it that way, and a story, any story is actually, truly, only the details. Fifty-eight murders. Some tragic, some frightening. A funny one or two. Each only a couple of pages. Some like poems. Some, tightly plotted, 3-act short stories. The murder in there about “the Saint,” that was disturbing in a way I can’t exactly explain.

adam-soldofsky-memory-foam

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with poet Adam Soldofsky , author of Memory Foam, available now from Disorder Press.

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by-chelsea-bieker

Good Afternoon!

Good Afternoon! Writing to you from Miami—I’m in my hotel lobby. There is a beautiful strange wood ceiling, incense burning, and cacti. And everyone is walking through in bathing suits.

Some of the elements of life
will survive microbial disaster,
will refuse to recognize us,
will come up to the newspapers
and affect a response.

Descartes found himself in the bright blue
strong wind of the northern climate. There,
the erratic queen demanded he give her philosophy
at five in the morning and, calling in a cold,
he died.

fredmugford_2016As I was putting my underwear on, the right foot got caught. The big toe of the right foot was stretching the fabric. I continued pushing my foot down harder as I was pulling the underwear up by the dark blue waist band. I was stubborn and I wasn’t going to let the underwear win. I was standing balanced on my left foot, in the bathroom, after taking my shower, and my feet, my skin, was still damp, I think that is why the big toe got caught and wouldn’t let go no matter how much I pulled up or pushed the foot down. All this became infuriating, even for the underwear too, because the cotton fabric began to stretch, I could feel the stress it was going under, but I demanded to be right this time, to be the winner, to push my foot through the hole, the second hole, or third, in the underwear, but it just wouldn’t go through. I don’t know if I was willing to tear the underwear, it was a relatively new pair, it was a comfortable pair, still clean and thick and it hugged my contours nice and tight, holding everything in place just right, snug in a word. If the underwear was old, if it had a tear in it, I probably would have sacrificed it with pleasure. The band of the right leg hole had in fact dug itself deep between the big toe and the toe next to it. And by this time I was starting to lose my balance, and on top of the frustration of not being able to push my foot through, I now had the compounded fear of falling and dying from hitting my head on one of the porcelain fixtures inside the bathroom, the bathtub or the sink or the toilet or even the floor or the tiled walls or maybe even the handlebars I installed in the bathroom for my father. And now I lost my balance and was ready to fall over to my right because my right foot was the one that was up trying to go through the hole in the underwear made for the right leg to go through, and I felt myself leaning over to my right, and I had to make an instant decision, should I continue pushing my foot down to get the right foot through the hole before I hit the floor, or should I just let go of the underwear and let the right foot touch the blue tiled floor and let the underwear dangle half on between my legs, or a third choice, which is what I didn’t want, was to just fall. So I chose to let go, with a click of the tongue and a sigh, in frustration, like I was telling myself, no, I didn’t get to win this time, I had to let go, and now I have to try putting my right foot through the right leg hole all over again. My right foot hit the tiled floor with a slap, a sound of naked flesh hitting a hard cool, smooth surface, it was kind of a satisfying sound, even if it sounded hard, nothing like the sound of skin slapping skin, which always leads to some kind of pain, I was thinking of my mother slapping my face real hard, I don’t think she ever did that, and I was trying to think of times I slapped myself on purpose, and I couldn’t, except if it involved pleasure, possibly, which I can’t think of right now.

kool-ad-ok

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Kool A.D., author of the novel OK , available now from Sorry House. 

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bernard-grant3637_for-web-useKem drives us through town. Shopkeepers raise blinds, flip open-closed signs. Street workers drop cones, drill, hammer. Then she hops on I-5 and all that’s replaced by morning traffic until we climb Cooper Point and the Worksource logo appears, stamped onto an office building wall towering over a 7-Eleven. In the parking lot her baby bump squeezes past the steering wheel when she leans over to kiss my forehead and drop a sack lunch in my lap. I half expect her to add “at school” to her “Have a nice day.”

I say good morning to Mindy at the reference desk. She smirks and says, “In for another shift, Gene?” I wink and walk past several banks of computers to take a seat between Jeremy and Sam. Nothing behind us but motivational posters on a small-windowed wall. Above us, huge black letters pasted onto white say, SUPPORT BUSINESS, PROMOTE EMPLOYMENT. Up front are classrooms where people learn to write resumes and ace interviews. We never go.

51943ghzzil-_sx317_bo1204203200_One of Hollywood’s favorite genres is the contained thriller: its budget probably won’t involve an enactment of World War III, a city-destroying earthquake, or a meteor headed towards Baltimore, all relying on too much CGI, which gets expensive fast. But this: a bus is going to blow up if it drops below a certain speed; a man is stuck in a phone booth and if he hangs up on the caller he will be shot dead; a young woman is stuck in an underground shelter with a possibly insane John Goodman. And don’t forget Alien: within the confines of the spaceship Nostromo, in a place where no one can hear you scream, a killer is on the loose, having evolved from a small and slithery reptilian piece of belly-bursting nasty into a very large slithery reptilian thing with chrome teeth and battery acid for blood. But in Hamlet we’re in a world that isn’t so different. After all, As Hamlet himself says, “Denmark’s a prison.”

Hamlet was written somewhere around 1601, and is the longest of Shakespeare’s plays. It takes place within the walls of Elsinore Castle, an isolated, wind-swept fortress, modelled on Kronborg Castle on the isle of Zealand, across the strait from the Swedish town of Helsingborg. Outside it’s cold and damp, and in the play we only leave the castle proper to visit the royal graveyard, hardly a place to warm the heart.

The Nervous Breakdown Book Club is proud to announce its official January 2017 pick! We’ll be reading The Young Widower’s Handbook, by Tom McAllister (Algonquin Books). Sign up now to receive your copy! Or better yet, give the gift of books this holiday season! A book club subscription is a gift that keeps on giving all year long.

Junk Drawer

By Amy Atwood

Essay

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You’ve been sitting in front of the dreaded blank screen for hours because everything you think you could write about sounds damn depressing, probably because you just returned from burying your great uncle. So instead of trying to write something lighthearted, you let Amy Winehouse’s crooning distract you and you stare at nothing.

As you stare at nothing, you begin to wonder how they embalmed the cavity of your great uncle’s body. Then you visualize this. There’s the mortician—a typical, overweight, balding white guy in a surgical coat—vertically cutting your great uncle wide open, like how Moses had his way with the Red Sea. There must be some process, some preparations taken to make him presentable for the open casket—the thought of which feels too creepy to be therapeutic.

author-photoI’d like to begin by thanking you for taking the time to speak with me.

You’re very welcome. I suppose it must seem odd though, to be addressing questions to yourself.

 

Indeed. Yet at the same time, I seem to recall your remarking that when you reread this book, by which I mean your recently published story collection This is a Dance Movie!, it almost felt to you as though the work had been written by another person.

That’s very true. The majority of these stories were written and published between 2008 and 2011.

dance-movie-full-cover-1-1170x1747This is a dance movie! Teenagers are dancing. They are popping, locking, tutting. The teenagers must stay loose, stay low to catch each step. To roll from beat to beat. The teenagers must be careful not to overemphasize the downbeat.

One teenager, a boy named Robert, is dancing down the street. Robert is practicing. He is snaking his arm. He makes it fluid: shoulder, elbow, wrist. Or tries. Several times. The audience feels his pain. The audience knows Robert must master this move. Robert and the other teenagers must win a competition. Robert, in particular, must win this competition in order to get a scholarship the girl laid. Robert must get laid. This is a dance movie!

Robert must get laid by a deadline. To win a bet? Possibly. In this way, this dance movie is also a teen sex comedy. Except this comedy isn’t so funny. Or maybe it’s funny. It’s sort of funny. Its funniness depends upon the audience’s appreciation for schadenfreude. The problem is Robert is likeable, making it harder to laugh at his expense. Or rather, likeable to certain viewers. Robert is likeable because he’s pretty, making him likeable to girls and gay boys, this movie’s target demographic. Most teen sex comedies are about ugly straight boys. Critics rave about these movies because, being ugly straight boys themselves, they identify with their protagonists.

hiresthalia2016_side_benedicte-verleySo you call Experimental Animals a reality fiction. . . . What’s so great about reality?

It’s a trick word: this thing we think is full of facts and histories, but then suddenly we become aware of all that’s invisible in it, all the energies that can’t be represented or known. (I’ve heard there are people who believe that there’s nothing that’s not on the internet.) Then suddenly reality is just a fantasy and all the categories blur. “Realism” was a 19th century phenom that had to do with telling tales of subjects who’d been left out of sight in the popular genres—combined later with a penchant for ‘research.’ Experimental Animals also shows characters and arguments that widen the concept of what we’ve taken for ‘reality,’ to include other kinds of subjectivities.

eacoverInstead of sleeping, my new husband spends his nights out of doors, procuring animals for his next day at work: a basket of rabbits, a glass receiver of frogs, two pigeons, an owl, a dog, several tortoises, two cats. I never considered, but all of a sudden I notice, how Paris adores and despises its animals. In every home at least one pet, and courtyards are lousy with cows and hens, shit on stairs and stones. Paris loves animals more than it hates shit-covered stairs, and women would rather walk their dogs than their children. Not to mention shit is good business—sold to tanners by stooped ladies fighting with spoons over the biggest droppings. Meanwhile, the fanciest dog market at Saint-Germain-des-Prés jacks up prices, and ladies strut up and down Pont Neuf with their fluffy prizes. Regulating this surge in pets, a new law requires dogs to be muzzled, and a tax is announced—from one to ten francs depending on the breed. Now people just toss their animals in the river. So the first pound opens, rue de Pontoise, in the shadow of Notre Dame. Dogs are stuffed behind bars, then hanged or struck on the head. “Well bred, good looking” dogs are stored eight days, then sold back to the stalls, while “mongrels, or those without collars or breed,” live without food or water for three days, and are given to people like Claude who show up to take them. As with humans, “class is determined by breeding and partly by occupation.”

anneraeffcredit-dennishearneYour work is very tied to history and to the effects of cataclysmic, violent events on individual lives. Can you talk a little bit about the role of history in your fiction and fiction in general?

We are all shaped by the past, by our individual experiences and by the combined experience of all human beings. That is what history is. In Spanish the word for “history” and “story” are the same, which makes sense to me. I think I am especially conscious of “history” as “story” and “story” as “history” because of the history/story of my family and also because my father was a historian, so I grew up learning a lot of what we call “history” while at the same time I was learning my parents’ and grandparents’ “stories,” especially those that intersected so dramatically with the Holocaust, war and revolution, all of which are considered part of “history.” For me they were part of the same narrative. What I try to do in my fiction is what all fiction tries to do—evoke the connection between individual lives and the narrative of humanity.