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David-Shields-Other-People

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with author David Shields . His new book, Other People: Takes and Mistakes, is available from Knopf.

David last appeared on the program on Episode 26, in December 2011.

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There haven’t been many weeks since the summer of 2014 ended in which I haven’t thought about or someone hasn’t reminded me of #90for90, that time we did 90 events over 90 days in a train station bar. When it ended, it felt like those corny movies where our characters have a terrifying, exciting, overwhelming, but ultimately unforgettable summers that forever change them. In many ways, none of us—Jessica, Peter, Judeth or myself—have recovered from it.

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The day the German army opened fire on its own citizens in Blumental was the day of Pimpanella’s miracle. It was a cool summer morning, with the first promise of sun after four drizzly, cold days. Rosie woke early, hopped out of bed, and ran downstairs. Ever since she turned five, she had been allowed to check for eggs in the henhouse. She loved crawling into the small plywood hutch that housed the four chickens, reaching into each nest, and gently wiggling her fingers between the straw and the burlap, feeling around for that small, smooth oval, still warm from being under the hen’s puffed chest, the shell slightly soft.

Rosie also loved the hens, Pimpanella especially. Spindly little Pimpanella was the closest thing Rosie had to a pet; she was the only chicken who did not peck at Rosie’s feet in the outhouse. And Rosie protected Pimpanella against her grandfather. The last time Opa was home from Berlin, he declared Pimpanella useless because she had never been able to produce an egg. “A poor excuse for a fowl,” he called her. He chased Pimpanella around the yard with a stewpot lid, yelling at her to pull herself together and do her part for the war effort.

1557279_10202842441290851_1524261412_o2We’re so sad to report that Cynthia Hawkins, our Arts & Culture editor, has lost her long battle with cancer. We send our deepest condolences to her husband and two daughters, and all of her family and friends. We will always be grateful for her great spirit and many contributions to this site and its community.

If you would like to contribute to a fund that will help Cynthia’s family weather this storm, you can do so here. Every donation, however large or small, helps. Please give what you can.

Ethel RohanYou’re a woman, 140lbs, and a longtime resident of San Francisco. Why’d you write your first novel, THE WEIGHT OF HIM, about a 400lb Irish man?

I was born and raised in Ireland and the seed for this novel was planted during a return visit there, in a bar. It seemed only fitting to set the book in its (and my) place of origin.

The seed was a conversation I overheard about a fat woman, dire ruminations over whether her weight or her grief would kill her first. As though fat is always unhealthy. As though grief can’t be survived. As though we can be killed more than once.

The Weight of Him Book Cover 2017Billy Brennan overdid it again with the fast food. After, he hurried as best he could along the street, fighting the need to stop and recover—he didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself. Strangers looked twice at his massive bulk. He pretended not to notice. Those he knew seemed inclined to stop and chat, but he issued only passing hellos and pressed on. He was in no mood to suffer further condolences and awkward exchanges, all of which set his heart racing.

A woman overtook him on the footpath, walking fast and with force. She must have just come off a foreign holiday or a session of sun beds. Maybe she had slathered herself in that fake lotion. More noticeable than skin the color of mahogany, though, she was sickly thin. Billy had never seen a woman so skinny; her arms and calves could snap like sugar sticks. It seemed impossible she could move that fast, could have the strength to even stand up.

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 “Hey hey, guys,” Mr. Whitlock crowed, and motioned Sam and Trina inside the house with the spatula he held in one fist. Toad’s uncle was a big man with a handlebar mustache and any number of blurred and explicit green tattoos lacing his arms. They looked like they’d been drawn there by a child, quite possibly a drunken one, and Toad had long ago informed him it meant his uncle had done various stretches of county time. “Back before I came into the picture,” Toad said. Mr. Whitlock had, over the years, insisted that Sam call him by his first name, Stacy, but somehow Sam just couldn’t do it. He looked fearsome, even more so than Sam’s dad, and like a man who brooked absolutely no shit. But a Stacy? No.

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This is an incredibly depressing book. The Mercy of the Tide, huh? Should be called The Mercilessness of the… Pages. Or something. Jesus! It’s unrelenting, the bummers.

Great. Thanks. Great way to start an interview. And let the record show that I don’t entirely agree. It’s a downer at times, sure, but I think there are bright spots. And I don’t think it was an arbitrary decision the writer made. Like, “Ah, I’m just gonna make an unrelenting crapshow of four people’s lives for three hundred pages. Just for the hell of it.” It’s about story, you know?

 

Right, but you know what I mean. You seem pretty upbeat in real life, you know? Jolly enough dude.

But you and I know the torpor that lurks beneath, don’t we?

Natashia-Deon-Grace

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Natashia Deón, author of the novel Grace. It is available now from Counterpoint Press.

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Dear God

By Allyson Darling

Essay

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Are you there, God? It’s me, Allyson.

They never came. The boobs. You know the ones. Aunt Emma has them. Hers are bigger than avocados but similar in shape. And I know—you already know that. You know everything.

I was sent to the office again for skin showing above my jeans, the smallest crescent moon of pale. Mr. Frost handed me a clipboard that clamped a note. The note held words: “dress code violation.” And he asked me to take it to the office. The girls pull their thongs above the bands of their jeans to show the boys behind them in class. The room is a sea of lace funnels into asses, but Mr. Frost doesn’t notice. He talks about Spinal Tap for fifty-three minutes.

My thoughts dawdle back to last weekend, reliving scenes and events, picking them up to consider, like the shape of rocks for skipping…

My mother is unyielding. Can I stay home instead? I think I’m getting sick. I have cramps. Terrible cramps and it isn’t my fault I have this stupid uterus.

No. You’re going.

She says. I would complete this final step in being confirmed into the Catholic Church. Whether I wanted to get married in the church or not, whether I wanted to get married at all, or not. And I would not complain about it.

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On behalf of the entire TNB community, I want to send love and appreciation to Cynthia Hawkins, our longtime Arts & Culture editor, who is battling cancer with uncommon grace and determination. All of us here–and of course I’m referring to our far-flung tribe of writers and editors, both past and present–are deeply moved and inspired by you, Cynthia, and we want you to know how much we care about you and your family.

With this in mind, we figure a good old-fashioned, comment-heavy post here at TNB will cheer you up and give you some more good energy. (All readers are invited to join me in offering positive thoughts on the board below.)

Sarah-Manguso-300-Arguments

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Sarah Manguso. Her new book, 300 Arguments, is available now from Graywolf Press.

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This month we’re reading Pachinko, by bestselling author Min Jin Lee. Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz calls it

“Luminous…a powerful meditation on what immigrants sacrifice to achieve a home in the world. This story confirms Lee’s place among our finest novelists.”

And stay tuned for Min’s appearance on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast. Coming soon!

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Why did you choose the title “Marys of the Sea?”

Well, I love the ocean. It is vast and dangerous and calming and tumultuous—it is both familiar yet mysterious. Since the book itself is a retelling of my own experiences as a sexual assault survivor, of someone who had an abortion (as a result of the assault), I used the ocean as a metaphorical, and sometimes, physical landscape to the book.

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Antelopes run toward in armored florescence
—their breath the shape of faces in windowglass.
You sit & watch starlings make nests.

At one time, humans crawled on hearts greased silver
—left a trail dazzling daughters unborn, surrendering
miles. Killing them with perennials in curried fire.

Wolves follow us through subway cars, their obsession
propels them past honey bones stretched to oblivion;
bunches of lines shaped in half-circles, reaching out for us.

Ten paces away, water dragons devour emeralds
from the hands of children. Their teeth gnash
skin—blood puddles stretch into slanted metal walls.

Above ground, a paper moon wanes west—
making my slender waist more slender: empty nest.