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Even in the frozen center of Massachusetts winter, my college campus was ripe for the blood harvest. Red Cross banners were everywhere, always. I felt compelled to volunteer myself in part because it seemed such a blameless cause that I could think of no reason not to, and easy charity is de rigeuer for the college kid. But the first time I tried to sign up for an appointment, I was turned away. Somebody I vaguely knew — a student liaison for the Red Cross — looked up at me from behind a table in our echoing humid dining hall and told me, without asking my weight, that I wasn’t heavy enough to give blood. My winter coat dwarfed me, but she was still right: The Red Cross asks that donors be 110lbs, and I weighed only 100.

Frequent lakes for signs of turtles—necks like cornstalks reaching for the sun. Toe a circle in the cold sand. Sit cross-legged inside. Hold your arms akimbo, elbows jutting past the line you made like cypress knees in shallow water. Feel the sand grow warm beneath your body. Imagine that warmth radiate out from the ground, gaining momentum as it travels through the earth. Picture that spark wick to the surface. The dance of roots. Surge of verdant emergence. As you drive away, keep turning the radio’s dial until you coax out the cicada’s constant drone.

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In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (2)In Matt Bell’s debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (Soho Press), we are lured into familiar territory—the world of fables and tall tales, where our expectations of the surreal, the grotesque, and the magical are fulfilled in ever-expanding layers. But beyond the illusions, beyond the world building, darkness, and the unknown is an allegory—a harsh yet beautiful lesson on what it means to be a man, a father, and a husband; to be a woman, a mother, and a wife. Told in layers, fractured into sections, unfolding in a grand tapestry that weaves emotions and actions into a complex series of destinies and consequences, this novel is not an easy read. But the reward is dense prose, powerful psychoanalysis, and the unsettling feeling that our own actions today—many miles from the woods with its failing bear, and its lake with its undulating squid—might be bound by similar rules and outcomes.

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PrestonAllen_NewWhat a strangely beautiful story is Every Boy Should Have a Man. It’s so unlike anything you’ve ever done before. How did you come up with the idea?

When inspiration comes to me, my art always awakens as a gift of the spirit, as the Holy Bible says, a mirror reflecting the condition of my psyche, my personality, and perhaps even my soul–not soul in any religious sense, but in the funky/revolutionary/swing-your-hips-to-the-beat-of-the-music sense.  Man, when it’s going real good, I can feel it flowing out of me in a stream of subconscious conscience no bucket can catch.

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EveryBoyShouldHaveAMan1-562x800He was not unusual because he had a man. In those days every boy had a man or wanted one. He was not unusual because he had a man that talked. With the boom in mining and the approaching war, they were breeding more talking mans, and many boys—at least those born to well-to-do families—had mans that talked.

What made this boy unusual was that he was born to a poor family and he had a man that talked.

He was playing in the bramble after school one day when he spotted the man.

“A man!” the boy exclaimed.

The man said, “Hello there.”

“A man that talks!” squealed the delighted boy.

He did not look like a wild or dangerous man, so the boy fashioned a leash out of string from his sack and led the man home.

Where’s my gingham tablecloth.
Where’s my Michelangelo’s Naked
David apron. Where’s my garden
and my marigolds and my pink ranunculi.
Where’s my conversational Latin.
Where’s my Froggy-Went-a-Courtin’
sheet music. Where’s that dulcimer
and my training in Irish stepdancing.

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Amazon’s announcement that it has begun offering opportunities to riff off of the work of Kurt Vonnegut on its fan fiction licensing site, Kindle Worlds, has caused a stir. Rightly so. Amazon is The Man and Vonnegut tilted against The Man, as all great artists do.

Adulthood

By Summer Block

Humor

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Extended adolescence is all the rage these days. Or extended childhood, or extended young adulthood, depending on whether your particular clock stopped during Star Wars: Episode III or Star Wars: Episode I.

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We have had a place in the universe since it occurred to the first of our species to ask what that place might be.

—Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind (2010)

 

Over the last few nights, half-longing for sleep, I’ve seen Lisa as she was at 14, the two of us almost side by side, about to take the front steps of East Hampton High School for the first time.