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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

junk2

 

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.

Raeff_JungleAroundUs.inddThe Doctors’ Daughter

“Don’t forget to feed the chickens,” Pepa’s parents told her when they left for the jungle to take care of the yellow fever victims. As if she could forget such a thing. Wasn’t she the one who took care of them, who collected the eggs, swept up the droppings, slit their throats with the scalpel her father had given her for this very purpose? If she had forgotten to feed the chickens, they would have come pecking at the back door, would have jumped onto the kitchen windowsill and poked their beaks between the louvers. How could she possibly forget to feed the chickens?

The chickens had been Pepa’s idea, after all. Her parents had not approved at first. “What do we know about keeping chickens?” they said. But they seemed to forget that in the beginning they had not known any of it. They had not known how to cook beans, had not known the taste of fried bananas or the Spanish word for rice, had not known how to hang mosquito netting or the sound of monkeys screaming in the night or that you had to bribe the health inspectors as well as hide the water cistern when they came around every so often looking for what they called “standing water.”

sonya-chung-the-loved-ones

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Sonya Chung, author of the novel The Loved Ones, available now from Relegation Books. It was the official October pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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Support the show at Patreon.

 

All your books are unique in the sense that you wrote them in English and French. Can you tell us about your process?

French is my mother tongue but English became the dominant language when I moved to the United States. Actually it took over even before, when I wrote my thesis on Henry James for my Masters at the Sorbonne. I was already an anglophile, having lived and studied in England, and I loved writing in English. So I wrote my first book in English. It was my first publisher’s idea that I present it as a bilingual collection. This turned out to be a brilliant idea because the books become a dance between languages.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea 

                                                                   ―E.E. Cummings

The angel who smells of my childhood
My mother, piano and oboe
Whose face the icon reflects
Auburn hair like a Modigliani
Eyes the color of rain

maMy favorite questions involve food so let’s start there. What did you have for breakfast today?

My husband and I have been going to this diner in Eagle Rock since I moved to LA in 2011. They have traditional diner fare, but they also have a Thai section of the menu (the place is run by Thai women). Our favorite thing to order is a dish called Dr’s Special. It’s basically a stir fry with chicken, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and tomatoes, and it’s really really good. It comes with two ice-cream scoops of rice. I like to add a combination of Thai chilis and fish sauce to this and spice myself out. I also had a glass of apple juice and a coffee.