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Motherhood CoverI am a terrible mother. I love my daughter, love her so much I’m amazed I actually have to hold her in my arms, that she doesn’t just stick to my side, my heart heavy as a black hole, dense with love, trying to suck her into it. I love her like this, then, minutes later, can’t wait to get out of the house, leaving her behind. I’m told all mothers are like this, more or less, and are all wracked with guilt because of it.

The week I found out about Mary Rose, my beloved Stella Marie was six months old. She had black stick-straight-up hair, blueberry eyes that would find their way eventually to a less exotic shade of hazel, an abiding affection for the decorative moldings of our seventy-year-old house.

She liked to gaze at the corners of windows and doors, reach out as if to grab them, then wag her hands excitedly, like a palsied lady trying to open a wide-mouth jar. Her basic look was one of consternation. She was not a silly baby, even though I’d been known to make her wear a bonnet. She is perfect. The world’s cutest human. Really the world’s cutest human.

Tom-McAllister-Young-Widowers-Handbook

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Tom McAllister . His debut novel The Young Widower’s Handbook is available now from Algonquin Books. It is the official January pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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Philip DiGiacomo“Can I ask you a question?”

A small woman had appeared from behind the gas pump as I was putting twenty dollars worth into my Volvo wagon’s tank.

“No, you can’t,” I replied.

Jesus Christ, how many wackos had hit me up for spare change in the past week? I jammed the nozzle back onto the cradle and ripped the receipt as it curled from the pump. She had pissed me off.

“Can you help me buy myself a wedding ring?”

bball 1

 

“Nobody would pass me the ball. Even friends who I thought were my friends wouldn’t pass me the ball.” These words from my nine-year-old after another round of recess Darwinism style bounced around in my head like a bright orange basketball stealing my sleep at 2:00 a.m and making me despise a group of four-foot tall 4th graders.

 

“I blame Trump,” I tell my husband (also at 2:00 a.m.). In a mumbled sleep chatter he reminds me that childlike cruelty existed well before Donald Trump became the President. I know if my husband was fully awake he would share yet another tale of the bullying he experienced as a child, which is supposed to make me feel better because look at him now, but I’m a fire sign, I’m a fighter, and even though he has fallen back asleep I continue this fight with the cracked plaster on our ceiling wondering what the world would be like if we all simply believed in passing the ball.

 

It’s not like I’ve ever played in a basketball league before, but as a native Angelino I did grow up in the era of the Showtime Lakers. By default that makes me a Chick Hearns-style sideline expert on the benefits of passing the ball. Of course most of the Lakers back then were known for their dynamic running game and flamboyant offense, but then there were players like Coop. If you called him Michael Cooper you clearly didn’t grow up in Los Angeles. Cooooooooop, heralded for his defense and his beyond belief Coop-a-loops he would slam-dunk on his rivals after retrieving a perfectly timed pass from Magic Johnson or Norm Nixon. Even NBA all-stars of a basketball dynasty recognized to win the game they needed to pass the ball.

 

It seems if you’re not open it makes more sense to pass the ball. It also seems a team would get more open shots the more times they moved the ball. But 4th grade asphalt antics aren’t about the open shot. It’s about taking the shot whether you can make the shot. It’s about ego and arrogance and power. It’s also about a pack mentality where one group of kids endeavors to dominate over the other, especially if the “other” is different from the pack.

 

Lindsey-Lee-Johnson-The-Most-Dangerous-Place-on-Earth

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Lindsey Lee Johnson . Her debut novel, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, is available from Random House.

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TRS 1

 

My friend gave my pages back to me. He said, “If you’re saying this is rape, you need to make the scene clearer. You need to make us hate this guy and feel shit for this chick.”

I attempted to explain. “What is not rape about it? He put all his weight on her. He took off her clothes. She did not have a real opportunity to protest.”

“She went out to his house. She talks about how he’s hot and how she’s into him. He’s nice to her for awhile.”

Yes. And she wanted to be wanted. She needed men to want her. That’s how she felt good about herself. She wasn’t looking for sex. Maybe at some point, but not on that night. Sex was not her agenda. I know these things.

My friend pressed. He said, “That’s not how it reads. You wrote a sex scene. All I read here is sex.”

He stripped her, and held her down, and said, let me feel you, and then started fucking her. She didn’t have time to protest. It was one thing and then he was fucking and consent should not be passive.

My friend shook his head. He didn’t buy it. Didn’t buy her. Didn’t buy her motives. He did not believe her. He wanted more booze, maybe. More rape.

“We’re going to need more rape.”

Roxane-Gay-Difficult-Women

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: a conversation with Roxane Gay, whose new story collection, Difficult Women, is available now from Grove Press.

This is Roxane’s second appearance on the podcast. She also guested on Episode 34, which you can listen to via Otherppl Premium.

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Mircobrew will return in its usual form in early February with 2017’s first batch of new books. For now, here are my ten favorites from 2016, in no particular order, along with a favorite chosen by each of the authors I selected.

I have to admit, looking at this list gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I read a lot of great books in 2016, many of which I wasn’t able to include in this top 10. More than that, I’m amazed at the variety of contemporary American fiction, a range I think is well represented in this list.

Though some people suggest American fiction is cookie-cutter–especially that produced by MFA programs–I just don’t see it. From the experimental to the starkly realistic, from ornate prose to the sparest of minimalism, from comedy to drama, this list is a representation of what I wanted to do with this column. I wanted Microbrew to demonstrate the incredible range of contemporary American literature, and I like to think the column and this list both serve that end.

weiner2

Have you ever done a self-interview before?

Isn’t that what writing is?

 

Are you going to answer every question with another question?

Is that a problem?

 

Do you write every day?

I read more than I write.

 

What are you reading right now?

I’m in the middle of Charles Martin’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and The Education of Henry Adams.

is not a man being swallowed by a fish
with eyes like eight point throwing stars
it’s a man being swallowed by a war
a man being taken into the mouth of a woman
or being swallowed by his work

it’s a man traveling far inside a book
a man being swallowed up in smoke
he swallows the smoke, that blends around him like a thought
it’s a man being swallowed by a sound
he shapes it so he lives inside a song

Vanessa-Hua-Deceit-and-Other-Possibilities

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: a conversation with Vanessa Hua, whose debut story collection, Deceit and Other Possibilities, is available now from Willow Press. 

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Masande-Ntshanga-The-Reactive

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: a conversation with Masande Ntshanga, whose debut novel The Reactive is now available in the United States from Two Dollar Radio. It is the official December pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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novi_sadFor many years, there’s been a handful of books that, at least for me, exemplify what post-apocalyptic fiction should be and what it can achieve in terms of serving as mirrors for human nature when faced with Armageddon: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon, Blindness by José Saramago, and Alas Babylon by Pat Frank. Now Jeff Jackson, author of the dark, critically acclaimed Mira Corpora, has joined this elite group with Novi Sad, a depressive, gloomy narrative that is as profound and smart as any of the aforementioned classics but somehow manages to deliver the same punch in less than 100 pages.

holiday-spectacular-feature

This is the second annual Holiday Spectacular episode of the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast. The guests are Melissa Broder, Gene and Jenny Morgan, Amelia Gray and Lee Shipman, Ben Loory, Rich Ferguson, and Adam Greenfield. Recorded on December 10, 2016.

 

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PS. Here are links to some things discussed in the show:

Prince on Arsenio Hall, 1991

Jimmy Stewart reads a poem about his dog on The Tonight Show

December, the end of the Julian calendar year. For critics, it’s time to get listy, to go all effusive, doe-eyed, and misty over what we’ve read during the prior three-hundred-and-something days. For authors, it’s time to hunker down in our metaphorical emotional foxholes, to employ one of four battle-proven strategies:

1.  Get depressed, drink heavily, get more depressed, and jag-cry. (You were left off the holy lists but can’t for the life of you figure out why.);

2.  Get pissed, drink heavily, scream, and stamp your feet. (You know exactly why you were left off the holy lists. A vast right-, left-, and middle-wing conspiracy against your genius, obvis.);

3.  Get deliriously happy, drink slightly less heavily, and do freestyle “ballet” moves in the living room (You made it for once!); or

4.  As in 3, but let it go to your head. And for God’s sake, make sure you slop that confidence all over Facebook before sobering up. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to remember.

I thought about doing some sort of list here—longest books of the year starring an author’s ego in a supporting role, best works of Middle High German-to-English translation my cat vomited on, worst sestina collections I feel uncomfortable criticizing. But for obvious reasons (see above), we’re going with the uzhe, a Microbrewed literary six-pack of new books.

P.S. I may still do a list. Or two. Or six. Stay tuned.