Recently Enjoyed

February 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s the evening of July 4th and the fireworks are blooming in sawtooth spirals, but the math is off, the spirals are uneven. We are mixing drinks in the living room. There are a whole pyramid of options, three of them spiked with MDMA—come play the American Roulette, we yell. God Save the Queen is the response from the balcony and we all laugh. We laugh until we bend and the corners of our ribcages are almost touching like a tunnel that’s caving in on itself. Soon we’ll be a complete circle of pale, snapped bones. Stonehenge of the body.

-Joy Clark, “Smoke Left Behind,” at Juked

“This can’t go on,” she said. “We need to sit down with the children,” she said. “We need to tell them something.”

Jenny wanted him to give some variation of the speech everyone else was apparently giving their children. She recited a version of it to him. She said, “We need to tell them something like ‘Mommy and Daddy aren’t living together because they don’t love each other anymore. But we both love you, very, very much. And we will always be here for you. That will never change.’”

He was silent. She’d asked him to leave, yes, she’d told him she was in love with someone else, yes, but she’d never come right out and said she didn’t love him anymore.

We’ll say something like that,” she said. “The children need to hear something like that.”

-Stephany Aulenback, “The Lot,” at Hobart

I was searching for something in every photo, in every update, in every public message someone had written him. I wanted a reason why he didn’t love me or want to be with me regularly. I needed a story to tell myself, to answer the why. I blamed my body. I was so much curvier than his previous girlfriends. I blamed my lack of experience. I’d only been with two other people prior to him and one of those people had been my husband. I blamed my lack of career aspirations. He owned his own furniture-building business too, although he spent most of the time working on his mother’s house down the road. This should have told me something about his lack of ambition, but I misconstrued it to mean he really cared about his mother, which was a good quality in a man, one that would supposedly predict how he would treat me.

-Amanda Miska, “The Online Stories We Tell,” a Saturday essay at The Rumpus

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A Form That Accommodates the Mess

February 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Samuel Beckett, dead some twenty-five years, is nonetheless giving inspiration from the grave in some of the unlikeliest places. First, there is MBecketTA, playwright John J. King’s Tumblr juxtaposing aptly chosen Beckett quotes with bleak photos of snow-crushed Boston. (Hat tip: Jenn Monroe.)

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If that isn’t enough, playwright Danny Thompson has put together a seamless and very believable film showing Beckett in the opening credits of a fictitious 70s-era cop show. (Hat tip: Clay Ventre.) As Ayun Halliday notes:

The title sequence hits all the right period notes, from the jazzy graphics to the presentation of its supporting cast: Andre the Giant, Jean Paul Sartre, and Jean “Huggy Bear” Cocteau. (Did you know that Beckett drove a young Andre the Giant to school in real life?)

To Resurrect a Mockingbird

February 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

What are we to make of the sudden news that Harper Lee will publish a pre-sequel, for lack of a better term, of To Kill a Mockingbird? The literary community appears to be responding to the news that Go Set a Watchman, a novel set in Maycomb, Alabama twenty years after the events of Mockingbird with Scout Finch as its protagonist, is due to be published this summer with a mixture of hopeful enthusiasm and understandable apprehension.

At Jezebel, Madeleine Davies offers fair warning that we should be suspicious:

Sadly, this news is not without controversy or complications. Harper Lee’s sister Alice Lee, who ferociously protected Harper Lee’s estate (and person) from unwanted outside attention as a lawyer and advocate for decades, passed away late last year, leaving the intensely private author (who herself is reportedly in ill health) vulnerable to people who may not have her best interests at heart.

Harper Lee is 88 years old. When I saw her name pop up on my phone via a New York Times Breaking News alert, I feared that she had died. Her vision and hearing were both severely impaired by a stroke eight years ago, and Davies writes that Lee “often doesn’t understand the contracts that she signs.”

Mockingbird was supposedly written at the suggestion of an editor who read Go Set a Watchman and wanted to know what Scout and Jem Finch were like as children. Did Alice Lee know something about the contents of Watchman that made her wish to shelter it (but not Mockingbird) from the light of day? Did she fear it would harm the universality of the first book, or did she think that the second book just wasn’t any good? And can we trust that all aspects of authorial intent will continue to be respected if the book’s author is no longer of sound mind?

My hope is that, if Watchman is ultimately published, its editors leave the text alone. Let its assumed flaws as a young writer’s first novel remain in place, if only for the historical value. We might be surprised: the fact that Watchman was written before Mockingbird could suggest that there won’t be much of an emotional “distance” from the first book (Scout, you’ll recall, is already an adult when she narrates Mockingbird); the characters had not taken hold in the public consciousness as they have over the past six decades, and since Lee did not write the book with any kind of pressure, perhaps she would not have had the impulse to do anything contrived, loud, or forced to the narrative. At best, the two books could be part of a larger, more expansive twentieth-century portrait of a young woman growing up in the Deep South during the civil rights era. It will be strange to behold these characters sprung from the frame through which we have long regarded them, but I suspect that, even if Go Set a Watchman turns out to be awful, Atticus and Scout and Jem and Boo Radley will retain their cultural import, as humans seeking to live moral lives free of prejudice and pressure and fear.

Ray and Groucho

February 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

A young Ray Bradbury, already an established author (including of Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953), appears as one half of a contestant duo on You Bet Your Life, matching wits with Groucho Marx. (Link via Atticus Books.)

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