Monthly Archives: May 2006

Jane Stuart, "Why I Think I Really Am In Love With Frank"

She’s got an overactive imagination.

(from Zone 3, Vo. XXL, No. 1)

Before you get all shocked that I read two stories in one day, please note: I’m not sure I did. “Why I Think I Really Am In Love With Frank” might really be some kinda of linear-ish poem, or the missing link between two genres. It walks upright like a short story, but lurks in shadow and insanity, like a poem. I don’t know exactly what went on in the piece besides some interesting ideas and images. I mean, there are clues. Hints are made. Gists are gotten. But, in the end, the narrator is too unreliable for me to create a concrete theory. And interesting read, though.

Emmylou Haris, Alison Kraus and Gillian Welch, “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby”

Phil Harvey, "Ritu’s Marriage"

Young Ritu is destined for a life that Western eyes would call bleak.

(from Zone 3, Vol. XXI, No. 1)

And then she gets that life. There are no twists, and the culture clashes occur quietly, internally. Neelam and Roberta, who observe the lives of the North Indian village people with different degrees understanding, just come in to check out the scene. Like the reader, they can’t help Ritu. So we’re all just, like, trapped where we are, then? Well played, author. This is a bitter story. I need to brush my teeth of it.
I Googled “Ritu’s Marriage” and found these wedding photos.
I looked up “Phil Harvey” and found out he’s a reproductive rights advocate. Check out this article from The Economist.
Here’s Zone 3. It’s a simple, pretty journal. Cheap too ($5).

The Mountain Goats, “Seed Song”

Phong Nguyen, "Memory Sickness"

You don’t need to teach this kid anatomy, he survived a war.

(from Agni 63)

We talk in rounds, each listening for our moment in the rhythm of the conversation. When I first came here, the customs official gave a long speech about local etiquette; since then, I’ve often heard people, on TV and at school, go on in this way for great lengths of time. Perhaps this is why they say we are quiet people—we are waiting for our turn to speak.

Well, the linear way the main character draws parallels between the sex ed/anatomy lesson and his own experience with grisly, bloody war is a bit contrived. It’s more like the kid’s written an essay than relating his train of thought. No matter, the story is punchy, fast-paced and unputdownable. And the ending passage is satisyingly grim and memorable. There are several moments like this, actually.
You should read this story. Here.

Francine Prose, "An Open Letter to Doctor X"

A man can’t get an overheard half-conversation out of his mind.

(from Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2006)

There’s this eating disorders doctor talking way too loudly to a colleague on his cell phone. Early signs point to him being ethically challenged, but he ends up showing signs of cleverness, depth and redemption. How to interpret the man and his story of trying to treat a boy who won’t eat weighs heavily on the mind of the overhearer, a D.A. with his own experiences with mental imbalances. It all leads up to a philosophical question that isn’t so deep, but which the D.A. can’t get out of his head. It’s not what drives the reader, but that’s ok. This story pulls you a long with its little arcs as well as its large one.
Here’s a link to Virginia Quarterly Review.

Martin Amis, "The Last Days of Muhammad Atta"

How an asshole gets ready for his big day.

(from The New Yorker, April 24, 2006)

Is it too soon to read a fictionalization of the private life of a 9/11 terrorist? No, because people who read never think it’s too soon. The story was inspired by this mysterious footnote from The 9/11 Commission Report:
No physical, documentary, or analytical evidence provides a convincing explanation of why Atta and Omari drove to Portland, Maine, from Boston on the morning of September 10, only to return to Logan on Flight 5930 on the morning of September 11.
I’d read the Report when it came out — and reviewed it here — but this little blurb about Portland didn’t ring a bell. Guess I only skimmed the footnotes. Using Atta’s “lost time” as a jumping off point, Amis sets about crafting something like an excerise but also like literary revenge, however joyless or futile.
He clearly did some research before writing “The Last Days of Muhammad Atta,” but how much?
Atta, the character is unadmirable and unlikeable, but understandable on his own terms. He’s anal retentive, for real. (He hadn’t pooped since May!?) He’s also self-denying, self-flagellating, nearly self-defeating, passive aggressive, regular aggressive, humorless, mostly faithless, petty, unable to enjoy music, plagued by headaches and stomach quakes, sexually frustrated, afraid of women and butt ugly.
He’s an asshole, confused and belligerent. A Columbine killer all grown up. He’s read that it might not be virgins you get in the afterlife, but raisins. He’s not much of a true believer, but you have to figure he would be better off with the second option. Muhammad Atta would not know what to do with the ladies. (The raisins part, by the way, is a bit jolting. It’s a light-hearted line of thought, atypical for the character. Still it underscores his latent disdain for the faithful.)
Amis describes the man and the mission solemnly. The author’s challenge isn’t to humanize the monster, but to dissect it. To give innards to a creature many Americans might suspect contained merely bile or nothing at all inside. At the ever-looming end, when Atta flies the plane into the second tower, his death is neither glorious (not that he imagines it will be — that’s for the fundamentalist suckers on his team) nor a relief. It’s painted as a philosophical miscalculation, a sudden realization of the value of life in the tenth of a second between impact and death. Only then does the guy get it. Congratulations, asshole. Enjoy your raisins.
An excellent story. Can’t seem to find it online for ya. (Nearly related note: Google seems to have screwed with its algorithms or whatever, because it no longer appears to care whether I put a search phrase in quotes or not.)

Helle Helle, “Pheasants”

He used to live here. OK if he just looks around?

(from Tin House, vol. 7, issue 3)

Short, precise, first-person present-tense story about a guy coming back to the apartment he used to live in years ago to look around and pick up some things he left in the basement. Of course you’re on edge. He’s nosy, he’s strange, he’s a mystery. He could be up to no good. In the end though, he seems like an honest guy, although the narrator comes off less than genuine. I mean, totally understandable, but not as sincere as her unexpected guest.
Helle Helle is an excellent name, worthy of a Scandinavian death metal band. In actuality, she is a Danish author. This story was translated by Mark Kline. On Friday I purchased a book entitled Danish Made Easy: Phrases & Information for Your Stay in Denmark (published by Høsts Lommeparlører, 1958) for one dollar. I’ve had a thing for Denmark for years.

Here are some useful Danish phrases:
I have very delicate skin.
Jeghar meget om hud.

When can I see you again?
Hvornår kan vi ses igen?

May I introduce you to my friend JT Leroy?
Må jeg praesentere min ven JT Leroy?

Your beef is so pale.
Dered oksekød er så lyst.

I want real red beef, not heifer meat.
Jeg ønsker rigtig rødt oksekød, ikke kviekød.

Excuse me.