- Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, and Pank, among others, and forthcoming from Gargoyle #57 and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. For two years I worked as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. Currently, I serve as a mentor for Dzanc's Creative Writing Sessions. I'm working on two novels and a short story collection. In May, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Read This: "Dear Everybody" and "Lawnboy"
With apologies to Dan Wickett at Emerging Writers Network I want to take a moment out of short story month to talk about two novels I've read recently that blew me away. They're quite different, and yet there are enough similarities to inspire me to write about them both in one post. Both are coming of age stories, both deal with strained relationships between brothers, and both are written with an uncommon level of emotional vibrancy.
The first is "Dear Everybody" by Michael Kimball, which has already been nicely summed up at the offical website:
"A Novel Written in the Form of Letters, Diary Entries, Encyclopedia Entries, Conversations with Various People, Notes Sent Home from Teachers, Newspaper Articles, Psychological Evaluations, Weather Reports, a Missing Person Flyer, a Eulogy, a Last Will and Testament, and Other Fragments, Which Taken Together Tell the Story of the Short Life of Jonathon Bender, Weatherman."
In this brilliantly designed novel, we learn right up front that the main character of the story, Jonathon Bender, commits suicide. Kimball then takes us through bits of archeological evidence to show us what is too often left unknown after a suicide: why. And we gradually learn that in this broken, dysfunctional family, the young man who kills himself was actually the sanest one of all. What I loved most about this book, aside from its beautiful structure, is the depth of character and emotion. It left me feeling as if the author left a huge chunk of his heart on the page and it is this generosity and depth that left me stunned when I finished and grateful I had read it.
Here's a small excerpt from Bender's crushingly innocent point of view:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
I know that I must have looked strange after I pulled most of my eyelashes out of my eyelids. It must have looked as if there were something wrong with me. But I want you to know why I did it: this girl at school told me that if you blow on your eyelashes and they fly away it's good luck."
I found this same level of depth and emotion in Paul Lisicky's "Lawnboy." A beautiful coming of age story set in south Florida. The reader finds dysfunction in this family as well, if a bit quieter, still a dispiriting dysfunction all the same. And our main character must navigate his teen years under the blanket-like unhappiness of his parents and without the guidance of his adored and elusive older brother. The narrator eventually breaks away from his stifling parents and grows into himself. I found his embrace of his true self, his reconnection with his brother, and his finding "the one" when he was least expecting it, beautiful and affecting. Lisicky writes with the attention of a poet. His ability to go deep into experiences gives us passages such as this one:
"Hector and I floated in the pool one night. No talk. My suit floated off on the surface, an empty bag. Our mouths fastened. We were circling, hands pushing at each other, muscles tensing. I wanted him closer. I studied his face: that scar beneath his ear, those fleshy pink lips. How to get him closer? How to get deeper inside the body? Our bodies. I tried hard as I could to inhabit it, us, closing my eyes frenetic."
And Lisicky isn't afraid of shocking us with startling images such as this one on the first page:
"They didn't know that I spent hours inside a concrete pipe, a cool, cramped cylinder in the middle of a field, whenever I needed to get away. They didn't know about the morning in my thirteenth year when out of sheer boredom, I stitched my fingertips together with needle and thread, making an intricate basket of my hand and giving myself a tremendous infection."
But for me the most amazing part of the novel is the moment in which the narrator sees for the first time his lover, really sees him, in all ages, future and past, in his vulnerability and strength, and it is this seeing that is the eventual undoing of our narrator's protective armour, and he has made the leap to living life fully.