heavy feather review
Merridawn Duckler reviews Understudies for the Heavy Feather Review:
The disconnected vignettes seem like they could go on forever. Each episode, two hundred in all, covers a few paragraphs or, at most, a couple of pages. Some of them reminded me of Jack Handey’s “Deep Thoughts.” I wondered if this was just another collection of bro-mantic observations reminiscent of all those movies where not-quite-as-young-as-they-think men alternate between bravado and cowering, and often just go back home.
But something else tugs at the periphery of the form, and I think it turns Understudies into a little slice of genius. For, as it happens, these deadpan observations accumulate not temporally but morally. They define a world, and that is the world of suburbia. Urban and rural landscapes grip most of the contemporary fictional imagination, and at least since Cheever and Updike, suburban locales have been deeply site-specific. But Mangla’s town could be anywhere that contains a yard, a high school, a dry-cleaner and a hardware store. His locales are iconic, composed of places to run errands, take unsatisfying jobs, get buzzed and form relationships based on proximity and assumed values. The drifting form of this book is complicit and brilliant.
by Joe Brainard
Looking through a book of drawings by Holbein I realize several moments of truth. A nose (a line) so nose-like. So line-like. And then I think to myself “so what?” It’s not going to solve any of my problems. And then I realize that at the very moment of appreciation I had no problems. Then I decide that this is a pretty profound thought. And that I ought to write it down. This is what I have just done. But it doesn’t sound so profound anymore. That’s art for you.
Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.
It tells you.
You don’t tell it.
- Joan Didion
the old reactor
A mile out from Point Blast, Moldenke saw klieg lights moving along the black hull of a freighter, the Pipistrelle. Passengers were boarding. He turned back toward Salmonella’s nook. “Wake up, girl. We’re almost there.”
There were dozens of motors arriving at the same time, jockeying for places to be abandoned.
Salmonella hurriedly shucked her nightgown and got into traveling clothes.
Moldenke escaped having to do much jockeying when the motor ran out of heavy water and rolled to a stop in a cloud of steam.
"It looks like the end of the line," Moldenke said. "Goodbye Altobello."
Salmonella felt a small touch of sadness at leaving her birthplace.
- Read full excerpt at The Collagist
the paris review
What a story is, is devious. It pretends transparency, forthrightness. It engages with ordinary people, ordinary matters, recognizable stuff. But this is all a masquerade. What good stories deal with is the horror and incomprehensibility of time, the dark encroachment of old catastrophes—which is Wallace Stevens, I think. As a form, the short story is hardly divine, though all excellent art has its mystery, its spiritual rhythm.
- Joy Williams (from The Paris Review)
madness rack and honey
Eighty-five percent of all existing species are beetles and various forms of insects.
English is spoken by only 5 percent of the world’s population.
I have a short story in Barrelhouse's Comedy Issue. Here’s the first paragraph:
The city had given Ruckledge his name, and now he wanted out. A clean break. Three decades of professional baseball, as both a player and a coach, and what did he have to show for it? Two botched marriages (three, if you counted the attorney in his second divorce, a union annulled soon after the boozy nuptials). He was all but estranged from his children, and the friendships he had forged early in his playing career were foundering with time and distance. Ruckledge could feel his body circling before its final descent. Already his prostate would flare up at certain times during the day (evenings, mostly), and he needed only to walk a few blocks before his legs seized in an act of recalcitrance. When a former teammate by the name of Pendergraph, during an autograph session at a downtown shopping mall, offered Ruckledge use of his lakeside property for the summer, he accepted. It would give him the chance to sample life outside of the city limits.
(Email me to read an alternate version of the story.)
I think many artists of my generation are interested in how information is received and forwarded. We are in an age of information and I feel like I am on constant overload—one step behind or ahead of the latest. The recurring urgent message creates perpetual anxiety. It’s a normalized anxiety that becomes funny because it’s so ubiquitous and habitual. For me, painting is one way to distill and export. Sometimes I think my paintings are like big headlines, each one a container for its own bit of information. They are pretty direct, printed in boldface, per se, but also quiet and loaded. As pictures, they function singularly, but if you see enough of them you’ll get more of the whole story—it’s a sincere tale, but a parody at the same time, one that chronicles my tragic and comic love affair with painting.
- Amy Feldman
Three Condensed Hemingway Stories
"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (1933)
"The Old Man at the Bridge" (1938)
"Hills Like White Elephants" (1927)