3 Poems: Mecca, Tsarist Pop Star, and God and Judy Garland

THREE POEMS BY KURT BAUMEISTER

Publishing initially by Five:2:One on September 23, 2018

 

MECCA

 

She dances death magic in white linen dress, careless eyes, sad, blue fire, her speech the slow, easy prose of alleyways and lost marks slain, she thinks in poetry, dreams of songs, forgotten bodies that bore them to silence, till now they rest in the manifest depths of her conquering heart. Cracked brickwork walks and writhing iron trellises, sleazy bars and decadent eateries, never slowing, never closing, comes our royal line in perpetual stream: teamsters and legionnaires, artists and lunatics, actuaries, newlyweds, angels, and devils, not so accidental pilgrims any of them, all her lovers just the same. Gawking at two-bit sins, screaming in consumptive joy, praising dead gods, we order another round, another tray of aperitifs of the apocalypse: Hurricanes and Mudslides, Tornados and Tsunamis. But never Famine. Never Pestilence, War, or Death. Staring, consuming, gazes naked, spent desire and spare change, creased bills and idiot leers. All dance to the bayou city beat, the zydeco slave haze heat, all sing to the sound, play to the backbeat of her synthetic heart. Sipping drowning sleeping dreaming, all come to be made and remade in the image of capital and Christ, magic and money, all come to darkest beginning and brightest end, all come to American Mecca.

 

 

TSARIST POP STAR

 

Signet Classic, blurred sketch, ill-set, black/white, tiny type, skewed, weathered pages, a conjury of dust into a tiny suburban storm. Cough and read. Cough and read. Yosnaya Polyana was his pad, it says. Mad count, mad writer, War and Peace, that twofer was the greatest ever, it says. Look at all these pages, all that bearded genius. He was big, it says, until he wasn’t. That beard, she still is. Big. Tolstoy’s memory must have seemed worthy of history once-upon-a-Signet-Classic-time, deserving of odes or at least reprises, some summary poet’s lyric soulship to carry the spirit of genius ‘cross ruined land, ruined world, ruined history, a chariot littéraire, to bear solace grace witness, comfort the ears of the god’s true believers, candles slim, bottles fat, raising fire in drunken November night. Morning come someday sometime, the future would sow their seeds again, cloak their fields in carpets of blazing dawn, no more to bear the litter of lost lives, misremembered loves. Fin de siècle close at hand and where to turn for an image to take the place of their beloved Czar, beloved count, their god literary, their Tsarist pop star, where to cling but paper icons cast in black and white. Fearing to lose a ready truth they must trust they can pray, pray they can sleep.

 

 

GOD AND JUDY GARLAND

 

God started thinking about the end the day Paris fell to Hitler. He knew the Nazis were killers, that they would destroy everything He loved. Art and Hope, Peace and Charity, and so on and so on. For better or worse, God knew on that day that his time with man was coming to an end. Still, it took God almost a decade to accept his fate, self-imposed though it was, because, after all, he’d been God for quite a while and as we all know, it’s hard to give up something you’re used to. It’s hard to give up something you love.

Kurt Baumeister's God and Judy Garland poem on Five2One


Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. An Emerson MFA, his debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press in 2017. He is currently a Contributing Editor with The Weeklings. His Review Microbrew column is published by The Nervous Breakdown. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at https://kurtbaumeister.com/.

PAX AMERICANA Review/Author Interview at RAIN TAXI

Published initially by Rain Taxi

ROCK STARS, SECRET AGENTS,
AND AMERICAN MYTHS:
A CONVERSATION BETWEEN
CONSTANCE SQUIRES
AND KURT BAUMEISTER

Pax Americana
Kurt Baumeister

Stalking Horse Press ($19.99)

Live from Medicine Park
Constance Squires

Univ. of Oklahoma Press ($19.95)

Live from Medicine Park is a pure distillation of the dream that is America, one with little time to waste on the clichéd façade of hard work and success we so often associate with that dream. A tale of anonymity, fame, redemption, and remembrance that rises like myth from the sweltering heartland itself this is, nonetheless, a deeply realistic story of postmodern America, of disappeared rock goddesses, space-suited guitar wizards, Toyota dealerships, documentary filmmakers, and last gasps at fame. Filled with characters struggling more than they know, Live from Medicine Park is an unflinching portrait of America’s realities, Constance Squires just the sort of clear-eyed stylist to steer her characters and America towards the truth about themselves.
—Kurt Baumeister

Constance Squires is the award-winning author of Live from Medicine ParkAlong the Watchtower: A Novel and the forthcoming story collection, Hit Your Brights. Her numerous short stories have appeared in GuernicaShenandoahAtlantic Monthly, and other magazines. She teaches creative writing at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Brilliantly plotted and linguistically nimble, Kurt Baumeister’s Pax America is a high-flying book as arch as it is deft. The spy thriller plot, particularly as we know it from James Bond films, serves as a surprisingly flexible skeleton for Baumeister to tell a dystopic tale of a not-too-distant American future after thirty plus years of right wing control. Part satire, part homage to the form, Pax Americanaalso resonates with other parodies like Archer and the Austin Powers movies—there’s an unabashed glee in playing with the loopier elements of the genre—hidden islands rigged out with nuclear devices, sharks, henchmen, allegorical names, and a suitably oh-no-whoever-controls-it-controls-the-world Maguffin in the form of a technology, called Symmetra, with vast, cryptic spiritual power. Beneath all the fun, there’s a serious critique of tendencies in our culture that are scary, but in a way that makes considering them go down as easily as a Righteous Burger. James Bond for the #MeToo moment.
—Constance Squires

Kurt Baumeister has written for SalonElectric LiteratureThe Rumpus, and others. His debut novel, Pax Americana, was published in 2017. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki, and a hybrid collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Superman, the Seven Gods of Death, and the Need for Clean, Romantic Poetry.


Kurt Baumeister: Connie, I’ve been eager to talk to you about Live from Medicine Park. First off, let’s cover the fact that this is a Rock n’ Roll Novel. More specifically, this is a book with a certain kinship to Great Jones Street, one of our mutual hero Don DeLillo’s earliest books. The books seem like mirror images in a way; in Great Jones Street, rock star Bucky Wunderlick is trying to escape fame. In yours, you’ve also got a rock star at the center of things, Lena Wells, but Lena’s trying to regain the fame she lost decades earlier. Do you think this is a fair comparison?

Constance Squires: I love Great Jones Street and definitely wanted to tip my hat to it in the media kit section of Live from Medicine Park. There’s always a question of how to represent the music on the page in a book that deals with music, and of course you always want whatever you do to deepen character, so I wrote a media kit inspired by Great Jones Street that contained Lena’s lyrics and some reviews. I wanted the lyrics to show sides of her that she wouldn’t show Ray in person. I don’t go so far as to think of my story as a reversal of Great Jones Street, though, mainly because Lena’s not the main character and her ideas about her career and music aren’t what drive the story. Lena is sort of a Gatsby figure, someone who the main character, Ray, thinks a lot about, but she probably changes less than anyone of the other key characters. She’s at the heart of the book, but she’s not the engine.

KGB: The idea of Lena as a Gatsby figure is an interesting one. DeLillo and Fitzgerald share an iciness in tone, a detachment critics have commented on. I don’t notice that with your work. In fact, the balance you show in developing and presenting emotional conflict is striking. Live from Medicine Park is no tear-jerker, but you take quite a few characters here and give them meaningful inner lives, even the minor ones. Is there a sort of North Star you look to as you develop characters, something that helps you succeed in developing their interiority?

CS: Thank you! I know what you mean about DeLillo’s iciness, and I’m glad to have a warmer book. I think we’re all trying to write the kind of book we’d like to read, and everybody has a different set point for what they want in an emotional conflict. I’m bored and sickened by sheer melodrama, but stuff that’s too ironic and glib feels almost like cowardice to me, like a writer not wanting to go there. I think in life I try to notice this tendency in myself when it comes up and then to make myself think about or feel or act on whatever it is that’s uncomfortable, so maybe I just extend that expectation to my characters. I do know that my favorite kind of characters are very flawed—I always feel grateful to writers that give me a flawed character I can relate to at the same time I get to watch her figure things out. It’s no different than life; a person that will say, “Hey, you know what, I was such an asshole and I’m sorry,” is a thousand times more compelling and admirable than someone who shirks and blames and avoids.

So, Kurt, to bat one back at you here: On the subject of iciness, I admire the way you manage to warm up Tuck Squires in Pax Americana so that he is so much more than just a type. I’ve read a lot of stuff in which it’s clear where the writer’s sympathies lie, and so often it means that the character representing the values the writer disagrees with is not given much humanity. Satire can be especially cold, because the conceit often trumps the characterization, but you really surprised me in how reasonable and even admirable Tuck was in certain moments. Again and again we see that he is loyal and determined; that you let those traits coexist with his less likeable ones took this book to another level for me. Tell me about writing Tuck—where did that character come from and how did you feel your way into his voice?

KGB: Tuck is a fantasy/anti-fantasy persona. Speaking superficially, he’s everything one could ever want to be—young, rich, handsome, athletic, sure of his place in the world, confident—but he’s also a complete fucking mess. To the extent Tuck is successful as a protagonist, I think the thing that makes him work is his conviction that he’s doing right even when he’s not. Like so many of the characters in this book, Tuck is, on some level, a failed Christ figure. He wants to save the day and I do think there’s nobility in that. Sure, he wants all the accolades that might go with it, but even if you’re the worst person in the world, if you want to save the world, there’s something good about you. And I think this is applicable to all the characters, including the villains. The funny thing about villains is very few people or even characters would cop to being one. With few exceptions, each of us is the hero of our own story. When people talk about heroes and villains, antiheroes and antivillains, my ears always perk up, because our perceptions of heroism or villainy, good or evil, are subjective. One woman’s hero is another’s villain.

As far as Tuck’s voice goes, I hear him as someone who’s developed a veneer of confidence, someone who conveys the conviction he’s doing right, no matter how wrong he obviously is. Because he’s so convinced of how right he is, Tuck can say and do things that are awful and funny all at once. He’s not politically correct. In this way, he’s the voice of the far, religious right in America, the part of it that seemed to be ascendant under W. Bush.

CS: I adore unreliable narrators and love Tuck for that reason, but Diana is another key voice. The alternating chapter structure, Tuck and Diana, really works; did you conceive the book that way or did you find you needed Diana for certain things?

KGB: This book was a lot longer at one point, perhaps up to 130,000 words, and there were more points of view. As I trimmed the word count, one of the obvious (though not easy) things to do was get rid of POV characters. I knew I needed Diana and Parlay; they are the drivers for the story, so I had to be able to get inside their heads directly. Tuck and Clarion drive the plot, so I had to keep them as well. I toyed with Jack Justice as a POV character and he was fun to write but ultimately superfluous. Beyond all this, if there’s one thing I absolutely needed Diana for it was her goodness, her heroism. She’s the best of these characters, the most admirable and the most intelligent. I think she understands the limits of human knowledge, the fact that we’re constantly evolving our understanding of the world.

Thinking now about heroism, and, also, failure—Diana’s, Tuck’s, Clarion’s, but also your main character, Ray’s—Ray is the protagonist in Live from Medicine Park, the hero in a way, and he’d understand that about himself, auteur that he is. He’s also a realistic character, and though ultimately successful on some level, he spends a lot of time failing.

CS: Right. Ray believes he is a cool, objective filmmaker who never gets involved or steps from behind the camera. His mantra from Star Trek about the prime objective—never interfere with the fate of a civilization you’re visiting—articulates this position. He fails utterly at this, and so the crisis of the novel involves a moment when someone he cares about on the Medicine Park set is gravely hurt because he’s practicing the same character flaws that got someone shot on his last set—he’s finally having to get real with himself about that.

KGB: Coming to terms with the truth about themselves, the realities of their lives . . . there are a lot of characters doing that in this book. What is Live from Medicine Park saying about truth?

CS: This space is also filled with the family story around Lena—her son, Gram’s search for his father, Gram and Jettie’s band, the Black Sheep, and their approaching make-or-break moment, the mystery of Lena’s relationship with Cy, and the further question of Lena’s heritage embodied in her claim to be Geronimo’s great-granddaughter. The place—the Native American history, the military-industrial history of the base, the buffaloes and the trashy bars, the prohibition-era myths of the old hotel and the rock myths walking around in silver lamé spacesuits—is important to me. It’s not a part of the world most people have their own experience with, so it felt important to show it.

KGB: Poetry and lyrics, fiction and music reviews—your book has just about everything stylistically, something few writers can pull off. Do you feel confined by form? Is the variation of form in Live from Medicine Park an attempt to move past the novel’s traditional boundaries, or are you simply doing what your material demands?

CS: I loved writing those lyrics and reviews—it was tons of fun, and there’s actually more that the editors talked me into cutting, with good reason. I felt like I had to do it. I’ve read a lot of rock novels, and it’s so important to try to find an equivalency on the page for the experience of hearing live music and watching someone in concert. You really can’t do it, but it’s important to try, because I’m not too interested in Lena as a public figure, I’m interested in her as an artist. So, I have to show her art, at least what I can. And I tried to make Lena’s lyrics and Jettie’s lyrics different—I used different models and went for different effects. I wanted them to be of equal quality but distinct stylistic variations.

As far as moving past the novel’s traditional boundaries, I don’t feel like I did that much with this novel. Aside from the lyrics, this is a very linear narrative with quite a traditional structure, really. My first novel was much more modular, not plot-driven, and the one I’m working on now is very definitely pushing against the restrictions of the form, but Live from Medicine Park felt like it needed a strong, recognizable structure. I thought of it like a song—a listener will tolerate a lot of harmonic weirdness and cryptic lyrics and what-have-you if the rhythm section keeps driving hard, pulling you forward.

Kurt, speaking of cryptic . . . I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that your initials are KGB, but I’m enough of a dork to want to try to make something of that and the fact that you’ve written in a form that reached its pinnacle during the Cold War. I guess I’m curious about your relationship to the spy thriller genre and how you chose it. Are there certain books or movies that imprinted on you? Do you want to talk about any deliberate homages, like the way my media kit is a direct homage to DeLillo?

KGB: I think my parents were trying to be funny. Maybe? Those are just my initials, though. Certainly, the Bond books (and movies) are key. You’ve very astutely homed in on my writing relationship with the genre, at least with this book. Tuck Squires sees himself as an American Bond. And his partner, Ken Clarion, I mean, he’s only fifty-something but I’ve joked about him being a geriatric Bond. To a certain extent, I think I’m also satirizing a lot of “Christian” fiction a la the Left Behind books, other spy thrillers, and to some extent perhaps something like The Da Vinci Code.

CS: Your fictional computer program Symmetra, with its genuine spiritual potential, as well as your examples of a power-mad Christianity that resonate powerfully with our own America (like “Righteous Burger,” which is so great), suggest you have something to say about the distinction between spirituality and religion. Do you, or what concerns about religion are you manifesting in these story elements?

KGB: Absolutely. I draw a distinction between spirituality and religion. I hold out a little hope for some sort of metaphysical world beyond, though I’m fairly convinced this is it. When we die, the game stops. No second chances, no bonus rounds. One never knows, though. I think what I was trying to get at with Symmetra (or maybe better to say what its inventor, Diana Scorsi, is trying to get at) is that the chances of one of the many thousands of religions being right—or really billions, if you consider that even people who accept the same dogma interpret it differently in their heads—that in the face of all that, the idea of one religion, any religion, being right, (Christianity, say, or Islam), well, it is sort of ridiculous. If any fundamentalist interpretation of one religion is correct, it voids all the others. So, it’s just sort of funny that everyone’s running around convinced they’ve got the secret sauce and everyone else is doomed. Now, what Diana’s tried to envision, which seems more likely to me, is that if religions en masse are right, it’s in their commonalities. So, she builds a database of religions and uses this as the genesis for her technology.

CS: In their commonalities—I couldn’t agree more. Onto your dialogue: it’s snappy and smart and it veers away from anything that felt expected or formulaic. You’re great with indirection and with attitude too. How do you write dialogue? Does it come easily or have you had any embarrassing experiments as you learned your craft?

KGB: What a great thing to hear. I love writing dialogue. Honestly, it’s the easiest thing for me. The conversations just sort of come to me as I sit thinking about them. I don’t use many tags when I’m drafting, just write stuff down as it drops into my mind. My editor had to convince me to put more tags in so that readers could keep track of who’s saying what.

I just try to imagine the conversation going back and forth and write it down, then go back over it again and again until it sounds true and says everything that needs to be said. Dialogue is an easy way to provide key details—I mean, it can be a trap, too, if you go too far with it—but, used correctly, it’s an easy way to accomplish just about everything from characterization to exposition, story, and plot without being too clunky about it.

Under the Influence #4, Nabokov’s Hyperbole

written by Kurt Baumeister September 12, 2018
Published initially by Entropy

Intro

Wherein you will learn of David Leo Rice’s ten mental locks, Marcy Dermansky’s ability to see romance in the confluence of pierogis and roaches, how Stephen Dunn’s poetry makes Kenzie Allen feel at home anywhere in the world, Kevin Catalano’s thoughts on semicolons and Faulkner, Pam Jones’s envy for Jeanette Winterson (and, really, who doesn’t have a little of that), and, finally, Darin Strauss’s musings on the great V.S. Pritchett. Enjoy….


V.S. Pritchett

by Darin Strauss

Pritchett is a great writer—admired by masters as different as Eudora Welty and Martin Amis—but he’s not the best writer in history. He happens, though, to be the writer in whose “rainbow” I “oscillate,” to paraphrase Melville on Hawthorne.

Brad Leithauser talks about there being, out on the shelves of the world, a “book of your life.” That’s Pritchett’s Collected Stories for me, as it’s probably some other writer for you—the person whose work sends out a message you receive perfectly, as if it was aimed at you alone.

The cadence of Pritchett’s sentences, the empathy in his dialogue, the gentle humor activates in me some feeling of kinship—some frizzle of recognition—that let me know who I was, or wanted to be.

Darin Strauss is the author of the bestselling novels Chang & EngThe Real McCoyMore Than It Hurts You and most recently the NBCC-winning memoir Half a Life. These have been New York Times Notable BooksNewsweek,Los Angeles TimesSan Francisco ChronicleChicago TribuneNPR Best Books of the Year, among other honors.  The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and The National Book Critics Circle Award, Strauss has been translated into fourteen languages and published in nineteen countries. He has a novel, a limited comic book series—Olivia Twist—and a graphic novel coming out in 2018-2019 and is the Clinical Professor of fiction in the NYU graduate writing program.


Deborah Eisenberg

by Marcy Dermansky

In my first fiction class as an undergraduate in college, my writing professor assigned short stories by Deborah Eisenberg from her first collection Transactions in a Foreign Country. They just blew my mind. I loved these stories, the smart and troubled young women she was writing about. There was a girl from New Jersey (just like me) who was going blind, who falls in love with an older guy she meets at a bar across the street from her eye doctor. And the unhappy college graduate, recently dumped, who moves to the East Village to an apartment unseen, living that sort of on the edge of bohemian New York City life I one day aspired to have. Even the roaches on the pierogi had a kind of romance to them. At that moment in time, Eisenberg’s short stories were exactly what I wanted to read. And maybe even more important, they were stories I hoped that one day I would be able to write.

Marcy Dermansky is the author of The Red CarBad Marie, and Twins. Her new novel Very Nice will be released next year. Find her at www.marcydermansky.com

 

 


Jeanette Winterson

by Pam Jones

The best thing, I think, is when I come across a writer who brings about envy in me. I have read Jeanette Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body, at least once a year since I was seventeen. The narrator is stripped of name, gender, age, description of any kind, save for their effect on those they have seduced and those who have seduced them. There’s a tricky balance here, knowing how much or how little you need to make a work act as a mirror, a reflection of the reader that is both humorous and humiliating. I envy Winterson’s talent. And when I envy someone’s work, I know it’s good.

Pam Jones is the author of The Biggest Little Bird (Black Hill Press/1888Center, 2013) and Andermatt County: Two Parables (The April Gloaming, 2018). Her short fiction has appeared in Boned and The Cost of Paper. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband.

 


Felisberto Hernández

by David Leo Rice

I picture my mind having ten locks. Any author whose work I enjoy opens two or three, any whose work I love opens five or six, but only a few open all ten, thereby entering the chamber where my DNA is stored. One such author is Felisberto Hernández, who also played piano in the silent film theaters of Uruguay in the early 20thcentury. All of his stories, and in particular “The Daisy Dolls,” descend into a netherworld where waking and dreaming overlap, and objects (pianos, mansions, dolls) take on uncanny life. What I love most is how familiar this netherworld comes to feel, inducing an eerie sense of déjà vu.

David Leo Rice is a writer and animator from Northampton, MA. His stories, which often strive to merge the real and the surreal in small American towns, appear in Black ClockThe CollagistThe RumpusHobartCatapult,Birkensnake, and elsewhere. His first novel, A Room in Dodge City, is the first in a trilogy and was published in 2017. He is currently working on a standalone novel inspired by reclusive artists such as Joseph Cornell and Robert Walser. Its main thematic question is: where, if anywhere, is the line between the cool-weird and the weird-weird in art? His work is online at: www.raviddice.com.

 


Stephen Dunn

by Kenzie Allen

I can’t carry much with me, continuously crossing oceans, but Stephen Dunn’s Different Hours always makes the trip. There’s much to be said for the cadre of artists sometimes referred to as “wisdom poets,” whose quiet revelations rendered in bright narrative never fail to bring me to tears, to longing, to a sense that I’ve come home (even in a time when, for me, “home” is increasingly elusive). I believe in poetry’s power to build community, and I admire poets like Dunn for inviting a broad readership; his work is no less complex than the poems we sometimes puzzled over in English Literature classes, but ultimately it feels welcoming—and funny, and wrenching, and yes, wise—and, above all, generous.

Kenzie Allen is a descendant of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She is currently an Advanced Opportunity Program Fellow in the English & Creative Writing PhD at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, where she teaches in American Indian Studies. Kenzie received her MFA from the University of Michigan, and she is the Managing Editor of Anthropoid. She was born in West Texas, lives in Norway, and tumbleweeds wherever the wind takes her.

 


William Faulkner

by Kevin Catalano

Because you young college man raced to chase that tail of the interminable sentence that vines like kudzu tangled in the nooses of history hanging from too many willows that weep blood on Sutpen’s Hundred, you tried all the tricks, like the semicolons–that mixed race of punctuation, the Eulalia Bon of pauses–an Absalom here and an Absalom there, a ten-year mimicry that could pass like Charles Bon, but with one indomitable exception: you’re a Yankee appropriating a tangled-up South you’ll never understand; so finally, you wise up, but your blood’s been syntactically infected and you’ll spend a lifetime repudiating it.

Kevin Catalano is the author of the novel, Where the Sun Shines Out. His other writing has appeared in PANK,FanzineGargoyle Magazine, and other places. Find more at www.kevincatalano.com.

 

 


Outro

“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.”

— Vladimir Nabokov (Lectures on Literature)

Pam Jones’s devotion to Winterson’s Written on the Body has me thinking about the nature of rereading, why it’s so essential and how intimately it’s tied to this whole Under the Influence project, which in turn sent me back to Nabokov’s famous quote.

As he was prone to, Nabokov makes his case in hyperbolic terms, the reality being that of course one can bloody well read a book, that there is indeed quite a bit to be gotten from that first pass. As writers, however, we read not just for pleasure but to learn and in this way, from this perspective, Nabokov is dead on.

We reread, obviously, to increase our conscious understanding of a text, but also to embed it in our psyches, to make our relationship with it subconscious. Yes, we achieve some of this effect even with a first read, but not much of it. By rereading, by committing more and more of the text to memory, we create a stronger relationship with it, one that passes into something like the metaphysical.

The text travels, in our heads, through our lives, emerging sometimes years or decades later, not just in the odd syntactic tic, but in the cadence of our prose, the rhythms of our dialogue, and often, in the themes and architecture of our own work. This deeper, subconscious knowledge is the gift of rereading, one so great maybe it really was deserving of Nabokov’s hyperbole.

Under the Influence #3, Rediscovery

written by Kurt Baumeister August 8, 2018

I’m changing the format here a bit. I’ll have some words on the month’s contributions at the end. For now, let us celebrate the contributors.

Kerry Cohen was just on the Today Show a couple weeks ago. Yeah, that Today Show. Holy Hades!

Bud Smith is a one-man literature factory. Every time I turn around, dude got another book.

Susan Nordmark is a Kansan who studied Biological Anthropology at Harvard. There’s a Wizard of Oz mash-up in there somewhere.

Buzzy Jackson is one of the most delightfully zany people you’ll find anywhere. And she’s hilarious. And she’s an atheist. So, +10 to all ability scores.

Jordan A. Rothacker puts the “I” in IQ. When not pumping out interviews, reviews, or his own creative work, Jordan relaxes (apparently) by musing on Ovid.

David Bowles gets this month’s UTI (yes, we’re aware) Badass Award for championing a major historical figure/writer I had never heard of.


Kazuo Ishiguro

by Kerry Cohen

During graduate school, I read Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro to examine how he transgressed the meta-narrative of the love story. The novel is about a butler who is devoted to the requirements of his work, namely duty and dignity, so devoted that he sublimates all unruly feelings, such as desire and love. Ishiguro masterfully buries the love story beneath the protagonist’s devotion to duty, which is conveyed through every word, every sentence, and every scene of the book. It is, put simply, a perfect book, and it taught me how to be a writer.

Kerry Cohen is the author of 11 books, most recently Lush: A Memoir. She is a practicing psychologist and is on the faculty of the Red Earth Low-Residency MFA program. www.kerry-cohen.com

 


Tove Jansson

 by Bud Smith

Tove Jansson lived partly on a tiny island off the coast of Finland. First she was an illustrator of children’s books, but when she turned 50, she switched to autobiographical novels for adults. Tove’s writing is mean-spited, unsentimental, and beautiful. Summer Book is great but Fair Play is better, it’s about the mundane life of an artist, plus she gets lost in Baltic Sea fog in a small boat and argues with her partner, drifting towards Estonia, fighting over lack of crispbread. I love when she rails against her fans, often children, who send letters she debates replying to.

Bud Smith works heavy construction in New Jersey building and demolishing chemical plants, refineries, and power houses. He is the author of a memoir about that called WORK (CCM, 2018), as well as a book of short stories called Double Bird (Maudlin House, 2018). In 2019, Tyrant Books will publish his next novel Teenager. He lives with his wife, a textile artist in an apartment at the corner of two loud streets, the opposite of Tove Jansson’s remote Finnish Island. Tove’s coordinates were 60.165579º N, 25.802778º E. Bud’s are 40.725513° N, -74.072922° W.

 


Hillary Mantel

by Susan Nordmark

Hilary Mantel’s fiction rations beauty. She’ll allow a couple sentences of loveliness, then complicate by injecting uncertainty, trepidation, ugliness. If there’s nothing edgy in-scene, she creates it. In Bring Up the Bodies, Cromwell observes Anne Boleyn in a gorgeous pink and gray dress, and thinks of the intestines he’s ordered torturers to rip from the bellies of politically recalcitrant monks. This joins Cromwell’s feelings about Anne with how he may be haunted by his own realpolitik. Mantel never hyper-dramatizes or seeks solace in beautiful things. Romanticism is always false. Mantel’s images startle and cut.

Susan Nordmark‘s stories, essays and prose poetry have appeared in EntropySin Fronteras: Writers Without BordersPeacock JournalDraft: The Journal of ProcessPorter Gulch Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, California. 


Jorge Luis Borges

 by Buzzy Jackson

The first time I read Jorge Luis Borges—the story, “The Garden of Forking Paths” (1941)—I knew nothing about him. I began to read the abrupt, confusing, self-contradictory story and wondered: was this a spy novel? A memoir? A joke? Yes, it was all of those.

Plus.

“At one time, Ts’ui Pen must have said; ‘I am going into seclusion to write a book,’ and at another, ‘I am retiring to construct a maze,’” Borges writes. “Everyone assumed these were separate activities. No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.”

In Borges, they always are. I still can’t find the center of the maze.

But I’ll keep trying.

Buzzy Jackson is a historian, critic, and author of three books, most recently The Inspirational Atheist: Wise Words on the Wonder and Meaning of Life (Penguin Random House). In 2018 she was an Edith Wharton Writer-in-Residence at The Mount, where she worked on her current book, a historical novel set in World War II Holland. www.BuzzyJackson.com

 

 


Ovid

by Jordan A. Rothacker

Ovid looked forward by looking back. Systematic within the poetic, everything in Ovid is transformation, like his great work, Metamorphoses. An epic-making version of Hesiod plus Heraclitus; with the heart of a dissident, Ovid’s dissidence was erotic, amounting to songs of love in all its forms. He touched power and it bit back with exile. Ovid made terms with his fate and learned the language of place to compose poems forever lost to the world. Work, ever imperative, he knew his position in history. I look back to Ovid, as Shakespeare did, as we all three have looked back to the Greeks. We gaze together, points and positions connecting in varied directions.

Jordan A. Rothacker is a writer living in Athens, GA where he received an MA in Religion and a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. His work has appeared in various publications both commercial and literary. The Pit, and No Other Stories (Black Hill Press, 2015), And Wind Will Wash Away (Deeds, 2016), and My Shadow Book By Maawaam (Spaceboy Books, 2017) are his novels. 2019 will see a short story collection from Stalking Horse Press called Gristle. Rothacker promises it’ll be weird.

 


Nezahualcoyotl

by David Bowles

In college, awakening to the erasure of my Mexican heritage, I tumbled down a rabbit hole of research and discovered Nezahualcoyotl, king of the city-state of Texcoco from 1430 to 1472. A founder of the Aztec Empire, Nezahualcoyotl excelled as a statesman, engineer, and philosopher. Most importantly, he was Mesoamerica’s greatest poet. After the Conquest destroyed most of Mexico’s indigenous literature, the poet-king’s mestizo grandson, Juan Bautista Pomar, preserved 36 poems of Texcoco, titling them Ballads of the Lords of New Spain. The document includes Nezahualcoyotl’s haunting verse, poignant reflections on the fleeting nature of human life and joy.

Only flowers form our shroud.
Only with hymns
does our despair
tumble like a thousand blooms.

It is said that feasts
will fade away for me.
It is said that friends
will fade away for me
when I depart
for the Land of Songs.

A Mexican-American author from South Texas, David Bowles is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written several titles, including Flower, Song, Dance: Aztec and Mayan Poetry,the Pura Belpré Honor Book The Smoking Mirror, and Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Mexican Myths. His work has also appeared in venues such as Journal of Children’s LiteratureNightmareApexRattleStrange HorizonsAsymptoteTranslation Review, and Metamorphoses. In 2017, he was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters.


Outro

Sometimes I wonder whether humanity has lost more knowledge than it will ever possess. Even as technology advances—as we fly higher, compute faster, and live longer—we seem constantly to be forgetting things that should never be forgotten.

We forget love and nature until they desert us. We forget tyranny and war until it’s too late to stop them. We forget disease, famine, and genocide in a vain maze of beauty products, video games, and YouTube. Even as we seem to move forward, trouble comes in our wake, so much that sometimes history seems nothing but an exercise in making its own end plausible.

Then I remember the raw power of language. I remember language is a gift and a proof, a ward against forgetting; that as long as language survives in some form, knowledge survives with it, knowledge that may someday, if we’re fortunate, be recalled. And in knowledge there is hope.

Yes, sometimes knowledge is a straightforward mapping of the physical world: the facts, figures, names, and dates that are the province of scientists and historians. But sometimes knowledge is more. Sometimes knowledge is a dream, the sense of eternal spring conjured by the idea of a Land of Songs. Sometimes knowledge is the poetry of a master centuries gone.

Under the Influence #2, Son of Kid of Baby

UNDER THE INFLUENCE #2, SON OF KID OF BABY

written by Kurt Baumeister July 10, 2018 (ran initially at Entropy Magazine)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;”

– Juliet, Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

 

In school, we’re taught we can give things names and in doing so cast a sort of spell, that we can create a shared understanding of what it is we’re talking about. But that teaching isn’t necessarily borne out by reality. Names, as Juliet might have mused four centuries ago, aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.

Take Literary Modernism (essentially New-ism), a catchy vaguery that was (and is) the literary world’s response to the sweeping technological changes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most notably the assembly-line approach to mass-killing World War I had made possible. Woolf and Joyce, Faulkner and Kafka—these disparate writers were all modernists, “new” writers who, maybe mimicking the destruction all around them, attempted to confront technology’s impact on humanity by blowing the literary world apart. Modernists made literature so varied (and often weird compared to what had gone before) no one could succinctly categorize what was being done. We weren’t dealing with realism, for example: People were waking up as cockroaches. But we weren’t dealing with realism’s glitzy twin romanticism either: People were waking up as cockroaches. What we were dealing with was a world in which people could wake up as cockroaches and you could still get a decent story out of it.

Modernism wasn’t the end of weird, though. Nor, in fact, was it the end of technology’s dizzying advance. To television and splitting the atom, critics responded with yet another new term, one we’re quite familiar with today: Postmodernism. Maybe their thinking was that with a little more time, and another buzzword (After-New-ism?) to distract people, they’d finally be able to figure things out? But they didn’t. Or, rather, haven’t.

They (and we) stumbled through the next three-quarters of a century (flight and spaceflight, the Internet, AI, robotics, and genetics) mumbling “blah blah Thomas Pynchon blah postmodern blah” and “Blah blah postmodernist David Foster Wallace blah blah blah”, until we wound up on the cusp of something else without being clear not just what that was, but on what had come before it or even before that. If Modernism was a baby who never got a name besides Baby, Postmodernism was its kid, Kid. All of which leaves us where and with what? Postpostmodernism, I guess, Son of Kid of Baby, or something like that…

Now for the good stuff. This month’s group of influences kicks off with literary magician Amber Sparks and her admiration for the Baroness von Blixen, Isak Dinesen. Much as I hate to admit it, I think we may owe Twitter a debt of gratitude for Amber’s contribution. But I’ll leave it at that. Enjoy…


Isak Dinesen

by Amber Sparks

I prefer the title ‘storyteller’ to ‘writer,’ so self-professed storyteller Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) is my literary heroine. In her books, she transforms the traditional fairy tale into something much wilder, stranger, and more savage. I love that she turns that hoary old advice on its head and she tells, rather than shows, and thank god for an old-fashioned bard. As the Paris Review says, “Outside the canon of modern literature like an oriole outside a cage of moulting linnets, Isak Dinesen offers to her readers the unending satisfaction of the tale told.”  Her collection Seven Gothic Tales was the first I ever read, in print, that felt like someone was spinning me stories on a dark and shadowy night.

Amber Sparks is the author of two short story collections and a novella. Her work mostly lives atambernoellesparks.com, and she mostly lives @ambernoelle on Twitter, much to her chagrin.

 


Lydia Davis

 by Laurie Stone

One day the man I live with read me “The Bone,” a story by Lydia Davis. The narrator, now divorced, remembers a fish bone caught in her husband’s throat. Attempts to dislodge it fail. A doctor extracts it with a tiny hook. The doctor is Jewish and the husband, also a Jew, speak in French about being Jews. I said, “What’s it about?” The man said, “Irritation is at the center of everyone’s life, irritation that can neither be coughed up or swallowed. The narrator recalls connection in a time of loneliness.” I said, “I would never have understood that in a million years.” Thus began my romance with the mysterious, layered moments and gloomy hopefulness of the Davis short story.

Laurie Stone is author most recently of My Life as an Animal, Stories. Her stories have appeared in Tin House,Evergreen ReviewFenceOpen CityThe CollagistThreepenny Review, and Creative Nonfiction, among other publications. She is at work on The Love of Strangers, a collage of hybrid narratives. Her website is:lauriestonewriter.com.

 


Kathy Acker

by James Reich

—Empire—of—the—Senseless—Artaud—Rimbaud—Apropos—Foucault—YoHoHo—Homosexuals—Hemophiliacs—Haitians—Heroin—4H—Tattoo—Voodoo—Hoodlum—Cyborg—Appropriate—Inappropriate—Disappopriate—Amputate—Fornicate—AIDS—CDC—CIA—Discipline—Anarchy—Colony—Imperial—Empirical—Empire —Orphan—Dickensian—Algerian—Reagan—Urchin—Cancer—Neuromancer—Exotic—Dancer—Necromancer—Pirate—Muscle—Barnacle—Manacle—Motorcycle—Radical—Tears—Punishing—Nourishing—Eidetic—Emetic—Schreber—Freud—Mother—Father—Multinational—Flesh—Rose—Cunt—Blood—Phenomenology—Sade—Samedi—Theory—Rejects—Revolution—Robot— Effigies—Elegies—Class—Corpus—Rope—Rats—Dead—Fish—Fuck—Form—Intention—Language—Transnationalism—Rape—Travesty—Tricky—Transvestite—Code—Body—Failure—Drastic—Classicism—Sculpt—Scalp—Scalpel—Mastectomy—Masts—Masks—Modernist—Pain—Postmodernist—Pimps—Love—Persian—Poems—

James Reich is the author of five novels including the forthcoming The Song My Enemies SingSoft Invasions(2017), and Mistah Kurtz! A Prelude to Heart of Darkness (2016) from Anti-Oedipus Press. He is the publishing editor of Stalking Horse Press and has a Kathy Acker tattoo.

 


Elizabeth McCracken

by Shannon Leone Fowler

Another writer recommended Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination when I was writing my own memoir. It begins with a suggestion that she “should write a book about the lighter side of losing a child. (This is not that book.)” What follows taught me that books can be deeply sad and profoundly beautiful at the same time. Her words are unflinching and unapologetic. Writing about the death of my own fiancé, I was surprised by the universality of grief. And the ending of McCracken’s memoir perfectly encapsulates life after losing someone you will always love.

Shannon Leone Fowler is a marine biologist, writer, and single mother of three young children. She’s researched Australian sea lions, taught in the Bahamas and Galápagos, studied killer whales in the San Juan Islands, and spent seasons in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Originally from California, she lives in London. Her memoir, Traveling with Ghosts, is out now in paperback.

 


Donald Barthelme

by John Domini

Donald Barthelme left us any number of nourishing lines. He can make a meal out of just two words, like “monkscloth pajamas” from Snow White. Yet for such protein, he dug deep. I mean his gift may seem all surface: the Tharp-sharp wit, the Flying Wallenda rhetoric, leaping from blunt to dandified. Yes, but his true cornucopia was the passions. All his challenges to narrative norms, baroque and Euro in “The Indian Uprising,” folksy and cartoonish in “The School,” one way or another evoke familiar quandaries. Even those monkscloth pajamas — what’s their story? Who’s doing penance, night after lonely night? One hopes the poor guy at least finds a good Barthelme story to sustain him.

John Domini’s latest book is MOVIEOLA, a collection of linked stories. In 2019 he’ll publish the novel The Color Inside a Melon.

 

 


J.G. Ballard

by Michael J. Seidlinger

I remember the copy of Crash a bandmate brought to practice—the blue cover with its iconic head-on collision, the irresistible premise of people turned on by car accidents. Of course, I was on board with Ballard: as if I’d read him before I’d even picked up one of his books. The DroughtThe Drowned WorldThe Crystal WorldCocaine NightsAtrocity ExhibitionCrash, you name it, I read it. Ballard’s books fueled my passion for exploration, the desire to question sexuality and technology. More than that, he taught me to transform an urge into a fully fleshed-out piece, an idea into an entire novel.

Michael J. Seidlinger is an Asian-American author of a number of books including Standard Loneliness Package,My Pet Serial Killer, and The Fun We’ve Had. He serves as Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House, Editor-at-Large for Electric Literature, and is a member of The Accomplices. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he never sleeps and is forever searching for the next best cup of coffee. You can find him online on Facebook, Twitter (@mjseidlinger), and Instagram (@michaelseidlinger).

 

 

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THE ARENA OF LOVE, a short story

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The Arena of Love
by Kurt Baumeister

1

The Little, Blue Gumshoe

Reginald Van Meter wasn’t blue, but he looked it. And not euphemistically, in some down-in-the-mouth, bummed-out-pumpkin sense. Reg didn’t look blue because his wife, kids, and beloved dog, Sinatra, had left him. Though they had.

He didn’t look blue because his brother, Mycroft, Jr., had locked him in a dumbwaiter for an entire weekend nearly a half-century earlier, when he was seven years old, though that too had happened.

Reg didn’t even look blue because the Ruskies had just detonated their first H-bomb; something that had sent much of the Western World (from foggy London to sunny Paris to Reg’s home base of rainy New York City) spiraling into a panmeteorological, multicontinental, geopolitical tizzy.

Reg looked blue (a deep, iridescent indigo to be precise) because of a rare genetic condition known as potassium C-16 hyperabsorption, which caused him to emit a weak electromagnetic field. This field caused his skin to appear blue to the naked eye, even though it wasn’t, a trait that, coupled with his small stature (one foot four inches in height) and profession (world-renowned supersleuth), had caused Reg to be known far and wide as The Little, Blue Gumshoe.

Not to his close associates, of course. To them, he was just Reg. Nor to his wife, who now referred to him simply as That Asshole, his children who still called him Dad, and Sinatra (who while very smart for a dog was still a Chihuahua and could only speak in barks), and thus called him nothing unless you count barks which you can’t. To everyone else, from the guy at the newsstand to the guy at the other newsstand, Reginald Van Meter was The Little, Blue Gumshoe.

 

2

The Riddle of the Missing Siamese

Over his illustrious career, The Little, Blue Gumshoe had divined the truth of many a mystery, cracked every case from The Death of the Mechanical Maiden to The Trail of the Falling Star to The Conundrum of the Disintegrating Inheritance, and many, many (529, in fact) others.

So famous was The Little, Blue Gumshoe that his exploits appeared regularly on the front page of the Gumshoe sections of local, national, and international newspapers. He was the little blue answer to Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple. Except that unlike those legendary detectives, The Little, Blue Gumshoe was real…and little…and blue.

Having recently solved his 533rd consecutive case, The Riddle of the Missing Siamese, in which he had, first, found the last Prince of Siam and, last, found his pet cat, Mephistopheles—the term Siamese in this case being plural—The Little, Blue Gumshoe had received both copious words of gratitude and a large cash payment from the last Prince of Siam’s father, the second-to-last King of Siam.

Though he had not understood the second-to-last King of Siam’s words (as they were spoken in Siamese, which is now known as Thai), The Little, Blue Gumshoe was American and thus understood the payment part perfectly, realizing without even having to employ an adding machine that he’d received enough baht to return to New York and live in superior comfort for quite some time.

 

3

An Air of Cosmopolitan Mystery

Back in The Big Apple a few nights later, The Little, Blue Gumshoe was having dinner at Sardi’s, eating alone as he often did in those days, those days being the days just after his wife and kids and dog had left him.

He was seated at his usual table, having just enjoyed his usual dinner—a one-ounce steak au poivre et champignons along with two grams of pomme puree, a thimbleful of creamed spinach, and a shot glass bubbling over with Dom Perignon ‘29—when the large, white maître d’ appeared.

“Monsieur Reg?” the maître d’ asked Frenchly in his French accent. The large, white maître d’ did this because he was French.

Though The Little, Blue Gumshoe did not speak Siamese (or Thai as we now know it); he did, in fact, speak French (or French as we now know it). As a result, The Little, Blue Gumshoe replied simply, “Oui?”

“Zee mademoiselle,” the maître d’ whispered, smiling mischievously and pointing to The Little, Red Femme Fatale who was sitting at her own table, across the room, and looking, it had to be said, very red indeed.

The large, white maître d’ had been in America since the end of the war, and by that point he only used his French for effect. As a result, once The Little, Blue Gumshoe responded in French, the large, white maître d’ dropped his own, but only partly, retaining enough to add an air of cosmopolitan mystery to the scene.

 

4

The Little, Red Femme Fatale

Here, it must be said that unlike The Little, Blue Gumshoe, The Little, Red Femme Fatale was really, truly red. A small woman of vast means, The Little, Red Femme Fatale took great pains to make certain of her redness, employing a team of pygmy master craftswomen to dye her from top to bottom, head to feet, tip to toes, and tie to tails…every single day. She was, in addition, reputed to be an agent for the Ruskies, red here being interpreted by society as a double entendre or something like it. Despite the time and place, however—the McCarthy Era in America—The Little, Red Femme Fatale’s redness was of no political import. She just liked the color red.

Here, it must also be said that when The Little, Blue Gumshoe saw The Little, Red Femme Fatale, he saw red not only literally but figuratively, getting not mad but excited. Sure, he was still married, but his wife had left him, cleaning out the marital bank accounts (every one of them from passbook savings to jumbo checking to college savings to Christmas club), taking his kids and dog with her. Worse still, she’d employed The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s top competitor and sometimes nemeses, disgraced former cop, Vincent La Stranglia, to help her disappear.

Sitting there, looking at how red The Little, Red Femme Fatale was, The Little, Blue Gumshoe considered the idea that maybe, just maybe, he might eventually get over the shock of losing his wife, kids, and dog; that he might start over, might fall in love again. Was it possible he was even hearing happy, uplifting music? Was it possible The Little, Blue Gumshoe was hearing “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes thirteen years before its release?

Musical Interlude

(with special anachronistic thanks to The Supremes)

“But how many heartaches

Must I stand before I find a love

To let me live again

Right now the only thing

That keeps me hangin’ on

When I feel my strength, yeah

It’s almost gone

I remember mama said:

You can’t hurry love

No, you just have to wait

She said love don’t come easy

It’s a game of give and take

How long must I wait

How much more can I take

Before loneliness will cause my heart

Heart to break?”

 

5

The Secret of the Tanzanite Tarantula

The Little, Blue Gumshoe left his table and began the tedious process of crossing the main dining room of Sardi’s, which, in those days, was carpeted a shade of indigo perilously close to The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s apparent skin color.

As the Little, Blue Gumshoe came towards her, The Little, Red Femme Fatale averted her gaze. She stared out the window, gazed intently at the New York night, ostensibly preparing herself for their imminent meeting which was in fact romantic in design but only partly so. Because The Little, Red Femme Fatale had ulterior motives, as all femme fatales are known to regardless of size or color.

The Little, Red Femme Fatale’s plan was to get The Little, Blue Gumshoe involved in an impossible-to-solve case, The Secret of the Tanzanite Tarantula, one that, of course, only The Little, Blue Gumshoe would have been able to solve. Once he’d solved her case (and even if he hadn’t), The Little, Red Femme Fatale was probably going to marry The Little, Blue Gumshoe, assuming he asked, because she had been watching him from afar for some time (The Little Red, Femme Fatale was a Sardi’s regular herself) and already knew she loved him. The Little, Red Femme Fatale was like that. She was strategic yet also impulsive. She was…quixotic…But The Little, Red Femme Fatale is another story…in spite of the fact that she is also part of this one.

6

Oysters Rockefeller

Being little, appearing blue, and being a gumshoe—which meant there was gum on the bottom of his shoes and he kept getting stuck—The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s progress was slow as he crossed the main dining room at Sardi’s, so slow that the big, white waiter, who worked for the large, white maître d’ would later insist he had not seen The Little, Blue Gumshoe until it was too late.

Only through The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s preternatural agility was he able to avoid being completely squashed by the big, white waiter and his tray full of Oysters Rockefeller, Steak Tartar, and Wedge Salads. Still, there was indeed a collision—the thud and cry, the crack of glass and plop of food, the splintering china and chiming silver—the big, white waiter falling squarely across The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s little legs, which both broke, like twigs, which they were barely larger than to start with.

Simultaneously, an oyster fork flew (apparently from the big, white waiter’s tray), impaling The Little, Blue Gumshoe in one of his little brown eyes, the fork moving with such force that it penetrated eye socket and frontal lobe, leaving The Little, Blue Gumshoe bleeding bright red blood over the indigo blue carpet in the main dining room of Sardi’s.

Also, simultaneously, The Little, Red Femme Fatale’s waiter, another big, white one, arrived bearing the tiny Mai Tai she’d ordered. Meaning The Little, Red Femme Fatale was distracted during The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s accident, so distracted that she did not see the large, white maître d’ and the rest of his cadre of big, white waiters as they hustled The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s body out of Sardi’s by way of the kitchen and the alley beyond. Not that anyone else did. The Little, Blue Gumshoe was so little, the maître d’ and his waiters so big, that it appeared The Little Blue Gumshoe had vanished.

 

7

By Design

The large, white maître d’ who had been French once, who was technically now American, but really still French (because, to a great extent, the place you’re born will remain your home until you die) was also an agent for the Russians, or the Ruskies as they were known, by some, once upon a time. So, in a sense, he was red even though he was white.

Though there had been white Russians once, in a human sense, several decades earlier (Vladimir Nabokov perhaps the most famous) and were still even now White Russians available from the bar area at many restaurants including Sardi’s, the large, white maître d’ wasn’t one of them because he wasn’t really a Russian. He was, however, a bit red and a lot white and certainly in their employ.

The large, white maître d’ had not betrayed The Little, Blue Gumshoe on the orders of any Russians, though. He had done it on the orders of Vincent La Stranglia, who had blackmailed the large, white maître d’ with the truth about his politico-espionage-ical red-ness. Though La Stranglia would insist he’d done this at the behest of his client, The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s wife, this was not the case. La Stranglia had used this pretext to exact revenge on The Little, Blue Gumshoe, a revenge that would include character assassination at the hands (or lips) of The Little, Red Femme Fatale.

“Then he disappeared. Poof,” she’d later tell the various members of her little, red set. “Maybe,” she’d further insist, “The Little, Blue Gumshoe was afraid of love all along.”

The large, white (but partly red) maître d’ and his cadre of big, white waiters would be part not only of the first assassination (via seemingly-accidental oyster fork), but this second as well, claiming around town that The Little, Blue Gumshoe had left an unpaid check at Sardi’s, which was especially vexing from a guy who’d recently come into so many baht.

If by that point in time The Little, Blue Gumshoe had still been around, instead of dead, he might have unraveled all these threads, figured out who’d killed him or, if not him, then some other Little, Blue Gumshoe who’d gotten killed. Or, he might, two or three years later, have taken up the literary case of one Vladimir Nabokov and his creature, Humbert, Humbert, a man who while not real was indeed white, A White Widowed Male who had his own, manifold problems with the workings of love.

 

Literary Interlude

(with special anachronistic thanks to Vladimir Nabokov)

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”

 

8

Detective Stories

Love is a detective story after all, a mystery that can only be solved by being in love or being out of love, a mystery that can only be solved before it exists or after it’s gone.

The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s wife did, in fact, miss him when he was gone. After she and the kids had cried at the funeral, after Sinatra the Chihuahua had bayed at the moon, she realized he wasn’t so bad, couldn’t even bring herself to refer to him as That Asshole anymore. Yes, he’d made his mistakes but he hadn’t deserved death, certainly not death by oyster fork.

Would they have gotten back together, Mr. and Mrs. Van Meter, been able to work things out for the kids and Sinatra the Chihuahua, after perhaps a dalliance between The Little, Blue Gumshoe and The Little, Red Femme Fatale and/or the hitherto unmentioned dalliance between Vincent La Stranglia and The Little, Blue Gumshoe’s estranged wife, Cordelia Van Meter? Maybe, maybe not.

Love is a detective story after all, a mystery that can only be solved by being in love or being out of love, a mystery that can only be solved before it exists or after it’s gone.

 

9

The Perfect Record

Reginald Van Meter, The Little, Blue Gumshoe, was posthumously enshrined in the Gumshoe Hall of Fame, just off the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His Solution to Non-Solution record (his SNS, which is the most important statistic when considering things such as Gumshoe Hall of Fame Inductions, Gumshoe All Star Teams, Golden Gun, Silver Magnifying Glass, and Most Valuable Gumshoe Awards) of 533-0, a mark that may, in fact, never be broken, stands as a testament to his prowess as a detective and his lack of same when it came to the arena of love.

 

 

Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. Now a Contributing Editor with The Weeklings, Baumeister’s Review Microbrew column is published by The Nervous Breakdown. His debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press in 2017. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki, and a hybrid collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Superman, the Seven Gods of Death, and the Need for Clean, Romantic Poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.kurtbaumeister.com.

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This was initially published on June 5, 2018 by Volume 1 Brooklyn as part of their Sunday Stories series

http://www.vol1brooklyn.com/2018/06/10/sunday-stories-the-arena-of-love/

Under the Influence #1, The Origins Issue

written by Kurt Baumeister June 5, 2018

I remember the clarity of that day’s sky, horizon-filling and cornflower blue, the sunshine that dominated the quad beyond the windows of the university library. Which is ironic, since I was inside paging through back issues of literary journals. Maybe I remember the sky so vividly because of what I found in those magazines.

There was one in particular—an issue of Daniel Halpern’s Antaeus—in which renowned writers were asked to list their literary influences. No descriptions were asked for, no qualifications allowed, just the influences in series after each writer’s name. Suzy Novelist: A, B, and C. Johnny Shortstory: X, Y, and Z.

In browsing those lists, which went on for pages, I first came across many of the names I’d become familiar with in the years that followed, names like Beattie and Calvino, Welty and Borges, Mishima and Munro. As these and other names appeared time and again, I began to draw conclusions about who the important writers were, the ones other writers cared about, the masters that had to be read. This day, I think, is where my fascination with literary influences began.

Fast forward a couple decades and here I am, editing this feature for Entropy, this project we’re calling Under the Influence. Am I trying to relive the magic of that day in the library years ago, the sense of discovery born of that back issue of Antaeus? Absolutely. Which doesn’t invalidate this exercise by any stretch. I want you to experience those feelings, too; among them the vast sense of literary possibility I felt that day.

The basic challenge of Under the Influence is simple enough: Write one hundred words on an author of your choice, a master (gender-neutral, living or dead) who has influenced your work. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten; however, this is harder to put into practice than it sounds. Which, I must admit, pleases me just a little. OK, more than a little.

These relationships shouldn’t be easy to describe. They are, after all, some of the most important we have as writers. Often built over long years and at great, sometimes epoch-spanning distance, these are love affairs in a way, love affairs that take place beyond the confines of the physical world. And if, in fact, these relationships constitute literary love affairs, the letters that describe them must be love letters of a sort. Informative, inspiring, and as with any love letters, far more revealing about their writers than the intendeds, this is Under the Influence #1.


John Fante

by Jonathan Evison

When I was seventeen, fresh out of high school with lofty literary (though zero academic) aspirations, and Teddy Dreiser and Somerset Maugham weren’t speaking my language, I lucked upon John Fante, who came to me by way of William Saroyan, who had apparently been a drinking buddy of Fante’s. I still have a stolen first edition library copy of Fante’s 1939 Ask the Dust, which virtually cemented my status as a hopelessly young alcoholic misfit, determined to starve himself in the name of literature. Fante soon became my new literary idol, joining Vonnegut and Dickens. Where Vonnegut’s protagonists were loveable puppets, and Dickens’ were well drawn cartoons, Arturo Bandini was the most fully realized, deeply flawed, intensely human protagonist I had yet to encounter–like an immigrant Holden Caulfield, without the safety net of wealth, and the post-war American ennui. Bandini was hungry like me. Bandini was fear and arrogance, outrage and tenderness, lust and greed, and vulnerability; all the fires that burned in my own adolescent heart.

Jonathan Evison is the author of All About LuluWest of HereThe Revised Fundamentals of CaregivingThis is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, and most recently, Lawn Boy. He likes to drink beer in his garage.


William Shakespeare

by Rebecca Makkai

It’s not just Shakespeare but this one moment of Shakespeare, in the fifth act of Henry IV, Part 2. To oversimplify, people are in the country talking politics. Davy is a servant whose only function is to serve wine and fetch papers, but when London is mentioned, he gets, out of nowhere, the line “I hope to see London once ere I die!” In nine words, the Bard gives this smallest of character’s backstory and soul. And throws the court intrigue into high relief as well. It took years to soak in, but that’s the line that taught me to write character.

Rebecca Makkai is the author of the new novel The Great Believers (out 6/19) as well asMusic for WartimeThe Hundred-Year House, and The Borrower. Her work has appeared inBest American Short Stories and has won a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Chicago, where she’s Artistic Director of StoryStudio.

 


Anthony Doerr

by Vineetha Mokkil

Anthony Doerr’s short stories, elegantly crafted and deeply felt, have taught me invaluable lessons on the art of compression. Watching him handle the short story form and the novel with dexterity inspires me to push the boundaries of both. His prose celebrates the infinite possibilities of language. Reading it has been a revelation, an epiphany, a life-changing experience. His Pulitzer-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See, filled with achingly beautiful sentences, vivid characters, rich detail, and stunning imagery burns like a beacon in front of me every time I sit down at my desk to write.

Vineetha Mokkil is the author of the collection, A Happy Place and Other Stories(HarperCollins, 2014), listed as one of the Ten Best Works of Fiction of 2014 by The Telegraph. Her stories have appeared in The Santa Fe Writers’ Project Journal, Asian Cha, The Jellyfish Review, The Bombay Review, The Missing Slate, and The Bangalore Review among other journalsHer novel, For Birds the Sky, set in 1950s Tibet and contemporary India, is forthcoming. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories about women, men, desire, power, and technology in the modern world.


Jaimy Gordon

by Rita Bullwinkel

Jaimy Gordon is a writer who builds her worlds with language. The words she deploys in the mouths of her characters are not only part of the world, but the fabric of it. In this way, all of her landscapes are unexpected, completely other, and magnificent. All of her work is brilliant. I especially adore The BendThe LipThe Kid, in which a Providence, RI inmate is convinced he can tell who is evil by the bend in their penis, and Bogeywoman, in which the frightfully charismatic and lovesick Ursula Koderer escapes Camp Chunkagunk (aka Tough Paradise for Girls).

Rita Bullwinkel is the author of the story collection Belly Up. Her writing has been published in Tin HouseConjunctionsBOMBViceNOON, and Guernica. She is a recipient of grants and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Brown University, Vanderbilt University, Hawthornden Castle, and The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. Both her fiction and her translation have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. She is an Editor at Large forMcSweeney’s. She lives in San Francisco.


Brigid Brophy

by Ranbir Sidhu

Judge a book by its author photo, I told myself, pulling the Penguin paperback Hackenfeller’s Apeoff the shelf. I’d never heard of Brigid Brophy, but that year, 1986, I decided to only read books by authors who were blanks to me. In the photo, she lunges at the camera, out of focus. Her work would transform mine, as would her frankness about bi-sexuality, animal rights, and her own death, which she minutely chronicled. In the novel Flesh, she renders the gradual transformation of a London art dealer into a Rubens nude, while in another, In Transit, well, everyone is…

Born in London, Ranbir Sidhu emigrated to the US in 1981 and studied archaeology at UC Berkeley. In 1998, he moved to New York City, where he lived for sixteen years, publishing widely, and winning a Pushcart Prize and a NYFA. His books include Deep Singh BlueGood Indian GirlsObject Lessons (in 12 Sides w/Afterglow) and The Fabulary. His most recent isHacking Trump. Among many jobs, he has worked as the assistant to Edward Albee, and once spent a year assisting Joanna Steichen, widow of renowned photographer Edward Steichen, catalog her personal collection of photographs.


Bruno Schulz

by duncan b. barlow

How does one find the mythical in their own work—short circuit the self so that they might mature into childhood? Bruno Schulz taught me to crack the universe open upon the sharp edge of language, unfurl the golden yolk of each moment, find mythical wonder in the mundane. The Street of Crocodiles could be read as a guide showing authors how to stay in the moment, in order to see the events around them, drenched in honey, their passage through our plane of sight not as target, but as a dancing subject of fascination, their movements magical.

duncan b. barlow is the author of five books, including Of Flesh and Fur and The City Awake.A Dog Between Us is forthcoming from Stalking Horse Press. He’s played music with Endpoint, BTGOG Guilt, the aasee lake, Good Riddance, and many more. He is currently the Publisher of Astrophil Press and Managing Editor of South Dakota Review.

 

 

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This ran initially at Entropy Magazine on June 5, 2018

https://entropymag.org/under-the-influence-1-the-origins-issue/

 

THE BOOK OF LOKI, a novel excerpt (published initially by GUERNICA)

Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku. Image source: University of California Libraries.

1. 

Wicked Impulses

A double-steepled, bronze-bricked Gothic at the cross of Warren and Dartmouth, Blessed Savior has been on that corner for more than a hundred years. Through World Wars and Great Depressions, terror scares and countless recessions—through an American Century of money and blood and misbegotten love—Blessed Savior has been there. Or, rather, it’s been here, hawking its wares, doing its do.

Spires climbing into the black satin night, searching for whatever it is spires have always been searching for, the church has taken its age gracefully, façade barely featuring the slower, deeper decay, the architectural osteoporosis lurking beneath its skin. Working that corner—rain or shine, snow or sleet—Blessed Savior has always reminded me a little of a pusher standing his beat, selling the same lies he bought himself once upon a time.

You think that’s wrong, right? Bad? Evil? But you can’t blame the pusher for his lies. Even though he knows they’re lies, on some level he still believes them. Because he’s not just a pusher. He’s an addict, too. That’s the thing. No matter how bad life gets, we cling to what we have. What Blessed Savior has is God, Jesus, the Trinity. And what I have is you. Even though you don’t think I exist.

*

I take the steps two at a time. Sure, they’re iced-over, badly; but they don’t bother me. I’ve still got talents, skills, fucking bona fides. Not that I’d measure up to what you’ve programmed yourselves to think of as a god. None of us would.

Between your comic book heroes barging across the big screens and your American gods clogging up the little ones, you’ve tricked yourselves into believing we don’t exist, that we can’t possibly be real. We’re creatures of special effect and satirical comedy, phantoms of the narrative ether, nothing more. We’re no ghosts, though; not at all, not us. At this point we’re very much flesh and blood, more like you than we’ve ever been. More like you than you could possibly imagine.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I care if you ignore me. Loki’s here if you want him, and if you don’t, you don’t. Odin on the other hand… well, he’s pissed, has been ever since… forever, really. Don’t let the PR fool you. One-Eye’s never been good or noble, just, or honorable. All-father? I mean, I’m his son. I should know, shouldn’t I?

Hanging from some magic tree to gain the Mead of Poetry, to bring wisdom to mankind? Sitting in far Valhalla granting boons to the most valorous of warriors? Magic spears and Mimir’s head? Sorcerous ravens and preternatural wolves? Eight-legged fucking horses? I mean, seriously…

But isn’t that what you’d expect of real evil? Not some obvious, cartoon devil twirling his moustache and muttering “drat,” but a vision of light, a pretense of good and nobility when the truth is the absolute opposite. When Odin is the real reason for all our troubles, yours and mine. If he hadn’t gone meddling in your lives way back when, if he hadn’t cast me out of Asgard time and time and time again, what a wonderful world this would be.

*

Minty linoleum floors and walls of lemon-yellow cinderblock, Blessed Savior’s basement is a decorator’s acid trip gone to shit. Dazzling fluorescents loom overhead, emitting a low-grade buzz, like giant bug traps waiting to go zippety-zap. Citrus perfumes and boozehound colognes linger from the Americans Against Tyranny meeting that broke an hour ago. I know these guys, these AAT’s. They’re hell on two legs, Odin’s own.

They meet just before my 9 p.m. AA meetings, Tuesdays in Cambridge. And that group is even worse than this one. Hooting about the taxes they don’t pay, and the welfare other people shouldn’t get, howling about their inalienable rights to Social Security, Medicare, and a Christian America.

Something about being in the People’s Republic of Taxachusetts, maybe, that makes the right-wingers veer even farther right. That’s how it is, though. Back in the deep past, back in Valhalla, I always felt a little queasy, a little like I was out of my element. And I was. But even I didn’t realize quite how bad the old man had gotten until Adolf came along…

*

A paper cup of coffee in my left hand, a red, plastic stir in my right, I watch the pebbles of un-dissolved creamer bob and weave across the caramel-colored whirlpool I’ve just raised to life. Forget about reality for a second, forget about everything you’ve ever known, and this cup of coffee could almost be magic. The way the liquid becomes a tiny vortex, the way it beckons, seems to promise eternal sleep, it’s almost enough to make you dive right in…

I set down the stir, bring the cup to my lips and sip. The coffee tastes like it always does at these basement shindigs, the same as it did at the Gambler’s Anonymous meeting I just left in Brookline. Mildly toxic and burnt, Blessed Savior’s coffee tastes of irony dulled by repetition. It tastes of America.

“All right, Gustav, why don’t you kick us off?” says our facilitator, Ted, as he turns to me. Ted’s my boy, by the way, my latest in a long line of reclamation projects. Of course, he has no idea who I really am. That would completely spoil the fun.

“Happy to, Ted. My name is Gustav, and I’m a sexaholic,” I offer with all the shyness I can muster.

“Hello, Gustav,” they respond as one.

“Hi.” I cut my gaze as though about to divulge something I’d rather not. “I had a situation this week.”

“Yes,” say various audience members. Others nod, smile, and/or avert their gazes. All, I’ve learned, standard responses at twelve-steppers. We’re embarrassed to know the truth about each other, that much is true. But we’re even more embarrassed to know it about ourselves.

“I was on my stepfather’s compound, and I started having urges,” I continue.

“What brought on these urges, as you call them?” Ted asks.

“It was the valks.”

“What’s that, a new dick pill?” offers a guy in a white oxford. The sleeves of his once-immaculately-starched, now-immaculately-wrinkled shirt rolled up, jacket and tie dispensed with somewhere between work and Blessed Savior’s basement, he looks distressed, even vexed. He looks like a politician surveying a disaster site he’s about to get blamed for. “Like bicockatrix?”

Ted cuts in, “No, no, no… Come on, gang, it’s an indigenous tribe, like the aborigines, but… but from Europe.” He looks to me for confirmation.

I don’t correct Ted even though he’s wrong. How could I? I’m the one who dished him this aboriginal fib a few weeks back.

“Valkyries?” he asked at the intake. “You mean like Wagner? Those operas?”

I laughed. “Nah. Totally different spelling. And we usually just call them valks. It’s easier. It may sound like a v but it’s really something more like an fsth when it’s spelled.”

“That doesn’t…”

“In their language,” I added authoritatively, “Trust me, Ted, I’m just trying to make this as easy as possible.”

He nodded and, of course, bought it. Yeah, I know I’m a Dickens, but what can I say? I may not be “evil” anymore, I may be unapologetically good, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeves. Fore- and first-most, I am indeed one hell of a liar.

“Somewhere in the Carpathians,” Ted adds confidently. “No value judgments here, Gustav, but you’ve talked about these valks before. Does it occur to you that this isn’t just a simple indiscretion, that it’s more like an abuse of power?”

“They don’t work for me.”

“They work for your stepfather, though. You can’t get around the fact that you’re having sex with the help.”

“What are they? Maids, cooks, charwomen?” asks the politician.

“Charwomen?”

He raises his palms, nods noncommittally.

“They’re imported… I mean, guest workers… Like I said. Low cost of labor. Economic decision.”

“You mean like slaves?”

“Slaves? God, no, they’re like, they’re…more like nannies,” I add, smiling wide and white as punctuation.

“And you turn them out?” asks a woman with a buzz cut. Dressed in a red plaid shirt and a black, polythene vest, she looks like so many of you do these days. Woodsy and cityish all at once, she looks as if she can’t decide whether to blow up a tree or hug one.

“He’s a pimp,” says the politician, smiling now, an understanding finally reached.

“No, I told you, I don’t turn anyone out. I just had a threesome. If anyone’s a pimp it’s my stepfather.”

“Sounds like control is one of your issues,” says the politician.

“Dealing with authority figures,” offers the woman.

“Wicked impulses,” adds someone else.

“Envy,” says Ted, grouping the barrage of accusations into one manageable charge.

There’s a hush, as though maybe Ted has crossed a line, but the group isn’t quite sure what line it is he crossed. What Ted said doesn’t bother me, mind you. How could it? He’s responding to pure fabrication. But it seems accusing a fellow groupie of one of the seven deadly sins may have rubbed a few people the wrong way. (Which, obviously, implies a fair amount of guilt circulating through our little group.)

The silence is broken by a woman’s voice. “If you ask me, your stepfather sounds like an asshole.” The voice is smooth, light even. But the tone is matter of fact. “Asshole” somehow winds up sounding like it has a long z in the middle, almost like a lullaby.

I turn to three o’clock and the voice’s owner. A stunning, reed-thin redhead, she wears knee-high boots and jeans just this side of melodramatic. Long, straight hair, eyes of frosty midnight, breasts I can only guess at by the heave of her fuzzy lavender sweater… She looks like she could be in the industry, and I’m not talking about clean energy. Honestly, she looks like a Valkyriea real one, I mean, not the semi-invented version that have so recently run amok. That’s not all of it with the redhead, though. I get this feeling looking at her, this feeling of progressive déjà vu, as though I’ve seen her many times before even though I’m sure I haven’t. Yes, I realize that makes no sense. Still, I get this feeling.

“It’s not like you forced them to do anything, right?” she continues.

“Of course not.”

“So?”

“Exactly. Thank you.”

“All right, all right,” says Ted, busting in. “That’s a good start, Gustav. Sunshine, why don’t we move on to you?”

“Sure, Ted.” She surveys the crowd. “My name is Sunshine, and I’m a sexaholic.”

“Hi, Sunshine,” they say.

“Hi, Sunshine,” I whisper, a second too late. She’s beautiful, yes. And now she’s smiling, smiling at me.

You wouldn’t think I’d still be attracted to you guys after all the millennia, all these millions of couplings. There’s just something about the human form, male and female both—the combination of energy and fragility, frailty and optimism—that I can’t get over; something about a pretty girl or boy that can still turn my head and heart to mush. I’m smitten with you guys, always have been.

“Why don’t you give us a little backstory, Sunshine?”

“Well, I used to be a therapist.”

Politician: “Massage?”

Sunshine: “Sex.”

Gulps all around.

“And?” someone asks.

“And I got busted for fucking my patients.”

More gulps.

“What do you do now?” the politician asks.

“I dance.”

“Dance as in tap?” I ask.

“Dance as in strip,” she says.

“Where?”

“The Genetic Impossibility.”

*

After the meeting breaks, I’m eyeing Sunshine, still trying to figure out who she is and where I know her from. I mean, it’s not The Genetic Impossibility. Support groups, my writing workshop, the other odds and ends… I scan my life in my mind, searching for the connection, looking for Sunshine. But I guess I lose focus, start to drift. Anyway, before I know it Sunshine’s up on me, lovely, electric, and standing way too close.

“Look, let’s not play any games,” she says.

“I’m sorry?”

“I need…” She slits her eyes, scans the room, a spy at a meet making sure she hasn’t been tailed.

“Yes?”

“I need…” More eye-slitting and side-glancing. More spy at meet-making-tail-checking.

Yes?”

“I need to talk to you.”

“What about? Ted’s sponsoring you himself, isn’t he?”

She glances at Ted, who waves a little too gregariously. Oh, poor Ted. He needs more help than I could have possibly imagined. I’m getting it done, though, don’t worry. Ted’s my latest and greatest, and I shall not fail him.

“Umm, sure, but it’s not about that.”

“Well, what?”

“I know who you are.”

“Yeah, I know who you are, too. Don’t worry, though, it’s cool. Outside these doors, mum’s the word.”

“I mean it… Trickster,” she whispers.

“Ehh?” I grunt in subhuman double-take. I remind myself of that misogynistic chimp-impersonator from Home Improvement. Honestly, it’s embarrassing. I’m not sure how that guy, whatever his name is, has managed to spend his entire adult life doing that chimp sound and making money at it.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I’m lying through my teeth at this point, doing a pretty good job of it at that. Sure, I may not be a full-on god anymore but there are a few things I’m still good at—deception, disguise, mischief, intrigue… But not evil, not anymore, no sir-ree.

“Look, I have to talk to you about something.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. The fate of the world could depend on it.”

“Fate of the world? That sounds like a pretty tall order for a guy who can’t even control himself around the help.”

She nods, but only slightly. She squints.

“Can’t help you, though. I’m just an average dude.”

“I’m serious,” she says, gazing at me intently, searching my eyes. She looks… Well, she looks serious, and by serious what I mean is crazy.

“Fine, I’ll see what I can do,” I lie, scanning for exits.

“I’m serious,” she adds again.

“Yeah, I think we established that.”

“I’ll be at the Irish place a couple blocks back toward Boylston.”

“Which one?”

“The one you go to almost every night, McMurtry’s.”

“How did…?”

“I told you, I’m a Norn.” She glares at me. “So, you’d better show.”

2.

Bending Fate

Owned by a Ukrainian with ties to the Russian mob, managed by a Polish ex-bodybuilder named Israel, McMurtry’s is your typical slice of Americana: a place where languages, religions, and races collide; money acting as expert simultaneous interpreter. It’s the sort of place where once you’re a regular (which I am), they’ll let you do pretty much whatever the fuck you want (which I do). I go there to write and drink (mostly to write). Oh, who am I kidding? I go there mostly to drink.

I stroll in about twenty minutes after that discussion at Blessed Savior. Sure, I’m game. This Sunshine chick has something, and I need to know exactly what it is. Is she a full-on Norn?  It’s possible. Not likely, but possible. When the Norns left, they said they’d be back, but only once; only when it was time for Ragnarok. And like I said before, none of us are in any shape to put on a legitimate apocalypse at this point.

Still, it’s technically possible Sunshine’s who she says she is. I need more details to be sure. Either way, the fact that she thinks I’m the Norse god, Loki, is a bit troubling. Primarily because I am the Norse god, Loki, and that’s not something I’ve been looking to feature here on Earth. I’ve been trying to blend in, not subjugate the masses. I told you: I’m not what you think, not the horn-helmed lunatic popularized in comic books, film, and even the basic, half-baked mythology Odin’s been pushing since he could get anyone to listen. I’m good. I’m here to help.

The place is dark (as usual), a weak, molasses hue fallen across the entire scene. The scents of spilled beer, illicit cigarettes, and fried cod permeate the place—stale and sugary, smoky and sulfurous, burnt and oily. To tell you the truth, it smells a little like Valhalla in the old days. A frowning Sunshine waves me over.

“Some place,” she offers.

“You picked it.”

“I was starting to think you wouldn’t show.”

“Then this must be a pleasant surprise.” I plant myself in the captain’s chair across from her. Its frame squawks in something like protest.

“You want one?” she asks.

“A pleasant surprise?”

“A drink.” She nods toward the flute on the table in front of her. Half full of a pale, gold liquid, bubbles bunch at the bottom of the glass. Every now and then one shakes free from the group, floats upward for a few milliseconds and explodes.

“What is that?”

“Champagne spritzer.”

“Cham-what?” I cut my gaze. “They actually let you order that shit?”

McMurtry’s is no joke: a Jameson’s and Guinness joint all the way. Still, I guess if you look like Sunshine you can get whatever you want wherever you go. I should know that already, though, shouldn’t I? Come to think of it, so should you.

“Meaning?”

“Nothing,” I say, nodding to the bartender Yuri, mouthing ‘usual.’” Let’s get back to the reason you brought me here.”

“I already told you, Loki. I know who you are. That’s why I brought you here.”

“Fine, I’m not disputing that my name may or may not be Loki. It’s the rest of this tale I’ve got a real problem with. For example, you say you’re a Norn?”

She nods.

“Who or what is a Norn?”

Sunshine’s lids drop just a little. Her baby blues focus as in epiphany. “Oh, I see… This is all a veneer.”

“This place?” I ask, looking around. “A veneer of what, shit?”

“Not this. You. Trying to fly under the radar until you’re ready to start your war and destroy the planet?  How can you be so callous, so cruel?  There are billions of souls at stake.”  She looks down, continues speaking in a softer voice, “There’s no hope. They’re all evil now.”

“You realize you’re talking to the table, right?”

“I’m not talking to the table.”

“No, I’m pretty sure that’s a table.”

“I am speaking to my mistress.”

“Mistress?”

“Fate.”

“All right let’s not go getting all metaphorical here.”

“What am I supposed to do with this?” She shakes her head, gaze still directed downward. “Why couldn’t we just stay with the plants?”

“Plants?”

“Oh, now he wants to talk?”

When I don’t respond, she continues. No surprise there. That’s the way these planned revelations usually work, isn’t it?

“We wandered after we left Asgard, moved from plane to plane, looking for a spot in the space-time continuum where we might make a difference, where we could serve Fate again.”

“And did you?”

“Sure, after a few centuries.”

“Really.”

“Yeah, we were aimless at first, depressed, dispossessed.”

“Depressed? I’d say escaping One-Eye was the smartest thing you ever did.”

“It’s not as easy as you’re making it sound. What do you think it’s like playing twenty-ninth fiddle in a religion only to see it go belly-up?”

“You could have stayed.”

“No, we couldn’t. It was obvious Odin was taking the whole thing down the tubes. It would have been a waste of time to stick around.”

“Why’d you even come back? We lost our powers when Hitler killed himself. We’re probably not even capable of a decent Ragnarok at this point.”

“I’m getting to that.”

I glance over at Yuri, catch his eye, and mouth “double.”

“We wandered a long time, finally wound up in this pocket dimension that… y’know, felt right. A place we thought we could be happy, make ourselves useful.”

“Pocket dimension?”

“Like a parallel dimension, just smaller.”

“If you say so.”

“It was dreamy there, low stress. The entire dimension was populated by sentient, bisexual plants.”

“The plants you were talking about?”

“Right. They were like, ‘Do whatever. Just don’t hurt anyone.’”

“But what did they want in return?”

“Nothing.”

“Seriously?”

“They just let us hang out. Said we could stay as long as we wanted.”

“So, why leave?”

“No idea.”

“You don’t know why you left?”

“I thought things were going great, then all of a sudden one day my sisters disappeared… Poof!”

“Poof?”

“Poof!”

“So they’re dead?”

“I didn’t say dead. I said, ‘Poof!’ They disappeared. You know, into the cosmos,” she says, waving her hands as though preparing to break into some serious kung fu. “I had no choice but to follow.”

“We always have a choice.”

“Ha. Maybe you do, Trickster. You’re a unitarily integral being. I’m one of three, though. I have to be on the same plane of existence as my sisters. That’s that. If I don’t go willingly I’ll be drawn and being drawn really fucking hurts.”

“Yeah, yeah, Odin’s got something like that on me.”

“He can draw you?”

“Not draw, command, thrice a century. But if you’re a Norn, you’d already know this.”

“I guess I forgot. It’s been a while.”

I shrug, wishing I could order another-nother drink.

“Command you to do what?” she continues.

“Command me to go see him.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“When did all that start?”

“First time he launched me from Asgard. Said he wanted to be sure he could keep an eye on me. No pun intended.”

“So you understand?”

I wonder where my drink is.

Sunshine keeps going, “And that’s why I came back here, to Midgard.”

“They call it Earth now.”

“What sort of a name is that?”

“I don’t know. It’s just what they call it. If you go around saying ‘Midgard-this’ and ‘Jotunheim-that’ somebody’s going to rat you out to Homeland Security.”

She squints. “Don’t,” she says.

“Don’t what?”

“I know what you’re going to ask, so don’t ask it.”

“How could you?”

“Because I do.”

“OK, what was it?”

“You were going to ask, ‘What does this have to do with me?’”

“Fine.”

“And I’m getting to that, so cool your jets.”

Jenni, the waitress, arrives with my Jameson. Yuri must have picked up on my situation. The thing’s a triple, maybe even a quadruple, amber liquid sloshing over the edge of the glass. I slurp at the rim, bring the contents to a reasonable level before setting down the glass. Sunshine brings the flute to her lips and drains it.

“You want another?” Jenni asks.

Sunshine shakes her head. “I shouldn’t. Champagne gives me headaches.”

Jenni smirks, heads for another table.

Sunshine continues, “My sisters are with Odin.”

“Well, if you know where your sisters are, why don’t you just rejoin them? I mean, that seems to be what you want if you ask me.”

“You don’t understand. I ran away.”

“What about unitary integrity?”

“I said I had to be in the same dimension, not the same room. And I had to.”

“Had to what?”

“Run away.”

“Why?”

“He wants us to help him bend fate, to get you your powers back.”

“Me?”

“Not just you. All of you.”

“All of who?”

“All of the gods.”

“But the only way he could possibly do that would be… Oh, no way.”

“Yes, way.”

“But that would change history.”

“Exactly. And changing history would change the present.”

“And the future.”

She nods. “Yeah, well, that’s the most obvious part; but sure.”

“So, what is it you want from me?”

“Odin’s going to invite you to a meeting on neutral ground. He wants to involve you in his plan. He wants you to help him.”

“Help him do what?”

“Find me, among other things.”

“Fat chance of that.”

“Of what, finding me? I’m right here.”

“No, of him asking me for help. More than that, even thinking I’d go along. After the history, we’ve had… you’ve got to be kidding. Not even Odin could be arrogant enough to think I’d do it.”

“Look, Loki, I’m telling you the way it is. He’s probably already contacted you. He has to figure out where I am. That’s essential to his plan.”

“And what exactly is his plan?”

“I’m not sure what all of it is. That’s the other part of what you need to figure out.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?”

“Get yourself invited to Germany, New Valhalla. See if you can find my sisters and convince them not to help Odin. If you can’t do that, at least figure out what Odin’s planning so we can do something about it.”

“Honestly, I don’t understand why you can’t do any of this stuff yourself.”

“Because I’m not positive yet.”

“Like so much of what you say, that makes no sense.”

“I told you I’m one portion of a three-part being. If I was sure of what my sisters wanted—if I was in contact with them and they expressed their wishes—I’d have to go along. Majority rules.”

“So, if you come back in contact with your sisters, you’ll no longer have free will?”

“Close enough.”

“I have to think about this. This is all… I don’t know. You guys roll out of here a thousand years ago, now you’re back with some kooky story about changing fate.”

“Bending fate.”

“Same difference.”

“We told you we’d be back. You remember, don’t you?”

“Yes, I remember. But I like being human. Close to human, at least.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’s like what you said about Plantworld or the Arboreal Dimension or whatever it’s called. It’s relaxing. All that cosmic destiny, gotta-do-this-gotta-do-that stuff is a bad trip. You know that.”

“Fine, you can have a little time.”

“Thank you.”

“And you might as well contact the giants. You’ll probably need their help.”

“Yeah, well… Hey, wait, how’d you know about the giants?”

She nods and opens her purse, pulls out a piece of paper and a pen, scribbles for a few seconds, then hands it to me.

“What is this?”

I look down. “Tonight, midnight,” is written on the paper.

“I’ll call you tonight at midnight.”

“Yes, I can see that. Why didn’t you just say it?”

“I don’t want you to forget.” She rises.

I take a slug of my Jameson.

“Start thinking now,” she says, staring down at me.

“Why?”

“You don’t have long. Odin’s probably going to want to see you right away.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. You have to decide.”

“And where are you going, off to dance at The Genetic Impossibility?”

“Are you kidding?”

“No. Why?”

“I’m a Norn, not some pole-spinning bimbo.”

“But?”

“Oh, don’t be absurd. That was just part of my cover.”

With that, Sunshine crosses the room and leaves, a gentle breeze in her wake. I catch Yuri’s eye.

“Another?” he asks.

“Just a check.”

*

The sidewalks are nearly empty by the time I leave, the streets clear but for the lazy, late-night parade of cabbies and cops, the odd whoosh and whirl of civilian glass and chrome that accompanies them. With the reduced foot and car traffic the city seems lonely, peaceful maybe, deceptively so.

Illusory or not, this is why I like the city at night. It seems pristine in a way, shiny lights freely reflected in the black glaze that covers its streets. So quiet maybe it makes me think of my family, of what I’ve lost, of what I keep losing again and again.

Don’t let anyone tell you that being on the outs with your family, even your foster family, is a good time. For most people, most humans at least, family is the last thing you can count on, the last thing you can possibly lose. I mean, I still have Hel and the giants, but I miss Odin and all the rest of them. It’s true. What can I say?

Don’t get me wrong. I know it can’t be better. I’ve come to terms with the separation, the fact that this can’t be fixed. But you still think about it. Even as a god, or whatever I am, how could you not?

*

Eleven-thirty by the time I get back to Chateau Loki. I find the giants already there, racked-out on my living room sectional watching TV. Their stubby, blue-jeaned legs and pudgy, work-booted feet up on the coffee table, the guys are drinking martinis (Bombay Sapphire) and smoking cigars (Don Carlos #4s). They look like a pair of construction workers who just won the lottery.

(A word on the giants before we go any further. They’re not. Giants, I mean, not anymore.  Sure, I still call them “the giants” out of deference—those guys were kings once upon a time, they’re owed some respect—but when they fell they changed. We all did, but the giants got it worse than most. They shrunk…a lot, so much that they became, well…little people. You know, dwarves.)

“Loki,” I hear, in near chorus.

Fenrir perks his head up, peers over the back of the couch. Sighting me, he rushes up for a quick game of sniff and slobber, collar jangling as he moves.

“I see you let yourselves in,” I say, giving Fen a couple pats and moving toward the sofa. “Do I even need to ask whether you used your keys?”

Rueful smiles from the pair of them.

“You guys realize every time you do that there’s a chance someone will see you, that they’ll call the cops?”

“Yeah, but then you’d just get us sprung.”

“Oh?”

“Or we’d get ourselves sprung. Same difference.”

Not that I care per se. It’s good for the giants to keep their skills fresh. After all, you never know what’s going to happen and when. That was true when I was a god, and it’s true now that I’m semi- or demi- or whatever-I-am.

I plunk myself down in the couch’s big middle section. Fen follows, settles in next to me. As he does, I realize what the giants have been watching, and I want to get up, walk back out the door, and keep going until I hit, oh, Tahiti or so.

That’s right: It’s MSNBC International. The Germanic babble submerged beneath simultaneous interpretation and studio talking heads can mean only one thing: Wolfgang Bruder, bellicose right-wing poster boy and wannabe Chancellor is at it again.

“What’s the Neo-Fuhrer on about today?”

“What’s he ever on about? Immigrants,” Surtur replies.

“Stealing jobs from Germans,” Thyrm adds.

“Doesn’t hate ‘them’.”

“Just wants ‘them’ to leave.”

“So, the usual assholery? Just turn him off, can you?”

“Sure,” Surt says, grabbing the remote, tapping Power with something approaching ceremony. “We’ve just been waiting for you to get home anyways.”

“Guys, I’m tired. I’m not up for a night out.”

Thyrm smiles. “Ha, no, it’s not that. You’re never gonna believe who called.”

“A Norn?”

“A whatsit?”

“Never mind.”

“OK—”

“Shh,” Surt says, hitting the remote’s message button. I’m starting to worry. “Let him listen for himself. Go ahead, Loki. Listen, listen.”

“How about one of those for me?” I ask, nodding at Thyrm as the messages cue up.

“Which?” Thyrm asks, gaze sliding from cigar to martini.

“Right,” I reply.

Which is when I hear this, “Loki, son, how’ve you been?” It’s Odin, and he’s loaded, slurring liberally.

“Son?” Thyrm chuckles as he hands me a drink.

Caught in mid-puff, Surt coughs, pulls the Fuentes from his lips. “How long’s it been since he called you that?” he barks between hacks.

“I know, right?” I drain the glass, hand it back to Thyrm. “Another, barkeep.”

“Coming up.”

I take a Fuentes from the humidor in the center of the table, guillotine the tip, toss it in the tray.

“Wait, though, it gets even better.” This is Thyrm.

“We need to meet,” Odin adds, sniffling a little near the end.

“We?”

“Just wait,” says Thyrm as he reaches over to pat Fen’s flank.

“By we, I mean the whole family: Frigga, Thor, Heimdall, Baldur…”

“Baldur,” Surtur says, practically spitting this time. “That prancing prick’s got a lot of nerve showing his face.”

“Least he didn’t mention Tyr.”

Fen raises his snout, grumbles. Thyrm pats him again. Fen relaxes, drops his chin back onto the sofa.

From here Odin descends quickly and only quasi-comprehensibly into a tearful, maudlin state. There’s talk of Valkyries, blood oaths, and maybe even a reindeer or something. None of us are sure what all he’s saying, but it’s easy enough to tell when it’s over. Once he hits click so do I.

“He’s a mess,” Thyrm offers.

“More or less,” I reply.

Surt: “So, what’re you gonna do?”

“What should I do?”

I already know, of course. I want to see what they say, though. A good leader always tests his subordinates. He always develops succession plans. Old One-Eye taught me that the hard way.

“You have to go see him obviously.”

“Obviously. But I haven’t given you guys the kicker yet.”

“Kicker?”

There’s a knock at the door.

“Right. And unless I miss my guess, that’ll be her right now.”

 

This ran initially at Guernica Magazine on March 12, 2018 https://www.guernicamag.com/the-book-of-loki/

 

 

PAX AMERICANA Selected to Best of 2017 List (PANK Magazine)

Best Books of 2017

The year is almost over and it’s time to revisit some of my favorite reads of the year. As with any list, this is not as extensive/inclusive/comprehensive as I’d like it to be, but having to do other things besides reading severely cuts into the amount of time I can spend inside books (if you have any leads on a gig that pays you to read whatever you want, get at me). In any case, this was a fantastic year. I made a list of best crime reads and one of best horror books, but some of the best books were in the enormous interstitial space between genres. Anyway, here are some books I hope didn’t fly under your radar:

Where the Sun Shines Out by Kevin Catalano. I was ready for this to be great, and it was, but the pain and violence in its pages blew me away. This is a narrative about loss, guilt, and surviving, but the way Catalano builds his vignettes allows him to show the minutiae of everyday living and the sharp edges of every failure.

Absolutely Golden by D. Foy. Funny, satirical, smart, and packed with snappy dialogue and characters that are at once cartoonish and too real, this is a book that, much like Patricide did last year, proves that Foy is one of the best in the business and perhaps one of the most electric voices in contemporary literary fiction.

I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) by Tatiana Ryckman. I met Tatiana when we read together at Malvern Books in Austin in late 2017. She read a chunk of this and it blew me away. I got the book that same night. Imagine your favorite philosopher deconstructing weird relationships while trying to simultaneously make you cringe in recognition and laugh at yourself. Well, this is what that philosopher would write. A short, powerful read that I will soon be reviewing here in its entirety, this was a blast of fresh air.

Itzá by Rios de la Luz. This short book destroys patriarchal notions of silence, abuse, and growth. Rios de la Luz wrote about a family of water brujas and in the process redefined bilingual bruja literature. This is a timely, heartfelt book that celebrates womanhood in a way that makes it necessary reading for every gender.

Pax Americana by Kurt Baumeister. With Trump in the White House, this novel is more than an entertaining look at the dangers of unchecked religion and politics. Yeah, call this one a warning that should be read by all. It’s also very entertaining and a superb addition to the impressive Stalking Horse Press catalog.

The River of Kings by Taylor Brown. I don’t want to imagine the amount of research that went into this book. However, I’m really happy that Brown did it, and that he turned everything he learned into a novel of interwoven narratives that is a celebration of a river, of people, and of language. This was so stunning that Brown immediately joined the ranks of “buy everything he publishes authors” before I’d reach the tenth chapter.

Human Trees by Matthew Revert. If Nicolas Winding Refn, Quentin Tarantino, and David Lynch collaborated on a film, the resulting piece of cinema would probably approximate the style of Revert’s prose. Weird? Yup. Smart? Very. Beautiful? Without a doubt. It seems Revert can do it all, and this is his best so far.

In The River by Jeremy Robert Johnson. The simple story of a father and son going fishing somehow morphs into a soul-shattering tale of anxiety, loss, and vengeance wrapped in a surreal narrative about the things that can keep a person between this world and the next. Johnson is a maestro of the weird and one of the best writers in bizarro, crime, and horror, but this one erases all of those genres and makes him simply one of the best.

The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan. A slice of Americana through the McClanahan lens. Devastating and hilarious. Too real to be fiction and too well written to be true. Original, raw, and honest. Every new McClanahan books offers something special, and this one might be his best yet.

In the Distance by Hernán Díaz. This is the perfect marriage of adventure and literary fiction. The sprawling narrative covers an entire lifetime of traveling and growing, and it always stays fresh and exciting. At times cruel and depressing, but always a pleasure to read. I hope we see much more Díaz in translation soon.

Beneath the Spanish by Victor Hernández Cruz. Read the introduction and you’ll be sold on the entire book. Multiculturalism is fertile ground for poetry, and Hernández Cruz is an expert at feeding that space with his biography and knowledge and then extracting touching, rich poems and short pieces that dance between poetry, flash fiction, and memoir.

Some other outstanding books I read this year:

Dumbheart / Stupidface by Cooper Wilhelm

Inside My Pencil: Teaching Poetry in Detroit Public Schools by Peter Markus

Something to Do With Self-Hate by Brian Alan Ellis

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The Yellow House by Chiwan Choi

 

PAX AMERICANA: Coverage on National Book Critics Circle Blog by Daisy Fried

Nov. 8 NBCC/Lit Mixer, plus new bios of Vladimir Lenin, James Wright, Alexander Calder and More

by daisy fried | Nov-06-2017


NBCC and Lambda are hosting a literary mixer next Wednesday, November 8th at Folksbier in Brooklyn. Details are available here.

John Domini interviews Jenny Erpebeck for Bookforum, and praises her novel Go, Went, Gone as “a fresh career benchmark.” In Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Domini reviews Kurt Baumeister’s Pax Americana, which he enjoyed for its “whack-a-mole action and rabbit-hole getaways.” Of Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House, Domini wrote, in The Brooklyn Rail, “For hours on end, I wanted no other company.”

NBCC VP/Online Chair Jane Ciabattari‘s Literary Hub column this week includes new biographies of Oriana Fallaci, Vladimir Lenin and poet James Wright, a surprising look at the Ku Klux Klan, and James McBride’s new story collection. Her BBC Culture column features a new novel from NBCC fiction awardee Louise Erdrich, a two-century look at hoaxing ending with “fake news” by NBCC finalist Kevin Young, and an anthology of translated poems edited by NBCC honored poet Martha Collins and former NBCC board member Kevin Prufer:

Jenny Yacovissi ​reviewed Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties, Schieffer and Schwartz’s Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News, Katy Tur’s Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, John Haskell’s The Complete Ballet: A Fictional Essay in Five Acts and Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour, all for the for Washington Independent Review of Books.

Rebecca Kightlinger reviews Kim Michele Richardson’s The Sisters of Glass Ferry, in the November 2017 Historical Novels Review.

Cliff Garstang reviews Jia Pingwa’s Happy Dreams, translated by Nicky Harman, for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Frank Freeman reviews three books about Henry David Thoreau (Robert M. Thorson’s The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years, Richard Higgins’ Thoreau and the Language of Trees, and Laura Dassow Walls’ Henry David Thoreau: A Life) for America Magazine.

Julia M. Klein reviews Pete Souza’s Obama: An Intimate Portrait for the Chicago Tribune and Thomas Childers’s The Third Reich for the Pennsylvania Gazette. She also reviews Masha Gessen’s https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2017/10/26/lessons-for-american-putin-rise/GzM9xcKPHk1YyW5eOhc50M/story.html”>The Future is History for the Boston Globe.

Karl Wolff reviews John Ashbery’s final book of poetry, Commotion of the Birds, for the New York Journal of Books

Steve Kellman, former board member and Balakian recipient, ​reviews Bill Mckibben’s novel ​Radio Free Vermont for the Texas Observer.

​David Nilsen reviews David Brazil’s poetry collection Holy Ghost from City Lights Books. novels

Hamilton Cain ​reviews Jed Perl’s biography of Alexander Calder: The Conquest of Time; The Early Years, 1898−1940 for the Barnes & Noble Review.

Balakian Finalist ​Roxana Robinson writes about teaching Madame Bovary for the New Yorker.

For the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, NBCC Board Member Katharine A. Powers reviews novels by Arundhati Roy, Gabriel Tallent and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton.

Past NBCC President and current board member Tom Beer‘s​ picks ​for the Times Herald-Record are, in honor of Veterans Day, all about war this week. And here’s his What’s New column for Newsday.

NBCC members note: Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items, including news about your new publications and recent honors, to NBCCCritics@gmail.com. With reviews, please include title of book and author, as well as name of publication. Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.​ We love dedicated URLs. We do not love hyperlinks.