Shout Outs

By David Zoby

Essay

NWA

Late for class again, late and permanently disorganized, wearing my jeans jacket despite the chill. I could cut class and what difference would it make, but for a brief feeling of regret? Who was I letting down? The lush grasses between academic buildings? The professors who seemed there and not there? The low and somewhat jumbled Allegheny Mountains to the west framed my 1989. I was a senior at Virginia Tech, living in an all-male dorm, one semester away from drift. It felt as though I was living in a diorama where everything was multiple choice, colored in with a number two pencil, or left blank. Fog was flowing in from the ridges and hollers. It was a fogbank that told you a cemetery was nearby, that battles took place near here. It was tattered and worn on the edges, like the comforter I had rolled myself in for the last four years. Of course I cut my Human Development course and went back to the dorm to boil some ramen. Who wouldn’t? I was rolled so tightly in that fog I could hardly hear the students coming and going to classes, the refitted elevators ascending and descending, a door closing, the hallways hushing. My books were in there, rolled in the cocoon with me: Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, and Sherwood. I guess this is where it all started, my resistance to 1989.

I was the head resident advisor in Pritchard Hall, a towering, Cabrini-Greene-like building completed in 1967 with questionable ventilation, but otherwise solid construction. Intimidating on the outside, Pritchard was steel and Hokie Stone, common granite that the university hung on all its buildings. Pritchard contained nearly 1,600 college males between eighteen and thirty years old. We RAs had to show up a week before the students. The scent of fresh paint hung in the air near the lobby. The painters knocked off at noon to attend the annual staff barbeque. I lay awake all night listening to workmen putting the final touches on the breaker boxes, testing the fire alarms, water pressure. The elevators were sliding nicely on new oil.

David-Shields-Other-People

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with author David Shields . His new book, Other People: Takes and Mistakes, is available from Knopf.

David last appeared on the program on Episode 26, in December 2011.

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There haven’t been many weeks since the summer of 2014 ended in which I haven’t thought about or someone hasn’t reminded me of #90for90, that time we did 90 events over 90 days in a train station bar. When it ended, it felt like those corny movies where our characters have a terrifying, exciting, overwhelming, but ultimately unforgettable summers that forever change them. In many ways, none of us—Jessica, Peter, Judeth or myself—have recovered from it.

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The day the German army opened fire on its own citizens in Blumental was the day of Pimpanella’s miracle. It was a cool summer morning, with the first promise of sun after four drizzly, cold days. Rosie woke early, hopped out of bed, and ran downstairs. Ever since she turned five, she had been allowed to check for eggs in the henhouse. She loved crawling into the small plywood hutch that housed the four chickens, reaching into each nest, and gently wiggling her fingers between the straw and the burlap, feeling around for that small, smooth oval, still warm from being under the hen’s puffed chest, the shell slightly soft.

Rosie also loved the hens, Pimpanella especially. Spindly little Pimpanella was the closest thing Rosie had to a pet; she was the only chicken who did not peck at Rosie’s feet in the outhouse. And Rosie protected Pimpanella against her grandfather. The last time Opa was home from Berlin, he declared Pimpanella useless because she had never been able to produce an egg. “A poor excuse for a fowl,” he called her. He chased Pimpanella around the yard with a stewpot lid, yelling at her to pull herself together and do her part for the war effort.

1557279_10202842441290851_1524261412_o2We’re so sad to report that Cynthia Hawkins, our Arts & Culture editor, has lost her long battle with cancer. We send our deepest condolences to her husband and two daughters, and all of her family and friends. We will always be grateful for her great spirit and many contributions to this site and its community.

If you would like to contribute to a fund that will help Cynthia’s family weather this storm, you can do so here. Every donation, however large or small, helps. Please give what you can.

Ethel RohanYou’re a woman, 140lbs, and a longtime resident of San Francisco. Why’d you write your first novel, THE WEIGHT OF HIM, about a 400lb Irish man?

I was born and raised in Ireland and the seed for this novel was planted during a return visit there, in a bar. It seemed only fitting to set the book in its (and my) place of origin.

The seed was a conversation I overheard about a fat woman, dire ruminations over whether her weight or her grief would kill her first. As though fat is always unhealthy. As though grief can’t be survived. As though we can be killed more than once.

The Weight of Him Book Cover 2017Billy Brennan overdid it again with the fast food. After, he hurried as best he could along the street, fighting the need to stop and recover—he didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself. Strangers looked twice at his massive bulk. He pretended not to notice. Those he knew seemed inclined to stop and chat, but he issued only passing hellos and pressed on. He was in no mood to suffer further condolences and awkward exchanges, all of which set his heart racing.

A woman overtook him on the footpath, walking fast and with force. She must have just come off a foreign holiday or a session of sun beds. Maybe she had slathered herself in that fake lotion. More noticeable than skin the color of mahogany, though, she was sickly thin. Billy had never seen a woman so skinny; her arms and calves could snap like sugar sticks. It seemed impossible she could move that fast, could have the strength to even stand up.

0SAM FINSTER

 “Hey hey, guys,” Mr. Whitlock crowed, and motioned Sam and Trina inside the house with the spatula he held in one fist. Toad’s uncle was a big man with a handlebar mustache and any number of blurred and explicit green tattoos lacing his arms. They looked like they’d been drawn there by a child, quite possibly a drunken one, and Toad had long ago informed him it meant his uncle had done various stretches of county time. “Back before I came into the picture,” Toad said. Mr. Whitlock had, over the years, insisted that Sam call him by his first name, Stacy, but somehow Sam just couldn’t do it. He looked fearsome, even more so than Sam’s dad, and like a man who brooked absolutely no shit. But a Stacy? No.

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This is an incredibly depressing book. The Mercy of the Tide, huh? Should be called The Mercilessness of the… Pages. Or something. Jesus! It’s unrelenting, the bummers.

Great. Thanks. Great way to start an interview. And let the record show that I don’t entirely agree. It’s a downer at times, sure, but I think there are bright spots. And I don’t think it was an arbitrary decision the writer made. Like, “Ah, I’m just gonna make an unrelenting crapshow of four people’s lives for three hundred pages. Just for the hell of it.” It’s about story, you know?

 

Right, but you know what I mean. You seem pretty upbeat in real life, you know? Jolly enough dude.

But you and I know the torpor that lurks beneath, don’t we?

Natashia-Deon-Grace

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Natashia Deón, author of the novel Grace. It is available now from Counterpoint Press.

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Dear God

By Allyson Darling

Essay

1

 

Are you there, God? It’s me, Allyson.

They never came. The boobs. You know the ones. Aunt Emma has them. Hers are bigger than avocados but similar in shape. And I know—you already know that. You know everything.

I was sent to the office again for skin showing above my jeans, the smallest crescent moon of pale. Mr. Frost handed me a clipboard that clamped a note. The note held words: “dress code violation.” And he asked me to take it to the office. The girls pull their thongs above the bands of their jeans to show the boys behind them in class. The room is a sea of lace funnels into asses, but Mr. Frost doesn’t notice. He talks about Spinal Tap for fifty-three minutes.

My thoughts dawdle back to last weekend, reliving scenes and events, picking them up to consider, like the shape of rocks for skipping…

My mother is unyielding. Can I stay home instead? I think I’m getting sick. I have cramps. Terrible cramps and it isn’t my fault I have this stupid uterus.

No. You’re going.

She says. I would complete this final step in being confirmed into the Catholic Church. Whether I wanted to get married in the church or not, whether I wanted to get married at all, or not. And I would not complain about it.

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On behalf of the entire TNB community, I want to send love and appreciation to Cynthia Hawkins, our longtime Arts & Culture editor, who is battling cancer with uncommon grace and determination. All of us here–and of course I’m referring to our far-flung tribe of writers and editors, both past and present–are deeply moved and inspired by you, Cynthia, and we want you to know how much we care about you and your family.

With this in mind, we figure a good old-fashioned, comment-heavy post here at TNB will cheer you up and give you some more good energy. (All readers are invited to join me in offering positive thoughts on the board below.)

Sarah-Manguso-300-Arguments

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Sarah Manguso. Her new book, 300 Arguments, is available now from Graywolf Press.

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This month we’re reading Pachinko, by bestselling author Min Jin Lee. Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz calls it

“Luminous…a powerful meditation on what immigrants sacrifice to achieve a home in the world. This story confirms Lee’s place among our finest novelists.”

And stay tuned for Min’s appearance on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast. Coming soon!

9780670025350Available from Viking

Sign up now to receive your copy! (Sign-up deadline for this title: February 15, 2017.)

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The One-Eyed Man delivers blistering, hilarious social satire and apocalyptic hijinks with the best of them, but what you have after the smoke clears is a deep, moving novel about love and grief. Ron Currie is a many-eyed and many-hearted wonder.” – Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask

From the “startlingly talented” (New York Times) author of Everything Matters!—the compelling story of a man who takes everything far too literally, and his adventures as the star of a reality TV show

“Nobody writing today walks the knife edge of cynicism and sentiment more bravely, intelligently and confidently than Ron Currie. By turns hilarious and heartfelt, The One-Eyed Man is a revelation, a wonder.” –Richard Russo

Ron Currie’s three previous works of fiction have dazzled readers and critics alike with their originality, audacity, and psychological insight. A writer of unique vision and huge imagination, Currie excels at creating complex, troubled, yet endearing characters, and his work has won comparison to everyone from Kurt Vonnegut to George Saunders.

K., the intriguing narrator of Currie’s new novel, joins the ranks of other great American literary creations who show us something new about ourselves. Like Jack Gladney from White Noise, K. is possessed of a hyper-articulate exasperation with the world, and like Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces, he is a doomed truth teller whom everyone misunderstands. After his wife Sarah dies, K. loses his metaphorical capacity, becoming so wedded to the notion of clarity that he infuriates everyone, friends and strangers alike. When he intervenes in an armed robbery, K. finds himself both an inadvertent hero and the star of a new reality television program. Together with Claire, a grocery store clerk with a sharp tongue and a yen for celebrity, he travels the country, ruffling feathers and gaining fame at the intersection of American politics and entertainment. But soon, through a conflagration of biblical proportions, he discovers that the world will fight viciously to preserve its delusions about itself.

K.’s quixotic effort to fully understand the world he lives in makes for a singular and engaging novel, one which further establishes Ron Currie’s position as one of today’s rising stars in fiction.