@

 

In journalism, we’re taught to ask the Five Ws and the Sixth H:

 

1. What happened?

2. Who was involved?

3. Where did it take place?

4. When did it take place?

5. Why did that happen?

6. How did it happen?

 

It’s always the Fifth W that is the hardest to answer.

 

***

April 17, 1985 (When)

You wake up earlier than usual that morning because you want to impress a boy at your junior high school. You walk past your parents’ bedroom and notice that your mother (Who) isn’t there, that her side of the bed is empty, an abandoned shell—crumpled-up sheets and a feathery impression of her torso, the salmon pink comforter still tucked in tight. Those army corners. Your father is snoring heavily, and you watch him through the crack in the door, the steady rise and fall of his chest. You wonder where your mother is. Your parents don’t get up until 7:30am. It’s 6.

Fiona Helmsley is the guest. Her new essay collection, Girls Gone Old, is available from We Heard You Like Books.

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Hi, it’s nice to meet you. I didn’t realize how different you’d look in person. You’re nothing like your author photo.

Yeah, I’ve aged a bit. Also, I had a baby.

 

That’s cool. Wait, I think I knew you 10 years ago, when you were just starting the research for your first novel. Is this the same book you were working on then?

Sadly, yes. It took me ten years to birth this book and ten hours to birth my daughter. The book was way more painful and I cried a lot more.

Translator’s Note

You never enter Beijing the same way twice. For centuries this was a hidden, forbidden empire: nine gates through which to pass, each with a melliferous name (Gate of Peace, Gate of Security, Gate Facing the Sun), each moat, wall, guard tower knocked down then rebuilt. First the Mongols, the Manchus, then the Boxers and Brits. So many defenses needed to protect the Peaceful Capital that eventually it was renamed Northern Capital—Beijing—for fear of instilling a false sense of quiet.

In the twenty years I’ve lived here, I witnessed hutong alleyways paved over by four-lane highways, a landscape of construction cranes pocking the horizon with hungry, steel arms; my old neighborhood with its elderly inhabitants, once accustomed to shared squat toilets and courtyard kitchen fires, shipped to the suburbs to make way for a Holiday Inn and an office tower with iridescent windows reflecting an endlessly gray, heavy sky.

Oklahoma, he said in his mind, two long os, two short as, and wanted to know if there would be anyone to whom he could disclose, ever, the tenderness of his feelings, in all their callowness, when he said this word.

Salvatore Scibona, The End

 

O

O is for Oktaha, Okemah, and Okmulgee, small yellow towns with tall water towers and low-lit diners where the cheerleaders still gather after the game.

O is for Oolagah, a name like a spell, where Will Rogers once said he’d never met a man he didn’t like. “When you meet people,” he said, “why, after you meet them, and see their angle, why, you can see a lot of good in all of them.” He died when his plane crashed in an Alaskan lagoon at the apex of August. The pilot was Wiley Post, a famed barnstormer with one good eye, but he wasn’t ours, he was a Texan. Amber Valetta went to my high school; Gap Band Avenue is just down the street. You can sing Mmmbop and I can sing mmmbop, and the Hanson boys still live in Tulsa, where they lived, too, in 2001. Were they homeschooling that fall, or were they on tour when the towers fell? Did they think, like I did, how lucky we were to live nowhere, how no one could ever want to hurt us, not aliens, not invaders, of course not terrorists. I’d forgotten already how Timothy McVeigh parked a truck on a Wednesday afternoon two hours west of Tulsa, a truck meant to go nowhere but everywhere, its cargo nitromethane.

 

Haven’t we done this before?

We have. I think back in 2011. Actually, I know it to be so because I googled it.

 

There are times I have to remind myself
that a bridge is a way to travel over water
not a diving board for suicides. That airports

aren’t just places for departures, but places
for arrivals, and hospitals aren’t only
where we go to die, but where we’re born.

I’d like to think not a single bomb
was dropped on anyone today, not a single
person was diagnosed with cancer.

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Siel Ju. Her new novel-in-stories, Cake Time, is available from Red Hen Press.

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Lawrence Osborne’s characters tend to stumble into things: whether as a result of an accident, as in The Forgiven, or by winning big at the roulette table, as in Hunters in the Dark: as if they had stepped into the intersection of opportunity and desire, and what they heretofore envisaged only nebulously, something that couldn’t be put into words, now possessed a vocabulary and the will to act upon it.

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Scott McClanahan. His new novel The Sarah Book is now available from Tyrant Books. It is the official July pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

This is Scott’s second appearance on the program. He was the guest in Episode 87 on July 15, 2012.

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He started his morning shift with six different Sara(h)s, an auspicious sign for a Wednesday. They booked the shuttle on the app and he watched, incredulously, as they piled in one at a time, a grand cosmic joke about the homogeneity of white women in San Francisco. Their hair ranged in hue from seal brown to chemical blonde, and their clothes were of the same expensive ilk—drapey linen, dark, tapered denim with tailored plaid button-ups, chunky patent leather shoes that might’ve cost more than his monthly rent. Their faces? Identically lacquered: sooty powder around the eyes, lined with a dark streak of black, hair artfully tousled, and skin so glazed and even it looked like an artisan plate.

Available from Picador

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“Looking for a voice-of-their-generation type writer? No pressure or anything, but BuzzFeed writer Scaachi Koul might fit the bill. Drawing comparisons to Mindy Kaling and Roxane Gay, Koul is a voice for outsiders, children of immigrants and just about any other millennial trying to make their way in today’s perplexing world with this entertaining and thought-provoking collection of essays.” –Rolling Stone

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“Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain momma

Take me home, country roads”

-John Denver, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

 

If I were partial to the Denver School of Criticism, I might spend hours coming up with pithy sobriquets for Scott McClanahan. I’d call him the Chaucer of Coal Country, Mountain Bukowski, or some other such shite. I’d focus on the stereotyped version of West Virginia many of us carry in our heads, turn McClanahan’s story into a combo of The Outsiders sacking the Sam’s Club snack aisle and life in the U.S.S.R. circa 1983, a place that really wasn’t that bad compared to the coal-dusted, oxy-encrusted, Trumpist mayhem of today’s West Virginia.