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Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Chiara Barzini . Her debut novel, Things That Happened Before the Earthquake, is available now from Doubleday.

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So The Disintegrations is a book about a man obsessed with death, who knows nothing about it and is trying to understand it. You call it a novel, yet most of the names that appear in the novel are those of actual people, including the protagonist, who bears your name. Similarly, the book is an investigation into Culver City’s Holy Cross Cemetery. Why shouldn’t the reader just think of this as memoir or creative nonfiction?

Well, this book, as with all my writing, springs from non-fiction, that’s always the departure point. But as a writer I can’t stay within those parameters; as soon as I start writing, it shifts into fiction. To call it CNF or memoir would be an act of bad faith.

Robert

In some cultures, alluding to the dead is considered taboo. Even remembering them is forbidden. Above all, one must never utter the deceased individual’s name.

 Now that I think of it, I have known a couple more people who’ve died. First there was Robert. It’s not like I knew him well or anything, but I did know him.

after the decree

By D. B. Ruderman

Poem

 

approaching the mosque where the highways meet
from the north and not the south or west
one gets another understanding of cloud and sky

my body it seems had it own direction
bleary, I was the last to know

destination I suppose is relative
the choices we chalk up to chance
(the brown carpet of my ex-father-in-law’s house
or his love of modern art)

yet even when the doors are open
relations are easily cut

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, author of the debut novel  A Kind of Freedom, available from Counterpoint Press.

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How did your early years in New Orleans influence your writing of A KIND OF FREEDOM?

I lived in New Orleans until I was 12. Then my mom and I moved to Connecticut, but because my dad and most of my family were still in New Orleans, we went back all the time, and it’s truly the only place I think of as home. So the rhythm of the city always lived in me. I lost my accent, but the voices of my aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, are the earliest ones I remember. I learned to cook in my grandmother’s kitchen in New Orleans East. She taught me what to put in the beans, and that you make them on Monday. At elementary school, we wore K-Swiss tennis shoes with our uniform skirts, ribbed each other at recess, and danced to Jubilee All at assembly. The praline man waited for the end-of-day bell to ring so we kids could charge across the street and buy candy, pickles and potato chips from him. I say all this to say that New Orleans is such a special place, and my memories of it are so vivid. The language, food, music, and demeanor of the city are so rich I felt it would have disadvantaged me to write about anywhere else. More than that, no other place moved me to write about it as solidly as if it were a character itself.

Winter 1944

Later, Evelyn would look back and remember that she wasn’t the one who noticed Renard first. No, it was her sister, Ruby, who caught the too-short right hem of his suit pants in her side view. Ruby was thicker than Evelyn, not fat by a long shot, but thick in a way that prevented her from ever feeling comfortable eating. Her favorite food was red beans and rice, and Monday was hard on her. Their mother would boil a big pot and feel relieved, two pounds plenty to feed the family for at least three days, but Ruby felt taunted by the surplus. She’d cut in and out of the kitchen the beginning of the week, sneaking deep bowls of rice and applying as little gravy as she could to maintain the flavor but not alert her family to her excess. Then on Thursday, she’d examine the consequences. It would start in the morning on the way in to school. Ruby attended vocational school and Evelyn attended Dillard University, but their campuses were only a few blocks apart, and they walked the majority of the way together.

It all began with a visit from a woman. She rang our doorbell. Diiiiiiiiing Dooooong. My widowed Bengali immigrant mother opened our large wooden door. It let out a small creak. Maybe a warning, like in a scary movie, the first mistake, never open your door to a stranger. A skinny white woman was standing at our doorway—blonde hair and blue eyes. She was carrying a petite Louis Vuitton purse which she held onto tightly.

“Hi, I’m part of a city committee that is raising awareness about safety precautions. You are aware that there is a serial killer at large?”

My mother looked at the woman, her expression blank.

Where are you?

I’m at Legend Upper West because it’s the only establishment within a one-mile radius of campus that isn’t swarming with undergrads. It’s the first day of school. Their excitement is too exciting. It’s a humid day and it feels like summer, and there’s too much libido and lust for learning in the air. I’m sitting here with a bowl of plain white rice.

Mom comes to pick me up at the airport. She pulls up to the curb in a beat-up Camry, my old car when I was in high school. There’s a fresh dent on the front bumper and a long, black scratch on the passenger-seat door. She’s wearing her flannel work clothes, her unwashed hair flecked with white paint. She smells of plaster and sweat and that oily, non-ventilated odor of cheap Chinese restaurants. I give her a hug, but she stiffens, unused to Western expressions of affection. When she smiles, I see her left front tooth has turned brown. Everything is a stab in the heart.

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Alex Gilvarry. His new novel, Eastman Was Here, is available now from Viking. It is the official September pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

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Available from Eamon Dolan

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What’s really happening behind closed doors on America’s college campuses?

“With rigorous reporting, brilliant observations and a rare absence of bias, Grigoriadis has written a fascinating and moreover an important book about a complex, controversial phenomenon. Blurred Lines is poised to become the definitive work about sex, consent, and campus life in our era.” —Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion.

A new sexual revolution is sweeping the country, and college students are on the front lines. Women use fresh, smart methods to fight entrenched sexism and sexual assault even as they celebrate their own sexuality as never before. Many “woke” male students are more sensitive to women’s concerns than previous generations ever were, while other men perpetuate the most cruel misogyny. Amid such apparent contradictions, it’s no surprise that intense confusion shrouds the topic of sex on campus.

Vanessa Grigoriadis dispels that confusion as no other writer could by traveling to schools large and small, embedding in their social whirl, and talking candidly with dozens of students – among them, both accusers and accused– as well as administrators, parents, and researchers. Her unprecedented investigation presents a host of new truths. She reveals which times and settings are most dangerous for women (for instance, beware the “red zone”); she demystifies the welter of conflicting statistics about the prevalence of campus rape; she makes a strong case that not all “sexual assault” is equivalent; and she offers convincing if controversial advice on how schools, students, and parents can make college a safer, richer experience. The sum of her fascinating, fly-on-the-wall reportage is a revelatory account of how long-standing rules of sex and power are being rewritten from scratch.