Available from Restless Books

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“The narrative reaches a greatly satisfying climax, built on themes of rediscovering the past, memories, women’s friendships, language, and identity. This unforgettable tour de force surprises at every turn.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Winner of the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature, Lana Bastašić’s powerful debut novel Catch the Rabbit is an emotionally rich excavation of the complicated friendship between two women in a fractured, post-war Bosnia as they venture into the treacherous terrain of the Balkan wonderlands and their own history.

It’s been twelve years since inseparable childhood friends Lejla and Sara have spoken, but an unexpected phone call thrusts Sara back into a world she left behind, a language she’s buried, and painful memories that rise unbidden to the surface. Lejla’s magnetic pull hasn’t lessened despite the distance between Dublin and Bosnia or the years of silence imposed by a youthful misunderstanding, and Sara finds herself returning home, driven by curiosity and guilt. Embarking on a road trip from Bosnia to Vienna in search of Lejla’s exiled brother Armin, the two travel down the rabbit hole of their shared past and question how they’ve arrived at their present, disparate realities.

As their journey takes them further from their homeland, Sara realizes that she can never truly escape her past or Lejla―the two are intrinsically linked, but perpetually on opposite sides of the looking glass. As they approach their final destination, Sara contends with the chaos of their relationship. Lejla’s conflicting memories of their past, further complicated by the divisions brought on by the dissolution of Yugoslavia during their childhoods, forces Sara to reckon with her own perceived reality. Like Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, Catch the Rabbit lays bare the intricacies of female friendship and all the ways in which two people can hurt, love, disappoint, and misunderstand one another.


Available from W.W. Norton

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“Nick Flynn writes like a wicked angel―heartbreaking and challenging yes, but with an undercurrent of comfort that comes from the fact that you can trust this voice. We need this book, now more than ever.” —Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

A searing memoir from critically acclaimed author Nick Flynn, on how childhood spills into parenthood.

When Nick Flynn was seven years old, his mother set fire to their house. The event loomed large in his imagination for years, but it’s only after having a child of his own that he understands why. He returns with his young daughter to the landscape of his youth, reflecting on how his feral childhood has him still in its reins, and forms his memories into lyrical bedtime stories populated by the both sinister and wounded Mister Mann.

With the spare lyricism and dark irony of his classic, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Flynn excavates the terrain of his traumatic upbringing and his mother’s suicide. This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire unravels the story of the fire that Flynn had to escape, and the ways in which, as an adult, he has carried that fire with him until it threatens to burn down his own house. Here Nick confronts his failings with fierce candor, even as they threaten to tear his family apart. His marriage in crisis, Flynn seeks answers from his therapist, who tells him he has “the ethics of a drowning man.”

This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire takes us on the journey of a man struggling to hold himself together in prose that is raw and moving, sharp-edged and wry. Alternating literary analysis and philosophy with intimate memoir, Flynn probes his deepest ethical dilemmas.

Catch

By Jed Myers

Poem

All the fathers are gone, under
the grass, above us in the earth’s
greenhouse haze, in stream silts
where the burial hills are awash
in the unprecedented monsoons,

some never found, swamped shot
in the rice marshes and ultimately
part of the crop, some taken in bits
as they sank into the mouths of fish
and bottom scavengers, some chopped

into manageable chunks and wrapped
to be kept from the air and stashed
behind Sheetrock while the cops passed
for unbroadcast reasons—all
the fathers, it sometimes seems, are gone,

Seriously.

This thing–actually, a very similar jighead which differed from this one only in coloration–hit me squarely in the right eyeball on Tuesday afternoon. At high velocity. And by high velocity I don’t mean I popped it out of a tree and it drifted down in a slow, lazy arc and bounced harmlessly off my eyelid. Nor do I mean that a largemouth leapt from the water and spit the jighead in a slow, lazy arc which terminated at my eye, and I went “Ow” and rubbed at the sore spot and everyone had a good laugh at my expense.

I mean: High. Velocity. As in, the jighead was being cast when my eyeball interrupted its flight. There was no arc, lazy or otherwise. And I can’t give a MPH figure, but I will suggest an experiment you could do at home to appoximate the sensation I experienced at the moment of impact. Because we can all use a little more empathy, right?

So give this a shot: Stand with your back against any available wall. Tape your eyelid securely open, with packing tape or the like. Next, have a friend whip a penny at your exposed eyeball from two feet away, hard as he can. And you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

At first I was pretty convinced I was going to have to be fitted for a glass eye. Okay, that’s not true. That thought came second. The first thought was something like this: “AAAAAAAAGGGGGRRRRRMOTHERFUCKWHATTHEFUCKWASTHATOHFUCKIVEGOTAFUCKINGHOOKINMYEYESHIT!”

But I did not, in fact, have a hook in my eye. I had nothing in my eye. Near as the optometrist could tell, in what turned out to be an unreasonably painful stroke of good luck the jighead itself had impacted my eyeball, then bounced out before the hook became part of the proceedings. And thank whatever god exists, because otherwise, best case scenario, instead of writing this I’m sitting on my sofa with half my head wrapped in gauze, having just had my retina surgically reattached.

But it wasn’t an immediate sense of relief, there, in the moment. Because even though the pain subsided and the boat hadn’t capsized and I managed to retrieve my rod from the water where I’d dropped it, there was still one small problem: I couldn’t see a fucking thing out of my right eye.

Again, an experiment you can try at home to get a feel for where I was at: take a normal, transparent drinking glass. Fill it with skim milk. Hold it up to your eye and try to see through it.

“Do you want to go back?” one of my companions asked.

No, I didn’t. I’d been looking forward to this for a while, and the fishing had been bad so far and I wanted to give it a chance to get better. But there was the whole problem with not being able to see. And it was getting worse. The skim had quickly thickened to 2%, and I was having a hard time keeping my balance in the bow.

The water is warmer by this time of year, but not warm enough.

So I said okay, let’s go back.

Because I’ll be honest with you, by now I was a little freaked out. I don’t like doctors, and I like giving them money even less, but the idea of just waiting it out in the woods until my eye swelled to the point where I looked like this

Quasimodo

didn’t really appeal. Plus of course I had no idea if this blindness thing was time-sensitive, if by waiting for it to correct itself I would be wasting time the doctors needed to fix things. Seemed unlikely, but this was one of only two eyes I’ve been alotted, remember. Plus I’ve done that in the past–let something go for a day or two or five, hoping it would just sort of magically fix itself, and when I finally showed up at the ER the doctors always just looked at me like, “What the fuck do you expect me to do now?”

So we brought the boat in and packed everything up and headed back to civilization. Civilization, in this case, being defined as a place where optometrists outnumber deer. And by the time we’d made an emergency appointment and got to the doctor’s office the sight in my right eye had mostly come back, and I was starting to feel like a pussy. The thing didn’t even look all that bad, except for a small dent at the point of impact. My only saving grace was when the exam revealed definite vision loss on the right. Nothing dramatic, but it was there. Other than that, though, everything was fine. Just some bruising, of both eyeball and ego, and a needlessly aborted fishing trip.

This last was the worst part, of course. Because every fisherman is a speculator, and every speculator is an inveterate optimist. Whenever the fishing is bad, you know it’s just about to get great. You’re always just about to turn the corner. If only you can stay on the water for another half hour.

 

I was doing the thing where my mom was on the phone with me so I was walking laps around the neighborhood. I get pretty sick of being in my apartment. And I need the exercise.

I hadn’t been home in months and months and months and Mom was telling me about how my dad fell in the pond and couldn’t crawl out because he’s got bad knees. It’d be funny and kind of sad if it weren’t for the fact there was a six-foot alligator in there. Dad tries to scramble out of the pond and he keeps sliding in mud and meanwhile, the alligator floats, all scales and prehistoric eyes, just watching. 

I laughed, passing construction site after construction site, old buildings going down and new condos going up, expensive condos no one was actually going to live in. Hundreds of empty condos all over the neighborhood.

“But the real problem is you can’t call animal control on an alligator,” Mom was saying. “Trust me, I tried it. They told me the state budget was cut and they no longer have the equipment or the manpower to wrangle alligators. Can you believe that?” 

Mom sneezed. She works in an old government building and she always has a sinus infection. 

“There’s practically a dinosaur living in the pond, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. There’s no one to call. And you certainly can’t kill it. You know your daddy hates shooting things.”

I cut down a side street I don’t often walk down. It’s an ugly chunk of sidewalk covered in busted bottles but it always has the best graffiti, usually Polish because that’s who most of the people in the neighborhood are. There’s this one Polish guy named Brutus who always talks about how he’s a mutant because he grew up thirty miles from Chernobyl. Brutus wears urban camo and has a ponytail down to his ass. He’s six foot ten and he probably is a mutant but I like him. He’s a good guy. 

 

I usually think people hate me which is why when Mario hadn’t texted me since I’d rejected his poem, I thought he hated me. 

 

But it turned out he didn’t hate me, he’d just killed himself.

 

Not to say it was a relief. 

 

Thank God, he hadn’t killed himself because I’d rejected his poem. I found out from a mutual friend when exactly he’d killed himself. It was a few days after submitting the poem to me but before I’d emailed him the rejection.

 

That part was a relief. So to speak.

 

But then I was in a predicament. Everyone was posting positive things about him and his good poems. I was very depressed and playing video games all the time and didn’t know what to do. I thought to myself “Fuck, should I just publish this? Maybe as a celebration of his life?”

 

The problem was the poem was bad. Not his best work. Not his worst work either, he’d published that back when he was in college. I wondered whether his decline as an artist was what made him kill himself. There wasn’t a note. Not that I know of, at least. Not that I would know whether or not there was a note.

 

We weren’t very good friends. Mostly friendly, with the wary respect that you feel for someone who is a version of you from an alternate universe. Someone mistook us for brothers one time at a reading.

 

We both said “Haha, no, not brothers.”

 

Then he introduced himself to me. 

 

He seemed slick and he really wanted to be liked. I really wanted to be liked too but went more for the blank canvas approach: don’t flatter people, just kind of be there and eventually people will decide they like you. Other people’s attention was like an oncoming train—just stand to the side and be ready to sneakily jump on but whatever you do, don’t meet it head on or invite it.

Lana Bastasic is the author of the debut novel Catch the Rabbit, winner of the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature. Available now in translation from Restless Books. The official June pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Bastasic is a Yugoslav-born writer. She majored in English and holds a master’s degree in cultural studies. She has published three collections of short stories, one book of children’s stories and one of poetry. She lives in Belgrade.

Her short stories have been included in regional anthologies and magazines throughout the former Yugoslavia. She has won the Best Short Story section at the Zija Dizdarević competition in Fojnica; the Jury Award at the ‘Carver: Where I’m Calling From’ festival in Podgorica; Best Short Story at the Ulaznica festival in Zrenjanin; Best Play by a Bosnian Playwright (Kamerni teatar 55 in Sarajevo) and the Targa Unesco Prize for poetry in Trieste. In 2016 she co-founded Escola Bloom in Barcelona and she now co-edits the school’s literary magazine Carn de cap. She is one of the creators of the ‘3+3 sisters’ project, which aims to promote women writers of the Balkans.

***

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I have never read Andre Dubus III, but I did once sit next to him on a bench on Remsen Street in Brooklyn. Understand that I have nothing against Andre Dubus III, nor am I uninterested in Andre Dubus III’s books. I am even relatively sure that, were I to read a book by Andre Dubus III, I would enjoy it. I bet there’s good stuff in there. But there is a lot to read that isn’t Andre Dubus III; I am sure even Andre Dubus III would understand that and, by the way, I did not know the man I was sitting next to was Andre Dubus III at the time. I did know he was someone. Some people—people, for instance, like Andre Dubus III—have this kind of distinguished look. I was on that bench waiting for my partner to bring me a cup of coffee that neither of us would have had to pay for, which was in a room that I did not have access to but that my partner did, because she was important and I was not. The man sitting next to me, who again I did not know was Andre Dubus III, was drinking this very coffee, but I didn’t know that either. When my partner arrived with the coffee, however, I saw it was the same brown and white paper cup that held Andre Dubus III’s coffee, and I also noticed that my partner smiled professionally at Andre Dubus III and that Andre Dubus III smiled professionally back in recognition, and so I realized definitively, though not exactly, that the man seated next to me on this bench was important, and that we were drinking the same important coffee. Andre Dubus III made room for my partner on the bench, but she did have to get back to the important room to do important things with important people: important people who had, like Andre Dubus III, received or been nominated for major literary accolades, held prominent staff positions at important writing programs, and even had their work adapted for the big screen, as with Andre Dubus III’s 1999 novel House of Sand and Fog, which was adapted into a film of the same name in 2003. My partner and I talked somewhat blandly about how our days were going, and I sipped my coffee in a way I hoped sounded appreciative of her time—though the coffee was actually too hot, and, actually, it burned my tongue—while at the same time, now that I was sitting closer to him, I was trying to see what Andre Dubus III was reading, which I remember as being one of his own books, perhaps even 1999’s House of Sand and Fog, which is his second novel, but I think that this is just my memory, because I want to remember that this man was Andre Dubus III through the entire scene of this memory despite this actually being an imposition on the memory because at the time, in the present tense of this memory, I did not know that this man was Andre Dubus III, and it is not as though there was something particularly Andre Dubus III about him in an adjectival sense, though of course he looks like the photo on his books, and I suppose it is possible that the distinctive quality I previously attributed to him was a partial recognition of this fact that I had surely seen Andre Dubus III’s books before in bookstores around Brooklyn, which is where we were. I was so intently focused on staring at the running head of the book that he was reading that I did not realize Andre Dubus III was staring back at me, and then I did not realize he was not staring at me but at my coffee, which was also his coffee, and then, but actually, staring at a bee just then hovering over my coffee, a bee which I did not realize was there until I tried raising my coffee to my lips, which I did mostly for the movement, for something to do with my radically misplaced body, and not because I wanted to burn my tongue again, and anyway I did not complete the movement because of the bee, who had captured Andre Dubus III’s attention. The bee hovered only another moment over the surface of the coffee then dove into it directly and drowned. All three of us—Andre Dubus III, my partner, and I—stared, surprised, at its body floating in my coffee. Andre Dubus III spoke first. He said, “That was weird.” My partner and I agreed, and Andre Dubus III continued: “Absolutely no instinct for self-preservation. I think he wanted to go.” My partner apologized then, because she had to return to the room for important people where someone important needed her, and apologized again because she could not get me another cup of coffee. She left me with Andre Dubus III, whom she waved goodbye to slightly, but who did not look up, busy as he was staring at the bee, in my coffee. “Incredible,” he said. “Absolutely Incredible.” I think part of the reason this event was so incredible to Andre Dubus III was because he was surely someone concerned about the bees, who were at the time dying en masse to the great anxiety of many scientists and bee-lovers. We were all concerned about the bees, and we—Andre Dubus III and I—were concerned together, but I had no more reason to sit on that bench on Remsen Street in Brooklyn, so I got up. I still held the coffee, and Andre Dubus III still stared at it, and I felt like I had to say something so I said instead that I hoped no bees would fly into his own coffee, that no more bees would die so uselessly when we really did need to save the bees. It was only when I checked my phone, blocks away but for some reason still carrying this coffee—still very much concerned about the bee floating dead inside that coffee—did I see that my partner had asked me if I knew who that had been on that bench. That is when I learned what you have known all this time—when, in effect, I catch up to you: holding the coffee with the dead bee in one hand, my phone in the other, reading a text message, actually holding this coffee and this text message out to you. 

 

1. Don’t Die

2014. My dad calls to tell me about a sheep hunt he’d been on with an old fisherman friend in the interior. He tells me to call this friend because I’ll be working on this friend’s fishing boat this summer. “You’ll either be with Andy or his identical twin brother Pete.” Two people I’ve never met or heard of before. Fishing after high school is a mundane fact in coastal Alaska, but when I tell my friends I’ll be fishing they don’t believe me. The cognitive dissonance of imagining my 18 year-old-self working on a seine boat is too much and everyone worries for me. The most common two words I hear before I leave the first time are “don’t die.” 

 

2. Cordova

So I fly into Cordova to fish for a man I’ve never met, with a backpack full of books I think a recently graduated 18 year-old should read. I won’t read any of them, and later in the season I’ll wish I used the backpack space for more socks. 

Andy and his wife, Mel, pick me up from the airport. Andy has a lazy eye and a limp and he says it’s because his twin beat him up in the womb. Andy seems a little shy at first so Mel does most of the talking. She wears wire transition lenses, and chain smokes Marlboro reds. She is a born and raised Cordova girl.

Cordova had a railroad in and out of town, but now there’s a 30 mile stretch of dirt road where it used to be, ending at a bridge which was swallowed by the unforgiving Copper River during the Good Friday earthquake of 1964. Now, Cordova is cut off from the Alaskan highway which would connect it to other parts of Alaska like the city of Anchorage. Cordova doesn’t want this road to the city. They fear a road will take away what is special about Cordova which is that it’s really only fishing and things related to fishing. There are bumper stickers on lots of cars and businesses around town “NO ROAD.”

1989, thirty years after the Good Friday earthquake of 1964, and seven years before I am born, the Super Tanker “Exxon Valdez” runs aground on Bligh Reef and spills over 10 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound. After the spill kills the fishing industry, financial anxieties, spikes in substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicides plunge Cordova, a town of 3,000 (mostly fishermen), into chaos. Twin fishermen and lifelong Cordovans, Andy and Pete move south along the coast to Sitka to continue fishing in waters untouched by the oil.

 

Andy’s boat, The Ace is brand new, fresh from the boat yard in Washington. Unlike other boats in the fleet, the living quarters are comically small. It’s the first thing people comment on when they step inside for the first time. “Oh it’s like… really small.” Andy designed it this way so as to not invite any other sort of leisure or unnecessary passengers (like his wife). “It’s a work boat, not a piano.” Andy also takes this as an excuse to keep the boat as messy as possible. The deck of The Ace is spacious and incredibly efficient in its operation. Andy likes to make sets fast. The more sets you are able to make in the fourteen hour fishing periods, the more fish you catch, the more money you make. The price of the salmon varies year to year. That’s one tactic Andy uses to keep me coming back. He keeps predicting how high the price is gonna be. “It’s gonna be the biggest year, pricewise, you’ve ever seen.” And usually it’s not and it’s a lot lower than he predicts. He makes up for this by always being one of the top three boats in the Sound. Some years his twin beats him.

 

3. Thom, Ethan, and Paul

Thom has minor gauges in each ear and wears a red knit cap with devil horns. He’s one of the boat builders and is on the crew to help fix and finish the boat since it was rushed out of the boat yard. One day he runs out of chewing tobacco. I hand him a slice of pizza at the end of the fishing day and he throws it in the water. He teaches me mechanical things, but it is confusing because he compares everything to jerking off. Changing oil? Just like jerking off. Tying lines? Exactly like jerking off. Unbolting a piece of equipment? Just think of it like jerking off. I don’t remember any of the practical knowledge.

 

Ethan was recently asked to leave his Christian college in Homer, Alaska because the administration found out he had sex with his girlfriend. He says he was called into the dean’s office and they asked him if it was true he had had sex with his girlfriend and he said yes because he was worried being caught in a lie would be worse for him. 

 

Paul is basically the co-captain and Andy’s oldest friend. Paul is patient and teaches me a lot. Each piece of the boat is designed for a specific part of the fishing operation and I have no idea what any of it is. I’m told to do things like “shorten the purse line” and “change the oil,” “pull up the bunt,” “pop the release,” and I have no idea. Eventually you learn things until one day you understand. It took me two summers to understand what each part of the net is for. There’s the corkline, the lead, the lead line, bunt, web, breast line, purse line, rings, king ring and so on. One day it all clicks. 

 

Dear Syd, 

I didn’t know your friend, and I’d fail if asked to list five simple  biographical facts about you, but I know you–maybe you know  me too, maybe not. And I understand this “you” is not you, but  rather, my perception of the version of yourself curated for the  amphitheater of social media, as it’s cropped up in my feeds from  Tumblr to Instagram to Twitter, among fields of people I know  IRL, which is likely the root of this intimacy I feel. Although I  believe you and I are similar insofar as our membranes between  public/private are thinner than most, I know there are things I  don’t or can’t know, but I’ve always found you interesting, likely  had a large crush on you at some point, and your tweets about  your friend’s death hurt my heart like it wouldn’t have if I didn’t  know you. Your commentary while watching the highly esteemed  Saw franchise for the first time earned its place in my Internet  Hall of Fame, and it was a little disorienting, yet in retrospect  made perfect sense, for me to laugh to the point of pain at what  you had to say on the spectacle of gore orchestrated by dying-of cancer John Kramer, because I know you, or this image of you,  built from the way autumn sunlight kisses the angles of your face,  the Edwardian dresses you pose in, the melted glacial blue of your  gaze, how you inhabit the mundane in eternal photoshoot; it was  natural incorporating your funniness into all this, not as revision,  but as something there from the start. Part of me feels I shouldn’t  be writing this letter to you—who am I to intrude upon such a  highly intimate moment when I’m not even remotely an integral  part of your life? Perhaps the urgency I felt to write to you isn’t  sufficient enough an answer, but it was intense enough for me to see this through. Freshman year of UMass, around the time you  and I first connected, I think, I was friends with this girl, Nina,  who lived in my dorm, who’d see me pulling all sorts of stupid shit  (i.e. piggyback riding some guy through the halls, knocking on  each door to offer a spoon-fed glop of Nutella to whoever opened)  and tell me, bursting with giddiness, “You really need to meet my  boyfriend, you’d love each other.” One weekend he visited and  proved Nina right—Jake and I were so same-wavelengthed  hanging out was like sitting next to a mirror–but more than that,  here was this whole other human who saw and understood me,  who I saw and understood, better even, than we saw and  understood ourselves. Another weekend, I hadn’t known he was  coming until I heard TONIGHT WE RIDE! right outside my window, in his best imitation of the La Dispute vocalist; I threw on shoes and rushed outside to tackle-hug him.

Swimming Down

By Holly Sinclair

Poem

An armored shark in lava, I move on all fours across the rug
While your daughters leap over me, shrieking.
With an unblinking eye, I feel the heat of the earth rise—
Its erupting egg, yolk-rug and the shore of the bed, as we play.

That night you wake up to tell me you were sinking.
Half-asleep, I say, water in dreams always means emotion.
I think I feel a pair of cool hands pressing on my temples,
A vial of cooking oil in my pocket. 

 

As I’d written in 2017, in a review of his novel Beautiful Animals, 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. 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. Like so many of Lawrence Osborne’s characters, Sarah Mullins, late of New York City and now a fugitive from the law, is a Westerner stuck in the quicksand of an alien culture she can’t even begin to comprehend; and like Robert Grieve, in Osborne’s earlier novel, Hunters in the Dark, she has travelled there to reinvent herself. Or maybe just to lose herself. Because, like so many protagonists in Osborne’s work, she has stepped over the bounds of the light of day and found treasures in the night, and one day someone might come knocking at her door.

 

She has just moved into her seven-room apartment in the Bangkok complex known as the Kingdom, with its four glass towers, each of twenty-one floors, in a city with its “decay that held a dark human nectar inside it.” Impressive in its description, the place is running down fast, just like the others in the city, “sinking into their own twilight.” And, as with Elsinore castle in Hamlet, nearly all the action is set within its walls. The claustrophobia, the ability to see into other people’s rooms and habits in this world of glass, works on the reader to evoke a sense of foreboding. Something’s coming; something bad.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Nick Flynn. His new memoir, This is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire, is available from W.W. Norton & Co. It is the official August pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Flynn is the author of three previous memoirs, including the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award–winning Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and four volumes of poetry. A professor on the creative writing faculty at the University of Houston, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Isidore and Lucille are two very different people. Isidore Strauss, known to his friends and family as Izzy, is a real estate developer with movie star looks. He’s part of that generation who broke free of middle-class Brooklyn to conjure up the hazy suburbs of Long Island, with streets so carefully paved and lawns so thoroughly maintained that they resemble a Hollywood back lot. On a lark, Izzy goes to a ridiculous party on the shores of Coney Island. Fred Trump (yes, Donald’s father) has funded a “destruction party” to rid the area of some it’s old-time charm to make way for large swaths of middle-income housing. It’s here, surrounded by local celebrities, that he spots Lucille Ball. She is not yet the Lucy that would be beamed into millions of American homes, but Izzy is taken aback by her sensuality and charm. Just as the party-goers raise their bricks to help demolish a “crystal palace that smacks of bygones”, Izzy chucks a brick at his own life, and maybe even his sanity, by falling in love. However, Izzy knows that committing adultery is: “…when you pull an illicit trigger, there’s a kickback; it changes the forensics of who you are.”

 

This dreamy novel, written as a fictionalized account of Darin Strauss peeling backing the layers of his family history, also asks the reader to reconsider their view of Lucille Ball. Many primarily see her as the easily-flustered housewife, constantly trying (and failing) to put out domestic fires. However, even though we spend some time with Lucille on set (one especially nice detail—to help with contrast issues on black and white film Lucy’s entire apartment, right down to the books and furniture, was gray) the woman we get to know is a very different beast. She’s a proud and acclaimed actress who is nevertheless convinced that she is past her prime. The movie business has taken a pass on her. She’s on the verge of staking her claim in the burgeoning field of television. Don’t buy this book expecting I Love Lucy fan fiction; Lucille makes it very clear that while Lucy does the dishes, Lucille does not. Lucille plots, broods about her troubled upbringing. fumes about her husband Dezi’s brazen affairs—in fact, it’s probably this fuming that sends her into the arms of Izzy (who she calls Hold-on because of a bit of banter the two of them had during their first encounter).

 

This isn’t a history textbook but history is happening. It was convenient weaving COVID-19 into the narrative of my day-to-day as a universally relatable backdrop but this isn’t like that. The pandemic was and remains tragic but it’s the result of microscopic pathogens that cannot make logical decisions for themselves; what’s happening now in America is the result of millennia of horrors by way of the brains and hearts and hands of humans who have had millennia to witness the harm wrought and vow not to pass the hateful torch on to their offspring. But no such thing happened, the horrors so ingrained they remained fabric, breaking point after breaking point. I was raised in an overwhelmingly white part of a suburb, where parents accused Black kids of infiltrating from an abutting neighborhood to parasitically suckle from the teat of our top notch public school system paid for with our hard-earned tax dollars. I can only recall a single African-American student from elementary school; his house burned down from some appliance gone awry in the garage and everyone knew, even the librarian, who in front of our whole class, treated him with disproportionate cruelty over unreturned Goosebumps. All four elementary schools streamlined into a single middle school and I became friends with Marlon, the funniest kid I’d ever met, so capable of making my gut bust our Geography teacher had to alter the seating arrangement so we’d be as far away from each other as possible, but that was useless, all it took was a single backwards glance, him pulling down his eyelids with his fingers and puffing his cheeks, and I’d once again disrupt the lesson; toward the end of sixth grade, we signed ourselves up to perform improv in the talent show; per audience suggestion, we got on our hands and knees and became cows, we pantomimed chewing some cud, then I made the low-hanging joke that he produced chocolate milk; our peers laughed, shouted more suggestions, and we went on with our act–I’m not sure whether I felt off about it then, or if its offness only comes now, over a decade later, superimposing itself over the memory, but the joke had no basis other than me viewing my friend as my “Black friend.”