Recent Work By Michael Mungiello

 

everybody always thinks i’m lying about this dream but i’m not: the dream is me standing next to a long pole that looks like those things on the boardwalk with the bell on top and the weight on the bottom and you have to bring the hammer down on the bottom part and depending on where you get the weight to go, you’ll know how strong you are. that’s what it looked like but instead of the words very weak, weak, strong, or very strong appearing up the pole, there were the words comedy, romance, adventure, drama. i knew i could choose which genre of dream i’d have and i’d get whatever i wanted. i couldn’t choose and i woke up. anyway. i’m not always lying. it’s just that…you know that phrase “he lies like he breathes”? it’s what people say about someone who lies a lot. you could maybe say i lie like i sneeze; there are just certain situations i’m allergic to. mom is one of those situations. out of the goodness of her heart she overwhelmed me. as a boy i was her buddy for every unnervingly tedious thing—i remember sitting with her at the dmv with a grocery bag in my lap while she haggled with our health insurance on her cell phone—these “activities” were the shape the love between us took, as vases, dog bowls, and beakers are to water. to this day the most romantic thing i can imagine is helping a woman move, taking apart her bed frame, waiting together for some maintenance guy to show up and do something. these things are related—in some way it doesn’t make any sense to say out loud. what i mostly remember isn’t anger that i was stuck with her or boredom at the objectively boring things we did. i remember being jealous. glowering at the valet when we went to the hospital for my physical therapy, the ache to strangle him when mom handed off her keys and fingered his palm; hating the fact we were “regulars” at the town diner, the smiley way the waiters already knew what to bring her (onion rings and russian dressing); and of course the boys at school. being aware of how people saw her was an entirely slimy thing. so i talked. to distract mom (and to distinguish myself) from the persistent idiots who wanted to take my place. and if you only talk to get what you want, sooner or later you’ll end up lying. you can only say so much as a kid before you see an adult escape into the sweet daydream of shooting themselves. even if the adult denies it (they will), it’s true. so, lying. for me it started small—feigned interest in her job, which turned out to be maddening, jealousy-wise, because she taught special ed and a lot of times she’d tell me as if it were a funny story that so-and-so “accidentally called me mom today” and i’d imitate some sort of kind son’s smile that i’d probably seen on tv while crushing a complementary cracker over my cup of diner soup. that agonized smile is the other bigger kind of lie. i don’t have to describe it because you’re probably doing it right now to someone you love, or someone you love is doing it to you. unlike the small lies which basically say i’m interested in the real you, the bigger ones do something darker which is say what a coincidence it just so happens that the real me is exactly who you want me to be. in those ways and for those reasons i lied to mom a lot. but to actually understand what happened with me and jasmine, it’s only important to tell you about the worst lie.

 

i wrote a book called Killing Donald Barthelme. i didn’t mean to. i didn’t really mean to write a book. what I wanted was to reveal my darkest secrets and in turn receive applause. i wanted to write about one thing while actually writing about something else. i thought writing about how donald barthelme was bad would somehow set me free. but it turns out that when i told publishers i had a book about donald barthelme, they actually wanted a book about donald barthelme. and in the editing process they got rid of my winks and nudges to the reader: they reduced the book to what it said it was. and it came out. it was advertised though not reviewed in the new york review of books. my mom called and said dad was sick. i said, “what kind of sick?” mom said, “i don’t know, sick. the doctor wants to see him for another test. it’s probably nothing…” i said, “should i call him?” she said, “no, no. he doesn’t know i’m calling you. i don’t think he wants you to know, he doesn’t want you to worry.” i said, “do you want me to worry, mom?” then she cried and said, “shit. lorenzo. no. i don’t want you to worry. what are you even trying to say? you think i like this? you think i’m happy?” i said sorry but was thinking, “none of this is supposed to happen.” i published a book. after you publish a book, you’re an author, not a person and you don’t have to handle people problems anymore. after i published my book my mom wasn’t supposed to call me at all. my dad was supposed to send me hand-written notes saying, “congratulations, son. i’m proud of you.”

 

Dear Abigail and Other Stories and Writing, Written are, arguably, two separate books. That’s what Amazon would say. Ostensibly the late wife in the former is Abigail and the man’s name is Philip while the late wife in the latter is Eleanor and the man’s name is Charles. In truth, these two collections are twin contributions to the canon of late-stage Dixon who has for years deeply and productively lingered on the single theme of writing loss.

 

The stories in both books catalogue Dixon’s grief and yearning in the wake of widowerhood and age. He knows what Donald Barthelme meant when he wrote “Revolves the stage machinery away from me, away from me.” Melancholy and anxiety tint the day-to-day doings of his overlapping stand-ins. He goes to the Y. He takes the dust cover off his typewriter. He puts it back on. He eats sandwiches and drinks coffee at diners. He talks to his daughter (or daughters). He wonders about getting a new girlfriend. He tries to write. He tries to sleep. He dreams about his wife. He writes it down. He remembers when he wrote it down the other day. He writes down remembering writing it down. These aren’t stories in the traditional sense (beginning, middle, end) but sites of feeling which you can visit like monuments. His sentences are organized into obelisks.

 

 

Science and fiction both ask: how real can our fantasies become?

 

This question sits at the center of Shane Jones’ cool, intricate, and cutting novel, Vincent and Alice and Alice. Divorced Guy Vincent is stuck working his State Job in an only slightly more dystopian America, 2017. (We get a sense of his alienation from Jones’ DeLilloisms–Vincent works in “the Zone” and imagines “a conference call with all of America on it”—while the novel’s Arbitrarily Capitalized Words imply the pervasive influence that unearned and random authority exerts in our corporate and political worlds.) Vincent works a job he hates so he can retire in twenty years. His wife Alice has left him so she can live a meaningful life (she works with refugees). Who could blame her?