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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Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Ben Loory. His new story collection, Tales of Falling and Flying, is available from Penguin.  

This is Ben’s second interview for the program. He first appeared on Christmas Day, 2011, in Episode 29.  

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How did you come to write poetry?

When I was nine and eleven, I wanted to be like John Lennon, but most of my lyrics had a simple drumbeat and no melody. I think I realized I was actually writing poems at the age of twenty-three. I guess it’s always been in there.

It’s not my fault.
I was framed.
I may be pretty,
but I’m not that pretty.
I didn’t fashion the tanks
build the guns
forge the swords that slashed—
and I didn’t think Paris or Achilles
were very good looking either.

 

The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

 

Powered by prose at once enchanting and colloquial, true, vividly-realized characters, and a literary voice that practically reverberates with authority, Fierro’s The Gypsy Moth Summer may not only be this year’s best second novel, but its best book period. Featuring a complex plot, a many-faceted story brimming with insights into people and families at all stages of the life cycle, zoology, myth, and allegory this is the rare beach read that doubles as a novel of ideas.

 

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Jared Yates Sexton, author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore, available from Counterpoint Press.

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Matthew Zapruder is the guest. He is a poet, editor, translator, and the author of a new book called Why Poetry, available now from Ecco.

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Photograph by Andrea Augé

What got you started with poetry?

Well, there sure wasn’t anything literary going on in my early environment. But I was exposed to great music, especially the Latin music popular in the Fifties. My parents had met in Atlantic City in the late Forties, when Boardwalk hotels had Cuban bands playing in ballrooms with crowded dancefloors every night. So I wound up bouncing to Mambo records as a toddler. Along with this, I was living in a hotbed of immigrant anxiety hopping with explosive feuds—my father’s parents had it in for my mother, and she hated them right back. The shame endured by the Jews of Eastern Europe was spilling into family dynamics, spouting from the pores of these people so blindly anxious to belong, and I got drenched in the vitriol. I was myself of course anxious to belong, to be seen and known through the blaze of the arguments, through the constant crossfire of blame.

Cruising Home

By Jed Myers

Poem

I’m lying right on the bed beside him.
He keeps catching his breath
from the trek up out of the kitchen.

We’re talking memory drifts—
time that rented Sunfish
capsized in the river, summer

evenings playing catch before dinner,
the night his father died….
This winter day, bright

outside, from here behind
the white curtains no one opens—
a soft haze of the lost

Jarett Kobek is the guest. His new novel, The Future Won’t Be Long, is available from Viking. 

This is Jarett’s second time on the program. His first guest appearance was on February 3, 2016, in Episode 399

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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.