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elyb_7Bob Boland is surrounded. Yuppies everywhere. Goddamned professional women with their blunt cuts and power suits, their wimpy men, pale faced and narrow shouldered, their PhDs, MDs and JDs on proud display in their book-lined studies.

The neighborhood has always been full of snobs — half of it belongs to Harvard, the other half to Harvard professors, grads, and wannabes, the type who donate buildings and gymnasiums, who endow symphony chairs in perpetuity — but there used to be room for the little people, who deliver the mail, plow the driveways, clean the teeth, fix the burners. Now the new rich are crowding them out, throwing around so much money that the neighborhood is barely recognizable. Slate roofs, copper drains, specimen trees, heated driveways — nothing is too good for them. If there’s a beautiful front yard, they put up a fence. If there’s a fence, they tear it down and put in a hedge. Blacktop becomes lawn; lawn becomes groundcover; groundcover becomes brick. And God forbid the house should peel. Bingo! An army of painters descends, airlifted from the latest Third World country in collapse, sanding, scraping, hanging like bats under the eaves, risking their lives to try out matching trim colors.

2016-02-02-vanessa-hua-deceit-and-other-possibilities-book-cover-design-04aPerhaps you’ve heard of me?

Maybe you’ve listened to a song by the Jump Boys, a group I fronted, which had three gold records that launched countless jingles for a remarkable array of consumer products. Or on television, as the host of a reality show where contestants dared to eat horse cock sandwiches and cling to helicopters zooming over a tropical bay. On billboards, hawking heavy gold watches, cask-aged cognac, or alligator leather shoes, my shirt unbuttoned to reveal six-pack abs.

I didn’t think so.

In America, most likely the only reference you’ve seen of me would be a blurb, news of the weird, along the lines of “those funny Asians, at it again.” Video-game pets, robot butlers, used schoolgirl panties sold in vending machines, and the sex scandal involving Kingsway Lee, the Hong Kong star whose compromising photos were stolen off his laptop, played out in the tabloids, and posted on the web.

Thousands of shots from my cell phone, scoring with scores of women: the actress wife of my former bandmate; the Canto-pop star and lover of a reputed mobster; and the daughter of a shipping magnate with ties to Beijing and the Red Army.

I’ve been forced to flee to the safest place I could think of, where no one would recognize me: my hometown.

rituals-of-restlessness-cover-photoSimple. Engineer Kamran Khosravi would die in a car accident. Easy, done. He finished smoking his cigarette with chilling calm, so that for the first time in all the years he had smoked, he could enjoy lighting one cigarette with another and, without wetting his palate, not taste the foul tang in his mouth.

“Does the smoke bother you?” He rolled down the car window.

“No, sir.” The man’s sharp Mongol eyes were darting from side to side, unable to remain fixed on anything. Just like the way he talked, with all those annoying questions.

“Where are we going, sir?” “We have work to do.” “What kind of work?”

He felt less anxious when he talked. He did not want to stay quiet for even one second. Just to talk, about anything. It did not matter what.

beneathcoyotehills_cover-copyI had a normal childhood until Pop lost his job and took up the bottle. Mom became depressed soon after. My brother Zack and I would arrive home from school to find her lying glumly on the couch watching TV in her nightgown, too blue to greet us. Still, I got good grades, made the junior high varsity baseball team, was popular enough. Though nothing compared to my brother Zachariah: two years older, first in the state in the 440 yard dash, class president, ladies’ man. Zack was still big brotherly in those days; he showed me the correct way to slide into base, advised me on my swing, helped me with algebra. He seemed to know everything, born like a computer with many gigabytes of information pre-stored in his brain.

9781101981207.City Baker's GuideThe night I lit the Emerson Club on fire had been perfect for making meringue. I had been worrying about the humidity all week, but that night dry, cool air drifted in through an open window. It was the 150th anniversary of the club, and Jameson Whitaker, the club’s president, had requested pistachio baked Alaska for the occasion. Since he asked while he was still lying on top of me, under the Italian linen sheets of bedroom 8, I agreed to it—even though I was fairly certain that baked Alaska would not have been on the menu in 1873. But Jamie was a sucker for a spectacle, and his favorite thing on earth was pistachio ice cream, which his wife wouldn’t let him eat at home.

Summer_10_14_redHat_BrokenLine.indd“It was in the first place, after the strangest fashion, a sense of the extraordinary way in which the most benign conditions of light and air, of sky and sea, the most beautiful English summer conceivable, mixed themselves with all the violence of action and passion. . . . Never were desperate doings so blandly lighted up as by the two unforgettable months that I was to spend so much of in looking over from the old rampart of a little high-perched Sussex town at the bright blue streak of the Channel.”  — Henry James, “Within the Rim”

The town of Rye rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light. The high Sussex bluffs were a massive, unbroken line of shadow from east to west, the fields breathed out the heat of the day, and the sea was a sheet of hammered pewter. Standing at the tall French windows, Hugh Grange held his breath in a vain attempt to suspend the moment in time as he used to do when he was a little boy, in this same, slightly shabby drawing room, and the lighting of the lamps had been the signal for his aunt to send him to bed. He smiled now to think of how long and late those summer evenings had run and how he had always complained bitterly until he was allowed to stay up well beyond bedtime. Small boys, he now knew, were inveterate fraudsters and begged, pleaded, and cajoled for added rights and treats with innocent eyes and black hearts.

lobster“My father was killed in Lubech!”

“Lubech—Lubech, that’s all you’ve been saying—Lubech,” Mother said.

True, Father did say “Lubech, Lubech” a lot on this trip. It sounded like “love” and “burning” at the same time. Kuzya and Lubasha loved playing “words.”

“In 1943, he was killed! It’s 1986! I just don’t see why I need to spend my May holidays this year bumping along these terrible roads, breaking the engine, being carsick, driving through snow and then dust and heat and running chickens and bugs—”

That was true, too. All kinds of bugs—mosquitoes, flies, some rare bugs Kuzya had never seen in Moscow.

599105446454460d9c53a7721746d9af_xe8j5tIt was a typical, two-story frame house, the kind of colonial one saw all across the Corn Hill section of Utica, a small white house with a green roof, green shutters, a green door, a wide front porch with a swing and a couple of white rocking chairs and a view onto the street, the goings-on of the neighborhood. When Max imagined, as he occasionally did, what it might be like to have a family of his own, he saw them in such a house, on such a porch, in such a swing. Leading up to it was a walkway of gray paved stones lined by hedges. The hedges were expertly trimmed, never overgrown, curving gently into the front yard in which Irene and Abe had long-ago planted a peach tree that now towered almost to the second story windows and dropped its soft fruit onto the porch every July. The fruit never rotted there or went to waste. Irene swept it up into her apron, ushered it into her kitchen with its white counter tops scoured daily, covered in matching canister sets, its drawers full of egg whiskers and potatoes mashers, a cozy breakfast nook in the corner and coffee percolating besides the stove. It was a house with everything a man could want or ask for, a house with not just the basics a person needed to survive —heat, plumbing, a roof to block out the elements— but all the small comforts that made it a place that drew a person in, invited him back. Max looked up at the Auer home, at the sun hammering at the windows, the peach tree swaying lightly in the breeze, the white nubs of a dogwood overhanging the porch like little bells. And on the porch, the person who brought it all into being, a beautiful brunette planting flowers in a window box. Abe Auer had come to this country with nothing; now he had all this. Yet still he worried. Max stood a moment, dizzy in the drinkable summer air, trying to make the disjointed ends meet, and then he remembered why he’d come, that it wasn’t his job to solve all the human mysteries of the world. He stepped forward, waved hello to Irene Auer.

AminaGautierLostThingsCoverFalling into step with the boy, Thisman draws close and whispers in a voice only for him. Says, “I wish I had a little boy just like you. I wish you were my own,” and the boy believes it, every single word.

He is lost, but not in the way he has been taught to be. Not in a supermarket; not in a shopping mall. There are no police officers or security guards to whom he can give his name and address. There is no one to page his parents over a loudspeaker to come and get him. None of the clocks where they go give the correct time and there are no calendars to mark the days. He never knows where or when he is.

51IKDORqGrL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Curiosity #84: Aztec volcanic rock sculpture, circa fifteenth century A.D., probably made for the temple of Tenochtitlan. An example of a traditional demon princess, or Cihuateteo, who escorts the sun from the underworld each morning, she wears a simple skirt, breasts bared, hair long and over her shoulders.

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The truth about Set is the truth about all ghosts: there is a weightlessness that keeps them fluttering, light as leaves—and in turn they are drawn down to instability, to the volatile, to cracks that open and can split whole mountains. To the volcanoes. Specifically, in Set’s case, to Lana Volcana.

That wasn’t her real name, of course, or even her screen name. But it was what they all called her after her breakout picture, Vera and the Volcano—a two-reeler about an island girl that sent her star up and up. LANA VOLCANA! the picture magazines screeched, with accompanying photographs of a dark-haired vamp in a grass skirt and clamshell top. The IT GIRL, the papers called her, a new kind of girl for these daring times. Filmstar Rag said she was the girl you don’t bring home to mama.

Cover_BenchereInWonderland“Take it then,” the partners told him. “We obviously overestimated your grasp of the situation. You clearly don’t get it. Do you honestly think you can sell your work without our firm behind you? Do you think anyone else will – what’s the word you used? – bite? Go ahead then.”

Revelator CoverAnd often there were those who peddled wares not for the flesh but for the eternal soul as prescribed by the Almighty, for in the progress of this new nation all faiths seemed possible, and all manifestations of the Creator seemed true. Now there were those who gathered in the forests and bathed in the rivers, and so many playing children were unwittingly greeted by the pale, liberated flesh of the godly— oh, to be a lad before those wilting and corpulence, to feel the breath quicken as a sagged woman coos from the brush, or a flaccid man pleads for a roll in the needles and leaves. Oh, to believe with deepest faith that in another’s flesh one finds the Almighty’s light! And there were those who would not murder nor eat the flesh of animals, supping upon only what they found growing from the land. And there were those who uncovered the flesh of men buried, and these were seen wandering with burlap sacks and crowbars and sniffing at the soil. And there were those who lived twelve or more within the same house and worked no jobs, choosing rather to till the soil and raise livestock, to feast upon the bounty of their labor. And here the men slept in rooms across from the women, but no sex frolicked with the other, for to fornicate was considered the foulest sin. And now pregnant women were excommunicated and sent to live amongst the sinners of the land while the implanter of the seed was but reprimanded, for “a man’s lusts are the deepest of all nature’s transgressions” and it was well know that “the female encourages and lures the male.” And some called for an end to priests, for one man should not stand as gatekeeper to another man’s salvation. 
     

Confession of the Lioness book coverThe night before, the order had been issued in our house: The women would remain shut away, far from those who would be arriving. Once again, we were excluded, kept apart, extinguished.

The following morning, I got down to the household chores. I wanted to give my mother a rest, for she had been lying, ever since the early morning, at the entrance to the yard. At one point I lay down next to her, determined to share with her some of the burden of one who feels the weight of her soul. She took no notice of me at first. Then she mumbled between gritted teeth:

This village killed your sister. It killed me. Now it’s never going to kill anyone again.

9780399173394_large_The_Life_and_Death_of_Sophie_StarkThis excerpt comes a few pages into the second chapter — Sophie Stark is making a film based on an exaggerated story her new girlfriend Allison told about her life, starring Allison herself. Bean and Stacey are characters in the story. Allison narrates this section.

I was still working at the bar then, and Sophie did all the casting without me. So I didn’t meet the guy she picked for Bean until our first day of shooting. He hadn’t come to the read-through—Sophie’s assistant director, a stuck-up girl named Susan who I already didn’t like, read his part in a schoolteachery voice. But there he was the first day, at the community center that was supposed to be my high school, wearing a white T-shirt that looked like it had been dipped in pee.

The Children's Crusade by Ann PackerAll afternoon the children avoided their mother: moving from room to room, or from indoors to outdoors, a step or two ahead of her. They joined together occasionally, all except Robert, but they didn’t gather again until their father returned. By then it was late afternoon; when they stood on the driveway, their shadows stretched from their feet nearly to the house. Robert’s stomach hurt most when he stood up straight, so he walked bent over at the waist, hobbling like an old man. Their father had eight bags of ice, and they each took one from the trunk of his car and carried it to the deep freeze in the garage—each except James, who ran from one sibling to another, touching the bags of ice and yipping with something that wasn’t quite shock and wasn’t quite laughter.