Rumpus Blog

Notable San Francisco: 7/30–8/5

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Wednesday 7/30: Will Chancellor reads from his debut novel A Brave Man Seven Storeys, which Molly Antopol has called “a globetrotting, witty, powerful and wildly ambitious novel that is at once a psychological journey and a terrific page-turner”. Free, 7:30 p.m., The Booksmith.

Literary Death Match returns to the Bay Area for its first-ever Oakland show, with readings by Tim Toaster Henderson, Mac Barnett, Nancy Davis Kho, and Jaz Sufi. $8-12, 7:15 p.m., Shadow Ultra Lounge.

Part of the 13th annual Outsound New Music Summit, PoetryFreqs is a chance to see the legendary ruth weiss perform a set of poetry, followed by a set by Doug Lynner (aka synthesizerman), and the debut of a 40-min work created by Pitta of the Mind (poet Maw Shein Win and electronic composer Amanda Chaudhayr) specifically for this event. $15, 7:30 p.m., Community Music Center.

Thursday 7/31: – Matthew Zapruder (Sun Bear) and Dean Young (Bender: New and Selected Poems) will both read from their new Copper Canyon collections. Free, 7:30 p.m., Mrs. Dalloway’s.

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The Era of Celebrity Bookselling

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The Colbert Bump helped propel Edan Lepucki‘s California to the third spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Lena Dunham’s endorsement helped sell Adelle Waldman‘s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Celebrity and celebrity endorsements have long played a role in moving products. Jason Diamond, writing over at Flavorwire, explains that today’s endorsements go beyond Oprah’s Book Club:

Things are different these days. Celebrities (or their publicists or assistants) can knock out book suggestions and get them out to their countless fans with the click of a button. One perfect example, who we’ve talked about more than enough around these parts, is James Franco. You know James Franco: you know everything he does, everything he claims to do, and basically everything else about the James Franco Complete Package.

What Twitter Could Mean for Fiction

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Following the publication of David Mitchell’s short story “The Right Sort” on Twitter last week, Ian Crouch considers the possibilities and limitations of the medium for fiction. He admires some of Mitchell’s tweets, wonders if the story isn’t actually better read all at once, and suggests “The Great American Twitter Novel” could potentially exist:

I like to think that there is another kind of fiction to be written, the truest expression of the form, which embraces the quotidian nature of Twitter and its movements in real time. The project couldn’t be pre-written or announced; it would be spontaneous, changeable, full of odd tangents and breaking news and animal videos and sad, unfaved tweets.

Wolf Centos

Wolf Centos by Simone Muench

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Mysterious images and oracular phrases from Simone Muench’s poems have floated through my waking and dreaming life for years.

A bit of backstory: Though I have never met Muench in person, she was the editor who wrote to me that my first poem was going to be published by Another Chicago Magazine in 2004. Muench didn’t know it was my first poetry publication—or how over the moon I was to receive her email—but fearing perhaps this was all an elaborate hoax, I googled her to be sure she was who she said she was. (Oh me of little faith!) Then, I started reading her poems. Then, I started composing a list of all the words whose meanings I came to learn because I had encountered them in a collection of Muench’s poems. There were eighteen such words from Lampblack & Ash alone.

In August 2014, Sarabande Books will release Muench’s sixth collection, Wolf Centos. I read an advanced copy of the book during a turbulent flight last month, turning to the first poem just as we rose above the Atlantic Ocean. All anxious airplane chatter receded to the background, and this poem lifted off in tandem with the plane, seeming to chronicle the scene at hand: “Maybe the whole world is absentminded/ or floating. The flower, the weather/ the room empties its mind of me,/ the sea-pulse of my utterance.” I love it when this happens—when a poem matches my internal impression of a moment—but also enlarges that moment to panorama, and deepens it, too, like drilling into a dark cavity and striking some bright, impenetrable gold.

I didn’t notice at first that all the poems in this book are titled “Wolf Cento” or that there are 47 poems or that they are deftly arranged into four sections. I didn’t pause to count and marvel at the number of sources that gird this capacious instantiation of the cento form. (186 authors are represented here, in case you’re wondering.) In the second poem, the reader is told: “you have a seventh/ sense.” I kept this pronouncement in mind. It set me to mulling, as Muench’s poems invariably do. My other senses, the ones I knew about, were already keened and reeling. As I read, I realized that Muench was singing in every sensory register at once. Here, I’ll show you what I mean:

Aural Song: What a “Wolf Cento” sounds like: “A wasp sonata slip[ping] through the house,” “the last word still tender on the eardrum,” “wolf-howling to the west,” “the echo of a shadow,” “an airplane whistling from another world”

Gustatory Song: What a “Wolf Cento” tastes like: “raw meat,” “a cold drink before sunset,” “exquisite/ as wolf’s milk,” “doe’s tears,” “the red silence of your mouth,” “sweet vowels”

Olfactory Song: What a “Wolf Cento” smells like: “rain,” “lemon trees,” “fouled landscape that’s sunk into itself,” “the poppy that no girl’s finger has opened”

Tactile Song: What a “Wolf Cento” feels like: “an inflamed throat,” “Pentecostal shivers,” “the hull of a dream,” “a southern damp,” “a gun in your mouth,” “the fever of the banished”

Visual Song (a): What a “Wolf Cento” looks like in color: “the coastline’s pink,” “a red band of mist,” “dark orange trees,” “green zone of morning,” “the blue door I walk through”

Visual Song (b): What a “Wolf Cento” looks like in black and white: “white trigonometries” and “black champagne”

Kinesthetic Song: How a “Wolf Cento” moves: “like dizzy horses,” “full gallop, at vertiginous speed,” like a “black waltz,” like “a girl stretching/barefoot on the edge of a knife”

All the senses are present and accounted for in these poems, and what’s more—they are sinuously intertwined. Muench weaves the found language of nearly 200 voices, ancient and modern, living and dead, into a cat’s cradle of sound-taste-smell-touch-sight-proprioception. Here, I’ll show you what I mean, the seamless ubiquity and unity of all six senses. From the eleventh “Wolf Cento,” second stanza:

Open my ears & let your frenzy enter
relentlessly, like a blind machine,
like a sea captain who doesn’t trust the stars,
carried off by an unsteady boat.
My life, this shirt I want to take off—
what can’t be said is the dark meat,
seeking your mouth in another’s mouth,
the whispered cries of animals without sleep.

Oh, and did I mention about the stars? They are everywhere in this book, tossing their light, as omnipresent as the wolves, as illuminating and ungraspable as language itself. They appear in the first cento as “a shrug of stars,” and so the beguiling image system grows. The “evidence collects beneath the cancelled stars.” We are the evidence, I think. We are also the wolves. “The buzzard stops and becomes a star now.” We are the buzzards, too, I think. At what point do we become stars? Then, “a star in its syllable socket” appears, so like a word—intractable and burning, intimate and remote. These poems are stars, which sometimes answer to other names, take on other likenesses: “a black question mark crops up in the sky” (it is a star); “a bundle of keys gleaming” (they are stars); “the strangers we grow into” (as intractable and burning, as intimate and remote as stars). All the senses are imbricated here, and all the images, too.

Oh, and did I mention about the unfamiliar words? They are stars of this book as well, tossing their light, reminding me that I also read to expand my lexical sensibilities. One of my favorite word-discoveries from this book is deliquescence, meaning “the process by which a substance absorbs moisture from the atmosphere until it dissolves in the absorbed water and forms a solution.” My poem-mind says, “OK, but show me,” and the poet does:

from the thirty-third “Wolf Cento,” second stanza:

so many words that rise
like skeleton larks & wolves of penumbra.
So many. We shall have to mourn.
Sweet deliquescence gaping wide.

Now I experience the meaning of the word with all my senses.

Another of my favorite word-discoveries from this book is fasciculated. Spellcheck checks but doesn’t recognize it. From the noun fasciculation, it can mean a “small contraction of a muscle, often visible beneath the skin” or “an arrangement into bundles.” My poem-mind says, “I appreciate the multi-valence, but show me,” and the poet does:

from the twenty-third “Wolf Cento,” fourth stanza:

Nor could I recognize you in the haze
with a plain face hiding thousands
of other faces, fasciculated, beautiful.

Now I experience the meaning of the word with all my senses. I feel the faces twitching. I picture the faces bundled.

Simone MuenchSo what about that mysterious seventh sense? I have been mulling and mulling as I read the book through again the way Muench herself has described. I read in the space “between trance & logic,” which is perhaps the best way to explore any collection of poems, any work of art. I pause again on the eleventh “Wolf Cento,” that partial line: what can’t be said. Maybe the seventh sense is that awareness of what is known beyond expression. The poet’s paradox is to attempt to articulate that awareness, accepting that such articulations are inherently incomplete. Muench is singing in this register also, giving voice to this awareness that is both within and beyond her. Here, I’ll show you what I mean:

from the fourteenth “Wolf Cento,” fifth through seventh stanzas:

beyond my anxiety, beyond

my mouth & its words,
the peach glows reddish among leaves
under the sun’s semaphore

& dark deciphering of bird flight,
its acid, secret symmetry.

Carole Maso, another poet who reaches for the stars in this way, once wrote, “I wish my hand might touch the fire/ between the letters of the alphabet.” That fire, those stars. I believe Muench has touched the elusive fire here, in her book of seven senses, of 186 sources, of numerous wolves and uncountable stars and “vows burning like constellations/ of drunken fireflies.” May these images and phrases float through your waking and dreaming life for years to come.

Archiving in the Digital Age

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Salman Rushdie donated his personal archive to Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) in 2006. Much of Rushdie’s personal archive was digital, a form that creates new problems for modern librarians to contend with. Consider, for example, Rushdie’s PowerMac from the mid-90s. It still functioned when he donated it, but librarians had to create an emulator to allow visitors access to the delicate electronics. Outmoded technologies—think floppy disks—often create problems for archivists as innovation marches on.

Dan Rockmore explains further at the New Yorker.

A Really Strange Story

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“I have a kind of weird story related to death. Something my father told me. He said it was an actual experience he had when he was in his early twenties. Just the age I am now. I’ve heard the story so many times I can remember every detail. It’s a really strange story—it’s hard even now for me to believe it actually happened— but my father isn’t the type to lie about something like that.”

“Haida’s Story” is a stunning folk tale from Haruki Murakami’s forthcoming novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Read the excerpt now over at Slate.

Keep Failing

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Don’t let that stack of rejection letters get you down. For writers of all kinds—would-be, struggling, under-appreciated, even critically acclaimed—failure is part of the job description. At the New York Times, Stephen Marche describes a writing profession riddled with disappointment and missed connections, from the ever-frustrating publishing world to a reader’s power of interpretation.

A Fictionalized Betrayal

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This was my first experience of being fictionalized. I still recall the yellow-white flash of queasiness, the mortification: a sense of powerlessness and an utter lack of recourse.

What if a writer friend—or, worse, relative—of yours turned you into one of his characters, maybe in an unflattering way? Over at the Paris Review, Michelle Huneven writes about being fictionalized and taking it personally.

The Neverending Story

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For years, film buffs have been devouring companion material to the original works that captured their interest—deleted scenes, commentary, bloopers, most eagerly that much-loved paean to auteurism, the director’s cut. To accept this practice is to acknowledge the impossibility of artistic perfection; as the saying goes, “art is never finished, only abandoned.” The New Republic wonders why the literary world is so hesitant to make the same admission.

California

California by Edan Lepucki

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Edan Lepucki’s California was destined for greatness. It’s the debut novel from a brilliant, funny writer. It’s a literary novel full of gorgeous prose. And it’s an apocalyptic thriller. It’s got all the right stuff. But California has received more attention than anyone probably expected. On the June 4th episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert and his guest, Sherman Alexie, railed against Amazon’s “scorched-Earth tactics” in its ongoing battle with Hachette. In particular, they criticized the way Hachette’s debut authors’ sales are being stifled now that their books can’t be pre-ordered on Amazon, something Colbert called a “death sentence for a new book.” So, based on Alexie’s glowing recommendation, Colbert worked out a deal with Powell’s Books to allow pre-orders of one debut novel directly from his website—and that book is California. This is incredibly good news for Edan Lepucki, and for many players in the publishing industry. It’s also great news for the reading public because California is a debut that genuinely deserves this spotlight.

The novel is set approximately forty years in the future, after a string of environmental and pandemic disasters have wreaked havoc on the United States—earthquakes in California, snowstorms in the Midwest, and a flu epidemic that cut the population of the Northeast in half, just to name a few. Though the novel’s promotional copy calls it “postapocalyptic,” I agree with Sherman Alexie that it is more accurately “mid-apocalyptic.” In cities overrun with violence, those with enough wealth have begun fleeing to exclusive, corporate-sponsored Communities where amenities and luxuries are hoarded to keep life comfortable for a select few.

Outside the Communities, gas prices have skyrocketed, no one has access to medicine, and the crime rate continues to increase. A revolutionary faction known as the Group—initially composed of college students with insurmountable debt—has set up their own encampment in Los Angeles, staging increasingly dangerous demonstrations to bring attention to their beliefs: “that money only poisoned people, that government was just bureaucracy, corruption, and oppression, that working wouldn’t save them, only engagement would.” Left with few options, but a decent amount of hope and a great deal of love between them, California’s young married protagonists, Cal and Frida, have packed up their belongings and left L.A., aiming to make a new home for themselves as far from human civilization as they can get.

Two difficult years later, living alone in their house in the woods, Cal and Frida exist in a space that they sometimes refer to as the “afterlife.” They’ve survived, but the extreme isolation has left its mark on each of them in different ways. Cal appreciates the “space to consider questions… the silence, the time,” but Frida longs for a connection to the outside world—a yearning that is heightened, we soon learn, because she is pregnant. Based on rumors they’ve heard about a heavily protected camp within a two-day walk, Frida convinces Cal that they must make the journey to find and connect with other people—no matter how much they might be risking.

Edan Lepucki

Edan Lepucki

By showing how characters relate to everyday objects in this “afterlife,” Lepucki fashions a strange, startling new world out of the mundane and familiar. Seemingly innocuous items turn out to hold great significance, like the brand-new turkey baster that Frida keeps hidden in a suitcase under her bed. It’s described in covetous detail—from its sleek, glass neck to the price tag still dangling from its butter-yellow bulb—and has clearly become a sort of talisman to her. The baster, like many other human-made objects, has been decontextualized in this wilderness. Its value resides not in its usefulness as a tool, but in its concealment—as something hidden, and therefore powerful. As Frida admires it, she thinks, “the secret of it had become as precious as the object itself.”

This tight focus, Lepucki’s exacting eye for detail, makes California a satisfying apocalyptic narrative. Throughout the novel, pedestrian objects take on grave importance to characters who have lost most of their possessions and have limited access to new ones—a plastic, butterfly-shaped child’s toy indicates a massive betrayal; a slim blue volume of Kant becomes the signifier of authority and power. In one beautifully written scene, Frida marvels at a simple box of Band-Aids:

Frida flipped open the tin’s lid. Inside, the Band-Aids behaved so well, lined up like school children. Already she was imagining plucking one out. It’s white wrapper thin as rice paper, and those tiny blue arrows at the top, OPEN HERE. How it would peel back so easily to reveal the Band-Aid itself, nestled flat inside. Frida’s stomach fluttered. She could have sucked on it. The salty, pretzel taste of wounds.

The transition into survival mode hasn’t been easy or comfortable for Frida, a feminist who “thought that the worse things got, the more women lost what they’d worked so hard to gain. No one cared about voting rights and equal pay because everyone was too busy lighting fires to stay warm and looking for food to stay alive.” In the woods, tasks are divided by gender: Frida forages for mushrooms and washes clothes in the nearby creek, while Cal does the heavy lifting and sets snares and traps for small animals. Roughing it comes a bit easier to Cal, who attended a two-year college that taught him useful survival skills. His desire to keep Frida and their unborn child safe outweighs any willingness he may have otherwise had to divide tasks fairly. “Yes,” he thinks, “they had to rely on an antiquated division of labor. And yes, she would be rescued first from a sinking ship. Wasn’t that a relief?” Later, Cal’s compulsion to protect his family intensifies in unexpected ways, threatening to unsettle the foundations of his relationship with Frida.

Lepucki’s touch is incredibly subtle in these moments, allowing us to alternately sympathize and become irritated with each character. She explores both Cal and Frida’s feelings about approaching parenthood with honesty, as they weigh the consequences of bringing a child into a world fraught with violence and hardship. She also knows the importance of a good secret—how even the tiniest bit of withheld information can cause a formidable rift between two people—and California is magnificently layered with them. In many ways, the heart of the novel resides in these large questions surrounding Cal and Frida’s relationship: whether you’re living alone in a shed in the woods, or in a comfortable apartment in a bustling city, is it ever easy to be in love? To be married? To spend your life with one other person? And can you (or should you) ever trust that person more than you trust yourself?

The strategic revelation of secrets is so important to California that it’s challenging to write a review without giving too much away. In my opinion, even the book’s jacket copy includes too many disclosures, but I’m a nut about avoiding spoilers. Much of its appeal resides in its ability to surprise. It is slightly unfortunate that, dependent on its structure, many secrets are revealed through dialogue rather than out-and-out action. But there’s enough suspenseful drama in the last fifty pages of the book to make up for its relatively quiet beginning. Whether you’re a fan of apocalyptic narratives, literary fiction, or both, California is much more than just a way to stick it to Amazon—it’s a skillfully-written, carefully-crafted, gasp-inducing novel that was set for the stars even before its “Colbert bump.”

Getting Personal for Better Narratives

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Personal narratives offer writers an important source of inspiration for their writing. Writers edit out the dull portions of their lives to create a version that is both interesting and representative of a kind of universal experience. Kim Triedman writes at Beyond the Margins:

It is a symbiotic relationship to the core. Our personal narratives prop us up by allowing us to make sense of a senseless world. We, in turn, perpetuate these stories by elaborating them — cherry-picking and molding the constant influx of experience to fit our existing assumptions about ourselves.

Away, But Not Away

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How can writers get a room of their own, literally or figuratively? In Awayan essay in the summer issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, Roxana Robinson writes about carving out private space in the midst of being over-saturated by the world around you:

You can call it a blessing, I suppose: You’re never bored. You’re always interested in what’s around you. Or you can call it a curse: Writers get no time off. There’s never a moment in which we’re not measuring experience against knowledge, searching for something new. For me it’s simply how it is: I don’t know another way to move through the world.

Never Left Behind

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In an interview with Daniel Olivas for the Los Angeles Review of Books, debut novelist Natalia Sylvester talks about growing up in Peru, learning characters’ secrets, and what happens when you set aside a story for nearly six years. “Our pasts are never left behind,” she concludes ominously. Chasing the Sun has just been released from New Harvest. 

Honest Reviews, Better Literature

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Good literature demands strong criticism, but today’s culture of niceness has limited critics. Lee Klein, writing in 3:AM Magazine, points out that writers’ interest in receiving positive feedback often leads them to forgo standards and slant reviews positively:

Literary citizenship is about buying books, subscribing to lit mags, going to readings. It isn’t about offering superficial, promiscuous support. It isn’t about honesty. It’s not about standing on the side of what’s right when it comes to what matters most. Literature is a tiny cocktail umbrella under which we take refuge from the storm of shit. The first question we literary fundamentalists should ask ourselves is something like this: if we don’t reinforce our tiny cocktail umbrella so it’s as sturdy as can be, how will we keep the shit off our shoulders?

Honesty is not synonymous with meanness, and truthful reviews can still be nice, but good literary citizens should be less concerned about bolstering their own reputations by sugar-coating criticism.

Meet Our New Rumpus Essays Editor!

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We’re beyond bummed to let you know that Roxane Gay is leaving the Rumpus to focus on other endeavors (like her two new books, the recent novel An Untamed State and the imminently forthcoming essay collection Bad Feminist). Roxane is as much a part of the site as anyone, and we hope she won’t be stranger around here.

Luckily, she’s leaving us in good hands. We’re happy to welcome Mary-Kim Arnold as our new Essays Editor! You can get to know Mary-Kim on tumblr, twitter, facebook, and instagram—and of course, here on the Rumpus.

Notable Los Angeles: 7/28–8/3

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Monday 7/28: DTLAB presented by Writ Large Press presents A reading curated and hosted by Will Wright. 7 p.m. at Traxx.

Will Chancellor presents and signs A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, with live music from Noah Lit. 7 p.m. at Stories Books and Cafe.

Deborah Harkness discusses and signs The Book of Life. 7 p.m. at Vroman’s Bookstore.

Tuesday 7/29: Red Hen Press presents readings by Garrett Hongo, David Mason, and Andrea Scarpino. Moderated by Alice Quinn. 6:30 p.m. at the Annenberg Beach House. The event is free, but parking is $3/hour or $12/day.

Jón Gnarr reads from and signs Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World. 7:30 p.m. at Skylight Books.

Storytelling Tuesday presents The Past. Featuring readings by Amber D. Garza, Aurora Pringle, Brenna Cheyney, Brodie Foster Hubbard, Eryca M. Sender, Jen Venegas, Kelli J. Williams, Tori Holder, Rhea Tepp, and Jesse Marie Dicarlo Wagner. This event is also an open mic reading event—so long as your piece is either from the past or written about the past, you can read whatever you want. Sign-ups start at 7:45 p.m., readings begin at 8 p.m. at the Echo Chamber Creative Headquarters.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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In the Sunday Interview, Anna March talks with Robin Black about her debut novel, Life Drawing. Black—who also received acclaim for her short story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This—begins by discussing her approach to writing character. Stress, difficulties, and tragedies are unavoidable parts of life that play a part in shaping our identities, for better or worse. Black addresses the salient point that fiction is not always about interrogating stereotypes, and that sometimes characters must be allowed to exist on their own terms. She comments on the erroneous term “domestic fiction” and the role of Life Drawing in relation to the “genre:” (more…)

And the Winner of Best Premise Award Goes to…

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Debuting what is surely one of the longer titles in literary history, Bethany Billman has published a piece called, “Lost Scenes from Generic Hipster Indie Romance Films Found in 2076 During a Museum Restoration of an Old MacBook Air and Subsequently Adapted for the Stage During Heritage Week at a Camp for 7th and 8th Graders Later That Summer.” It may not tell us much about 2076, but we are always grateful for the chance to refine our definition of “hipster. You can read it here.

Black Cloud

Black Cloud by Juliet Escoria

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Black Cloud by Juliet Escoria is a book about drugs that is not a Drug Book. Although each first-person story cycles through a litany of mind-altering substances—coke, meth, weed, ketamine, cutting, and antidepressants, to name a few—the deeper stories take place in between lines, hits, and swigs.

The main characters—who in many ways feels like the main character, since each narrative is so similar in tone—flit against this chemical backdrop, battered but unyielding. By taking Kava, the narrator of “I Do Not Question It” feels “like the burden of being troubled, of being human, has been lifted.” It is this burden that connects each story, infusing the book with tension as the characters struggle to get out from under it.

With the exceptions of a piece about growing up with an addict mother and a piece that chronicles a journey to sobriety with a platonic friend (jealous of her success, he threatens to send her heroin in the mail), the relationships in this collection focus mostly on the romantic and the would-be romantic. In a high-end club in lower Manhattan, a young coat-check girl becomes involved with a predatory manager. A girl in a 12-step program is picked up by a man fifteen years sober. A drug-addled lover takes his girlfriend to get an abortion, but it turns out she’s already miscarried.

Juliet Escoria

Juliet Escoria

These relationships are disappointing but unsurprising. “Like with most good men, the sex was unremarkable,” the narrator says. Nestled inside a narrative of poppers and overdoses, Escoria examines the agency of young women in modern times. They succeed at school, at work, and in rehab; they score and self-medicate without fail. But in a way that may remind readers of Mary Gaitskill, their lives are frequently circumscribed by the men that they love. “It was always him kissing me, and me just being there,” says the narrator in “Reduction.”

The book is short, with each story printed under both a title and an emotion: Resentment, Confusion, Apathy, Guilt, Disgust, Spite, Revenge, Fear, Powerlessness, Self-Loathing, Envy, and Shame. The fact that there are twelve of these “steps” cannot be a coincidence, but the tone of the pieces spirals down and not up. Near the end of the last one, the narrator can’t “stop doing coke all the time” and although she admits she’s on the path to sobriety, the book ends in darkness, not in light. This realism imbues the work with gravity and power.

But the book is not the end. On a Vimeo channel of the same name, Escoria has posted ten companion videos to be watched alongside the fiction. After she’d finished reading from the collection at the Franklin Park Reading Series in Brooklyn, I approached her to ask how she envisioned them integrating into the reader’s experience. Escoria she said she hoped readers would watch each one twice, before and after reading the corresponding short stories. “But maybe that’s too much to ask,” she admitted.

It’s an interesting medium: some of the videos incorporate text from the stories, some are more like the director’s cut scenes from a finished movie, some provide a counterbalance to the stories they represent with journalistic snippets. My favorite, Heroin Stories, complements its fiction counterpart perfectly. In the prose version (“Heroin Story”), the main character talks about a couple she knew who got addicted, got clean, and got back into it after many years. It’s the most removed she is as a narrator, almost Nick Carraway-like, but the compassion she shows for this couple is immediate and tender. As she chronicles their downfall, it’s clear that she sees herself in their story. In the video counterpart, an offscreen cameraperson asks a dozen people about their own experience with heroin. Like in the prose piece, the narrator doesn’t focus on her own story, but it comes out plain enough, heartbreaking and true.

Disappearing Act

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Invisibility has a long literary history, from science fiction, like in H.G. Wells’s Invisible Man, to fantasy, like in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Often, the difference is between methodology and motive. Wells focused on scientific accuracy to illustrate “the messy outcome of this collision between science and myth.” Tolkien employs invisibility as metaphor; the magic behind it is unimportant. Philip Ball explains further in the Guardian:

Fairytale invisibility is often an agency of seduction and voyeurism (see the Grimms’ The Twelve Dancing Princesses), or a gateway to Faerie and other liminal realms. It’s precisely because children don’t ask “How is that possible?” that we shouldn’t fret about filling their heads with such allegedly irrational ideas.