This Week in Short Fiction
As the story goes, nearly 100 years ago a group of Surrealist artists gathered together and put a new spin on an old parlor game called Consequences. The meeting resulted in their collective authorship of this phrase: “The/ exquisite/ corpse/ will/ drink/ the/ young/ wine.” Now familiar to many writers by the name of “Exquisite Corpse,” the game requires at least three participants who send round a single sheet of paper on which each member, looking only at the entry that came before him or her, makes a written or drawn contribution, folds over the paper, and passes it on to the next person. The final result, believed by those wily Surrealists to be a representation of the “collective personality” of the group, is only revealed after all members have made their contributions. Here, for example, is a drawn selfie by Jacques Hérold, Yves Tanguy, and Victor Brauner from 1932.
On Thursday, Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (2013), corralled 15 well-known authors—from Joshua Ferris to Zadie Smith to Nicholson Baker to R.L. Stine (!) to do an Exquisite Corpse a la 2014. The result is up at the New York Times Style Magazine. What can you expect from this collective personality? It’s best not to give too much away, but at one point Mohsin Hamid made this contribution, which is an exquisite illustration all its own:
Neither of them took much notice of the waiter, which was perhaps strange, since the waiter had a glass eye, a marked undertow in the rolling tide of his beard where a bullet had removed half his chin and a limp so pronounced it made his pelvis shimmy with every step, side to side and up and down, thrusting lewdly like that of an unhinged and particularly horny salsa dancer.
Along the lines of fabulous illustrations, have you seen the cover for Julia Elliott’s new story collection, The Wilds, birthed on Tuesday by Tin House Books? The masked, tailed, bird-hatted smiling lady on the front of Elliott’s book is eye-grabbing to say the least, but digging a little deeper, there are some hallucinogenic stories to be had within as well. The title story of her collection was published last week on Tor.com, which is dedicated to “Science Fiction. Fantasy. The Universe.”
The story features a family of eight, you guessed it, “wild” boys born to a very tired and on-the-edge woman. Any discussion of Elliott’s work, including this interview at the Open Bar Tin House blog with Jeffrey VanderMeer, makes mention of Elliott’s blurred genres. Moving through one of her stories, you’ll find yourself skipping back and forth across lines of the real and the imagined, the nightmare and the damaged, the peopled and the natural worlds. Elliott lives in South Carolina, which might explain some of her Southern Gothic tendencies, reminiscent of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!. In her own words, Elliott “blames” most of her fantastical elements to her experiences growing up, like this one:
I once suffered a bout of poison oak with such horrific yellow pustules that I developed oozing, Popeye-sized forearms. When the boil-mass eventually crusted over, I felt like I was pupating, like I was about to slough a scabby layer and that some other “creature” (perhaps radiant, perhaps monstrous) would crawl from the shed casing. I devoted a great deal of mental energy to imagining different forms of human pupation, and then I forgot about the whole thing. Years later, as I contemplated the weirdness of Botox (how bizarre is it to inject a muscle-paralyzing toxin into your face?), I began to imagine absurd futuristic beauty technologies involving nanobots and stem cells. One day I read a trashy Internet article on plastic-surgery safaris, which made me laugh darkly, envisioning bandaged neurotics exploring jungles in jeeps, peering at elephants and baboons, exploiting some “developing” economy and contemplating the majesty of nature as their whittled noses or cheekbone implants healed.
The Wilds is Elliott’s debut collection, but Tin House Books will be releasing her first novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, in 2015. Rumor has it she is also working on another novel that features Hamadryas baboons.