HITTING SHELVES #44: Large Animals by Jess Arndt

Large Animals by Jess Arndt comes out today! It’s a debut story collection that confronts what it means to have a body, straddling the line between the imagined and the real, the masculine and the feminine, the knowable and the impossible. You’re going to love it. We asked the author one question.

Fiction Advocate: Jess! How are you celebrating the publication of Large Animals?

Jess Arndt: 1. Our newborn baby has gas and it keeps him up which keeps all of us up—my girlfriend, our exhausted cat, probably our dear neighbors. We live on a very tight and twisty LA street. 2. Tonight Vera, a lifeguard-like, as in WONDERFUL + LIFE-SAVING, Brazilian woman came over to teach us how to be parents (swaddling them IN the bath???) i.e. all the tricks and codes. 3. It’s magic. This is allowing me to sit in my studio under a single light bulb with my hood up and not worry so much. 4. Although on the eve of Large Animals’ entrance into the world, my belly also aches. 5. There’s a Roberto Bolaño story called “Dance Card,” where he numbers everything. 6. TBH I was never sure why. 7. I’m swallowing mezcal in my studio (abutting the raccoon-engaged yard) even though I wasn’t going to. I mean, the numbers related to dates, I guess, or suitors, like in an old school “dance card.” Still. I taught the story to my students without REALLY knowing. Vera is teaching us that we have been parents for 5 weeks without really knowing. But she is doing it very gently. Day 1 for Large Animals is Day 38 for our kid Osa. 3+8 = 11. 1×1 =1. This seems aligned. The week before Osa was born my brother was in Mexico City, writing poems called “EMERGENCE.” One of the poems is a very short video of rain on a wall. I love my brother immensely. I wrote about it in one of the stories in Large Animals, then was worried about showing him. What’s a storm that you also want to protect? Our baby has a Gemini moon, which seems so tumultuous, when he cries we call him “stormy.” Then again, if it IS just gas, am I guilty of poetically inflating things? Putting the story before the story? When my girlfriend and I were still suitors, or maybe even pre-suitors, I told her I was going to play her the saddest song in the world, then clicked Stevie Nicks’ “Storms.” It was so sad she fell asleep. My BFF has the most essential lyric, “never have I been a blue calm sea” tattooed on her arm. I wrote about it in a story that never made it in Large Animals. She was terrified they’d misspell “calm” for “clam.” At the coffee shop this morning, very early, w/newborn strapped to me, a lady said: “Oh you’re in Swedish Summer.” She meant to be newly born is One Giant Day. Osa’s started four days before his actual birth when, as we were watching A Fish Called Wanda, my girlfriend’s water broke but no contractions. There’s the day something happens, but there’s also all the other (helixing) days. Tomorrow when Large Animals actually does come out I’m going to drop Osa into the carrier our writer friend bought us and go to the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena to hear my girlfriend, often the sole reason Large Animals exists, read something beautiful. When I say beautiful I mean molting. The piece is about not being one body. I wanted to ask her about it but never had time. People talk about sleeplessness, the state of no sleep. For me it always feels like my head is talking outside my head. I’m inside my head, and can hear that other head. The other head doesn’t sound so good (yet it talks bc it has to). Maybe this is just the state of writing?

Jess Arndt received her MFA at Bard and was a 2013 Graywolf SLS Fellow and 2010 Fiction Fellow at the New York Foundation of the Arts. She has written for Fence, BOMB, Aufgabe, and the art journal Parkett, among others. She is a co-founder of New Herring Press, and lives in Los Angeles.

Photo of Jess Arndt by Johanna Breiding.

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