Author Archives: Fiction Advocate

USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid

Jahresrückblick 2012

“Russian novelist” is a weighty phrase.

When I hear it, I brace for war, love, history, the high church, and earth-shaking politics; for an epic story that feels intimate. The names of the great Russian writers are like monuments: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Nabokov.

But literature is not a dead man’s game; it’s a living conversation. And I prefer today’s Russian writers to the old masters. Have you heard of Victor Pelevin, who writes trippy satirical novels about werewolves in Siberia and little old ladies in Moscow? I have read every English translation of Victor Pelevin that I have gotten my hands on. And Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, who writes “scary fairy tales” with titles like There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby? She’s an international treasure. Not to mention Masha Gessen, whose fiercely independent journalism about civil rights in Russia has made her one of the most admirable public figures in the world.

All I’m saying is, today’s Russian writers are crushing it.

That’s why I was excited to get an email, a few months ago, from Andrea Gregovich. She’s a translator in Alaska, and she had recently completed an English translation of USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov. Andrea was looking for a small press like Fiction Advocate to help her publish USSR as an e-book. I didn’t know Andrea, and I had never heard of Vladimir. But I printed the manuscript and started to read it on a plane. Before the flight attendants came down the aisle with beverages, I already knew that we were going to publish USSR as more than just an e-book. Continue reading

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The Devil’s Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard

The Devil's Snake Curve

FA review tag

I see baseball everywhere. It’s almost a curse. I can’t help but associate everything that happens to me with some fleeting statistic or apocryphal anecdote.

Playing baseball has taken me many places—to pristine ball fields in Egypt and to the diamonds of Breezy Point that Hurricane Sandy later destroyed. I exhibited some small modicum of athletic prowess on the field, and now I spend countless hours dissecting those memories. Recollecting, my past experiences become legend. Nostalgia grips me tighter as I drift farther and farther away from the time in my life when I actually played the game.

Many writers have explored this wistfulness. The table of contents of Baseball: A Literary Anthology from The Library of America makes it clear that baseball writing is as much a national pastime as the game itself. From Don Delillo to Roger Angell, Phillip Roth to Bernard Malamud, a certain type of author—he tends to be a man—can’t help but address the performance of baseball when making sense of the American experience.

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Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Ugly Girls

FA review tag

Lindsay Hunter’s debut novel isn’t just about ugly girls. It’s about ugly people, ugly places, ugly lives—“ugly” being used on the deeper, moral level. Hunter presents a host of unlikeable characters living in a box-store world, Denny’s and Circle K and Payless and McDonald’s, trailer parks and cul-de-sacs, where alcoholic mothers suck on brown bottles and oversexed adolescents find that the only fun to be had lies in the back seats of cars and doing doughnuts in a Walmart parking lot. Hunter’s America may be shocking, a place without hope, upward mobility not even a glimmer in her characters’ eyes. But it’s vivid, visceral, and engrossing.

Hunter’s ugly girls are two best friends, Baby Girl and Perry, who are, in many ways, the archetypal teenage duo. Perry is the pretty one, who resembles “some kind of garden fairy, only tall. Bright green eyes, black eyelashes, blond hair. Tanned legs. Smallish boobs.” All the boys and men desire her, and some have had her. Baby Girl is the wannabe thug, the one who radiates I-don’t-give-a-fuck. Since her brother Charles got into an accident, leaving him in a helpless, mentally deficient state, she has made it her mission to be as unattractive as possible: she is the girl with the shaved head, her brother’s saggy jeans, a “sports bra to tamp those fuckers down. Work boots she’d stolen from Payless,” plump lips outlined in liner and shined with gloss, her lips her favorite feature. She considers herself a “tough bitch.” She is the virgin.

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Are You Talkin’ to Me?

TravisBickle

In the famous ‘mirror scene’ of Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver, cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) rhetorically confronts himself with aggressive remarks. He seems to say, “You see what you see; now what are you going to do about it?” When you gaze into the mirror abyss, it gazes back, and there is no fleeing. Bickle, a war veteran who no doubt witnessed atrocities, doesn’t implode inward but explodes outward and confronts a world in which corruption and degeneracy have been normalized, and people conform by looking away. He does as the voice of his conscience bids him in an effort to bring redemption.

Long before Bickle was even flicker in Scorcese’s eye, the radical Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing lashed out at blind conformity and the psycho-social regimen that coerced individuals into moral assimilation, even at great cost to their psychic integrity. Said Laing in The Politics of Experience (1967), “Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last 50 years.” Conformity can provide safety and certainty, but by necessarily submitting to authority it contains a strong potential for evil.

Bickle and Laing came to mind as I was reading Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness by the brothers Joel and Ian Gold. The Golds claim to have discovered a new behavioural pattern that suggests a growing psychological condition they are calling the Truman Show Delusion. As the name suggests, it is a conviction that one is being watched and televised, as if imprisoned in a reality TV show, wherein everyone is a player acting out a script. Joel Gold writes, “The delusion raised questions about the interplay between mental illness and our environment, and larger questions about the relationship of mind to culture.”

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Consider the Poet: C.D. Wright

CD Wright

“With what then will we hail the next ones, the ones who have to pick up around here long after we’ve been chewing the roots of dandelions?”

–C.D. Wright, Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil

A few years ago, my dear friend told me her professor advised her to stop writing poetry. At the time, we were making a zine together with the working title “I’m just like my shoes: complicated, beautiful, and leather.” This zine was to include my stories that I called poems placed next to her dress sketches. I imagined a zine-release party in which we read poems while people modeled her final creations.

Quit writing poetry, her professor advised.

While pursuing an MFA in visual art, my friend had started to earn some buzz for her paintings. After trying to incorporate poetry into her practice, her art professor told her to focus on this craft instead. He said she’d never be a good writer. This response devastated my friend, devastated, devastated my friend. It stopped our zine. Devastated, she couldn’t finish it. I considered his devastating response.

***

During a recent graduate poetry workshop at the University of New Orleans, Louisiana’s poet laureate looked at me, and asked, “Do you consider yourself a poet.”

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Between the Black American and the African: Misunderstanding

This is Chapter 6 of Letter to Jimmy by French-speaking African writer Alain Mabanckou. Written on the twentieth anniversary of James Baldwin’s death, Letter to Jimmy is Mabanckou’s ode to his literary hero and an effort to place James Baldwin’s life in context within the greater African diaspora.

Alain Mabanckou

Alain Mabanckou

In France, you hope to make progress on your quest for self-discovery, far away from the limita­tions imposed on you by your own country. Such a search proves to be more complicated than you imagined. The experience of migration places you face to face with other cultures, other people, and leads you to reconsider your ideas. Leeming writes that, ironically, once settled in Europe, you are forced to admit that the “old” continent had not in any way changed your heritage, and that the transformation would never occur: you would remain a black man as you had been in New York. Europe helps you, at best, understand what it means to be a black man. The Harlem ghetto had aroused in you a “. . . sense of congestion, rather like the insistent, maddening, claustrophobic pounding in the skull that comes from trying to breathe in a very small room with all the win­dows shut.”

Does an end to this confinement affect not only your body, but also your soul? Does Europe provide you with enough room to breathe?

After systematic rejection in your own country, you have to brave at present another reality—withdrawing into yourself, even watching yourself disappear: “The American Negro in Paris is forced at last to exercise an undemocratic discrimination rarely practiced by Ameri­cans, that of judging his people, duck by duck, and distinguishing them one from another. Through this deliberate isolation, through lack of numbers, and above all through his own overwhelming need to be, as it were, forgotten, the American Negro in Paris is very nearly the invisible man.”

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HITTING SHELVES #13: Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Ugly Girls

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter comes out today!

Lindsay Hunter, author of Daddy’s and Don’t Kiss Me, is a natural successor to brilliant writers like Mary Gaitskill and A.M. Homes who chronicle the damage, both physical and psychological, that we do to women, and that women do to themselves. If you haven’t read “Three Things You Should Know about Peggy Paula,” you are MISSING OUT and you need to read it right now.

Ugly Girls is Hunter’s first novel. Told in little bursts of flash fiction, it introduces Perry and Baby Girl, two thick-as-thieves girlfriends who discover they’re being stalked by a dangerous man. Like all of Hunter’s writing, it’s urgent and raw and garishly compelling.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Ugly Girls?

Lindsay Hunter: I’ve thought about this a lot, actually. I’ve scoured Etsy and anthropologie and Pinterest, trying to find the perfect thing to buy myself to mark what feels like a momentous, emotional moment in my life. Something I want to remember and celebrate. But I always end on eh, I have so many necklaces that I never wear! And if I buy a special sweater or something, my dogs will just eventually claw it to pieces. I’ve considered a commemorative tattoo, but that feels like too much work. What would I get? Who would do it? Ugh, I have to drive somewhere to get it done? So, that’s out. Then I considered buying myself a piece of art. I love Andrea Heimer’s work and feel that it speaks to me on a deep, deep level, and I have come very close to buying one of her pieces. She is affordable in the broad sense of buying art, but not so affordable when you feel guilty about spending money on a nice sweater your dogs will maul. So, I always end up closing my browser window before clicking “Complete Purchase.” What I think will happen is that the day of my novel’s release will kind of come and go, without me doing anything to mark the occasion, and I’ll think back and go, Gawd, I couldn’t even buy myself a nice bottle of wine?!

Lindsay Hunter (photo by Zach Dodson)

Lindsay Hunter (photo by Zach Dodson)

But maybe what is actually happening is that I’m hoping that there are more books in my future. More things I’ve created being deemed publishable. Maybe it feels like, if I mark this occasion too fervently, that’ll be the peak. Like the prom queen never feeling as happy as she did the night she was crowned. And maybe the thrill is in the possibility and not the purchase. The endless what-iffing that can remain endless as long as I don’t allow an end. And, I was recently able to upgrade to an iPhone 6, and there’s a brand new Olive Garden down the road from my house, so maybe the universe is celebrating for me, around me.

- Brian Hurley

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Malevolent Badger

10-04

Ben Lerner’s 10:04 is a great book for those of us who enjoy a sense of déjà vu, as so much of it is about his previous novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, and so many selections from his new book have been disseminated in major publications: The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review. To increase the sensation of eternal recurrence I gathered with my fellow nebbishes in the Sunset, in the new Green Apple Books (which resembles a slightly misremembered version of the original Green Apple Books) to hear Lerner speak.

My friend Chris and I arrived in time to get premium seats, three rows deep and centered, ready to believe that lightly fictionalized versions of ourselves might appear in a future Lerner novel or, at the very least, a poem. The talent walked directly past us, pausing to kiss the cheeks of some adoring septuagenarians in the first two rows. We’ve all looked at Lerner’s author photo and let me tell you—his eyebrows are really like that: a cartoon villain’s, a malevolent badger’s, the arched backs of two startled black cats.

The parts of the sidelines not taken up by the walkers and wheelchairs of Lerner’s kin filled with fresh-off-the-High-Line hipsters, adjusting square-framed glasses on their sweat-slick noses. The current fashion calls for stern, two-toned frames, a style from the 50’s, or rather from Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life. There was a woman with a breaching whale tattoo that you realized was not just a breaching whale but Penguin’s Moby-Dick.

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