Author Archives: Fiction Advocate

Maybe He’s Just Fucking With Us

Farm Animals

Wittgenstein's Mistress

Pages Read: 100-148, then 100-150

Last time Nemira and I met, I was the one dominating the conversation, because I am the expert in writing about loneliness and melancholia (please forgive my bragging.) This session, she took over, telling me how she started to see all these parallels between the novel and her dissertation. This was frightening for me, because I am sort of pretending to understand the philosophical ideas she puts forth–there’s a lot of nodding and “mm-hmm”-ing and wondering if my facial expression belies my confusion. Anyway, at the risk of ignoring the plot for a moment–spoiler alert: Kate’s still in the beach cottage–let’s listen to Nemira tell us a bit about what she studies.

“My project is about how we represent perceptual properties–like colors, and sounds, tones, pitches, loudness, that sort of thing–and spatial properties, and how they’re more similar than people had thought. What I’m working on right now is an argument to the effect that one of the reasons people posit for thinking that we represent a space in which objects are located is to explain certain properties of spatial experience, right?”

I try to look like I understand. I obviously fail.

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Sixteen Writers on the State of My Uterus

Selfish Shallow and Self-Absorbed

FA review tag

I began to seriously question whether or not I want to have kids one Wednesday at 9 p.m. while having my hair checked for lice. I was sitting in a black swivel chair, wearing a leopard-print hairdresser cape, as an older woman meticulously worked through my scalp with mint-scented conditioner, baking soda, and a fine-tooth comb.

For the past six months, since completing my MFA, I have been working as a nanny for a five-year-old girl to support my writing habit. The reason babysitters get paid as much as they do is because taking care of kids is hard. While my hours don’t come close to those of an actual parent, this sort of babysitting––working one-on-one with the same child, five days a week, for months––is much different than rolling in on Friday night, making popcorn, throwing on a movie, and then reading for three hours while the kids sleep. Instead, you get the whole range: highs, lows, joys, frustrations, emotional drain, and exposure to lice. Call it Parenting Lite. I’ve spent much time thinking about how, if writing while babysitting is challenging, could I ever be a writer and also an actual parent?

Meghan Daum has edited a collection of essays that addresses this topic: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids. Everyone is supposed to want to have kids. If people choose not to have kids, they often feel compelled to come up with an excuse: they can’t afford it, they had a messed up childhood, they don’t like kids, or they aren’t able to have children. “When people ask why I don’t have kids,” writes Elliott Holt, “I sometimes say, ‘I’m forty; that ship has sailed.’ Or I say, ‘I’m focused on producing books, not children.’ Or, ‘I can’t afford to have a child on my own.’ That’s all true, it’s just not the full story.”

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HITTING SHELVES #19: Gutshot by Amelia Gray

Gutshot

Gutshot by Amelia Gray comes out today!

It’s the fourth book from an absolute wizard of short fiction. Gray’s stories come in many different moods—fanciful, haunting, tender, bizarre—but each one is surprisingly brief and surprisingly excellent. In “Gutshot,” a man who’s been shot in the gut exclaims “Jesus Christ,” and Jesus Christ consoles him by pointing to a plane overhead that’s flying to Dallas. (It makes sense when you read it.) In “These Are the Fables,” two lovers flee the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts that is burning down, and their eccentric journey becomes a tale that they tell their child. Each of Gray’s stories is like that—a blast of ice water thrown in your face.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Gutshot?

Amelia Gray: When Gutshot comes out, I’ll be in New York. It will be the day after the great Franklin Park Reading Series, where I’m reading with Colson Whitehead, Tobias Carroll, Wendy C. Ortiz and Natalie Eilbert. I will start the day by trotting my hungover ass down to Bergen Bagels for Brooklyn’s finest bagel, untoasted if I’m up early enough, which I almost certainly won’t be. I will eat the toasted bagel with serious gusto while standing by the high counter and then I will walk to a coffee shop with my computer, a ThinkPad which weighs approximately eight hundred pounds, maybe actually gaining as the years pass, like the words all get jammed up in its weakening battery. Its keys have the kind of strong action that makes me feel like I’m saying the right thing. Continue reading

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Killing Milk

Killing Milk

This parody of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling history books (Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, etc.) is “by Bill O’Reilly” via Courtney Bowman and Nicholas Bowman, from their new book Killing O’Reilly.

WARNING: In order to keep readers turning pages, I have written this chapter as a noir. But don’t let the style fool you. What you are about to read is unsanitized and uncompromising. The murder of Harvey Milk, America’s first gay[i] politician, was brutal, but the full story hasn’t been told. Until now.

It had all started at a club on Castro two years earlier.

Harvey Milk is leaning on the bar, nursing the butt of a Camel. His jaw juts out of his face like a cliffside, his chin looks like his face is making a fist, and his dimples are deadly sharp.

It’s the summer of 1976, the gayest year in San Francisco history, but Milk thinks it could be gayer. Milk used to be on the Board of Permit Appeals. Appealing straight permits and letting gay permits fly, Milk was the most powerful gay man in the world. But he wanted more. That’s why he quit and ran for office. A race he just lost. He drops the Joe in a dirty glass. Milk makes to pay his tab when a man walks up.

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HITTING SHELVES #18: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen comes out today!

It’s the story of a South Vietnamese army captain during the Vietnam War whose allegiances are irrevocably torn. For one thing, he’s spying for the Communists. For another, his two best friends from childhood are on opposite sites of the war, and he’s doing his best to keep them alive. With twists and betrayals worthy of Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, Viet Thanh Nguyen has written THE novel about the fall of Saigon and its aftermath, a novel that puts Vietnam at the center of the Vietnam War. Part espionage, part existential crisis, and part Hollywood farce, The Sympathizer humanizes and complicates our understanding of one of the most vivid conflicts in history.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of The Sympathizer?

12:01 AM Still awake. Can see toddler sleeping peacefully via the monitor. Break open the Lagavulin instead of the Johnny Walker Black and pour a double. It’s a special day.

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The Boomstick Film Club: Children of Heaven

Children of Heaven

The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix streaming

I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting off watching this film for a long time. All I knew was the plot summary—a brother and sister in present-day Iran are forced to share one pair of shoes when he accidentally loses hers—and based on that, I was afraid this movie would be preachy or depressing. Instead, it’s a charming family film that follows the everyday adventures that both siblings get into as a result of the shoe mishap. The sister, Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi), is self-conscious about wearing boys’ shoes until she finds that they give her an edge over the girls in dress shoes when her class at school has to practice long jumping. After school, she has to run to meet Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) so he can put the shoes on and run to his own school. (He’s often late even when they both run the whole way.) Zahra eventually finds out who her shoes ended up with, and she has to decide what to do about it. Ali comes up with a plan to win a new pair of sneakers for Zahra by coming in third place in a boys’ long distance race.

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They’ll Get Theirs

Go To Hells

Dante’s Inferno was written in the 14th century.

“Since then,” as the authors of Go To Hells kindly remind us, “there have been no new updates.” To our understanding of the geography of hell, that is.

When you put it like that, this book seems incredibly necessary.

Internet Trolls, ATM Lurkers, Reply All-ers, Cable Company Executives—none of these people existed in Dante’s day. Where in hell are we supposed to put them? Kali V. Roy and Jesse Riggle made it their mission to find out. In light verse accompanied by grimly comical illustrations, the creators of Go To Hells expand the layout of the fiery pit, and even tidy the place up a bit.

Roommates who eat all your soup? They’ll spend eternity eating Irish Spring soap. People who recount their boring dreams? They’ll have to listen to Ben Stein read Ayn Rand’s books aloud—forever. “Baby Puppeteers” whose idea of humor is making a baby wave her arms? They’ll have Satan’s hand up their ass as his own private marionette. Continue reading

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Quanta of Aging

The Physics of Sorrow

I’m not talking about old age. I’m talking about the first signs. Not about night, but about dusk. About its irresistible incursions and the first fallen fortresses.

*

Once, when Aya was three, she came home from kindergarten in tears, because a boy had told her that fathers get old. Fathers get old, she said, sobbing. She glanced at me for a second, fully expecting to hear me disavow this and since I couldn’t think of anything—I’m terribly slow-witted when I have to lie—she burst into tears again, even more hopelessly.

*

There is some sort of grammar of aging.

Childhood and youth are full of verbs. You can’t sit still. Everything in you is growing, gushing forth, developing. Later the verbs are gradually replaced by the nouns of middle age. Kids, cars, work, family—the substantial things of the substantives.

Growing old is an adjective. We enter into the adjectives of old age—slow, boundless, hazy, cold, or transparent like glass.

*

There is also a mathematics of aging, a simple set theory.

We change the world’s proportions over the years. Those younger than we are grow ever more numerous, while the number of those older than we are declines menacingly.

Aging requires a certain audacity. It may not be audacity, but resignation.

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