Author Archives: Fiction Advocate

The Boomstick Film Club: Devil in a Blue Dress

FA Feb 26

The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix, Hulu

Read it with us: Powell’s

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) is a great example of a genre I’m already a sucker for: detective stories. It pays loving homage to its predecessors but doesn’t feel derivative or tired.

Denzel Washington plays Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, a recent WWII vet who finds himself out of work and with a mortgage to pay. Easy gets a job offer from a shady character (Tom Sizemore) that’s too good to pass up, even though he knows it’s trouble.

One of the eternal problems of the detective story is how to account for your protagonist’s involvement in whatever shady dealings are about to unfold. The easiest route is to make him or her a cop or a private investigator. There are other options: I’m partial to the amateur sleuth, even though that device has more or less gone out of fashion; or you can tell the story from the point of view of the criminal, but that takes away the most obvious locus for suspense since we already know whodunit. Once in a while you get a story in which a regular guy (or gal) gets drawn into a mess and has to untangle it and save the day, which is what happens here. Coen brothers fans will recognize this device from The Big Lebowski, where it heightens the absurdity of the hero’s situation rather than his humanity, as it does here. The trick is to convince your viewers that your hero or heroine is the perfect person for the job, whether or not they have any formal training.

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Benny & Jenny

Book of Ages

FA review tag

Jane Franklin raised twelve children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in colonial America. She lived in poverty for most of her life, stitching bonnets and managing a boarding house to make ends meet. Her brother Benjamin was one of the most successful men of his generation, a printer, postmaster, essayist, inventor, newspaper publisher, writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac, the most famous scientist on the planet, signer of the Declaration of Independence, representative in France during the Revolutionary War, and a participant in the creation of the Constitution of the United States, among many other things. Although their two lives diverged dramatically, they each remained one of the other’s closest friends, or as Jill Lepore puts it in Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, “He loved no one longer. She loved no one better.”

By the time I first learned that this book was being written I was already a big fan of Lepore’s (see, for example, her work in the New Yorker), and also already something of a Ben Franklin obsessive. It is a pleasure to report that Book of Ages is a strange and remarkable accomplishment. In less than 270 pages, Book of Ages does quadruple duty. (1) It tells the tale of Jane Franklin, her experiences through the American Revolution, and the views that she developed through her difficult, often tragic life. (2) It explores how Benjamin Franklin’s work was influenced by his lifelong relationship with his sister. (3) Even more, Book of Ages ends up being about the colonial world inhabited by people like Jane Franklin, common folk neither rich, nor famous, nor advantaged, nor fortunate. (4) More still, it is a book about history writing itself. Given how little remains of Jane Franklin’s correspondence, it is fascinating to watch Lepore weave together what does exist into a full narrative.

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The Moscow Times

The Moscow Times

We’re in the news!

In Russia.

The Moscow Times has printed an excerpt from USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov.

Read it here.

We’re celebrating by giving you a discount on the paperback. Order USSR directly from Fiction Advocate using the button below and we’ll give you $3 off.

Za vashe zdorovie!

ussr 120

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From Making Nice by Matt Sumell

Making Nice

[Alby, an emotionally confused and often violent young man, explains to his father why he is attempting to nurse a baby bird back to health. -Ed.]

“Listen,” I said, “he’s helpless and he needs me and I got a thing in my heart for helpless things that need me, OK? So I’m gonna be here for him until he dies or grows into a god-damned falcon that flies around the neighborhood all day eating raccoons and dogs and little toddlers before he flies back to my forearm and takes shits. I already ordered the glove, dude–online–’cause Gary here is gonna terrorize all of Suffolk County, hunting mammals and butt-fucking seagulls.”

“Why you gotta talk like that?” he said. “You sound stupid.”

“Yeah,” I said, “people keep telling me that, but people also keep being pieces a shit that are wrong. So let me tell you something else that’ll sound stupid: right now, Gary’s stem cells are generating rods and cones for better night vision that he’ll use to bite people’s dicks off in the dark. Dudes’ dicks are in danger, Dad. And if you don’t think so, you can get right the fuck out of my bedroom!”

Making Nice by Matt Sumell goes on sale today

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HITTING SHELVES #17: Making Nice by Matt Sumell

Making Nice

Making Nice by Matt Sumell comes out today!

It’s a book of stories written in the voice of Alby, a stubbornly violent and hopelessly downtrodden young man who is mourning his mother’s death. Alby is absolutely fantastic — Matt Sumell has created one of the most memorable and pathetic characters in recent contemporary fiction, and his dysfunctional family belongs in the hall of fame for all-time literary train wrecks.

To quote from the book’s only 1-star review on Amazon (which is bullshit, because Making Nice is a 5-star book through and through, but it’s fun to use Amazon reviewers’ ignorance against them), Alby is “a turd… Not to say that the character is wholly unbelievable because I know that there are people exactly like Alby in the world and they are just as stupid.” Yes, exactly!  

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Making Nice?

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“Rawlins” and “All There Is”

Dale Herd (photo by Sophie Calle)

Dale Herd (photo by Sophie Calle)

Rawlins

It was blowing again when Davis walked back, the wind coming hard down the cut along the switching tracks, the parked rows of empty boxcars hot-sided and dead-looking against the hillside of fine blowing dust sheeting behind them. A haze of dust was drifting east down the roofs of the cars, and coming back to the motel there were fire engines in the alley, the burned tool shed still smoldering, with the smoke mixing in the dust and the wino off one of the freights who had apparently gone in, started a fire, and fallen asleep, being carried out badly burned and not expected to live.

In the room Kathy and Glen were no longer playing Monopoly and the sequence of pills had worked, Joni was finished, and the doctor was coming out of the little bathroom with the steel pan full of the yellowish clear fluid mixed with blood standing there showing them the fetus. It was tiny, curled, and pinkish like a shrimp, and the fluid stank, and Kathy wouldn’t look at it, but Joni did and didn’t say anything, then said, “That’s my baby,” and said it again, disgusting Glen who went outside with the doctor to give him the other five hundred.

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The Boomstick Film Club: Devil’s Pass

Devil's Pass

The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix streaming

I wanted so much for Devil’s Pass (2013) to be good. I have a fondness for mountaineering disaster movies, and this one seemed to have a lot of potential. It’s directed by Renny Harlin, it centers on the real-life unexplained deaths of nine skiers in 1959, and it flew mostly under the radar when it was released. Now that I’ve seen it, unfortunately I understand why.

First, the good parts. The basic storyline is interesting and creepy: five college students, led by Holly (Holly Goss), trek into the Ural Mountains to make a documentary about the Dyatlov Pass Incident—in which nine skiers died in 1959 without any survivors or witnesses—and hopefully discover what killed them. (The number of bodies found comes into question early on – that will be important later.)  Despite the many eye-rolling explanations – aliens, the Yeti, a government conspiracy – posited early in the film, I was genuinely surprised by what the danger turned out to be, and I was creeped out by the way it was revealed. This has the bones of a good horror movie.

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HITTING SHELVES #16: Jillian by Halle Butler

jillian_webcover

Jillian by Halle Butler comes out today!

This debut novel is amazing. It’s like a train wreck of a drunken rant delivered by an embittered twenty-something woman standing outside a skeevy party. Megan, the main character, is probably a terrible human being, but instead of dealing with herself, she spends all her time silently judging and hating her co-worker, Jillian. Jillian is Megan’s complete opposite: a downtrodden single mother who insists on staying relentlessly, infuriatingly upbeat. They’re both miserable in separate ways. And Butler contrasts their miseries in a way that is consistently, inventively hilarious.

Jillian is a downer and a joy. Butler deserves all the credit that Tao Lin usually gets for nailing the flat, disaffected voice of young people today. With Jillian she proves that if you think, as Sartre wrote, that hell is other people, then other people think hell is you.

We asked the author one question.

Fiction Advocate: How are you celebrating the publication of Jillian?

Halle Butler: To celebrate the release of my first novel Jillian, I’m going to wake up at 6:00 in the morning and take a shot of wheatgrass juice. Then, I will fully disrobe and do 60—maybe 100—reps with my 20 lb. hand weights in front of a standing full-length mirror that I keep in the center of my living room. I plan to shower and then wake up my boyfriend and show him my baby photos—of which I have 8 albums. We’ve already talked about what he’s going to say to me about the photos, particularly the series involving me and my first kitten, Pippi. After that, I will take 17 vitamins (breakfast) and get in a cab to work my temp job downtown, probably forgetting my wallet and begging the driver not to “arrest” me, but then when I exit the cab, I will smirk and chuckle to myself, adjust my pencil skirt, and walk towards the lobby of the asset management firm where I redirect phone calls.

The workday will go by as usual.

Halle Butler

Halle Butler

In the evening, I’ll go out to a restaurant with my boyfriend (again) but this isn’t too “celebratory” on its own, since we go out to eat almost every night. To make it special, I’ll intentionally eat too much food, forcing myself to become sick, and then I’ll demand a discount on my meal. I plan to tip using real money, but I also plan to enclose the cash tip in a signed copy of Jillian.

Next, all of my four friends will come over for a little party, where I will make a little speech while they sit in a row on my sofa, gazing up at me, overhead light blaring. I know that making a speech is very self-indulgent, and that probably someone else should make the speech for me while I sit on the couch, but I like to make speeches, and I will have had several scotch and sodas and maybe some Pernod at that point, and it’s my special day, so I plan on making the speech.

I’m planning to say something intense and aggressive like, “I could have been a glassblower, do you know what I mean by that? It means that everything I touch turns into fucking gold. A novel, sure, why not? No big fucking deal for me! I wrote it in one day when I was 10 years old, what the fuck were you doing then, going to grad school? Have you ever even heard of Publishers Weekly?” etc, etc. Then, sitting on one of my guests’ laps, faces inches apart, I’ll say, giggling, “Do you want to test your strength against mine? You think you can come to my home on my special day and treat me like this? I bet you feel pretty sorry about a lot of things now, don’t you? How about a nice, sweet little kiss to put all of this to rest? You want to be my friend now that I have all of this power, don’t you?”

After my speech, I’ll put a mop on my head and sing German torch songs like Marlene Dietrich until I pass out crying on the floor.

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