“Rawlins” and “All There Is”

Dale Herd (photo by Sophie Calle)

Dale Herd (photo by Sophie Calle)


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 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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Did You Hear? Tron Song

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

Dear Internet: I need you to do a couple things, in a particular order. 1) Take a listen to this amazing song by Thundercat. It’s a haunting, beautiful, and totally original work of art that sticks with you, right? OK, great. Now 2) Do not under any circumstance google Thundercat + Eric Andre – “Tron Song”. Don’t do it, please. I mean it. For real, some things can’t be un-seen.

- Brook Reeder


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A Song From The Ramayana

cover shot

I AM LYING IN BED when I hear a song from the Ramayana. By the time I wake up, it is gone, and my nephew is trying to attract my attention.

“Sandeep,” I ask, “did you hear the people singing this morning?”

“Yes, Mamayya, I heard them.”

“Do you know where they are? Do you think we can find them?”

He nods.

“Are you sure?”

Another, less certain nod.

“Let’s go,” I tell him.

“But why, Mamayya?”

“I want to videotape them.”

His eyes light up. He likes to dance in front of the camera. I can involve him in the process and edit out his antics later, if I have to. For the next hour, I follow him around town. He doesn’t know where they are, but I know we will find them begging for alms up the street from Pedda Attha’s husband’s fertilizer and pesticide shop. One of them is clearly Rama; his blue face is framed by hair that curls out from underneath a gold crown. The other, with round monkey cheeks and a tail poking out of his pancha, is Hanuman. I stretch out my hand, full of change, and shake my camera while Sandeep, though he doesn’t have to, translates my excitement into words the singers understand.

Like Rama in exile, they wander the earth acting out a story they have inherited. At night, crouched next to their bundles of masks and tails, they will chat with others who stop to sleep under a temple’s stone roof—yogis, pilgrims, and mystics. Some are born into this existence; others have renounced their former lives for this one. They are points in motion connecting one stone platform to another. One town to the next.

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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists - Adichie

FA review tag


- Michelle Lipinski


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Did You Hear? As I Lay My Head Down

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

Other Lives is my top choice song to accompany a bleak stroll through a post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s more than a little melodramatic, but always interesting and evocative.

This track features the best tambourine part I’ve heard since Will Ferrell hit the scene, providing the bedrock for a very cinematic (and occasionally Flamenco) arrangement. These guys have a bunch of great stuff–check out another one of my favorites, “Take Us Alive.”

- Brook Reeder

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How to Write Like George R. R. Martin

George RR Martin

Authors of genre fiction like George R. R. Martin have a lot to teach me and other aspiring writers, regardless of what genre(s) we find ourselves belonging to.

Here are three brilliant lessons I learned from A Song of Ice and Fire.

1. Keep it simple. Then build.

Martin has a big task with the opening of this series. He must introduce a huge cast of characters while giving readers enough tension to keep them moving forward. The first events in A Game of Thrones accomplish this in a very straightforward manner. We open with a scene that sets up a familiar fantasy world: a spoiled noble doesn’t listen to the experienced veteran. The party meets their untimely end, but the author breaks away from this glimpse of the Others and uses the reader’s wave of interest to introduce the Stark family and Daenerys. We get sketches of the main characters, then some obvious foreshadowing with a direwolf who’s been killed by a stag. Martin builds on our familiarity with the Starks and uses it to give context to the next big event: a visit from the entire royal entourage. Martin has introduced a source of tension (Others) and 20 or so main characters within the first five chapters. Soon after he gives us the next sources of tension (Bran’s fall, Khal Drogo) which carry us through more world-building and character development.

PninCompare this with a more traditionally literary work, like Nabokov’s Pnin. While Nabokov’s cast is significantly smaller, he uses a similar technique of providing multiple small sources of tension to introduce us to the world and the character. Professor Timofey Pnin deals with a number of problems in the opening pages. He’s on the wrong train, he’s missing an important paper, he misses a bus, he’s lost his bag. Each problem is solved and then the next is introduced, one right after another. These problems propel the reader forward, but they also allow Nabokov to provide significant background information. The important paper is Pnin’s notes for the lecture he’s on the way to. His luggage contains his belongings, a description of which gives us insight into his character and where he’s come from. Pnin’s difficulties navigating the transit system set up his overall difficulties in America as a Russian refugee.

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