The Usefulness of Pain: An Interview with Melissa Febos

I first read Melissa Febos while in my MFA program. Her memoir Whip Smart was next to the register of my local indie bookstore, and I picked it up while the cashier was helping the person in front of me. This was years ago, but I remember it well, because her memoir of her work as a professional dominatrix was unlike anything I’d ever read before. Her new book, Abandon Me, is a collection of luminescent autobiographical essays—stories about bonds that break, fierce love, and what makes a family, all shot through with art and passion. It defies easy description or categorization, and begs to be reread, to be unpeeled, layer after layer.

Jaime Rochelle Herndon: Abandon Me feels more “bare bones,” somehow, than Whip Smart. More raw or vulnerable. On page 196, you say, about Whip Smart: “By building a story, I could find a beginning, middle, and end.” Does this also apply to Abandon Me? Continue reading

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A First-Generation Kid: Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose

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Virginia Woolf took her greatest risks as an artist in 1930. Fresh off the success of Orlando and To The Lighthouse, she embarked on The Waves, a more experimental, more fluid novel than her previous works. (She describes it in her diary triumphantly as “my first book in my own style.”) If The Waves marked an invigorating period of self-expression for Woolf, the process of writing it—and editing it—was nonetheless taxing. (“Never,” she laments, “have I screwed my brain so tight over a book.”) In an entry dated April 11th, 1931, Woolf, who was balancing a few writing projects at the time, complains about revision: “I am so tired of correcting my own writing… And the cramming in and the cutting out… But I have no pen—well, it will just make a mark. And not much to say, or rather too much and not the mood.”

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What to Read in April

Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard: “Sarah Gerard follows her breakout novel, Binary Star, with the dynamic essay collection Sunshine State, which explores Florida as a microcosm of the most pressing economic and environmental perils haunting our society.”

Void Star by Zachary Mason: “Not far in the future the seas have risen and the central latitudes are emptying, but it’s still a good time to be rich in San Francisco, where weapons drones patrol the skies to keep out the multitudinous poor.”

Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: “An impassioned cry for a Kenya free of dictatorship and for African writers to work in their own local dialects, Devil on the Cross has had a profound influence on Africa and on post-colonial African literature.”

Also this month: We’ll interview Melissa Febos and Dodai Stewart, and review new books by George Saunders and Durga Chew-Bose.

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Confessions of a Middle-Class Tramp Fancier

Before I started reading William H. Davies’s 1908 book, Autobiography of a Super-tramp, I was only familiar with his most famous poem, Leisure, the opening lines of which are:

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Armed with this minimal knowledge of his canon, I was hopeful Davies’s memoir about life as a tramp in North America and Britain might illuminate a new perspective about labor that I, who was complicit in the traditional notion of career, sorely needed. As Tomos Owen wrote in his afterword to the book, “the tramp threatens and challenges the prevailing ideas of a society predicated upon stability, rootedness, and commitment.”

This sounded promising. I wanted to threaten my prevailing ideas and those of society. It was particularly on my mind in the wake of a US presidential campaign, during which we were repeatedly reminded by both major parties of the centrality of work to the American mythos—that access to the good life is premised on a willingness to work hard—without any thought that human beings may be built for more than just work, that perhaps idleness may be our greatest aspiration. Continue reading

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Did You Hear? Romeo

Big, gaudy, and loud, this is some great pop music that pulls influences from all over the map. It’s a little bit St. Vincent, a little bit Sneaker Pimps, and maybe even a little Cranberries. There’s synth pop, drum n bass, and a few other styles jammed into one compact package. Love it.

Brook Reeder

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The Salty Dawg

Three nights after I left the Arctic Storm, I heard my name as I passed the Salty Dawg. I looked back. A small, thin man hurried after me. His walk had something hopeful, almost jaunty, in it, but his face looked tired under its graying stubble.

“Buy you a drink and we’ll talk about a job,” he called. The skipper of the Arctic Storm came out behind him, shouting, “Damn you, Jay, you’re stealing my deckhand. You’re gonna work for me, aren’t you, sweetheart?”

I let myself be herded inside, strangely elated at the thought of fishing again.

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