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HITTING SHELVES #42: Exes by Max Winter

Exes by Max Winter comes out today! It’s a heartbreaking, hilarious novel-in-fragments, in which Clay Blackall compiles the stories of longtime residents of Providence, Rhode Island, in an attempt to understand his brother Eli’s death and the city that has defined and ruined them both.

Fiction Advocate: Max! How are you celebrating the publication of Exes?

Max Winter: I guess I already did? Because even though Exes’ official release date is April 11, Amazon shipped their copies two weeks early, which completely caught me off guard. (But I worked media retail in the pre-Internet Age, when these dates were inviolate. Except for the new Sinatra box when Liv Tyler or Richard Hell were asking.) It felt thrilling, of course—knowing the book was finally in readers’ hands—but because my author’s copies hadn’t even arrived yet, it also felt an awful lot like having blacked out at a wedding. “Ohmygod, you don’t remember? You were so funny and/or mean!”

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The Pixelated Novel in Bifurcation Nation

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George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, reads like confetti, like fireworks, like a snowstorm. This novel, like an image made of pixels, is a collage of intricate individual parts that, taken together, create the dazzling swirl and pulse of tenuous coherence.

Allow me to literalize: it is a story told in snatches by dozens of different narrators, most of whom are dead and dwelling in the “bardo” (a Buddhist term for the transitional state between life and death) of a crypt in Georgetown. As in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the novel’s clearest intertext, souls are punished according to their sins—one sexually frustrated man sports a massively engorged member because he was never able to consummate his marriage. Death, heaven, and intermediate states have long been a fascination for Saunders, explored in stories like “Escape From Spiderhead,” “Sea Oak,” and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.” In Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders looses his ghosts on the graveyard to shuffle through their danse macabre. Continue reading

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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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Y, FLA: Halloween 2001

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Hell is truth seen too late.

— Thomas Hobbes

He knew they were doomed as any couple in the history of rotten love. He’d known it long before, actually, and yet he’d driven out here anyway, to this land of barbequed ribs and noxious air, and magicians and cretins and drunks.

The same imbecilic logic of old had held for them, as well: if they ran fast enough, they figured, if they put distance enough between them and their filth, they might still have a chance at life.

But though they’d only dragged their filth along, it wasn’t till the moment he appeared before her in his tee shirt stained with gravy and cheese, his face painted blue and teeth all black—a 240-pound fiend covered in tattoos—that the extent of their imbecility had obtained in full, the repulsion in her eyes, had he somehow doubted, its awful confirmation.

She was in the bathroom, turning herself into a “sexy gothic Martian.”

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THE FREE STUFF: Future Sex by Emily Witt

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Future Sex is a collection of Emily Witt’s groundbreaking essays about the different ways young people are having sex, right now, today. And all of you broke-ass perverts are lucky, because 4 of the 8 essays are available online for free.

Internet Dating was originally published as “Diary” in the London Review of Books.

Internet Porn was originally published as “What Do You Desire?” in n+1.

Live Webcams was originally published as “Are You Internet Sexual” in Matter.

Burning Man was originally published as “Diary” in the London Review of Books.

You might also like Emily Witt’s New York magazine article about men who give up masturbation.

But if you want to read “Orgasmic Meditation,” “Polyamorists,” “Birth Control and Reproduction,” or “Future Sex,” you’ll have to get the book.

Brian Hurley is an editor at Fiction Advocate and Books Editor at The Rumpus.

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Fallen In

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When I first fell into the water, although I was perfectly aware that this was all really happening, it felt as though I was still stuck inside a dream. I’m walking along the road, lifting my feet with that sluggishness found in dreams, that heaviness caused by the water sloshing inside my rain boots. Neither sadness, fear, nor despair, but gravity, endless and immense, has taken hold of me. I’m wandering between the houses, their numbers painted on white signs. I must be lost. It seemed I’d experienced brutal acts but could no longer remember them. No, I was simply struck by the sense of memory’s intangibility, torn between struggling to recall certain events as something concrete, and the instinct to leave them safely in the nebulous past. But such dreams were nothing new for me, and I didn’t need to fight against the confusion; to a certain extent I actually enjoyed it. Even as the surface of the water broke my fall, I wasn’t afraid. I saw pots of limp geraniums on a windowsill, the white drapes drawn, glass dolls with scarily large pupils, and green Christmas candles. I waved. As firecrackers snapped in the middle of the road, a yellow tram went by. Benny ran barking along the water’s edge, where early bluebells bloomed between patches of unmelted snow. Nothing’s the matter, Benny. This is only a dream. But no sound emerged from my throat. Benny was barking even louder. He ran into the wood that grew by the water, gradually speeding up so that in the end he was nothing but a blurry white ball, revolving with the world’s axis as its center. What could have happened to upset him? I wanted to comfort him. My love, everything’s alright. Just wait there and I’ll come right back. There’s a good boy, my love. But Benny couldn’t hear me and streaked away, passing beyond my sight. Then the incongruous figure of a postman dressed all in yellow joined the scene. He’d parked his bicycle by the side of the road and was pressing the doorbell, holding the letters in one hand. There’s no one home, so he’ll just stick the letters in the mailbox; just as I was thinking this, I felt the first stab of the cold water, piercing the top of my head and the nape of my neck and the rim of my ears. The next moment I felt the weight of the water pull me under, cold hands seizing me and tugging me down. The cold was lethal, and my limbs were rapidly becoming numb. I’d fallen into the water, I knew this perfectly well, yet I kept on mechanically lifting my feet up and down. I imagined that I was walking down a flight of stairs—stairs of water, which were rapidly extending downward as I placed my feet on the next step. Without needing to look behind me, I knew that they were disappearing as I descended, that the section I’d passed had already dissolved into the water. The thought suddenly came to me that “returning” is merely a word, not something referring to a real possibility. I was going to mumble that something had gone wrong, but my frozen lips wouldn’t part. Icy water had seeped in between them when I first fell in, freezing them into immobility after my initial cry of distress. Water bearing the deep chill of midwinter, water that pierces and penetrates warm winter clothes, cold enough to carry off my soul. A devil was stabbing me with an ice poker. When I broke the surface I’d felt a pain as though my lips had been gashed on sharp rocks, as though a bone had broken in my left side, so extreme that I saw fireworks flash in front of my eyes.

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