Over the last month, I created a new site, Scrivler, where I’ll be mainly posting my reviews and some creative work. Looking for friends to join as well who are interested in writing about writing, books, etc. Latest review is of Geek Sublime: the Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty by Vikram Chandra.
Posts Categorized: Writing
Still, as he settled into a pirated TV show on his laptop, the thought of a crowbar sliding beneath the latch and popping out the screws brought him pleasure. ∞
Published in the October 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, “The Empties” by Jess Row is a postapocalyptic (or is it dystopian?) short story set in the Northeast. What grabbed me about this story was in the fourth paragraph, where Row’s characters step back and view their own narrative. What story are we in? What’s happening?
Anyway, Quentin’s saying, I was down at the Grange listening to these guys arguing about the difference between dystopia and apocalypse. Can you believe that? One of them was saying that we were living in a dystopian novel, and the other guy, big bearded dude, from the West Rats Collective, said, No, dystopia means an imaginary place where everything is exactly wrong, and what we’re living in is a postapocalyptic, prelapsarian kind of thing, you know, a return to nature after the collapse of society as we knew it.
And I must have been three or four shots in—we were drinking Wayne Peters’s sweet-potato vodka—because I said, Look, kiddos, the truth is neither, because we have no idea what might happen, the infrastructure is still basically in place, especially if people from certain collectives hadn’t stripped out the copper over in White River—
—but my point is really that dystopian and postapocalyptic narratives are narratives, that is, stories: things that are inherently invented or collated ex post facto. Narratives are static. Real life is, is—
The point is, we need to just let all that shit go, because, call it End Times or whatever you want, things are different now. None of the old endings played out, did they? So we have to imagine new endings. Hence the possibility for hope.
So, immediately, Row let’s us know he’s familiar with this genre and willing to pull away from the standard script, but does he follow through? With further references to Cormac McCarthy, he’s aiming his sights high; but ultimately, the story doesn’t deliver. What starts out strong ends up as another post-apocalyptic, disaster story that aims for some literary quality (literary meaning complex sentences and characters who seem like people), but that’s been done by Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Margaret Atwood in the MaddAdam Trilogy, and to an extent in comic books like Y: The Last Man and The Walking Dead, which may not have the literary angle, but do have an original storyline. In “The Empties” the power is out. That’s what leads to this collapse. It’s more benign than Ebola, Zombies, or a nuclear attack. But it’s like the first pitch of a baseball game, all that follows is the same. People are trying to survive after the collapse of civilization as we know it. Where’s the originality that Ross hints at on page one? These next two sentences point toward originality, or at least, create vivid, interesting images.
There was a girl, she remembers, who went up on the grassy hillside behind the Montessori school with a basket of scraps and a pair of scissors and began re-creating her Pinterest page, squares of bright cloth for each jpeg, strips of blue sheet for the tool bar and browser frame.
I love this image of a person coping and going through some technological withdraw in a such a delusional manner.
This isn’t science fiction, Quentin says, because if it were we’d have the answers, we’d know what happened.
And, while this second sentence states there will be no answers, it doesn’t set itself apart from The Road, which also had no answers, but plopped the reader down in a terrible present.
Perhaps, though, the originality is in the form of a disguised death. There’s a dreamy quality to the narration and one can easily imagine lucidity slipping away for the main character. The conversations are like the light from stars. By the time they reach the reader, we don’t realize they happened in the past. How much time has passed? Who said what? It isn’t until the end that we realize the character with whom she’d been talking to is dead. Quentin flows into Nathan and the reader readily confuses the two. There are no transitions or explanations; these are remembrances. Part of the narrator’s writing process. I enjoyed that aspect of the story, but then the true ending seemed to scale back. Outsiders approach the town. Are they good or bad? Is the world that black and white? We don’t know. We’re left with Quentin’s hope and the assault rifle slung across the narrator’s knees.
What were your thoughts on this story? What aspects of the story worked well and, or where did you think the story could be improved?
Beverly Hills, CA—A hot, new trend is sweeping California. After a long day at work or a tough session of crossfit, people across the state are seeking sleeping baby massages. It’s similar to hot stone massages, but instead of stones, warm, sleeping babies are placed across the back and head.
Spa owner, Dawn Gladwell, says, “Babies are like the best weight. 7-1o pounds is perfect for soothing without pinching any nerves. Not to mention, new baby smell can also be marketed as aroma therapy.” Gladwell and her husband, Dustin, came up with the idea after the birth of their first daughter, Emma. “Have you ever had a baby sleep on you?” asked Dustin. “It’s amazing. Relaxes you more than eating turkey.”
While the couple has received some criticism, it’s mostly muted as the babies are nonverbal. Of course, their parents do sign a release form. One parent said, “It’s sort of like daycare, but instead of paying $2,000 a month, my baby is actually earning his own paycheck.”
We’ve published our special issue “Literature of War: At Home and Abroad.” It’s full of poems and stories from veterans, family members, and other people who have been affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead of reiterating what this issue means, I’ll share an excerpt from my introduction:
Meaning is a slippery word. If meaning were a man, I imagine a middleman, a person playing both sides and looking for the largest margin. There have been times in my life when I’ve searched for meaning outside of a given context. I’ve turned to fiction, to poetry, to the words of others. And, there have been times when I’ve believed those words to have no meaning, when I’ve felt outside of experience. Cutoff in my own world.
However, when I read the stories, poems, and nonfiction in this special issue of Scintilla, I’m in awe of the meaning these writers have brought forth, the vision, painful at times, that they have shared. For many of us, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have played out in a vacuum. If Vietnam was the first televised war, what were, what are these wars? The overlooked? The distant?
Spend some time with these writers and be open to a new experience.
New York—Contact with alien lifeforms has been received. This morning, a probe containing a golden record of unidentified origin was brought to Earth and deposited in NASA headquarters. Authorities were baffled trying to decode the medium, until Neil Degrasse Tyson reached out to Charles Frank Bolden, Jr, stating that he had “a golden record player gifted to him by the late, Carl Sagan.”
A silent terror spread through the building upon deciphering the message. “It’s a call to action,” said Bolden, “but the question is: do we have the resources to make it happen?” Neil Degrasse Tyson has been tasked with heading up the mission, despite his whimsical vests. When asked for details, Degrasse Tyson responded: “It’s essentially a chain letter, but do we dare ignore it’s warnings?”
The golden record declares that whomever decodes the message must make ten copies and launch them at their favorite planets or face annihilation. Citizens may use PlanetQuest to make a suggestion, but NASA would like to remind Americans that Hoth is not real and Endor is technically a moon. “I’m a big fan of Tau Ceti e,” said Degrasse Tyson, “but we don’t have confirmation yet. Kepler-62e is definitely on my list.”
Despite warnings from the United States Postal Service and Congressional Budget Office regarding the potential drain on resources, the Obama administration has “gone all in,” a senior cabinet member said.
To ensure Americans are made aware of the threat, please share this with five friends or else a year of misfortune will follow you.“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it,” said Neil Degrasse Tyson. “The bad thing about chain letters and golden records from other planets is you have no idea what to believe.”
Cleveland—Indians fan, Rick Dobner, is stumped by online quizzes. “I don’t get it,” Dobner said, “all my friends post these quiz results to Facebook saying what city they should live in, which Walking Dead character they are, and for me, they just don’t work.”
No matter what Dobner enters, the city quiz states he should live in Cleveland. Quizzes regarding fictional characters return his own name. The font quiz said,You Got: Dobner while the accompanying paragraph stated:
“You’re 38 years old and have no meaningful relationships. You live in your grandparent’s former house and have gradually let it fall into disrepair. People avoid you in social situations. Your life revolves around the Indians and the Browns. You have high cholesterol and low self-esteem. You’re one step away from losing your job at Cedar Lee Pub & Grill.”
After staring blankly at the outfield, Dobner sighed and sipped from his beer. “I’ve been trying to eat Cheerios and since that DUI, I’ve been walking more,” Dobner said, “The cholesterol thing, I’m on top of that.” After watching the sixth inning in muted silence, Dobner spoke. “It’s just not fair,” he said, “People describe me as a Gimli, but how do I know it’s true if the quiz won’t tell me?”
Yes, I’m down the hall from David Gilmour. Each week students stop by my office with names like questions escaping their mouths. Oates? Atwood? Munro? We’ve heard you teach these things, they say. I nod. Gesture toward a seat. Sit down, I say.
It works both ways. When I start class each semester, I tell my students, I only teach women. If you want some dead, white guys, go see Gilmour. Trot yourself down the hall. I’m sure he’s a wonderful writer, but no, I’ve not read his books. You see, I love women. I love reading women. I don’t love men enough and I can only teach what I love. Seriously gay, ethnic women. Cather, Woolf, Dickinson, and of course, Richard Ford.
I teach only the best. I don’t have low shelf-esteem, so I won’t tell you how many times I’ve read To the Lighthouse (100 times). What happens with great literature is that the shadows on the pages move around. The same thing happens with mediocre literature on a slow afternoon, but I digress. I teach only the best. I haven’t encountered any Russian writers yet that I love enough to teach. Once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Next semester I plan to offer a seminar on me.
[UPDATE:] Those remarks were totally off the cuff. At the time of the interview, I was Skyping with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate peace. Moreover, I was gestating a human child inside of my own body.