“It was naïve of me to believe that the ideology Esperanza expressed in class during our debates would carry over into real life. That I would even think to intervene in a family, especially between a mother and daughter, and about a topic as sensitive as abortion, was presumptuous—maybe even unethical.”
On the place of pop culture references in literature.
[Fiction] A young man goes on a journey:
“When there is too much going on, more than you can bear, you may choose to assume that nothing in particular is happening, that your life is going round and round like a turntable. Then one day you are aware that what you took to be a turntable, smooth, flat, and even, was in fact a whirlpool, a vortex. My first knowledge of the hidden work of uneventful days goes back to February 1933. The exact date won’t matter much to you. I like to think, however, that you, my only child, will want to hear about this hidden work as it relates to me. When you were a small boy you were keen on family history. You will quickly understand that I couldn’t tell a child what I am about to tell you now. You don’t talk about deaths and vortices to a kid, not nowadays. In my time my parents didn’t hesitate to speak of death and the dying. What they seldom mentioned was sex. We’ve got it the other way around.”
[Fiction] On a life in stand-up:
“One time on a talk show, before he made the change in his comedy, the comedian was asked why he started telling jokes. He took a sip from his mug and responded that he just wanted some attention. As a child he’d felt unseen. He was a handsome baby (photographs confirm) but his impression was that no one cooed at him or went cross-eyed to make him smile. Common expressions of affection, such as loving glances, approving grins, and hearty that-a-boys, eluded him. His mother told him ‘Hush, now,’ when he came to her with his needs or questions and he frowned and padded off quietly. He received a measly portion of affirmation from grandparents, elderly neighbors, and wizened aunts who never married, folks who were practically in the affirmation-of-children business. In kindergarten, he was downright appalled to find the bullies stingy with noogies and degrading nicknames. The comedian believed that he was unseen, overlooked, and not-perceived to a greater extent than other people were unseen, overlooked, and not-perceived, when in actuality he was overlooked as much as everyone else, he just felt it more keenly. The talk show host asked him what his first joke was. He said he didn’t remember, but he must have liked what happened because he did it again.”
[Fiction] Recommended by Joshua Ferris. A man returns to his family farm, starting over:
“The moon shone yellow through the trees. It was well past midnight, and Sonny was tired. For some time, he’d had trouble sleeping. He fell asleep quickly, exhausted by a day of cows and cold, only to come awake a few hours later in some unexpected place—sitting in the hallway, or standing over the kitchen sink. Sometimes it was hard to know where he was, and he stood awed and dismayed by some common object—a door handle, a sink fixture, the floral pattern of the bathroom wallpaper. One night, his mother had found him on the utility porch, urinating into a stack of neatly folded laundry. My God, she’d said, what is wrong with you? He hadn’t come home for two days, his shame was so great. He’d parked his truck in a field and slept there, curled on the seat, waking now and again to start the engine for heat.
“Even now, alone in the truck, the memory made him flush. He reached above the visor for a can of chew. He put a thick pinch behind his upper right cheek and leaned to get a soda can from the floor for a spitter. Then he sat with his hands in his lap, looking out through the windshield at the moon. Sometimes he forgot how good it was to be here, outside, and what it meant to sit alone in such quiet. Sometimes he had to remind himself.”
[Fiction] A couple shares their secrets with each other:
“We live together in a third-floor apartment near campus and are both A.B.D. We’ve been dating for about three years, and engaged for exactly seven weeks. It’s Friday night. We’re just getting home—late—from a reception at the school followed by a few nightcaps with some of our fellow grad students. Both of us are drunk, and I’ve got this idea in my head that we should do our own version of the truth session from ‘Water Liars,’ that Barry Hannah story where the husband and the wife tell each other about their sexual pasts.
“At first Zachary doesn’t want to, but I kind of stick it to him so he says, Okay, sure. So I get another set of nightcaps going and we start. But the thing of it is, even though we’re about the same age as the people in the story that couple had been married for ten years already. What I mean is that they had plenty of—how to put this?—distance from what they were talking about. And of course the basic point of ‘Water Liars’ is how the wife’s news sends the husband for a brutal loop anyway—distance nothing. Distance be damned.”
[Fiction] A man, his relationship with his family, and his trips to a vacation home:
“For the better part of a week, Richard and Evelyn and the children told stories around the fire, went fishing and boating, walked in the woods, cooked rustic meals, and sang along to songs on Richard’s guitar. As the days passed, employees could be seen to come and go down below at the substation, and sometimes they caught sight of the family and waved. It was a funny little vacation, but it had, at least for a while, the intended effect—Evelyn and Richard regained some of their closeness, and they enjoyed their children more than ever before. Many times over the next few years, Richard would look up from his desk with a wistful memory of those days at the cottage behind the substation, wishing it were easier to restore to his family the good feelings the trip had generated. But nothing lasts, he reasoned, most of all those things on which we place the greatest value.”
[Fiction] A grieving family’s privileged, plastic life:
“She hears his car grinding up the hill. At the edge of the driveway, the engine shudders, continuing on for a few seconds before falling silent. Walter buzzes the front gate; Esmeralda, the housekeeper, lets him in. The gate closes with a thick metallic click.
“‘Where are you?’ he calls out.
“‘I’m hiding,’ Cheryl yells from the backyard.
“He enters the through the pool gate.
“‘Shouldn’t that be locked?’ she asks.
“‘I remembered the code,’ he says.
“‘The pool boy’s code, 1234?’
“He nods. ‘Some things never change.’
[Fiction] Excerpt from Woke Up Lonely: Boredom, loneliness and a loss of innocence at a remote listening station in the middle of nowhere:
“We got to the cave, the door was unlocked, and inside were a few cryptanalysts I’d seen around, but never talked to. They were gathered at a work station-turned-bar, and playing cards. The three were ecstatic to see us. Hey, Teddy, and, you, what’s your name again? I said I had some reviewing to do and not to mind me at all. Suit yourself, they said. Teddy was dealt in and I retreated to a corner. I sat with my back to the room, put on my headphones, and cued up. Okay, now pay attention. I listened once just to get back into the zone, twice to access my guy’s headspace, and a third to parse content from emotion. By the sixth, I had completely tuned out his whimpers and clamor of self-disgust, but I still could not make sense of the rest. I pressed my headphones into my ears and went: Listen.
“Meantime, the others were kissing. I’ll just get right to it, they were kissing. Not that the card game had escalated into strip poker, not that there’d been any pretense to make these amorous gestures compulsory—as per spin the bottle—just that the four had tired of one pursuit and moved on to another.”
[Fiction] Bob Dylan comes to Thanksgiving Dinner:
“We park in front of my mom’s house, my mom who has been waiting for us at the door, probably since dawn. Her hello carries over the lawn. Bob Dylan opens the car door, stretches one leg and then the other. He wears a black leather coat, and has spent the entire ride from New York trying to remember the name of a guitarist he played with in Memphis. I pull our bags from the trunk.
“‘You always pack too much,’ I say.
He shrugs. His arms are small in his coat. His legs are small in his jeans.
“‘Hello hello,’ my mother says as we amble toward her.
“‘This is Bob,’ I say.