CCLaP Journal Chicago Center for Literature and Photography
02 | October 2013
S E G A 110 P DS NO A
Cat Power tour photos from Nico Turner Interviews with Mason Johnson and Chris L. Terry New fiction from Mark R. Brand New reviews of: Richard Ford Aleksandar Hemon Ari Marmell and more Photo features by: Leif Johnson S. Nicole Lane <-- Jesi Langdale
FEATURES 4 Mason Johnson: The CCLaP Interview
All about this Chicago writer, and author of the CCLaP absurdist sci-fi tale Sad Robot Stories
39 Nico Turner: On the Road with Cat Power
The guitarist of indie-rock band Cat Power shares images she has taken while on the road
54 Original Fiction: “Red Rocket,” by Mark R. Brand
An excerpt from Brand’s new CCLaP speculative story collection, Long Live Us
82 Chris L. Terry: The CCLaP Interview
A talk with this Chicago punk veteran and now author of the coming-of-age tale Zero Fade
15 Leif Johnson 67 S. Nicole Lane, “You Were Asleep By the Time I Found You” 93 Jesi Langdale
REVIEWS AND ESSAYS
12 Canada, by Richard Ford 36 In Thunder Forged, by Ari Marmell 52 The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon 64 Sweet Thunder, by Ivan Doig 90 Trade, by Lochlan Bloom 106 Recalled to Life, by Dan Burns 108 The Early Parking Garages of San Francisco, by Mark D. Kessler RARE BOOKS FOR SALE 14 38 66 92
Beau Geste, by P.C. Wren The Bostonians, by Henry James Contributions to Punch, by William Makepeace Thackeray The Millennium Trilogy, by Stieg Larsson
PHOTO: LEIF JOHNSON
The CCLaP Journal. Published monthly by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. Copyright 2013, CCLaP Publishing. Released under a Creative Commons license; some rights reserved. Rights to individual works revert back to authors upon publication.
Editor in Chief: Jason Pettus. Photo Editor: Rex Brink. Contributing Writers: Travis Fortney, Madeleine Maccar, Jason Pettus, Karl Wolff. This magazine mostly contains material first published the previous month at the CCLaP blog; for all the latest, please visit cclapcenter.com. 2 | The CCLaP Journal
FROM THE EDITOR
Well, before anything else, let me apologize for the ridiculous ten months it took to put out the second issue of our new “monthly” magazine! I’m humbled and grateful that interest in what we do continues to remain so high; but that has had us dealing with growing pains (sometimes successfully, sometimes not so) for an entire year now. Back when things were first looking like they were getting under control, at the beginning of 2013, is when I launched the Journal and published issue #1; but then a few weeks later our new marketing director, Lori Hettler, came on board, and the first thing she did was double our sales, which put us massively behind the curve yet again. Now that we’re publishing our last book of the year at the same time this magazine is going to bed, now that we’re finally caught up with order fulfillment, and now that we have an entire legitimate staff putting together content for our blog (including Chicagoans Travis Fortney and Rex Brink, Minnesota’s Karl Wolff and New Jersey’s Madeleine Maccar), it’s time finally to get back to this pet project of mine, and to hopefully get new magazine issues cranked out every month. For those who don’t know, this magazine is essentially a reprint of all the material that appeared at the CCLaP blog (cclapcenter.com) the previous month; in fact, that was the impetus behind starting up the Journal to begin with, that we were cranking out so much content there on a regular basis, and it seemed a shame not to offer it up in other intriguing formats to brand-new audience members. Like most literary people, I grew up loving traditionally laid out paper magazines, a format that I feel delivers a kind of whole and satisfying experience that individual posts at a blog do not; and with the upfront costs and other barriers to entry being so low now for magazines, I thought this was a perfect time for us to try our own. Most of you will be reading this through the free PDF we make available at our website [cclapcenter.com/journal], or perhaps the online “flippable” version at Issuu.com [issuu.com/jasonpettus/cclapjournal02]; but there is also a special optimized version for Kindles [bit.ly/cj02amazon] for $4.99, as well as a good ol’ fashioned print-on-demand paper version [bit.ly/cj02paper]. These paid versions are the only way this magazine’s contributors make money, so I encourage you to spend a few bucks and help support the production of future issues, as well as a robust and always intellectually stimulating blog that you can visit every day for free. As always, we love hearing from you, whether to submit a book for review, recommend a photographer, or inquire about contributing content to the magazine, so drop me a line anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. But in the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this latest issue, and thanks again for your patience with the long delay. —Jason Pettus
CENTER HAPPENINGS It’s been an insane 2013 for CCLaP, starting with the fact that we’ve gotten out a whopping seven new original books since the year began—from the nonfiction travelogue Historia, Historia by Elleanor Stanford to the female-relationship dramedy Women Float by Maureen Foley, the nature essay collection Mountainfit by Meera Lee Sethi, the deceptively deep sci-fi farce Sad Robot Stories by Mason Johnson, the speculative story collection Long Live Us by Mark R. Brand, the critical essay collection On Being Human by Karl Wolff, and the experimental young-adult novel four sparks fall by T.A. Noonan. Whew! (See them all at cclapcenter.com/publishing.) And in the meanwhile, executive director
Jason Pettus got to visit Foley in June in southern California for her book’s release party, Mo came to Chicago this fall for a mini-tour, Brand was featured at a special performance at the Evanston (IL) Public Library, and our 2012 book solo/down by local Lauryn Allison won the silver medal in horror at this year’s Independent Publisher Book Awards. Our rare book collection has also increased significantly in 2013, thanks to lucky finds at the Newberry Library Book Fair and Oak Park Book Fair; and we’ve been featured twice now this year in full-
page write-ups at the Chicago Tribune, as well as now hundreds of litblogs, thanks mainly to Lori Hettler coming on board as our new full-time marketing director earlier this year. That’s allowed us to increase our indiebookstore presence to now 25 nationwide, and to lay the groundwork for much more extensive touring by CCLaP’s authors in 2014. But the biggest news is the opening of our new tiny performance venue, Studio 505 [cclapcenter.com/ studio505], a.k.a. Pettus’ new apartment in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. It’s the home of our new monthly reading series, “The CCLaP Sessions,” so we hope you locals will have a chance to come by soon! October 2013 | 3
Mason John 4 | The CCLaP Journal
THE CCLAP INTERVIEW A recent graduate of Columbia College and a popular fixture in Chicago’s late-night literary community, author Mason Johnson is primarily known as one of the next wave of “alt-lit” writers who pen funny, surrealist micro-pieces at places like Twitter. But in his debut novella, Sad Robot Stories, put out by CCLaP in August, Johnson shows a surprisingly deep and weighty side, not just a bizarro sci-fi post-apocalyptic tale but a meditation on corporations, transgender issues, and humanity itself. Executive Director Jason Pettus recently had a chance to sit down with Johnson (at Dollop Cafe in Uptown), where they discussed tragedies disguised as comedies, growing up in the city, and what he thinks of the “Tao Lin Crowd” he is often erroneously lumped with.
CCLaP: Let’s start with a little bit about your background. What brought you to Chicago? Mason Johnson: I’m actually from Chicago. And usually when you tell someone that, they’re like, “Yeah, but where are you really from?” In my case, I was born in Logan Square—actually, I think I was born at Masonic or whatever it used to be called—but we lived in Logan Square at the time, and I lived there until I was about eight, before we went on and moved to the suburbs. Yes, that is interesting; there’s a real lack of adults you meet here who were actually born and raised in the city. What was that like? Was it very Sesame Street back then? This is the ‘70s, early ‘80s, right? This was the late ‘80s. I have that child’s point of view, so I guess it’s that thing where you have memories, and you go back to the place where you have memories and it’s like, “Man, everything seemed so much bigger.” Everything was distorted, you know. But then again, everything changed a lot between me being a kid and coming back in my early twenties. There weren’t a lot of white kids around; that’s something that’s changed a lot. A lot of Mexican families back then, is that right? Where we were at, it was mostly Mexicans, and then we moved down further and it got more Polish. But a lot more white people now. And lesbians. Logan Square has become known as a lesbian neighborhood recently. Yeah! A little bit more of everything, I guess. All I remember as a kid is taking the Diversey bus and going to the store, going to the bakery, with my grandma. It seemed almost small-townish. I had no concept that I was in a big city. People say that Chicago has all these skyscrapers and stuff, and I tend to see in my head just a bunch of red-brick two-flats. And you went to Columbia College, right? Yeah, for fiction writing. Growing up in the city, did you ever have a temptation at the end of high school to just go out to some little college town in the middle of nowhere? Nah, I’ve never had any desire to leave whatsoever. I really like the area, both the city and the suburbs. What’s cool about living in Desplaines is that, oh, you know, you can go mess around in the creek, and then you can hop on the blue line at Rosemont and be downtown within an hour. I never really imagined going [to college] anywhere other than here. And what was Columbia like? It’s renowned for its fiction program. Yeah, it’s gotten popular. I started going there in 2005, and it seemed like there were suddenly a lot of people going there then. That was only eight years ago, but it’s really seemed to have gotten a lot more popular. I don’t know, it was fun. I really like the teaching style. I guess for most people it would seem very hippie-dippie—you kinda sit in a semi-circle and do all these weird games and stuff. But I enjoyed it. I felt like it was less confrontational than the Iowa Workshop; and in that sense, you’re able to leave out biases that people might have towards your work, and get more to the question of, “What is and isn’t working, and what can you develop and do better?” That I think is what works for me personally. Definitely by my end there, I was really tired with school. And I don’t really ever want to go back to school, just being in that fishbowl of 6 | The CCLaP Journal
writers. Just being around them too much? Yeah. And writers there are very particular, just as writers at any other [school]. There are all these little scenes of writers, and they have their ways and their quirks, and I guess I just got tired of the quirks. And this leads naturally to the next question I was going to ask. For those who don’t know, most of your early successes have been in the open mics and the other short live readings around town. There’s a lot of them here; Chicago’s really well known for them. Did that start for you at the end of your time at Columbia? Is that how you first got involved? I got involved when I was still at Columbia. I don’t know how successful I was at it, but I went to a lot of shows and did a lot of shows. While I was at Columbia, there was this Special Events office; and she doesn’t run it anymore, but at the time, the person running it was Jill Summers, who used to do a lot of readings and great big stuff. She worked outside the Fiction department, didn’t [officially] do anything with it, but she would do readings at Columbia. And eventually I started going to the readings, and then I started helping to run the readings. So Jill helped me get into it, I guess. It was really kind of nice because with the Fiction department, you would go to a reading and it was just the Fiction department people. [Jill’s readings] had a wider scope and would include not just fiction people but people doing poetry, and also people doing non-fiction work, or even people doing photography and other stuff. I realized, oh, you could get out of this little place you were in, and go out and do stuff with more writers. So after reading there at school, I started going out to other readings in the city, like the Encyclopedia Show or Quickies!, although that show is no longer really around... The host moved to another city, right? Yeah, it was Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter. And Mary moved to L.A., but Lindsay is still here. But how can she really do it without Mary? [Laughter] So I kept going out to different things. I love writing fiction as the thing I do, I went to high school with a guy named Matt Rowan, but I don’t always want to be around the thing I who publishes a lot of stuff on the internet; and if do. So I’d go to the slam poetry stuff, or I”d go to the Art Institute, and just sort of get out there someone published his book and put it out, you read and get a bit more of a diverse taste. What is it that you like the most about this kind of way of getting together and getting exposed to writing, versus websites and anthologies and things like that? And we should make it clear, you’ve also hosted and run your own events in the city. Yeah, I did a show called P. Fanatics, which was short for “Piss Fanatics,” for about a year... [Laughing] What does your mother have to say about that show name, Mason?
it and you love it and then you put it on your bookcase, and it’s like, “Well, I hope he comes and reads at a Barnes & Noble soon.” But if someone publishes a story online, it’s like, “Oh, there’s their blog. Oh, there’s their email.” You can [write] and say, “Hey, that story’s fucked up,” or “Hey, that was really good.” You can just instantly becomes friends with them on Facebook or on whatever.
Well, my mother’s known me my whole life. She’s gotten a pretty good idea at this point how weird I am. [Laughter] So by the last couple of shows, we had moved to Cole’s. And people knew it was the last couple of shows, so they tried to show up extra-hard, so we got 60 or 70 people. So that seemed to be working out all right. But it was too much. I was working full-time and trying to write, and I just couldn’t keep doing [the show too]. That was about a year ago now. What I liked about that was the ability to curate something. To take not only my own work—oftentimes I didn’t like featuring my own work—but trying to take people I liked and putting them in a place with other people I liked, and see how that worked out. Sometimes it worked really well, and sometimes it was a disaster. When I first started getting familiar with you and your work, it seemed like every time your name came up in conversation, it was always in general relation to that whole Brooklyn crowd of Tao October 2013 | 7
Lin, and Sam Pink here in Chicago, and Jordan Castro and people like that. I’ve since learned that you don’t actually hang out with those people, but what do you think of that crowd? What do you think of that real specific type of writer who seems to be doing so well these days in city-based live events? Well, like you said, I don’t really know them—I know of them, and I’ve read their work, and I’ve met Sam a couple of times, Jordan a couple of times... And obviously there’s a lot of other young writers going out to these events who are writing just like these guys. I guess that’s more what I mean. It’s weird, because the term for all that is “alt-lit,” and exists mostly online. And at the live readings in Chicago, you don’t have that strong a presence of that stuff. Or, rather, in the last couple of months that presence has been getting stronger. “Alt-lit” is a wide thing, it can mean a lot of things, and a lot of young writers who write on the internet just get thrown in there, because it’s kind of synonymous with “writers on the internet.” I always thought it was cool to be able to publish things, how you wanted to publish them, on the internet. And I found other people, particularly in Chicago, who felt the same way. And the other [Chicago] people—I’m thinking for example of someone named Russ Woods, who does a show called “Poetry Made of Diamonds”—he likes to publish things on the internet, and I like to publish things on the internet, so we got to talking and became friends. I went to high school with a guy named Matt Rowan, who publishes a lot of stuff on the internet; and if someone published his book and put it out, you read it and you love it and then you put it on your bookcase, and it’s like, “Well, I hope he comes and reads at a Barnes & Noble soon.” But if someone publishes a story online, it’s like, “Oh, there’s their blog. Oh, there’s their email.” You can [write] and say, “Hey, that story’s fucked up,” or “Hey, that was really good.” You can just instantly becomes friends with them on Facebook or on whatever. That’s one of the things that ties together all these young writers as well; you all seem to be particualrly good at Twitter, and finding that strange combination of punchline-joke and literary absurdism. Yeah. I think a lot of that too is...when you’re in a writing class, you get into this thing where you want to please other people in that class. Please the other people in that little circle of ten writers sitting around you. So you’re writing really funny things, you’re writing really weird, out-there things; not in mind to write a good story, but to please those ten other people sitting there criticizing your work. Which is not the greatest thing. [Laughter] And in the sense of the internet, I think that happens to a lot of people. They become friends with other people and they all have Twitters, and to some extent they’re trying to make themselves laugh, and trying to make their followers laugh, some of whom may be their other friends. So that urge to please yourself and try to be entertaining; I don’t know, I think that’s cool. I think in a writing class it’s bad, because again, it’s ten people; but in the case of the internet, it’s interesting to see how that can work, and how that can grow. And especially with guys like Steve Roggenbuck, who is just insane. He does these YouTube videos, he reads at Facebook; he is the internet. It was really nice to see him doing stuff, because before that, I would see stuff like that and be like, “Oh, I don’t know, that’s not...I don’t know if that’s writing. That’s not what I was taught to think of as writing.” And I watched a couple of his videos and was like, “This guy’s saying all the stupid thoughts that I think and refuse to share with anyone.” And I thought about it some more and thought, “Well, that stuff ’s really not that stupid. Should I be censoring those thoughts? Isn’t it good that he’s not?” And yeah, it’s good that he’s not. It’s cool that he could have that effect on me or on anyone else; “You can do this, so why not do it?” I don’t know, I like the internet. And one of the other things you’ve sometimes taken advantage of in online 8 | The CCLaP Journal
writing is presenting your projects in these unusual ways. Like the little chapbook version you did of “Sad Robot Stories,” the book we’re here to talk about in a bit. It was in this unusual layout where you could go up and down and left and right, in sort of bits and pieces. Do you follow the tech side of all that stuff ? What kind of priority is it for you to keep doing experiments with the actual technology of the Web?
I like people who mess with the ways to get words into someone else’s head, so I’ll keep playing around. I have more plans.
I used to work as a web designer in college to pay the bills; so by being a nerd, and having to do it for work, I ended up knowing a lot about it. In the case of “Sad Robot Stories,” it’s very, very basic stuff. As I was writing it, I was trying to imagine what it would look like as a zine, and it’s like, “The only way to do this is to lay it out insanely across a giant sheet of paper. But that wouldn’t work, so I’ll just lay it across a computer screen.” For me it’s kind of like a physicality. When I look at the weird way it’s shaped, it’s almost like I can shape and feel it with my hands. A lot of other people didn’t like it that much. I think they saw more into it; or maybe not enough into it. I don’t know, some people were really put off by it. But I do like messing with ways of publishing things. I used to publish zines and comics all the time, and print those out and play with those. Then I started doing the web stuff and I played with that. I hope to do more with it. I like people who mess with the ways to get words into someone else’s head, so I’ll keep playing around. I have more plans. So speaking of all this; Sad Robot Stories, your new book with CCLaP, is why we’re getting together and talking today. Let’s start at the beginning: when you first decided to sit down and write a big full-length work, did you naturally just turn to the one of the short pieces you’ve done in the past, like you ended up doing? Or was there any thought about starting from scratch on something you hadn’t written before? I had other things that I had prioritized to write first, in my head at least, then you specifically came along and were like, “Well, if you have anything to show me, show me.” I think I had given you some ideas for other stuff, and you were like, “Well, what about something more like the robot stuff ? What about something like that?” And that was kind of a curveball. I hadn’t planned on doing anything more with it. And after the first couple of weeks after you suggested that, I was like, “There’s no way I’ll ever be able to make this into a book.” [Laughter] I’ve completely forgotten this conversation. [Laughter] I don’t think I said that out loud [laughter]. I think I said, “Yeah, I’ll try.” And then I was thinking to myself, “No, I can’t do that.” [Laughter] And then after two weeks of thinking I couldn’t do it, I started getting ideas for narrative. And what was most appealing about these ideas was that, unlike all the other projects I had lined up, these didn’t necessarily rely on my strengths of being funny and witty, being voice-driven. I liked the idea that this was something as a narrative that would be harder for me, because a lot of my stuff isn’t necessarily narrative-driven like that. Emotional, maybe, full of voice, but not a long story. I had never had a concept like that, and it scared me a little, and a lot of the stuff I wanted to focus on with it, a lot of the themes and whatnot, I just didn’t feel equipped to write. And that’s what pushed me into wanting to do it, because I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I wanted to try it. And then I went and I did it, and it was pretty hard, but I’m happy with how it turned out. And how was the specific challenge of taking on a multi-ten-thousand-word project for the first time? If I have one big complaint about the writers we were talking about before, it’s that so few of them have put out really hefty, serious-feeling, full-length projects. You know, I thought it was going to be easier, because when I was in school, I had written two novel
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drafts. And by drafts, I mean they were nowhere near being publishable; but there was a beginning and a middle and an end. And I was like, “Well, I did that, so why can’t I do this?” But this was significantly harder. And I guess, again, probably because I wasn’t relying on my strengths. One thing about me is that I never plan anything out; and trying to write this without having anything planned out, with having it all just in my head, was becoming very depressing and difficult, so I did eventually make a plot outline. And that allowed me to breathe a little easier, sit down, and try to write without so much pressure, although I ended up not following the plot outline whatsoever. [Laughter] So I guess, if you need to, write a plot outline, but don’t plan on sticking to it.
Having just graduated college, I definitely began wondering, as a young white dude, how many times can I write the same story about going out and drinking, that’s kind of funny and kind of weird and that all other young white dudes write?
Did it psychologically help you out? Is that what it was? Well, I was just very anxious and nervous. It’s easy to get caught up in the little things. “That sentence is totally screwed up.” Especially when you have no clear path. So once I had set a path, it didn’t really matter if I stuck to it. As long as I always felt like I was moving on to the next thing, I had the confidence to think, “I can always come back and fix this little stuff later.” Some sort of propulsion to move you forward to the next thing. Out of the first half-dozen or so pieces of early feedback we’ve gotten on the book, it seems one of the things that almost everyone mentions is how impressed they are with the way you weaved in so many other social issues, deceptively, into this manuscript. Things like gender identity, sexual orientation, the Great Recession, things along those lines. How deliberate was that, and how much work did it take to weave it in in the subtle way you have?
The short answer is yes and no, which I guess is no answer at all. Again, going into this, I was trying to do things that weren’t my strengths, things I wasn’t used to; and having just graduated college, I definitely began wondering, as a young white dude, how many times can I write the same story about going out and drinking, that’s kind of funny and kind of weird and that all other young white dudes write? With that in mind, I started thinking about what causes I care about. What takes away my attention? I didn’t pick out any one thing or another; I was always just at the heart of it thinking about the story and the plot and where to go next, but in the back of my mind I was like, “Well, what do I care about? What do I care about? What do I care about?” Before I sent you the first draft, I looked back at [the chapbook version], and I looked at all the themes that had just naturally come up—love and relationships and growing up, gender and sexuality and everything. And I looked at the ones I brought up the most, and I was like, “Clearly these are the things I care about the most.” And I just tried to do my best to work my first draft around those things that clearly I care about. So really it wasn’t intentional, it just happened naturally, but once I realized what was going on, I tried to play it towards the things that drew my attention most. And then one of the conversations that I anticipate we’ll be having a lot, once the book starts getting into more and more hands, are from science-fiction fans who will be complaining that this isn’t really science-fiction. And, you know, to be fair, in a certain way they’re right. This is very much social science-fiction, almost like a Kurt Vonnegut, “eh, it’s technically sci-fi but not really,” kind of feel to it. Something I think professors and NPR fans will like; that kind of story. What’s your own take on the subject? You know, I love science-fiction, and I grew up reading and loving it and I still read it and love it. But I didn’t think of this as a science-fiction book until we started talking about writing a [dust jacket] for it, and you called it science-fiction. And then I stopped for a second and I was like, “Oh, I wrote a sciencefiction book.” It’s definitely not hard sci-fi, as you said. It’s a book. [Laughter] It’s weird when people 10 | The CCLaP Journal
really delve into the line when it comes to [genre], “It is this, it is that, it is this.” That really bores me, I guess. We’re almost out of time, but let’s talk a little bit about next week’s release party. Everyone’s all excited because you got [local legend and American Skin author] Don Di Grazia to come out to perform. How did you set that up? I emailed him about this place—I can’t remember the place now—but they were serving a Melloric Icee, and I was like, “Man, this is weird,” and he was like, “Oh, yeah, have you tried it yet?” and I was like “No,” and that’s probably most of our communications, me emailing him about Melloric. I wasn’t sure if he’d come or not if I asked him, so I wasn’t sure whether to ask him. But we were talking via email and I was like, “Yeah, I should ask him.” And then I asked him and he said yes. I had Don multiple times in school at Columbia. He actually, when I was in high school, came and spoke there, and that was pretty much why I went to Columbia in the first place, because I was a fan of his book in high school and he came and talked. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so I just followed him, kinda. Yeah, I emailed and asked him, and he said yes. [Laughter] C
Download Sad Robot Stories for free, or order a special handmade hardback paper edition, at [cclapcenter.com/ sadrobot], or use the QR code below.
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Canada By Richard Ford Ecco Reviewed by Travis Fortney
There’s a story about Richard Ford that goes like this. He publishes a book of short stories called A Multitude of Sins. Like all of Ford’s work, it’s almost universally praised. But it’s not his strongest book, and that causes a few critics to jump at the opportunity to take the Great American Novelist down a peg or two—perhaps the most prominent of these critics being Colson Whitehead, the author of Sag Harbor and Zone One. Writing about the book in the New York Times Book Review, Whitehead coined the acronyms A.P.S.D. (Awkward Pang of Simmering Dissatisfaction) and A.P.M.E. (Awkward Pang of Muted Epiphany). Really, the Whitehead review is the kind of takedown piece that’s almost a compliment, since it’s obvious that Whitehead had put a lot of thought into Multitude and the rest of Ford’s work. It’s also a funny review, and even the reader who is a huge fan of Ford’s work would have to agree with some of Whitehead’s points. Ford does like to use the word “something,” for example, and the yearnings of his characters are often vague. Long story short though, Ford himself was not amused by the review. Two years later, he confronts Whitehead at a Poets & Writers party in New York City. “I’ve waited two years for this,” Ford says. “You’re a kid.” At which point he actually spits in Whitehead’s face. My reason for the spit anecdote is to illustrate the kind of author Richard Ford is—let’s say, kindly, that he’s a writer of a bygone age. In my opinion he’s also the most elegant prose stylist working today—he has a way 12 | The CCLaP Journal
of embedding big ideas into a novel, expressing the kind of hard won knowledge that it takes a lifetime to acquire in a single, impeccable sentence, which is so perfectly placed within the story or novel that it makes it seem like the whole thing, literally years and years of work, was undertaken to hold that one sentence. This obsessive attention to expression is the reason that reading Canada or another of Ford’s books can make his work feel like the perfect antidote to the kind of modern novel that’s clean, carefully inoffensive, entertaining, somewhat cliched and widely accessible—think Jonathan Evison, Jonathan Tropper, Ben Fountain or Michael Chabon. It’s impossible to imagine an author as eager to please (and as accessible to his droves of Facebook “friends”) as Evison spitting on another writer. And the thing is (not to be too hard on Evison) I don’t think the fact of the spitting makes Ford a worse person than Evison. I think Ford’s work, the fact that he doesn’t care about pleasing anyone, doesn’t care about not offending or entertaining or being accessible, but instead is laser focused on the clear transmission of knowledge and ideas from author to reader, makes Ford a good person, spitting or no spitting. Moreover, Ford’s work acts as a powerful argument that there are more important things than being a “good person” in the mold of this current generation of novelists who are inoffensive and blandly energetic, and at least as focused on propping each other up on social media as they are on sentence construction. I think Ford’s level of dedication affords him the right to defend his work. But on to Canada. The book has been out for a year, and many reviews of it have been written. I would recommend in particular Ron Charles’ writing in the Washington Post, but the fact is that every review says that same thing, and every review is right. The novel’s plot is summed up pretty well by the oft-quoted first sentence. “First I’ll tell you about the robbery my parents committed, and then about the murders, which happened later.” Canada is the story of Dell Parsons, who is fifteen when his parents rob the bank, then flees to Canada to escape foster care, where he falls under the care of an American named Arthur Remlinger, whom he sees murder two people. But the plot isn’t the point. The writing here wants you to slow down in just the same way that almost every other modern novel wants you to speed up. It can be a bit jarring. Canada can feel like it drags in places (and for those who haven’t read any Richard Ford, I would recommend starting with The Sportswriter, but at Ford’s pace of one novel every ten years or so, sooner or later you’ll run out and have to read this one). I wanted to share a bit about my personal experience with this novel. I had been reading it all afternoon, and I happened to be finishing it just when my wife arrived home. Rather than stopping to pick it up later, I read the last page aloud to her. It was so beautiful that I choked up, and I thought printing it here might give readers an idea as to Ford’s style, as well as a point of entry for this novel: Some days I drive through the tunnel into Detroit—the city that used to be there, now only acres of vacant lots, with the great glistening buildings along the riverside, like false fronts, a good brave face to our world on the other side. I drive up Jefferson along the river and eventually out into the exurbia toward Thumb and Port Huron. I always think I’ll drive north to Oscoda, where I was born, see what it is today, the remnants of the air base--of which I would remember nothing. But when I see the great welcoming Blue Water arch, eight hundred and seventy feet back across to Sarnia, I lose my need, as though I was trying to possess something I never had. ‘You should go sometime,’ my wife says to me. ‘It’d be interesting. It would help you, put things to rest.’ As if I hadn’t done that. Of course, it’s not lost to me that I live across a border from the place near my birth, and from the place where Arthur Remlinger’s devilment started, and from where the two Americans departed on the way to meet their fates. In a sense, its significance weighs on me, and I’ve often thought that where I live here, now—in the screwy way of things—was meant to be, and that the weight was the weight of consequence. As if I expected to preside over both sides of something. But I simply don’t believe in those ideas. I believe in what you see being most of what there is, as I’ve taught my students, and that life’s passed along to us empty. So, while significance lays heavy, that’s the most it does. Hidden meaning is all but absent. My mother said I’d have thousands of mornings to wake up and think about all this, when no one would tell me how to feel. It’s been many thousands now. What I know is, you have a better chance in life—of surviving it—if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be a cynic through it all; to subordinate, as Ruskin implied, to keep proportion, to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly the good is often not simple to find. We try, as my sister said. We try. All of us. We try. And there you have it. C
Out of 10: 10
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Beau Geste By P.C. Wren (1924) First American Edition (1925), First Printing
Overview by Jason Pettus CCLaP is making a growing amount of available at reseller eBay.com, both instant purchase. For all current [ebay.com/usr/cclapcenter], or for the [cclapcenter.com/rarebooks].
RARE BOOK FOR SALE
its rare book collection for auction and for books for sale, visit collection’s entire list,
DESCRIPTION: There are many moments in life when a cultural cliche becomes so widespread, we forget where it originated from in the first place; but that’s not the case with the public’s appetite for daring adventure stories set within the French Foreign Legion, in that it was literally one book that kicked off the mania in the first place, P.C. Wren’s still delightful 1924 Beau Geste. Born in the Victorian Age and a childhood fan of H. Rider Haggard, Wren always claimed that he had worked as a fairgrounds boxer and other salty jobs in the years between public school and attending Oxford; and after a stint in the Indian Army during World War One, when he first decided to devote his life to writing literature, it was to this combination of swashbuckling and refinement that he turned, along the way establishing most of the tropes about Foreign Legion stories that even exist (including the idea that it’s where bad boys end up in an attempt to redeem themselves, and the public’s marriage of the Legion specifically to the deserts of North Africa). Beau Geste wasn’t the first story Wren had written on the subject, and by all accounts it didn’t seem to do that well when first coming out (but see below for more on this); but it was an infamous 1926 movie version that really captured the public’s imagination, an Oscar nominee that was one of the very first really huge Hollywood megahits, and one of the last silent films to be so. That’s when you suddenly saw an explosion of Foreign Legion stories in magazines, bookstores and movie theaters, including four official sequels by Wren himself over the next several years; and Wren’s British and American publishers wanted a piece of this action too, releasing brand-new illustrated second editions in 1927 (signed and numbered in the case of the British version). It’s mostly copies of that much more popular 1927 edition that you see for sale online; but this copy today is one of the ultra-rare 1925 true first American editions, from before the movie made it a runaway bestseller. As of the time this write-up was researched (August 2013), there wasn’t a single other copy of this 1925 edition for sale at Amazon, ABEbooks or eBay, which makes this an especially rare treat for fans of Wren or collectors of Early Modernist adventure stories. A legitimate small piece of history, don’t let this underpriced jewel get away. CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). In general this is still in good shape and with a tight binding, but with a crack along the hinge of the inner back endpaper, slight fraying to its fabric edges, stains on both the front and back inside covers, and in general showing its 88-year age. Dust Jacket: Missing. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, an agreement of date on its title page and copyright page, and lack of additional printing notices, makes this a first edition, first printing. PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP on September 2, 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair. C
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Location: Chicago, Great Lakes, Texas Leif Johnson is a former Texas cowboy poet-turnedUniversity of Chicago history scholar-turned-freelance videogame journalist who is very becoming in hats. His photos are mainly of his travels, from the panoramic to the microcosmic. He now lives in Oak Park, Illinois, with his wife, Evonne, in an apartment that looks vaguely like a hobbit-hole.
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One of the things I like the most about your portfolio are the haunting nighttime photos from suburban train stations. What inspired you to shoot these, and did you have a specific goal in mind? To this day, one of the things that amazes me about the Chicago area is that so many densely populated areas assume an eerie stillness at night, and this is just as true of my old place in Hyde Park as it is of the stations in Oak Park and Elmhurst where these shots were taken. Trains—whether the Metra, a regular freighter, or even the El—cut through that silence like a knife through hot butter. Those are the moments I’ve always tried to capture: those fleeting minutes when the trains pierce the stillness and then pass on, leaving the areas around them barely aware that they were there. There’s a certain ghostliness about those moments, I think.
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Your work is an almost equal mix of rural and urban images. In which environment do you prefer shooting? I suppose you could say this dichotomy reflects the quirks of my own upbringing. I’ve lived most of my life on ranches in counties where the population barely exceeds 5,000 people and in the heart of the city where there might be 400 or more people living on my block alone. In the process, I’ve come to look upon anything in between with something like disdain, and my love for either extreme is such that the writings of urban activists like Jane Jacobs mean as much to me as the nature essays of Edward Hoagland. My heart, though, belongs to the wilds, and I believe that’s where I produce my best work. As much as I hate to admit it, I struggle with urban imagery, but I know within an instant if I’ve taken a remarkable shot in a natural setting. Perhaps that’s why so many of my urban shots also feature nature as a guest star.
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Only a small number of your photos feature people, and many of these only tertially. Is there a particular reason for this? I’m a very private person. I’ve always thought that I’m one of those rare people who could live out their days as a mountain man and not go crazy from the isolation. (After six months of working as a full-time freelance writer, I’m starting to doubt the truth of that.) I’ve never quite overcome the fear that I’m intruding on someone’s privacy when I take a photo of them, and I’ve noticed that the few shots I’ve taken of people other than my wife seem tragic on a level that bothers me. But all in all, I think you’re seeing the world as I see it, and if I’m were to be honest with myself, I suppose I’d admit that there’s a hint of selfishness involved. I like to think that it ties back in to what I was saying about producing my best work among nature. 28 | The CCLaP Journal
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How much planning goes into your shots, and how many of these images are happy accidents? I rarely plan any of my shots in the sense that I leave the house with a specific shot in mind, but I’ll stick around when I think that a good opportunity awaits. Take the shot above. This was taken on my way to work, and I jumped off the train at the Ashland Green Line station because I realized that the combination of that station’s perfect skyline view and the bad storm that day provided excellent conditions for a great shot. And so I stood up on the bridge, balancing my camera on the rail, until I’d finally captured the lightning shot I wanted. I was up there for around 20 minutes, and I was late to work. It was worth it. October 2013 | 33
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Sixteen-year-old May Florence is a budding poet who is about to join Louisiana’s most elite boarding school. Her brilliant but reserved twin sister, Susanna, isn’t. But the truth is, they’ve been drifting apart for some time, their relationship barely sustained by shared friendships and mutual envy. Now, as Susanna watches May prepare to leave her behind, she must reconcile what she thinks she knows about herself and her sister with the secrets they’ve been keeping from one another— or risk losing her closest friend forever. four sparks fall is the story of two young adults searching for love and acceptance in Baton Rouge, a city as complex as the people who inhabit it. At once confessional and speculative, analytical and numinous, T.A. Noonan’s debut novella is an affecting coming-of-age story for readers of all ages.
Download for free at cclapcenter.com/foursparksfall
four sparks fall a novella
October 2013 | 35
In Thunder Forged: Iron Kingdoms Chronicles By Ari Marmell Pyr/Prometheus Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Can tie-in novels associated with role playing games be considered literature? It’s a valid question. Too often denigrated as shameless marketing gimmicks or lazy fan service, I tend to take the opposite approach. Case in point: Ari Marmell’s exciting entry in this very specific subgenre, In Thunder Forged: Iron Kingdoms Chronicles (The Fall of Llael: Book One). As a huge fan of the Warhammer 40K tie-in novels and its ever-expanding dystopian universe, I found In Thunder Forged a lot of fun. The novel is a tie-in to the Iron Kingdoms Chronicles, a role playing game put out by Privateer Press. (The novel’s appendix gives a thumbnail history of several kingdoms and the unique calendar system for the different cultures.) The novel revolves around two strong female protagonists. The first, Garland, is a undercover agent for Cygnar. The second is Sergeant Benwynne Bracewell and her units in the Unorthodox Engagement division of the military. (Akin to the US Special Forces or the British SAS.) Her crew has commandos, mechaniks, warjacks (think steampunk plus mecha), and gunmages (think Gandalf meets Wyatt Earp). My geekiness went into high gear when I read about the warjacks and the gunmages. Plenty of explosions and set-piece battles to go around. The convoluted plot revolves around Garland and Benwynne securing stolen information from a powerful alchemist. I don’t want to explain it further because unraveling this twisty tale is half the fun. There’s 36 | The CCLaP Journal
even a playwright and secret agent modeled after Christopher Marlowe, the English dramatist. Beyond the coolness of gunmages and steam-powered mecha, what is it that makes this novel so good? When I’ve read clunkers in the Warhammer 40K franchise, I can almost hear the dice rolling across the board. Marmell brings his characters alive and puts them in a world that seems plausible as a world, not just as a game setting. An advantage that role playing games have over literary novels is that RPGs are by their very nature participatory, collaborative, and large-scale. Not only do players have to believe your world, they also use things like characters and settings to create their own narratives. The sandbox has to be big. The only disadvantage with the Iron Kingdoms Chronicles is the bad guys seem a tad simplistic. The enemies of Cygnar is Khador, a northern wasteland. The enemy agent going up against Garland sounds like Natasha Badenov and the Cygnar soldiers call the Khadors “Reds.” Even though that makes sense, since they paint their warjacks red, it still seems a bit cheesy and obvious. But I’ll give Marmell a pass on that one. Marmell, a veteran writer of RPG novels, still makes the Khador secret agent a compelling character. In terms of expectations, In Thunder Forged brought the requisite levels of intrigue, action, and emotional punch. While my standards are just as high as any other novel I read, I see this first book as the first season of a TV show. It’s still an introduction and exposition is needed to explain how this world operates. While the novel lists many Iron Kingdoms in the appendix, only two or three are really explained in detail. We see the Khador-Cygnar war and Ord’s alleged neutrality. These are all kingdoms dominated by the humans. In this game setting, there is a dwarf kingdom and Cryx, peopled with “blighted trollkin, twisted men, and various half-breeds.” Toruk the Dragonfather rules the undead land. Needless to say, I can’t wait for these elements to get thrown into the melee. For those looking for a fun read and an exciting fantasy world to dive into, In Thunder Forged is a great place to start. One doesn’t even have to be a RPG player to enjoy it. C
Out of 10: 8.9
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The Bostonians By Henry James (1886) First Edition, First Printing, “One Volume” edition
Overview by Jason Pettus CCLaP is making a growing amount of available at reseller eBay.com, both instant purchase. For all current [ebay.com/usr/cclapcenter], or for the [cclapcenter.com/rarebooks].
RARE BOOK FOR SALE
its rare book collection for auction and for books for sale, visit collection’s entire list,
DESCRIPTION: Victorian American Henry James is considered one of the founders of the “Realism” movement in literature, an attempt to tell stories in a much more direct, stripped-down and emotionally honest way than the genteel flowery style so prevalent at the time; and after a series of early novels which explored the complex relationship that rich, cultured American families had at the time with the European society which validated them, in 1885 James got to work on The Bostonians, a scandalous look at the “New Woman” or “Suffragette” early feminist movement that was gaining speed in these years. (How scandalous? Well, the relationship between the two main female characters here actually inspired the once famous term “Boston Marriage” to refer to lesbian relationships; and most Americans found James’ portrait of Boston high society here so unfair that even Mark Twain said he’d “rather be damned to John Bunyan’s heaven” than to read the book.) The Bostonians was first published serially in The Century Magazine in 1885 and ‘86, with a three-volume, 500-copy book edition published soon afterwards (worth tens of thousands of dollars if you can even find one for sale anymore); this particular copy is a first edition of the one-volume version, released just a month after the three-volume one, with a first printing of only 5,000 copies. (Note that of these 5,000 copies, 3,000 were printed with salmon covers and with interior ads, designed for American distribution; this copy is one of the 2,000 with blue covers without ads designed for domestic UK sales by the British Macmillan & Co.) This is also an ASSOCIATION COPY, with an ex-libris sticker in the front cover from former Library of Congress senior executive George Heron Milne, a family friend of the Theodore Roosevelts who was the supervisor of the Congressional Reading Room during the years of World War Two. CONDITION: Text: Good (G). There are a number of problems with this copy, which is why it’s being sold at a relatively inexpensive price (copies in Fine condition go for almost three times as much): cracks on the inside and outside of both hinges, rubbed corners, a large tear on the inside back endpaper, although with clean unfoxed pages and a tight binding. (See photos for more.) Issued without a dust jacket. Along with the ex-libris sticker on the inside front cover, there are also two signatures in ink (on the inside endpaper and the half-title page) stating “Rose Bradbelt, Washington, 1895.” As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, a date agreement of “1886” on both the title page and copyright page, plus lack of further printing notices, makes this a first edition, first printing. PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at O’Gara and Wilson Booksellers, Chicago, July 2013. C
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On the Road with Cat Power October 2013 | 39
Location: Los Angeles Nico Turner is a native Angeleno living in both Los Angeles and New York. Sheâ€™s been traveling the world as part of the band Cat Power and utilizing her love of Photography along the way.
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How did you end up getting involved with Cat Power? I got involved with cat power through the good grace of happenstance it feels like. Iâ€™m very happy to be a part of it.
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2:11am -- Traveling in this way gives you the keen understanding that nothing in the world is yours. Nothing in the world is lasting. You develop coping methods, like using photographs to remember
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How much of the planet have you now gotten to travel through as part of your touring? Is there any time to stop and enjoy the scenery, or are you constantly on the go? We’ve done two U.S. tours, Australia, Europe, UK, and a couple dates in Asia within this year. We’ve had amazing moments of stopping to enjoy the scenery, and some moments I’m glad I’ve captured in photos because I most certainly wouldn’t recall them as well without the second memory bank.
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Feb28, 2013 - 8pm Those who want leave wanting. Those who work wager with true rewards.
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Lonely California pastry chef Win never learned how to swim, despite growing up just miles from the Pacific Ocean. Even Janie, her flaky prosurfer single mother, couldn’t convince her to brave the water, solidifying Win’s fear when she leaves her at the tender age of 9. But when Win turns 29 and decides to take swimming lessons for the first time—finally confronting her hydrophobia and trying to make sense of why her mermother suddenly swam off all those years ago—she must also deal with a desperate crush she’s developed on her New Age neighbor, mysterious postcards that keep arriving in the mail, and her bad habit of pathological lying. This touching and humorous look at female relationships and the dramas that come for contemporary women turning thirty also doubles as a loving ode to the small coastal town of Carpinteria and the laid-back SoCal lifestyle that guides it. Poetic and moving, Maureen Foley’s fiction debut is both a perfect beach read and an insightful look at love, accidental families and the power of friendships.
Download for free at cclapcenter.com/womenfloat
Women Float A novella by Maureen Foley
October 2013 | 51
MY KIND OF TOWN
The Lazarus Project By Aleksandar Hemon Essay by Travis Fortney
Once a month throughout 2013 and ‘14, CCLaP critic Travis Fortney is reading a series of classic and contemporary books set in Chicago, not only to understand his new adopted hometown better, but to learn more about the origins and nature of the socalled “Chicago Way.” For all the essays in this series, please visit [cclapcenter.com/travis_fortney]. No book written in the last decade can make a better claim to being the great Chicago novel than Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project. The novel’s plot involves a Bosnian immigrant named Brik--a struggling writer attempting to adapt to his adoptive hometown--who receives an unexpected influx of grant money—the “Suzie” grant, courtesy of a wealthy old woman named Suzie—which he uses to dive headfirst into the research of his book. The book—which is The Lazarus Project of the title—is about another Chicago immigrant, Lazarus Averbuch, who arrived in Chicago more than a century earlier and was promptly gunned down by Police Chief George Shippy, in Shippy’s home, under suspicious circumstances, and accused of being an anarchist. Brik is curious about Lazarus, and I think it’s safe to say that he also draws certain parallels between the earlier immigrant’s life and his own, and so when the grant money comes in he sets across the ocean with his old Bosnian friend Sasha to find out about Lazarus. The mission: discover the truth about Lazarus. The just-below-the-surface-but-equally52 | The CCLaP Journal
obvious mission: get back to Bosnia and come to some understanding of their altered identities. So, at its heart, this is a (very) dressed-up road-trip novel. Sections detailing Brik and Sasha’s travels are interspersed with sections in which Brik imagines the story of Lazuras and his sister Olga, from their arrival in Chicago, to Lazarus’s fateful meeting with Police Chief Shippy, to afterward, as Olga begins to cope. Sasha’s vivid stories of the Bosnian war—he was a photographer who traveled with a corrupt reporter and a warlord named Rambo—also play a major part in the text. So the effect is that the narrative ping-pongs back and forth from the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first, from Chicago, to Bosnia, to Eastern Europe, from genocide to genocide, from immigrant experience to immigrant experience--and all of this is interspersed with some genuine strangeness, heartfelt comedy and sympathetic characters. It’s a winning combination. All-in-all, The Lazuras Project is a dizzying, heartbreaking and even at times awe-inspiring novel. As a Chicago novel, Hemon’s book has similar themes to the first book I explored in this series, Robert Herrick’s Memoirs of an American Citizen, even though the prior novel was written more than one hundred years earlier. In Herrick’s novel, Van is turned away from his home—rural Indiana instead of Bosnia—and arrives in Chicago to struggle for a better life. Both heroes succeed. In Memoirs, the protagonist literally takes over the world, while in The Lazarus Project Brik marries a doctor. But of course Lazarus is a postmodern novel. Hemon assumes we’ll know certain autobiographical details about him--that he himself is an immigrant from Bosnia, who arrived in Chicago in circumstances identical to those of his narrator Brik, that, like Brik, he’s also a writer, and also lives on the north side of Chicago, and even traveled to Bosnia with a photographer while researching The Lazarus Project, just like Brik does. In short, Hemon knows that we’ll know enough details about him to understand that he’s writing in an autobiographical mode (in fact, he uses a very similar method, to similar effect, to that which Laurent Binet used in last year’s HHhH). And if Hemon assumes we know those details about him, then he must also assume that we know that he’s reached the pinnacle of authorial success in the form of a MacArthur “genius” Grant. Which means that although in the pages of this novel Brik hasn’t achieved very much at all (excluding of course escaping certain death, coping with enormous change, the loss of his imagined and real homeland, and living a kind of double life that encompasses his present and past but doesn’t allow Brik to fully occupy either) we know that huge success is only a matter of time. So maybe Brik and Van from Memoirs aren’t all that different. So, in both novels Chicago is a place where a young man from from the provinces can arrive with nothing and build an enviable life—even if it’s not a place you would necessarily want to live. In The Lazarus Project the reasons you wouldn’t want to live in Chicago are many. For one, the city is the place where any well-meaning young man might be branded an anarchist and indiscriminately killed. It’s easy to imagine Brik’s (and Hemon’s) outrage at this idea. After all, Brik (and Hemon) has come to Chicago to escape that kind of thing. But for today’s Chicagoan, even though The Lazarus Project is only about five years old, the murder at the center of the book isn’t likely to incite much real feeling—be it anger, sadness, or empathy. After all, we live in Chicago. We don’t need to look back 100 years into the past to find examples of injustice. Just last week, twelve people were shot in a park on the South Side. So the idea of digging a hundred years into the past for an injustice to write about seems a little bit quaint. This may have been more grating for me in particular because a section of Memoirs of an American Citizen happens to deal with “the trial of the anarchists,” during which a dozen or so suspected anarchists were tried on trumped up charges and summarily executed. The hero of Herrick’s novel ends up as a juror at the trial and has some qualms about it, but ends up lobbying other jurors toward a guilty verdict, basically because he feels that it’s his duty as a capitalist. The anarchists are standing in the way of progress. Of course “the trial of the anarchists” is the first moral failing on the part of Herrick’s hero and marks him for eventual doom. My thought here is that Herrick did a passable job of covering this material a century ago. Which makes sense, because the age of anarchism, trumped up charges, police using anarchist tendencies as an excuse for murder, was a problem that belonged to Herrick’s Chicago. Perhaps it’s not fair to wish Hemon had narrowed the focus of this novel to a more modern view of Chicago. I would never suggest that the past isn’t worth examining, and Hemon does so to an entertaining effect. Today’s Chicago isn’t necessarily anything like Chicago circa 2005 anyway, and the text of The Lazuras Project is tinged with an often very funny detachment/ disaffection. So maybe Hemon is writing at the tail end of an American period that’s all but vanished now—where purposelessness and ennui getting in the way of full person-hood is the biggest obstacle one can expect to face on the road to riches. But even if those ideas do characterize Hemon’s Chicago, Brik is looking out at that world through the eyes of a refugee, which means he’s finding those concerns quaint and ridiculous even as they become his own. C
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Mark R. Brand
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Photo: James Vaughn | flickr.com/x-ray_delta_one Used under the terms of his Creative Commons license
Darryl was waiting outside the principal’s office when he realized his hands really hurt. It had been half an hour and he just felt it now. “Is your dad really an astronaut?” Caleb asked him. “Yeah,” Darryl said, noticing for the first time the scratches across the backs of his knuckles and feeling the scrape on his elbow. He must have fallen. He didn’t remember. “Wow,” Caleb said. “That’s cool.” “Thanks.” “I didn’t know.” “It’s okay.” October 2013 | 55
Mrs. Greene walked by. She was the only secretary in the office today and she sat across from them at the reception desk. Usually she was nice to everyone, and had a bowl of mint candies that she’d put out and look the other way when kids took a whole handful. Today she was trying her best to seem disappointed in him, but it wasn’t really her nature. The best she could manage was to arch one eyebrow disapprovingly over the rims of her glasses and look down at her computer screen. There were three chairs outside the principal’s office and one was empty. Jerry would have filled it, but he was first to go in. A man and a woman had come into the office later and gone inside. The man looked sort of friendly, in a distant way; harmless at least. The woman, with that chin and those cheekbones, could be no one but Jerry’s mom. She looked like someone had carved a rough sculpture of a woman out of frozen mud from a cow pasture and then put clothes on it. She glanced steadily in his direction as she went in, but didn’t make a face or anything. It occurred to Darryl then that they had probably called his mom, too. Any minute she might walk through the door and do her thing where she’d be on his side instantly and without question. He didn’t want her on his side this time because that would only make him feel worse. The fact that she believed him incapable of what he’d just done might be enough to make him cry, even, and that would be the worst. She’d ask him if he was okay and if he thought he needed to see the nurse and he’d say No, Mom. And she’d say oh my God Darryl your hands and he’d say I’m fine Mom. But she wouldn’t listen. She’d assume she knew what had happened and he’d probably just keep his mouth shut and let her do her momma-bear thing, roaring at whomever she thought might be threatening her cub. And she could roar. This was, in fact, the second time in as many months that Darryl had sat in this same chair. Last time it was because he’d had a disagreement with his teacher Mrs. Trudeau. It was one of those mornings where Mom had gotten up too late to wake him up and he hadn’t had time to get his cereal before they flew out the door. He’d been having a bad day to begin with, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn wasn’t improving it any. Why anyone cared what this tedious kid did and how his lame trip on the Mississippi River turned out was anyone’s guess, but it just didn’t hold his attention even when Mrs. Trudeau stopped trying to make Jerry McMillan and his dillweed friends stutter through it and just read it to them herself. She’d said something like are we keeping you awake, Mister Bradley and he’d said no, before he realized that this technically meant he had just admitted he was sleeping. As he was still settling on it in his head that she was sort of a harpy for asking a trick question like that, she followed it up with is there a reason you’re not paying attention to the book then, and he said Yeah, it’s stupid. She said there’s no such thing as a stupid book and he said Yeah, there is. Mrs. Trudeau gave him a flat look that suggested she might have melted him with jets of flame from her eyes and left the remains of him a tiny black pile of ash in his chair. Instead, she made a fake little you asked for it, see if I care shrug and commanded him to go directly to the office. This show of selfcontrol did actually make Darryl feel a twinge of shame, but he had more or less gone back to hating her by the time he walked all the way down to the door marked “Principal.” When Mr. Mikan opened the door to his office the first time and saw Darryl sitting there, he looked around and up and down the hallway, as if he thought there would be someone else as well. It seemed to surprise him that Darryl was alone. “Everything all right?” he asked Darryl. He heard Mr. Mikan’s voice twice a day for the school announcements and to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but he couldn’t recall ever having an actual conversation with him before. “Umm…” Darryl said. He wasn’t sure what Mr. Mikan meant by ‘everything.’ “Are you here for me?” he asked. Darryl nodded. “Oh. Well, come in then.” The furniture was Steelcase car-salesman business junk all the way, but at least it was quiet and carpeted; the desktop was free of greasy fingerprints and stray pen marks, and the chairs were soft office chairs instead of those hard ones in all the classrooms. For a place you got sent if you were in trouble, it struck Darryl that Mr. Mikan’s office was maybe the most pleasant place in the whole school to be. “Which room are you in?” Mr. Mikan asked him. Darryl told him. “Why did Mrs. Trudeau send you here?” Darryl told him this, too. “Hmm…Well, do you know what you did wrong?” Darryl said he thought it seemed to him like he was guilty mostly of not liking Huckleberry Finn. “Aren’t we all,” said Mr. Mikan, which surprised Darryl a little. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret; I think it’s kind of a stupid book too, or at least not a very good one. But what you did wrong wasn’t thinking that. What you did wrong was telling that to Mrs. Trudeau.” Darryl smiled at the reasonableness and obviousness of this. He felt sheepish, but not really ashamed anymore, and he knew instantly that this wasn’t a mistake he’d make again. Mr. Mikan seemed suddenly like the most reasonable person he had spoken to in weeks, actually sort of a decent guy and trying to help. Wow, he thought, why did I do that? I could have just not said anything. That was so the smarter thing to have done. 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being actually pretty nice about the whole thing. And then he felt sort of bad again. “I’m really sorry about this, Mr. Mikan,” he said, and meant it. “I understand, Darryl,” he said. “Can we agree that this won’t happen again?” “Sure. Yes.” Mr. Mikan then asked him what else was going on in his life and if he had any brothers or sisters. He said he didn’t, and he explained that he was an only child and lived with his mom. When Mr. Mikan asked if he ever got to see his dad, he just said no. He didn’t tell Mr. Mikan that his dad was an astronaut and had left when he was five to go on a mission to the moon, but this was mostly because now that he was nine, it felt somehow harder to explain why his dad had been gone so long. His mother insisted it was true, but four years was a long time. Mr. Mikan smiled. “All right. Have a seat out there for ten more minutes and I’ll have Mrs. Greene write you a note to go back to class.” “Thanks.” “Have a good day. Be good.” “Okay.” There were such things as stupid books. He remembered once showing his mom one he’d found in the front of the church vestibule under a thick stack of pamphlets that he supposed Father Benet used to restock the display inside the main doors. There under seventy copies of How Do You Speak to God? and He is Forgiveness (the syntax of which always sort of puzzled him when he said it out loud) was a book for little kids called Red Rocket. Red Rocket was old. Older than Darryl, and maybe even older than his mom. It was a hardcover with a little bit of a warped tilt to it, so that when opened and closed the silver-foil-filigree spine wouldn’t necessarily line each page directly over the next. The lower outside corners of each page had worn spots the size and shape of thumbtips from endless goings-through by the hands of other children. It didn’t appear to have any good reason for being in a church except it looked like maybe Jesus himself had once read it as a kid. The story was about a boy named BEN, which was capitalized because whoever had written it thought that capitalizing it would make the characters’ names stick out more. BEN had a dog named BING and the two of them were pals. This wasn’t the stupid part. Even when he was younger Darryl could grasp the conventions of a good story, and everyone knows that if your name and your dog’s name appear in all capitals in a book together, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be friends. The stupid part was that BEN and BING somehow got hold of a ROCKET, and they of course decided that it would be oh-so-very-swell to use the ROCKET to go to the MOON. I’m with you, thought the younger, six-year-old Darryl as he stood in the front of the church waiting for his mom to finish talking to the priest. Who could guess what those two were droning on about? It was never anything that felt to Darryl like he should be listening in on. Red Rocket was the reason he wasn’t sitting in one of the pews staring up at the huge life-sized Jesus on the cross behind the altar, wondering for the hundredth time if those nails had really hurt as bad as they looked like they did. For rescuing him from this fate, he could momentarily forgive Red Rocket for being the implausible festival of plot-holes that it was. When BEN and BING got to the MOON, however, they discovered it was made of GREEN CHEESE! They (they being the book’s author, Mary O’Callahan) said it that way, with the exclamation point, like it was a big reveal or a huge happy surprise or a combination of both. There were all kinds of problems with this. First of all you couldn’t land a rocket on a planet made of cheese because the fire from the thruster part would melt it. Second of all, who would go there if all that was there was green cheese? Thirdly, this was during that first long year that seemed to stretch out forever, when he had still been absolutely sure that his dad was on the moon, and why would his dad leave for so long just for that? So Darryl took Red Rocket to the back of the church where Mom was sitting in the little room with Father Benet again. They were in there, he could tell, because the three of them were the only people in the entire church. That, and he could hear them mumbling softly on the other side of the doors. “Mom,” he said. The mumbling stopped. “Yeah, babe?” Mom said. She always called him babe, which made him feel vaguely uncomfortable. “I wanna show you something.” “Just a minute, sweetie.” They went on mumbling in their room for a while longer and Darryl thought he might have heard her crying a little bit. He wished they would both just shut up with all of this God nonsense, but October 2013 | 57
mostly he wished they would stop talking in that little room. Nothing good ever seemed to come of it. Finally she emerged with red blotches around her eyes where she had been wiping at them with one of those cheap purse-size tissues that didn’t have lotion on it. “You doin’ okay?” she asked. This was another thing Mom did when she was upset. She asked if everyone else was okay. It was hard to keep her on task about things sometimes. “I found this,” he said, showing her the book. She glanced at it. “That’s nice, babe. Come on, get your coat.” “It says—” “Let’s put that back now, okay? It’s for the littler kids. It’s time to go. We need to get in the car.” “No, Mom, look.” “I’m going to count to three…” This is what she did when she for some reason thought he was still four years old. He put the book back and got on his coat. Years later, when he was old enough to use the computer, he would spend a lot of time searching for information about the moon. He only partially understood what he found—words like regolith and ecliptic sounded awesome when he said them out loud, even though he wasn’t quite sure what they meant—but he did confirm his suspicion that everyone knew the moon was made of rock, not cheese. Older now, he wondered what that O’Callahan woman was thinking, writing something for little kids that suggested the moon was made of cheese. What if some other kid like him had a dad who went to the moon and read Red Rocket? He thought maybe she had cheese instead of brains. Mom used to spend a lot of time on the computer, too. Emailing people. Darryl could never tell who it was because she always shut her laptop when she walked away from it and she had a He forgot for a minute Caleb’s suggestion about Mom wicked password on it that he couldn’t guess. having a boyfriend and all the times that he had prayed Sometimes when he was in bed, he’d hear her away frantically and when he’d get up and for Dad to be there in the morning when he woke up and typing ask her what she was doing, she’d snap the lid shut he never was. All he could think about was that when and smile at him. Sometimes she’d cry when she his dad bent over to touch the ground, it was rocks like did this, but Mom cried all the time so that wasn’t really all that alarming anymore. What did get his this that he was touching. Maybe his dad had sent the attention were the times when she’d be typing and rock himself like a postcard. He wanted badly to hold it he’d catch her smiling at the screen. Mom didn’t much. in his hands. That’s when he knew he was going to get smile “Maybe she’s got a boyfriend,” Caleb said up in front of his class and tell the truth. one time, when they were having a backyard tent sleepover. Darryl hadn’t ever thought of that. “Why would she have a boyfriend?” “I don’t know.” He shrugged. Caleb was a good friend and they’d known each other for what seemed like a very long time, though the both of them were only nine and Darryl had just moved into the neighborhood two years before. They weren’t yet all that interested in girls, but occasionally they’d hear them say something interesting, and since boyfriend-girlfriend talk was usually something the girls would bring up, Darryl suspected Caleb had gotten the idea from one of them. “It’s what happens in movies and stuff,” Caleb suggested. “She’s still married to my dad, though.” “Oh,” Caleb agreed quickly. “Right.” There wasn’t a way to stop thinking about something like that, though, once he started. And for some reason that’s what he was thinking about when he was getting ready to stand up and do his My Dad speech in his class. Mrs. Trudeau had given them this as homework three weeks ago, and after sitting through half of the speeches it was almost Darryl’s turn. Mrs. Trudeau had called them “presentations” but really they were speeches. Like everything the woman did, this had some deeper purpose: to make them better at talking in front of people or to make them appreciate their dads more, or whatever. Darryl didn’t like giving speeches, and he was not looking forward to it. Mostly because like with Mr. Mikan he didn’t really want to talk about his dad. It was supposed to be five minutes long and be a detailed description of his father. It was okay to talk about what kinds of sports your dad liked if your dad didn’t have a job, and a couple of kids talked about their grandfathers because their dads had died or their parents had gotten divorced. These 58 | The CCLaP Journal
kids cried sometimes when they talked about it and it made everyone feel awkward like the air had too much air in it. For a while he thought he might just make something up or refuse to do the speech altogether and let Mrs. Trudeau give him a bad grade, but she was such a goat he thought she might make him do it anyway without any preparation at all, which would be five of the longest, stuttering, most humiliating minutes of his life. Plus he hadn’t told Mom about the assignment at all, and he didn’t want her to be mad at him for that. While he was making up his mind, he asked his mom to go to the planetarium. He mostly thought planetariums were baby-ish but if he had to talk about his dad like that, he’d need to know more about what he was doing on the moon. Mom never talked about it or elaborated further than “Oh, you know. Astronaut stuff. Why?” she added quickly, looking at him. Just wondering he told her. This seemed to settle her, though she did give him a smile that was a little forced. If Mom didn’t want to talk about it like always, there wasn’t much he could do to make her, but this wouldn’t fill five whole minutes in front of the class and Mrs. Trudeau. He needed to see for himself. The planetarium proved mostly disappointing. The part where you sat in chairs in a little theater and watched the lights on the domed ceiling was pretty cool, he guessed, though the only thing that made it better than just watching TV was how loud it was when the announcer said Mars, the red planet! over the gigantic echo-ey speakers in the darkened room. Most of the other exhibits were boring dioramas of the solar system and wall-sized star maps. The gift store was full of crummy t-shirts that looked a hundred years old and toy chemistry sets and microscopes, which looked sort of cool until you realized they were just cheap plastic crap made to look like the real thing and even if they did work all you were supposed to do with them was learn. There was one thing he saw, though, that made the whole trip worth it. At the end of the hallway outside of the projection dome, far down by the bathrooms, was a glassed-in case set into the wall. It didn’t call a lot of attention to itself, but Darryl was transfixed. Inside was a display that held a lump of gray rock. The description next to it said that this was a lunar meteorite, a chunk of rock that had fallen to Earth from the moon. Darryl tried to imagine it coasting through space. There would have been no air around it to make a whooshing sound, and with no up or down in space it would have seemed not to move at all as it drew closer to the blue and white and green ball, felt the tug of Earth’s gravity, and then fell miles and miles through the sky, hitting so hard it left a crater in the ground. The label on the display didn’t give any indication of where this particular rock had hit, but somewhere someone picked it up, recognized what it was like a package in the mail from another planet marked Moon instead of Idaho or New Jersey, and brought it here to sit in this case so he and about a million other kids could barely glance at it as they ducked into the bathroom to pee. He forgot for a minute Caleb’s suggestion about Mom having a boyfriend and all the times that he had prayed for Dad to be there in the morning when he woke up and he never was. All he could think about was that when his dad bent over to touch the ground, it was rocks like this that he was touching. Maybe his dad had sent the rock himself like a postcard. He wanted badly to hold it in his hands. That’s when he knew he was going to get up in front of his class and tell the truth. “Hello again, Darryl,” Mr. Mikan said. This time he had waited for Darryl to come in last, after Caleb had briefly gone in and come out. Caleb wasn’t probably in much trouble and he was saving Darryl for last. Or more likely waiting for his mom to get there. Adults were so petty sometimes, he thought. All that waiting just to get me to feel bad. He thought kids who got into trouble like this would usually cry and snivel and try to grovel for the mercy of the grown-ups. But he wouldn’t do it, he decided. He wouldn’t cry. He didn’t feel the least bit bad about smashing that toad Jerry, and after all it wasn’t like they could tell his dad. Caleb said once that the scariest thing about getting in trouble was when his mom would say wait till your father gets home, and even now that he was starting to accept that Dad was never coming home, he had to admit that did sound scary. “You want to tell me what happened?” Mr. Mikan asked. Darryl knew he’d just heard the story twice from Jerry and Caleb, so he wondered which parts of his story would match theirs. He decided he didn’t care. “No.” “No?” “No.” “Care to tell me why?” Darryl thought about that. Mr. Mikan had a hint in his voice when he spoke that suggested this was his last chance to plead his case. Bite me, your honor, Darryl thought. “No.” “Darryl, I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me.” October 2013 | 59
For the second time, Darryl felt distantly like Mr. Mikan was being that reasonable, decent person that was less disciplinarian and more just a benevolent older guy with chronically-misbehaved grandchildren. It still didn’t matter. What could he say? Jerry is like the biggest jerk in school. He tripped me. I was just trying to do my speech that Mrs. Trudeau made me do about my dad. My dad left us. Poor me. Whine, snivel, grovel, repeat. No thanks. “You know Jerry’s parents took pictures of his face and his back. He was pretty banged up.” Good, Darryl thought. “They said they might press charges.” “What does that even mean?” Darryl said, snarling as best as he could manage. Why not? If he could beat some kid up—not just any kid but Jerry McMillan—shouldn’t he act a little tougher than he was? “It means the police would come to your house and maybe arrest you.” Darryl hadn’t thought of that. They didn’t arrest kids, did they? Suddenly he didn’t feel tough at all. He just wanted to go home and get out of this brown-themed office with the big desk and the cheap window blinds that looked like they hadn’t been dusted in years. That’s when Mom got there. He could hear her voice in the hallway saying that Mrs. Greene had better point the way or get out of the way and a moment later she poked her head into Mr. Mikan’s office without knocking. She was still wearing her scrubs from the hospital and hadn’t put on any makeup, which meant she had come straight there. She didn’t roar like he thought she might, but neither did she immediately forgive him. Instead she gave him a long sad look, and he saw her for maybe the first time as a tired lady with a hard job and a kid like him that was always screwing things up for her, and he did cry after all. “My dad’s an astronaut,” Darryl said. It always made him feel nervous to talk in front of a group, and especially if everyone knew him. There was something about the way people stared at you when you were the focus of attention that was really unsettling. Their expressions were flat and their eyes never wavered from his face. It was sort of creepy to see the whole class looking at him like that, and it broke his concentration for a second. He could feel the silence stretch on uncomfortably. “He...” Darryl started, but he had somehow forgotten what was next. He winged it. “He’s an astronaut and he flew to the moon when I was five on a special mission.” “When you were five?” Jerry said. Mrs. Trudeau shot him a look but didn’t shush him. “Yeah,” Darryl said. “He’s still up there right now.” Jerry made that sound that mean kids made when they wanted to say Yeah right, but in a meaner way. It sounded like Psht. Some of the other kids started to giggle. Darryl looked down at the small white notecards in his hands that were meant as a way to rescue himself if he got lost. He flipped through them and read them word-for-word, talking about mostly the moon and its fundamental properties and how the moon’s gravity was uneven because of all the craters and weak enough that if you weighed a hundred pounds on Earth you’d only weigh sixteen pounds there. He got through all the cards and went to sit down, but Mrs. Trudeau stopped him. “What does your dad do there?” she asked. She said it innocently enough, but she had a look on her face that suggested she knew how embarrassing this all was for him, and that maybe next time she was reading a book to the class he should shut his mouth. “Umm…” he said. “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” she said. He shook his head. “How do you even know he’s there?” Jerry said. Darryl said the only thing he could say. “My mom told me.” More giggles, and Jerry laughed a little louder than the rest, snickering behind his hand just soft enough that Mrs. Trudeau looked but didn’t yell at him, and just loud enough for everyone to hear. As Darryl sat down, Jerry leaned over and whispered. “My mom says your dad is a deadbeat.” “Enough with the noise,” Mrs. Trudeau said, and Jerry leaned back in his chair. Darryl thought then that he felt sick to his stomach, and needed maybe to go see the nurse before he threw up right there in front of the class. He was walking to Mrs. Trudeau’s desk and as he walked by, Jerry’s foot shot out and tripped him. Not enough to make him fall, but just enough so he stumbled awkwardly and almost did. This time the rest of the kids in the class laughed pretty loud. When he looked up, Jerry gave him a nasty grin right back. The most innocent Who me? look ever. That’s when Darryl decided to punch him right in his stupid face.
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It was a few days before the fight when he’d finally gotten up the courage to ask Mom about Dad. Mom had been home for half an hour or so, taken off her scrubs and put on sweatpants, which usually signaled relaxation, and was reading her email at the kitchen counter on her phone between stirs of the spaghetti sauce that she was heating on the stove. She had gone away a little. Zoned out, was how he thought of it, but he knew this would probably be the best chance he’d get between now and speech day. “Mom?” “Hmm…?” she said, not looking up from her phone. She was typing something with the tip of her thumb on the little touch screen. “When is Dad coming home?” “Hmm?” she said, her brow furrowing. She still didn’t look up. He got the feeling he was pulling her away from something she didn’t want to stop looking at. This is the same thing she did sometimes when he tried to mention how that kid Jerry McMillan sometimes did crappy things to him and he didn’t know what to do. She was always either online talking to someone or going into full momma-bear mode and trying to solve everything herself, her way, which wasn’t ever what he really wanted. “Remember when you said Dad went to the moon? When’s he coming home?” he repeated. She gave the phone one last glance and then tucked it into her pocket. “Huh?” she said, clearly only just now processing the question. He stood there patiently. It was tough to stand his ground like that with Mom. So much easier to just walk away and forget about it like he’d done a dozen times before. She saw the look on his face. “Oh. I’m sorry honey, I didn’t hear you the first time. Umm… You know, I’m not really sure when Dad’s coming home. Why do you ask? Is someone bothering you?” She looked nervous like he had asked the wrong question somehow. He kind of knew he had. He wasn’t letting her off easy. She knew the truth and he wanted it. “Why don’t you know? Didn’t he say when he left?” Mom looked at him for a long time and he watched the stress that had fallen off of her face when she’d gotten home slowly creep back in. It wasn’t promising. She bit her lip and sighed a little, taking one of the kitchen chairs and pointing at him that he should take one, too. He did, not liking what this might mean. “You know, honey,” she said, using her super-serious voice, “you’re getting to be a really big boy now, and I think you’re old enough that we can talk a little more like grown-ups, right?” When she referred to him as being a big boy, he felt smaller than ever. But he nodded anyway, to keep her talking. Something that sounded like it might be at least partly true was about to be explained, even if it didn’t completely sound like good news. “Your dad…” she began, and then stopped herself. What? he wanted to yell, but he let her think about it. For an instant she looked like she might tear up a little, or get that delicate little bobbing throat thing that she did when she was trying not to let her voice quiver if she was upset. She mastered it after a moment, and gave him her biggest fake you-can’t-handle-the-truth smile, and said, “I’m sorry honey, I don’t know when your dad’s coming home, but it won’t be for a very, very long time.” He let her hug him, and then went to his room and tried to decide if she was lying or not, or whether he wanted her to be or not. This is what he was thinking about when he mashed his right fist into Jerry McMillan’s nose and lips Wednesday afternoon in class. Jerry that had stolen all of his pencils once and broken them. Jerry that threw chewed gum or little wads of chewed-up paper at his back from behind. Jerry that liked to walk up in front of Darryl and cut a big fart right in front of him, making everyone gag and run away. Jerry that picked on him a hundred different ways, but worst of all Jerry that had told him the truth. Your dad is a deadbeat. When Jerry fell backward out of his molded desk chair, the metal frame of it made a hollow donk sound on the tile floor, and the only reason his head didn’t smack down too was because he fell into Caleb’s leg. Caleb tried to scurry out of the way, but Darryl was already on top of both of them. He stepped up and pushed Jerry’s desk out of the way far enough to get a really hard kick into Jerry’s side, after which Jerry made no immediate sound because he couldn’t catch his breath. He was getting ready to pull his foot back again, and this time aiming right at Jerry’s head, when Mrs. Trudeau grabbed him from behind and his feet left the floor. He didn’t remember much about his drive home with Mom, except the distinct feeling that nothing would ever be the same again. Some things were permanent. You couldn’t un-hit. You couldn’t un-kick. You were supposed to be sorry for doing it even if you weren’t, but even if you were, no one would look at you the same way as before. When he got home, there were police cars in front of their house. He looked at Mom and felt for the first time like this whole thing might really be bigger trouble than even he had imagined. He October 2013 | 61
remembered Jerry’s mother and the look she had given him as they left the principal’s office. Mom looked back at him and tried to smile through a frown the way she always did when something beyond her control was happening. He didn’t see that look very often, and it was more than enough to make that upset stomach feeling come back. They got out and three men in uniform approached their car. “Are you Mrs. Bradley?” “Mmm-hmm,” Mom said. The man who spoke wore a badge marked “Sheriff ” that matched the emblem on the door of his patrol car. He turned and looked at Darryl. “And you’re Darryl Bradley, correct?” Darryl nodded. “The same Darryl Bradley who hit and kicked Jerry McMillan this afternoon?” Darryl nodded again. “Yes or no?” “Yes,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “All right,” the sheriff said, looking up gravely at Mom. “May we come inside?” “Sure,” she said, though she didn’t sound enthusiastic about it. When they were inside, Mom offered the sheriff and the other two police officers some lemonade, which they refused. She offered some to Darryl, who took it even though he was pretty sure he’d barf if he tried to eat or drink anything right now. The sheriff got a call on his radio through an earpiece so only he could hear it. He clicked the button, leaned to one side as if that would help him hear better, and then said, “Yep, we’re here, hang on,” and left the room. Mom and Darryl sat there at the kitchen table looking at each other. Mom was still smiling and putting on her best I’m-not-worried smile, but he could see through it. That’s the thing about lies: once you catch a person lying once, you can see it every time. He wondered if her boyfriend could see through that smile. Had they known each other long enough for that? Maybe if he ended up going away to jail or alternative school or wherever it was that they took kids like him that punched and kicked, Mom could have more time with him. He wondered if she’d even be sad. “Thank you, Sheriff,” a voice said in the hall, the owner of which walked into view a moment later. He was a tall man in a gray suit with a beige tie, and he looked like he might be about the same age as Darryl’s grandfather. “I need to talk to them alone, please,” he said to the other officers in the room, and they left. The man in the gray suit put his briefcase on the table and sat down in one of the chairs next to them. “My name is Carl,” he said, offering his hand to Mom. Mom shook it. He looked at Darryl and smiled, not offering to shake. “And you must be Darryl.” “Yes, all right?” Darryl blurted out. He hadn’t meant to do it, it just came to him. “My name is Darryl Bradley. How hard is that? You’re the third person today that’s asked me who I was and you already know. I’m Darryl Bradley and I beat up Jerry McMillan because he said something about my dad in school today.” “What did he say about your dad?” Darryl gritted his teeth and looked at the floor. More of the same. “Darryl?” Carl asked. Darryl started to cry. He looked up at Mom, who looked like she might cry, too. “Whatever. I’m in trouble, I know,” Darryl said, doing his best not to blubber the words. “You’re not in trouble yet, Darryl. We can maybe keep you out of trouble, in fact,” Carl said, “but I need to know what Jerry said about your father.” Darryl looked up at him. The guy in the gray suit, Carl whatever, wanted Darryl to say the words. He looked at Mom, who nodded. “He said my dad was a deadbeat.” Mom frowned then, and looked at Carl, who glanced back at her. “Is that exactly what he said?” Darryl thought about it. The fists, the punching, the kicking, the scratches, the anger. “A-actually no. He said ‘My mom says your dad is a deadbeat.’” Carl glanced at Mom and gave a nod. “What?” Darryl said. Carl’s pocket started to vibrate and he reached into it and retrieved his cellphone. “Mmm-hmm…” he said. “Yes sir. I think we’re good.” He paused, glanced at Mom and Darryl again while listening. “I understand. Yes sir.” He hung up and turned around his briefcase so the latches faced Darryl. “I want you to understand something, Darryl. What you did today caused a lot of trouble.” “I know,” Darryl whispered. “Do you?” 62 | The CCLaP Journal
Darryl nodded. “Good, because we can’t ever have a repeat of this. Do you understand?” Darryl nodded again. “Ever.” “Okay.” “Say it.” “This will never happen again,” Darryl said, his chest hitching a little. Carl nodded and opened his briefcase. Inside was a small computer screen. He turned it on and a message came up. Darryl stared at it blankly for a few moments before realizing what it was. “Darryl, your dad is Colonel William Bradley and he is most certainly not a deadbeat. He is currently part of a classified lunar-based construction effort. Do you know what that means?” “He’s building something on the…moon?” Carl smiled. “Mmm-hmm.” Darryl looked at his mom. A million questions came into his head. Why didn’t you tell me? Can I write back to him? When is he coming back? But only one came out of his mouth. “Why hasn’t he written until now?” Carl looked a bit ashamed of himself, which wasn’t what Darryl expected a man like him to look like. “Because we told him not to.” “Why?” “Look, it’s…” He was about to do that thing grown-ups did where they stopped in the middle of an explanation because they were afraid the kid they were talking to wasn’t smart enough or strong enough for the truth. Carl went ahead though, and for that Darryl felt grateful. “He was under orders not to use any of the lander module’s power reserves to transmit anything other than timed and coded mission reports. He disobeyed orders when he sent this to you, but from what I’ve heard about what happened today, there was no harm done. As long as no one suspects he’s actually on the moon, then the secret is probably safe.” “How did he know?” “That you were in a fight? He doesn’t yet. He knows about Jerry though, and about what you’ve been going through, because your mother has been emailing him every night. He can receive messages on the lander, but he can’t send them. There was a minor accident when they touched down on the moon and the main solar panel was damaged. Every transmission on his end uses up the lander’s battery power, and his orders are to preserve that at all costs. Mission reports only, and only to us. Plus, like I said, it’s top secret, and we can’t have people listening in on conversations with astronauts that no one knows are up there. Most importantly, though, his mission is a long one and he might need that power on the trip home.” He imagined his dad shaving in zero gravity in a space capsule perched on thin legs that dug into the moon’s dark, silty soil, listening to transmissions on the radio and getting messages from Mom, but unable to talk back. Then the last part of what Carl just said hit him. “He’s coming home?” Darryl asked. “See for yourself.” Darryl looked back at the message for a minute, memorizing every word, before Carl closed the case. “Now that you know, your mom might let you type something to him that he can read, but don’t expect a reply. And no more talking about what your dad does for a living, okay?” Darryl nodded soundlessly. “Promise?” “I promise.” Later that night, after eating and brushing his teeth, he realized he couldn’t remember what Mom had made him for dinner. He couldn’t remember what day it was or if he had homework that needed to be done. All he could do was stare out his window at the dark night sky and repeat the words over and over again. His father’s words. Don’t be afraid. Bullies are just jerks. Stand tall. I’ll be home soon. I love you. C “Red Rocket” is an excerpt from Brand’s new CCLaP speculative story collection, Long Live Us. Download a copy for free, or order a special handmade hardback paper edition, at [cclapcenter.com/longliveus], or use the QR code to the right. October 2013 | 63
Sweet Thunder By Ivan Doig Riverhead/Penguin Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig is the third novel to feature Morris Morgan, prizefighter, newspaperman, and gambler. Set in Butte, Montana in 1920, the novel follows Morris and his wife Grace to the Montana mining town. An unexpected twist takes them away from their yearlong honeymoon traveling around the world. The twist involves Morris’s friend, Samuel Sandison, bequesting the couple his giant mansion. Unfortunately, since the Morgans now have to pay property taxes on this enormous manse, Morris has to find a job. He does so by meeting his former mining companion Jared Evans, Great War veteran, union organizer, and now senator. For years, Evans has worked tirelessly for better wages and working conditions for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. As electrification sweeps across the developing nation, Anaconda reaps the wealth, while miners work and die in unsafe conditions. These circumstances lead Senator Evans to become a publisher of a newspaper, hiring on Morris as an editor. Morris is quite the wordsmith, evidenced through the novel’s first person narration. He’s quite a clever fellow, knowledgeable in Shakespeare, and a preternatural ability to quote Latin at odd intervals. Morris coins the paper’s name, The Thunder, after a Shakespeare quote, and works under a pen name, Pluvius, Latin for rain. As Pluvius, he does battle with the Post, Anaconda’s hand-puppet, and their homunculus by the pen name Scriptoris. Pluvius accuses Anaconda of exploiting the workers, Scriptoris fires back with allegations that unions 64 | The CCLaP Journal
will usher in a Soviet of Butte. (Not idle talk, since the action occurs only a few short years after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.) Later on, a former Wobblie dies in a suspicious mining accident, made more ambiguous since the Wobblie was known to carry around a flask. As Jared organizes a proposal for a tax commission that will call Anaconda’s financial exploitation into account, Morris survives an assassination attempt and is mistaken for the Highliner, the local bootlegger who bears an uncanny resemblance to Morris. I wanted to like this novel, since it had many things that interested me. The brutal blood-spattered history of union organizing in the West, an inside look at newspaper operations, and life inside a Victorian-era mansion. Unfortunately, I found the novel to be good, but not great. These are the worst books to critique because of their averageness. Not excellent, but not terrible either. Put another way, Doig has a great Short Game, but fails the Long Game. In terms of the Short Game, Doig crams the novel with highly polished sentences and paints the Western landscape with a masterful eye. The Long Game falters with his characters and the plotting. Overall, the plot holds together, but is marred by a mistaken identity subplot that seems a little too convenient. The characters just rubbed me the wrong way. That’s an individual assessment and taste is a fickle mistress. Morris and Grace came across as a realistic couple, albeit a bit too cutesy and sentimental. (Akin to “perfect couple” Lily and Marshall on How I Met Your Mother.) Morris’s first person narration reveals the novel to be clever, not smart. There’s a difference. By clever, I mean the turns of phrase, bon mots, and literary references come across as a bit too spot-on. Similarly, some people who dislike the writing of Joss Whedon or Aaron Sorkin could lay the same charge against them. Case in point: During a climactic scene, we learn that Morris is afraid of heights. This is how we learn about it: “As if that were an omen, a hint of what the forces of nature could idly do, I was nearly halfway up the spider-spin of ladder when the spasm hit, clamping me to the rung I was on. Acro, from the Greek for ‘high above’ or ‘topmost,’ and phobia, which needs no definition other than ‘sheer fear.’” Seriously? My final pet peeve had to do with Anaconda Copper, ensconced in the top floor of the Hennessy Building. While Doig captures miners about their daily business, eating pasties, and frequenting speakeasies, the villains remain invisible. It would have been nice to actually see a board member doing something in Butte. Too bad they came across like invisible baddies akin to the Illuminati or Freemasons, secret and all-powerful in their lair. Let me reiterate, despite these criticisms, Sweet Thunder isn’t a bad novel. Far from it. It is a good novel with some glaring flaws. While this is the first Ivan Doig novel I’ve read, I’ll concede that I may have read an errant dud. Doig has written many more books and perhaps I haven’t stumbled upon one that I would really appreciate. But for those seeking novels about unions in Western mining towns and hard-drinking newspapermen in the Roaring Twenties, this might be something to read. C
Out of 10: 7.9
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Contributions to Punch By William Makepeace Thackeray 1898, Harper & Brothers Publishers Volume 6 of the 13-volume “Biographical Edition”
Overview by Jason Pettus CCLaP is making a growing amount of available at reseller eBay.com, both instant purchase. For all current [ebay.com/usr/cclapcenter], or for the [cclapcenter.com/rarebooks].
its rare book collection for auction and for books for sale, visit collection’s entire list,
DESCRIPTION: A common mistake that many people make when first starting to collect rare books is assuming that a book is financially valuable simply because it’s old; for a notorious example, look at all those giant reprinted libraries of famous authors’ oeuvres that many publishing companies put out in the late 1800s after that writer’s death, individual volumes of which can still be found in the millions on the back shelves of thrift stores for just a dollar or two apiece, usually not even worth listing at reseller places like eBay unless one owns the entire collection with no missing volumes and with all of it in great condition. But today’s book being auctioned is an exception, because it’s a volume worth owning just in its own right; namely, it’s an 1898 compendium of the short funny work of William Makepeace Thackeray, all of which ran in the infamous Victorian humor magazine Punch from 1843 to 1854, not available in any other kind of bound, collected way besides one of these old “library” editions from soon after Thackeray’s death. Thackeray is of course mostly known for his big barn-burning novels like Barry Lyndon and Vanity Fair, most of which themselves first appeared serially in magazines as was the custom at the time; so when publisher Harper & Brothers hired Thackeray’s daughter Anne to put together a “definitive” 13-volume edition of his complete work, not only were his humongous well-known novels included but all his various short magazine work as well. And it seems that nearly every Victorian writer eventually contributed some work to Punch, the “Saturday Night Live” of its day, with a circulation in the millions and a readership that included the Queen herself; but Thackeray was a particularly heavy and popular contributor (not the least reason of which was because the publisher of his books was also the publisher of this magazine), and was particularly well-known for writing spot-on parodies of popular melodramatic potboilers of the time. You can hunt around and still find many of these pieces here and there at various online sources; but for Thackeray fans, the easiest way to sit down with a complete set of this obscure but hilarious work (including the author’s self-drawn accompanying illustrations) is simply to purchase one of these free-floating editions from the late 19th century that are still around; and at the very affordable price it’s being offered for today, for an illustrated 115-year-old book still in great condition (but see below for more on that), it simply makes more sense to just purchase this handsome edition than collecting and collating up a bunch of random text files from Google Books and Project Gutenberg. And hey, this particular copy happens to be an ASSOCIATION COPY as well (see photos for more); this was one of the founding volumes first donated to the library of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of the State of Maryland (now the Maryland State Medical Society) by John Ruhrah, a Baltimore doctor and educator who set up a permanent fund at the end of his life to keep feeding and expanding the organization’s collective library, and who donated all of his personal books (including this one) as a way of first seeding the collection. A cheap but impressive gift for any fan of Victoriana, this is still a delight to simply sit down and read, which can be done guilt-free for the price it’s being offered for today.
RARE BOOK FOR SALE
CONDITION: Text: Very Good Minus (VG-). In general this is still in great shape, except for just enough fraying on the cover’s spines and edges to knock it down from a Very Good rating. Includes a bookplate from the John Ruhrah Fund on the inside front cover, custom-designed by Ruhrah himself; Ruhrah’s signature on the inside front cover, as well as “Quarantine Hospital, Port of Baltimore;” an additional small ex-libris sticker on the inside front cover for Wendy Greenhouse; and a small stamped “Oct 1977” on the inside back cover. No dust jacket issued. PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP on September 2, 2013, at the Oak Park Book Fair. C 66 | The CCLaP Journal
S. Nicole Lane
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Nicole Lane is a recent graduate from Guilford College where she received her BA in Photography â€” Â primarily focusing on traditional techniques in the darkroom. She was first introduced to film photography at the age of 13 when she was gifted a camera by her uncle. Upon entering college, she explored with alternative processes and eventually chose the method of Caffenol, which includes Coffee, Washing Soda and Vitamin C. Currently, Nicole is interested in book binding, large prints and planning her move to Chicago.
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What is the process of caffenol? How does it affect the picture differently than conventional solutions? I have decided to use this method due to its availability; I can easily run up to the grocery store and pick up the three items I need. Through trial and error, I was able to find a recipe that best suited the film I was using and a recipe that was successful in the darkroom. For each person, each recipe may vary to their liking. I have been playing around with recipes since I first discovered caffenol; it’s daring but sometimes it’s worth it. Caffenol creates a warm sepia tone to most of its images and the film is definitely more of a brown tone than film developed with traditional chemicals. If I don’t mix up the coffee well with the washing soda, sometimes it creates dark spots on my photograph or on my film; this is an affect that I really love and hope to achieve.
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What was your concept, going into You Were Asleep By The Time I Found You? I am inspired by the otherworldly, reality vs. surrealism, and the abstraction of bodies. I had been shooting figures for some time through the experimentation of extended exposures and the movement that the models made. However, by painting on the caffenol developer, I decided to not only shoot the figures in an abstract manner but to build on that abstraction in the darkroom.
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You have a way of depicting visually the sense of touch; the photos feel very physical and visceral. How do you create that sensation in a picture? I was born a painter and spent most of my time in front of a canvas until my freshmen year of college. I donâ€™t miss painting subjects but I do miss the range of motion that I was able to create with my own hands. With this series I literally painted the images in the chemicals; moving the caffenol where I wanted it to touch without reaching every inch of the paper. I think that by having layers of developer and not developing the paper evenly, it creates a three dimensional illusion for the viewer.
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Much of the set seems to have to do with identity, especially female identity and female sexuality. To what extent was that a consideration in your creative process? A huge consideration. I began by masking the identity of the model which stemmed from my idea of having a body simply being what it isâ€”a body. As an artist, I wanted the series to seem sexually freeing. In order to accomplish this I did not think that the faces of the models were important. In one image, I have two men facing one another completely in the nude; gripping each othersâ€™ arms and straddling their legs. I wanted to abstract the body, as I stated previously. Sexuality is important to me, and this importance led me to the identity of these individuals. I primarily worked with two phenomenal models and by the end of my work, I wanted their faces to be shownâ€”only slightly. In several of the images the viewer is able to see the mouths or the profiles of the models who owned the bodies that I wanted to celebrate.
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Just what does it mean to be human? Various artists from over the centuries have tackled this all-consuming question in a variety of ways; and now Karl Wolff, cultural essayist for the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, presents a brand-new examination of fifteen such projects, ranging from the undeniably highbrow (Samuel Beckett’s “Trilogy”) to the decidedly lowbrow (the “Warhammer 40,000” roleplaying game), and every shade of complexity in between. Originally published monthly at the CCLaP blog in 2012, these intelligent, probing looks at such varied creative endeavors as the sci-fi television show Battlestar Galactica, the Victorian erotic classic Venus in Furs, and the noir pulp The Killer Inside Me present a layered, fascinating overview of how artists have viewed the subject of humanity over the years; and with three brand-new essays exclusive to this book version, there’s a good reason to pick this up even if you’re already a regular fan of Wolff’s wry, articulate online writing. Whether it’s a comic book like Hellboy or a Postmodernist literary master like Anthony Burgess, Wolff’s shakeup of popular culture in On Being Human is sure to get your brain working in new ways, and to get you introduced to at least a handful of projects you’ve never heard of before.
Download for free at cclapcenter.com/onbeinghuman
On Being Human
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THE CCLAP INTERVIEW
The half-black, half-Irish Chris L. Terry grew up in a number of locations on the east coast, and traveled extensively as the lead singer of a punk band, before making his way to Chicago to study fiction writing at Columbia College. Now his debut novel is out, the ‘90s coming-of-age tale Zero Fade, from local publisher Curbside Splendor; and CCLaP executive director Jason Pettus recently had a chance to sit with Terry and talk with him all about it, as well as his old band days, nostalgia for Cosby-era Afrocentrism, and what exactly the term “wigger” means. October 2013 | 83
CCLaP: Let’s start all the way back with your childhood. In your official bio, you mention that before Chicago, you lived in Boston, Richmond, and Brooklyn. Give us a little rundown—the order of those and how many years you were at each place. Chris L. Terry: I was born in 1979 in a Boston suburb called Newton, Massachussetts, home of the Fig Newton, but not a cookie, if you will. My mom is an Irish-American woman who is from the suburbs north of Boston, Arlington; and my father is black and is from Richmond, Virginia, who moved to Boston to go to Harvard. My parents met in the early ‘70s, had me in the late ‘70s, and we stayed there until 1994. My family was having some financial problems, and we moved to the considerably less expensive Richmond. So I finished high school there in Richmond, and attended the state college there. I finished college when I was 24—I was on the six-year plan because I was changing my major, and I was also touring a lot, playing in punk rock bands. When I was 24 I moved to New York City, hoping to use my English degree for something besides working at a cafe, and just wanted to be around there a lot more. I got to visit a lot, and kind of fell in love with the city. So I worked in publishing, and I worked in a few other things; I did bartending work, babysitting work, a lot of proofing and copy-editing. Is that what you were mostly doing in the publishing world, proofing and copy-editing? And some production work as well, at an art book company. Actually, it was the first job I had that didn’t involve a cash register [laughter], but I was maybe not entirely suited for it. I was trying to get out of the musician and food-service life I had been living before, but I still wanted to hold onto getting wasted all the time. [Laughter] I wasn’t a very good employee. Given that you went to college in that area, and that the book we’re here to discuss is set in that area, can we say that Richmond is a particularly special place for you in your mind? I’d say, yeah. It felt like home for a long time, and it still does to an extent. My in-laws still live there. I like Richmond because...I’ve lived in a few places now. Chicago is city number four. And Richmond, not as many people have a preconceived notion when you mention it. You say ‘New York,’ and automatically it begins to invade the reader’s mind. Richmond, people don’t come in with those preconceptions, and I can kind of change it in my own way, and also share it. I think it’s a really cool place. You mentioned that you spent a lot of your time in your youth, traveling around with punk bands? What were you doing with them? Playing an instrument? The band that did the most, I was the singer. And we were called “Light the Fuse and Run,” like it says on firecrackers. If you want to see 22-year-old me, just search for it on YouTube. [Laughter] I guess maybe ages 21 to 24, we toured around the US a couple of times, and visited southern Canada, eight countries in Europe. And whenever we had the chance we’d do a long weekend trip or maybe a week, doing basements, house parties, VFW halls, small clubs, dive bars, record stores. That type of world. Were you ever tempted to stay in that world longer than you did? I see that you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that part of the problem was that by the time you had gotten to even 25, you were feeling like an old man. Yeah, by the time I was in my mid-twenties, the band was pretty busy—we did this 100-day tour. And I was wanting to experience a little more diversity; I was meeting a lot of straight white men, and I wanted more than that. Especially being mixed-race, half-black and half-white, and growing up in a number of different places. I kind of wanted to get to know the size of myself more, you know? That felt like a really urgent thing. I also wanted to start making more than $175 a week. [Laughter] Were you involved in the zine community back then as well? I know that you’ve been writing for a while for Razorcake. I’ve always liked to write. And then in high school I first started getting into punk, shortly after I moved to Richmond. I was in tenth grade, I was just turning sixteen, and I was just taken with punk rock. And I wanted to participate in some way, but I didn’t have enough friends to start a band [laughter], so I started a zine. I knew I liked to write, and I like that anyone-can-do-it...I don’t know, gratification aspect. That inclusiveness and the quick-moving nature of the DIY punk scene. 84 | The CCLaP Journal
Now obviously, it was because you wanted to get more serious about writing that you ended up here in Chicago for school. But tell us more specifically about what took you from New York specifically to Columbia College here in Chicago? In 2006 I was interning at Akashic Books in Brooklyn. They’re kind of the model for what an indiepress can do. They were releasing a book by Joe Meno, who is a Chicagoan who works at Columbia College—The Boy Detective Fails... My favorite book of his! Really? It had this really creepy, kind of intentionally dreary atmosphere, and I remember having that same kind of gut reaction to some of the Daniel Clowes stuff I was reading at the same time. David Boring, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. And I remember thinking, “What is this hellish place?” Then I moved here in 2008 and drove down Lawrence Avenue, and I was like, “Oh, it’s the northwest side of Chicago.” [Laughter] So Akashic was releasing one of Joe’s books right then, and I remember reading this author and seeing that he taught at Columbia, and I already had this perception of Chicago as being this really supportive hub for the creative arts. So I thought it’d be a cool place to live. I love big cold cities; my girlfriend, now my wife, liked Chicago and was willing to pack up and come here with me. Also, out of the schools I applied to, it was the only one that accepted a guy with a 2.6 GPA. [Laughter] I lied in the back of my book. I said I had a 2.72, but I recently looked again and realized it was only a 2.62.
[Joe Meno’s work] had this really creepy, kind of intentionally dreary atmosphere, and I remember having that same kind of gut reaction to some of the Daniel Clowes stuff I was reading at the same time. David Boring, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. And I remember thinking, “What is this hellish place?” Then I moved here in 2008 and drove down Lawrence Avenue, and I was like, “Oh, it’s the northwest side of Chicago.”
Doesn’t Columbia have an open admissions policy, where if you’re from any accredited school, you can bring any credits you have anywhere else over? They actually invented the term, but now it’s “generous admissions.” I think the [entire policy] is being tightened up right now. They’ve found that a lot of students who were ill-prepared for college were being accepted, and suddenly found themselves two thousand dollars in debt, so I think they wanted to find a way to pick students who were definitely ready to be there. And man, it seems that for the last year here at our podcast, we’ve been talking over and over about recent Columbia graduates and the sudden explosion of that Fiction writing program there. Tell us a little bit about your experiences there. What were the one or two best things for you that came out of the program? Things that you maybe wouldn’t necessarily see at other fiction writing programs? Well, obviously I’ve only been to one fiction writing program, but I liked this one quite a bit. I had a very good experience, a great one. I was really nervous going in that grad school, getting an MFA, was going to be kind of snotty. Or that it would be...I don’t know, that I would feel alienated in some sort of way. But it didn’t feel that way at all there. It felt very inclusive, very non-competitive, which was another thing. I knew that I wanted to write more than I actually was writing, so I wanted to be somewhere that was kind of rigorous, where I could write a lot and learn a lot. So, the book we’re here to talk about today, Zero Fade, it’s your debut novel. So I think maybe the most interesting first thing to talk about is that personally in your life, one of the big issues as you’ve talked about before, in the first early successes of your literary career, have been about biOctober 2013 | 85
raciality. Is that the right word for it? [Laughter] I don’t know! If it comes off the tongue right... [Laughter] So always with a first novel, it seems tempting to tackle a subject that’s dear to the heart and that you know a lot about. But you don’t bring up this subject in this book at all; but on the other hand, you do talk a lot about an issue that doesn’t necessarily correspond to your personal life, about what it’s like to be a gay man in the black community, and how to sort of deal with that. The cultural issues that come with that. So I guess the first interesting question I have for you about the book is, why take that approach? Well, first off, at the same time I was writing Zero Fade, I was also writing a lot of non-fiction stories about being mixed, being half-black and half-white. And in writing them, I was really delving into some things. I was dredging up a lot of stuff that was emotionally difficult to deal with. It was taking an emotional toll. And...I’m trying to think about how to put this...I didn’t know that I could complete a novel to my satisfaction while also trying to work through and...not necessarily find a solution to, but make a whole lot of progress on my own thoughts and insecurities on my racial identity. So I did a lot of writing on that. I call them my ‘Wigger Jams,’ my name for them. But while I was in school, I wanted guidance on writing an entire novel, because I figured that would be a difficult thing to do without a support network. The other stuff is something I can ponder on my own, outside of school. I thought I would be side-stepping my own racial hang-ups by not dealing with bi-racial issues in the book; so instead I was worried that it would sound inauthentic. If I was the guy who got accused of ‘talking white’ in high school, that I’d be the one talking white with my black characters, and that it wouldn’t ring true. Hopefully that didn’t happen. So far no one’s brought it up, and a couple of people have reviewed it. We’ll see what happens, I guess. Maybe some of those dicks from high school will review it. [Laughter] You based this on a short story, right? Was that always the thought for you, to try to take something you had already done and expand it? Or did you ever give some thought about taking an untested idea and starting from scratch with it? Zero Fade started with a short story I wrote the summer before I began grad school, and I found myself just wanting to know more and more about the characters, and thinking about more things that I wanted to write about them. I kept going back to it over the course of school. And also, I did feel the pressure to find my thesis material while I was in school, and this just seemed like a natural taker. I figured this would be the thing to press forward with and try to finish. And another interesting thing I find about this book is that it’s being labeled in some conversations as Young Adult, or YA. And that’s not something that I would’ve necessarily thought of while I was reading through it. When I stopped and thought about it, I thought probably the biggest specific reason for that is because this is set in the past. I always think of stories on this subject set in the past to be more “coming-of-age” stories, or bildungsromans or however you want to call it. What do you think of this subject? Where do you see your book fitting into the spectrum of Young Adult literature? Huh. Right by the Bible, I’d say, in terms of importance and popularity. [Laughter] No, I don’t know. Huh. I like Young Adult fiction. And I like coming-of-age stories. I don’t necessarily differentiate the two. Basically, I like stories with young characters in them. I think you can put a lot of different marketing terms on them, and still have lots of qualities that overlap. And qualities that are more universal than the terms that are being put on them. I wrote a lot of it in a Young Adult fiction class; and then talking to Curbside Splendor, I knew that I wanted to try to get it to young readers. I hope that some of the stuff in there—some of the narrator Kevin’s misconceptions and then growth in his ideas about masculinity—hopefully that will be a valuable thing for people to read, and hopefully there’s enough sugar in the medicine. I hope it’s an enjoyable thing to read, that it doesn’t feel didadtic. But I also hope that adults enjoy it. I did have a good time writing it; and reading over it, I did laugh a couple of times. I do hope adults like it too. And one more big thematic thing I wanted to bring up with the book: Speaking of this being set in the past, it’s specifically set in the early 1990s, and there’s a lot of pop-culture references to things like In Living Color, a number of the rap groups that were popular back then. I had not stopped and 86 | The CCLaP Journal
thought about this—I had just thought of them as these fun little pop-culture references—until I saw you talking about this in another interview, and it made me realize that everything you’re talking about in this book was right at this very interesting time in contemporary black history. This sort of swelling of...Afrocentria? [Sighs and laughter] Oh, I’m getting everything wrong today. An Afrocentric swelling in entertainment and the arts in the early ‘90s, things like “A Different World.” Tell us a little about what that meant to your own childhood, and being a suburban kid and getting exposed to that. Kevin the narrator is two years younger than I am. So the same pop culture informed me that is informing him. It’s easy for me to idealize the time, because it’s when I was getting exposed to a lot of music. But I do feel like there was a bit of a black cultural renaissance going on in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Between the artsier Spike-Lee-type movies and John Singleton doing what people might call “hood movies” now, or something like Juice or Friday. Hiphop was just getting real mainstream acceptance... The first big popularity of poetry slams. Yeah. And so I was also living in the ‘burbs, and in some ways it almost felt like I was learning to be black, through some of this art. I was living in uptown Boston and there was, like, three black people there. [Laughter] Also, I wanted to set it in the ‘90s so I wouldn’t have to think too hard...or, never admit you’re that lazy [laughter], but I set it in the ‘90s so I wouldn’t have to factor in the technology. The things teens deal with now. Not to shake my fist at young people. I just felt like I could write more accurately about an experience I had had. I didn’t have a cellphone; I didn’t have email until I graduated high school. In some ways it felt like I could just jump right back into that era. And as someone who’s been thinking about this stuff a lot recently, writing your book, do you take an attitude like Bill Cosby these days? Sort of looking back in bitterness at what we’ve lost from those years?
One of the reasons I ran like hell from Richmond, Virginia is that is sometimes felt like there was a 140-year-old Civil War still going on there, and that the city hadn’t gotten over that yet. I need to be around people who can handle new things, who can handle change. That’s something I really value, that’s really important to me.
Well, obviously things don’t hit me now at 34 the same kind of way they did went I was a teenager, or 21. But no, no, there’s absolutely in my mind nothing worse than someone who’s caught up in the past, who thinks that things are always getting worse. I think that’s a natural sign of conservatism and closed-mindedness, and is something I fight against in my life a lot. One of the reasons I ran like hell from Richmond, Virginia is that is sometimes felt like there was a 140-year-old Civil War still going on there, and that the city hadn’t gotten over that yet. I need to be around people who can handle new things, who can handle change. That’s something I really value, that’s really important to me. It’s not having that stagnation, and also feeling like I have the chance to try new things, and to be my old strange self. Do I prefer A Tribe Called Quest or Waka Flocka? A Tribe Called Quest. But that’s just me, and I’m not mad at someone who likes contemporary rap. I like plenty of it too. And as far as hiphop, I think there are still lots of people my age still making lots of vital and interesting music right now, although it might not be on the radio. We’re still here. We’re the old guys in the club. [Laughter] Like you mentioned before, your book has come out through our friends at Curbside Splendor, and in fact it sounds like your team is a little who’s-who of CCLaP friends—Leonard Vance, Jacob Knabb, Ben Tanzer. In a world where an author can put out a book themselves so easily and so cheaply, what does someone like Curbside bring to someone like you as an author? What did you
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appreciate the most about what they did for you that you didn’t want to do yourself ? Man, they stroked my ego! [Laughter] When someone says they like your book, that’s really validating. And also, if I’m just alone with this book, I’m really deep inside it, and I can’t see the color of the house because I’m standing on the inside. I need someone else’s opinion. I need someone else to say it’s good before I put it out there, before I put myself out there in that way. Knowing that established writers and editors, people who like to read, who have decent taste, have said that my book is good, it confirmed that it should be shared with the world. Also, they have connections I don’t have. I wouldn’t have met you if it wasn’t for them, for instance. I would’ve just been going down the same avenues I had already been going down through other things in my life, so it’s nice of them to have my back and make my circle wider. I always want my world to be bigger. I want my evil empire to spread, so they’re helping. [Laughter] We’re getting short on time, so there’s just a few more random things I wanted to bring up. First of all, we couldn’t pass up on the fact that you teach juvenile inmates. I actually quit that job this spring. I did it from summer 2011 through then, and left to go full-time at Columbia. I was working for an arts nonprofit, teaching creative writing in a theatre program in juvenile detention centers in the Chicago area. The main thing we did was this program where students would write stories from their lives and then we would turn them into a script for a short musical play. Then they would act it out together, playing each other’s roles, so that there’d be perspective on their own stories. And also, you’d see these groups come together. You went to high school, you remember how you always had your guard up, how you never wanted to put yourself out there; that attitude here is just increased tenfold behind bars. Everyone’s looking for any kind of weakness. So it was very powerful. There were definitely some dull moments. A jail is overwhelmingly an institutional place. But working with the kids was always fascinating and always cool, and it was actually easier than some of the Chicago Public Schools work I’ve done, because we were often getting prisoners who were really looking for something to do. I like working with young people, and behind bars I really felt needed. If it was definitely more of an emotional investment sometimes, the payoffs were always better. It was great to see the progress that some of the students would make, even in just a couple of months. Being at that age, being sixteen years old, you can become a new person in just a few months. I’m going to start grinding a political axe here...I think it’s really fucked up that young people get tried as an adult for crimes. I had students that were maybe involved with a murder when they were fifteen or something, and were now seventeen and about to be thrown into adult jail for another 15 or 20 years; and I would teach them for six or nine months and watch them mature into someone who was considerably more a self-aware person, who would probably not fall into those same patterns again. I think holding a juvenile accountable for something they did more than a couple of years ago is ludicrous.
I think it’s really fucked up that young people get tried as an adult for crimes. I had students that were maybe involved with a murder when they were fifteen or something, and were now seventeen and about to be thrown into adult jail for another 15 or 20 years; and I would teach them for six or nine months and watch them mature into someone who was considerably more a self-aware person, who would probably not fall into those same patterns again. I think holding a juvenile accountable for something they did more than a couple of years ago is ludicrous.
Next, like our friend Ben Tanzer, I see you’re a runner. What is this strong connection between writers and runners? I don’t know if I meet a whole whole lot of writers who run; I remember when learning that Ben does it, being a kind of novelty to me, where I was like, “Oh you’re doing that too? You’re not just chainsmoking?” [Laughter] I really like that Murakami book about running too. A lot of things about that that stuck out in my mind. And in Junot Diaz’s story collection, there’s a lot of stuff about running around Boston Commons that I really liked. I’m not a religious person at all—I’m a lifelong atheist—but 88 | The CCLaP Journal
there’s something really meditative [about running] for me. It’s something I like to do alone, something that clears my mind. I’m a pretty anxious person. I have a lot of different voices in my...well, that makes me sound insane, but I have a lot of different things concerning me at any given moment. Being able to shut that off and just run feels really good. I think it helps me approach creativity with a lot more focus, and it’s helped me become a better person. I’m not snapping off to people at home. I’m trying to take care of that stress in another way. And last, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing now. Like we were talking about earlier, you are now working on a project about being bi-racial, and especially this “wigger” term you mentioned. As someone who comes from a background of Akashic and liking Joe Meno and Daniel Clowes, is it safe to say that we’re going to see a slightly funny, slightly smartass look at this subject in your book? I like to use humor; like I said before, it’s like putting sugar in your medicine. Sometimes there are situations that have a lot of gravity to them, but that have a kind of dark irony to them, and I enjoy emphasizing that, just to feel like people aren’t getting harangued, shouting about my struggle the whole time. There’s more to it than that; there’s nuance, and a lot of humor. So we’ll see where it goes, but I imagine there will be some humor. C
Purchase a copy of Terry’s book, Zero Fade, at [curbsidesplendor.com].
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Trade By Lochlan Bloom Self-published Reviewed by Karl Wolff
The narrator works for Crunkl, a Berlin-based social media start-up with a edgy-yet-meaningless name (Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, ad infinitum). His boss is Svil, a Swede who is very pro-equal rights. The narrator has an “easy relationship” with Lis, a sometime girlfriend. While Crunkl is still a small operation (only ten people on staff), the narrator is tasked with meeting Chet Bull, CEO of Sympatico, another start-up. Following the business meeting, Chet takes the narrator to an orgy as part of a nightmare descent into booze and pills. And it is truly nightmarish. Chet comes across like a libertarian satyr, extolling the virtues of money without a trace of irony and crowing about his sexual conquests in developing nations. Chet talks about how he ended up severely injuring a woman during a previous orgy while the narrator slowly loses sense of time and place after a massive consumption of booze and drugs. While initially horrified at the after-effects of the night’s debauchery. After a discussion with Andre, a friend of Lis’s girlfriend, Andre introduces him to the works of Michel Houellebecq. Then he hits upon the idea of creating a social network of his own. This social network would focus specifically on sex. Producers of explicit material could get credits when someone watches their material. The watcher, in turn, would pay debits. 90 | The CCLaP Journal
It has a nice economic symmetry to it. This new commodification of sex leads to strange consequences. Lis becomes LisabetA, a wealthy porn star, and human sexual relationships become monetized, commodified, and hyper-mediated. It also feeds on delusions of grandeur, since not everyone has either the body type or ambition to become a LisabetA porn mogul. Trade is a great short novel (or novelette). It begins strong, with a snarky, cynical narrative voice and “insider baseball” gossip on the inner workings of start-up investments. The Chet Bull misadventure is a tour de force and worth the admission price. My only quibble is with the ending. If Bloom could have sustained the energy and attitude throughout, it could have been an incredibly good novel. The depressed office worker as narrator and the treatment of sexuality with clinical detachment made the story feel like a mad cross between Fight Club and J.G. Ballard’s Crash. The novel fell off the rails at the end. It devolved into an extended essay on how society changed after the narrator’s sexual social media platform takes off and becomes a global phenomenon. The energy that began the novel drained away and it became more didactic. That said, if Bloom could expand this world into a full-length novel, with the same energy and attitude, then he’d really have something. As it stands, the novel feels like it stops abruptly. Even with this criticism, I would still recommend it to fans of challenging speculative fiction along the lines of J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs. C
Out of 10: 8.1
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo The Girl Who Played with Fire The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
RARE BOOK FOR SALE
By Stieg Larsson Alfred A. Knopf (2008-2009) First American Edition, First Printing Overview by Jason Pettus
CCLaP is making a growing amount of available at reseller eBay.com, both instant purchase. For all current [ebay.com/usr/cclapcenter], or for the [cclapcenter.com/rarebooks].
its rare book collection for auction and for books for sale, visit collection’s entire list,
DESCRIPTION: What can be said about Stieg Larsson’s monumentally popular “Millennium” trilogy that hasn’t already been said? A Swedish investigative journalist who came of age in the countercultural era, who had an obsessive fascination with right-wing hate groups and how best to stop them, his three related crime novels dealing with the subject were originally written in his off-hours just for fun, and weren’t even published for the first time until after his unexpected death from a heart attack at the age of 50. The ongoing tale of feisty hacker and freelance detective Lisbeth Salander, and the middle-aged journalist Mikael Blomkvist who first hires her, then befriends her, then becomes her lover, these three novels (2005’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2006’s The Girl Who Played with Fire and 2007’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) may not have invented the contemporary renaissance in dark Scandinavian crime fiction; but certainly they’ve become the most famous example, with over 75 million copies of the books now sold worldwide (including the last volume being the single best selling book in America in 2010), and blockbuster film adaptations from both Sweden and Hollywood. Included in this sale are the first editions, first printings of the three AMERICAN versions of these books, originally published in 2008 and ‘09; they’re highly affordable right now, but are almost guaranteed to go up in value, and since there are literally no signed copies in existence this will never be a factor in future value. A perfect birthday present for a crime-loving family member, and a smart acquisition for a collector of contemporary first editions, this is about the cheapest you will ever find this three-book set for sale from this point in history forward. CONDITION: Text: Fine (F) for all three. Very similar to their condition when brand-new. Dust Jacket: Very Good Plus (VG+) for volumes 1 and 3 (for the most part in really great shape, minus a bit of crinkling around the edges); Very Good (VG) for volume 2, for a quarter-inch tear in the top center (see photos). Stated “First United States Edition” on all three copyright pages; lack of further printing notices make these first printings as well. All three dust jackets come wrapped in Demco archival sheets (not pictured). PROVENANCE: Volume 1 purchased by CCLaP at the Evanston (IL) Public Library Book Fair, January 2012. Volumes 2 and 3 purchased at Bookworks bookstore, in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, February 2012. C 92 | The CCLaP Journal
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Location: Kitsap Peninsula, Western Washington I’m a Floridian refugee who has relocated to the fog of Washington. I’ve been taking photos since 2007 when I was give a Nikon FM2 by a friend. Much of my work is a mixture of digital and film, depending on what kind of mood I’m trying to capture, as well as my budget. Other than photography I enjoy Christian Philosophy (which is what I currently attend University for), swimming in lakes, reading Chesterton, and spending time with my husband and son.
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So many of your images have a naturally intimate, quiet power to them. Do you deliberately set up the shoots this way, or are they more just an outgrowth of the places you find yourself at in your daily life? I believe that it is really both, in a sense. I live in a very quiet place, a small town of less than 4000 with lots of rural land readily accessible, so that makes it really easy to capture something that feels more intimate, but, I really go for that in my shoots, even the more conceptual ones. I want people to feel like they’re involved in a way, as viewers of my photos, and not intimidated or far off. Lots of photos today feel like they’re for a brand or something, or almost like they’re trying to hard to be ‘art’, I just want to put people where I am in a place, or a thought.
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How much of the planet have you now gotten to travel through as part of your touring? Is there any time to stop and enjoy the scenery, or are you constantly on the go? We’ve done two U.S. tours, Australia, Europe, UK, and a couple dates in Asia within this year. We’ve had amazing moments of stopping to enjoy the scenery, and some moments I’m glad I’ve captured in photos because I most certainly wouldn’t recall them as well without the second memory bank.
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Why are so many of your portraits taken from behind? Is that a deliberate decision? I really try to get a sense of making people feel like they are in this place or time with these people, and seeing things as they are seeing them. For myself too, I want to capture a memory, and it seems so much more real in a dreamlike way if I see the photo as I did when I was standing there. I guess, you donâ€™t stand in front of people staring at them when youâ€™re going somewhere or looking off, so I wanted that kind of feel. I see a lot of photographers doing shots from behind for style reasons, but this is definitely more of a entire concept for me. I think it also has to do with hidden things, not giving the whole story away.
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jesilangdale.com flickr.com/jesilangdale willowandpear.blogspot.com
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In 2011, a tiny bird observatory in far western Sweden found itself hosting its first American volunteer, and Meera Lee Sethi found herself exactly where she wanted to be: watching great snipe court each other under the midnight sun and disturbing lemmings on her way to find a gyrfalcon nest. Mountainfit is an ecological field notebook, a keenly observed natural history of the life that sings from the birches, wheels under the clouds, and scuttles over the peat bogs of the Swedish highlands. And it is a letter, in 21 jewel-like parts, from a well-read and funny friend. Meera’s vigorous, graceful prose communicates a wry understanding of how utterly ordinary it is to long for more out of life—and how extraordinary it can feel to trust that longing. Meera’s intent was to create a book small enough to fit in your pocket and read on the train to work in the morning. It is that. But it’s also large enough to contain a mountain or two.
Download for free at cclapcenter.com/mountainfit
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Recalled to Life By Dan Burns Ekhartz Press Reviewed by Travis Fortney
Is there a place in modern literary fiction for the protagonist who has it all? What does “having it all” even mean? In the case of Peter O’Hara, the hero of Chicago author Dan Burns’ heartfelt but uneven debut novel Recalled to Life it means a breezy life in the Chicago suburbs replete with a devoted wife, precocious child, rescue dog and comfortable house. All of this is bought and paid for by an important job in the Loop, where Peter is a junior partner in a large architecture firm, with a small but hand-picked team working under him. These features of a fine, American life are presented without irony. Peter has his youth and health. He has a full head of raven-colored hair. He has enough money to pay for his father’s care in an upscale assisted living facility, then has the money to add on to the family’s house and hire full-time live-in help when his father’s situation changes. In short, Peter is basically happy, and he has every reason to be. The Chicagoland suburbs in Recalled to Life reminded me a bit of New Jersey in Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter novels. And Frank Bascombe in those novels is of course a good example of another character who is basically happy. But Bascombe is happy despite having a lot less than Peter O’Hara has here, and Bascombe wears his happiness in a wary, hard-won way, as if it’s a philosophy or way of life instead a mood. When Bascombe faces challenges, the reader gets the sense that there’s much more at stake 106 | The CCLaP Journal
than simply happiness. And despite all the effort, Bascombe might not be very happy at all. Certainly Ford’s narrator isn’t as “admirable” as Peter O’Hara is in this novel. Not since reading Ayn Rand as a teenager have I encountered a character I was so clearly supposed to admire. But what prevents Recalled to Life from being as evocative as The Sportswriter—other than small weaknesses in descriptive language and sentence construction that pepper the manuscript—is that there isn’t enough at stake for Peter O’Hara. Sure, life throws some curveballs in the course of this book. His father Jack—afflicted with an Alzheimer’s-like ilness—experiences a miraculous recovery and moves in with Peter’s family. This added pressure at home causes Peter’s work at the architecture firm to suffer. But the character Dan Burns has created is too happy, too confident and too well-adjusted for any of this to actually threaten the O’Hara family’s well-being. It turns out that the most estimable characters aren’t always the most entertaining. C
Out of 10: 7.0
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The Early Parking Garages of San Francisco By Mark D. Kessler McFarland Reviewed by Karl Wolff
As the title should make abundantly obvious, The Early Parking Garages of San Francisco: An Architectural and Cultural Study, 1906-1929, by Mark D. Kessler, is aimed at an academic audience. Whether it appeals to the average, nonspecialist reader will depend on how much he or she is actually interested in the subject matter and whether that passion is worth the investment. While I sometimes identify myself as an â€œarchitecture nerd,â€? even that fact made Early Parking Garages a bit of a challenge. Granted, I used to read numerous dense, heavily-footnoted, jargon-laced academic texts when I was a graduate student. But first, a little context. McFarland is a publisher that specializes in academic texts on numerous topics. Last year I read one book by McFarland focusing on shape-shifters (werewolves, vampires, etc.) in popular culture, a second volume reassessing the study of organized crime, and the third volume was a comic about werewolves in Wisconsin and other hauntings. McFarland spans the gamut: from the popular to the downright obscure. Early Parking Garages is pretty obscure. Since it is an academic text, it gets a bit wonkish and jargony. A handy working knowledge of architectural terms and styles will come in handy. The book is divided into two sections. The first section is a typological overview of the garages being examined. Kessler focuses on garage architecture following the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 108 | The CCLaP Journal
Out of 10: 8.0
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bit.ly/cj02amazon paper: bit.ly/cj02paper online: issuu.com/jasonpettus/cclapjournal02
The newest issue of the CCLaP Journal, published by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, features tour photos of Cat Power by...
Published on Oct 22, 2013
The newest issue of the CCLaP Journal, published by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, features tour photos of Cat Power by...