photo: Danielle Meijer
Maryse Meijer has an amazing gift for writing about erotic fixation; see the title story in her debut collection, Heartbreaker, for starters. Even stories that aren’t specifically about erotic fixation, like “Shop Lady,” have an unsettling obsessive edge to them. And then there’s stories like “The Fire” and “Fugue” that veer into territory so unnerving they start to feel unreal—not unrealistic, let’s be clear about that, but unreal, or uncanny if you prefer. If the characters and worlds she creates start to remind you of modern horror fiction, well, as Meijer explains in this guest essay, that’s no accident.
I, like most children, grew up with a nose for the forbidden. I read romance novels (the more explicit the better) during math class in the fifth grade, giggled over The Satanic Bible with my twin sister, wrote love poetry about Jeffrey Dahmer, plundered the local video store for the goriest, tackiest B horror movies. I wanted to be shocked and to prove to myself that I was unshockable, and in the 1990s, before the internet was a given, you had to do a little digging to get to the good stuff.
For me, that meant stalking the book section of the local Tower Records, the only source of “alternative” reading material; I pored over anthologies of crime scene photographs, Robert Crumb’s racier comics, pocket-sized ‘zines with titles like Murder Can Be Fun. Only the Penthouses and Playboys were off limits, wrapped in cellophane and displayed out of arm’s reach; everything else, including plenty of explicit material, was easily accessible. No “adults only” section, no eagle-eyed employees monitoring the reading habits of a ten-year-old with her nose planted deep in an essay about Bob Flanagan’s erotic escapades in a hardware store. Heaven.
It was in the horror section of Tower Records that my life as a writer got its first big kick in the ass. I was probably looking for Anne Rice when a glossy black trade paperback caught my eye, its spine dripping with spiky red letters: Strange Angels. By someone named Kathe Koja. Some books speak to you from the shelf, by whatever mysterious magic of title/cover art/aura; this one grabbed me by the neck. I opened it up and started reading, sitting on a step stool, Smashing Pumpkins pumping through the store speakers. Here, finally, was the book I’d been looking for, the book that I hoped was out there, the book that I wanted other books to be, told in an edgy, stream-of-consciousness voice that shot me dead.
24 July 2016 | selling shorts |
photo: Jenna Meacham
“The Antelope Valley is not the California most people imagine,” Chris McCormick writes. “This could be a good thing, but almost never is. The stories in McCormick’s debut collection, Desert Boys, are centered around Daley Kushner, a young man who grew up in Antelope Valley, left to go to school in Berkeley, and became a writer—much like McCormick himself. How much like, I wouldn’t know, but I can tell you that stories like “Mother, Godfather, Baby, Priest” and “You’re Always a Child When People Talk About Your Future” give a strong sense of what it must have been like to come of age as a gay, half-Armenian teenager in the desert north of Los Angeles in the years just after 9/11, and finding your way toward an adult identity as a twentysomething today.
I guess one reason for stories is the management of grief. The grief in question can be shared or private, but sometimes, fluttering between worlds, it can be both. Like a spirit, or—more interesting to me—like any regular person torn between an old home and a new home, or between belonging to a community and relying on an idea of selfhood, or between the raucousness of an inner life and the contrived but more palatable version we present to others. These conflicts, I think, are some of the prices we pay for freedom, and they only get more tangled and impossible to parse when grief, the fluttering kind, is involved.
Shaila Bhave, the narrator of Bharati Mukherjee’s “The Management of Grief,” has just lost her husband and sons to the terrorist bombing of Air India Flight 182. The plane—from Canada to Delhi through the UK—has exploded over Irish waters, killing the 329 people onboard, most of whom were Canadian-Indians visiting the country, and the family, they’d left behind.
Shaila—just one of hundreds in her community whose family has been ruptured by the attack—quickly garners a reputation as “a pillar,” somebody who has taken the tragedy “more calmly” than the others. But what others see as strength, Shaila understands to be a deep flaw: “This terrible calm will not go away.”
7 May 2016 | selling shorts |