Monday, December 12, 2016

April Ayers Lawson

April Ayers Lawson is the recipient of the 2011 George Plimpton Award for Fiction, as well as a 2015 writing fellowship from the Corporation of Yaddo. “Virgin” was named a 2011 favorite short story of the year by Flavorwire magazine and anthologized in The Unprofessionals: New American Writing from The Paris Review (Penguin, 2016). Lawson’s fiction has appeared in the Norwegian version of Granta, Oxford American, Vice, ZYZYYVA, Crazyhorse, and Five Chapters, among others. She has lectured in the creative writing department at Emory University, and is the 2016-17 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Lawson's new book is Virgin and Other Stories.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The Incantations Of Daniel Johnston, illustrated by Ricardo Cavolo, written by Scott McClanahan

Reading this graphic novel about the life of the very troubled and demon-haunted musician Daniel Johnston—the first graphic novel I’ve read—felt like a religious experience; and contemplating why Scott McClanahan cursing and dooming you near the end feels like a kind of salvation is in itself worth the price (which at 13.50 is amazingly low for this singular and arresting art object). McClanahan’s lines are thought bombs. Example: “And Daniel knew only this: If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” This ability to say things in such a simple yet explosive way makes you feel like he’s telling you things you should’ve already known—meaning this book throbs with truth. The vibrant illustrations coupled with such prose makes for heartbreaking, funny and spirit-nurturing entertainment. I already plan to give a copy to someone as a gift.

Zodiac B, Travis Smith

Like The Incantations Of Daniel Johnston, this publication is also an art object—a set of 15 tarot-like cards that each on one side feature a prose poem by Travis Smith and on the other a beautiful astrological illustration by Chelsea Granger. Ninepin Press’s description of this chapbook in cards reads: “In 1922, a council of astronomers ratified the eighty-eight constellations we know today, leaving many others to fall into obscurity. Now, with prose poems dedicated to Felis, Bufo, Globus, Aerostaticus, and a dozen other discarded figures, Travis Smith presents Zodiac B, a cosmography of the obsolete, the forgotten, and the lost.” With lines like, “You are like a drawing of a cat done from memory by someone who’d seen more rats than cats” and “Look outside the radial lines of want that bisect you like so much insensate meat” the poems feel as accessible as they do enticingly mystifying. Also at Ninepin’s website you can find out which sign from Zodiac B you were born under.

My Immaculate Assassin, David Huddle

If you had the power to kill anyone—including corrupt politicians and tyrannical rulers—without getting caught, would you use it? In My Immaculate Assassin, by David Huddle, characters are presented with this possibility through the development of a system that allows them to from a computer execute someone without leaving a trace of violence. That they decide to execute the people they believe should be dead raises complex and disturbingly timely moral questions in a narrative that is as much a love story as a thriller. The exploration of attraction, intimacy, bonding, power, and the problem of how to stop evil without participating in it is something every reader can relate to. After he’s been presented with the opportunity to decide who dies, the protagonist’s girlfriend says to him, “You know, I think you’ll pick one of the obvious candidates. A serial killer. A terrorist. A child-molester. A confessed rapist. Somebody already in prison. Khalid Shiekh Mohammed—there’s a guy who’s proud of his role in 9/11. Pick him and we won’t have to go through the spectacle of his trial. There are guys on death row you’d be doing a favor by picking. There are people begging for suicide assistance. There’s a lady in New Mexico who’s put an ad on craigslist asking for somebody to put her out of her misery. ‘You will be richly rewarded,’ her ad says.”

Ugly Girls, Lindsay Hunter

“He had tried to kill a girl, but she had gotten away after stabbing him, leaping a fence and rushing in the sliding glass door of an elderly couple’s home, stark naked but for one sock, gash like a wide mouth in her neck, grinning blood.” –from Ugly Girls

As I began this book, what first struck me was Hunter’s ability to write prose that feels so alive it is at times crackling with electricity, and as I continued my amazement turned to her ability to so naturally inhabit a diverse cast of characters. She is as adept at writing from the perspective of an ugly and undesired teenage girl as at writing from the perspective of a beautiful one, as convincing in her portrayal of a middle-aged prison guard stepfather as she is in her portrayal of an ex-convict sex offender. They are human in the grand sense—as in they are powerful and pathetic, soulful and petty, trapped in their bodies and hungry for transcendence and transformation (and often without fully knowing it, without knowing what they are throwing themselves at to try to get it). After I finished, I tried to remember if I’ve read anyone else who respects their characters at the same level Hunter does; and what I mean really is that in this story everyone is more than who they seem to be and equally dangerous to the people around them. A sense of their being, at the most basic level, emanates from them, equalizes them all in that way; and while some writers, when they write about the lower class, do it with a sympathy that bleeds into condescension—with a kind of, See, I really do think everyone is equal and can feel sorry for them vibe—Hunter’s exceptional and complex moral vision and spiritual intelligence keeps this story free of it. In the story “Good Old Neon,” (something else I’ve been reading again) David Foster Wallace writes,
The truth is you already know what it's like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.
Lindsay Hunter’s characters have this feeling to them, of being bigger than what we can fully see, of containing universes. With Lindsay Hunter, it’s for real.
Learn more about Virgin and Other Stories.

--Marshal Zeringue