Category: Electric Lit

A Story About a Parasitic Relationship

“Together” by Jess Arndt, recommended by Justin Torres for Electric Lit
1-iUcxtRd2LDCPNp7NvfJVjQ

Jess Arndt’s short story “Together”, with an introduction by Justin Torres for Electric Lit.

An Introduction by Justin Torres

Jess Arndt is a great prose stylist — but what does that mean? Well for one thing, it means Arndt writes with such poetry and such precision, that the force of the communication damn near knocks you over. The sentences turn, open, and crash down on you unexpectedly, rhythmically, like waves. Great style has something to do with surfaces, but that’s not all I mean when I say Arndt is a great stylist. I mean, too, that the pace and pull of this story — and really, every story in Large Animals — works something like an undertow. At the beach as child, I remember being warned about undertow and thinking, how could it be, amidst all the foam and roar and sparkle of the ocean’s surface, that an even stronger churning went on below? But that’s exactly the experience of reading Arndt: first mesmerized by the beautiful noise of the language, then knocked down, and dragged out to another, underwater world.“Together” is a story precisely about the churning going on beneath the surface — about the awful lot going on inside each of us. Arndt reminds us that physically, psychically, we are processes; we are happening all the time. The life of both mind and body is defined by an awesome and constant churning. And outside, in our backyards, our neighborhoods, our neighbors, our lovers and bosses — the churning continues. Places and people seduce, destroy, remake us in their undertow. What we would like to understand as form — the backyard, the body — is phenomena. What we would like to understand as impermeable is always susceptible to parasitic invasion. Instability is the shared condition of life. This is a thing we know, but the knowledge quickly stales, or we are distracted from the knowledge, or narcotized, or placated with straighter, more genteel notions I can think of no better description for the transformative power of Arndt’s stories — willful.

Reading Arndt, I was reminded of Genet, and reminded specifically of Sontag’s description of Genet, in “On Style.” “He is recording, devouring, transfiguring his experience. In Genet’s books, as it happens, this very process itself is his explicit subject; his books are not only works of art but works about art.” Sontag goes on to connect style, above all, to will: “The complex kind of willing that is embodied, and communicated, in a work of art both abolishes the world and encounters it in an extraordinary intense and specialized way.” I can think of no better description for the transformative power of Arndt’s stories — willful. I suppose it’s a particular kind of lineage, a particular kind of will I’m getting at, when talking about Sontag talking about Genet, and also talking about Arndt — I suppose it’s something like the will of the lover, the will of the parasite, the will of the undertow; I suppose I am talking about the will to queer the world.

Justin Torres Author of We the Animals

Together by Jess Arndt

We had it together but we also had it when we were apart. We got it in that comedor in Oaxaca, we both agreed. Or maybe it was that little town, just a few palapas actually and a beach with a deceptive number of black dogs, called San Angelino. But it’s also quite possible that we had gotten it on the subway. Don’t forget about a head of lettuce! our naturopath said. They caravan those heads in from anywhere imaginable. And water these days — it’s no good washing with it.We made a list of what was now okay and what wasn’t. Sugar, yeast, all the essentials — out. Enter: lines and lines of herbaceous esophagus-jamming pills we swallowed noon dinner and night.

(…) 

Predicting the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Bradley Sides for Electric Lit
1-1x3TOfNyAqO5rnX2Srw9Mg

Bradley Sides takes a look at this year’s contenders for American literature’s most prestigious prize

Considering how unpredictable the past few months have been, it seems almost unreasonable to even attempt to predict the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But, at a time when books — and all of our arts, really — are facing such scrutiny, shouldn’t we take every chance we get to talk about and celebrate those things that inspire us and, in so many ways, enrich our lives? I certainly think so.

At a time when books — and all of our arts, really — are facing such scrutiny, shouldn’t we take every chance we get to talk about and celebrate those things that inspire us and enrich our lives?

The Pulitzer Prize, which honors the year’s best fiction by an American writer that deals with some aspect of American life, is the Oscar of the literary world. It’s the rare literary occurrence that garners news attention; it’s the book award that results in real sells. Some Pulitzer winners are household names. William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Junot Diaz are all past winners. But, just like with the Oscars, there are occasional surprises that cause shock and delight. For example, few people (seriously, “few” is extremely generous) predicted in 2010 that Paul Harding would win the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Tinkers. It’s commonly known that Tinkers, published by the small Bellevue Literary Press, sold only around 40 copies the week before it won the Pulitzer. In the week following the announcement, Harding’s novel sold over one thousand copies. For every Tinkers-level surprise, there are also some decisions that aren’t so great. In 2012, the Pulitzer jury nominated David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, but the Pulitzer board couldn’t agree on a winner. So, we were left with nothing. Talk about a bummer.

I don’t think this year will be like 2012. There’s too much at stake. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction seems especially crucial in 2017. Every novel and short story collection that I read felt important, and even more that that, these works of fiction felt urgent. Reading fiction teaches us empathy in ways that nothing else can, and, my friends, we NEED empathy now more than ever.

Reading fiction teaches us empathy in ways that nothing else can, and, my friends, we NEED empathy now more than ever.

In looking over some of the hundreds of worthy works that could be nominated, I’m amazed at the quality of work writers gave us over the past year. There were meticulously-constructed debuts, and there were epic tomes by some of today’s most established and respected authors. Comedies and speculative works received notice alongside family dramas and redemption tales. Most importantly, diversity came to the forefront of the conversation. It’s certainly true that we have a long way to go, but writers in 2016 told stories that couldn’t have been told before. These voices were simultaneously brave and bold. We can only hope that future Pulitzer contenders will enlighten us and inspire us just the same.

(…)

Fitz Carraldo Editions