Category: Granta

Darling

Chelsey Minnis for Granta
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From Chelsey Minnis’s poem ‘Darling’, featured in Granta 143: After the Fact:

Oh, it’s you.
I never could resist anything that belonged to someone else.
I suppose you feel the same.
That’s a very promising black eye.
If you want one, fix it yourself.

 

You wear a big, gold belt buckle with your name on it.
Now, I really like your eyes when they look at me with that look.
The one that is so fair-minded.
It’s dangerous like a very powerful doorbell.
Or a portrait covered with a blanket.

 

You didn’t lock your door.
You never were very particular about your associations.
Does it give you a lovely guilty feeling?
To me you’re a national disgrace.
Please act accordingly.

 

I didn’t hit you very hard.
It all depends what you want out of life.
Never mind talking.
I know I’m a bad woman.
I think you’ll find it to our mutual benefit.

 

Sure, I’m decent.
I’ll have to try that sometime.
Don’t shout, darling. I’m not used to it.
I need my hand back now.
When I don’t like something, I give it back.

 

 (…)

 

Brother in Ice

Alicia Kopf for Granta
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An excerpt from Alicia Kopf’s Brother in Ice (translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem and published by And Other Stories) is featured in Granta 142: Animalia.

Research Notes I

PENGUINS

The penguins of the Antarctic were a new discovery for the explorers, who began filming them in the early twentieth century. Everyone was soon taken with the sweet creatures; people wanted to see images of the playful penguins. But if you’ve seen Encounters at the End of the World, by Werner Herzog, you’ll know that sometimes a penguin will voluntarily separate from the group and head in the opposite direction, away from the sea, toward its death.

 

SOUTH POLE

There’s a store downstairs on the street level that sells frozen foods. The cashier is tall, blond, stocky. He reminds me of Amundsen, the explorer.

 

PEAKS AND POLES

The Sherpas and the Inuit have similarities. The former reach the summit every day, the latter helped everyone discover the North Pole.

 

NEWS

The mountaineer Ferran Latorre gave up on his ascent of Everest in order to rescue a sick Sherpa.

 

THE WHITE RABBIT

When I was little, my mother worked in a small-town school. Its playground was the woods. Once I saw a bunny nestled among the roots of a tree. But it wasn’t one of the typical rabbits that camouflage themselves amid the brown tones of the Mediterranean landscape; it was a white rabbit. When I got closer I saw that it was quite big; stock-still, it stared at me with its red eyes. It let me pick it up and I realized it was panting. I decided to take it to the vet, but on the way there, in the car, it died.

 

WHITE DEATH

Death by freezing is called sweet death, or white death. It is somehow linked to sleep, because of their apparent likeness, as opposed to the violence of a death by fire. Those who’ve seen it up close say that there’s nothing sweet about an icy grave; freezing is as terrible a death as burning.

Yet ice retains the body’s shape the way images do; it is like photographs. Photography is to its subject as ice is to the interred explorer: a thanatological process that presents us, abruptly, with a body from the past.

(…)

 

Best Book of 1996: The Lost Lunar Baedeker

Natalie Eilbert for Granta
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Natalie Eilbert on The Lost Lunar Baedeker: a collection of Mina Loy’s poems published in 1996.

There is a habit in poetry to call poets of a certain opacity, ‘difficult’. Poets like Mina Loy often get unfairly categorized this way, which only demonstrates the failure of imagination presided over by vogue trends in poetry. If you are looking for a narrative-lyric, follow the strain of Plath. Mina Loy is an entirely different descendent, a distillation of Dickinson, a rogue sibling of Apollinaire. It isn’t that she is difficult so much as our minds have been trained toward the center, and hence, more narrative throughlines. It is as Loy tells us in the first poem of her book, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, ‘tame things / Have no immensity’.

With the transparency of first-person narrators up for furious debate, it should be noted that Loy’s biography is somewhat irresistible. Sure, she palled around with Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, T.S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes and the usual Paris suspects. With Duchamp, she orgied in Greenwich Village, according to editor Roger L. Conover; she also renounced the establishment by sewing her own clothes and disrupting the Futurism movement’s fascist momentum with her own feminist futurist manifesto, and in so doing, predicted a Weinstein-era violence for the future women of the world who followed status quo: ‘Professional & commercial careers are opening for you—Is that all you want?’ And so, as World War I cooked up, Mina Loy spent her time queering the Lady out of the body, flipping off mainstream politics, and presenting us grounds to abandon society in favor of the Loy Feminist Manifesto.

That is before we even encounter her poetry. Loy as persona and Loy as post-mortem text operate with enormous distinction. Whereas Loy famously proclaimed, ‘I was never a poet’, Loy is someone I consider a Super Poet, one whose bewilderment grew equally out of sui generis language as much as cultural disavowal. While T.S. Eliot had his lines segmented and preened by Ezra Pound, Mina Loy freely deployed words like ‘semieffigy’, ‘sialagogue’ and ‘agamogenesis’ with the whim of an un-lanterned genie. (In fact, in a letter to Marianne Moore, Pound wrote, ‘Is there anyone in America except you, Bill [William Carlos Williams], and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?’ Sorry about that, TS.) (Loy was English but her poetics make good prosaic sense when conceived of through the American canon.) It is in the selected work, The Lost Lunar Baedeker, that we chance to sit in the incubation chamber with Loy, if we dare.

It should be noted that in my back and forth with Granta editor Eleanor Chandler, part of the misfortunes of women in the arts reveals itself: It is hard to place editions and chronology with Loy’s collected and selected bodies of work. When Lunar Baedecker [sic] was published in its 1923 heyday in Paris, it existed only until it went out of print. As the editor terms it, her being ‘unassimilable by the canonists’ meant being fortressed into her era, as her work never cottoned to the zeitgeist. She ventured in our imagination more as a sorceress than a genius, as the mythopoetic experiment of woman is wont. Versions of the book have been republished as collected volumes in 1982 and 1991, but the editor of 1996’s The Lost Lunar Baedeker, Roger L. Conover, curated the poems in this volume with careful deliberation, changing the name to reflect his editorial quest for Mina Loy. On this point, he offers us some background into the publication history for us to chew through, ‘four minutes to the millennium’ that are still all-the-more poignant:

Loy has a chance to rise above neglect. But in order to read her, we not only have to get past neglect, we have to get past legend. And this may prove more difficult, for legend has a way of insinuating itself upon neglect. I first edited Loy’s work in 1982. At the time, publishing her work felt more like a cause than an editorial occasion. The Last Lunar Baedeker circulated like a secret handshake, and has since become part of the Loy myth . . . These stories should neither elevate nor diminish Loy’s stature as a poet. She should first be apprehended at poem-level.

The Lost Lunar Baedeker is divided into five sections – the first four are chronological of her life as a poet, and the fifth section is drenched in the kind of revolutionary prose that keeps a good radical from the middle. (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, another book I considered for this series, revolutionized the novel through her subversive, unorthodox structure.) Ensnared in this book, you encounter neologisms and Latinate medical components turned adjectival in use. ‘Being an incipience’, she writes in the winsome poem, ‘The Effectual Marriage, or THE INSIPID NARRATIVE of GINA AND MIOVANNI’,

a correlative
an instigation of the reaction of man
From the palpable to the transcendent
Mollescent irritant of his fantasy
Gina had her use   Being useful
contentedly conscious
She flowered in Empyrean
From which no well-mated woman ever returns.

It’s dizzying, dense and feminist as hell. She wrote this between 1914 and 1920. In ‘Apology of Genius’, she will tell us, on women suffering the passions of men, ‘Our wills are formed / by curious disciplines / beyond your laws.’

(…)

Clown School

Nuar Alsadir for Granta
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Featured in Granta Magazine, Nuar Alsadir’s essay ‘Clown School’ examines selfhood and performance: 

After my first day of clown school I tried to drop out. The instructor was provoking us in a way that made me uncomfortable – to the nervous smiley woman, ‘Don’t lead with your teeth;’ to the young hipster, ‘Go back to the meth clinic,’ and to me, ‘I don’t want to hear your witty repartee about Oscar Wilde.’

I was the only non-actor in the program and had made the mistake, as we went around the circle on the first day, of telling everyone that I was a psychoanalyst writing a book about laughter. As part of my research, I explained, I’d frequented comedy clubs and noticed how each performance, had it been delivered in a different tone of voice and context, could have been the text of a therapy session. Audience members, I told them, laughed less because a performer was funny than because they were honest. Of course that’s not how all laughter operates, but the kind of laughter I’m interested in (spontaneous outbursts) seems to function that way, and clown pushes that dynamic to its extreme – which is why I decided to enroll in clown school, and how I earned the grating nickname ‘smarty pants’.

But if I dropped out, I’d lose my tuition money. So I decided to stay, and, by staying, was provoked, unsettled, changed.

 

*

 

There’s a knee-jerk tendency to perceive provocation as negative – like how in writing workshops participants often call for the most striking part of a work to be cut. When we are struck, there’s a brief pause during which the internal dust is kicked up – we lose our habitual bearings, and an opening is created for something unexpected to slip in. Habit protects us from anything we don’t have a set way of handling. As it’s when we’re off-guard that we’re least automatous, it’s then that we’re most likely to come up with spontaneous, uncurated responses.

It turned out the perpetually-smiling woman was sad, the hipster (who didn’t even do drugs) acted high as a way of muting the parts of his personality he was afraid we would judge, and I found it easier to hide behind my intellect than expose myself as a flawed and flailing human being. Each role, in other words, offered a form of protection: by giving off recognizable signals to indicate a character type, we accessed a kind of invisibility. We cued people to look through us to the prototypes we were referencing. When the instructor satirized those roles, he defamiliarized them so that the habitual suddenly became visible. His provocations knocked the lids off the prototypes we were hiding inside of, in a similar way to how many psychoanalysts, in the attempt to understand a person’s conflicts, begin by analyzing their defenses – what is being used as cover – before moving on to what is being covered up and why.

Both psychoanalysis and the art of clowning – though in radically different ways – create a path towards the unconscious, making it easier to access the unsocialized self, or, in Nietzsche’s terms, to ‘become the one you are.’ Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott considered play ‘the gateway to the unconscious’, which he divided into two parts: the repressed unconscious that is to remain hidden and the rest of the unconscious that ‘each individual wants to get to know’ by way of ‘play’, which, ‘like dreams, serves the function of self-revelation’. In clown school, the part of the mind that psychoanalysis tries to reveal – by analyzing material brought into session, including dreams or play – is referred to as a person’s clown.

 

*

 

Each of us has a clown inside of us, according to Christopher Bayes, head of physical acting at the Yale School of Drama and founder of The Funny School of Good Acting, where I was taking my two-week, six-hours-per-day workshop. The theatrical art of clowning – commonly referred to as ‘clown’ – is radically different from the familiar images of birthday party, circus or scary clowns. Bayes’ program helps actors find their inner clown. The self-revelation that results provides access to a wellspring of playful impulses that they can then tap into during creative processes. His method stems from the French tradition developed by his former teachers Jacques Lecoq and Phillippe Gaulier – the kind of training the fictional main character of Louis CK and Zach Galifankis’ TV series Baskets seeks, and that Sascha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson and Roberto Begnini underwent early in their careers.

Lecoq, who began as a physiotherapist, believed ‘the body knows things about which the mind is ignorant’ – a phrase that could be applied to the unconscious.  The process of trying to find your clown involves going through a series of exercises that strip away layers of socialization to reveal the clown that had been there all along – or in Winnicott’s terms, your ‘true self’.

 

*

(…)

MISTAKEN | STATE OF MIND

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A new piece by Mary Ruefle in Granta Magazine:

About this time I began to suspect I was never named; people called me Mary because it was convenient, or because they had heard others call me Mary, I was in the beginning named after someone else who was named Mary but I was neither this person nor the one they called Mary after her, I was nameless, and in this state I perpetually wandered among fruit and flowers and foliage, among vines and overhanging rock and untamed animals, none of whom I could name, none of whom knew my name, nor, if they did, could they speak it. I read once that the Amazon was called the Green Hell, and if that is a name, I take it, if only as a substitute for my unknown name, which not even my parents knew when they named me Mary, after a woman who scrubbed her kitchen floor on her hands and knees, once a week, with a stiff brush. She was kind to me and I loved her, and since her death I have dreamt of her many times, either searching for her or speaking to her, but never once in my dreams have I called her Mary, which, I suspect, is not her name, or if it once was, is no longer. 

(…)

Prozac Culture

Brian Dillon for Granta
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Brian Dillon on the cultural history of Prozac

 What did a lost boy like me know about Prozac? Even two decades ago, the drug had been everywhere for years, though I didn’t know a soul who was actually on it. To appreciate how ubiquitous the image and idea of Prozac were by the middle of the decade, just google the magazine, book and newspaper covers – they appear scattered with green-and-white capsules which have sometimes artfully split in two and spilled their powder. There is scarcely a more 90s visual cue or cliché; it was already on the cover of New York magazine in December 1989: ‘Bye-Bye Blues: A New Wonder Drug for Depression’. Consider Newsweek in March 1990: above a desert landscape, a huge capsule floats among clouds like a benign UFO, bearing towards mankind its cargo of placid cheer. I had read the UK equivalents of these articles: Sunday-supplement profiles in which Prozac was treated like a celebrity, and the celebrities taking it were just incidental players. Journalists spoke of the neurotransmitter serotonin, on which the drug was said to act, as if the stuff had been staring science and society in the face all along. (Prozac was, is, one of several selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Serotonin is known to be involved in regulating digestion, appetite, sleep, mood and cognition; but the precise biological effect on mood disorders of altering its action or its levels is still quite unknown.) Everybody now spoke as though at last, after decades of shock therapy, debilitating or addicting drug treatment and a stigma that psychoanalysis had done little to dispel, the late twentieth century had simply discovered a cure for depression.

We learned, my generation, to accept and then righteously defend the idea that depression derived from a ‘chemical imbalance’. This seemed like good news for the depressed: a group that would at some point include, we were informed, fully one tenth of the population. What we had not been told was the prehistory of Prozac, which complicates the dominant story at the height of 90s boosterism. The drug, fluoxetine, was developed around 1970 as a treatment for obesity and high blood pressure, but it did little or nothing for either. It did, however, seem to have an effect at the anxious end of moderate depression, and so eventually it was repurposed as an antidepressant and branded as Prozac. Interbrand, the company tasked with giving the drug its public name and face, had previously worked for Sony, Microsoft, Nikon and Nintendo. Its launch in 1987 had demanded (the magazine stories never said) some redefinition of depression itself. Prozac did not work at the catatonic extreme of bone-deep and often lethal melancholia, and so in the process of its preparation for the market a milder category, ‘atypical depression’, was emphasized in the literature directed at clinicians. Malaise, anxiety, lassitude, fatigue, a generalized lack of ambition and verve – these too were symptoms of depression, and in fact might point to the illness quite as reliably as despair, withdrawal and a desire to die.

Media stories about Prozac tended to focus on those patients who hadn’t thought they were depressed, whose vague sense of disquiet or disappointment had so far passed as glum normality. Some blurring at the edges of the definition of depression meant legions of the high-functioning unhappy could benefit from the new drugs. This was the import of Peter D. Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, published in 1993: the drugs could make you better than well. Kramer’s book was the source for some of the feeling that the new wave of antidepressants might turn us into other people, people whom we might not want to be. This was the crude set of questions now posed: if Prozac and the other SSRIs did away with ordinary unease, what was left of you per se? What else might evanesce along with sadness? Realism? Profundity? Scepticism? Irony? The milder, more productive kinds of melancholy? The very need to think or write or make art? Added to all of this before long were reports of suicides among patients on Prozac. And a feeling that even if the media-conjured extremes – psychic cure-all versus thalidomide-scale disaster – were false, there was something not exactly sane about the spread of a Prozac culture.

(…)

From the Left Bank of the Flu

Misumi Kubo for Granta
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A short story by Misumi Kubo for Granta, translated from the Japanese by Polly Barton:

It was the evening of the 28th of December. Just as I had got out of the bath, and was thinking that the air seemed especially chilly, I felt a creaking pain pipe up from the joints of my knees and elbows. I picked up the thermometer, still lying on the circular bedside table from the last time I’d used it, and stuck it in my mouth. Sure enough, it read 38.3 degrees. I decided to take some of the cold medicine I had in the cabinet and get into bed. But I couldn’t stop shivering, and though I managed to doze off for a bit, the tremors eventually woke me. The blankets I had on clearly weren’t enough, so I dragged out the feather duvet I kept rolled up in the wardrobe, stacked it on top of the pile and coiled the whole thing around my body.

When I wake up tomorrow, I told myself as I shut my eyes, I’ll go to the hospital. The hospital was only a three minute walk from my flat.

The following morning, the thermometer read 39.8 degrees, the highest temperature I’d had since I was a child. That’s it, I thought to myself. I’m dying. I swapped the jogging bottoms I was wearing for a pair of jeans, picked up the down jacket which was lying in the place I’d thrown it off the day before, put on a woollen hat to cover my sleep-ruffled hair and cold mask to hide my stubble, and staggered down to the hospital which lay by the Loop Route No. 8, the furthest out of Tokyo’s concentric expressways.

The sunlight was painfully bright, which I figured was probably a result of the fever. The big road looked to me like a river, the cars rushing by as if carried along on its current. I resented anyone who had the energy to drive at such a blistering speed. As luck would have it, there weren’t too many people waiting at the hospital, and I was called up almost immediately. It was my first flu test, and it struck me as pure torture. The doctor stuck a long cotton bud-like thing right up my nose and proceeded to jab and jiggle it around. It was humiliating – enough, in fact, to call the phrase ‘human dignity’ to mind. You can’t stick foreign objects so far inside other people’s bodies like that, not with that degree of force. It’s not okay. This is supposed to be the twenty-first century.

I was told to sit back down in the waiting room. When I was called up again, the doctor announced merrily that it looked like a case of Hong Kong Type A.

‘Which would you prefer?’ he asked. ‘Tamiflu, Relenza or Rapiacta?’

Damned if I know, I thought. I had no idea what any of those things were, and even if I’d been given a halfway decent explanation, my fever had rendered my powers of judgement null and void.

‘Would you prefer oral medication or a drip?’

I opted for the drip. Somehow I had the feeling it would kick in faster.

‘Now, you’re not allowed any human contact for five days, all right?’ the nurse said, as the needle of the drip slid into my arm, in the sort of voice one might use to soothe a child. There goes my New Year’s holiday, I thought.

A holiday stamped out by the flu. Not that I had anything planned for it, but still.

 

It was right before lunch on the 18th of December when I got the call saying my dad had died. I was in the van at the time, having just installed my third copier of the day. The call was from someone at the old folks’ home where my dad had lived.

‘Can you come now?’ they asked at first, but must have noticed my hesitation, explaining that if I could just come to the funeral on Saturday, the day after tomorrow, that would also be fine. They gave me a quick run-through of the arrangements, and put the phone down.

‘What’s up?’ Yoshioka, the van driver, asked, peering at me.

‘Oh, it’s, um, my dad’s dead.’

‘How old?’

‘Seventyish. Seventy-two or three,’ I said. In truth I didn’t know my dad’s exact age.

‘What’s happening with the funeral?’

‘He was in an old folks’ home, it looks like they’re going to take care of it all there.’

‘In that case, you’ve gotten off lightly,’ Yoshioka said as he steered the van into the parking lot of a ramen restaurant.

Half-choking on my hot and sour noodles (‘sour, spicy and soup-er good!’ said the menu), I sent a LINE message to my brother, Takashi.

‘So Dad’s dead.’

Takashi was probably on his lunch break too, because the word ‘Read’ flashed up immediately next to my message.

‘For real?’

‘Yup.’

‘What about the funeral?’

‘Day after tomorrow. Looks like they’re gonna take care of it all there. Can you come?’

‘Kanako’s got work so she won’t be able to.’

‘Just you and me will do. There’s no point inviting the whole family. We’ll only end up getting a kicking from everyone who’s had to put up with all his crap.’

(…)

You Okay For Time?

Kaori Fujino short story for Granta
Snake_Plant_(Sansevieria_trifasciata_'Laurentii')

Kaori Fujino has written a short story about a female friendship for Granta, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori:

For my best friend’s wedding present, I sent her a potted sansevieria. I compared product photos and prices online, selected one within my budget, addressed it to her new apartment, and hit send. I thought a leafy plant would be a more thoughtful gift than crockery or towels.

I called her soon after.

‘Did you get it?’

‘Yes, thank you! I love it – hope it’s okay, though.’

I knew what she meant. She was the only one in our class who’d failed to grow a hyacinth bulb in water, and she’d even made a cactus rot. The reason I’d chosen a sansevieria out of all the many leafy plants was, shall we say, out of consideration. The shop blurb said the sansevieria was stronger and easier to look after than any other plant, and on top of that it produced negative ions thereby improving indoor air quality, making it the perfect gift. ‘Stronger and easier to look after than any other plant’: that meant even she’d be able to care for it. She wasn’t a child any more after all, not by a long stretch – and she was married, to boot. There had been times when I thought she’d probably never marry, but she did. In which case she should at least be able to care for one of these.

I didn’t tell her that.

‘It’ll be fine,’ I said simply, full of affection for her. ‘The instruction leaflet was enclosed, right? Make sure you read it.’

‘Oh, hang on a sec. Ryo wants to say thank you too.’

The sound of her breathing receded, and her husband exhaled into my ear.

‘Hey, how are you?’ he said cheerfully. ‘Thanks for the wedding reception.’

He was referring to the fact I gave a speech on behalf of the bride’s friends. I put a lot of effort into it, feeling all warm and fuzzy as I rediscovered so many memories of her. They all sparkled, like a little brook. Everything that happened between us, the things she said, the things I said, were all washed away out of reach, leaving only the freshness of crystal clear water. How was I to convey this modest joy, pleasantly cool yet still warm, to everyone there? In a corner of my mind I knew I was being condescending. And yes, I was disdainful of my friend. But this didn’t diminish my friendly feelings towards her. So I put my whole heart into giving the speech. I talked about how gentle and kind she was, how serious and candid and unaffected. I really like my friend. I always did, and I still do.

My friend’s husband laughed and said he would make sure she didn’t let my gift die. My friend came back on the line.

‘You okay for time?’ That’s what she always said when she wanted a long chat. I was okay for time. I was surprised she was, being newly married, but it was just like her really.

‘It’s fine, no problem. Ryo’s going to have a bath now.’

And so she started talking, just like she always did.

The subject was her husband. She discovered new things about him every day, she said. Occasionally she lowered her voice and spoke about amusing details with great relish: how she couldn’t contend with the grime on his shirt collar just by rubbing it with detergent and washing it; how he coughed up phlegm in the toilet twice a day; the dull, heavy smell of sweat that filled the bedroom after a sound night’s sleep; the appalling potency of his bad breath first thing in the morning. How he folded his pants neatly and put them away. How he was particular about which shampoo and conditioner he used. How he’d been upset that they didn’t sell his preferred products in the local drug store, so he’d ordered them online.

‘Isn’t it weird? It’s only shampoo and rinse – any would do, surely?

‘It’s conditioner,’ I corrected her. ‘Even you always use the one your mom chose, don’t you?’

‘I have to. My hair goes everywhere if I don’t.’

Whenever my friend stayed in hotels, she never touched the shampoo provided but instead lined up her own little refillable bottles on the edge of the bathtub. If I ever suggested she stayed over at my place, she would recoil and excuse herself in a small voice saying she hadn’t brought her shampoo with her.

‘I never knew men were fussy about that sort of thing. I always thought they were okay with using just shampoo and didn’t need rinse.’

‘Conditioner,’ I corrected her again.

‘Oh, right. So what’s the difference between conditioner and the rinse that I use?’

‘Yours is treatment.’

‘Oh, is that what it is?’

My friend’s voice suddenly brightened. ‘Hey, Ryo! Sure, I was just about to hang up.’ The words that came through her cell phone hadn’t been directed at me, but rather arrived as a ripple from her voice echoing throughout a large sealed room empty but for herself. Although her new home was a fifty-six square meter two-bedroom condo.

‘So, come and visit, won’t you?’ she said quickly.

‘Sure, I’ll visit. Sometime soon.’

 

I know her really very well. After all, she is my best friend. For example, it was obvious to me that she knew very little about her boyfriend when she married him, even after dating for seven years. All she’d known about him apart from his basic personal information was his taste in films, his taste in clothes, his taste in food, his taste in women – and most importantly what he liked about her and how much. She’s lacking in imagination and didn’t need to know any more. I knew, naturally, that there were sides to her boyfriend she didn’t know about, and that she wasn’t even aware she didn’t know about them.

I also knew all about their sex life. They hadn’t had sex at all during the last two years they were dating. They’d done it more frequently at the beginning of their relationship, but it had slowly died out. There were all kinds of reasons: he was busy with his work, or she had her period, or they preferred to go see a movie together rather than spend time cooped up in a bedroom, or there was an art exhibition they wanted to see, or they would go two hours by train to eat cake at a café featured in a magazine, or they’d arranged to go out with me or some other friend. I knew she was a little suspicious about it, and also that she was unhappy about it. But I also knew that she was convinced he wasn’t being unfaithful, that he was devoted only to her, and truly loved only her. And it was true. During those seven years, she had often invited me out to lunch with the two of them, and we’d also gone out together in a big group of friends to karaoke and barbecues. On those occasions I’d been able to casually sound him and his friends out, and I had to conclude that she was right. I was pretty good at that sort of thing – at ferreting out gossip, and seducing spoken-for men. He was clean. That was when I first thought my friend would probably marry him. It’d be more fun if it wasn’t the case, though.

I hoped she wouldn’t let the sansevieria die right away. I hoped there wouldn’t be an awkward situation with her feeling she’d wronged me by letting it dry out or rot.

 

It was rarely me who called her. It was always she who called.

‘You okay for time?’

‘Sure. How’s the sansevieria?’

‘It’s doing great!’ she said enthusiastically. ‘Even though I’ve only watered it twice since it arrived. I wanted to water it more, the poor thing, but Ryo said the instructions said not to water it too much so I forced myself to be patient. And it seems to like it like that. It’s really tough, isn’t it?’

‘Really? That’s great.’

‘Listen, you know what? Ryo still doesn’t do it.’

‘Doesn’t do what?’

‘Look I told you we hadn’t been doing it. For about two years.’

‘What? You are kidding me, right?’

‘It’s true.’

But I wasn’t as surprised as I’d made out, and she wasn’t all that depressed about it either. She told me about how affectionate her husband was. He wants to hold hands even at home. He’s concerned when my friend has to work overtime and comes home late, and goes to the station to meet her. He won’t eat dinner until she comes home. He wants to eat with her, and will wait for hours. Dinner is almost always ready-made meals or easy-cook packets from the supermarket. My friend always lived at home so she can’t cook very well, and she doesn’t have time to practise. Her husband doesn’t complain at all, and just smiles. He can’t cook either. He lived alone for a long time so you’d have thought he would have learned how to, but my friend overlooks this point. In bed, they talk together. She has a lot to talk about and he hangs on to her every word, so that by the time they’ve finished talking they are both dead tired, and the atmosphere isn’t conducive to sex.

‘He’s a bit like a parent, I guess. No, he’s much more overprotective than a parent,’ she said happily. ‘Just when I thought I’d finally managed to get away from my parents, I go and marry a father figure. How tedious!’

I’d known that if she ever married it would be to a parental substitute.

‘When are you coming over?’ she asked. ‘Come while the sansevieria is still healthy.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘What about this Saturday?’

‘Sorry, it’s the company trip that day.’

‘Well, what about the following Saturday? Weekday evenings are fine too.’

‘I’ll try to work out my schedule.’

(…)

 

 

 

Interview: Gary Shteyngart & Emily Greenhouse

Gary Shteyngart in conversation with Emily Greenhouse for Granta
Gary

Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 interview with Emily Greenhouse, appearing in the online edition of Granta 97: Best of Young American Novelists 2. 

Gary Shteyngart was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists in 2007. His new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is published in the UK by Granta books on 16 September. Emily Greenhouse caught up with Gary to ask about the email epistolary, how he’d do in a literary Celebrity Death Match, and the ‘äppärät’ – his dystopian rendering of a smartphone on anabolic steroids.

EG: How did featuring on the Best of Young American Novelists list in 2007 affect your career?

GS: It made life nicer. A gentleman with a photocamera took a picture of me for some site on the intertube.

Your latest novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is written in diary entries, ‘long form standard English texts’ and Global Teen text conversations. Is this a cynical comment on the shortened attention span of our generation, or is ‘email epistolary’ the genuine future of the novel?

OMFG, totes! I’ve been losing the power of good riting over the years. I’m dictating this to an intern. I hope she gets it write.

In the prologue to Absurdistan, you write, ‘I’m a deeply secular Jew who finds no comfort in either nationalism or religion.’ You’ve made clear your discomfort with Soviet nationalism, yet I felt a deep appreciation for America throughout Super Sad. Your love for New York, especially, shines through. Has a bit of Emma Lazarus’ American Dream seeped in?

America’s in deep shit. That makes me love it more and fear for its future. But overall nationalism is a terrible thing. Unless you’re Canadian. Then it makes perfect sense.

Any thoughts on London?

I can’t even afford to have thoughts on London, much less live or visit there.

Towards the tail end of Super Sad, Lenny remembers reading the ‘New York Times (the real Times, not theLifestyle Times) … in the subway, folding it awkwardly while leaning against the door, caught up in the words, worried about crashing to the floor or tripping over some lightly clad beauty (there was always at least one), but even more afraid to lose the thread of the article in front of me, my spine banging against the train door, the clatter and drone of the massive machine around me, and me, with my words, brilliantly alone.’ Is it still possible, in this just pre-äppärät age, to be truly, brilliantly alone?

(…)

I Used to Go for Long Walks in the Evenings

Stephen Sexton writes for Granta

Stephen Sexton’s poem in Granta 135: New Irish Writing

My celebrity accumulated like a kidney stone:
children, pets, even some corvids recognised me
so it was time for my appointment at the wax museum.
I was to be measured and charted with lasers and calipers,
from the depth of my philtrum to the balls of my feet.
Finally, the fellow admired The ears like little queries,
he said, What do you think about that!
Just then the Director of the museum, a man
with no more scruples than a cat o’ nine tails has pulses,
entered to inspect his investment.
Very expensive, he grumbled, footfall, overheads,
gallons of Japanese beeswax, apiarists’ strike in Osaka
and I passed the time naming the counties of Ireland.

When it was December, I came in to view
my likeness the night before its exhibition.
There was a little party. Because I loved myself
I had plenty of wine and made my acquaintance.
Every detail was present: itchy Velcro hooks of stubble,
pink threads of blood vessels in the sclera.
I had the sensation of looking in a mirror about a year ago.
After an hour or so I pretended to quarrel with myself
and the long and short of it is that the model went over
and broke off at the waist. It was accidental.
The Director exploded like a good break in a great game of pool.
I’d be arrested, prosecuted, fined, executed unless
we came to some sort of arrangement. I had no choice.
It hasn’t been easy learning to stand perfectly still
but from 10 until 6 each day, I do in the East Wing.
The days are long but the evenings are mine.
This is why my eyes are so glassy, this is why my legs are so sore.

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