grown-up fiction

The Day After Memorial Day





Figure 1. detail from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetary

Figure 1. detail from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery. Source here.


I’m not from a particularly military family, unless you count my grandfather, his brother and my grandfather’s brothers. They all joined up voluntarily for WWII.

My dad was conscripted into the Syrian Army but he never finished his service formally because he kinda came to the U.S. to go to college and then met my mother and never went back. Whoops.

The mister’s family is pretty military, though. The mister was in the Navy; his brother is still in the Navy and served in Iraq; their grandfather was a Navy captain and served in the Korean War. The mister’s father was in the Marine Corps.

I have gone on record saying that I could never join the military because a) I hate push-ups b) I hate making my bed. Also, my intense cowardice might also be an issue.

So, the fact that the mister joined the Navy and went to boot camp just a few days after we graduated from high school has always astonished me. How could he just go do that? On purpose? That question led to me writing my second book, actually.

Because it’s nothing I would ever do or want to do or even could do, I’m fascinated by military stories.  I absolutely LOVE military slang. I like a personal memoir or fictional stories best though.  I’m not really one for reading accounts of battles; that whole spatial orientation problem I have makes that hard for me picture (and yet another reason I’d suck at military life.)

A couple titles that I’ve enjoyed  that deal with the military and war:

Things A Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt
War by Sebastian Junger
Infidel by Tim Hetherington (here’s an old post I wrote about that book)
A Rumor of War by Tim Caputo
The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford
Redeployment by Phil Klay
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Generation Kill by Evan Wright
Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
Full Metal Jacket by Gustav Hasford

And here’s Karen from Teen Librarian Toolbox with some military-themed YA titles to check out, too.

I hope you enjoyed your barbecue & day off, everyone. We’re lucky to have this day and it’s good to remember those whose service made it possible.



Favorite Fiction of 2012

1) Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
So, dragons. And all sorts of Weird Dragon Rules. And a GLOSSARY. And delicious characters. And ACTION. And I loved Prince Lucian. And no one even had sex but still! I kept reading!

2) The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
What a moody, creepy, lovely book. A house full of weird lady psychics? Mysterious brooding boys-only boarding school? Ley lines and murder? What the hell else do you want? Because it’s probably here.

3) Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Um, if you call this book a ‘mermaid book’ I’m gonna backhand you into next week. These are ANCIENT SEA CREATURES. And they are scary as hell. And beautiful, too.

4) Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
One word: PERRY. Now go read it, you big dummy.

5) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Okay, so here’s some standard adult LITERARY fiction. And yes, it was assigned graduate school reading, so piss off. But if you really want some New Adult Fiction, this would it. Madeleine, Mitchell and Leonard are all college graduates at sea about their next moves. There’s not tons of ‘steamy’ sex which marks a lot of New Adult, but there’s some. Mostly it’s really funny. I particularly enjoyed the portrait of Leonard, who struggles terribly with bipolar disorder.

6) Swimming Sweet Arrow by Maureen Gibbon
HOLY SHIT SO MUCH SEX. And kinda seedy sad sex, too. And violence. And girls being strong and girls being weak. Intoxicating. Where is the YA book with female characters who are fearless and curious about sex like Vangie and June?

7) Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
Yanno, what could bug me more than some American expatriate pot-smoking poet living like a lump in Spain? You’d think I would have chucked this book into a fire. But it’s way too absorbing and amusing. Adam Gordon is grody and pretentious and completely idealizes women in a fetishizing way that arty men tend to do, but he’s also funny and broken and his take on a poetry reading and its stupid theatrics pleased me to no end.

8) Under The Wolf, Under The Dog by Adam Rapp
I’m late to the party on this, but GODDAMN. This is one of those books where you’ll follow the narrator into hell if that’s where he takes you. And Steve Nugent does take you through hell–his own–that has landed him in a psych ward. But he’s super funny about it. Which is really all you have to do to keep me reading – amuse me with word & phrase and I won’t care what happens (or doesn’t happen.)

9) The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
If you think YA is all about vampires and not getting a prom date, read this motherfucker. Put on a helmet, first, though. Then come talk to me.

10) Where Things Come Back by Corey Whaley
See above note for The Marbury Lens. Another expectation-smasher.

11) Rotters by Daniel Kraus
Antiochus Boggs is the grossest, creepiest, dirtiest, BEST villain ever. Also, this book is about grave-robbing. Top that, man.

12) Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
This is a book about war, sea turtles, fucked-up families, asshole brothers, tattoos and true courage. Also, Travis is funny as fuck and Doller brings the swoon.

13) Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King
Lucky Linderman ain’t so much lucky. Bullied, guided by dreams of his POW grandfather, he’s trying to figure out how to survive in the hell that is modern high school.

14) Tithe by Holly Black
Also super late to this. But it’s so delicious and good. The original urban faery concept and so creepy-sparkly-good.

15) A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Whatever. I fell down the hole. I like being there. I’m on A Dance With Dragons. Saving it up, though, because who knows when the next one will come out. ALSO: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

16) Catch & Release by Blythe Woolston
I like it when books take you to weird  places. That sounds vapid and trite, but in this case, we go from flesh-eating MRSA deaths to fly-fishing to National Parks to animal mutations to monster movies to road trip in an old Cadillac with a girl named Polly and a boy named Odd. It helps that Polly was on my shortlist of girl names. Also, Odd is funny as hell. And there’s no sex! Still I kept reading. I liked the boy-girl friendship that wasn’t fraught with sex tension. That’s rare.

17) The Knife and The Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez
Azael is caught in juvie and recalling what led him there. But how can he get out? And why must he keep watching this weird white girl? And what’s her fucking deal, anyhow? Twisty wonderful book.

18) Kiss It by Erin Downing
This book takes so many YA romance tropes and turns them into pretzels. Satisfying on so many levels. I especially love books that feature teenagers at crappy jobs. Chastity is a waitress and, unlike her name suggests, no shrinking violet. Also: SEX. But not creepy/fakey/Glamour Shots kinda sex.

19) Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach
So, first you read Stupid Fast, because that’s the first book featuring Felton Reinstein (who, like Jonah Griggs and Marcus Flutie, makes me ache because he is not an actual, living human being.) Then you just continue enjoying being in Felton’s head. I love being in boys’ heads. It’s as exotic as hell.

We will end at 19, for symbolic reasons. *Mona Lisa smile*

On D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence: He’s kind of a babe, unsurprisingly. 
Despite the facial hair, of course. Those were different times. 

I’m writing My Big Sexy Thesis which if it were 1/16th as fun as real sex, I would have written it by now and sent it off to every journal in the world wrapped in red satin.

I’m not a fan of analytical, scholarly writing.

Anyway, since I’m sitting here, plodding through to make page deadlines, I’m finding myself all up on D.H. Lawrence’s jock. Specifically, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Not shocking, I know. But still. Just listen:

“’The whole problem about the sexual problem,” said Hammond, who was a tall
thin fellow with a wife and two children but much more closely connected with a
typewriter, “is that there is no point to it. Strictly there is no problem. We don’t
want to follow a man into the W.C., so why should we want to follow him into bed
with a woman? And therein lies the problem. If we took no more notice of the one
thing than the other, there’d be no problem. It’s all utterly senseless and pointless;
a matter of misplaced curiosity.” 


“Why couldn’t a girl be queenly, and give the gift of herself?”


“He was the trembling excited sort of lover, whose crisis soon came, and was finished. There was something curiously childlike and defenceless about his naked body: as children are naked. His defences were all in his wits and cunning, his very instincts of cunning, and when these were in abeyance he seemed doubly naked and like a child, of unfinished, tender flesh, and somehow struggling helplessly.” 


“It was as if her whole soul and body and sex had to rouse up and pass into these stories of his.”

So, no point to be made, beyond Isn’t That Great? As you were.

Oh Papa

Figure 1: How I Feel While Reading Hemingway


So I’m slogging through this Hemingway for graduate school and it’s not going well. It’s very boring to me, which makes me avoid it. It’s The Sun Also Rises.

I have to finish it by April 25 so I can write a paper about how Hemingway informs my own writing – I know, I know! – and it’s just murder. All this drinking and fishing and descriptions of the landscape. All these people talking to Jake Barnes and Jake Barnes being rather tight-lipped. He has some broken-dick thing from a war injury, you see, which makes him taciturn and quite the drunk.


I’m noodling along through this particularly boring passage about fishing in Spain (“I laid them out, side by side, all their heads pointing the same way, and looked at them. They were beautifully colored and firm and hard from the cold water…”), when comes this part, a conversation between Jake and this guy Bill (who’s Bill supposed to be? I dunno. People come in and out and more wine is ordered and then they leave or go dancing and it’s swell and everyone gets ‘tight’ and people say ‘Don’t be sore’ and maybe it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald and who cares):

“You’re right there, old classmate,” Bill said. “The saloon must go, and I will take it with me.”
“You’re cock-eyed.”
“On wine?”
“On wine.”
“Well, maybe I am.”
“Want to take a nap?”

FREEZE. Okay, who else is getting a super duper huge gay vibe here? Also, there are no dialogue tags which make me want to scream, because the dialogue’s so opaque. Also, yes, you can get drunk on wine, Jesus. Just because it’s girly doesn’t mean two bottles don’t have alcohol in them. Back to the excerpt:

“All right.”
We lay with our heads in the shade and looked up into the trees.
“You asleep?”
“No,” Bill said. “I was thinking.”
I shut my eyes. It felt good lying on the ground.

AGAIN! Couldn’t we totally segue into some prime, manly gay sex here? It would be so natural. Smelling of fish and wine and the basket lunch they’d had. Right? Wouldn’t that be great? Didn’t F. Scott once show Hemingway his wang to ask if it was the proper size to please Zelda? It all flows like the Irati River!

But no. The passage moves into Bill asking some questions about Jake’s English lovahhhh Lady Brett Ashley, whom he cannot, er, love properly, because of his unspeakable-dick-problem, which, naturally, is the only thing in this book I can give a shit about. Jake’s dick problem is the main suspense driver in a book about drinking and fishing. Is that right?

I feel that I must be pawing on well-traveled ground here. That digging on Hemingway this late in the game is probably a bit lame. But I’m SUFFERING through this so hard! I have no context for respecting the story. And I’ve seen bullfights and they’re horrible, so that part holds little thrill. I’m just at the part before the unleashing of the Pamplona bulls. I’m betting they’ll watch the bulls and drink. Scintillating.

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me it’ll be worth it. Make me a YouTube video called Hemingway: It Gets Better.



from Ben Lerner’s Leaving The Atocha Station

I don’t read nearly enough non-YA fiction, and Leaving The Atocha Station underscores the need for me to do it more often. Set in Madrid at the time of the March 11 train bombings, it’s a lovely, quirky little book that draws you in immediately, even as its plot meanders and wanders.

The book contains one of the funniest descriptions of a poetry reading I’ve ever encountered. The setting is a poetry reading in a Madrid art gallery; the narrator is the second poet in the program who has just downed a tranquilizer to calm his own jitters.

“Tomas looked less like he was going to read poetry and more like he was going to sing flamenco or weep; he did not say thank you or good evening or anything but instead paused dramatically as if to gather his strength for what would be by any measure a heroic undertaking. He had shoulder-length hair that kept falling in his eyes as he arranged his papers and he kept smoothing it back with a gesture I found studied; he struck me as a caricature of himself, a caricature of El Poeta. A few more people were trickling into the gallery and he looked at them gravely until they found their seats. Then he looked back down at his paper, looked back up at the crowd, and when the silence had intensified to his liking, he uttered what I assumed was the title of his first poem: “Sea.” To my surprise this poem was totally intelligible to me, an Esperanto of cliches: waves, heart, pain, moon, breasts, beach, emptiness, etc.; the delivery was so cloying the thought crossed my mind that his apparent earnestness might be parody. But then he read his second poem, “Distance”: mountains, sky, heart, pain, stars, breasts, river, emptiness, etc. I looked at Arturo and his face implied he was having a profound experience of art.

Maybe, I wondered or tried to wonder, I’m not understanding; maybe these words have a specific weight and valence I cannot appreciate in Spanish, or maybe he is performing subtle variations on a sexist tradition of which I am not in possession. As Tomas read a third poem, “Work Dream” or “Dream Work,” I forced myself to listen as if the poem were unpredictable and profound, as if that were given somehow, and any failure to be compelled would be exclusively my own. The intensity of my listening did at least return strangeness to each word, force me to confront it as a sound, and then to recapture the miracle of sound opening or almost opening onto sense, and I managed to suspend my disgust. I could not, however, keep this up; it required too much concentration to hear such familiar figurations as intensely strange, even in Spanish. It was not until I began to consider the scene more generally that my interest caught: there were eighty or so people gathered to listen to this utter shit as through it were their daily language passing through the crucible of the human spirit and emerging purified, redeemed; or here were eighty-some people believing the commercial and ideological machinery of their grammar was being deconstructed or at least laid bare, although that didn’t really seem like Tomas’s thing; he was more of a crucible of the human spirit guy. If people were in fact moved, convincing themselves they discovered whatever they projected into the hackneyed poem, or better yet, if people felt the pressure to perform absorption in the face of what they knew was an embarrassing placeholder for an art no longer practicable for whatever reasons, a dead medium whose former power could be felt only as a loss — these scenarios did for me involve a pathos the actual poems did not, a pathos that in fact increased in proportion to their failure, as the more abysmal the experience of the actual the greater the implied heights of the virtual. Then I was able to hear the perfect idiocy of Tomas’s writing as a kind of accomplishment, especially combined with his unwitting parody of himself, doing that thing with his hair, gripping the podium as though the waves of emotion breaking over him might wash him from his feet, and I began to relax a little about my own performance, the tranquilizer no doubt also having its effect.”

                from pp. 37-38 of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, Coffee House Press, 2011.