Instantaneous by Carol Dorf

FOR CAROL DORF - by Deanna Crane



Instantaneous

The curve’s tangents define velocity. No one tells a pregnant woman what labor or the first months will be like; that our velocity is not continuous. The body demands the chemical compounds of pleasure. As a child before gender, I desired flight, space, rockets. Later all my theories shrunk into a particular moment.

 


About the Author: Carol Dorf‘s chapbook “Theory Headed Dragon,” is available through Finishing Line Press. Her poetry has been published in  “Glint,” “Slipstream,” “Spillway,” “Sin Fronteras,” “Antiphon,” “About Place,” “The Journal of Humanistic Mathematics,” “Scientific American,” “Maintenant,” “OVS” “Best of Indie Lit New England,” and elsewhere. She is poetry editor of Talking Writing and teaches mathematics in Berkeley, CA.

Artwork: Deanna Crane

 

SuperChad by Alan Good

 

FOR ALAN GOOD - from emergency stockpile


I was irrumating a blow-up doll when the phone rang. I let it ring, or ding, or radiate, which was the name of the ringtone. If I didn’t finish I was going to smash a building or hurl a car into space. I get that way. We all do.

A blow-up doll. How pathetic, right? But it’s an outlet. Her name is Betsy. Where’s the good in saving the world, or at least Kansas City, every other week if I’m running around blowing the brains out of attractive females every time I blow my load? If only someone could invent a stronger condom. The people at Kraig Biocraft (with a name like Kraig Biocraft, you know there are some supervillains working there) are working on an insanely strong material made from synthetic spider silk. It’s designed to protect cops and soldiers, but Trojan could make so much money off that technology. There’s a whole market in place consisting of dangerously horny superheroes. We’ll buy. We’ll spread the word. Shit, put my face on the box.

There are things I could do, get rimmed or bummed, but these acts hold no appeal for me. I don’t disapprove of them, just don’t long for them. I’ve had a few successful handjobs, but I end up doing most of the work. I could pull out. But how many guys have said they would pull out only to find it impossible in the moment? No, I don’t trust myself. Loneliness and sexual frustration are preferable to ejaculatory homicide.

This sexual openness creeps people out. They expect my kind to be eunuchs or ascetics, but we are not. We have genitals, too, and those genitals have great power, the power to create, yes, but also the power to destroy, and not just the figurative destruction wreaked by so much human genitalia.

 

Normal. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if I am human or alien. I have no origin story. I have been this way for as long as I remember. If I am adopted, my parents neglected to tell me. If I fell into a pool of nuclear sewage, my parents neglected to tell me. They are not super, in any sense. Am I evolution? There was a campaign against me in Kansas. They said I was the antichrist. Children there are not allowed to learn about me in school.

The source of my powers is unknown, even after intense study by doctors and grad students at UMKC. The powers manifested during and right after puberty. I went from being a friendless nerd in eighth grade to the star of the varsity basketball team in ninth. I actually had to sue to join the athletic teams in high school, and after I graduated all of our titles were retroactively stripped. There were technically no state champs in football, basketball, track, or baseball for those four years.

My skills and powers are fairly standard. I can fly. Shoot heat beams out of my eyes. Exhale icy wind. I can run faster than Superman, who can only outpace a speeding bullet, while I can run and fly just a bit faster than a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Of course I have superstrength, which shocks people because I do not have bulging biceps or prominent pectorals. I have almost scrawny arms and a little bit of a beer gut.

I have no use for secret identity, and hence no need for a costume or cape, and no use for a job, which would be a waste of time. Time spent at a desk would reduce the time I have free to fight crime. I draw a modest salary from the city, which comes from a penny sales tax. People think I’m a millionaire, but I have to share the revenue from the Hero Tax. I get the smallest share. Most of the money goes for twenty-first century security essentials: armored vehicles, sniper drones, and, in case anyone invades the Missouri River, an amphibious tank. I don’t need much money. I can eat for free almost anywhere I go, except Chaz on the Plaza. Of course, when you are a public servant the taxpayers think they can tell you how to do your job. “I pay your salary, hero,” said this lady one time, in one of the more extreme examples of taxpayer entitlement. I had saved a group of people from a “super” villain named Dr. Juice. Doesn’t he sound like a type of soda you’d buy at Sam’s Club? Nothing super about him, just an idiot with a collection of samurai swords. I had taken them from him and fashioned one into a sort of handcuff that I used to lock him to a bike rack. “You should have saved me,” said the lady, an auburn-haired, fortyish woman in business clothes, with a little cross around her neck, “before you helped those ” black people, whom I had rescued from imminent decapitation.

 

One time I saved a couple from a burning car. It was nothing, but the husband wanted to repay me.

“Maybe you could come over for dinner.”

“I really couldn’t.”

“And after you could take my wife. However you want. And I think it’s only fair to let me film it all. I promise not to make it public. Just for personal use. And when friends come over.”

“It’s a lovely offer, but I have a policy against fraternizing with clients. You understand.”

Of course he did. But she was lovely. I had to run into the nearest men’s room, where I blew a hole through three stalls. I guess you could say tumescence is my kryptonite. I have no other weakness, no magic rock that turns me into a pile of goo.

We all have pretty much the same problem, except for Batman, fucking rich boy. The Hulk, to my knowledge, doesn’t have supersperm, or supersquirts, but imagine the damage that would be done if, perhaps during hate sex, he were to get angry and change, and his already engorged member were to blow up mid-fuck. It’s a lonely life.

 

So anyway, the phone call. It didn’t take me long to finish. My superseed, upon ejaculation, tore a hole through the back of the doll’s vinyl cranium and died on the concrete wall of my basement pad. The wall is peppered with splatter marks. “This house is falling apart,” my puzzled mother says. “I just don’t understand how this concrete could be crumbling like this. For no reason. What if it’s radon? Do you think it could be radon?” The doll fizzled and deflated. It was actually limp before I was. I hid it in the back of my underwear drawer, to be repaired later, and did my best to clean the wall. My nosy mother is wont to snoop around when I’m at work.

“What took so long?” The Chief.

“Even superheroes go to the bathroom.”

 

It is true that I can fly faster than the fastest airplane, but even I cannot escape the rules of idiots. We live in a suburb of KC called Lee’s Summit. Our HOA passed an ordinance forbidding flying within the borders of the common interest community, and then the HOAs of the neighboring neighborhoods passed similar ordinances. I can fly once I get into the city, but by then it’s hard to find a parking spot. I really need to find my own place.

Traffic was heavy, unusually heavy for the time of day. We were crawling. Think about how crazy it makes you to be stuck in traffic. Now try to imagine how crazy it makes me. I should get a medal and a commendation every time I make it into town without committing a congestion-easing massacre.

An asshole on a motorcycle split the middle. I could see him coming in my sideview, eased to the left to discourage him, but he did it anyway, rode right up between my car and the Cadillac next to me, but there was nowhere to go from there so he pulled in front of me. I laid on the horn, did not let go. He slowed down, as if I cared, gave me an upside-down middle finger. I gave him more horn. Oh I hated him, fantasized about killing him. It would be so easy. One laser glare and he’s a puddle of melted flesh and entrails. I got too wrapped up in the fantasy and nudged his rear tire. He flipped up backward and I had to hurl myself through the front window to save him. It would cost a pretty penny to replace the windshield.

“SuperChad?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re like my hero. I mean aside from like Batman.”

It would be so fucking easy, as I cradled him in my mutant arms, to squeeze him into oblivion.

“OK.”

“You drive a Prius? A fucking Prius!”

“You know what else I do?” Cradling him now on my knee. “I follow basic fucking traffic safety laws.”

I drive a Prius because it’s economical. I’d prefer to drive a pure electric but the only models I could afford don’t yet offer the range I need. I don’t just serve KC, also the suburbs around it, even into Kansas. One place I don’t go, and that’s Johnson County. Fuck Johnson County.

There is no good reason the Batmobile couldn’t be electric. All you need is money and will. He’s got the money, but he’s an entitled brat who thinks he can do whatever he wants because he’s a superhero and a rich boy. Driving around in a tank that gets half a mile to the gallon. Batman, making the city safe from crime but not from its own foul air. Batman, the caped plutocrat.

“This is incredible.” The motorcycle asshole. “Mind if I get a pic?”

“Whatever.” You can’t say no. It’s always a shitstorm if you say no, like you’re the asshole for trying to maintain just a tiny little modicum of privacy and autonomy. But whatever.

“Hey,” he said casually, snapping a picture with me, “you’re going to pay for this bike.”

“Fuck you.”

I picked up his bike and tied it into a pretty knot. Then I picked up the Prius and flew off.

“Hey,” he yelled after me, “I pay your fucking salary you scumsucking leech.”

“Leeches don’t suck scum, dumbass. They suck blood.”

I wanted to flatten him with my Prius, but I flew on. Thanks to the power of mindfulness.

 

I guess I do have a weakness, a vulnerability: my commitment to the law. I was unable to assist in Ferguson because of a law passed limiting superheroes to a specific range. I can only serve the KC metro area. The law is an insult to superheroes but also to ordinary citizens and justice. Do you know how fucking hard it is to pass a law in Missouri? Missouri lawmakers, despite their job title, hate making laws. Imagine if firefighters hated fighting fires. Why do we elect people to government who don’t believe government has a legitimate function in or can do any good for society or civilization? They tend to be right, but only because they’re in positions to prove themselves right. Yet the state legislature was able to come together, less than three months before Ferguson, and pass a law forbidding superheroes from helping people just because those people don’t live in the right place. I don’t want to start a conspiracy theory, but it’s almost like they saw Ferguson coming, knew St. Louis was suffering a superhero vacuum and wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be able to come to the assistance of the people who were being tormented by the people who are supposed to exist to protect them. What was I doing while Michael Brown was being shot? While his body lay in the street? Saving Kansas City from Skunko, a villain whose only power is to spray stinkjuice out of his ass. We really do get some D-list villains in this town.

 

If my hearing is not technically super, or even enhanced, it is still, by human standards, phenomenal. It came in handy down on the street, where some jackass made a very rude comment to a young couple who were ordering hot dogs from a cart in front of the cop shop. I will not repeat the comment, but it was racist as hell. The man was black, the woman white, the jackass also white, but a different kind of white. He didn’t know I was around, as I had floated down behind him, having left the Chadmobile on the top level of a cheap parking garage. I burned a hole through his jeans and tightie-whities. A small act, but it was one of my more fulfilling adventures.

 

I wanted to go to New York or LA. That is the trajectory, or so goes the myth. You serve your time in the boonies, pay your dues, and then when you come of age you take your spot in the metropolis. But the cities are overcrowded. No one told me there would be such a fucking glut of superheroes. New York is a closed shop. I matriculated in the middle of the recession, thought it more prudent to just stay home.

George Brett. Derrick Thomas. Chad.

Such is the hierarchy or heroes in my hometown. If Bo Jackson’s career had not been sabotaged by injury he would also be ahead of me. I’m happy with my spot, especially considering I’m ahead of Tech N9ne and Ewing Kauffman. I’m as hypocritical as any normal human. I complain about spillover, crime that gets directed to the lesser cities because criminals don’t want to face the first-team superheroes. I criticize the big-city superheroes for pursuing glory ahead of justice, but I’m just as guilty. I would be in New York if I could afford it. There’s just not enough work for me there, not with Batman, Spiderman, Ironman and the rest of the legion of grandstanders. It’s not pride that keeps me in KC but inertia. I’m comfortable here.

Or was. I don’t know why I have been writing as if my situation is stable when I’m about to abandon my town and country.

 

Superheroing is more of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? game than professional football. I wrestled an F-5 tornado that was on a direct path to KC and bounced it over town. No damage at all. The people, the ungrateful, super-entitled people, seemed to forget about it almost immediately, but they remember the time I almost saved Miss Kansas City from the foul clutches of Brimstone, a snakehandling preacher who turned super after a mishap with a radioactive viper. Never let me forget it. So it was no surprise that they turned on me, maybe a bit of a surprise that they turned so quickly.

The call was for something seemingly boring, they needed me to work crowd control at a rally. They didn’t tell me what type of rally until I got down there. They weren’t calling it a rally; it was a white empowerment gathering.

I rode to the event with the Chief in his police bruiser, a massive black SUV, completely unsuited to an urban environment. It could be outmaneuvered by any working car, as well as a kid on a skateboard. And so much wasted gas, paid for by the precious taxpayers. “You take this off-roading a lot?”

“Hmmpf?”

“Nothing.”

He parked nose first in a parallel spot only big enough for a VW Beetle. Even in a big city, cops don’t care about the size of their rides because they don’t have to worry about parallel parking. They just dump their car wherever the fuck they please.

“It’s not about blacks. It’s not about racism or white power or whatever the lamestream media wants people to think about us. It’s about white rights. Plain and simple.” This was Lamar LaRue, spokesman of the Ivory Coalition, an organization of “white racialists” dedicated to “taking our country back.”

“Such an honor,” he said to me. “It was so amazing the way you saved that busload of retarded children from that Brimstone fellow. Shame about Miss KC though.”

“This,” I said, “is amazing. Afuckingmazing. I can’t tell if you’re deluding yourself along with all those idiots over there,” pointing to the cavalcade of pale men and women, waving signs and flags. “White Rights Now!” “All Lives Matter.” “White people are people too!” A few American flags, but they were outnumbered by Gadsden and Confederate flags. “Or if you’re just playing nice for the cameras.”

“What’s that now?”

“I said you’re a racist piece of shit and a grandstanding goon, and it is my privilege, sir, to tell you to go fuck yourself. I look forward to the day when I can save this city from your evil grasp.”

The Chief took me aside. The white supremacists were gathered in front of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. On the other side of Eighteenth Street, corralled behind a fence of steel barriers, was a smattering of counterprotesters holding “Black Lives Matter” signs. The Chief said, “You don’t have to agree with these folks. You just have to keep them safe. That’s the code.”

It does happen, quite frequently in fact, that I save people who really don’t deserve saving. But my job is to help, to save, not to decide who is worthy and who is not, although it’s diverting to think about it later, when I can’t sleep, who deserved my rescue, who would have been better off bifurcated. I’m thinking of this guy named Ron, who was nearly cut in half by Earwig, one of the nastier supervillains to build his chops in the KC metro area. Earwig had been a small farmer in Kansas, his meager spread abutting a nuclear plant. Ron ran the plant and had been dumping cans of waste on Earwig’s property. He wasn’t called Earwig then, just Earl. Some of the waste got into the well water. It killed Earl’s family, but somehow it made him a superpowered mutant whose DNA was crossed with an earwig. He tried to go for Ron, this smarmy little bullshitmonger, was set to squeeze him in half, but I stepped in, saving the life of a man I hated, suspending the liberty of a man for whom I felt great sympathy. Earwig is locked away in Leavenworth. Ron is out there running amok, a bigwig in an energy company.

I would save a racist piece of shit from a speeding bullet, for pieces of shit are people too. There’s a slogan for you. But there was no speeding bullet, no supervillain threatening the lives of these pieces of shit.

“They have a right to gather here, but not to ask me to stand with them.”

“You won’t be standing with them, just near them. That crowd over there’s going to get bigger,” meaning the counterprotesters. “We’ve got a lot of protection here,” in the form of snipers and SWAT and beat cops decked out in gas masks and armor, all rocking assault rifles. I know gun enthusiasts don’t like that term “assault rifles,” and I’ll stop using it when they stop using the n-word. “Just need you to make your presence known. Make it known to the Black Lives crowd that no untowardliness will be tolerated.”

“Why wait until the last minute to call me? You knew this rally was taking place.”

“Didn’t know about BLM until last night. Figured we could use your support if things get out of control. We are dealing with a population with a propensity to riot. Last thing we need in downtown KC is a riot.”

“The racists have a right to rally. Those people across the street have a right to protest them. You don’t need me.”

“Yours is not to question why, Mr. Hero. I pay your salary. Just do your fucking job.”

Well, I did it. I walked across the street, floated up over one of the barriers, and stood with the counterprotesters. Arms crossed. The racialists marched around and chanted. They hurled some epithets at our side, but no bombs or Molotov cocktails. The man with the hole in his pants was there. Either no one was telling him his ass was hanging out, or he was too comfortable to care. Speaking of asses hanging out, there was a mean-looking dude, tall, muscled-up, depilated, wearing a white tee shirt with the words “I had my cat castrated. He’s a liberal now.” (I forgot to mention I have telescopic vision, can zoom in and out. It makes me a great birder.) This skinhead was holding a Confederate flag. He was glaring at me, as if he wanted to see if he could take me. Placed side by side, it might look like he could destroy me, but I could pull his spine out through the back of his neck and do it so fast it would look like he just melted in place. I had only meant to give them a little twinkle, just to let them know where they stood, which was on shaky, treacherous ground, but in my anger I lost control of my laser glare and set that traitor’s flag on fire.

 

My parents were asleep when I got home. I took some cold pizza downstairs and turned on the TV. I patched up Betsy but didn’t have the energy. I got a call from an old friend, Skyman. Not the greatest superhero name, I’ll grant you, but he is a great guy. He’s banned both from flying and superheroing, but in his day he was one of the best. He lived in Minneapolis, but we had met at one of the conventions. One night on a routine canvas of the Twin Cities he was struck by lightning. It scrambled his brain. He retained his powers but not control of them. He lives now secluded in the woods. The phone call was brief. He can only speak in grunts, but his grunts are more articulate than the blathering of any TV talking head. I felt better after talking to him.

 

I was spitroasted in the media. My confrontation with the racists had caused a nationwide ruckus. Racists? Or racialists? It’s so hard to keep up with what we’re supposed to call them these days. Since when is it un-American to burn a fucking rebel flag? Trump called me a bigoted demagogue and an enemy of free speech. He said I should find another country. I got a letter from the superhero council; my status was under review. We can vote, but we are not supposed to get political. It’s part of the superhero code. Polls showed voters might not renew the sales tax that funded my salary and was conveniently up for renewal in November.

But I was also getting it on a local level from the aggrieved motorcyclist, who was trashing me to every news outlet in the region while also preparing a lawsuit.

This double debacle was not enough, on its own, to destroy my faith in or hope for humanity, but it was the latest and last in a litany of bullshit. I’m not one to trot out clichés, especially ones that are outdated. The straw that breaks the camel’s back will soon be obsolete. Given that the only thing rising faster than global temperatures is the obesity rate, it will likely be replaced with “the fat guy who flooded Florida.”

I don’t know if I’m a god, or a minion of the gods, placed here, banished here, to protect humans. Or destroy them? I do know that humans don’t deserve our help. Americans least of all. Yet the U.S. overflows with superheroes. There’s about to be one less.

It is mainly with relief that I announce my resignation from superheroing. My heart was no longer in it anyway.

I’m leaving this decadent land of nitwits, with their whining about tyranny in the form of taxes and political correctness, and on my way out I’m going to tear down the walls of a private prison. Then south. I will be the first do-gooder superhero. It’s about time one of us did something real, something genuinely beneficial to humanity. I’m going to Mexico, going to stomp some cartels and corrupt politicians. Then I’m going to Syria, to Nigeria, to Nauru. Wherever people are not free, where they live in fear, where they are truly persecuted, I will be there to squash the heads of the persecutors. In my travels I’m also going to destroy the poaching industry. I’m going to clean up the Great Pacific garbage patch. I’m going to use my icy breath to slow the melting of the glaciers. But first I need to say goodbye to Betsy.


About the Author: Alan Good‘s writing has appeared in Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Bookslut, Atticus Review, Red Fez, Perversion Magazine, and Word Riot. His first novel is Barn Again: A Memoir. www.malarkeyweb.com
@TheAlanGood

 

Review: Human Acts by Han Kang

han kang


Humans Acts
by Han King
Published 2017 by Hogarth
$22.00 hardcover ISBN 978-1101906729

By Noah Sanders

Reading Han Kang’s book, Human Acts, would be a difficult task regardless of the current American political climate. Human Acts follows a cast of loosely connected characters as their lives ripple forward and backwards from the brutal 1980, 10-day suppression of student protestors by the South Korean government now referred to as the Gwangju Uprising. It pokes and prods at the vile actions of a government lorded over by a ruthless dictator, showing the short and long effects of tragedy—on the individual and the community, the past, the present, and the future. The title, Human Acts, certainly refers to the barbarous actions we are, in Kang’s purview, all capable of, but also of the humane deeds, small or large, that allow us to overcome.

In 1980, in city of Gwangju, students of Jeonnam University gathered to peacefully protest the political ascension of soon-to-be South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan. Government troops, under Doo-hwan’s orders, entered Gwangju and shot, killed, and beat the gathered students. What followed was a ten-day battle in the streets of the city, ending ten days later with an estimated 606 civilians dead. This is not a beat-by-beat record of the event; instead Kang focuses on the death of a fervent middle-schooler, Dong-ho, and its effect on those who knew him, even briefly, over the course of the next four decades. In doing so, Kang allows the reader to understand the motivations behind the protests, and the revolt that followed, through the eyes of the individual, using Dong-Ho as an avatar to put us directly in the grit and grime of the conflict. And as devastating as Dong-Ho’s experience is—Kang has no issue using her vast writing skills to describe the gore of armed conflict—he’s just an entry point to a discussion of the larger grief that flowed outward from the event.

Each chapter is told through the viewpoint of a character somehow connected to Dong-Ho and the Gwangju Uprising: a censored editor in the mid-1980s; the trapped soul of Dong-Ho’s friend; an imprisoned protestor; even Han Kang herself. Though the opening chapter introduces Dong-Ho, and momentarily, each successive character, their individual chapters are presented chronologically, allowing Kang the opportunity to showcase the long reach of the Gwangju Uprising’s horrifying effects. The editor, Eun-Sook still lives on the precipice of her nightmares, reality just as dark; Dong-ho’s mother chases his specter through a crowded marketplace, still searching for his soul.

Human Acts is, primarily, about how a single tragic event creates a before and after, a memory of the “times that were” and everything else beyond that. For Kang’s characters, the Gwanju Uprising not only redefined their futures, but also recreated their pasts. As the characters move further and further away from the event—some finding healing in time, others not—the moments prior to the event take on greater meaning, an almost rosy-hued nostalgia that only adds to the characters’ ongoing misery. Eun-sook, the editor, sees a play so heavily censored that the characters remain silent, merely mouthing the words. “After you died I could not hold a funeral,” a character in the play says, “And so my life became a funeral.” The past creates the future, the future reshapes the past, and in the greying limbo between them both are where the characters of Human Acts live.

Kang, here translated by Deborah Smith, is a gifted writer (The Vegetarian won the Man Booker Prize in 2016) whose prose ably toes the line between lyrical poignancy and brutal realism. And though, again, this is not a non-fiction account of the Gwanju Uprising, researching it after reading the book made it clear that Kang had to sacrifice some delineation of the scope of the event to make room for her stellar dissection of the undulating waves of grief it caused. This bleeds over into the paper-thin representation of General Chun Doo-hwan’s forces, shadowy slivers of evil that butcher innocents at a whim. Yet, this isn’t the story of the Gwanju Uprising—the good, the bad, the deceased—it’s the story of how it affected those who survived it, of how it continues to affect South Korea.

And though reading Human Acts isn’t a pleasant Sunday drive, by any accounts, it is even more terrifying in the context of the current American political climate. We’ve faced “before” creating events in the near past—9/11, the Newtown Shootings, the Orlando Massacre, etc.—but in Kang’s world, the event isn’t an act of terrorism, it’s a decree sent down from the very, very top. Even if Kang’s book is centered on an event that took place almost 40 years ago, it feels like a warning, a harbinger even of a physical and emotional future, a universal grief felt from sea-to-shining-sea, suddenly, horrifyingly, possible.

 

Gentlemen Prefer Asians by Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta

Gentleman



Gentlemen Prefer Asians

By Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta
Published 2016 by ThreeL Media | Stone Bridge Press
$14.95 paperback ISBN 9780996485203

Reviewed by Krista Varela Posell

Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta’s first book, Gentlemen Prefer Asians, is a collection of essays that details the marriages of three gay Indonesian men in their pursuit to become US citizens. Though the book’s subtitle is “Tales of Gay Indonesians and Green Card Marriages,” the essays amount to so much more, creating a nuanced portrait of family, love, and friendship in the 21st century.

The book begins with meditation on the impact of our memories, the way they “occupy,” “attack,” and “metastasize,” establishing one of the recurring themes throughout the book. The narrator invites us in to relive some of these “precious fragments” from his life, launching us into a narrative that is raw, vulnerable, and dynamic.

Throughout these essays we are introduced to multiple characters, many of whom are referred to by their profession: The Pilot, The Baker, The Nurse, and even the narrator’s husband is referred to as The Musician. In this way, the focus of the story is geared toward the narrator and his two Indonesian friends, Ario and Jaya. We witness the history of the narrator’s former relationships in a series of essays entitled “Gentlemen Suite.” Other minor but important characters include the narrator’s parents, who play a supportive role in supporting the narrator’s life. “Your Daddy’s Rich and Your Ma’s Good Lookin’” is an especially poignant essay that describes the narrator’s exodus from Indonesia from his mother’s perspective.

Ario and Jaya, two Indonesians married to American men, are the two other central characters and serve as a contrast to the narrator. Ario is somewhat conservative and subscribes to ideals about romantic love, yet complies with the open marriage his American husband desires and has trouble adapting to life in the US. Jaya is an outgoing, vivacious stud married to a man forty years his senior and, despite his bubbly demeanor, struggles to face his some of his own demons.

Many of the book’s most pivotal moments come through conversations between the narrator, Ario, and Jaya. These conversations highlight the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the three men within each of their relationships. Ario acts as the voice of wisdom for the trio and offers insight into the power dynamics between these men and their American husbands, spouting off lines like, “You are married, which means you are owned by a man,” and “Being equal means having power and power is sexy.”

Guiding us through these scenes is a narrator with a distinct voice that is witty and honest. He’s quirky, but intelligent. He’s well read and nerdy. He’s familiar with the Bible and Sylvia Plath, but also knows just as much about Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. He’s self-deprecating, describing himself as a “gay, feminine Klingon,” but this makes him all the more endearing. The self-awareness in the narrator’s voice gains the reader’s trust as he gives us an honest account of his previous relationships—the way he kept The Baker on the hook, the way he uses The Pilot as a rebound.

Tuanakotta plays with the essay form in multiple ways. Some of the essays experiment with the second and third person, and from multiple points of view. Other essays are lists—the “Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant Checklist” and “Permanent Resident Case Filing Checklist”—that give a more objective perspective into the process of becoming a citizen. While most of the book is rooted in scene, some essays collectively titled “The Demons of Indonesia” are devoted to exposition, bringing the reader up to speed on the current political climate and LGBT movement in Indonesia. These acknowledgements of the queer struggle on a global level help to illuminate the complicated feelings that the three main characters have toward their husbands, their marriages, and the places that they call home.

Ario asks the narrator about halfway through the book, “Would you still marry your husband if you were American?” to which the narrator doesn’t respond. This is one of the implicit central tensions of the book—the balance between trying to find true love and becoming an American citizen. Though the narrator’s marriage to The Musician is hardly played out on the page, it isn’t really the point. These stories don’t portray the typical fairy tale romance of finding true love and living happily ever after. Ario divorces his husband and returns to Indonesia, and Jaya resigns himself for the time being to a loveless marriage to ensure his future financial stability. The narrator himself ends on a note of ambivalence, acknowledging apprehension of the (at the time of publication) upcoming US presidential election. His final thoughts are a sobering reminder that we still have a lot of work to do to protect the voices of those like the narrator, Ario, and Jaya. Their stories must be heard and spread widely to continue the conversation.

 

 

 

Homesick for Another World: Stories by Ottessa Moshfegh

Homesick for Another World


Homesick For Another World
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Published 2017 by Penguin Press
$26.00 hardcover ISBN 978-0399562884

Reviewed by: Noah Sanders

Ottessa Moshfegh’s is a joyfully disgusting writer. Her worlds are populated by an unappealing lot of losers, perverts, drunks and drug addicts, struggling to find purchase in whatever gutter they may have woke up in. Moshfegh seems to thrill in detailed descriptions of cystic acne, bloated bodies, horrifically mangled and misshapen limbs, and a slew of other physical deformities that afflict her characters. As monstrous as the characters in her first short story collection – Homesick for Another World – are on the outside, they are imbued with the potential for worse within. And it is a testament to her immense abilities as a writer that in the collection she is able to make these ugly creations not only relatable, but strangely likable. She is, quite frankly, a master of revulsion. Her characters breath, bleed, screw, and ooze from the page, sloughing through their sad existences, weakly reaching for someone, or something, to lift them up to places even marginally better.

In Homesick for Another World Moshfegh’s keen eye and descriptive power are turned towards a motley cast of down-on-their-luck characters – a Chinese factory worker who seeks love, a woman who seeks vacation in destitution, a wall-eyed country kid trying to become a Hollywood star – their only connecting thread the want, in even the smallest way, to find solace, or escape, from their uniformly miserable existences. Moshfegh’s is a hopeless world, the stories set in barren, hard-luck locales that on occasion read almost post-apocalyptically, consolation to be found only in the skewed connections between human beings. The tales told in Homesick for Another World place universal life moments we all share – first dates, break-ups, moving to a new place – underneath Moshfegh’s powerful microscope, pushing past the superficial to expose the warts, pustules, and enlarged genitalia laying just beneath the surface.

A sense of escapism trickles through each of the 14 stories in the book, a morbid romanticism that drives and consumes these characters, pushing them towards reprehensible acts in the hope that it will free them from the lives they inhabit. The titular character in “Mr. Wu”, is a lovesick, bitter drunk who writes intimidating texts to a local arcade owner, hoping it will draw her to him, only to ignore her when the chance arises. “Nothing Ever Happens Here” features a wall-eyed teen who departs his small-town life, convinced he’s the next big Hollywood star, his self-delusions bolstered by the awkward romantic advances of a fading gossip columnist. Moshfegh is at her best when she writes of dreamers, no matter how abhorrent, failing to touch the stars, but discovering the small joys of their own lives in the process.

Most of the stories here are written in the first person, allowing Moshfegh to showcase the world of her narrators through their cracked and skewed perspectives. It is here that her often stomach-turning descriptions are most powerful, as the moles and receding hairlines and picked-scabs her characters are infested with seem to trap the reader within these lives. Forcing us to find the hints of light in the very darkest depths that allow her characters, sad as they might be, to move forward.

In short story form though, Moshfegh occasionally abandons narrative pay-off, bowing down to her own seeming delight in the strange and disgusting. In Eileen, her acclaimed debut novel, she had page space to build character and plot amidst the internal and external filth, allowing the ending to organically blossom. Though the weaker stories in Homesick for Another World – “A Dark and Winding Road” or “Dancing In The Moonlight” – still sing with her visceral characters and descriptions, the shorter form forces Moshfegh to make relatively large leaps that often times strand her characters, and the reader, without adequate closure. But Moshfegh’s writing is so immersive, so hideously enjoyable, that even when she can’t stick the landing, the routine leading towards it always merits attention.

To say that Moshfegh’s stories are hopeful, inspirational even, seems a strange descriptor. She revels in pouring on the disgustingness, but in her capable hands, it only makes the characters more real, more relatable. All of us want to meet someone, all of us have dreamed of fame, just like all of us have a truly ugly, even creepy side to our thoughts, to our physicality. Yet, she even as she afflicts her characters with arms that look like “prawn claws” or a tendency to “vomit in public, just to make a scene” or a general nihilistic approach to the world as it is, she drags them from the gutter, even for just a moment, allowing them a chance to stand up just a little taller, even if they’ll surely stumble back down.