11.30.2004

I'm so glad Lauren is back. She's such a good blogger. I had so much fun putting bits of Girly up there for you--it was such a pleasure to have a little art project. I've been working so much on other stuff I love--teaching, Cupcake, a few other projects--that I haven't written since summer. I don't really write in New York, though--I need meandering and quiet time and trees to get me going. And I'm not quite ready to dig into another big novel. But maybe come spring I will start some short stories--teaching my workshops, talking so much about narrative arc and finding the true, organic stakes of a story has inspired me to come up with a few of my own, which I've never been so interested in previously. We'll see.

One more note I didn't get to mention before the Girly deluge--the guys at n+1 are so fabulous (as I've said before). They got back to me right away after I teased them some more about their numbers and submissions. I'm so happy that they are up for rising to the Cupcake challenge.

xo
Elizabeth

Okay, okay: I'm back. I've been laying a bit low today, nursing my mild jet-lag and my bruised aesthetic sensibilities.

Two weeks of reading magazines that mix avant-garde fashion spreads with several pages discussing the political, legal and philosophical implications of legalizing drugs (almost literally) collided with a woman, driving a Yukon Denali, who very nearly catastrophically veered into the lane presently occupied by the taxi I was riding in this morning. Why? Because she was reading Page Six while driving.

It was a thing of a sort of savage beauty, I guess you could say. Except for the part where I wished I was still in France, like we all do sometimes. Unfortunately, no amount of clicking my red shoes together is going to make that happen. At least not today.

Regarding Paris: Everything was wonderful, as I knew it would be. My other travels in France and Switzerland (the latter in a very minor way) were quite lovely, too. I resisted the urge to buy Yves Saint Laurent-brand cigarettes (the box is black matte with YSL embossed in silver, if you're wondering), but I absolutely had to nab the tote from Kookai with the following spelled out in sequins: Que serait le monde sans les filles? (quite loosely: Where would the world be without women?)

I'm afraid that's all I'm good for today. I've still got to catch up on the 200+ new emails in my inbox and return a ton of calls. So terribly unchic, I know.

Many thanks to the glamourous Ms. Merrick, for her ingeniously creative posting while I was away.

xo,
Lauren

PS, When planning your next elegant vacation, do note that Mark may email you the best Paris tips if you ask nicely...

11.29.2004

Excerpt from chapter twenty-one (the last one!)
of GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick




The Subaru salesmen smoked cigarettes and talked pussy, leaning against the plate-glass door of the dealership, bending spent filters into a sandy ashtray. Hopefully slick blue and white and orange and green and yellow pennants hung from a line, flapped in breeze, but there were no customers. There were no mommies to promise safety and all-wheel drive to. There was just asphalt and the whack and slip and crack of those pennants in the breeze. There was the mustardy Wendy's sign and green-arrow left turn signal and Hit or Miss women's clothing store and TJMaxx across Route One. The Radio Shack whose assistant manager promoted his cover band from his mother's former basement rec-room. Strip malls, asphalt. The promise that if you bought something, even a double bacon cheeseburger, even something that small, that you could freeze the moment, you could be okay, you could be safe.

But no mommies were coming, that morning–the mess was too big in the mommies’ homes, the mess was swarming, the mess swamped and pooled and felt like drowning. The beginning of flu season, middle of November, arrived with chapped lips and chapped bottoms and piles and piles of dishes, piles and piles of germs on the dishes.

Today it was warm, but the warmth arrived on the tail of an early, solid freeze. Creeks had already hardened, small ponds had even iced over near to their middles. The warmer morning today cracked all the sickness well into the open. This morning, it swerved to the other side of seasonable–somewhere in the high sixties, bright sun, though ice still sparkled across the fields and in the shoulders of the roads.

The Subaru salesmen edged their conversation in pure guy sureness and the pleasure of being terse. They pushed the missing mommies from their minds this way. One of them–-pink faced, not unkind, mustached, hair blown dry in a perplexing geometry if you looked at it closely–-felt the terseness give, though, felt the control of the man-conversation slip when a moment of silence descended onto Route One, no cars in either direction. Hush. Until.

Long wild tendrils of blond hair flying out the car window filled the emptiness something like a roar in reverse—a sucking-in of all noise. But it was quiet just for a moment, just until the very loud car stereo got drowned out by this driving woman’s voice. Just a regular mid-size rental, a white Ford Taurus, but inside and outside it felt like a convertible. Ruth, driving and still even as an adult perpetually too warm, had all the windows down where anyone else would have been a little chilly.

Did Kurt Dieckmann recognize Ruth when she shouted his name out the window that day, or did her voice just veer back into the taunt and crack of Mick Jagger's on the radio? Did Kurt Dieckmann swallow the sentence he had been ready to unleash on his Subaru cronies? Did he think of the.. . different. . . way their eyes would land on his wife as she walked up to the buffet at the Christmas party if they heard the exploit he was just about to tell them? Did he feel mess encroaching? And excess? And a giddy laughter that made him nervous? And his wife's unequalled, delicate jawline, the woozy drop in her voice right before she'd fall asleep? And the bloody scream of something perpetually beyond the edges of what he understood?
chapter twenty: speaking
an excerpt
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

(it's Button again:)


Time is not happening, and then it is happening. When it is not happening it is like those layers of cellophane in different colors stagehands put on theater lights. Thin films of color one atop the other. Yellow: my husband, waiting for me. Three distinct versions of him; one Elmer wrinkled and bent, gray hair, smoking a cigarette on vacation; one strapping, a grown man, watching me leave him behind; a third, his chest still whippet-lean, a boy’s, lazy, turning his eyes sideways from me, turning his eyes to what his friends think is the true prize. Cyan: the true prize that wasn’t—Violetta: the white-pure girl who he married first, cyan the moment he takes that vow, cyan her murderous inability to stay alive, cyan the rows of slicing, perfect lilies banking her casket. (Any fool knows when you layer all the cellophanes together you get pure white light. Death light, everything light. A shimmering, a brightness.) Red cellophane, magenta—is it red?—the color I know. I knew red by the time I was seven, blood covering my father, covering the steer he’s butchering, red on me helping him. Red twenty years later, the color of the tiny cross on my nurses hat. White, red, one is murderous, pure, and the latter is the color of death before it settles, death ready, a stomach full, of stench, of life.

I lost Elmer two times before I finally married him. I lost him two times before he died. I was not about to lose him through the ether but there was really no choice, that telephone rang and there was no choice a’tall.


11.28.2004

chapter nineteen: back
an excerpt
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick




Though she usually lets Rudy do it, Amandine introduces herself to this nurse who will explain things—a bit strange, Amandine thinks, something a bit strange about this nurse Nae. She’s genteel, though the edge comes up quicker, nervous—this woman she is meeting, Nae Williams, the head of the rehabilitation program, seems familiar to her and irks her in the way someone who seems to see through you before you even have spoken with them can irk.

“So we’ve really enjoyed your daughter. She’s made great progress with us.”

“Let’s get down to business,” Rudy says. “What kind of program are you running here?”

“Well, it’s a holistic program, for our more high-functioning patients. We stress life-skills as well as body-mind awareness.”

“Yoga? Chanting?” Rudy says.

“Well, some of that.”

Cult, Rudy is thinking, definite cult. He nods grimly and frowns. Look at this woman, he thinks, the faraway look to her and that smile that keeps coming up. Brainwashed. Here in a hospital!

“Also, there’s a rather intense physical detoxification and massage element, it goes along with working in the vegetable garden out back and preparing meals—a hard work component has been crucial to our successes.”

Snort.

Yoga? Amandine is thinking. Yoga? To Amandine, that word is synonymous with idol with adultery with pagan with Hell’s Angel.

The idolaters are going to burn up both her girls!

“I’m a bit concerned, I have to say, because Exene—Racinda, excuse me—still clearly needs a bit of time with us, but since she isn’t actually a minor as she has been telling us, the funding to keep her here isn’t going to remain available indefinitely.”

“Lady, this is verging on mind control, and we’re pulling her out as soon as you tell us where she is in here!” Rudy says.

Amandine nods determinedly.

“You know what, sir?”

Rudy feels a tinge bad—seeing a woman back away from him, seeing a nurse—even one he thinks is so misguided—shrink from him not in fear, exactly, but close enough, shames him adequately that he softens his features, becomes willing to negotiate.

“Yes, ma’am, I’m sorry if I got overdramatic there.”

“Well, no problem. You know, though, that as she is legally an adult you have no say as to whether or not she stays or goes. She gets to choose herself whether she wants to stay as long as the funding lasts.”

Amandine waits until the last minute then grabs a tissue from the box on the desk to keep the snot from running down onto her lip. She dabs daintily at the tears first. Yoga? She thinks, and sees her baby with six arms, shaking her belly like “I Dream Of Jeannie,” skin blue like the cartoon-looking goddess at the Indian grocery across the street from the church. Blue skin charred black, peeling off bone in a pyre.

11.27.2004

chapter eighteen
an excerpt
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


Max


I learned how to hitchhike then almost as well as I already knew how to shoplift. The first days of it, all I did was sleep once I got picked up and settled into the cab. I didn’t want to think about anything so I would just smoke too much weed, hitch a ride. I went in circles on the freeway—hitching rides north, south, north again. West, whatever. Around the loops of the overpasses. Then straight, barren hours. I slept through November downpours and cold frozen light. I slept until I woke and we were in the blank chute of the 5 going south and I got out of Ed’s rig at a truck stop and felt the cold wind in my teeth and got a ride north with Jose. I slept day and night in the trucks. Whatever trucker, Jose or George or Ratty or Don would buy me a burger, would buy me fries, I lived in a world where another ride and another meal always came along. It was the strangest thing. I didn’t want to speak. I just wanted to sleep.

* * *

I dreamt of the ocean. There was a man in there, throwing a baby up in the air and catching him every time. But it wasn’t Donald, it was a white guy, long hair, but not a hippie. Tan and just this aging surfer guy. Dad! I would think, waking up, until I remembered that mine was more like Herb Tarleck from WKRP, bad hair, bad jacket, bad talker, loser. That there was nothing in that dream that I wanted except the wanting.

11.26.2004

chapter seventeen: all this is not named him
(excerpt)
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick



When I woke up there was a woman in a yellow smock trying to pass for a blouse rolling me over and sticking a needle in my ass. I yelled, and she said, “Well it’s about time, sweet pea.”

Everything hurt. When she rubbed my head, it felt like her whole hand was made of needles.

And when I remembered something besides walking to his house in my white dress and that I had lost him and that nothing made sense any more, I closed my eyes, not tight, just heavy, and tried to let my bones sink into the bed until I lost consciousness, but I didn’t. The attendant in the yellow smock brought me a plate of food and I kept my eyes closed until her hand-needles attacked my shoulder, gently, and she said, eat. Everything was inedible, I just nibbled on it, except the chicken, which fed my memory and I remembered feeling like the power was in that white dress, in the twilight. I remembered that I traced the carpet wale on the wall of the Amtrak car for two hours that seemed like days, that a man in a hat wanted to sit next to me and feel my ass until I summoned something outside myself in my glare and it made him go away.

I sort of lobbed the chicken around my mouth and dowsed it with water when its yucky industrial boiled taste became too clear to me, when the light from outside seemed to brighten somehow, making me wince. I remembered that a car softened me, somehow.

The nurse’s nametag said Annette. Her shortish hair looked like she’d put curlers in it—these lush, wide rounds of curls, but she was obviously not that type. She was about thirty I think and had this pretty, funky brassy filigree metal necklace on that made her nurse outfit look less lame.

“Excuse me, Annette?” I said. “Annette? What is going on?”

“You took some bad acid,” she said. “Did you ever see that Freddy Wiseman movie, Hospital, where the kid in the black turtleneck is explaining how he took a bunch of mushrooms in Central Park and then suddenly starts projectile vomiting all over the ER holding room?”

“Uh—“ I say.

“That’s why they have tile walls. Hose-able. Well that was what was happening to you, only it was all inside your brain. Like a lightshow in there, I’m sure,” she said, folding up the blanket at the bottom of my bed. Its edges were frayed, and for a second I panicked and thought I was in some deep ward of a huge crazy hospital in a decaying northern city, like Detroit or Cincinnati, but when I looked out the window the landscaping and lawns were perfect, lush as hell despite the dry dirt, and the parking lot was full of SUVs. I could see the freeway coursing around some hills—it wasn’t so nearby as to give off exhaust fumes, but the view of traffic was excellent.

chapter fifteen: witness
excerpted from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

(Max):


Racinda was wrapped in Christmas tree lights. The three men had taken them off the moldings of the low ceiling and watched her spin until she was coiled in them. She was finishing the twirl—was all tied up—right as I got back inside, and her face looked different when she was this drunk.

“Time to go,” I said after I’d made my way through pounds and pounds of these men's stares.

“Max, go home,” she said, sticking her right hand out of the green wire in a shoo shoo motion from the wrist.

I wasn’t thinking, just breathing and moving and talking.

“Racinda, let’s go,” I said, and then the three moved in:

“Let the lady do as she pleases,” a hick said as he handed her a shot of whiskey.

“Last time I checked it was still a free country,” one said.

“If there’s going to be trouble we can take it outside,” one said, while the fourth, a short one, his black hair a hard teardrop under his baseball cap, held the end of the lights, and Racinda spun herself out, arms gradually raising, like a corkscrew, next to the low-lit pool table. The string of bulbs fell to the floor when she was done, and he tried to whip them like a towel in a lockerroom, the trails of light distracting me for a second before I grabbed her arm again.

“Max!” she said, drunk eyes widening, “This is the song!” and another old Joni Mitchell thing came on the juke, loud, speakers right next to us.

“We have to go,” I said, grabbing her arm.

“Hold on,” the blackhaired one said and grabbed me, tore me off of her.

“What?” Racinda said, “WHAT?” and she reached back out for me.



chapter fourteen: vamping romeo
excerpt
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


When he got the bill the next day from the escape clothes I had ordered up through roomservice—you know you’ve gotten yourself somewhere when you can order jeans and stillettos and someone in a uniform brings them to your door inside a half hour—I was truly stuck, he put a ban on me ordering anything but food and videos. And you know, my little strolls too far down Sunset weren’t even all that. The first few minutes out of the cab were a rush, but then the dirty heshers, hair hopelessly teased, leather pants worn gray at the thighs, really didn’t do much for me. I craved the suits. I craved the martinis. I craved the $500 bottles of Scotch, the weed that didn’t once leave a hangover. I knew nothing about this shit a month previous, when I was happy drinking a six of Mickey’s wide mouths, anything above 20/20.

My flesh grows raspberries, hot blushes where I can see it, maybe bruises where I can’t.

A flame, tattooed in reds and blacks, wriggles, writhes, snaps under his belly button. It makes me hate my own sad, thorny rose, so uninspired, done when I was thirteen, on my ankle. He tells me his wife’s intuitive instructed him on a focus, and then this flame came to him in a dream, strangely coincidental with the sex/money chakra. Whatever. It always just looks like a cunt, though, to me, churning half open on his hard skin.

I turn over and over in my mind: what could my plain rose become? I bring my stained ankle just inches from my eyes and imagine on it faces, landscapes, symbols from a language that never existed, but whatever I come up with, I know that cheap flower will not let itself hide.


11.24.2004

chapter eleven: shadow mama
excerpted from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

(this is Racinda):

I started to think of her in my mind as Vagina Popcorn. The orange stuff on the popcorn would get on her fingernails and she would suck it off, somehow erasing all the residue from the perfect silk-wrap cuticle rim. They were talking about douching, the air in the kitchen was a milky turquoise, reflected from the floor I guess since the light flouncing through the high windows came yellow off the curtains.

Vagina Popcorn said she wasn’t going to put a bunch of chemicals up in there.

If there was an odor, she said, she was just going to go to the clinic. That’s what she believed was the right thing to do, she said. Lisa half-heartedly slapped her five, as if out of habit, and when their hands met, Vagina Popcorn’s showed their age. Vagina Popcorn’s sister, Lisa’s Aunt Beesie, believed in douching. I didn’t know if Aunt Beesie was Lisa’s real aunt, or if Vagina Popcorn was her real mother, or what. Lisa didn’t seem annoyed enough at Vagina for Vagina to really be her mother, they didn’t seem to know each other’s every breath like it seemed they should have.

I asked Lisa later and she said, “What does real mean anyway? Look at her nails. Look at her cheekbones.”

Vagina Popcorn was the kind of person who got her boyfriends to pay for plastic surgery, but had roaches crawling under her peeling, jewelly linoleum. Even so, I liked the way Vagina Popcorn looked at me like she understood at least something; I liked the way she nodded at the right times, so you knew she was getting it.



a little excerpt from chapter ten: what's your passion
of GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

(this is Max again)

He hands me the manual to the karaoke machine and leaves with all his lures and his poles and an inflatable mattress for the back of his van. I wait till he drives off then go check the liquor cabinet, and then I look if there’s anywhere in the hall closet to stick the karaoke asshole machine, so fucking embarrassing if Bandolero is coming here later. Which would be cool. The liquor is pretty stocked, and my dad is probably actually a little guilty about bailing, so he won't say shit if I empty it by Sunday. It will be a whole new level to have a party here.

I find that my dad still has some decent herb stuck in a sweatsock next to a flimsy clay pipe with a half-busted screen. He goes through a quarter a month. I only go up into the bedroom now when Pops isn't here, otherwise I stick to the fold-out couch downstairs for someplace to crash. He would let me sleep up here in this bed while he took the floor next to it the first year I started visiting him, when I was twelve and too chicken to sleep downstairs by myself. The next year I started sleeping on the couch—thirteen—and after I got over being so proud to walk around with a dad, I started realizing people were laughing at him a lot, and I started real fast hating to be seen with him in public.

I flop onto the polyester bedspread and looked out onto all the towing companies and warehouses in this part of Sacramento.

You can still see the Michelin sign out the window from the bed, the Michelin Man made up of piled white tires, walking along all lit up from inside the sign like he's got something to smile about. Who ever heard of white tires? Does the Michelin Man wobble when he walks? Do the tires balance like magic or are they glued together somehow? When no one's looking, does he swing them around like so many hula hoops? At thirteen I would stay up and wonder these things and try not to think about whether or not it would piss my dad off by asking him. I still wonder some of the same things, only now the Michelin Man looks more like a mummy with a beer gut.

Like if you pulled on a part of him that stuck out he would unravel and unravel, get down to something less puffy. I don't know what that would be, I can't imagine it.

chapter nine: thang
(excerpt)
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


(Racinda):


The whip woman: a line of bangs hitting white skin, the dark lips in a false, showy-shy smile. Sometimes snaking her shoulders, opening her mouth ahhhh after she snapped the thing with a sharp downward cut of her arm, starting at her elbow: she was trying to look like she enjoyed it. Running her free hand from her hip to her breast. But she wasn’t. She was window dressing, she was a doo-wop girl. Shit was enjoying it—not the whipping, really, not like in any sensual way—thrilled with every moment of the show, loving each place on the stage he had to run to next, loving each indecipherable lyric. The whip woman looked bored, but kept smiling, snaking, rubbing her thighs together by circling her hips.

I watched the whip’s black length curl out and switch, I watched its splayed tip crack between momentum and inertia. An empty space, then a line, a snap, a hook, a retreat. Wherever he went, she whipped him.

But I couldn’t look at her anymore. She was too fake, too embarrassing, too Vanna White. I cringed, and my eyes drifted to the stuff on the TVs. It seemed fake too, but not as immediately fake because it was removed, distant, not live—I didn’t have to feel embarrassed for the person here in the room. And it was serious, it was scary. Not for Vanna. You could see the women screaming, faking, did they want to be having sex with these men? No, but who could tell the difference. The blonde’s soft face, a close-up, turned around over her shoulder, on her knees, her mouth wide, saying yes but it is a lie. To a handheld camera, lower quality, men in khakis tying another man in khakis to a chair. To a birdlike woman, black hair feathered against her temples, her frail eyes looking up, amazed, open, then down, demure, scared, then up, so grateful at what he, an incarnation of the devil, can give her, as he drives his dick into the back of her throat. I moved away from Ally then, acting like I had to really search for my cigarettes, acting like I had to tie my boot, and I didn’t let him lean in to me any more after that.

I sat in the ladies room for as long as I could without annoying anyone. I tried to think of something soothing, but the only thing was Button’s garden, and it made me want to weep. Home, I thought, think of home, but avoiding the garden, avoiding Ruth, all I happened on was our living room here in Sacramento—it still seemed new though we’d been there years by now—, the couch, closing my eyes on that couch. If I opened them, in my head, all I saw was my mother’s Jesus on the wall, not the big, gentle charcoal drawing of him but the smaller oil portrait, on the cross, saw the colors of the nails and the blood and the way you die from asphyxiation if they crucify you, the way you die from lack of air, actually, instead of all the flesh wounds.


11.23.2004

chapter eight: crazysitter
(excerpt)
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

(this is Max talking. He's Racinda's age. It's the eighties, in Sacramento)

When Ruth first walked in the door it was just starting to get dark out, just graying and cooling in the distance. The first thing you’d notice is her strange hair, kinky and sort of metallic brown underneath, but blonder and blonder towards the frizzy ends, and then you’d see the way her cheeks were so round and always a little flushed, real apples. She was thin but her skin coated her like a layer of soft dough, plumping her, in a nice way though. It looked pink in some light, dead white in others, shifting, the way certain shells do.

Her little sister followed her like a mute. Her mother, Amandine, took the soda my mom got her and stayed away, on the couch, squeezing the lemon wedge into her Tab until the pulp coated her fingers.

My mom was leading Ruth around the house in a sort of a tour of all the things she worried about.

“This is where all the phone numbers are. There’s the fire extinguisher. The casserole for dinner is in the fridge and there’s otter pops, ” etcetera.

Ruth kept her back real straight and smiled a tiny girl smile, nodded like she was taking everything in, but she made sure I saw her pinch Racinda’s side—twist the skin hard—a couple times when mom’s back was turned. Racinda just took it like a pussy, blindly attached to her sister. Ruth’s own mom sat on the couch smiling wider when Ruth, my mom and Racinda passed by to inspect some other crucial detail. When Amandine saw the three streaming by in the hall, it was like a breeze swooped past her eyes and she posed to look happy. Not to convince someone else, more like for herself. Otherwise, she just sipped her Tab. I saw her lick the lemon off her fingers in a sort of prissy, greedy way after she rested it on the rim.

When our moms were driving off, my mom yelled, “Praise the Lord!” out the window of Amandine’s car, and Ruth actually said it back to them, loudly, enthusiastically.

Racinda seemed to inch away from her sister when Ruth sang it out again-- “Praise the Lord!”--but I got closer, hovering across the linoleum, fascinated with whether Ruth was fooling or not. I could see the windows of the Dasher lowering—a little vertical movement gobbled up in the horizontal of the car slipping down the driveway.

“Jeez, they are so fruity,” Ruth said.

Racinda and I stared up at her—we somehow got younger than ten with Ruth as the adult.

“Jesus fruity Christ,” Ruth said, pulling the screen door wide to let it go dramatically, to hear the wood bang the frame.

We stared silent.

“Praise the fucking fruity Lord,” she said.




chapter seven: fall away
an excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

Amandine decided to stop protecting Ruth from him, him—in his absence—from Ruth. She decided to give Ruth exactly what her father had left for her. She decided to leave the taffy and the ashtrays one evening, in their little box, outside Ruth’s bedroom door. Ruth promptly took the gift down to her father’s workshop and filled both painted-glass tchotckes with two packs of cigarette butts over the course of the evening. She brought her boom box down there and blasted a Zeppelin mix tape Matty Dieckmann had given her. She chewed each pastel piece of taffy into a pulp and let it drop, trailing syrupy thick lines of saliva, onto her father's perfectly carved letter-blocks. Her tongue sore, pocked with smoke and sugar, she remained quiet as she threw the contents of the ashtray over the project, transfixed by the wood’s transformation into sweet, ashy refuse. The music fed her smoke, then her chewing, then the blocks after she slammed them apart, finally, with a hammer. Heartbreaker, the song said, go away, heartbreaker, the song said, but Ruth didn’t pay attention to the words. Ruth ripped the counter off the wall with a crowbar and a hammer, she drilled holes into the blades of her father's two nicest handsaws, she cracked the window of each silvery level and let the yellow liquid run away.


chapter six: sing praises
another excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


With each episode, what grew in Ruth was Eve’s naughty grasp, the black juice just beneath the clean line of hemmed hedges, licking out from the dirt, catching your eye as you turn away, cringing your throat when you say the wrong thing, moving from state to state, penniless, dark, lips opening over a mouth, no consequences until the guillotine drops, masculine and feminine, irresistible—messy sweaty bloody and so necessary to the hard edges and the numbers and the banks and the marriages and the highways and the clocks but in certain ratios and in certain situations only allowed to go unpunished—in others, or with the least bit of bad luck, always punished, scorned with the hate that flows inside them all and keeps their above-ground edges so sharp, the pavement so smooth, the numbers so effusive and reliable.

So not Eve alone, but the speed of response in the very specific world Ruth landed in, I think, pushed Ruth’s chemistry from wild to dark, to knotted, to fog, curdled that rebellion to madness. Ruth knew that she had to steal her motion, her intensity, her voice before they could convince (or medicate) these things out of her. Cold winds rose at Ruth’s edges—quite like her sister’s Devil but without form, just a feeling.

But Ruth—Ruth, always, could grab the joy of her song as well, on its tail end—joy that left as quickly as it came, the lit, pale greenness of it pulsing warm, then shrinking against the sun, before the gray winds caught her.

* * *

To get past the vines Racinda had to dive low, smearing dirt across her knees and palms. Though she’d heard the splash she needed to see before she ran for help. Bloodied, but breathing, and Ruth’s head was not under or near the water.

Racinda tore her calves on prickers the way back through and ran to the house to find the speaking tongues still filling it with their buzz like an odor. Her mother’s eyes were closed in the living room, palms open near her face like she was waiting for God to beam something into them. Allelujah, Racinda could discern, allelujah, something rough coming through Amandine, something wet but without weeping, something dark and guilty. Racinda dialed the zero on the telephone in the kitchen and asked the operator to call an ambulance.



11.22.2004

chapter five: jesus mommy
excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


“Do you think we should do our fronts or our backs first?” Linda says as she walks down the lawn carrying a tray with iced tea and sandwiches.

“I don’t know,” Amandine says.

“Well, let me think. If I do your back then I guess it might get messy if you did mine then, so maybe we could switch off. I could do your back and then I could do my front.”

“That seems fine,” Amandine says. Her voice drifts off. As the slow, distant buzz of a jet engine weaves down through the thick air, she remembers suddenly to look for Jesus—she had forgotten up to this point. Her eyes scan the edge of the yard slowly. But when Linda starts to talk again, Amandine’s eyes fall on her wide rose-brown cheeks, the brow-bone that pushes out in a delicate, horizontal stretch waving S-shape. You can hear the insects flitting by now and then, you can hear the creek’s purr down the low hill, so it isn’t silent, though it seems that way.

“Well, Amandine, you better stop chattering so much or I’m gonna have to send you home!” Linda says. Forgetting her coating, she smoothes her fingers at the corners of her mouth, then has to pat the white stuff back into place.

“What? Oh. Yes, well, I’m sorry, I guess I’m just sort of a quiet person,” Amandine says.

Amandine looks down at her arm and brushes something imaginary off it with a swoop of her fingers, cringes back into herself out of habit, though in reality she feels happy to be so noticed. A smile cracks in her, but she only lets it cross her face for a second. She rolls over onto her stomach.

Linda dips a wide, wooden spatula into the mixture and smears it across Amandine’s back, avoiding the rust-colored bathing suit strap. Amandine shifts a little when she feels the surprise of the coolness. The mixture is a bit sticky, but the yogurt in it smoothes it out.

“Linda,” Amandine says.

“Yes, hon?”

“Do you ever—see—Jesus?”

“Well, sure, I see Him in my mind when I talk to Him, or you know, go out for a stroll and feel like He’s there,” Linda says.

“Oh.”

Linda drips the mixture onto the backs of Amandine’s thighs, just a few cold spots, inching in from the sides.

“Ow!” Amandine says, and gives a little nervous laugh. The sensation of the stuff dripping inwards makes her want to cry out again. She can feel a runny puddle of it forming where her legs are clenched together.

“Oh now I know it doesn’t hurt!” Linda says. Her voice is light and fluttery.

Linda refills her palms and lets larger splotches of yogurt and honey trickle on the white skin just below the edge of Amandine’s bikini.

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep it clean,” Linda says. Her fingers spread out over Amandine’s skin, following the mixture as it drips down the curves, scooping it up again, rubbing it in. Amandine spreads out, takes up more space on the chair.

“But you don’t see him with your eyes.”

“Well, no,” Linda says, “No I don’t, but I know some people have been fortunate enough to have a sort of vision like that.”

Linda looks up to the sky, at the white puffs speeding by on a wind the women can’t feel down where they are. She pulls her wide, coated hands up, spreads the fingers out as if to dry them. She leans her head a little and tries to get the explanation just right:

“The way it works is you just feel Him—He just is there with you and sometimes at the beginning it’s hard to open yourself to Him but with time, things you thought were just ‘happy’ or ‘peace’ or ‘joy’ or ‘comfort’ you now have a name for and that name is J-E-S-U-S,” Linda says.

The breeze blows across Amandine’s legs and she feels she might weep from the sudden lack of another person’s skin.
So this is the direct continuation of that bit from ch. 4 I posted earlier, which you can read here if you haven't already.

Chapter 3 is too weird to excerpt. This is so much more fun for me than regular blogging, by the way. And while I'm here, belated congratulations Lily Tuck.

xo
Elizabeth

chapter four: char
another excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

“Honey, you’re all the Jesus I need,” I told Lucas after Christmas dinner that year, once we were home again amid soft, colored beams thrown from the tree lights off wads of metallic wrapping paper scattered around. Jesus, annoyingly calm and underfed, folded His hands inside His frame, leaning on top of a pile of presents for my people I hadn’t quite gotten around to mailing before the date.

Lucas’s neck and shoulders were in knots from the Yuletide tension of all the chatty women he grew up with. I showed him the Boat, the Cobra, the Bear—yoga poses that might help the muscle strain—but it only took one little look, one little smile from him to convince me to get his undershirt off him and push Tiger Balm into the gold-brown of his upper torso. Jesus watched—He, Jesus, didn’t mind. . . although, Auntie Racinda—generally so free and easy with many of the commandments, herself—maybe would not have appreciated subjecting her gift to what we were enjoying so much.

Anyway.

"You've had a hard time," I say to Amandine. This is how I always begin. Why not? It's true for everyone on Planet Earth.

11.21.2004

whoops--I forgot to give you chapter two. Here is a little chunk, honeys:

excerpt from chapter two: the first girl
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

Button:

When Amandine came out of the hospital, she took too many painkillers and stayed in bed for weeks, making loud efforts at lifting the pages of wallpaper sample books, huge heavy squares. Lyman fawned on her for awhile, hoisting the books up onto the breakfast tray that spanned her legs as if a bridge, Amandine a dull, slow, silent river—murky. Every few hours she would say, water or tissue or pills (meaning a codeine or later, a Demerol) or saltine, all she would eat. She would lift the pages of the huge square books and run her limp white hands up and down their textures as if her wrists were broken.

When she was silent, she seemed to be whining. And when she spoke, something bigger than her voice seemed to be shattering. Something of the finest crystal, smashing apart: Pills. Water. Tissue.

She would doze off within minutes of Lyman propping the wallpaper book up for her, and start snoring so obnoxiously — something Lyman swore she had never done before, even in those last heavy months of her pregnancy — that Lyman hurried to lift the book off of her and leave the room just to get away from the noise. When she woke up again, she would call him to her from anywhere he happened to be in the house by swiping her hand across the bedside table, knocking prescription bottles and often her lamp and a glass of water tumbling into a racket against the wall. Reckless. I winced every time I heard Lyman's feet run to this.

Sometimes I would bring the baby into her room for a visit. Amandine gave the impression of being a sort of a zombie, sleeping propped upright on a pile of satin pillows, looking like she was awake but just playing a joke with her loud heaving. I hated going into that room, and left Amandine's care up to Lyman. Without makeup, she didn't look so hoity-toity anymore, she seemed washed out and exhausted. The mess droned out of her. For the first week home, Amandine would keep on snoring, despite me nearly shoving her off the bed in trying to wake her up. The baby, who kept a normal baby schedule, waking every few hours for a feeding during the night, going about its business of stretching and flexing and staring up at me and the mobile and empty space, was undisturbed by her mother's ruckus. The baby navigated the crass noises without noticing the difference.

As the baby settled in on her sleeping mother's belly, I tapped gently on Amandine's shoulder, then nudged, harder, then started flicking Amandine's white cheek with my middle finger propelled off my thumb.

Amandine's eyes hovered slightly, opened a tiny bit as her voice stumbled.

"Pill!" she said, "Pain pill!" wakening but still muddled, "Where's Lyman?"

"Amandine, Lyman went back to work," I lied. "Look–it's your daughter on you."

A streak of horror crossed Amandine's pinched, mousy little face as she turned—scared stark white— to look at me:

"Are you going to take care of me?"

"Oh just say hello to your daughter," I said. "Lyman doesn't go back till tomorrow. And he's getting you a nurse. Just say hello."

Amandine leaned back into the mounds of smooth pillows, before starting, as if she just then felt the nine pounds of baby on her lap. She looked over to me for guidance.

"Just give her your finger for gad's sake. Like this."

I unfurled Amandine's hand—clenched so tight the yellow skin on her knuckles was blanching itself—and placed the tip of her smallest finger into the baby's pink fist.

Amandine tensed, made a wavering sound, high-pitched but quick, then seemed to settle in. The baby stretched herself out then contracted, again and again, as if trying to climb up to see her mother's face better. Amandine stared down, but didn't pull the child to her. For a minute I thought Amandine was softening, and about to make some normal, mothery gesture, but I had too high of hopes: the snores started again. Her daughter reached pitifully, trying to move herself like an inchworm up her mother.

11.20.2004

chapter four: char
an excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

The Jesus on our wall belongs to my husband, Lucas. His auntie gave it to him, and he won’t ever take it down. It sits above the dining room table and would close Its Eyes, I imagined, squinting, when I used to smoke pot in front of Him—He couldn’t help but peek, though, I saw Him. That’s why I now almost always go outside for anything stronger than cigarettes. My husband keeps smiling at me when I complain about Jesus up there, when I say, “Well tell old Jesus to come down here and pack a bowl if He’s so freaking curious.” My husband gets on my case about smoking too much everything, winks and smiles and says, maybe He can help you with those bad stories. My husband is no Jesus-freak, though, almost never goes to church, has his own personal religion of trees, sky, and a convertible; he just likes to nudge me about this, get a rise out of me, like a brother. Part of his religion, too, is that if something simple annoys you so much, it’s probably you and not that thing that’s got the problem. Me, I don’t have my own religion yet, I’m too high-strung still, but when I get one, I’m going to incorporate that last idea so that I can say it back to Lucas, see how he likes it from that angle.

So Jesus is setting up there above Amandine’s head, and sometimes I like to imagine Him doing what I wish my response could be in a given situation. Like now, with this prissy groomed mouse desperate for help but too superioristic to admit it here in my living room, Jesus might strike His forehead like he was in the Mafia, roll His eyes, make a sour, tongue-out face. When He does this I mind His constant staring at me and Lucas a lot less, believe me. He’s just not my kind of deity, I guess, although I know His universal love policy is a good one. He always gets that much in my book.

Anyway, there we are, me, Amandine, and the Jesus that Auntie Racinda gave Lucas one Christmas. We all knew she stole it from the church basement out of spite for some questionable comments the preacher’s girlfriend made to her involving the nutritious value of lemon bars verses oatmeal cookies. My husband saw the empty, clean square on the wall behind the urinal in the men’s room during Christmas Eve services with his family. I never go with them to church, just barely make it through holiday meals at some auntie or other’s table. I’m not so popular with them—I agree with the preacher’s wife on the lemon bar thing, for example, but of course I’m not dumb enough to speak up on that. They can tell though. They know.

(read the rest of this excerpt here)


11.19.2004

chapter one: disobey
excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


When her mind said: The Devil the Devil, she thought:

I am not going to think about the Devil—

And so there he was.

The line from his cheek to his chin like an almond, his eyes bright, thick flecks turned fast so she could never see them clearly, his mouth the same silvery smudge.

I am not going to.

His fingers, reflective, vaporous, came to her heart.

It was too much then—the Devil couldn’t resist. He’d tried to talk to her before, in that androgynous voice Racinda imagined for him, but this time, it was something more real—a woman’s voice.

The deep edge of treble, and soothing, and kind.

Honey, don’t worry, she heard the Devil say, and in that music of the Devil’s voice Racinda saw Ruth’s hair spinning into brightness and the green spills of life out in the fields, in Button’s garden, honey, don’t worry, the Devil said, and Racinda knew just then, just for a second that the Devil was not what she’d thought, Racinda just for that one second knew it was something other than the Devil, and that this voice was actually for real, this voice was actually trying to soothe her.

But Amandine had trained her well, and when that second finished she convinced herself that voice was him, poor baby, she thought the touch of a smooth hand on her chin was something to cower from.

Hi, the woman’s voice said.

Racinda felt the Devil’s girly hand in that voice, she felt a giant, empty, new space where her sister misbehaved, where rebuke thee meant nothing, came out as jumbled syllables, where the words to real things were unformed yet, still tones and melodies, colors, the feeling of walking into a cloud.

Something shifted at the edge of the hill in her mind, where the road curved away to her mother’s house—Racinda turned her head fast, expecting to see an animal scuttling off. But it was nothing, just shadows. A boy’s face, and a man’s face, that she’d never seen but would know in time.

Hi. The Devil? A sweet, feminine voice. How could it be so terrifying, and so close-in, and so full of adoration?


prologue
excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

The third truly hot summer day of 1974 shimmers itself into everybody’s pores. I love mornings like this. It’s Sunday, the lunchmeat is in the refrigerator in wax-paper stacks, the condiments and paper linens and plastic utensils line up on the counter. Azaleas nudge the insulated window, pink explosions ready to pulse thicker in the June heat and humidity that the whole house can tell will soon expand all over the place. The air-conditioned women in white skirts, in tan heeled sandals, in a tidy culotte with a pale blue belt, in a pink nylon shift, in one remarkable, whispery pale green gabardine suit—these women tighten saran over the rounded wood of salad bowls, rake their little girls' hair into ponytails. Inside or outside, the background for all this is lawn, that rich fake colored lawn that somehow pours into untamed Pennsylvania meadow. The background is hot mist, and the noise of cicadas and breeze, and the smell of pink and yellow and violet colored blooms. Tongue, shell, lung, breath, cheek colored blooms.

(The heat outside fills me, strengthens me. I twist with the hot wind into the high clouds, I trip on the edges with the notes the finches and the sparrows and the mockingbirds offer me.)

The preacher’s wife, Linda, shoos her brood out of the house when she can tell that the tittering of women and children is about to set her husband, Ray, to squinting in annoyance, to a headache before his sermon. His jaw tilts to the right slightly as he runs a finger across eyelash-thin Bible pages; his shoulders, once bony, still hold angles though he’s hunched over a bit now, more meat on his bones at thirty-four.

“Outside!” Linda says, tough and full of smiles at once—their four girls, one or two others, and one tiny son of the pastel congregation pour out into the greenness of June to fight, and scream, and grin.

But the chattery, sometimes sing-song indoor noises of the women, women sweet on the moment they’re about to have together, sweet on each other after months, years of Sunday worship together—these noises are starting to bother Ray anyway. He hovers in front of the ring of empty chairs in the living room, rolling his eyes heavenward to try to remember the third point he wanted to make . . . what was it?

Oh my god, it is time for our first Cupcake art-blog project. I am so excited. I've been overwhelmed in administrative stuff for a few weeks, and I just took a few days to slow down a bit and watch too many episodes of Arrested Development and indulge my current fascination with Angie Bowie, and now that my brain has let go of the email, the email, it's so clear: yes, we'll be excerpting Girly for the next ten days or so.

I'll give you a paragraph or so from each chapter. It's a big blog art project, perfect for giving you a little snippet of somethin somethin at your day job without requiring you read everything to stay abreast, as excerpting one chapter over the week would do. SO in the spirit of blogging! And so nice to give all the different voices in the book a little air.

First excerpt up soon.

xo
Elizabeth

11.18.2004

Hi everybody. As you know, Lauren is in France and we are a little slow without her. It's sort of a shorter bus, a more special bus without her brain around.

Anyway, I know I'm supposed to serialize a chapter of Girly for you, but I'm not sure I want to do that now, for a few reasons that just came up. Bear with me. Don't hate me because I am shy and lazy. I'm just not quite feeling it today.

Girly is a 21 chapter novel, 600 pages, told in seven voices. Reading one chapter doesn't quite give a sense of the whole thing, and I've had friends suggest, after I've given readings, that I do a few shorter readings from a wider range of the voices. I'm thinking maybe I'll give you a paragraph from each chapter? Let me stew on it a few hours, my darlings, and I will figure out the perfect solution. Yes.

And Lauren, ma cherie, si tu lis ce blog post il faut m'email.

xo
Elizabeth

11.17.2004

Have fun in France, Lauren. Here's some advice from a reluctant francophile; cut in line at the Louvre, eat lots of foie gras and give the Starbucks in Montparnasse the finger for me!


xx

Jen
Yes, thank you Lauren. You two always go off and have vacations and I'm really jealous. But you always send postcards.

Girly action will commence Wednesday afternoon--but first, Jen Kirwin has something to say to you all, tomorrow, about the new upcoming genre, Dictator Lit.

xo
Elizabeth

11.16.2004

So, lovelies, I am off to France to commune with the spirits of Jeanne d'Arc, Colette (both of them), George Sand and many other fabulous femmes of past and present who have inspired me, e.g. Agnes B., as well as drink lots of stunning, cheap wine, eat exceedingly stinky cheese, start smoking again when I realize how expensive things are at the current exchange rate, etc.

Starting tomorrow, and every weekday for the next two weeks, the Cupcake blog will be getting all experimental on you, as we serialize one chapter of Elizabeth's near legendary novel, Girly - the underground sensation that inspired Cupcake - coming (packaged with its own revolution) in Spring 2005.

Early buzz:
GIRLY is a literary saga about three generations of women dealing with spirituality, sexuality, and the Cruella De Vil moments that lurk behind all sorts of nice-girl exteriors.

Recent coverage from a major agent describes the writing as "among the best young writing I've read," and "Louise Erdrich, Anne-Marie Macdonald, and Madonna all rolled into one."

Another major agent describes it as "accomplished, commanding, assured, eloquent. As I read, I knew I was in the hands of a master."

Tom Perrotta, author of ELECTION and THE WISHBONES, says: “GIRLY is a darkly lyrical, emotionally potent exploration of characters living in the shadowy margins of American culture. Elizabeth Merrick has written an ambitious and moving first novel, an intimate family epic."

One of the above-mentioned agents also remarks that GIRLY "illustrates the way that freedom of sexuality has simultaneously liberated young women and reduced them to relying on their status as sex objects in order to gain power in our culture. The sections where Lisa, the Mary Magdalene figure, becomes a concubine to a record producer and Racinda describes trying to be one of the guys while remaining attractive stand out as brilliant examples of this phenomenon, which has yet to be explored in modern literature."
Brace yourselves, you lucky things!

J'adore,
Lauren
Not to pick on n+1 too badly today, because they are great guys and I very much appreciate their efforts to create a literary space with more depth and substance than what we've got otherwise, but I MUST point out this charming new feature:

"Is Anal Sex Fair to Women?"

See! They ARE hip to what women writers are thinking about!

The byline here is Emily Votruba--I don't think n+1 could really have had a male byline here, hm? I like that n+1 is making fun of the Toni Bentley book--really, I mean, how ridiculous is it that her book, with a ballerina's masochistic taste for pain, becomes literary fare. Women undergoing painful, demeaning sex lives is considered literary in the state we're currently in.

Think about it: I remember, whenever it came out, that The Sexual Life of Catherine M was the ONE book by a woman on the front table at the Community Bookstore & Cafe here in Park Slope.

This was a book about her sexual addiction, but without the awareness that it was a sexual addiction. She had many random, fast, (and, to me, boring) encounters--the sort of thing that is perfect for young male sexuality, but doesn't really do it for most women without a serious unchecked pathology (see Brenda on Six Feet Under a couple years ago), and that doesn't lead itself to women's sexual pleasure, which depends on attention and communication and all that.

Anyway, yes: women's sexual pleasure is relegated to the embarrassing self-help sections of your Barnes and Noble, and probably doesn't show up too much at all in the high falutin' little bookstores. I guess sometimes in those ads in the back of the New Yorker? But anyway: women's pain is literary, women's pleasure is not.

Fuck that. One of you, out there, is going to write some big epic thing, complete with David Foster Wallace footnotes and Jonathan Franzen blurbs and an FSG editor and include the word clitoris in your title. It might be 2015 by the time you get it published by FSG, though, so keep us in mind as we start our Cupcake imprint next year.

xo
Elizabeth
So I think that n+1 must be doing really, really well at getting more women contributors. We noticed in their first issue that they only had one woman of about fourteen or so bylines. I hear on the grapevine that in their next issue there will be three.

Maybe the third issue will be up to forty, even fifty percent women? 'Cause I submitted a story to them almost two months ago and haven't heard a word. They must be up to their ears in submissions from the ladies, I guess. Way to go guys!

xo
Elizabeth

11.15.2004

Tuesday afternoon and evening, the NBA nominees read. If you go, let us know! Please post to the comments, as we'd love your account.

-Lauren

REASON #7,865 NEWSROOMS NEED MORE WOMEN WRITERS

Well, you probably wouldn't get as many headlines like this (#s 2 and 3 of the top 5 headlines on Yahoo News this afternoon):

• Red Cross: Fallujah too violent to enter
• Israel willing to coordinate Gaza pullout

I am, like, so sure that the dominant news organizations will penetrate plenty of new audiences with boffo copy like that.

-Lauren

Is it even possible that you don't get enough of a fix from my ridiculous raving here at the Cupcake blog? Well then, note that Jeffrey Yamaguchi recently conducted an interview with me for his excellent site Bookmouth.

-Lauren
Reminder: The Cupcake Liberation Front meets tomorrow, and you're invited to join the revolutionary cause. And, of course, drink tea and gossip with us. Bring your game!

-Lauren

Speaking of college, I am in love with this college student's poetry, which doesn't suck at all.

-Lauren

During my freshman year of college at a small, Southern, Jesuit university, before I transferred out, I spent most of my time in class daydreaming. I stared out the window and got lost deep in thought so often that one of my professors made everyone rotate their seat to a new row of desks every week, just so I couldn't sit by the window and drive him crazy all the time.

In "Western Civ," which could have been subtitled, "Memorizing Papal Lineage for Success and Pleasure," I developed a total historical crush on Marcus Aurelius, who I would imagine writing Meditations by a campfire at night in some strange land while I was stuck jotting down the reasons that the Church was not to blame for The Great Schism on index cards. This followed an earlier historical crush on Alexander Hamilton, which I outgrew, of course.

I don't have any current historical crushes, but I do have a political crush, and he's sooo best: Matt Ezzell, organizer of feminist forum at UNC-Chapel Hill.

-Lauren
Ms has a nice piece online about feminist art, and specifically, Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party*, coming soon to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

*I saw a segment of the work at a retrospective of Chicago's work at the New Orleans Museum of Art a few years ago. I was there the same day as the local branches of the Louisiana Junior League did a truly insane (in my opinion) flower show in the museum, and needless to say, more than a few ladies were entirely atwitter over The Dinner Party. It was great fun!

-Lauren

11.14.2004

I really, really love the series of interviews that Ron Hogan, editor of Beatrice, recently conducted with this year's National Book Award nominees.

Here are links to each one, along with my favorite quote. They are all well worth a read. All of the authors sound like such fun! Lucky Ron to get to hang out with them:

"The title character, for example, was inspired by a footnote in Foucault about a man in 19th-century France who had been institutionalized after being caught receiving sexual favors from a young girl. What, she wondered, had been the girl's story, and why hadn't anyone thought to tell it?" Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

"'It's almost like the book's being republished. There's such a short shelf life for books now, I don’t know how long it was out there, maybe a week. And I’m a W, too, which adds to the problem. What I’d give to be an M or a P,' she laughed." Kate Walbert

"'I feel fairly safe at HarperCollins now,' Tuck said, 'and I have a lovely, lovely editor who's very supportive. But before that I switched publishers three times, and each time it was a struggle to find a new one.' Silber had a similarly 'long, zigzagging' career trajectory: 'I started with Viking and published two books with them when I was young, and then I had a long time when I couldn’t publish with anybody. I finally published with a small press, Sarabande Books, moved to Algonquin and now I'm with Norton.'" Joan Silber and Lily Tuck

"'I thought the judges were very brave to fly in the face of the expected and the commercially proven,' she continued, 'to take up books that had not sold very many copies, that aspired to a certain daring kind of performance at the risk of being less commercially successful. I thought that was something we all wanted—literature that’s not necessarily easy at first, that asks the reader to participate. But the response has been otherwise.'" Christine Schutt

It was so refreshing to get an intimate impression of each author as an individual, rather than endure another sour editorial grimly lamenting the fact that all five nominees are women (scandalous!), and not Philip Roth, five times over (tragic!).

-Lauren

On select Friday evenings the Whitney presents SoundCheck, a series of live music and literary events by some of downtown's most adventurous talent.

It should say, "downtown's most adventurous 'men'." Dudes. 100% guys ... which is cool, I guess. But, please, Whitney darling, keep your copy honest.

Of course, everyone performing there is quite talented, and it is an exciting series, but I think it's rather gross that the obvious exclusion of female performing artists from this season's line-up clearly didn't occur to anyone involved in making those decisions.

It's goes without saying that I love the Whitney. I go all the time, and I was seriously thinking of joining their young collectors program. But I don't think they're ready for me -- at least not this year.

Related:
Artsy magazine
The Guerrilla Girls

-Lauren
Editor & Punisher posts about a terrific gem that we might have otherwise overlooked, and includes a bit of sharp observation on questions that came up in an online chat featuring Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker. (I must confess that I don't spend much time checking in with The Washington Post's online chats, so if you ever see a good one, let us know!):
People seem to have given up on the cartoons years ago because many still believe that The New Yorker has continued upholding its reputation for publishing deliberately obscure and inscrutable cartoons.

We actually have to give Mankoff credit for steering the cartoon content away from this cliché, as the cartoons seem to have lately sloughed off a layer or two of snide detachment in favor of actual humor. We’ve even developed a soft spot for Roz Chast, though we’d attribute that more to our slow, but inexorable slide toward middle age than to her talent for inspiring surefire laughchuckles.

Interestingly, Mankoff, who originally was a contributing cartoonist for many years before assuming his editorial position, claims to have submitted 500 cartoons over a period of two years before The New Yorker finally published one.

Mankoff also apparently doesn’t think that the lady cartoonists are all that funny, as is evidenced in this stunning admission in response to a question asking to see more women cartoonists:

"I'd say about 10% of the cartoons submitted come from women, and it's no doubt if women ran the magazine and one was cartoon editor more would be selected."

Yikes. He even said this after noting that Roz Chast, The New Yorker’s marquee columnist, is a woman.
Yikes, indeed. At least he gets points for honesty. Too bad he loses them for acknowledging the truth and then ignoring it. Read the rest.

-Lauren

11.12.2004

YEAH I KNOW HE'S CHARMING, AND SMART, AND REALLY, REALLY CUTE... BUT REMEMBER WHEN HE CALLED TO SAY THAT HE DIDN'T CALL YOU ON YOUR BIRTHDAY BECAUSE HE GOT DRUNK WITH HIS FRIENDS ON THE FERRY AND HIS PHONE FELL INTO THE EAST RIVER? AND THEN YOU ASKED HIM HOW COME HIS NUMBER SHOWED UP ON YOUR CALLER ID IF IT WAS IN THE EAST RIVER - JUST CURIOUS! - AND HE HUNG UP?

And you thought we were obsessed.

Related:
Elizabeth's "Weekly Spiritual Reckoning with The New Yorker"
May 3 edition
May 17 edition
May 18 edition
May 25 edition
June 7 edition
June 11 edition
June 23 edition

Elizabeth writes a love letter to The New Yorker
May 19

Elizabeth tells The New Yorker that she needs more from the relationship: June 23

Elizabeth reconsiders, and decides that she just needs some space: July 19

Elizabeth tries to have some quality time with The New Yorker, but just feels burned out afterwards. Could the love affair be over? August 13

Anyway, as you regular readers know, Elizabeth finally broke it off completely a couple of weeks ago after Ben McGrath's Talk of the Town piece on the NBA nominees.

I feel like a minor character on Felicity or something; the supportive friend who never really understood why her friend kept going out with that guy. You know the one.

There are other letters in the archive, which is organized by month, but I've gotta run so no more topical indexing for me today.

-Lauren


I'm purposely not commenting on the Caryn James piece in the New York Times, because, you know, I just don't think it matters. It's capital-"B"-boring and, even worse, unclever. But oh, the reactions! That's a different story; I love them all, but maybe this one most at the moment:
Having failed to reference a single example to support her argument, James then badgers not the similarity of the books, but the close proximity and gender of the authors! How dare this quintet have vaginas or dine in Manhattan from time to time! Why, those two simple facts alone are enough to corrupt literature as we know it! Never mind that within the Bloomsbury Group, you couldn't get any more disparate than Lytton Strachey's crisp satire and Virginia Woolf's baroque paeans to consciousness. No! In the Caryn James universe, if you have at least two personal attributes in common with another person, you will live similar lives and make similar choices. Does that mean that all male writers living in San Francisco put together prose like Dave Eggers or Daniel Handler or Andrew Sean Greer? I couldn't name three more local writers whose work contrasts more sharply.
From Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant, definitely one of my favorites -- read the rest.

-Lauren

I can't WAIT until the backlash of next year's list of National Book Award finalists. I bet the titles are going to be:

Monster Trucks!
Cremaster 2900
Mr. Cocky
Porn and Footnotes
My Remote Control, Mine, Mine


xo
--Elizabeth
Romancing the Tome is a new blog that describes itself as follows: "From Horatio Hornblower's tricorn hat to Darcy's dip in the lake at Pemberley, Romancing the Tome is an extension of our obsession with the literary adaptation." It's written by Kim, author of KimSaid, one of the blogs I read regularly, and her friend Amy.

Recently noted: "The screen adaptation of Myla Goldberg's novel Bee Season will star Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, and Orlando Bloom's blue crush, Kate Bosworth."

They also discuss tea - their abiding love for it, and where to get the good stuff - one of my favorite topics, especially on a rainy, dreary day like today.

-Lauren
True, true, and true: Old Hag cracks me up.

-Lauren
Minneapolis-based performance artist Amy Salloway writes in to say:
For the past year I’ve been touring “Does This Monologue Make Me Look Fat?” -- a collage of seven stories revolving around the themes of love, sexuality, body image and the quest for self-worth.  Reviewers have called it “raw and fearless”, “brilliantly funny, radiantly rendered”, and “nothing short of hysterical”.
She's brought her show to town for two shows only. Synopsis:
Amy’s having one of those LIVES.  Her uterus is rebelling, her perfect younger sister is destined for stardom, her boyfriend won’t give her a kidney, and the body-image workshop she signs up for becomes a surreal lesbian adventure.  Is this going to be another night spent commiserating with pot pies in the frozen foods aisle…or somewhere, somehow, can a single, spherical girl figure out where she fits?   

Initially created for the 2003 Minneapolis Fringe, and a hit at festivals from Halifax to Vancouver, Does This Monologue Make Me Look Fat? was voted “Best solo performance” by Lavender Magazine. “A MUST SEE,” writes the St. Paul Pioneer Press, ”poignant, revelatory and funny”.  “Utterly brilliant...superbly crafted...a sustained tour-de-force of wit”, says the Halifax Herald.  And from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “An A for chutzpah!”
Details:

There are two perfomances this weekend at the West End Theatre: Sat November 20th @ 2:00 pm and Sun November 21st @ 5:00 pm. Call (212) 926-1737 to reserve tickets ($15), or visit Six Figures' website for details.

Amy's also got a blog, and she'll be flexing her talents at the WYSIWYG talent show next week as well. Sounds terrific.

-Lauren

11.11.2004

Oh, most definitely: Beat that drum as loud as you can. We certainly plan to keep it rocking until McGrath (junior or senior, take your pick) has to ask his assistant what's causing all the racket.

-Lauren

FYI [via national book.org]

"November 16th: National Book Award Event
2004 National Book Award Finalists' Afternoon Readings
12:30—1:30 p.m.
Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction Finalists will participate in a
“Meet the Author” reading and book signing at the following bookstores in Manhattan:
Fiction: Chelsea Barnes & Noble, [675 Sixth Ave. at 21st St., 212-727-1227]
Poetry: Borders Books [461 Park Avenue at 57th Street, 212-980-6785]
Nonfiction: Labyrinth Books [536 W. 112th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues, 212-865-1588].

November 16th: National Book Award Event
2004 National Book Award Finalists' Reading
All 20 Finalists read from their nominated work.
New School University, Tishman Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street, NYC.
Event begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5.
Call the New School box office to reserve tickets at 212.229.5488. (Hours of operation are Monday through Thursday 1 - 8 p.m. and Friday 1 - 7 p.m.)
This event sells out frequently. Please make reservations early."

-Lauren

CAAF, of Tingle Alley makes a very interesting observation about the NBA nominees:
I’m intrigued by the ways in which this year’s group of nominees — five women, all living in New York City — are being knit into a set, both socially and critically.
I would tend to agree, and I think it's one of the tropes that the media have sort of built around the story -- after all those articles about the awards basically sucking now, and all -- just to have something to report.

Why is it that the nominees for this year's National Book Awards seem to have been instantly congealed into one ever-solidifying mass? Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't recall this sort of media treatment for awards dominated by men. Or at least, if it were five men, we would be hearing about the new aesthetic school they had formed by all getting drunk together at the same bar for a few years, rather than this more sort of Collect All Five! vibe.

At the very least, this year's coverage, in particular, of women writers nominated for major awards is certainly a curious thing. Once again, I find myself acutely aware of my role as a media consumer in a world increasingly dominated by information and opinions rather than actual news.

-Lauren
Have you checked in with Fresh Yarn, "the online salon for personal essays," lately?
Twice a month, FRESH YARN presents six new pieces written by a diverse lineup of all-star writers, directors, producers, performers and personalities.

You'll read stories from this emerging genre that are humorous, provocative, dramatic, simple, sweet, raunchy, intimate, bold—and all true.
It's always worth a look and a linger.

-Lauren
I just read the worst chick lit "fan fiction," I guess you could call it, on a blog that I stumbled on to rather accidentally, looking for intelligent commentary on the subject. It was so frighteningly amateurish and just generally bad that to link to it here would simply be cruel. I will, however, quote it liberally (please note that I did not add the comments in parentheses in the text excerpted below; those are entirely the author's own words):

She would hear him stumble through the door. Peak as he unraveled his tie, unbuttoned his lipstick-stained shirt. (So cliche.) Sniffle when she recognized the scent of the other woman, that wretched, cheap Victoria's Secret colonge. She would do it, because she was his wife.

It made me realize that I wouldn't mind chick lit so much if it were only published in the audio book format. I mean, doesn't that sound like the most pitch-perfect marketing concept?

I would never have to be visually repulsed by all of the cheap, ugly covers taking up space in bookstores, and fans of the genre could do away with that whole silly printed matter thing that gives them less room to store shoes.

-Lauren
I wondered if she had some magic power in her that made scary things kind of beautiful, turned them into something you never want to lose because it makes you feel like you’re glowing from the deepest part of yourself. At the worst part of the storm thunder cracked so loud I was sure the house would split in half, and part of me wanted the house to split in half because it would be something catastrophic that happened to us together.

-"All Our Summer Songs," by Elizabeth Barker [Venus].

I wish that all popular/general-interest magazines would publish short fiction; there's really no reason not to, and although The New Yorker is sort of the standard-bearer, one would think every publication could find its niche pretty easily...

Related:
One Story publisher Maribeth Batcha on the dearth of short fiction in women's magazines, especially.

-Lauren
Marcelle Clements (Midsummer, The Improvised Woman) on writing:
Robert Birnbaum: I am beginning to understand the euphoric moment and the settling in of reality for you. You really want to write novels, and it's a really hard thing to do. So you are struggling within yourself on how you will be able to write the next one.

Marcelle Clements: Yeah, exactly. Most of it is practical. If there were no practical considerations, I would write three or fours novels right now. It's not that I would want to drop the other stuff, but that's what I would want to do. I think that I would get to be a better novelist.

RB: Are we both assuming that this well-crafted novel that you have written is not going to be a bestseller and therefore a solution to all your problems?

MC: That would be a solution to all my problems.

RB: Why are we making that assumption?

MC: I've never had reason to make the opposite assumption. I'm really happy that it was published. And I am delighted that it's still alive three months after the publication. My first novel came and went so fast that I understand what the stakes are and how fast that happens. I am really happy that this one is faring so much better. But a bestseller? I don't think it's a bestseller kind of book. One of the reasons I write non-fiction is to take the pressure off myself in terms of, so I don't have to have any commercial considerations when I write fiction. Because that winds up preventing me from writing at all. I just can't do it. It's not that I think there's anything wrong with it. It's that I can't accommodate both. What I love the most about writing fiction is the kind of free fall and if I am worried about covering this and that it doesn't really work for me. I guess there is that too.
Read the rest.

-Lauren
Twice and thrice a week the voice told me that I must depart and go into France.

And the voice said that I would raise the siege before Orleans. And it told me to go to Vaucouleurs, to Robert de Baudricourt, captain of the town, who would give me men to go with me.

And I answered the voice that I was a poor girl who knew nothing of riding and warfare.


From Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words.

Related:
Verbatim transcripts of the Salem Witch Trials [via kimsaid]

-Lauren
Excellent coverage of the NBA nominees continues at Beatrice:
"Last year, when the National Book Foundation nominated Stephen King for a lifetime achievement award," she recalled, "there was a huge hue and cry about how he was a popular writer, not a literary writer. Now they're screaming and yelling that we’re too literary and not popular enough."
More with Joan Silber and Lily Tuck.

-Lauren

11.10.2004

Honestly, people, if you can only come up with one woman writer for your top ten list, may we provide some suggestions?

How about Aury Wallington, Phoebe Gloeckner, Jenny Davidson, Hannah Tinti, Jami Attenberg, Jessica DuLong, Kirsten Major, Donna Minkowitz, Heather Abel, Becky Donohue, Susan Choi, Laurie Sandell, Jennifer Gilmore, Suki Kim, Amanda Stern, Maggie Estep, Danyel Smith, Maud Newton, T Cooper, Zoe Heller, Heidi Jon Schmidt, Eurotrash, Emma Garman, Blaise K, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Maccers, Elizabeth Spiers, Marjane Satrapi, Joanne Jacobson, Monique Truong, Martha Witt, or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, just to name a few*?

*Writers who have read their work at Cupcake.

-Lauren

Jenny Davidson definitely has a Cupcake moment:
I feel that I am channeling the ladies of Cupcake!
Just idly checked the Amazon editors' picks for top ten books in Literature & Fiction. Nine of the ten are by white men! (The other is Marilynne Robinson's.) I've read two out of the ten only (Philip Roth and Jonathan Ames), and they're certainly both very good. But it's the pattern of taste that emerges--it's the list you pick if you're a certain kind of guy in your late twenties to mid thirties--what about all the great books by women published this year? ...
Read the rest.

UPDATE: CAAF, of Tingle Alley, reads Jenny's post and gets it, too:
I’m all for a meritocracy (genuinely, genuinely), but I also believe in questioning biases that reflexively place the blue ribbon — whoopsy daisy! — always in the hands of males of the same pack and status. Which is all a way of saying: My god, I Am Charlotte Simmons!? Are you nuts?
Read the rest.

-Lauren
In full agreement with Lauren--Cupcake last night was stellar. Much thanks to Martha, Chimamanda, and Katherine for their insight, depth and elegance.

--Elizabeth
REASON #10,965 WHY IT MATTERS:

While her earliest books earned her acclaim in Canada, it wasn't until she began publishing in The New Yorker that she won the attention of the American literary community.

[link via Maud]

-Lauren
Jessica Hopper takes a closer look at the information in-flow:
That said -- a quick examination of today's mail.
(Secondary note: I have friends at most of these magazines. There is part of me that wants to declare "no offence" and insist I understand capitalist constructs and babies that need diapers and making a living, but hey, they know whats up, as well as I do.)...

REVOLVER
First page featuring a band with a woman:10 (donnas)
Page where a woman speaks in first person: 50 ( nightwish)
Total number of features of bands with women: two
number of bands featuring women listed in 50 heaviest bands of all time special: 1 (swans) (2 if you count black flag)
number of women on editorial staff: 5 out of 11 are female
Read the rest.

-Lauren
Announcing the first meeting of the CUPCAKE LIBERATION FRONT

Says Elizabeth, "Yes, that's what we're calling our activist effort, thanks to Lauren. A suggestion from Sara, our fabulous volunteer in charge of the research project that will be the basis of our efforts, is to acquire cupcake-inscribed Che berets. A girl can only dream. . .

In any case, we're going to have our first meeting next Tuesday, Nov 16, at 7:30 pm, at a cafe on the Lower East Side. Please email me for details --we will meet for about an hour, and assign periodicals to monitor, and have a grand old time, of course."

And, as if you didn't know, boys are quite welcome, always. You fellas won't get called on more often, but we would love to have you on our side.

-Lauren

Cupcake was really special tonight; really, one of our best ever.

Martha and Chimamanda just blew us all away. 40+ people were in attendance. Katherine's introduction and post-reading discussion honestly took the Cupcake experience to a whole other level tonight (We certainly would love to have her back again!).

Chimamanda talked about writers who inspired her and the importance of transcending marketing cliches like "coming-of-age" story. Martha talked about the process of writing a novel that takes a long time, eleven years in her case, and what that means for the way that the story is told.

Hearing them read from their work was absolutely fabulous: Broken As Things Are and Purple Hibiscus. Do check them out if you haven't already, and of course, you can listen to Katherine co-host "The Al Franken Show" on the radio every weekday from noon until 3pm.

xo,
Lauren

11.09.2004

Cupcake is tonight! You know this.

Later this week, The Land Grant College Review is having a fall fundraiser.

Some people think that I dislike LGCR, because of this post. It's not true. I like the magazine. I think it's promising. I subscribed. I also think that they need to publish more work by women writers.

So, ladies, you ladies that rock, you amazing, talented, women writers of New York, go to the fundraiser on Thursday and introduce yourself to the editors so that you can tell them that you're there to support their independent publishing venture and that you have high hopes for the next issue.

And then all y'all, here and everywhere, submit your work.

-Lauren
The Observer has a review, worth reading, of The Seas by Samantha Hunt:
It’s this book’s emotional expressiveness—generosity, by any other name—that ultimately breaks the mood’s prescribed monotony and lofts it above its precursors. By the end, even the narrator’s sadness is saved from one-dimensionality by insight into her condition, which adds up to a kind of wisdom. "When you are young … sadness can make you feel like you have something to do. Sadness can be like a political cause almost or a religion or a drug habit." Aspiring melancholics, as well as all experimental writers, should be forced to tape that line to their foreheads.
I just ignored some of the rather annoying lines in the review, "I’ve little patience for the 70’s experimental heyday ... Which is why I’m pleased when an author makes me rethink my prejudice. Maybe it helps if it’s a woman;" they only obscure what sounds like an intriguing new novel.

-Lauren
Journalist Katherine Lanpher first interviewed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie last year for Minnesota Public Radio. An audio clip and info about Adichie, her writing philosophy and influences, and Purple Hibiscus can be found here.

For more information about tonight's reading, which also features novelist Martha Witt, and will be followed by a short discussion with the authors moderated by Lanpher, visit CupcakeSeries.com.

-Lauren

2 for Tuesday from The Brooklyn Rail

Highly creative criticism: Claudia La Rocco on Shen Wei

Safe & Sexy (because they are two different things?)

-Lauren
Ah yes, the world heads straight to hell in a handbag, as it were, and "big bertha" leads the way for a slightly normal-sized mannequin trend. Elizabeth was definitely on to something (as always)...

-Lauren
Ron Hogan, proprieter of Beatrice, has a totally kick-ass interview with NBA nominee Christine Schutt:
I asked if she felt that she'd had a chance to enjoy the nomination of her novel, Florida for the National Book Foundation's fiction award, given the almost immediate backlash against her and the other four nominees. She had, she said, though she was "quite surprised" by the negative press. "I thought the judges were very brave to fly in the face of the expected and the commercially proven," she continued, "to take up books that had not sold very many copies, that aspired to a certain daring kind of performance at the risk of being less commercially successful. I thought that was something we all wanted—literature that’s not necessarily easy at first, that asks the reader to participate. But the response has been otherwise."
You can read the whole excellent thing here.

Related posts from the Cupcake blog:
Serendipity strikes with an auspicious event followed by some intriguing news...
BUT, we smell a scandal brewing....
And inevitably, it would seem, the backlash begins
...And then it really gets going
...Which is irritating, but not surprising...

-Lauren
Maybe if I change my name to "Myra Belle" Bill Clinton will have an affair with me? God, still wishing, wishing he was on my television every day. Praying.

Maybe he will become our mayor, and we can secede, and the red states can Appelbees themselves into oblivion, and we can charge them even more and require them to get a basic education in human rights and history if they want to come here to see a damn Broadway show.

xo
--Elizabeth
Neal Pollack is such a Cupcake kind of a guy. He is one of the guy writers I adore, because he doesn't play into those deadly boring literary modes that perpetuate nothing but literariness. He gets in there and kicks ass. And he's onto what's actually going on: the right wing Christians, whose ranks are going, via churches and the internet, every day, are taking over on a local level on up:
But my specialized area of justified paranoia is the infiltration of extreme-right "Dominionist" Christians into every aspect of American society. Their latest victory came on Friday, when the Texas State Board Of Education approved health textbooks after publishers changed the wording in their books to reflect marriage as being between a man and a woman, therefore codifying anti-gay bigotry for another generation. The creepiest bit from the above story is that board members had argued the day before that textbooks could not contain "asexual stealth phrases" such as "individuals who marry."

I've got your asexual stealth phrases right here, pig fuckers.

Our government and our military have been taken over by religious fanatics. Lost in all the "news" about the ongoing massacre in Fallujah is the following quote from Marine Colonel Gary Brandl: ""The enemy has a face. It is Satan's. He is in Fallujah, and we are going to destroy him."

The noose is tightening at home. The dollar is collapsing. Less than a week after Bush was re-installed in the White House, our military is raining death. And there's More to come. As bad as you all think it's going to get under Bush, let me tell you right now that it will be 100 times worse than you ever could have imagined.
--Elizabeth

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