Interview with Artist Steve Brudniak

Posted On October 30, 2006

Filed under adult, Beat, books, jesus, poetry, review, short stories, tech

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 steve brudniak

Steve Brudniak Bio

 Steve Brudniak was born in Topeka Kansas in 1961 and later raised in Houston Texas where he graduated from high school in 1979. An early interest was cultivated in film, writing, acting, performance and music production beginning around age eleven. After a short stint working in the graphic arts industry, he opened Victorian Recording Studios in 1981 and began making assemblage sculpture infused with science elements at about the same time. By the late 80’s the work was gaining exposure and making its way into important collections including the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and local and international art publications such as Art in America.Steve moved to Austin Texas in 1988 and began full time production. In 1999 a five-year home/studio construction project took precedent during which time little art was made or shown. Full-scale production has resumed since 2005 with a new body in the making and plans for a tour of the work.

Brudniak remains involved in experimental performance, music, and percussion and in film making and acting and can be seen in Rick Linklaters Waking Life and other films.

Today, books, calendars, documentaries, films and hundreds of publications and web sites feature his assemblages which can be found in the collections of the San Antonio Museum of Art, The El Paso Museum of Art and The Art Museum of South Texas at Corpus Christi as well as in the Houston Museum and many private and corporate collections world wide. 

Any plans on writing/illustrating a novel based on your artwork? If you get a chance I’d recommend “Exquisite Pain” by Sophie Calle and “The Book of Shadows” by Don Paterson, it’s one of my favourites containing hundreds of reflections and aphorisms on love, God, art sex, death, work and the spirit, imagination and conduct of the human animal. 

There’s a George Orwell ready made novel waiting to be, I just need to fill in between the props… 

Sophie Calle interchanges text from her books and the art she makes, if I understand correctly, and she writes observations about strangers she follows around! Fun stuff! I love writing, but I’m not ready for fiction to become the art part of any book based on the sculptures. I’ve pulled off some screenplays, short stories, bad poetry, the unfinished novel and recently co creating an animated series with King of the Hill director Wes Archer, but writing for me is just not linkable to the sculpture. 

I think it’s a good idea though Sean. I have thought of doing a coffee table book or some sort of catalog that might contain stories that pertain to the pieces: The Imogene Icon,  which uses a Tesla coil to shoot lightning bolts knocked me out in The Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles, jolted a guy across a magic venue in Houston and caught on fire next to a Rauschenberg in the San Antonio Art Museum! …. Once the artist William Wegman claimed to see his deceased dog Man Ray in my Vunderglas sculpture… True stories!  I don’t know …though I have included some stuff like that in notes on the web site that are probably a bit more Don Pattersonesque. 

Since “Waking Life” do you feel that you’ve been pigeon holed as the guy from the Linklater film? Or do you see it as an extension of what you’ve always been doing? 

Well, I started in film doing my own thing when I was 13 and have been involved in some kind of entertainment/art oriented project since then. I just performed in the 70s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar in the role of Ciaphus, “We need him crucified; it’s all you have to do!” I’ve been a musician for years and ran a studio in the 80s. 

Waking Life was a fantastic but small part that was me playing myself and saying something revised out of philosophical conversations I had with Rick in preproduction. I’m more of a documentary film star! Waking life gets all the Google action, Google might pigeonhole me but I’m primarily known as an assemblage artist in the rest of the world. 

The myth of “lucid dreaming” do you think it’s possible? 

Absolutely. I’ve had the experience now a couple of times. Part of the instruction for inducing lucid dreaming is to be aware of the concept and thinking about it daily. I had my first not too long after the film came out.   I merely found myself standing outside a warehouse where a party was happening. I was next to a group of people aware that I was dreaming and someone handed me a joint, which I took and looked at then threw aside thinking how I was already high with the experience. I couldn’t keep it going and woke up. It was a most amazing thing and reminded me of the dissolution of self, experienced in meditation or through certain psychoactive experiences. Linklater actually loaned me a device that you wear over your eyes at night that alerts you with a red light flashing that you’re in an REM state.  I haven’t gotten through the instructions yet. 

The essential lucid dreaming read would be Stephen LaBerges Lucid Dreaming. http://www.lucidity.com/ 

 

Any new projects or exhibitions we should know about? 

Right now I’ve got pieces in shows at the Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi and also at the El Paso Museum of Art. Both shows are selections from the museums collections and both have put out nice catalogs that I’m sure you can order. You can get more details on my site news page. http://www.stevebrudniak.com See how I’m skilfully spamming the interview??! 

I’m also working on a new piece that will use a similar technique that I used to make the Canal Dreams edition. I’ve sent you some pics if you wish to share. 

Any artists or books you’d recommend? 

Humm…well here in Texas one of my favourite painters is Lloyd Walsh.  

http://homepage.mac.com/lloyd_walsh/PhotoAlbum15.html  Lloyds work made me cry once. Lemurs with paisley fur, cigarette smoking butterfly…its all too much. 

How bout Jessica Joslin? 

http://www.jessicajoslin.com/jessica/index.html 

Is she out of her mind? There_s some vision! 

I’m so missing a good fiction…its sad. My last year of reading has almost entirely revolved around eastern philosophy and spirituality. Getting all the anx out with art isn’t cutting it. I’m reading Zen Mind Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, who was a Buddhist monk.   

http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Mind-Beginners-Shunryu-Suzuki/dp/0834800799 

A very elegant and lenient discussion into Zen practices. 

Eckhart Tolle is the incredibly popular new pop guru who has taken the concept of enlightenment as well and turned it into something understandable and accessible. This guy has some kind of power. He just came out with “A New Earth” following the simple, elegant “The Power of Now”   Stuff that changes ya! 

http://www.eckharttolle.com/home.php 

For fiction, next, I’m looking foreword to reading Dao Strom’s The Gentle order of Girls and Boys . Dao is a friend who also gained a lot of attention in the last few years with Grass Roof Tin Roof 

http://www.daostrom.com/ 

Do you feel it’s all too easy getting caught up in the rat race and forgetting what’s actually important? Does the business side of being an artist clash with the day-to-day routine of what you do? 

So this week after having to find and repair the source of water trickling from the side of my studio, I’m being forced to restructure my price list prematurely because of some requests I’m getting…having to redo interviews because my hard drive crashed…heh. I do enjoy the business side to a degree and that itself is another art form. I can organize slides all day long and run the scanner or schmooze at an opening but id rather be chopping up iron and preserving bacteria or squids in little chambers. Most of my life is getting the stuff out of the way so I can get to the stuff that’s in the way of making art. 

I find it hard to believe that some people claim to never of had a dream? (Thoughts whilst asleep) I know we’ve briefly touched on this before, but do you think that you’re past experiences/dreams influence your work? 

To share with your readers what we touched on:  Please refer again to the Canal Dreams edition. The one called Canals at the Institute came from a dream that led me through a beautifully landscaped path up a hill along a waterway to a building. Oddly enough last month I took a trip to the San Antonio zoo with some friends and within a few minutes was faced with a scene that looked just as my dream had. A walk up a hill with the same stream along side led to almost the same structure at the top. I immediately realized that I had imprinted the memory from a trip my family had taken to San Antonio and the zoo there when I was 7. Story for the book… 

 

From what I’ve read, you take great pleasure in taking art out of the studio and actively encouraging people to create something, why do you feel it’s important that regardless of education or background it’s ok to be creative? 

 

Of course it’s always ok to be creative. If you’re referring to how the art world sees a non-degreed artist then yes it can be more difficult to get by.   I have managed to do what I want without a degree and have lectured and conducted workshops at universities where students ask the same ironic question. I will inevitably tell them that creativity and ideas are not taught but that school can bring a lot of influence and opportunity and more importantly tools to be creative with.  I think a good educator will provide technique and technical support first, with less emphasis on content.  The sad thing is to hear someone say they love to paint but don’t, because they don’t think anyone will like the work.  An artist is one who loves to make art.  When I’m lost in making something; like when the world disappears and I’m not separate from what I’m doing, that is when I am a successful artist.  

When I sold a piece for $10,000, then I was a successful businessman. 

 

Throughout history artists/writers have passed on a message or recorded a moment whether it be something good or bad, in say 40 or 50 years time when your work is still being viewed in galleries or in books what message do you want to pass on? 

The same message I try to pass on while I’m still alive with my work: To bring the viewer a moment of stillness.  To convey the same getting lost experience that brought me to make it. Some of the pieces have lofty titles and or may represent spiritual or psychological concepts but the reaction on a subconscious level is more important to me. Visual art has tried to become something more than it can be in the last 20 years.  The true power of visual art is getting swamped in concept, marketing and ego these days. In a purely visual, audible or tactile art experience the senses become an unedited entry into the consciousness. Words and concepts will have little meaning and can become mere crutches if the object hasn’t conveyed power standing alone. 

What else would I want to say to the world? 

Oh! Let’s put an end to these senseless wars and my deepest apologies to the world for our out of control Bush administration.

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Peter Bagge interview

 peter bagge

 Peter Bagge interview

Any plans on having a “Bagge” art exhibition in the UK? Similar to the Robert Crumb exhibition?

That would have to be someone else’s idea — someone in a position to pull it off, that is, since my wanting something like that to happen wouldn’t be enough to pull it off. If someone did want to exhibit my work in the UK I wouldn’t be opposed, though

Did you have any in-put on the design of the HATE mini punk toys?

Yes, I drew and designed them all, though I had to keep the art confined into the very odd shapes they come in.

If you were to release a HATE music compilation CD, what would your first 5 tracks be?

They whole thing would probably sound just like my “Rockin’ Poppin’ Favorites” CD comp EMI put out a few years ago.

How have you evolved as a writer with your continued work on HATE?

Jeez, that’s a tough one. I’m more concise and thoughtful now, and less angry and manic than I used to be. Whether that’s a change for the better is a matter of opinion. It’s all a reflection of my age more than anything else.

What is your ideal story, or rather, what makes a good story?

No ONE theme makes for an ideal story, anything that’s grounded in a realistic setting involving people conflicting and overreacting to their situations seems to work best for me. That’s my most successful “formula.”

From the point of view of an indie comic creator, where do you see the comic book industry heading?

Right now it’s getting away from the relatively cheap periodical format and switching to the more expensive square bound book format. Getting comics into more bookstores is great, but I don’t like seeing the traditional format fade away, since I much prefer it myself.

How would it feel to have one of your projects made into a movie?

It’d feel fine, esp. if it turned out well and made me lots of money.

Will we ever see a one off special based on Buddy’s next-door neighbor – Jimmy Foley?

I doubt it. He’s too repulsive to have his own comic.

You once recommended Ward Suttons – ink blot – & Marc Bells – The Mojo Action Companion. Anyone else new on the scene we should know about?

Johnny Ryan’s ANGRY YOUTH COMICS and Lorna Miller’s WITCH. Those are two good ones.

Given unlimited time, money, and materials, what would your ideal project be?

A comic book.

What has been your favourite experience in your drawing career?

Getting to make my own comic books.

If you could no longer be an artist , what would you choose as a career?

A landlord.

How are things going with “The Action Suits”?

Ha! I retired from the music biz 8 years ago, and the Actions Suits Ended about 7 years ago.

Can you think of anything else I might have missed?

Just tell everyone to go to my website (http://www.peterbagge.com) and read all about my many new and on-going projects!

Just FU@#ING DO IT!!!

send us your work!!!!

We need your reviews!!!! Send your words over to sean@the-beat.co.uk clearly marked “orthogonal review” you know it makes sense!!!

also vist: http://www.winamop.com/

Winamop; conceived on a whim, run on a shoestring, ignored by the many, loved by the few; has continued unabashed since 2003.

Very cool site!

and since you cats, dogs and hairy off-beat rebels are clicking like a bat out of…….Birmingham??? visit: http://www.blowbackmagazine.com/

:blowback has become a term of art acknowledging that the unconstrained, often illegal, secret acts of the United States in other countries can result in retaliation against innocent American citizens. The dirty tricks agencies are at pains never to draw the connection between what they do and what sometimes happens to those who pay their salaries.  

The Disappearance and the Slow Awakening

Posted On October 15, 2006

Filed under adult, Beat, books, jesus, poetry, review, short stories, tech

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The Disappearance and the Slow Awakening

 Review by Olutayo K. Osunsan

Tony R. Rodriguez’s The Disappearance and the Slow Awakening” is an energetic display of life in a collage of events. It overflows with the essence of humanity. Desi (Desmond) Marquiso, the main character in “The Disappearance and the Slow Awakening”, speaks to the heart of every man in love, every man torn between right and wrong. Some of his ordeals remind me that humans have the same single thread running through us all: the thread of curiosity that can sometimes be rebellious. It’s never certain if it pulls us away or draws us back to God.  

The characters are developed, mature and some are even real enough to be someone we might know or someone we would not like to meet. Conflicting characters like Elena and Stratton can always bring insight into focus — some friends are not worth keeping, others will bring out the best in us.  

This book is not only a spiritual voyage; it is also a human journey. It gives us the right to dream and the freedom to always make things right no matter how late. It leaves the reader beaming by the turning of the final page. “The Disappearance and the Slow Awakening” is a delight to read. 

Tony R. Rodriguez crafts his words to make everyday life carry more promise. His characterization and dialogue are brutally honest. They make a reader nod to his eloquent voice. 

Olutayo K. Osunsan, author of “Strange Beauty”

The Joke’s Over

Posted On October 13, 2006

Filed under adult, Beat, books, jesus, poetry, review, short stories

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Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson and Me

In the spring of 1970, artist Ralph Steadman went to America in search of work and found more than he bargained for. At the Kentucky Derby he met a former associate of the Hell’s Angels, one Hunter S. Thompson. Their working relationship resulted in the now-legendary Gonzo Journalism.   The Joke’s Over tells of a remarkable collaboration that documented the turbulent years of the civil rights movement, the Nixon years, Watergate, and the many bizarre and great events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century. When Thompson committed suicide in 2005, it was the end of a unique friendship filled with both betrayal and under­standing. A rollicking, no-holds-barred memoir, The Joke’s Over is the definitive inside story of the Gonzo years.

Support the UK Lit Scene!!

Posted On October 11, 2006

Filed under adult, Beat, books, poetry, review, short stories

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scramble to sign troubled Pete Doherty.

Posted On October 9, 2006

Filed under adult, Beat, books, jesus, poetry, review, short stories

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drugs? what drugs?

He went into the cells a pop star: he

may come out a poet

Publishers scramble to sign troubled rocker Pete Doherty. Anthony Barnes reports

Published: 06 February 2005 – The Independent

Already famous for his drug-fuelled antics as the former frontman for The Libertines, as well as his on-off relationship with the supermodel Kate Moss, Doherty is being seen as a hot property after agents learnt that he had been scrawling volumes of verse since his teens. Publishing houses are bidding to sign up the wayward star, who is due to be released tomorrow on bail after being charged with robbery and blackmail. A source close to Doherty, 25, said that he had been approached by a number of publishers.

Doherty has long made clear his literary aspirations, and the interviews he has given have been littered with lyrical sparkle. Before his success with The Libertines he had dabbled with performance poetry and as a teenager he was taken to Russia after winning a competition run by the British Council.

He posts his work in regular dispatches, penned in a spidery scrawl complete with crossings-out, on to his website www.babyshambles.com under the title “The Books of Albion”, which also include rambling musings on his life. Poems currently posted there go under the titles “Ask a Stupid Question” and “The Continuing Adventure of Spaniel O’Spaniel”.

Another, called “Madame Fanny Perrier”, begins:
Saw himself as a poppy leaf – a troublesome one if he was, pouting with a very certain ease, his spangly hips scarred tight with steel and fashion – his glorious and local.

While his works have caused excitement among publishers, it is the paparazzi who will be hot on his heels tomorrow when he is expected to be bailed for £150,000. His record label and publishers had been unable to raise the sum at short notice when he appeared in court on Friday.

On his release he will be whisked off for yet another spell in rehab to kick his addictions, after failed stints at The Priory and under a tough regime in a Thai monastery.

Last week’s daily media coverage of his spiralling descent began with a documentary maker’s decision to sell photographs of the musician using heroin to the Sunday Mirror for £30,000.

The appetite for such shots had been sharpened by Doherty’s relationship with Moss. Those close to the singer – who now fronts his own band, Babyshambles – insist the pair are a genuine couple and it is not simply a publicity ruse for them. The pair are due to make a public appearance together at the NME Awards next week.

As last week progressed, Doherty became involved in an alleged scuffle with the film-maker Max Carlish, and was charged with robbery and blackmail. He was remanded in custody on Friday. Carlish said yesterday he wants to patch up his relationship with the musician.

Doherty would not be the first to make the transition from musician to published poet – the late John Lennon, his Beatles bandmate Sir Paul McCartney and even the Soft Cell singer Marc Almond have had their work published – but he would certainly be one of the most colourful.

The poet Roddy Lumsden believes publication of Doherty’s work could be a money-spinner: “I certainly know he’s got a lot of fans who would lap up his stuff.
“I used to see him around on the performance poetry scene and he was quite good. He’s very lively and he can write. He’s definitely a talented lyricist. I teach poetry at City University and one of the lads in my class was inspired to come along because Pete’s lyrics got him into being a writer. I’m introducing this young guy to lots of other stuff now.”

Matthew Hollis, a poetry editor at the publisher Faber, said: “Literary publishers are open minded and respond to the quality of the work. The fact that someone is known primarily as a musician does not inhibit them from being taken seriously as a poet.”
But Don Paterson, a poet and editor for Picador, said: “Poetry doesn’t need popularising among the young. Poetry is already there for anyone who wants to read it – all we need is to lead young people to where it already lives, and let them open the books and get on with it themselves.

“And quite often the song lyrics of talented musicians like Pete Doherty will accomplish exactly that anyway – spark a curiosity for what else words might be capable of. Where’s the shame in being a fine songwriter?”

http://www.the-beat.co.uk

Cartoonist/occasional hack Eric Reynolds

FANTAGRAPHICS

Cartoonist/occasional hack Eric Reynolds’s illustrations have appeared in The Stranger, The Comics Journal, The New York Times, The New York Press, and elsewhere. He occasionally ‘inks’ (to use industry lingo) Peter Bagge’s work. He draws comics once in awhile. He edits the Complete Crumb Comics, Angry Youth Comics and Dirty Stories, among others, for Fantagraphics Books and also serves as the company’s official shill, doing publicity, sorting mail, taking out garbage, etc.

Most of the art available is commercial illustration work for various papers and magazines, as well as a few Peter Bagge originals inked by Reynolds and two 7-inch vinyl records (cheap) and one minicomic (cheaper).

If for some seriously bizarre reason no one knew about Fantagraphics, how would you go about describing it? 

I meet people all the time who know nothing about Fantagraphics and it’s always hard to describe, even after all these years. I usually just tell people we publish comic books and go from there, depending on what points of reference I can determine someone might have to help get their head around what Fanta is (Crumb, Ghost World, Peanuts, etc.). But Fantagraphics is simply a publisher of fine cartooning, whether it be in the form of contemporary graphic novels that have more in common with literature than Spider-Man, or classic comic strips like Peanuts, or groundbreaking countercultural work like R. Crumb.

For all those wanting to get into the comic scene, what advice would you give them? 

Make comics, attend shows. Hell, you don’t even need to make good comics to be “in the scene”.

What’s it like working/inking for Peter Bagge? I’d imagine you’d be under loads of pressure. 

No, not really. Maybe at first — I’d never really inked anyone before Pete asked me except for maybe a few little things. I’m not sure what to say it’s like. Inking is inking, you just do it. Working with him is great, though, he’s very easy to work with. He knows what he wants and how to communicate what he wants and he’s one of my best friends, so it’s always been a very easy process. The deadlines can create pressure, because I’m not used to working under them like he is, so I have to usually kick myself into high gear when I do stuff for him.

Have you ever designed a record/CD cover? If no, which band would you draw for? (If ever you get desperate you could draw for my band – The Strangely Brown Experience….)

I’ve designed a couple. A band called BELL that was around Seattle in the late 1990s, as well as some of the Action Suits records I put out with Bagge. All of the design for those singles are some combination of myself and Pete. I did a lot off rock posters in the 1990s but don’t so much any more, I’ve kind of sworn off commercial art. If I did design another one, it would probably have to be for The Strangely Brown Experience or the Beatles.

Any new up’n’coming artists we should know about? 

Shameless plug: Read MOME!

What do you know about the UK indie comic scene? And do think it’s a market/scene you’d want to break into? (If not already) 

I’ve been to England a couple of times and know a handful of folks in the scene. I like it. Not sure what else to say about it but it’s always seemed to be thriving. England always seems to be a little bit smarter than the U.S. I like Lorna Miller a lot. Savage Pencil, too, when he does anything. I know some great folks behind the scenes like the guys at Gosh Comics, Page 45 and former Escape editor Paul Gravett. There’s a lot of good, younger cartoonists whose names I’m blanking on at the moment. There’s an AMAZING young cartoonist named Will Sweeney who I just discovered recently but he’s immediately become one of my favorite cartoonists.

Do you think we still have an underground scene or did that die in the 70s or 80s? 

Good question. It still exists, but it’s a lot different than what it meant in the 1960s, it’s not as politicized or as transgressive. Underground cartoonists aren’t as activistic as they were 40 years ago. I wonder if that will change after a near-decade of George Bush and the Iraq War.

So what’s next for yourself and Fantagraphics? 

More books. I’ve got a lot on my plate these days…

COMPLETELY RANDOM QUESTIONS FOR YA What 5 personal items would you save from a burning building? 

My two cats, first. My laptop. And then probably some of my original artwork collection, though it’s tough to say what. Probably a Clowes or Los Bros page or two. Jeez, I hope I never have to choose.

If you could fight any celebrity dead or alive who’d it be? 

Stephen Hawking, because I’m pretty sure I could take him.

If you could only buy one of the following box sets – which one would it be? The A Team, Knight Rider or Air Wolf. 

The A-Team. George Peppard!

If you could meet any artist who would it be? 

Probably E.C. Segar or Charles Schulz. But I think I’d especially like to hang with a early 20th Century cartoonist like Segar in his prime, in the 1930s. That was a swingin’ time for cartoonists. I have an irrational nostalgia for that era, depression or no depression.

We know they’re pretty damn good! Just look at what everyone else is saying!

Fantagraphics quotes:

“The publishing company that cartoonists are thankful to for perhaps starting this minor genre is Fantagraphics.” Martin Arnold, New York Times, November 2, 2000

” What we are doing is the literary equivalent of grunge rock. We’re the grunge comics.” Larry Reid (of Fantagraphics),
Seattle P. I. June 1, 1992

“Fantagraphics is the home of some of the best storytellers in the world documenting a part of America pop culture for posterity.” Tammy Watson, Stale Mate, Issue 1

“And without Fantagraphics comics, I would be hard pressed to think of an excuse to hide under my blanket with a flashlight and eat frozen pizzas all night.” Tammy Watson, StaleMate, Issue 1

“It’d be difficult to find more challenging and entertaining rabble-rousers amid the panorama of popular culture.” – The Village Voice

“Fantagraphics publishes the best comics in the world.” – Wired

The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories – Renee Nicholson

steve almond

“… so long as we are possessed by experience that is distinguished by its intensity and its episodic nature, we will have the short story in our literature.” John Cheever, “Why I Write Short Stories” in Newsweek, October 30, 1978.

The characters in Steve Almond’s new collection of stories can be described, on the whole, as being possessed by their experience. Cheever’s discussion of the form of a short story is important to this collection because it sums up not only why short stories continue to be relevant, but explain why these short stories are relevant.

Most of what has been written about Almond’s writing includes discussions about his humor, wit and sensuality. This is a self evident fact of Almond’s craft. But what makes a collection more interesting to read is when the reader is confronted by that intense event, and that author captures this intensity of that episode, that moment in time with all its implications and revelations. In The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories, Almond gives us these moments and unifies them with a single theme – vulnerability.

The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories also expands Almond’s range from his last short story collection, My Life In Heavy Metal, which, in my opinion, was a very strong collection. In the new book, however, Almond takes on new and more extraordinary challenges. One such challenge is the creations of a historical fiction about President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Lincoln, to many, is an American hero, and in his own acknowledgements at the end of the collection, Almond writes, “… last but not least, Abraham Lincoln, a man of astonishing eloquence and moral courage, who died, many years ago, for the sins of this country.” In “Lincoln, Arisen” Almond does not confront the issues or stature of the President Lincoln, as he presents two men as men. The fact that they are famous, historical figures informs our reading of the story, but the focus is the stark recognition that great men are still, in fact, just men, with emotions and fears and fallibility – and the need to pee. Perhaps they are better for the fact that they can be two men floating down t river on a raft.

Completely different from historical fiction, “I Am As I Am” confronts the vulnerability of a child who accidentally hits another boy in the head with a bat during a neighborhood baseball game. The boy he hits dies from the blow. Our protagonist, Eric, is unable to express sorrow or grief for what happens because his parents, an overprotective, chain smoking, uptight mother and a prideful father, try to shield him from the event and make his life, “normal.” In doing so, they cause Eric to be scarred by his actions on a deep and personal level. We get the story, third person limited, from Eric’s perspective, feeling with him the loss of innocence that this one accidental occurrence makes is his life. But what’s truly lamentable are the actions of his parents to protect him, which ultimately make the incident worse:

“Eric wanted to speak to someone, his father or Stevie Hayes, or even his little brother. He thought about heading outside, but was suddenly frightened someone would see him, that there would be a commotion. The feeling reminded him of having the chicken pox, a kind of quarantine.”

As his parents reassure him that he is popular, handsome and smart, Eric comes to realize those things as the obligations to them. Only alone is he able to be remorseful and grieve. This isn’t just some sort of requisite baseball-themed piece, but the tale where vulnerability of this boy and the inability of his parents to give him truly what he needs.

An adult character, Flem Owens, in “Larsen’s Novel” is a foil to Eric in “I Am As I Am.” Flem watches the unraveling of his best friend over a lifelong dream of writing a novel. While the novel’s writer, Larsen, seems to be a loveable if not laughable loser, it is really Flem Owens who holds inside his fears and envy of Larsen’s ambition. Even though Flem has dismissed the project as tedious tripe, he comes to see his own judgementalness as a guise for his own lack of ambition. Flem tells his therapist:

“I mean, we all have artistic impulses, okay? I took a writing class in college. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to suddenly go around proclaiming myself some kind of novelist.”

All the time he dismisses the book to others – his therapist, his wife and himself – he avoids talking about the manuscript with Larsen himself. By the story’s end Flem recognizes that he’s jealous of Larsen, not because he had written a great novel, but simply because he had done it, he had dared to dream it was possible. By this time, however, Larsen has deflated, and like Eric’s parents in “I Am As I Am” Flem has failed his friend. Almond shows off his flair for humor in the sections where he shows the reader the pages of Larsen’s masterpiece, which are overblown and filled with clichés for a very humorous effect. This only heightens the grand gesture of writing the novel, in both Flem’s and the reader’s perspective. It’s also comic relief.

Almond gives us plenty of his tell-tale humor in “Appropriate Sex” a foray into a day in the life of an undergraduate writing instructor. The cast of characters in this piece are funny because if you’ve taken an undergraduate writing course, you’ve met these folks – in fact, you might have even been one of these students. There’s Brendan, whose realization that a classmate’s story has kinky sexual undertones puts him in a dither between being turned on and self congratulation for “getting” the intention behind a story the classmate wrote. Then there’s Emily, who strikes out at Brendan’s fit of self revelation out of post breakup angst with him. Mix in the “sexless” class discussion leader, Nicole, and Ingrid, who writes only about God. And, Mandy, a sort of sex kittenish student who is unafraid to make sexual advances towards her teacher. The mix of youth and writing and inhibition befuddles the narrator, the writing prof:

“The dress code in my own class was terrifying. Cutoffs. Halter tops. Garments that managed to fuse the sartorial aspirations of sportswear and lingerie. Spring was finally here (finally! finally!) and there was no holding the young skin back.”

The story is rife with classic undergraduate writing class type comments – “I wrote, like, a whole critique.” It is also permeated with passages about President Clinton’s indiscretions, which function as a cultural backdrop to the overtly sexual atmosphere of the classroom:

“And what’s more, it was everything we wished for, to see our big daddy Prez getting down with some chubby hayseed in the Oral Office. It was what we deserved. Our popular culture had prepared us exquisitely for the whole shebang. Practically everywhere you turned, strangers were preparing to have sex, or talking about sex, advising us on how to lick a woman’s private parts.”

However, within the erotically charged, youth centeredness of the situation and witty observations of the narrator, this story gets to that fundamental sense of vulnerability. The students are looking for a sense of validation; the narrator is losing his wife and his grip on his current work situation. In the end, the feeling evoked is that what doesn’t make you laugh makes you cry. But even if you laugh, if you enjoy one moment, the intensity of that single passage of time somehow makes the rest bearable.

Perhaps the story that best shows vulnerability is the title story, “The Evil B.B. Chow.” In this story we are presented with a woman who, despite her professional accomplishments, is a wreck romantically:

“I also tell him that I’m divorced. I’ve learned not to hold that in reserve, because it generally freaks the single guys out. They either relegate me to this suspect category of fallen woman (Hester Prynne, J.Lo) or they assume I was somehow abused, and now it’s incumbent upon them to rescue me. I’m not sure which is worse.”

Almond shows he can capably write a female narrator, with themes that echo “Geek Player, Love Slayer” from My Life in Heavy Metal. Above showing that he can capture an aspect of contemporary feminine vulnerability, what makes “The Evil B.B. Chow” a particularly powerful narrative is that B.B. himself uses vulnerability as a romantic asset. By wooing a woman to bed by being completely open and vulnerable, he actually utilizes what would otherwise be considered weaknesses as his ally in attracting and bedding down with women that, we understand, he would not be with otherwise. We come to an eventually understanding that he is nothing better than a rakish cad who plays the sensitivity card with stunning acumen. For us, and the narrator, he crystallizes these internal fears of successful career women, “There is so much time in this life for grief. So many men lying in wait.” The myth that a woman can, or must have it all is debunked. As well, if you get duped by the B.B. Chow’s of the world, who else is left that won’t dupe you?

The pieces that comprise The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories show us a moment in the lives of people where they are possessed by the intensity of what they understand about themselves. Whether they find themselves pathetic, or lonely, or scared they are essentially human. And while none of these stories is the stuff novels are made of, it’s better that they are not. They are single complete narratives about the frailties of contemporary people who inhabit a strange and confusing culture. If Almond never writes a novel, if he continues to write strong short fiction which gives us that sense that Cheever described in his Newsweek essay, we might all be better for it. Because at the end of the day, all of us wrestle with that vulnerability which morphs and changes in form. We live life in connected episodes, searching for truth.

“Everyone’s a saint when it comes to the human spirit.” Almond writes. “The other stuff just grows over us, like weeds.”

first published in the-beat http://www.the-beat.co.uk

Scourge of the off-beat generation

www.Scourge of the off-beat generation.com

Scourge of the off-beat generation

Birmingham division

www.the-beat.co.uk

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