Skippy Dies—Review on Goodreads

Skippy DiesSkippy Dies by Paul Murray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here’s another British boarding school novel for you. I mean that as a neutral statement—if you love this sort of thing, Skippy Dies delivers. If you’re tired of it, there’s nothing here to make it worth your while to wade through.

For a lot of us, British boarding schools are Harry Potter and Pink Floyd. Evil teachers, child molestation, a smorgasbord of bullying, indifferent parents. Skippy Dies has all of that. Drug use and abuse, sex, sexual deviance, sexual violence. Forgive me for the easy comparison, but Skippy Dies is like an Irish Irvine Welsh writing about 2nd year students, without out all of the accents spelled out phonetically.

Not that Paul Murray’s writing lacks style. He’s funny at times, sweet, bittersweet, and heavy. Matter-of fact sections juxtaposed with streams of consciousness. He keeps you guessing—magic realism? No, just youthful innocence, set up to be quashed, utterly, by the absolute and total indifference of the universe. This is heavy stuff. Not coming-of-age, so much as coming-of-angst.

No spoiler—Skippy does indeed die, right in the beginning, so we can go back in time and look at the “events” that led to the “tragedy.” The real tragedy, of course, is that death is just another swirly, another spit ball, another brick in the wall. Except that upper-middle class boarding schools don’t produce, eventually, deeply depressed artists who suffer and sing. They just produce more upper-middle class parents who are as indifferent as the universe that used to mystify them.

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand—review on Goodreads

Major Pettigrew's Last StandMajor Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read a review of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye that said “I hated this as just as I hated Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.” And I really liked Pilgrimage, so I figured I’d like Pettigrew as well. Boy, was I wrong. A lesson in logic for me: just because A= B, that doesn’t mean not A = not B.

Pettigrew is a romance novel for old people, or, to be specific, a romance novel about old people. And when I say old people, that’s just people old enough to be widows and widowers. And frustrated with how the modern world is taking over. You know, the same old whine that’s been going for, I think, 9000 years or so. Nothing new here, although for the newly old, a sympathetic welcome to their earned right to complain.

For your crumpet lovers, you English country side village and tea and outdated Edwardian more types, there’s plenty for you to sink your teeth into. It’s all so British, isn’t it. And there’s a nice bit of spice in the use of Pakistani foreigners—who are just as British as the rest of them, so the rampant racism is truly hypocritical, what?

And the climax has an honest to goodness windswept cliff, complete with locked and loaded shotgun. So dramatic.

Having recently read England, England, and being reminded that for some of us England is basically Disneyland for Anglophiles, Pettigrew is just another ride to buy tickets for, get on, get off, and forget. I’ll not persuade you one way or another to read or not read this one— rest assured, there’s nothing here to change your mind for or against the thousand other books just like it.

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The Color of Television

fiction by Jason Edwards

Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. The blue blouse with the starched collar and the starched cuffs. And the black skirt. She sits behind a desk all day, her web cam doesn’t show anything below her shoulders, why does she have to wear a stupid skirt? Not that it’s uncomfortable, but still. And black pantyhose. And, for the love of Christ, sensible shoes. Strictly speaking, the shoes aren’t governed by regulation. She knows others who wear slippers, sandals, no shoes at all. But when she’d gone to the uniform shop, they’d given her the hard sell. That was five years ago. Five years on the job, and she still has the same shoes. Because she sits on her ass all day.

She looks at herself in the mirror. Every weekday for five years, minus vacations and furloughs and holidays. Free parking on holidays, you see. But every other day, wake up, crawl out of bed, take a shower, stand in front of the mirror and hide the slide into her 40s with these stupid clothes that she’s required to wear.

She likes the badge though. She pins it on, finding the same old holes. Three shirts, rotated and washed week after week, same old holes in each. She likes the badge, keeps it shiny. But hates the hat. Hates the stupid hat. She hasn’t been outside in at least week, but she’s worn the stupid hat every damn day. Just like the, what is it, do the math Helen, two hundred and fifty weeks before.

She goes to her desk and sits down, turns on the computer, takes the pillow case off the web cam. Oldest computer on the force, she always tells anyone she has to interact with. Captain Jefferson checking in, asking for a numbers check on citations that week. Just a second, captain, I’ll pull that up. Sorry, slowest computer on the force. And he’d chuckle that chuckle. The one that acknowledges without committing.

The screen finally comes up. The green light on the webcam pops on. There she is, in the lower right-hand corner. Fat nose. Beady eyes. Bushy brows. Decent lips though. Nice shellacking of red on them. That made sense, at least. Stupid to make you wear a uniform when you work from home and sit on front of a web cam all day, but it would make sense if make-up was regulation. She supposes someone would call that sexist. Whatever. It’s not sexist if you’re into it. Or something.

Nine other windows, street views. Her beat is thirty-six blocks of some downtown area, under the watchful eye of two hundred and sixteen cameras. Three on each side of the street. She cycles the nine windows. Not a lot of parking, this time of day. And even those cars that are parked, the meters only just turned on ten minutes ago. Still, sometimes folks park over night, and you catch a few out.

Five years ago, she’d give them half an hour or so. She knew what it was like- you’re out late, you know you shouldn’t drive, you take a cab, figure you’ll fetch your car in the morning, and then life happens and you can’t get back in time to beat the meter. She figured she was rewarding their good behavior, deciding not to drive drunk.

Then they started enforcing quotas. And her mother got sick. And her favorite TV show got cancelled. And she turned 36 and was still single and hated wearing that stupid hat and a lot of other bullshit, so she was there, flipping through screens at 8:01 am local time, nailing every jack-ass too lazy to crawl out of bed and retrieve his fucking car. The wages of sin, assholes. Just be glad you can afford to go out at night and get drunk at all. Be glad you can even afford a car. Some folks couldn’t. Serves you right.

Nowadays she gives them fifteen minutes or so. Not because she’s being nice. Mostly because she just doesn’t give a damn. So what if she misses her quota now and again? What are they going to do, fire her? Not while she still pays union dues.

Her iPad makes a noise, and she swipes it on. A chat window. Jerry saying “Hey girl”.

She types back “Hey boy.”

“Watcha doing.”

“Climbing Everest.”

“Ha ha. I’m late for work.”

“So why are you chatting with me?”

One of her screen’s edged in red, a meter expired. She selects the window, moves the camera and zooms in on the plate. What is it, 8:20? Who parks at eight AM and only pays for 20 minutes? She grabs the screen, opens her citation log and indicates the license tag number, make and model, time, location, what the asshole had for breakfast, how long he’s been married, how long he’s hated being married, where he’ll have a heart attack in a few months from eating all that crappy food, what his wife will do with the insurance money.

Erases most of that, saves the citation, moves on to another window. A few yellows, which she flags, just in case they come back and feed the mirror. Not strictly allowed. One hour max on this street, whether you pay for it or not. Apparently, that was a problem in some places. Coffee house denizens setting up shop with a computer and a caffeine addiction, pushing coins into the meters on their smoke breaks and parking all day while they sipped mochas at their novels.

Not sure if that’s a problem on her beat. She isn’t even all that sure what businesses are on her blocks. The cameras can sort of make out signs and such, but not very well. She could use Google, maybe, Streetview. But that feels too much like taking her work home with her. Nevermind that she does, in fact, work from home. Nevermind that in a few minutes she’ll take a break, make coffee in her own coffee pot, hike up her skirt and squat on her own toilet, wash her hands with her own soap and then stare out her own window at a street five thousand miles away from where those computers stared unblinking ten hours a day.

The city saves, what, thousands, millions? On coffee and restrooms and hand soap. And wages. Cost of living for an outsourced meter maid is way lower than for one who has to live in that city. A city she’d never been too. A city she’d heard of, of course, but made up of about as much reality as, well, anything she watches on TV when her shift is over and her panyhose are off and those stupid shoes are kicked to the other side of the room. So who the hell cares what businesses there are on her beat?

Her iPad beeps again.

“Helen. Helen. Helen? Hellooooo”


“Where’d you go?”

“Nowhere. Where would I go?”

“How come you didn’t respond?”

“Sorry, got distracted. Somebody was taking a dump next to one of the meters.”

“Holy shit, really?”

“Is that a pun?”

She stands up, walks into her kitchenette, makes that coffee. Opens the fridge. Take out boxes and tupperware. Lots of leftovers. Closes the fridge, walks over to her window, stares out of it. What would someone think, walking by now, to see her, in uniform, her blouse and skirt and badge and hat, standing there like that?

Nothing. They wouldn’t think a thing.They might reach for a remote, see if they could change the channel. Reach for a mouse, click to another page. Or just go back to their cell phones. Seeing and thinking don’t have anything to do with each other anymore.

She flips on her TV, positioned to the side so no one can see it when she’s on the webcam. Not sure if it’s strictly regulation to have a TV on while she works. Not that there’s anything to watch. She doesn’t like soap operas much. Too fake. Doesn’t know if, strictly speaking, the iPad is regulation either. Well, screw em, they could cut her some slack. it’s just background noise.

The TV says something about protesters gathering in a city park somewhere. She ignores it utterly, thinking about a dream she’d had, she was a valet, parking cars illegally just so people would have to pay tickets. Her coffeemaker makes a sound, and she glances towards it, glances at the microwave. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. She dashes over to her chair, sits down, eyes locked on the screen, fumbles for the mouse. Clicks the left arrow, going back groups of screens. Click click click, damn it, why had she’d left herself so far north? She clicks in the go-to box, types in 4, hits return, the screens swim over, and she’s clicking on camera 6. Pulling back. The street is empty, no cars. She dares to take her eyes off the image to look at the time in the lower right hand corner. She’s one minute late. Damn it damn it damn it.

She’s holding her breath. Her iPad makes a noise.Without looking she grabs it, sets it face down on her desk. The clock says she’s two minutes late now. She starts to let her breath out. What is today, Wednesday? Does he even run on Wednesdays? Maybe he went earlier. Maybe it’s getting warmer where he lives, maybe he’s going on longer runs now and has to start before her shift even comes on, maybe– and there he is.

Oh sweet, sweet man. Just legs and shorts and so much skin. His jet-black Nikes, she looked it up, Nike Frees, minimalist shoes. Those calves, like bundles of thick rope. Those thighs. She’s never seen his face– he’s always running East to West, always comes on camera from the right, exits to the left. As he does, she clicks, follows him on the next camera. He has an easy, loping pace. He’s got white wires coming out of his ears, down to some device on his hand. One more screen as he runs by, she clicks over. This is the best part. On a nice day, for a few weeks, the sun catches his back, the sweat glistens, literally glistens, those sculpted traps and lats and rhomboids. She’d looked that up to.

And then he’s gone. She’s not exactly breathing hard, not exactly panting. But she finds herself touching her face, touching her hair, adjusting her hat. What’s his name? Where does he live? How far does he run? Does he have Skype? She hopes not.

A window pops up, Captain Jefferson. He’s got as smirk on his face. “Helen,” he says.

“Hello.” She glances at her own image. Is she blushing?

“How’s the beat.”

“Same as always. Five cites so far, but it’s still only morning.”

He nods. “Okay, good. Listen, we need someone to cover a few blocks later. Want any overtime?”


“West Coast.”

Sigh. Another late night. “You know, I’d be happier if I didn’t have to wear this hat.”

He laughs “Yeah. I’ll patch you in at five, your local. Thanks Helen.” His screen goes off.

Of course, hers is still on. Maybe she could take some art classes, buy some expensive paints and brushes with all this overtime money, and paint a tiny little hat on the lense of her web cam, so it looks like she’s wearing a hat all the time. For that matter, why not paint a little blouse on there too. And there she’d be, sitting half naked in her chair, no hat, no shirt, but still wearing her skirt and the hose and the shoes. Absolutely ridiculous.

The rest of the day goes by like it always does. She flips through screens, pretending to look for parking violations, actually looking for the runner to come back the other way. By lunch she’s only one away from her quota. She knows others who nail their quotas every day, never falling under but never going over, either. You couldn’t get away with quitting for the day if you hit yours early, so she imagines they ease up for a while, letting a few go, waiting for the last one an hour or so before they clock out.

The iPad makes a sound. “Hey girl.”

“Hey boy.”

“Busy day?”

“Same as always.”

“Mom wants to know if you can Facetime at dinner.”

“Not sure. I’m pulling some over time.”

“So? Just turn it on, she likes looking at your face. Don’t know why.”

“I’ll still have this stupid hat on.”


She takes her afternoon break, a diet soda, some chips. Uses the toilet, washes her hands, stands in front of the TV. The Dr. Oz show. A mother and her daughter. One of them is, apparently, addicted to video games. She can’t tell which one.

A commercial for the news. The woman behind the desk is gorgeous. Tasteful but sexy dress, perfect hair. No hat. “At six o’clock, we’ll tell you about the riot that’s going on right now on the East Coast, and fish mercury– are levels on the rise?”

She turns back to her computer. Riot? She walks over and sits down. Starts cycling her screens. Sees a few reds, ignores them to cycle further. Everything looks fine. Everything looks- one of her screens is black. She flips to other side of the street, but of course, the cameras can’t see each other, they don’t have that much room to move. She flips back again, and the screen next to it is black, too.

She pages the Captain, but he doesn’t answer. Another of her screens goes black. And then another. She shifts to the last screen on the block. A face appears, scaring her. She pushes her chair back, but of course he can’t see her. His face is distorted, too close for the camera to focus. He seems to be smiling, laughing, shaking back and forth, and then that screen goes black, too.

She switches to the next block– more black screens. Tries another. Tries the Captain again. Nothing. Tries more screens. One of them is still on, but as she watches it starts to shake violently, then goes dark. Soon all of her screens are black. Every last one.

Except for the one with her face in it, in the lower right hand corner. She looks at herself, but of course what she’s seeing is herself looking at her self. She reaches up and takes off her hat. And then the entire computer screen turns off, and she’s left staring at nothing but dead glass.

England, England– review on Goodreads

England, EnglandEngland, England by Julian Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

England, England is a book about an island created to capture the essence of England, ostensibly to attract tourists and make its founders a lot of money. This “fake” England, we are assured, is more “real” that the country it’s based on, as it distills Englishness down to its recognizable parts and puts them all in the same, convenient place. England, we are told, is its history, artifacts, and iconography. This is pop-culture for those who thought Any Warhol wasn’t being in the least ironic.

A book like this, then, is itself about England, via its characters: a self made man and an almost-but-not-quite-bitterly cynical woman. The former is the visionary who builds England, England, the latter his assistant who keeps his vision grounded in reality. Sir Jack Pitman, not content with having it all, decides he wants to be in charge of it all as well, and thanks to Miss Cochrane, he only earns that right after having been defeated by his own hubris.

So then there’s the fake England, and the stereotypical English, and that’s all well and good. But a thing becomes calcified as soon as it gets a label, and that’s what happened to England itself, thanks to the non-English. Anyone and everyone who’s ever had this Englishness foisted on them has an idea of what England is, and they’re all most certainly wrong. England isn’t English anymore than China is merely Chinese. According to Barnes, Derrida was wrong.

And while, I, personally, got bored reading this after a while, thanks to long passages of introspection about love and the meaning of life, I did like how the book’s coda sums up what it means for a place to have a fabric and texture—once the real England has its history, artifacts, and iconography drained from it, it ceases to be part of the world-context that defines it, and ironically, once again becomes utterly English.

My apologies for prattling on like a sophomore struggling to write a book report. I desperately want to enjoy Julian Barnes’ books. I thought A Sense of an Ending was excellent, and I found Flaubert’s Parrot quite challenging—so my head is looking for ways to justify my having read England, England. It got me thinking, I suppose, so kudos for that. I just wish it was shorter—blame my American shallow attention span.

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Embrace Crap

macaroni-and-cheeseI call it crap because that’s what other people call it, but that’s just a label, a convenience for conveying judgment. I don’t really think it’s crap, but I do think calling it crap is crap. I’ll let your noodle noodle through that one.

You see, I’m sick. Not permanently! Just a small cold, or flu or cancer or something. I’m not sure. Started a few days ago, scratchy throat, and has moved out of my throat into my head. My theory, based on my medical degree, years of research, successfully guessed and executed experiments, and my extremely high IQ, is that I over did it (running), and along with allergies thanks to a few days sunshine, my immune system took a hit. Opportunistic bugs brought home by my wife (who works in the filthiest place a human can work: hospital) pounced and thus I’m feeling purty low.

And I’m craving macaroni and cheese. And not just any: Kraft Mac n Cheese. And not just any: K M&C eaten straight from the sauce pan. Which I’m told is crap.

Cause that’s the world we live in, where every time a person describes a thing, there’s a bunch of people ready to jump in and call it crap: “My gramma made the BEST mac and cheese. She used REAL cheese, not that fake crap Kraft uses. Corporations ruin everything. What you need is an herbal tea infusion and lots of rest. Go to bed and read that author who writes about prisoner rights in Indochina. At least you don’t have it as bad as they do!”

Yes I do. I have it worse than they do. I’m sick, god damn it, and I feel like crap. I don’t like books about prisoners. Herbal tea tastes terrible. Corporations employ thousands of people, and processed cheese “food” is made of the same carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen as that so-called real “crap” your gramma used. And screw your gramma—I heard she was a racist and a homophobe.

You see what this cold/flu/meningitis has done to me? Turned me into a republican hipster. @#$%^&*

Anyhoo, I just want to encourage you to ignore the idiots, and embrace crap. You like Vegas? Go to Vegas. You like watching CSI? Get it on DVD and watch the extras and outtakes. You like Coors? Drink your Coors. And I apologize for all the times I call your joy crap.

I could try to say, now, that people are judgmental because they’re insecure—but that’s a load of horse shit. People are judgmental because they’re assholes. I mean, yeah, maybe they are insecure, and they’re hypocrites, and cynical to the point of killing hard-ons. But who cares: ignorning them is easier than understanding them.

Embrace crap. Life’s too short. Your time on earth is no Sistine Chapel, and you’re no Michelangelo—and even if it was and you were, that just means you’d wind up with fat tourists stomping around in your memories. Screw that.

Fat Martha

fiction by Jason Edwards

The treadmill’s been unplugged for three months now. There’s a folding chair sitting on it, and the ground around is littered with food crumbs: Cheetos Doritos, Ruffles and Pringles. Funyans, Fritos and Fuck-Me boxes of Ritz Crackers. You can put anything onna Ritz. Or you can just eat ‘em plain, one sleeve at a time.

She’s perched on the chair, Fat Martha. Her real name’s Tabitha, Tabby, Tubby, Tabs, Tubs, but she calls herself Fat Martha. The treadmill is too big to fit through the apartment door. Hank put it together for her. Fucking Hank. Fucking Hank said, I can’t handle your shit anymore, Tabs. Good riddance.

Fat Martha sits on the chair and watches television. Mostly reruns. Mostly things on basic cable. Friends. What a terrible terrible show. Only Joey ever eats. Fat Martha wipes a sweaty paw on her chest, wiping more crumbs to the floor. Her cheese powder-stained sweat shirt. The one that used to be pink. Not aggressive pink, more like a subtle pink. A pink a boy could have gotten away with wearing. Fucking Hank had worn it once, after he’d put the treadmill together, and taken a shower, and gotten into her bed, and then gotten out of it again and thought it would be a good idea to run down to the bodega for a few diet sodas.

Bugs don’t even bother with the food crumbs. Fat Martha thinks about changing the channel, but the TV is perched so she could watch it while walking the treadmill, and the remote is who knows where, so she watches a commercial for Burger King. Does Burger King deliver? Fat Martha can’t make herself leave the apartment.

Fat Martha weighs 87 pounds. She’s five foot four, tall for a short girl. Her BMI is 14.9. If she can just get to 15, Fucking Hank will come back. She eats chocolate and donuts and very fatty steaks. She tries not to move much. She holds it in and doesn’t go to the bathroom very much. But she’s stuck.

The commercial’s over. Now Phoebe is saying something naïve, Chandler’s responding snarkily, and the other two skinny bitches are smiling knowing smiles. Joey looks confused. Ross looks like he’s just swallowed a small basset hound. Fat Martha is almost 40. She remembers when sit-coms would have “very special” episodes where they dealt with some problem. Like teen pregnancy, alcohol abuse, or racial intolerance. Sit-coms don’t do that anymore. Sit-coms are happy to help you build a treadmill in your tiny postage stamp apartment, laugh about how it’s impossible to get it back out again, but they don’t bother filming the episode where you admit you’re less than 90 lbs now and you don’t know why.

Fat Martha is not anorexic, or bulimic. She does hate her body. She does puke, on occasion, but never on purpose. Usually because the shit she crams down her throat is so vile, she can’t keep it in. She has a bucket for that. It is the only exercise she gets. She pukes until she sees spots, then she drags the bucket to the sink and washes it. It always smells like bleach. It’s gotten to the point where the smell of bleach is comforting because what comes next is the terrible terrible knot of hot hate in her guts exiting violently.

She doesn’t know what to do. Friends is over, and another episode of Friends is coming on. The box with the grocery store delivery is in the kitchen. There’s a clean path, in the debris, for the delivery guy. He’s foreign, thank god, and if he sees Fat Martha and her filthy apartment and her dusty treadmill and her pristine puke bucket, his noticing doesn’t show on his face. She tips him well. There are bags of garbage everywhere.

Lost her job, but so what. Mom died, but so what. Never knew her father. Blame him? Girls without daddies were supposed to be sluts. But she could never manage it. Too fat. And for a day, between too fat and too not fat enough, there was Fucking Hank. All the Friends are looking out the window. Fat Martha doesn’t even have to pay attention to know they’re staring at Fat Naked Guy. She absolutely hates that she knows this.

She tries to stand up. She feels a head rush coming on. She’s teetering on the edge of the treadmill. If she falls, she might land on the bed. If she has momentum, she might roll off again and land next to the tiny refrigerator. Then, as she lies dying, she can have a chocolate milk. Dying of multiple broken bones. Can multiple broken bones kills a person? If a rib goes through her heart, maybe. Hopefully.

Instead the head rush clears and she’ still perched on the edge of the treadmill, 5 inches above the floor. Fat Martha looks down, and sees her knees. Her knees are now the biggest part of her body. Her belly disappeared, her boobs disappeared, but her knees, they stayed right in. She’s in a filthy sweatshirt and nothing else, because clothes make you sweat and sweat makes you lose weight. Maybe the phone will ring.

Maybe the phone will ring. Ring, ring, Fat Martha lets it ring. Who has a phone that hang on a wall, these days. A gigantic intruder-bashing plastic thing. Answer it. Hello. It’s me. Who. Me, Fucking Hank. Oh. How are you. I’m fine. I called to tell you I’m sorry. No you didn’t. Yes I did, Fat Martha, I called to tell you I’m sorry I couldn’t deal with the way you were disappearing right before my eyes. Don’t me melodramatic. I just wish you would go to the doctor. How, Fucking Hank, am I supposed to do that? Don’t yell at me. Why not, you deserve it. I’m just a figment of your imagination, Fat Martha. So. So would I really call myself Fucking Hank? And you always called me Tabs, not Fat Marha. See. Yeah. So. Yeah. So go see a doctor, Fat Martha! Oh fuck you. And if she had enough energy, she’d slam the phone into the cradle so hard it would shake the walls and some asshole number would thump the floor with a broom.

But the phone doesn’t ring. Friends chatters away, the tiny refrigerator looms, the cupboards stuffed with chips beckon. But she’s not hungry. She wants to be hungry. Wants so desperately to be hungry. But she’s not. Fat Martha steps off the treadmill, winces with then pain that shoots through one knee. Chandler gets off three jokes and Joey alludes to sexual prowess twice in the time it takes her to shuffle around her bed. Now she’s standing next to the frig. It’s way down there. What if she bends down to open it and can’t stand back up? Well, that’s happened before, so who cares.

Fat Martha bends down to open the tiny frig, and all energy leaves her back. She’s hanging from her own hips. She grabs the gigantic jug of chocolate milk. She opens it. The cap falls… somewhere. She puts the jug to her lips. God damn it is so heavy. She takes a deep breath, cold chocolaty air into her lungs, a few millicalories of energy, some kind of weird cocoa osmosis, and with Herculean will she straightens up, the jug upended above her, chocolate milk splashing onto her face, coursing down her body naked underneath her filthy sweatshirt as she falls back into the bed.

The weight of the jug pushes it into her gums, gashing them, hot copper in their with the chocolate. Finally it’s empty and she lets it fall away. Her face is sticky. Her hair is sopped. Her bed is soaked. Fat Martha licks her lips, limps a hand onto her belly, wrist bone cutting into exposed ribs. Did she get any in her? Did she swallow any one the way down? Her life flashes before her eyes. It’s a fat flash.

In Junior high they read To Build a Fire, and her teacher kept bragging about how everything was foreshadowed in the first paragraph. Fat Martha must have read that story a hundred times, at least a dozen, at least three times, trying to see what the teacher was talking about. But it just wasn’t true. There was nothing in the first paragraph that foreshadowed the ending. Nothing in that first paragraph that let you in on the secret. You read the whole story thinking there was a chance. Sure, the second time you read it, you know the guy had no chance at all. But the first time—the writer was making it up as you went along. Anything could have happened. Anything at all.

The treadmill’s been unplugged for three months now. She gets up, relishes the sticky sweetness on her face, gluing one eye shut, fights off waves of head rush and plugs the treadmill back in. There’s a folding chair sitting on it, and the ground around is littered with food crumbs: Cheetos Doritos, Ruffles and Pringles. She kicks off the chair, and it smacks the walls, wedges up against the front door. Funyans, Fritos and Fuck-Me boxes of Ritz Crackers. Underneath her finger nails, in her hair. You can put anything onna Ritz. She’ll put a mile on every one she’s ever eaten Or you can just eat ‘em plain, one sleeve at a time. Fat Martha’s gotta lotta sleeves to get through. She starts the treadmill, starts running.

Nobody Got Killed

This is an old one. I am only posting it to test something that WordPress is supposed to do automatically. A new one tomorrow.

fiction by Jason Edwards

Yee-haaa. It’s a good old-fashioned bar fight. Jed told Ned he was a fool for cheatin’ on Nellie, Ned punched Jed in his big old belly, Jed threw a glass of beer of old Ned’s head, it missed, hit Fred, and the blood flowed red.

Fred thought a pool cue would look good broken over Tim Crow’s back, and James Bear, who hated violence, ran into Big Nasty Louie on his way out the door. He bounced and knocked over The Runt, who because of his size always was itchin’ for a fight. After they pulled the ’67 Desoto out of the window, everyone would agree the fight was The Runt’s fault.

Let’s take a picture. Freeze Frame. Right at the instant when Marylane’s ’67 Desoto was just touching the plate glass of the Bull and Moose Bar and Saloon and Tavern. Look at it there. The glass is bowed just a little bit, just a smidge, there’s a crack moving out about three inches from where Marylane’s right front bumper is kissing it, above a fleck of paint from when her good for nothing boy and who cares if he fought in the Korean war he never amounted to nothin’ after that painted a dresser in a garage and drunk like his mother didn’t put the drop cloth on the Desoto very good. Marylane’s eyes are half-closed in terror, her hands loosely holding the wheel in fear, the horror of what’s about to occur painted in the way her slack lips glisten on the last swaller of Potato Rot and Hair Tonic she ever will have. Nothing bornes Christians again like a big old car crashing into a bar.

The Runt’s got his jaws clamped firmly on Jed’s calf, and Jed’s hand is wrapped tight around David Family’s throat, his other hand pulled back for a punch, a drop of snot from when he wiped his nose after he punched The Runt glistening from his high-school ring, but Jed’s back is arched from the pain in his calf, David Family’s face is twisted to the side on his skull, his hands halfway up to Jed’s arm to try and pull himself away. Standing on The Runt’s foot is Big Nasty Louie who’s eyes are wide but closing as Ned has brushed off one of his meatier punches and is returning one in kind, reaching up to do it, at this exact point in time Ned’s fist is so close to Louie’s jaw that if time continued but everybody stayed frozed but metabolic cellular development was allowed to continue, Louie’s chin would grow a bristle that would tickle Ned’s knuckle in about three and half hours.

Tim Crow’s got James Bear in a head lock but he doesn’t know it, and James Bear’s got one hand on the pool table searching for a ball to grab to hit Tim in the balls with. In the melee Tim mistook James for Fred when James got up off of the Runt and tripped over the good for nothin’ boy that Marylane sent off to Korea who was looking for dog-ends next to Big Nasty Louie’s table. Tim’s kung-fu took over but he was blinded by the pool lamp. Now his teeth are set and his eyes are pulled hard right at the sound of the ’67 Desoto screaming in 2nd gear: the waves propagating from the engine according to the Doppler effect have penetrated the glass and set up a sympathetic vibration in Tim’s cochlea, resulting in a pulse of electricity shooting into his brain and manifesting itself in a pattern which despite the subduing effects of the seven beers James bought him has finally, at this exact instant, flashed into a neural pattern which is the same as the one Tim possesses for: “Oh, Fuck, A Car.”

James Bear’s own brain is filtering out the flash of electricity which tells him he has brushed the three ball with his pinkie in favor of reminding him he can’t fucking breath.

Fred’s cousin Bernice is having sex with her husband, Walter Tightass Mr. Man Banker, about three thousand or so miles away in New York Big Shot Buncha Metros City. For them the episode of sex has been stretched and smeared from it’s beginning a few minutes ago to it’s end in a few minutes, making judging which second is which impossible; at this instant Bernice has both eyes closed, her thighs clamped tight around Walter’s ass, and his hands are scrunched white around the sheets next to her head and his own eyes are rolled so far back he’d be able to see his own brain if he was paying attention. Particle Physicists who insist on the integrity of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle would say that no one knows for sure where exactly the sperm that will on this night penetrate Bernice’s egg is. But Fred, who’s standing off to one side with somebody else’s beer in his hand, the fight having gotten boring after he rearranged the covalent bonds between a few million atoms in the middle of his pool cue across Tim Crow’s back, will one day be the foster parent of the child born from the act, since three years from now Walter Fancy Pants Who Can’t Even Gut a Fish will get himself and Bernice who Fred once played doctor with when they was kids killed in a car wreck with a ’67 Desoto (coincidence). At this moment Fred’s head is back, the beer mug is resting on his bottom lip, the glass is at a 37 and half degree angle, the muscles in his throat have peristaltically closed on one swallow making the other swallow wait here, forever, in this frozen speck of time. The gash on the side of his face is in mid ooze. He’s pretty goddamned drunk.

Skeeter Horizon behind the bar is balanced on one toe as he is about to come around with his baseball bat that’s been sawed off like a shotgun except stupider. His hands are waist high, in close, elbows bent, head slightly forward in his neck since walking is just controlled falling, eyes in a slit, wife freshly divorced, eight payments left on his Ford, bottom lip stuck out, in the middle of an inhale through his nose.

So there they are for ya. Marylane airborne. The Runt biting Jed on his leg. Jed holding David Family’s throat, about to punch him. Big Nasty Louie standing on The Runt’s foot, about to get hit by Ned. Tim Crow holding James Bear in a headlock. Marylane’s good for nuthin’ on the floor, cringing. Fred off to the side, drinking a beer. And Skeeter Horizon coming around the bar. Can you see ’em?

Imperial Bedrooms– review on Goodreads

Imperial Bedrooms Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read this having recently reread Less Than Zero, the prequel. (And what a prequel it was!) Ellis launches the sequel by invoking the prequel and the movie based on it, explaining that the writer has changed but the narrator has not. A tidy little link, there. A good way to stitch together tomes otherwise severed by 25 years.

In my review of Less Than Zero I mentioned that when I had originally read it I was impressed, and when I read it again recently I was not so impressed. What I didn’t mention was that after reading Less than Zero the first time I read American Psycho and was impressed, but promised myself I would never read it again. After my second reading of Less Than Zero I was beginning to think maybe my promise was silly and I should reread American Psycho after all and see if my attitude towards it would change as well. But now that I’ve read Imperial Bedrooms, I don’t need to re-read American Psycho, since Ellis has done so for me.

Yeah. I’m calling Imperial BedroomsLess Than Zero plus American Psycho.” Also, Glamorama. Also a bit of Lunar Park, but only a bit. Also, some Mulholland Drive, but without any of David Lynch’s style (which should not be taken as praise or insult). Also, Fight Club, but not really.

Ostensibly, the cast of Less Than Zero are middle-aged now… but if alienation is a theme, there’s no way for those of us who are middle aged will in the least identify with anything going on in this book. Not at all. Aside from a few comments a few people make, there’s little or no use to which this middle-agedness is used. So why bring it up? I guess because the ennui of the 80s elite is the same as the ennui of the over-the-hill elite. Young people have energy now, but old people, well, they’ve always been and always will be self-indulgent pricks.

Imperial Bedrooms ends up being about sadism, and nothing more. And we learn that sadism is not merely cruelty. A sadist does not merely enjoy causing pain, but enjoys the pain caused to someone who asks for it. But the person asking for it cannot enjoy it—or it’s not pain. The sadist thrives on the contradiction of a person’s wanting something he or she doesn’t want. Yeah, I’m going to call Ellis a sadist. I’m going to say he wants us to want the bruises this book causes, bruises we don’t enjoy.

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