Cover to Cover: The Atlantic

Posted by @ 6:22 pm on August 3rd, 2009
Volcanos in the Atlantic (those red dots)- sort of a metaphor for the exciting short stories in The Atlantic!

Volcanos in the Atlantic (those red dots)- sort of a metaphor for the exciting short stories in The Atlantic!

I fucking hate the Atlantic because of articles like this one linked here and the many other similiar, hyperbolic crap they publish with far too great regularity. I truly think they try to find the most mentally disturbed, prozacked, never-properly -fucked-in-their-entire-liives journalists they can and ask them to write the most insensible social commentary they can muster.  Indeed, I rarely read them anymore because it’s bad for my gallbladder. But, I bought their fiction issue that comes out yearly. And I read all of the fiction in it. Here’s a brief discussion of the first four of  seven stories:

I chose to read the story “Voices of Love” by Paul Theroux first. I like him very much. In fact, I own and have read his Collected Short Stories. Manyof his short stories inspired me tremendously. “Voices of Love” consists of–hold your breath–fourteen short shorts–all dealing with –you guessed it! -love of some kind or another. A tiny little part of my heart fluttered, thinking, the internet has influenced so great a writer as Paul Theroux! Paul Theroux is experimenting with form! But then I read and read some more. I moved uncomfortably in my chair. My face flushed, I gnawed on my cheek. I may haven gotten up and gotten more caffiene. And then the vitrol came pouring out. What the fucking fuck? If I saw a few of these on a website I wouldn’t think twice but to line these all up in THE ATLANTIC? It smacked a bit of Theroux, being such a big name, giving his shittiest stuff that he never fully realized or worked on- scraps from his notebook, let’s say–to The Atlantic because he secretly hates them, too. And so maybe I feel closer and more bonded with Theroux after reading his truly second rate flash fiction thingies on The Atlantic? Hey Paul, I get it. You hate them, too! This is your “here’s some toilet paper I wiped my ass on” to them! Hahahaaa!!! No. I just hated The Atlantic for publishing such lame ass shit.

So I almost gave up. But  I didn’t. The Atlantic was easy to carry around and lived in my beach bag and so, a few days later, I read “PS” by Jill McCorkle. This story sucked me right in. It is written in the form of a letter to a marriage counseler from the POV of a woman who is now divorced and it is, frankly, very funny. I read it in a sitting or two and never felt angry at the Atlantic! I understood why they published this story- it was good. I love bad marriage stories. Love them! Indeed, I wrote a book I wanted to title “Bad Marriage”.  But my one criticism of this story- and why I am not going forth and buying McCorkle’s work right away- is that I never understood why she was ever married to this guy. I just wanted an inkling, you know? That said, this story made me less angry and ready to continue on with the other stories.

Aaaah. I just poured myself a martini. I got in at 2:30 am last night from the Dominican Republic and stayed up a bit and am dead to the world today. I am watching a rerun of the LA Tennis Center semifinals on the Tennis Channel. My house is a damp, acid smell of 16 year senile cat urine.  And I am contemplating short stories! Damn, life is good, if I don’t think about cat litter and my swollen ankle ( a nasty sprain?), asthma and pit stains. (And even if I think of those things, life is good, really.)

The third story I read was called “The Laugh” by Tea Obreht. I think she recently had a story in the New Yorker that I didn’t read. I didn’t read it because it filled me with some envious rage. Not sure why. Hm. Maybe because I briefly was aquainted with Tea Leoni and now hate the fact that she’s hugely famous and a Hollywood movie star and so the name “Tea” (I don’t have the right little ‘  to make it TEa, but whatever) set off all sorts of envy and rage things in my head? This is possible. But in the DR, everything seems less threatening, literary wise (it’s actually a crime ridden country.) So I happily read “The Laugh” and- enjoyed it! It takes place in Africa and Obrecht loves the land she describes and the people who inhabit it. She does infuse it with some inexplicable danger, or rather, the wild lawlessness of nature and I could see how this could be unsettling. I just went for it. “The Laugh” refers to hyenas who have killed a young woman, the wife of the friend of main protagonist. I love a story that exudes menacing beauty- this story does that.  It’s long and loved, slowly unfolding. I was impressed. I have to no longer hate this writer even though her name is TEa.

The next story I read was called “Least Resistance” by Wayne Harrison. I actually got excited reading this one. And- he doesn’t seem to have a book out yet! The Atlantic took something out of the slush pile??? Perhaps not. But still- an up and comer. Nice.  This story is about adultery, suffering, dead babies, a car pimping joint in Waterbury, CT and has a seriously lovable young male narrator named Justin. I will seek out this guy’s fiction. I loved this story. It’s a coming of age story, yes, but has all sorts of gorgeous details and humour and real life crap in it. It has a PERFECT ending. Here’s a bit where Justin, growing into himself, has to defend his father who works in an art gallery:


“Japanese Art.”

“What kind of art the Japs make?” Tommy said, perking up. “Rice cakes?”

“Robes. Swords, you know. Paintings.”

Brown Stains On The Wall, by  Who-Flung Poo,” he said and chugged his beer. His mind was sharper than you’d think, looking at his sagging, stubbled face, and I grinned, though I was becoming more and more reluctant to indulge him.

“I never really got art,” said Nick.

“He’s a bum chum, your old man?” Tom said.

Nick laughed. “A what?”

“A sausage jockey? A backdoor commando.” His look never varied from an expression of knowing that the world and everyone in it was full of shit. “Isn’t that it, like, a qualification for being a curator?”

“He remarried,” I said. “He has two kids.” It shut him up but didn’t erase that damn smirk. I stared at him. “I don’t know, man,” I said. All of a sudden my stomach was quaking, but the thought of how much Mary Ann despised him made me brave. “When was the last time you had a girlfriend, Tommy? You’re not a fag, are you?”

I like good shit talking in a garage. It turns me on.  And I don’t like being a hater- I really don’t, I suck at it, for one–so I’m pleased that The Atlantic more or less redeemed itself in some ways, in particular in the way of not being awful in its entirity.

That’s it for now. I’ll talk about the last three stories later.

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