Cover to Cover: Electric Literature, No. 1
I’m still in the Dominican Republic, recuperating after climbing Pico Duarte, with a giddy love of modern plumbing dominating my emotional core. Earlier last week, I read the entire Electric Literature, No. 1 which consists of only five short stories. At first, the green smoke of envy blew out my nostrils because every single one of the f ive authors- EVERY SINGLE ONE- has had multiple books published. I mean, couldn’t they publish just one up and comer? Pretend they care about new talent? Hm. Guess not.
Anyway, the cover of Electric Literature is a tripped out, fantastic portrait of a woman with multiple eyes and ears, blood dripping on her face, muscle tissue showing and weird space-age shit going on, done by Fred Tomaselli. So, I expect something unconventional inside, from both the coverart and the title, something truly “electric”. What instead I found, were five, solidly good short stories. And this is no small feat. In fact, it was one of the most satisfying journal reading experiences I’ve had in a while. But it was not psychedelic, there were no drugs and there was nothing weird about any of the stories, really. In that way, I’ll say I find Electric Literature misleading.
But man, what great stories. Jim Shepard- who I had the great fortune of hearing read once at Happy Endings reading series—writes about a Swiss mountain man and the complexity of snow, the mystery of the avalanche. This is one of those great stories where the natural world is revealed in a way that actually educates the reader, but the story is never didactic, and the human drama is impeccable. Shepard seems to use the natural world–of which our intertwining human lives is part–as a way to explain that nothing is truly explainable, no matter how hard we try to pull it apart and examine it. Fuck, he’s good.
Story number two is by Diana Wagman and is an exuberant, first person narration of a young man in love with a young woman who has lost a breast to cancer. This is a funny story, well paced, nice rhythmically and has some pleasingly strange motions in it. Ever hear “no cancer stories”? Ha! Wagman proves that wrong.
The next was my favorite, “The Time Machine” by T. Cooper. Here is a story that will make me go buy the Cooper’s books, or at least one of them. Told from the POV of a new boyfriend to a divorced-with-children woman, this is a maddening, hilarious story that is LOVE. This is not the love of Romeo and Juliet, this is not a young love, nor is it forbidden love, or marital love shown quietly and respectfully. It is the sort of love that kills you, that makes you know nothing else matters and that every day on this planet is a gift that we should bow down to. Pray to the existence of another day, people. The sun rising and the heart beating and our eyes seeing all around us is the great mystery, and to have that with another person who lets you stick your dick into you, as Cooper may say, why, there is nothing like that in the world. Gratitude, people. Cooper demands it of us. I loved this story of love.
Next comes an excerpt from Michael Cunningham’s new novel, Olympia. It was the first piece I read, and to my great surprise, I really enjoyed it, was impressed by his insight into the human soul and his gentle style. I say surprised, because my corpse will be completely decomposed before I read The Hours, or see that ass of a movie. (In graduate school, I read a paper at a Virginia Woolf conference at Bard College and it cured me of Virginia Woolf and her academic fans, or fans of any kind. Maybe that memory should fade- it’s been 15 years. Hm. Not yet.) Also, I had the great misfortune of hearing Cunningham “perform” at the Bowery once and it made me want to lie down on the floor and stomp my fists and kick my feet and scream and cry, “NOOOO!” So I was surprised- this was a gorgeous piece of writing. It truly was.
And lastly, we have the story I read last, “Sir Henry” by Lydia Millet, about a high end dogwalker in New York City. She nails the icy thing that people who like dogs better than people have, the mild form of socio-pathology and alienation. This is the slightest story of the collection, in both size and depth. But it didn’t have a wrong moment in it.
So, a good couple days reading this journal amidst reading other stuff. And despite the incongruity of the cover-art and name of the journal with the actual content, I will buy Electric Literature again and will definitely read more of T. Cooper.