Summer in Review (2013)

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Nothing better than seeing the Royals shut out the Tigers on a 4000 degree day in mid-July, right, grumpy baby?

Things slowed down as summer officially began. Not a lot of news fit to print. (Besides the KC Royals making an honest to God playoff run, that is. That 4% chance of making the post-season they’ve been nursing the past month or so has brought me a not small amount of joy.) [EDIT: We also won 7th place in Dole’s Taste of Spain sweepstakes, which includes a free Bag o’ Salad. So the winning streak continues.] A lot of this was by design to savor a couple things that will be in short supply next summer–cash and family time.

Inkubate did select the winners of their Literary Blockbuster Challenge. Although part of the long-list of finalists my work was not selected as one of the cash winners. Apparently they are sharing my work with a group of participating agents and editors, so there’s that.

I also finished the rewrite of my novel and am now hard at work in the revision of the rewrites. All in all I’d declare the multiple POV experiment a success. A main thread emerged through the character of Karel, a nine year-old boy when the novel begins. I’ve never done much with child characters in my work before–with a notable exception coming when “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter” was published in The Kenyon Review in 2011–and it’s turned out well.

An excerpt from The Uninitiated will appear as “River Ward, 1917” in Boulevard soon, so keep an eye out for that.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

16th & farnam
16th & Farnam Street.

“That night Karel turned on his lamp, just briefly, to take off his shoes and tuck them safely under the mattress. He was a bit drunk and didn’t feel like sleeping right away. At the same time he was too anxious of himself to join the boys at the loud end, so he sat for a while to think about his predicament. He wished that the feeling he created on the baseball diamond when he played ball followed with him once he made it home, but this couldn’t be so. There was too much weight in familiar places. The stuff about his mom he didn’t want to believe. What happened with Braun, the demise of SOSA; and not long after Jacob being ran out of town in disgrace, a thug, a thief, good riddance. And Anna. Karel could do nothing to change what had happened to Anna, and what would.

Instead he was in this dorming house, sitting on the quiet end with his lamp on. He annoyed those around him but they could roll over and grumble, for all he cared. They could order him to douse his lamp. He’d tell them to fuck off. Karel was sitting in the lamplight. That’s all. Something he never did. He’d never wanted to put off the others but he didn’t care now. The room looked strange to him, drunk, the way the shadows were victorious against the lamp in the corners, under beds, up in the airy loft above him when the rafters crossed each other. Sometimes the room reminded Karel of the time he’d visited Anna up at the state home. For she too slept in a long dormitory hall like this one. The two rows of beds. All girls there—as this was all boys—strangers to one another, which made them compatriots in a way. It was always lonely to fall asleep in a row of beds, particularly if you were bracketed by silent neighbors. If he couldn’t hear their breathing, Karel wondered if they’d died in the night, and remembered how it was when he’d shared a bed with his sister, how he fell asleep to her dainty snoring most nights, and the terror of waking up to silence in the middle of the night, Anna’s snoring stopped, and him to speculate why. Karel didn’t like to have a bed to himself, despite believing he did. He’d never slept alone before and wasn’t sure how to do it. He’d stay up late and stare into the rafters. He’d listen to the card players. This night he’d leave the light on.”

Just Finished

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Joachim Neugroschel. In preparation for my trip to a German arts organization next summer I’ve been acquainting myself a bit with the German-language canon, so as to not appear so much as a self-centered, hegemonic American jerk. The Piano Teacher was really great. I’m not sure that there’s anything so formally striking about it, but the close, close POV (even when split) was remarkably well done, and wonderfully hard to read at times, and the evocation of Vienna in the 1980s very engaging.

Speculations About Jakob by Uwe Johnson, translated by Ursule Molinaro. I’d never heard of this book before, but I’m grateful I came across it and picked it up. Originally published in German in 1959 (the English translation went public in the US in 1963) Johnson provides a striking panorama of what life was like in East Germany in the 1950s, at the time of the Hungarian Revolt–and, more importantly, what East Germans thought of West Germans and why not all East Germans dreamed of becoming refugees in the West. While the style of the narration–multiple, often overlapping points-of-view–can be challenging, the book is a masterpiece. Very highly recommended.

Amerika by Franz Kafka, translated by Willa Muir. This unfinished novel is kind of known for being factually inaccurate–what? you didn’t know that the Statue of Liberty held a giant stone sword?–as Kafka never traveled to the United States and was kind of writing by the seat of his pants as far as research went. It’s still a pretty good novel, although not always very Kafkaesque, surprisingly. This being one of his earliest works, you can tell he was still feeling out his style by writing what is basically a pretty conventional travel story, at least in the beginning. Things get a lot weirder towards the end.

The Joke by Milan Kundera. It’s kind of interesting to read the so-called “lesser” works of such a well-known author, since it can be hard not to give the novel its own treatment, rather than reading everything through the lens (or in comparison) of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in this case. So while The Joke is a very good book, I seemed to appreciate it less in the beginning because it wasn’t THE Kundera classic. That being said, The Joke offers its own pleasures. It’s a little deeper experience in some ways, more focused on single events and the ironies of the characters as their plots intertwine.

Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. A finalist for the National Book Award, Spiotta’s 2006 novel is highly entertaining, and pretty spot on in its portrayal of activist and outsider culture in the United States, both in the 1970s and the early 2000s. I kind of cringed reading the sections set in 2003, remembering how some of my friends and I worked so hard to craft political consciousness through fashion. A lot of times I take issue with novels that try to depict aspects of my generation, particularly if they hit close to home, as everyone does, I’m sure. But Spiotta’s writing is so sharp, her points so precise and intuitive, there really wasn’t much to argue about.

Now Reading

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen.

Up Next

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald.

Spring in Review (2013)

Anna Wilson house in 1920s
This the building that housed Anna Wilson’s notorious Omaha brothel. Pictured here in the 1920s. After Wilson’s death, the building was converted into a hospital, per her wishes. (Courtesy of Wilson & Washburn, a new bar downtown that’s named after Anna and Josie Washburn, a prostitute turned reformer who makes a cameo in my novel.)

Summer is here in just about every way imaginable, so it’s time to recap what’s gone down the past few months.

First, some news about Tom Dennison’s house at 7510 Military Ave was passed on to me by a reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous. (Previous posts about the Dennison house can be found here and here.) There was some confusion about which side of Military the house was actually located, and my source let me know that the address of the house would have changed at some point after Dennison died. So while it was originally 7510 Military, it would have been on the 7300 block of Graceland Drive for most of the time it was standing, putting it south of Military, on the property of Skyline Retirement Community rather than on Marian’s side like I thought. That the address changed clears everything up.

Some more info from the source:

From the 1960s until it was torn down in 2006, the house was used as a guest house by Skyline Manor, and later as administrative offices. There was an effort to remodel the home before the decision to raze it was finalized, but the cost of a new roof, structural repairs, asbestos removal, etc, etc, was deemed too great. Skyline also offered the house free to anyone who wanted to relocate it to a new property, but, again, the cost of moving the house vastly exceeded its monetary value. The spot where the house stood is now a parking lot.

Other news from what was a pretty busy season:

-I was awarded a fellowship and residency by Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. (Get the whole story here and here.) Summer of 2014 can’t come soon enough. We’ve been busy planning out the trip and addressing all sorts of logistical issues. I thought Maddie would be a little more nervous, but she’s still very excited about the whole thing, just so long as she gets to watch movies on the airplane and have torte for dessert every meal. Not such unreasonable demands.

-Some more good news for my novel came in June when The Uninitiated was announced as a long-list finalist for Inkubate’s Literary Blockbuster Challenge. News of the winners will come later this summer.

-My short story “Shame Cycle” was selected for publication in Gargoyle!

-The College of Arts & Sciences at Creighton University was nice enough to interview me for an alumni profile. I also offered up some summer reading recommendations for The Kenyon Review.

-“The Hyphenates of Jackson County,” an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, was short-listed as a finalist for the Summer Literary Seminars Unified Literary Contest. It did not win.

New Stories from the Midwest 2012 was released, with my story “The Approximate End of the World” garnering an Honorable Mention.

-Not a lot of travel lately, although we did spend a few days in Los Angeles in April, which was really nice. On the docket for this summer: the Ozarks, Kansas City, and a family trip to Chicago to give the girls a little more flight experience before crossing over to Germany next summer. Tentative plans call for a little jaunt to New York this fall to retrace and expand last year’s bratwurst tour of Manhattan.

 

Madchen.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

Tom hadn’t exactly been feeling fit, but he didn’t feel any worse than he had the month before, and maybe he was a little better than the month before that. His daughter had him doing all sorts of things to feel better. Morning ablutions. Evening exercises. A Bulgarian hulk came to stretch his legs with a rubber strap and burn his back with rocks. He had a steambath installed in the back lawn. Tom submitted because she begged him to. Ada had him consuming all sorts of herbs and minerals too, he didn’t even ask what the names of her magic were. Selzter water mixed with salts from the Dead Sea, she claimed anyway. Now why he wanted to drink Dead Sea saltwater he didn’t know. Wasn’t dead the very thing he was trying to avoid? All it did was keep him in the bathroom all morning, and he suspected more than once that maybe this was Ada’s way of getting him to spend less time at work. It surely kept him occupied.

 

Just Finished

Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño. Supposedly this is Bolaño’s final unfinished novel, what he was working on when he died, I guess, and it’s writing that ranks up with his best. A lot of it reads like stuff that was cut out of 2666, which is fine by me. The focus on Óscar and Rosa Amalfitano yields quite a few wonderful stories.

In a German Pension by Katherine Mansfield. A series of sketches about the guests of a German health resort. Mansfield is vastly underappreciated, and this is yet more great work from her. (The Kindle version of this is now free, fyi.)

Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov. I’d never heard of this novel before, but picked it up on a recommendation while at Book Soup in Los Angeles, and I’m glad I did. A comedy of manners that romps through Berlin and Italy.

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. I’ve been meaning to read this for years and finally got to it now that I’m trying to get a feel for the German canon before I’m over there next summer. A masterpiece. Maddie kept asking me to read it aloud for her–a little uncomfortable given the subject matter–because it’s so beautiful. I’m pretty sure she didn’t understand many of the words…hoping anyway.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. After all the controversy and hoopla surrounding this book when it came out a few years ago, I decided to give myself some space before reading it. I’m big fan of Franzen, but not so much this book.

The Slippage by Ben Greenman. A solid offering, but not quite on the level of his short fiction.

 

Now Reading

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek. Really digging this. I’d been meaning to read this for a while too–being how I’m a fan of the Michael Haneke film based on the novel–and am glad I got to it.

 

Up Next

Amerika by Franz Kafka.