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Some reading to start your week off right, from the talented Becky Manawatu from Issue It is an imitation of life, really, or your coffee cup.


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Where would your long-black be without that empty space? Not necessarily his death, but his no-longer-being-alive helps drive the narrative. Most of these books in the shelf beside my bed have dead people in them. And hardly any of those dead people would do absolutely anything for anyone. But of course I did. I just had to know why, just had to know how, just had to know where and when.

But most importantly I just had to know who. Who is dead? And it is human nature to want to know that space. We might be secretly choosing the song that should be played at our funeral, and we might secretly hope that more than a few people will shed more than a few tears as that song plays, and we do these things partly because we are often denied a chance to understand.

I once took a selfie in the toilet following a funeral. I wiped away some mascara and took this selfie in the bathroom after a funeral. This interest compels us to read, write and watch movies, and we are most attracted to those which include both loss and laughter. It is your duty to reflect the world, yes, but it is also your duty to bring a bit of brightness to it too.

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The deaths of fictional characters, and their grieving survivors, are the most accessible and abundant , because when real people die, the space they leave is quickly covered, quickly sanitised. But, it is still another closed door. Fiction waits patiently, to answer every question and satiate any curiosity to an extent the real world denies us. While real doors shut, art lets us in. To listen to the aching echo, to feel how deep and desolate it might be — to watch a relative acid trip through a funeral, or to see the Happy Birthday song Bella sung for Ricky Baker before she keeled over, as she was hanging out the washing.

Her extravagant over-compensation. The compulsive way she bears down, fills the space with her excessive presence and intrusion, and desperately tries to protect her son from falling into the void his father left.


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For Issue 13 we decided to get a couple our contributing writers to tell us a little about their absent characters. The ones that play a role in the story, are even pivotal to the story, and yet do not appear. Santa Anas, we learn, are great for professional clairvoyants: those hot, scary, fire-happy winds make for desperation, and desperation means dollars. Marina attracts an assortment of credulous types: lovelorn, confused, desperate characters whose loosely interconnected stories she—and Ginsberg—manage with skill. That at any moment it would all stop, that there would be a vast maw of blank, unknowable eternity to contend with, was what frightened people most of all.

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At that point her well-honed grift turns, overnight, into a gift. This is too bad. Gone is her skepticism, that bracing, gimlet-eyed take on all of human nature, including her own. Fiction readers are old hands at suspending disbelief: even the most willfully rational can kick back and entertain the possibility, on the page at least, of mediums and spirits and the predictive power of those sketchy lines on our palms.

Appeared August 10, Also, they were opposed on principle to excessive fun. Christmas-keeping was a sinful habit practiced by the lower classes, and even as the centuries rolled on and standards inevitably began to slip, Christmas itself remained banned in pious Massachusetts until It was a Bah!

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Not a fan of organized religion, Dickens was a dedicated believer in the practice of Christian principles of charity and compassion, and never more demonstrably so than in the writing of this book. To appreciate just how familiar, we must first recognize the immense influence Dickens had on the readers of his own day. Not the book-buying public, or the fiction-loving public: he was read and discussed by one-quarter of the people who could actually read anything at all. When a new Dickens installment of Pickwick or Oliver Twist came out, everybody—just about literally—would be talking about it the next day.

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By the end of the first year, there were sixteen dramatized versions in England alone. As he walked, a new story occurred.


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  • Among them:. Standiford has burnished a familiar old book for us and shown us why it endures. Appeared December 21, The reader, somehow implicated in the fall, laughs in horror. The pious Roman Catholic child became a severely religious, self-described thirteenth century mystic; the girl who decided, at 12, that she would never grow older was in many ways an ancient child at the time of her death, having been sheltered all her life by family and friends. She seems to have come into the world primed to explore the relationship between God and his most wretched creations, and to do so through the medium of fiction.

    She spent most of her life in Milledgeville, Georgia. Life in the North brought her close friends—including the poet Robert Lowell—and a number of devoted admirers. But she remained resolutely alien to her surroundings, and when she was diagnosed with disseminated lupus—a fatal disease at that time—she returned home, where her mother cared for her for the rest of her life.

    It was there, in the place where she knew she would die, that she produced some of the most brilliant and disturbing short stories ever written, in any country, in any age. What distinguishes her is the clarity of her own vision, which is so peculiar and yet so fierce that even the reader who is put off by the cruelty with which she treats her characters cannot shrug off what is on the page. Critics—and admirers—have often diminished her as an exemplar of the Southern Gothic style, like Carson McCullers and Erskine Caldwell.

    But she was never part of any group. True, there are grotesque people in her fiction, but these she used to investigate the Christian concept of original sin. You could, of course, read the stories without looking at the biography, but if you did the reverse, the facts of her life would not be nearly as engaging.

    An Absence

    What she knew of the truth came from study and severe contemplation; what she knew of human beings came from the few people she let into her life. She appeared on TV once, in , to be interviewed before a brief dramatization of one of her stories. Appeared February 22, Into the Beautiful North is just such a novel. Tres Camarones—the starting point of the Quest—is a tropical Mexican beach town, barely on the map.

    It has a tenth-run movie theater with rusty metal seats and a corrugated tin roof, and a church full of fruit bats. The inhabitants of Tres Camarones, mostly female, one day realize that not one of them is pregnant. Worse, bandidos—wearing the uniforms of the State Police—have come to stay and daily menace the women from their Black Cherokees and dark-windowed Tahoes.

    Their bus ride north is harrowing, grueling, hilarious, as they see their own country with fresh eyes. Gulls swirled and shrieked, and packs of feral dogs trotted downslope. Theirs is a hopeless cause—but then Quests always are. Undaunted, the four continue North, gathering valiant adventurers as they go.

    Among the many pleasures of Into the Beautiful North is its big-hearted view of the United States as a foreign country. Since this is a Quest, not a political novel, Urrea never gets bogged down in messages. The country stands for itself.

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    The lawns of Clairemont are pristine green, the Del Mar sea an insane color of blue. The author, now on the faculty of the University of Illinois in Chicago, is evoking what he knows firsthand, having grown up in Tijuana and San Diego, come of age here as a writer, and written eloquently about the border region in all of his books. On farther north, in Aspen, Colorado—yes, of course, some of them make it to Colorado, and beyond—evergreens and lodgepole pines sprout and snowcapped peaks march, and homesick Nayeli bursts into tears at the terrible beauty of it all.

    The heroes encounter racism, generosity, ugliness, stupidity, sympathy, and various kinds of regional nuttiness. And will they find their seven champions? Will Nayeli, on a private quest to find her father, make it to Kankakee, Illinois? Will Tres Camarones be rescued and replenished?

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    Appeared May 17, The first section of Twisted River lives up to our expectations, immersing us in the rough world of New Hampshire loggers and river drivers in , a time just before the lumber business became tamer and more mechanized. Though fans of Irving will quickly recognize certain Irving-elements New England; amputations; accidents; bears , they may also be reminded of Larry McMurtry, which is a bonus. The town of Twisted River is a world as wild and violent, as sad and funny, as Lonesome Dove, Texas, populated with outsize characters—the women, especially, are fearsomely large—with mysterious histories and yearnings.

    We settle gratefully into this new world. Soon something bad happens to the characters, setting the plot in motion. Unfortunately, at just this turning point, something bad also happens to the novel.