Wow, I am really impressed with these two stories. I liked them so, so much; if I could read a book of six or seven of them, I would love it.
These are...moreWow, I am really impressed with these two stories. I liked them so, so much; if I could read a book of six or seven of them, I would love it.
These are some of the best New-Yorky stories I can remember reading. It's a pretty full genre, but these totally did the trick for me. Each of them encapsulates the deep world of one of the many subcultures, lifestyles, neighborhoods, other divisions by which we all live such very different lives in New York City.
The first one: indie music. "The Missing Clip-On." The Lower East Side/Alphabet City/eventual-Williamsburg-migrants hanging on to the punk rock dream and way of life that thrived/thrives there. The author's details are so deeply recognizable. I recognized types of people I knew, I know what all those venues are like (and also, Two Boots!), I've seen some pretty shitty apartments. The realness really clicked.
None of that would really matter if the story wasn't any good, but I loved it. We get a dual narrative of a kind: first, a first-person girl bassist trying to make it/waiting tables, and second, a story she learns. She buddies with another waitress-musician, and moves into a terrible apartment building, and works on her own shit, searching through her angst in the ways you do. (Also, something crazy happens.) She's a great narrator for the story.
She presents Damon's story to us almost like a folk history of one band's career, but it's far more than that. A sometime musician, he ends up finding his real calling as (I once knew someone who liked to term herself) a "scene-maker": getting his finger on the pulse of the trends, on the teetering precipice of the irony, and then making a bunch of money selling the best t-shirts in Brooklyn. (Ultimately, he styles a band that doesn't really exist yet gets booked anyway. It's not actually as satirical as it sounds.) But what really happens is in his personal story, and what occurs after he falls in love, and what a terrible sad end it all has. His moments of love and openness are monumentally great, so breathtaking and delicately written, and they just legitimize everything in the story that might seem silly. Both narratives are brooding, but full of a journey.
The second story, "Almost Tall," is the reason I got this book. I'd heard about it when it was released separately last year, but I couldn't get a copy. I knew I wanted to, though. The description was so good it drove me mad: a 14-year-old, shipped out to summer ballet program, staying with her rich uncle and his boyfriend, inevitable overwhelmingness! Oh. It's fabulous. I'll take a hundred, sight unseen.
There is a little bit of ballet, but the real cultural immersion comes at the hands of the boyfriend, Eddie, an aging gay man with an overabundance of drama, ridicule, and fashion sense. He lives the penthouse life but never seems to work; he knows the highest of the high but they break his dinner dates. He designs pillows? And he isn't all that nice. Eddie's feelings are probably hurt that he has never been offered a Bravo show.
But despite all this, there is so much realness to him. Dinah, our girl, ends up having to spend most of her time with him, and eventually they strike a strange and precarious kind of workable social partnership. He pretends to be annoyed, yet parades her around and trumpets their "triumphs" at cocktail hours; he doesn't really know her, but makes sure she has some fun. (Until he doesn't.) But all throughout it, we're in Dinah's head, seeing how damn much she can take when somebody rich says something cruel about her (ballerinas, man!), and watching her watch Eddie. And we're with her when she cracks, and is finally given some pieces of true generosity.
The only thing wrong with this book is how much more I want. I want more of Vestal McIntyre's New York City. I hope he might be working on some.
Because this writing is so new, and there's so little info on it available, I'm including some of my absolute favorite quotes. (In spoilers, for space.)
Betsy, a product of a big Jewish family on Long Island, threw this type of abuse around playfully, and I tried my best not to take it to heart – my fragile, only-child-from-Illinois, heart. My Christmas-ornament heart. . “Maybe someday,” her mother said, “they’ll invent a soap that will wash away old tattoos you don’t want anymore.” This sentiment, which, an hour ago, would have struck Damon as mawkish and provincial, nearly made him cry. . At this, Rebecca passed Dinah a smile like a folded note. . But Dinah witnessed moments when Eddie forgot to be himself, when his shoulders melted into his form, his head bowed, and he seemed old and round. This was usually when he was gazing out of cab windows at the passing city. His little fingertips picked at each other, and a crease of worry divided his brow. What do we live for? The question startled Dinah from within. Then the cab reached its destination, and with one inhale Eddie’s angles returned.
I'd love for this little book to get out there more, but it's kind of a weird arrangement. I downloaded this using a trial subscription for the book service Rooster, run by the DailyLit people. During July 2014 you can get this book when you sign up and use the app, but I'm not sure if you can ever get it after that? It's a little complex and annoying, and I don't think the actual service is really for me (I'm not that into curated reading; I only just joined a book club for heaven's sake), but I am so glad I took the opportunity to read these.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I love this book so much I'm writing a whole fresh review of it on reread. I finally got my own copy, and I spent one whole wonderful day going down i...moreI love this book so much I'm writing a whole fresh review of it on reread. I finally got my own copy, and I spent one whole wonderful day going down into the depths.
The first time, a couple years ago, I had no clue what I was getting into, at all. I had never heard of this book in my entire life. Now, my sister and I love it so much, I feel like we should keep our copies in our nightstands like Gideon Bibles. Or, more truly to its nature, go around placing them in other people's nightstands.
This is a desert-island book, for me, because just for example I could sit and read the opening lines of it over and over for hours. I really could.
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead."
If that narrator doesn't make your eyeballs bug right out of your face for a minute… maybe I might not want to talk to you any more? Really?
And then next, immediately after that, it's the library books. They've been on the shelf for five months! Maybe she should have chosen differently, if she'd known they were the last. Then her trips to town, twice a week, and not being too scared to order the coffee, then leaving when someone else comes in, but "without seeming hurried." Which side of the street to walk on. Everyone in the grocery staring. And wait, you said you never opened those library books? This was five months ago?
And then you're on page nine. And it keeps coming. The moon. The song. It's one of the best first chapters of anything.
The whole thing is like this. This goddamned bewitchingly fastidious way of talking and something just is wrong. Reading the book feels like being out in a field in early March after it's rained and it's still real cold, the ground is kind of soggy and it's too dark, probably it's going to rain again, but you're looking at the grass and the rocks and it's nice and there's these couple of white daffodils over here, don't they know it's not quite spring? What time is it, anyway? When I read it, I am so happy but I am worried the whole time for when it's going to break. I feel like there's a draft and I need to put on a sweater.
Since it would be ridiculous to complete an actual line-by-line review of a whole novel, I will just make a list of things I love the second time through, and didn't mention the first time.
* I am on the moon. I am living in a house on the moon. Merricat has so many ways of dissociating her way out of a situation that disturbs her, and they are all so much more disturbing than where she starts. You get it right away, in the grocery, the visualizing: they are crying with pain and dying. I am walking on their bodies. Just to get through shopping, to cope with coffee. It's the first layer upon layer of things that carry us through the book, inside her head.
* Practically the entire narrative thread is simply floating along the stream of Merricat's magical thinking. As the plot unfolds, she keeps herself so busy dealing with it, thinking these thoughts, planning these charms (a book nailed to a tree; so many buried things), watching for signs and making protections against them. Filling the world with symbols: small bits of paper will remind her to be kinder to Uncle Julian; long, thin things will remind her to be kinder to Uncle Julian. Making the rules. Undoubtedly the best part of a reread: watching her make rules. I am not allowed.
* She wears her mother's shoes? Everything is so old. So ordered. But they've slipped from something staid and nice, like preserving their family's objects and habits, into these wacko superstitions and routines. Just the fact that teatime is the great terror. All of Merricat's routines have this very scary edge to them (and also panicked, phobic, that it could all end), and all of Constance's are tender and tearable like tissue paper. Together they've devolved into this over-adapted Grey Gardens type of crazy isolation from real life. But their world is so sweet, inside. Constance, always cooking. Merricat, adoring. Completely, really, the sweetest.
* It isn't enough to throw a question mark into the backstory, but Uncle Julian's weird mistaken persistence about Mary Katherine was so striking. He's old and senile and dying and confused, and so he misremembers the history, and even when she is there in the room, he is sure that Mary Katherine died, during that time in the orphanage that we know so tantalizingly little about. Except, all Uncle Julian does is pore over the history. So why does he wrongly insist on this? The way that it's all arranged, he only ever interacts with Constance… and we know who makes the rules. Right? This part just kind of hooks into me and hangs there on its own and I like it.
* Also: "They quarrelled hatefully that last night," he says. But about what. About who.
This is a story with a small twist of a sort, which is why half my original review is in spoiler tags and it's hard to get into specifics about. More of a perspective-shifter, a confirmation rather than a surprise. But so matter-of-fact it is just spooky, and changes everything.
I love it so much. And like. You could read it in one sitting, if you really wanted to. How is it possible. How does it exist. "I am so happy."(less)