Does Nate have a new Gig at a Mortgage Company?

In my spam box today was an offer for a new mortgage -- at low! low!! rates!!! for $420,000 -- which is pretty normal. But then, at the bottom of the message was this:

"clockwatcher a icky see chilean on moisten may harm ! succeed may petersen in cellophane may panhandle some galactose it's cartesian in ready ! astigmatic try acumen try blurry it dealt ! student , chive not venice try samba on courtesy in mother but mali in eerily may aliquot the continue it monument or corporeal , diego and sycamore , healy in archaism , hibbard and moraine or omnibus be barbour , fatima ! woman but billow ! reverie may xerox may thoroughbred ! larch some ore ! norman Naw"

Is this some Dadaist wordplay? Poetry subversives? Poor English translation? I'm thinking of sending it off to some journals.


Why not to pop your kuckles on a beer glass

I was going to post this little ditty last night, before my nerve repair surgery this morning (finger cut, beer glass, severed ulnar nerve, numb right middle finger, stupid, big cast, lefthanded one-armed typist), during which I would be going under general anesthesia for the first time, but I thought, if I don't wake up, if I undergo one of those "morbid events," as my surgeon so delicately put it, then this would be too creepy a swan song. But I recorded it, and I woke up all right this morning, they were able to repair the nerve, and there's been no accordion around here lately, so I may as well put it up now. Sorry about the singing.


The Chronic-what-cles of Indiana

You've no doubt seen the original SNL video (put up first on YouTube, which received a cease and desist order from NBC for its trouble). And you may have seen the "West Coast's answer" video. Now a couple of "Hoosier homeys" have gotten into the act with a midwestern rendition, and it's pretty funny if you're in a flyover state. We need one for Iowa City...

PEN/Faulkner Announced

Doctorow won the PEN/Faulkner. Probably, he was the favorite. Interesting shortlist: William Henry Lewis, Karen Fisher, Bruce Wagner, and James Salter (Frank would be pleased). Anyone read any of these books? Were any of them awesome? Pleased me that two story collections were finalists.


Notes taken during Dean Young's surrealism lecture and none too legible either

Place is packed, folks on the stairs behind me
Ice blast a bus has pulled up or something
Can't see Dean, never see him, a voice only in a speaker
Sam intro, claims of bold, hilarious, heartfelt, playful, and combustible
Trevor beside me says once briefly looked through her journal,
passed around having Portrait of a Lady charting, was chastened,
Handouts now, applause

"Poem to Shout in the Ruins" by Louis Aragon
"Let's spit the two of us let's spit
On what we loved
On what we loved the two of us..."

Live life as a poetic procedure
Coherence not linear consistency
Written after one pointless war
Political obscenity
Radical dismemberment
Championing erotic value
Random happenstance
Actual functioning of thought
Perpetual revolt
Mind acting freely yields the marvelous
Must everything be advertising
How can recklessness be preserved
Breton: "to send men rushing into the street"
Nonrational reading of the world
Irregular system of signals, heretical, sexual
Not a mode of artistic production
The taint of literature
Social, political, economic revolution

Art is the result of surrealism
Wordsworth's mountainclimb
Wordsworth missed peak experience in the Prelude
Ejaculation, imagination, Romanticism
Dropped off the map
He and Coleridge share double task

Full monstrous flower of surrealism
Sam, pronounce this word for me
Learn by doing system
Sense sublime of
Do it on our own at
Romanticism is the prehensile tail of surrealism
Letters of the Seen

Man was not yet working on himself
Poetry will no longer give rhythm to action
Highness of casualty
Rimbaud sketch out principles
Identity will become plastic

If brass wakes up a trumpet it's not its fault

If old fools had
Poet will define the amount of unknown awakening in his time
The time of the monsters has come

Wardrobe (laughter) did he put on a mask can't see
World War I
Rube Goldberg machine
Blood and drunkenness
Red sweet wine of youth
English soldiers kicking a football toward the enemy
Objective muddles
Coughing like hags
Owen's Dolce
The great fuck-up, 60,000 mown down by machine guns
Government way of dealing: Be cheerful, be encouraging
Don't think you know better than the general

Sounds like Dick Cheney

Dada refused to do this
Pointlessness of life
Murderous hypocricy of the status quo
Name Dada means nothing, aims to mean nothing, was chosen for its absence of meaning
Collapsing constructive and destructive
To be Dada is to be against Dada
The right to piss in different colors
The big drum is brought in
Dada is the first great realism
World torn open
Mockery of its own claws
Monstrous collages in pasted together corpses from the front

"To Make a Dadist Poem" by Tristan Tzara
"Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make
your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up the article
and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are -- an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd."

Craft of poetry, how to platitudes
Dada has it both ways
Use of uselessness, willful derangement
Duchamp found a coatrack, left it on his floor, people kept tripping over it so he nailed it to the floor
Self is accidental contruction of life anything else
Self is plagiarized

"Man Ray's Poem" by Man Ray
By God all the words are blacked out
Like a letter from Iraq, says Trevor
"In the interest of time I won't read this aloud"
All the different translations
Defeats ownership
Self-consuming confabulation of aesthetic judgment
Achieves opacity through blackness
Poetry is a form of encryptment
Achieved lucidity
Stands for everything defeated
All information is too sensitive
The poem at the end of all poetry
Dezoning the past
Culmination of a culture
Under Keats under Browning
A dark joke, a grave

Fraud of art
Suicide of ultimate theater
After a while even train wrecks become mundane
Breton sent to psychiatric center encountered astonishing images on a higher plane than occurs to us
Recklessness carried to extremes, a simulacrum
Bloody injuries were like makeup
Corpses might be made of wax
Mad vividness
Access to liberty
Measure of recovery
Secrets of insane Manifesto of Surrealism
Most important statement of the 20th Century and I missed it
Imagination: state of slavery
Experience itself circumscribed
Always for the first time
Constantly wrong in one's own life
Inability to love
Magical reactants
Imagination fundamentally erotic
Waking state: phenomenon of interference

Close our eyes and walk into walls
Dreaming is not inferior, is satisfying
Agonizing question of possibility
Surrealism: omnipotence of dream disinterested
Actual functioning of thought is absence
Exquisite corpses
Goal isn't production but change in consciousness
Breach in reality through trauma
Split wound marvelous greenhome
Prose and cons
Borne by the images which enrapped it
Day compared to it is night

Surrealism used after 9/11
Identity destabilized
Reimagining our role
Justin Timberlake popping open Janet Jackson's breast is not surreal, it is predictable
Chance meeting of umbrella and sewing machine on an operating table, spark flowing among them
Two objects brought incongruously together
As much field where those occur
Surrealism is the operating table

"Free Union" by Andre Breton
"My wife whose hair is a brush fire
Whose thoughts are summer lightning
Whose waist is an hourglass
Whose waist is the waist of an otter caught in the teeth of a tiger"

Always for the first time
The high point and the decline of formulaic
Seems familiar
The student who says Shakespeare is full of cliches
Disjunction lasting characteristic of 20th Century
Collaging techniques of "The Waste Land"
Fractional self
Source of art
Overarching preoccupicity
Ecstatic subjectivity vs. neurotic subjectivity
Instability into a positive trait
Tragic erudition of modernism
"The Waste Land" is great but repugnant
Uses Dada techniques only to convey us all back into the library
Fitting that Eliot ended up writing doggerel about cats
Not be a victim of itself
Formalists Lowell, Barryman, Plath
Instabilities of identities seem pathological
Fetishization of the self
There is no subject
"I" is counterrevolutionary
Self is decentered, not that it doesn't exist
How else account for that voltage
Exploits occasions
If divinity is in us, it's to make and unmake the self

Voice of Robert Desnos?
No handout for this one
Sense of futility
Its something is bouyant
Encyclopedic romp
Drunken kisses from cyclones
Purpose of poetry is to maintain the spirit
Restore us to impossible first necessary condition
It is impossible to write poetry, therefore we do it
Not craft, not wringing something out of nothing
Look into mirrors
Who am I, why am I here, why do I love, what will be my death?
Recreate the world we find
Wandering horses appear
Signal always fades
Being touched which is impossible
Being alive which is impossible


Poetry Slam Iowa City

Admittedly, I don't know a lot about this group, other than I often see signs up in town announcing their events. But they are planning a big show at the Englert Theater next Wednesday, February 22 that seems interesting.

From their Web site: "This event will feature some of the best spoken word and musical talent around including Cynthia French from Minneapolis, Amy Steinberg from Florida, Jupiter Jazz from St. Louis, and Nikki Lunden and the Heinous Canis.... The proceeds from this show will benefit the Iowa City Poetry Slam team heading to the National Poetry Slam in Austin, TX this August."

I have to say it takes cheek, cajones, and chutzpah to charge folks $10 for anything in Iowa City, let alone a poetry reading. Hence, I'm truly intrigued and plan to go. The night before the Englert event, they're warming up at the Mill. They already rocked the Hancher last month. They seem to have their shit together, and I'll bet the Englert slam is going to be fun.

Here are the rules that will be in effect at the show. Anyone planning to sign up for the slam at The Mill next Tuesday? Has anyone here slammed with these cats?


"A Shinagawa Monkey" by Haruki Murakami

New Yorker fiction -- February 13 & 20, 2006 issue

yellow light
Whatever Haruki Murakami has been smoking, I'd like a case of it sent to Earth Goat for "testing." This is another of his curious modern folktales/fairy tales/magic realist stories. I'm not sure what to make of it. I had no idea there were wild monkeys in Japan, let alone marauding troops of them. But this seems to be the case. As the article states,

Monkeys have long been a problem in rural Japan, where they damage crops, swipe food from grocery stalls and even bite humans. Rising monkey populations have prompted more frequent forays out of the forests and into farms and towns.... The monkeys, a species of macaque, are one of the most common wild mammals in Japan.

Murakami takes this phenomenon to another level, in which monkeys have become like leprechauns or elves, who steal personal items from folks and explain themselves when captured. A fairly cool idea. My problem is that the idea is not really developed in an innovative way, but rather trotted & plotted out by rote, in nice prose (do we thank Murakami or the translator, Philip Gabriel?), leading to a pretty standard denouement. In fact, it ends like a cliche detective story, with the seized culprit confessing, asking for mercy, a good cop and bad cop (literally hitting his own palm softly with a nightstick) standing by, and the innocent but likeable victim getting to press the perp for details and tie up all the loose ends. You wouldn't have to change much for this to be an episode of "Columbo" or "Scooby Doo." And that can't be totally a good thing.

Still, though, there was something about it, having to do with the deadpan treatment of impossible events, that I found appealing. To me, Murakami is a very good writer who hasn't found the perfect vehicle for his talent yet. Something worthwhile is being orbited in his stories. Maybe he finds the mark in one or more of his seven novels, but I wouldn't know because I haven't read them. If anyone has, I'd be interested to hear more about them.


Batman vs. Bin Laden

Here's a real forehead-smacker. Kinda like when they came out with Popeye brand spinach 30 years later. Fans of Kavalier and Clay are absolutely gonna eat this up.


Small Presses, etc.

I have a friend who has written an amazing manuscript that's sort of a hybrid of fiction, poetry, and playwriting, with a dash of other forms. It's not the kind of thing likely to be snatched up by large publishers who would probably view it as a risk, even though it's brilliant. I'm looking for suggestions as to specific small presses interested in experimental writing. Fence. McSweeneys. (Their book divisions). Others? Thanks for any and all suggestions.


Deadeye Dick

For some reason I see this and can't stop picturing Yosemite Sam mud flaps.


Laptop for sale or trade for equivalent quality accordion

Compaq Presario 2500 with built-in wireless
Pentium P4 2.4 GHz, 192MB RAM
Windows XP, Service Pack 2
40 GB hard drive
DVD/CD-RW drive
Comes with power cord, mouse, and a nice black case

$400 firm
(or trade for equivalent quality 18"-19" piano accordion -- mine is deteriorating!)

Email: earthgoat at gmail dot com if interested -- first time-stamp, first served. Update: One preliminary offer accepted, pending approval from funding source

Prefer local (Iowa City area) as I will not ship it.

You can come try it out first if you like. This is the laptop that launched Earth Goat. Bought 2 1/2 years ago for $800. Works great, though it's not as fast as brand new ones, of course. But perfect for writing and Web surfing at the Java House. I've been using it as a music server/iTunes jukebox/Web access point in the living room, but I figure I can just carry my other laptop ten feet to spin tunes -- and get an accordion out of the deal.


Reza on Cartoons

On Slate, Reza (whom many of you knew, I think) weighs in on the Danish cartoons. I'm still waiting to hear more from the House of Caricatures.


The flip side of the Frey thing

Kenneth J. Harvey, writing in the Times Online, finds that some books masquerading as "fiction," such as John Banville's The Sea, turn out to have facts in them, and real places, and real people! And he has taken it upon himself to blow the whistle on this outrageous practice.

It's No Friar's Club...But Bush Got Roasted

The LA Times has a pretty nifty story about Coretta Scott King's funeral service, which several speakers turned into a Bush-bashing Ballyhoo. I suppose I'd find it a little distasteful that so many people used the funeral as an opportunity to pontificate and politicize, rather than remember, but for three things:

1. C'mon, it's Bush-bashing.
2. It's the first time that African-American civil rights leaders have been able to share space with the president who refuses to meet with them.
3. And ex-Prez-extraordinaire Carter got in some good zingers, and I find it impossible to say anything bad about him anymore.

Danielle Trussoni at Powells.com

Danielle Trussoni, who was a second year when we arrived and who hosted the first official get-together of the 2001-2002 season, has an original essay posted at Powells.com called "Confessions of an American Bookstore Junkie." I didn't realize this, but she also has her book out, called Falling Through the Earth. I feel bad that I did not know this. But I also remember she won a grant that I'd hopefully applied for myself. And, dammit, perhaps if I'd won instead, I'd be the one with the original essay on Powells.com.


Justin Tussing novel is out

An excerpt from the workshop grad's novel was published in the New Yorker Debut Fiction issue back in June and was reviewed here on Earth Goat (under the mistaken impression that it was a short story). The novel is called The Best People in the World. There is an article on Tussing in the Des Moines Register, and I also found a review of the book. I remember really liking the writing. Wonder if he's coming to read in the IC?


The Evil Leprechaun story

A few people have asked me to tell them about how Matt and I were harassed by the Evil Leprechaun at the Dublin Underground last Thursday night, when instead of going home like we should have after Man Night, we descended, like a pair of Persephones, beneath the surface of the earth, for another cold one.

So we're sitting in the booth at the bottom of the stairs. I'm facing the stairs and Matt is facing the room. And I look over at the bar and the first thing I notice is that there is an Evil Leprechaun there, his legs swinging randomly from his stool because they're too short to find purchase on anything, he's turned completely around on his stool so that he is pointed right at me, and he is staring right into my eyes with a kind of twinkling, crooked smile on his grey-bristled lips.

"See that guy?" I say. "Don't look."

Matt looks, nods.

"Something's going to happen. There's going to be some kind of event. He's just waiting for it."

Matt nods.

The Evil Leprechaun tugs at the shirt of a girl going by and starts coughing and trying to speak to her. We order, start talking, and try to forget about the Evil Leprechaun.

At one point, I go to the bathroom, and on my way back, Tom the bartender hails me and says, "If that guy bothers you, let me know." That's when I see that the Evil Leprechaun is seated next to Matt on his side of the booth, leaning on Matt, and jabbering away. As I approach I hear a voice roughened and blurred something awful by both drunkenness and a lifelong habit of marinating the throat in booze, cigarettes, and other things, perhaps gravel and glass. I sit down. And the Evil Leprechaun turns and says, "Well, one time I panhandled with Willie Nelson."

"Where?" I say, hoping to catch him in a lie sooner rather than later.

"Orlando," he growls. So he can't be lying. Nobody would make up "Orlando." And he tells the story of how he found Willie Nelson begging for money to buy a pint of liquor on the sidewalk outside the venue where he would be playing later that night. The cops are involved. But then he mentions -- and I can't remember why, because I'm only half paying attention as I scan for Tom the bartender, who is busy somewhere, and maybe Matt can help clear up this point, as well as how "Freyed" I myself am with cider at this point -- the word nigger.

Because I am the one he's confronting with his cold, dead eyes as he says this, I take it to be my responsibility to set him straight. "Look, hold it. We're not down with that word, dude. It's offensive." The Evil Leprechaun draws back a bit. "Well," he grumbles, "Maybe you think you're too educated for me."

"No, I didn't say that. I said I don't like that word thrown around so casually, and you thinking it's okay, because it's not."

"Where are you from?" asks the Evil Leprechaun.

"I'm from Indiana, and he's from Tennessee."

"And Iowa City," Matt adds.

The Evil Leprechaun is disappointed, hoping to have heard Berkeley and Manhattan or something. Inspired, he blurts, "You know where that word comes from, don't ye?"

"It's from the French word negro, meaning black," I say.

"No, no," he says. "It means someone who never gives anything away. They keep everything to themselves, because they're so poor."

"No, it doesn't mean that."

He sits back again, his horrible lips working at something, and then he stumbles and slurs through the following: "If you're going to talk social science with me, you'd better know what you're talking about. But you don't like me. You think you're too smart. The nigger-way is called that and that's what it means."

"Well, no it doesn't," I say.

At some point he leaves our booth and carouses some more, looking for other victims.

"That was the event," I say. But then a few minutes later, the Evil Leprechaun is staggering toward us again. "Here comes the aftershock," I say.

He sits down again and says more shit, but soon Tom returns to my field of vision, and I plead to him with my eyes, and within seconds, Tom has brought the fellow to his feet and over to the bar for a good talking to. "Just go," I hear Tom saying. And after haggling for another minute while he finishes his beer, the Evil Leprechaun struggles up the stairs to the surface.

Matt and I start laughing and go over the event.

"You made that happen," he says.

"Yeah," I admit. "But I wasn't going to let him just talk ignorant like that."

After a while, Matt says, "You know he was saying 'niggard,' right? He was talking about 'niggardly'."

The whole thing dawns on me. "I was the asshole!" I scream, smacking the table. "He was right!"

"No," Matt says, "He was right but for the wrong reason. He had the right definition of a word, but he had mixed it up with another word."

I rub my face and shake my head. "So it was a wash," I say hopefully.

He nods. "Definitely a wash."

On Hodge On McCarthy

So I just read this critical essay in the Feb. Harper's called Blood and Time by Roger D. Hodge, the magazine's Deputy editor. It's a review of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, as well as a comment on the ouvre in general, and is interesting to say the least. Hodge takes a risk and, in parts of the essay, actually adopts a degree of McCarthy's literary style as he describes McCarthy's aesthetics and geographical milieu. The review itself is highly favorable, exalting even, and is intended as a rebuttal to earlier reviews of No Country from the contingent Hodge refers to as "the self-appointed guardians of bourgeois consciousness," including Joyce Carol Oates, James Wood, and William Deresiewicz (a fmr. professor of mine, incidentally, who once called me a "snotty little punk" in an email message. Here nor there.) The cognoscenti thought the book was basically a pulp thriller derivative.

Hodge, who's clearly a McCarthy lover, and clearly also a writer of some brilliance, argues convincingly that the boozsh-guardians are missing the point and that No Country, like all of McCarthy's work, timelessly encapsulates a lost time - book as psychic amber fossil, preserving a tiny yellow vision of the lawless and bloody West. The essay is written with feeling and with considerable insight, which is why it's hard to discount the style-imitation gambit. Here's a snippet from the review:

Sometimes [McCarthy's] subject is the tragedy of history, in which two laws equally just and true come into unavoidable and violent conflict. Sometimes it is that of transgression, as when a brother and sister come together in the darkness and out of that furtive grappling are undone. Most often it is the simple natural drama of predator and prey, of hawks and wolves, trappers and hunters and snake catchers and those who run dogs under the moon; the drama of muskrats and field mice and catfish, wild house cats aloft in the claws of owls, all of which fall prey to man, who hunts all things.
See how he tries to channel the man himself? And does kind of a good job? Weird, eh? The other interesting thing is that, in reading No Country (which I haven't read but have just ordered), Hodge thought he recognized some very specific minor landmarks -- including a cattle-guard in Lozier Canyon, TX -- that were actually on or near his own family's border country ranch. In a strange tangent, Hodge travels to the ranch in search of the semi-fictional landmarks, and finds them, along with a bunch of other McCarthyan fever dreams made manifest, like a cave full of -- well, let him say it:
We see a deep metate ground into the limestone bedrock by generations of hands...We are standing on a midden composed of more than ten feet of ash and garbage and burned stone. Bits of sotol cud, a fibrous cactus chewed for its high sugar content, lie here and there all over the floor, as do grindstones and bits of chipped and worked rock, a charred jawbone of some small critter, and thousands of empty snail shells.
One is so tempted to call this approach pretentious or somehow self-indulgent. Allowing yourself as the writer of a piece to become so intoxicated with the subject that it begins literally to possess you, to abduct you, to transport you into it. Part of me wants to say, dude, spare us the McCarthy fanfic -- imitation is fine, but do it somewhere where no one needs to read it, like on a fanfic site. But then the more magnanimous part of me -- the little yogi within -- tells me no, no, this Hodge has done something interesting here. There's a poetry to blurring the line like that. For one thing, McCarthy's work is notoriously difficult to assign anything other than nihilistic meaning to. Rather than offering a theory to explain all of it, Hodge does this homage-thing, whereby he offers a kind of personalized version of McCarthy's world, a legitimate piece of McCarthy-inspired thinking. Plus wait a second, did I say it was bad to get kidnapped by your own writing? Uh, maybe it's been too long.

Anyway, I don't think I've explained the piece well at all. You'd have to read it to see what I'm trying to get at, which maybe you don't feel like doing right at the moment. Cool. I definitely recommend it to McCarthy fans, though.


"The Deposition" by Tobias Wolff

New Yorker fiction -- February 6, 2006 issue

yellow light
I really wanted to give this a green stoplight, but something wouldn't let my fingers do that, and I can't really recommend it as a good Wolff short story. Not that it's not good, but I suspect, and you're not going to believe this, that it may in fact be ... did you guess? A novel excerpt. Of course, we're not allowed to know for sure, but not a lot happens in the piece, which begins by blurting itself in media res and ends with that chapter taste. Plus consider the "Contributors" blurb for this master short story writer: "Tobias Wolff is the author of seven novels, including Old School. He teaches at Stanford."

In the story, er, narrative, a lawyer named Burke goes on break in the middle of deposing a witness in a malpractice lawsuit. This witness holds a certain key piece of testimony supporting his client's case, but now that he's to go on the record, the fellow is having a bout of temporary amnesia. Burke walks through the town, New Delft, NY, down to the river, and the thing is worth reading if only for its bitingly terrific descriptions of the bleak comatose wasteland that used to be small-town America:
He looked away and walked on, past an old movie theatre with empty poster casings and a blank marquee; past a dog-grooming salon, its windows filled with faded snapshots of a man with orange hair grinning over various pooches made ridiculous by his labors; past a five-and-dime converted to a Goodwill, and a tailor shop with a "Closed" sign in the window. On the corner stood an abandoned Mobil station, windows boarded over, the pumps gone.
It reminds him of his home town in Ohio (Burke now lives in San Francisco and has come back east only to work on this case):
..Burke couldn't imagine anyone living there. To be on such comfortable terms with exhaustion and decline... It seemed to him that for all the talk of family and faith and neighborliness -- the heartland virtues held up in rebuke of competitive, materialistic Gomorrahs like San Francisco -- there was something not quite wholesome in this placidity, something lazy and sensual.
The whole country was being hollowed out like this, devoured from the inside, and nobody was fighting back. It was embarrassing, vaguely shameful, to watch people get pushed around without a fight.
I was all, right on, brother! I have felt that very sentiment countless times in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois... there is something "shameful" in the slow decay of a once-proud and strong civilization. And I've also felt this:
Burke knew the whole story and it disgusted him, especially the workers who'd let the owners screw them like this while patting them on the head, congratulating them for being the backbone of the country, salt of the earth, the true Americans. Jesus! And still they ate it up, and voted like robbers instead of the robbed. Served them right.
What the fuck is the matter with Kansas anyway? But beyond Burke walking around and the reader chuckling/putting fist in the air, which goes on longer than I expected, there is only a short flurry of events toward the end (spoiler alert): Burke is smitten by a beautiful girl getting off a bus, follows her, muses on her black lipstick, and frightens her when they nearly collide. Then he heads back to the office, where he is late for the resumption of the deposition, only to be hailed by a police cruiser, out of which climbs a cop, the girl Burke encountered, and a gray-haired woman whom we are to take as her mother. It's then that Burke realizes how young the girl is. Burke resorts to lawyer mode and smooth-talks his way out of the "stalking" accusation the girl has brought. But he is not let go until the mother slaps him and calls him a "liar."

It's a pretty cool, if abrupt and unexpected climax. Strangely, Burke finds this slapping almost refreshing. Of course he is a liar, I mean lawyer, and he did have an unwholesome attraction to the teenager. And he needs to go do some slapping himself, in a way, to the witness who's waiting for him.

But doesn't that seem like a chapter? I don't think it works fully as a short story. How do these events relate to the case he's working on? Maybe thematically, somehow, but it's not obvious. Seems like there'd be more details on that -- otherwise, why have it in there? Why not just a travelling salesman or whatever? The piece is so well written, perhaps, that my expectations were raised, and then slapped away in the end. As a story it's a little thin, uneven, and not quite satisfying. As a chapter, though, it rocks. As do many of his perfect stories. I've never read any of Wolff's novels, but I'll be keeping an eye out for the next one.


Two Little Questions about A Million Little Pieces

I've been following this controversy over James Frey's A Million Little Pieces from a distance where it's more often out-of-sight than in. But it raises two questions for me:

(1) Notwithstanding the fact that Oprah seems to have been genuinely duped, is there really much to be surprised by here? Memoir, by its very nature, is always somewhat unreliable. It relies on memory. Admittedly, there's a big distinction to be made between forgetfulness and lying. But in our modern political and economic cultures, fact and fiction seem to blend so readily in the forms of spin and marketing. Is it really a big surprise that this trend has moved into literature?

(2) Regardless of whether or not it's surprising, is it necessarily a bad thing? Have publishers, perhaps, been constrained for too long by their tradition of categorizing books into fiction or non-fiction. Is the emergence of a genre that perhaps defies convention--let's call it unreliable memoir--really a bad thing? Is it really even new?