Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Quick and The Dead: A Review by Matthew Salesses

This is the fourteenth of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project

"Thoughts are infusorial," says Nurse Daisy, bard of Green Palms nursing home and one of the many characters populating Joy Williams's sharp-as-the-reaper's-scythe The Quick and the Dead.

This idea of the collective unconscious is in keeping with Williams' web imagery and interlocking narratives. The latter includes three motherless girls, a father who sees the ghost of his dead wife (urging him to join her in the next world), a suicidal pianist, an eight-year old who pours sand over her head, a dog murderer who suffers a Jake-Barnes-injury from a parcel bomb, a retired big-game hunter who listens to the music of air conditioners, a stroke survivor with a vivisected monkey in his head, a dog becoming increasingly paranoid, and so on.

The theme of exploration of life and death (as the title indicates) link these narratives, which take place in a fictional American desert town where the heat and landscape contribute to a certain sensitivity toward portentous images and events. As you would expect, characters die, move on, or are otherwise carried off not to return, all except protagonist and misanthrope Alice, who hasn't had her period since she found out the people she thought were her parents are really her grandparents.

My description of the network of characters does not do justice to the conceptual genius trickling through every dialogue and scene in the novel. Williams' characters talk intelligently, movingly, frighteningly, and humorously about life and death and what is or is not beyond; their thoughts, words, and actions connect in a startlingly organic way. This novel stops you in your tracks, lets you start down a new path, then stops you again. The writing exists at this consistently high level throughout—I dare any reader to stop reading after a page of back-and-forth between, say, Carter and his wife's ghost. That is what I liked most and least about the book as a whole.

There is barely room to breathe, barely time for the reader to step back and absorb what he or she has read, with all the information and wit and brilliance. Mostly this jam-packed-ness is extremely satisfying, but, ultimately, I did wish that the arc of the novel was a little more pronounced; I wanted more catharsis. The Quick and the Dead, once it gets you in its grasp, will not release you. Though, for the most part, I don't think you will want to be.

You can read about Matthew Salesses's dancing Christmas turkey at monkeybic, where it will be posted the day after Blame-the-Empty-Eggnog-on-Santa Day. His fiction is also available elsewhere on the web, or in MAR as the 2007 Fine Line contest winner. He is the assistant fiction editor at Redivider Journal and manager of the monsters under your bed. The monsters in the closet belong to some other guy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last Chance for Ethnos and 25 Books!

The end of the year approaches, and so does the end of Ethnos submissions and our 25 Books project.

This week is your last chance to submit writing on ethnicity and race for our second anniversary issue. We are particularly in need of art submissions!

Also, the 25 Books polls close December 31. So speed-read those last few books on your yearly reading list and get voting.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Poor Jessica Simpson (Really)

I'm not Jessica Simpson's biggest fan. In fact, her (father's??) strategy of dumbing herself down in order to sell her persona makes my blood boil. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

In my opinion, Terrell Owens can go screw. He's the one being the most vocal about blaming Jessica for the Dallas Cowboys loss last week. Here's what he said: "With everything that has happened, obviously with the way Tony played and the comparison between her and Underwood [Julia's insert: Don't you remember? A woman has foiled those Dallas Cowboys before!], I think a lot of people feel she has taken his focus away," says Owens. "Oh, I got a message for her when we make the playoffs. Just stay tuned."

That's right, Terrell...the presence of a pretty girl can account for the bad playing of an entire team. Those damned pretty girls -- evil temptations, all of them. And you, oh Holy Man, can stop them from ruining you. Just send them a message loud and clear.

Barf. But worse than barf - rage! Not even Jessica deserves this.

As a born and bred Boston girl and Patriots fan, I never saw the Patriots blame a loss on Bridget Moynahan or Gisele Bundchen. That's because they take responsibility for their actions.

So to anyone still blaming Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood for poor Cowboys performance, here's my advice: grow some boobs and admit that your beloved team lost on their own.


P.S. My pregnancy hormones make me TOUGH! Yay estrogen.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Greetings from Korea (insert postcard of neon crosses lighting up the Busan skyline here). I've been thinking, probably unsurprisingly, about communication. Maybe it's that I've been reading Joy Williams's The Quick and the Dead, with its fantastically strange dialogue (review pending), or maybe it's just the whole idea of two weddings, one Korean and one American, or maybe it's that I'm revising a story about cannibals that try to stop being cannibals after a little loving contact with a group of Europeans, I don't know. But communicaton seems all the rage these days.

It's a strange thing. We read so much fiction by authors who were ostracized in their youths and who write about ostracized characters, yet it seems especially true in stories that people need people to talk to. (Unless you like those stories with only one character--I generally don't.) This doesn't necessarily mean people really get to communicate, but it means they're trying. I re-read Carver's Cathedral recently, and what struck me about the collection is how much more grace seems offered to the characters than in his earlier stories, and how that grace comes through finding someone to communicate with. I don't mean to say these stories are better--I actually prefer the earlier ones--but stories like "Fever" and "A Small, Good Thing" allow characters to connect in a way that some of the earlier stories don't. This seems to give the book a more hopeful take on life.

So, since I'm in a hopeful mood, full of Christmas spirit and eggnog, I think I'll give my cannibals a chance to connect . . . just before they eat each other. I guess what I meant to talk about was how giving your protagonist someone who will listen to him can be a great thing for fiction, but oh well. Instead, I'll recommend some recent lit mag releases (shameless plugs and more!): Redivider, MAR, Black Warrior Review's sad animal issue. Read.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Vote for Your Favorite Books

The end of the year approaches, and with it, the closing of Fringe's 25 Books Poll.

In a nutshell, we were appalled that the New York Times top 25 list included only 2 women, one of whom was the only writer of color on the list. We vowed to make our own list, where the public could qualify to vote by reading two or more books from our pool.

We still want to hear from you about the books you read from the pool, and which novels of the last 25 years changed your outlook, inspired you, or moved you to tears.

The polls close on January 1, so you only have 2 more weeks to sound off and let us know what you think.

Click here to read about the project.

Clear here to VOTE.

Not sure what book to read next? Click here for a list of Fringe Reviews.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Dysfunctional Family Holiday

Fringe is once again teaming up with Redivider, Black Ocean, and Quick Fiction to host the Dirty Water Reading Series' 2nd Annual Dysfunctional Family Holiday.

There will be holiday-themed mad-libs and short readings by Fringe contributor Steve Himmer, as well as Sommer Browning, Stace Budzko, and Tao Lin.

Oh, and there will also be free food, spiked egg nog, and a KEG. Yes, that means FREE beer. Just in time for the [guilt-ridden, drama-charged] holidays ahead!

Sunday, December 16
Grub Street 160 Boylston, 4th Floor, Boston MA
FREE Admission, food, beer

Wishing you drama-free holiday!

12/16 Note: Unfortunately, the reading has been canceled due to extreme Boston weather!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thanks a lot, Dave Obey.

Full disclosure: I'm cross-pollinating. The publishing company I work for, Beacon Press, has a great blog (the Beacon Broadside) and a terrific and thoughtful blog editor.

I just do not understand why this country keeps throwing money at abstinence-only education. Clearly, it doesn't work; clearly, we don't have the best interests of our youth at heart if we refuse to give them scientifically based education that respects them as thinking, and yes, sexual human beings. So it is incredibly disturbing that abstinence-only funding is being used as a pawn on the Hill by a party with a so-called progressive agenda. I hadn't planned to mix work and Fringe, but today's post by Carole Joffe is just the kind of thoughtful whistleblowing we need in this country:

But Democrats supporting "abstinence-only," especially after the November 2006 election, when they regained control of the House and Senate?! A powerful Democratic committee chair proposing to give even more to these programs than the Bush administration has asked for?! No, this is not a Saturday Night Live or Jon Stewart parody. This is Washington politics. In a move that stunned advocates for "comprehensive" sex education—that is, programs that include discussion of both abstinence and birth control options—Congressman James [sic] Obey of Wisconsin, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed increasing by $28 million the current abstinence-only allocation of $113 million. Obey made this move in order to lure Republican votes for Congress’s main domestic spending bill. (In fairness, an equal increase was suggested for Title X, a federal family planning program that has been consistently under-funded during the Bush years.)

This (mis)appropriation may not see the light of day, given the wrangling taking place on the hill, but whatever transpires in the next few weeks, reproductive justice advocates are deeply demoralized to see how casually an issue of such intense importance could be horse traded away.

Complete posting is here.
Good HuffPo article too.

Yikes, it's a whiteout in downtown Boston. Safe travels, everyone.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Witch of Portobello: A Review by Julia Henderson

Okay, I know. I wrote my review of The History of Love and gushed about it, and now you're all going to think that I only write gushy reviews. But here's the thing...this book *really* made me think about who I am and where I am going, and who I want to be as a woman, a wife, a soon-to-be-mother, a daughter, and a human.

I didn't always like Paulo Coehlo's work. I tried to read The Alchemist in college and the novel just didn't do it for me. But a friend recommended Veronika Decides to Die to me while a loved one was in the hospital for depression and I was struggling to understand what might be happening in there, and ever since, Coehlo has been one of my obsessions.

When I picked up The Witch of Portobello, I didn't know quite what to expect. The synopsis said "How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are? That is the central question of international bestselling author Paulo Coehlo's profound new work..."

"Oh. Profound," said the skeptic in me. "We'll just see about that."

But all I know is this...the protagonist of the book, Athena, follows a winding path to enlightenment in the form of a female deity. And along the way she struggles to transcend society's expectations of her. The book is about the power that everyone has to find their own spirituality and fight against the norm. And in spite of myself, the novel made me feel able to make my own decisions, both practical and spiritual.

Coehlo uses a number of narrators to flesh out Athena's story, and these differing perspectives add a real depth to the story line. As a reader, you like some narrators and dislike others, which gives you the ability to take what you like from each and leave the rest, creating your own picture of Athena as you go.

This is a book to be read slowly and with a great deal of self-reflection. It's not a breezy beach vacation read, but it's worth the work. It's a book about soul, so get ready to grapple with your own.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Here it is ladies, evidence of a drastic advance in gender equality...guyliner.

Before you know it, we'll be making 100 cents on the dollar.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Support the Small Stuff: Juno

Brook Busey-Hunt went from working in a cubicle to stripping a la stage name Diablo Cody to blogging on The Pussy Ranch to writing a memoir called Candy Girl: A Year in The Life of an Unlikely Stripper all by the age of 28. It isn't a traditional path for a screenwriter, but it's the way this particular Midwest girl got to Hollywood - and her first film Juno comes out this week.

Juno might be one of the best films out right now for a number of reasons.

1. It is not a war film
2. It is not begging for an Oscar (although it might get nominated for a couple)
3. It is an indie film! We love indie films!
4. Killer soundtrack
5. Great cast
6. Funny!

But probably the best reasons are the lead actress, Ellen Page, and aforementioned Brook Busey-Hunt, who now goes by Diablo Cody, and who penned the script for this film. The premise of the film is pretty basic: high school girl gets pregnant, decides to keep the baby and then put it up for adoption. The boy who impregnates her is Michael Cera, from this summer's blockbuster Superbad, and the adoptive parents are played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. It sounds simple, but Cody's script is fast paced and Page delivers the lines effortlessly. It is refreshing to see an actress and a film that can be smart and funny, and not in your face, especially at this time of year when the Oscars are right around the corner. And this film will certainly re-launch Page's acting career and grant her celebrity status; Diablo Cody's name will soon pop up in many opening credits. She is already working on her next projects, another book and a pilot for a Steven Spielberg inspired TV series for Showtime. She isn't pretentious - she knows she has a talent and shes putting it to good use.

Since this is an independent film, it is only on limited release this week, in NY and Los Angeles. When this movie finally is nationally released, go see it. Even if it is not in your nearby theater, find where it is playing and go see it - that's the only way to get other theaters to pick it up. And trust me, it's definitely worth the $10 ticket price.

Friday, December 7, 2007

writing beyond the MFA

Before delving into the real topic of my post, I wanted to take a moment to join in the recent spate of holiday-gift-madness posts with some suggestions of my own.

We are artists after all, aren't we, writers? Why not make something for those you love? We owe it to ourselves and our careers to support art, our own medium and others. Giving something homemade is giving something of yourself. Write a story or a poem, knit something (if you knit), bake a cake (you don't have to be a pro) or some cookies, craft something. Or support other artisans. Gift-giving does not have to support the store-bought culture of our country.

Ok, that aside...what to do if you are graduating this semester with your MFA? Have you realized at this point or some earlier point what a useless piece of paper that diploma is? Do you think I'm a dick for suggesting so? Do you still hold hope that your thesis manuscript will get read by agents, editors, and you'll be offered a contract in a few short months? Pinch yourself, or pinch me, and take heed. Below are some suggestions for life after graduate school.

1. Keep writing no matter what. Even if it's only for ten minutes a day. Even if you think it's not "good writing." Because regular practice helps you maintain your commitment to writing.

2. Explore alternate form of writing and publication, whether it's journalism, essay-writing, screenplays, blogging, or hypertext. If there's something you wanted to try but never got around to, do it now while the enthusiasm (or world-weariness) and discipline of the student is still at least vaguely familiar.

3. Think long and hard about what you want to do for a living, if you are going to be getting a full-time job for the first time in 3 years. Or ever. How much time will it leave you for writing? Are you going into something you are passionate about or are you just trying to pay the bills? After all the time, money and debt you've gone into for the MFA it can be challenging to channel your energy into something that (unless you're teaching or working in publishing) is unrelated to writing. How important your writing is to you--and how good you are at managing your time--are the most critical tools for building a steady writing practice. But it helps to pick a job that feeds you and challenges you in ways that mimic writing (as my profession does all the time) or else are unrelated but still of interest to you.

4. Join a writer's group, find a writing buddy, etc. If you can, make it someone outside your graduate school circle. Some many voices sound the same as certain styles and voices are privileged in MFA programs. I often felt like I couldn't relate to the stories in workshop and I'm sure I was not alone. (While Emerson seems to have expanded its graduate-level queer population since I began, it could stand some ethnic diversity and an influx of students of various ages and backgrounds.) My San Francisco writing group is comprised of people who are gay, straight, Asian, white, 20something, 50something, commentators on NPR and short story award finalists and published authors in varying genres. And then there's me. While it's not as comfortable as the MFA community you're leaving, it's good practice to surround yourself with people at a higher level that you are, if only for teh advice they may have.

5. Create community in any way you can. Write to share your voice. Attend readings, poetry slams, art exhibits, movie screenings. Help edit a literary journal or volunteer at one of the big guns ( Ploughshares, McSweeneys, Storyglossia, or one of the 826 entities).

6. Know, first and foremost, that how you succeed or struggle with your writing at this point is entirely up to you.

I'd love to hear other suggestions. Sometimes we all need a little push to continue our commitment to the things we love.

A Holiday Hassle: Gifts at Work

Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays, and I love giving and receiving gifts. But after all the hassle my office has just gone through deciding how to give the gifts (yankee swap vs. secret santa), the merry has melted right out of the thing. There are so many rules to consider, so many feelings to potentially hurt. Like when the big boss takes the best gift out of the hands of the lowliest office worker, because that's how you "play." Or when the poor Jewish person is forced to trade gifts as a Secret Santa (my office elected to go with Secret Snowflake, instead). Or when someone opens your carefully selected, deprived-you-of-sleep yankee swap gift and says, "What kind of gift is this?"

Frankly, I could do without anything from my co-workers. It's enough for me to take a few hours out of work, eat some good (enough) food from our contracted caterer, and chat with everyone. But some are very adamant about it; last year someone floated the idea that rather than give each other gifts, we collect gifts for a charity. Nice idea, was the response, but we should still do yankee swap, too (and we did, so I bought two gifts instead of one).

Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Holiday Gifts? Buy Women for Women

Here's a holiday gift suggestions for those of you who are still shopping -- check out Women for Women International's bazaar, which sells crafts made bywomen survivors of war.

For those of you who don't know, Women for Women is an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lot of women in war-torn countries.

You can sponsor a woman, which entails a $27/month donation. $5 of this donation keeps the organization running, and the rest provides your sister with staples for her family, and pays for job and rights-awareness training. Depending on where and how educated your sister is, you may be able to correspond with her. At the end of one year, each woman "graduates".

The upshot is this -- the organization helps women in warn torn countries find each other, recover, start self-sustaining businesses, and apply for micro-credit. In my book that's a worthwhile goal.

So consider getting me a set of those cutting boards(are you listening, Santa?), or better yet, sign up to sponsor a woman.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Breaking News: Man Finally Put In Charge Of Struggling Feminist Movement

WASHINGTON—After decades spent battling gender discrimination and inequality in the workplace, the feminist movement underwent a high-level shake-up last month, when 53-year-old management consultant Peter "Buck" McGowan took over as new chief of the worldwide initiative for women's rights. . . .

"All the feminist movement needed to do was bring on someone who had the balls to do something about this glass ceiling business," said McGowan, who quickly closed the 23.5 percent gender wage gap by "making a few calls to the big boys upstairs."

...more at, you guessed it, The Onion. Via WomPo, the women's poetry listserv, which is well worth checking out itself.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Fringe 13 Now Live!

This month's issue of Fringe features sleek new web design, and chic new literature. Here's a gloss of the issue:
  • In her series of poems Fragments from a Nonexistent Yiddish Poet, Jehanne Dubrow takes on the persona of Ida Lewin, and captures a nostalgia for a past where the social order was regimented, and therefore a little safer.
  • Jackson Bliss transports us into the world of limo drivers, and then beyond, into the realm of the unexpected in the short short Change Gonna Come.
  • Holly Anderson and Sev Coursen's series of poems The Secret Language of Flowers is, perhaps, the most formally unusual piece we've published -- click around and you'll see.
  • Venus Envy tells the story of a woman who is done with beauty, who goes to extraordinary lengths to lift herself out of the status quo and into the heroic.
  • Mihaly Flandorffer Peniche's work is graphic. His bold use of color and simply-rendered figures make his images feel mythical as cave paintings.
  • In her excellent piece of criticism, Jaffney Rood explains what happens when academic culture collides with working-class students.
  • Another Kind of Nigger, Matthew Haynes' nonfiction piece, riffs on the theme of Ethnos, which we will take up again in February. Haynes, half-Hawaiian, half-white, recounts devastating incidents from his childhood.
And just to keep your eyes on the horizon, remember to submit for our Ethnos issue -- the submission deadline has been extended to December 31. The polls for the 25 Books Project are still open -- so get your vote in soon!