Experimental prose that plays with form can be an exhilarating exploration of breaking form, playing with the fourth wall, breaking down text to parallel emotional collapse or motion. The play is an intellectual exercise and when done well it adds context, layers, meta-textual commentary and the raw excitement of form breaking with cohesion and intent. The rarer work is the one that both plays with form in fresh ways and resonates emotionally with the experimentation building the resonance. In her new novel American Mary, Alexandra Naughton has told a narrative that is emotionally raw and profound with ruptures of form throughout the text that are both conceptually exhilarating and immediately rich with emotional resonance. The novel is a moving and at times harrowing ride through the journey of a young woman in the world and relationships as well as a thrilling example of the emotional and intellectual ballast of experimentation with blank space and form.
Sam had that weird series of dreams again. He did not fly or swim in great rivers, he did not discover hidden rooms in places he once lived, he did not open doors to rooms full of long dead relatives silently watching television ,eating pie. Those dreams were the regular passengers of most nights. He dreamed he checked his email, he hung out on Facebook, he lurked Twitter and its snow of things and bots, he did his taxes, he checked the weather in cities he would never visit. The weird thing is it really felt real this time, mundane and in real time, that little fireworks flourish of tasks completed too.
He walked down the busy street and conversations seemed bubbles, some kind of atmosphere, nothing more. He passed a couple and they may as well have been gas from sewers. He went into a restaurant to use the bathroom and walked down a hall with mirrors on both sides and they seemed with his dizziness from hunger to be eating each other. Timothy waited patiently for what seemed a small forever as some man apparently fell asleep for a time before being jerked awake by the thunder of one meek bit of dry lightning outside. Timothy was on his was to that spot in that alley behind the old mall, the gash, the spot where people said time had somehow simply just torn open.
Ed Wilson drives down Tampa boulevard, old food wrappers strewn across his dash, radio playing that constricted play list of classic rock in the era of streaming audio on smart phones, turn signal broken again, headlight held on with duct tape again, that new bird dropping pretty darn Jackson Pollock this time around on the windshield from lunch under those trees by the aging burger stand. The sky is full of those high thick shards and odd U.F.O shapes near the mountains in a dry Santa Ana wind; hulks and ruins not of sun or rain, to Ed a kin of newspapers blown along fences. It is 1 p.m
She baked him cookies. Well the 3d printer made them as she mentioned the recipe to him in the video chat with only a brief hesitation as the computer searched for her recipe. She smiled and told him of her day the day before and how she had made a new vase in her art class. A few seconds later he had it in his hands.
Uncle Elliot learned to speak with food. He brought pies, casseroles, quiches, elaborate desserts and layered salads, even old forgotten dishes he read about in old books. The quiet man once brought a full meal that would have been the menu on the Titanic, another that King Tut would have had on a birthday, another the menu eaten by the riders of the first luxury train, yet another the last meal of the man famous for eating at the end of the 19th century who is now forgotten like so much past in present.
Her mother had sat with her sipping coffee while she filled out all the applications, had driven her to the tiny post office to mail them away, hugging her daughter after. They had walked together through the small streets, at times waving to shop owners and chatting with families out on walks on that Saturday. Junko applied to colleges that night months ago.
He looked at the very old cat as it came close to him and could almost see cityscapes in its skeletal maze under its dark fur, see the shadows of late winter days in the fur, something of rivers in its slow steady walk with bad paws. He pet the cat behind its ears and saw it had little fangs like an adorable bat. The cat rested her tired head on his outstretched fingers, teeth in but he did not care and she fell asleep. The late day light and her curling into his armpit made her for a time look like she had become a kitten once again. He slowly pet her neck and back, a kind of soft covered architecture like dirigibles or bridges as the tired cat slept heartily on his slightly faded green sweater. A meteor could very well strike the earth outside and Thomas would not move from here, not one single inch.
He opened the window and the morning breeze came in cool like every other morning. He saw dew on the grass glistening as the early morning clouds lit wine and orange as the orb neared topping the eastern hills. He saw the spider in the windowsill had moved on leaving a geometry of silk abandoned in a corner. Part of him wanted to leave it like a little gallery, part wanted to wash it clean away. His morning coffee was steaming little storms in his hand.
It was so hard to believe that this was the last day on earth.
The texts and automated calls came at 3 A.M. Something odd and quite alarming was happening. Ethan was jarred awake from a serene dream about waterfalls and a mountain top cabin. The dream was so ornate and so real that it lingered for a bit as he read the words, a bit of water seeming to crest into froth in the corners of his room then away.
The parking lot seems endless. It is as if a mountain had been tattooed awkwardly with lines and stains and images of cars in rows. I am 17. This, to the best of my knowledge, is college. High school has thudded , middle school has imploded, elementary has long sutured away. It is an unusually warm day and the sky is exhaust. My 1968 mustang has a cracked engine block, leaking radiator, painted over turn signals, an almost lightning shaped tear in the back seat, a boat horn in the trunk, a bent fender, a gas gauge that does not work making shaking the car the way to guess by slosh how far to go and last of all the passenger window is held up by two bricks and a sprinkler head. It has made it to this first day of class and perhaps that is a good sign.
He had that dream again, that odd, willowy, portentous dream. The one that had been slowly unfurling in real time for almost ten years.
1955. UCLA. Those same 3 roomies in that house now more familiar than mine. So odd. We got the milk delivery in glass bottles like a few dreams ago. It was delicious. The explanation in the dream for a few month gap was I was away on break and the whole thing welcomed me back whole. 8 years and the thing in real time has not even been more than a few days “there”. We had sandwiches and read the paper with that ice cold damn milk. Can almost taste it.
It is late at night right now. It is cold and a storm is nearing the coast. It is mid January. The orange groves of my youth are long gone. The air is crisp and the rains that should come originated near Japan a week ago then rode a roller coaster across the Pacific north into the chill of Alaska to dive down toward this coast. It will then move east and bring big floods to the midwest they say. It is to die along the Rockies and reform hurling Gulf of Mexico water to flood Kansas down to north Texas. The flood may pull loose like a rotten tooth my Grandmother’s grave on that former farm, wash clean that spot I may have seen voices fall from so much night sky. Stupid storm might eclipse nothings like me or the bastard might just fail grandly like some big farce of false promise in this time of drought. I may run out and scream and curse at the rain if my legs will let me later tonight.
JH: What made you want to become a writer?
AN: I have always been writing. Since I was like 4 years old I have always been making up songs or writing poems and stories and putting on shows for people or imaginary friends. When I was a baby my parents put a video camera in my bedroom for an afternoon and called the video ‘Allie takes a nap.’ It’s basically an hour of me mugging for the camera and walking around in my crib and singing to myself.
I don’t think it’s something I ever really decided to do, I’ve just been doing it. Something like ten years ago I started to take this shit a bit more seriously and got more involved in getting my work published and doing readings, but honestly it all feels like a compulsion. I wrote about this feeling of being compelled to write a while ago on htmlgiant and someone commented saying ‘you’re not a writer, you have an addiction.’ And that’s chill and all. Not everyone can be like me.
She has the chair kicked out from under her, the wood cracking a bit into splinters as the ferocious kick hits the weak point in the center of the leg sending Mary hurtling from her handiwork, spiraling backwards, her arms flailing, her hair spidering out in all directions, her mouth wide open, her eyes gleaming with fear and dismay and then in a second she hits the factory floor. She only wanted to do what was right. She just wanted to be Rosy the Riveter like so many other mothers, sisters, aunt etc of the time. She instead is spit on daily, slapped twice and now for the third time kicked out of her chair in Los Angeles with the arm band she was made to wear identifying her as Italian, enemy, other. A single long tear already is coalescing slow and slimy as she falls.
I am 6-2 and 200 something pounds. My name is James Buttermilk. I have been told by many at parties over the past two decades that I should “write that story” of my life. I must add that my favorite saying is “familiarity breeds contempt” and find “you are your own worst landlord” a close runner up. I find myself a boring average person with a few strange moments along the way. Some are humorous stories to tell at parties. Others are sad bits of past I only share with people very close and not over dinners with drinks in hand. I must also say a bit of warning. I am the unreliable narrator you may have heard about in some comp or lit class back in school.
I was to show up at school for the first day of junior high (now called middle school) in a blonde bowl cut, ill fitting shirt with an iron on picture I no longer recall (a lion I think..awkward and as cool as math books) , green corduroy slightly bell bottom “toughskin” pants and running shoes. Needless to say, a river of naive hope and a roiling ominous doom ride the above words and the moments to come. I rode on the long yellow bus through the dark mouth of pre sunrise morning full of hope and dread. My life was entering a new world, a new crowd (again), a new thing to fill in, 3 years to move me from childhood toward the seeming castle in a far cloud of high school.
The cloud formed upside down, rising, roiling, raging almost into a thunderstorm anvil, lightning almost sure to vein the edges and shoot ‘bolt from the blue” far from the rising storm. It was as though hail would soon roar and crash , shattering on impact, gales born from the belly of the rapidly growing cloud, floods to rush garbage cans as suburban absurd boat races.
It was milk.
The cloud was growing upside down.
In a pool.
The pilot thinks for a moment high in the sky as an engine sputters of where he might land, of how perhaps it might be in a field near cows and a river, how it might be into a city almost to be lost in the hum of traffic and commerce, perhaps onto a family settling to a dinner at the table.
The sky is a cruel pristine blue. The few high clouds waft above him like serene atmospheric jellyfish.
facebook has oddly frozen
for a moment right now..
a crystalline quiet in the machine and hive.
……something poignant almost arises from this…
.something of our lives touching corners …..
something of peace amongst the darkness in the world….
.something abloom of the importance of community…
of commonality and difference …
a gentle quiet as though a thousand windows opened briefly to a shared sliver of moon ….
now it moves again.