I went to a reading on Monday night. It was at Franklin Park, down the street from my house in Crown Heights, and the series is called the Franklin Park Reading Series. A fine lady named Penina Roth hosts and curates it, and last night was their fourth annual Short Fiction Night. As always, the reading was a big to-do and delivered on its promise of fantastic short fiction from the likes of Kashana Cauley, Hugh Sheehy, Gabriel Blackwell, Amber Sparks, and Said Sayrafiezadeh. The Coffin Factory and Small Demons sponsored it and gave away a bunch of stuff for bookish people, and to boot, these five authors regaled the packed crowd with stories of hot German girls gone missing, the Marx brothers, realist fairy tales, an unpublished speech for a guy named Barack Obama, and salacious cartography. Guys, it was awesome, why weren’t you there?
1. Kashana Cauley, dropping wisdom about 200-lb. pigs. 2. Elise Anderson, Franklin Park Reading Series intern and bundle of tumblr awesomeness, reads off some raffle tickets.
Kashana Cauley was up first, and read three little realist fairy tales that were simultaneously hilarious and emotionally rending, as all good fairy tales should be. In “Northern Retreat,” a man schleps a 200-lb. pig to the middle of nowhere, and then decides to move further and further out into that nowhere. “After a month, the city sounded like a vicious rumour.” The sounds of the city are replaced by the “low hiss of the garden snake.” Cauley’s third piece has a homeless man rob an apartment building “full of old ladies,” only to be reminded of the building he’d lived in with a woman he was going to marry nine years ago.
1. Hugh Sheehy, whose German accent is at once charming and unsettling. 2. Rosie Clark, a teacher at Red Hook Playgroup pre-school, with Drew Kimmas, a writer.
Next up was Hugh Sheehy, whose work-in-progress has the working title of “Germans.” I loved Sheehy’s delivery: at times sardonically abandoned, with the occasional turn of self-deprecation to give his twenty-something barista narrator some flesh and soul. Out in some town in Ohio, “the German girls stood out, fresh and tall, giddy with their secret” in line at the narrator’s cafe, where he’s worked since high school. “Do you have Americano,” one of the Germans asks, “the drip does not agree with me, or my insides.” The narrator, sensing his last chance to impress the girls, says “Americano is a stupid name for it… We all sensed the weakness of my comment immediately.” Months later, the jeans of one of the German girls he’d ogled turned up on the evening news, in a river.
1. Joseph Riippi, who might be appearing somewhere in Brooklyn with a writer whose name rhymes with Blot Bananaman, and Polly Bresnick, a writer and swooner. 2. Dudes, this is Gabriel Blackwell: “Detainee Marx, Groucho reports that he would give one hand and at least half a foot a breast, depending on the girl, and depending on how cold the tape measure was.”
Gabriel Blackwell was last before the break, and I had some feelings come out during his story “A Night at The Opera” from his collection Critique of Pure Reason, a nod and rib-jab to another German named Kant. Blackwell stepped before the mic without acknowledgment of us or the stage, and immediately rattled this wonderful sentence off: “The Agency’s stated priority is the reacquisition and demobilization, deconcatenation, detention, and debriefing of the stated targets [Marx, Groucho; Marx, Chico; Marx, Harpo].” In the rhythms and vocabulary of officialese, of state-sanctioned torture, Blackwell critiques the Agency’s “pure reason” with the comics that, arguably, did it best. Among phrases like “Lorazepam, a habit-forming amnesic sedative, is usually indicated… Detainees are thus rendered in optimum state ‘fully-awake-sleep,” Marx brother “Chico reports that it’s a-nice da-met-ya too, but he no have-a da list; anyway, there was-a nothing on it, he already got-a everything he need.” Those in positions of power can posture reason into any frame they please, but comedy can always unearth the ludicracy and danger of such posturing. This story ruled so hard.
1. Amber Sparks! “America, you are a commercial for Viagra and vaginal probes, and pants that feel like pajamas.”
After the break, Amber Sparks informed us that she’d moved to D.C. to make it as a speechwriter. Thankfully, for us, that failed—as a result, Sparks released a story collection that earned a hefty nod from The Atlantic Wire as best small press debut of last year. But first, she’s hoping that Obama is going to read a speech she submitted for his second inauguration. “If I turn into a film it will be a Jerry Bruckheimer film. If I turn into a flag, I hope it’s the American flag… America, you are Sean Hannity’s hair… America, you are purple tights and ripped sweatshirts when it’s not even 80s night… America, clear and beautiful like a mad lib.” After a story set at a Paul Bunyan theme park, Sparks ended her reading with the title story from her collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies. “And yet we did not die… and no one survived who remembered us as trees… It is easy to make new people, but difficult to grow them.”
1. Said Sayrafiezadeh, and a one-line fax: “I can no longer live with hearts on edge like this.”
Said Sayrafiezadeh ended the night with a sneak peak from his forthcoming story collection, Brief Encounters With the Enemy, a story titled “Cartography.” Rex, 23, living “on the edge of the city in a neighborhood on the verge of becoming a ghetto,” makes maps for a boss named Ned Frost, who has “bad breath, and fancied himself a poet.” Frost figures Rex is a closeted gay man, and if he could only understand this, they could be together. As Rex dutifully makes his maps, love letters start to fizzle out of an adjacent printer. “My cock feels full with the thought of you in my heart.” Since Rex isn’t attracted to Frost in the slightest, he gets fired within four months. At the end, there’s an emotionally confused Rex, an offer to return to working for Frost, and the end of a bus strike. “But for a moment, I felt as if I were free.”
Another stellar night from Penina and crew, and an equally stellar introduction to the new year for NYC’s literary nightlife. Next month promises to be even more fantastic: Lars Iyer is coming all the way from a magical land called Europe; Karolina Waclawiak, Tim Horvath, Dylan Nice, and Margarita Korol will also be in tow. It will be awesome. Do not miss it.