Books Beneath the Bridge (& No Trolls)

1. Ann Frotscher, Suranga Mallawa, Naomi Miyashita. 2. Jenn Northington, WORD’s event manager, hanging out with books & authors, including Jim Shepard.

Not realizing the reading was accessible by jet ski, I arrived at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Monday night on foot. The Park has been a long time coming, and so has my initial visit, now auspiciously made in the first year of Books Beneath the Bridge, a weekly series curated by local bookstores. It was WORD’s turn, and their operating philosophy–books as repository of all that is good in this world–sounded promising. I looked forward to an event that would double as a stroll through the treasury. This began for me with a brownie, and for the night’s readers, a long walk down Pier One’s Granite Prospect from the authors’ tent to the microphone in front of the auditorium. Local treasure hunters perched on the steps, ruffling through their copies of a lovely complementary chapbook.

1. Robin Black, facing forward — backward is depressing, she says. 2. Tania James, perhaps with the once and future Lion and Panther behind.

Clouds lolled over the Financial peaks across the river, but Robin Black, reading a story from her collection If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, directed our attention to the murk over Jeremy Piper in “A Country Where You Once Lived.” Jeremy’s daughter Zoe runs off during the family’s year abroad in England, and upon returning “looked like a wraith, otherworldly, but she did normal things.” Jeremy is shaken from orbit, beginning “a standard-issue, utterly predictable affair… liking her or not liking her seemed oddly irrelevant to the decision to have sex with her a few times week.” The affair was followed by a divorce and return to the States–and now, years later, an attempt at reconciliation in the “fantasy landscape” of the English countryside, which may or may not sustain the belief it encourages “in the myth of uncomplicated lives.”

Tania James kept us in the Once-Swinging city of London, but stepped back in time, away from the uproar of the Olympics, toward a narrower range of sporting event. In “Lion and Panther in London,” champion wrestlers Gama and Imam come from Lahore with their chef and wait for an opponent, but in the corrupt heart of Empire no one’s game unless they agree to take the occasional fall. The notion is alien; when their manager suggests they not return home with empty pockets, Imam explains that “‘The langot we wear, it does not have pockets,’ hoping the man might appreciate the poetry of his refusal.” Instead, “Mr. Benjamin blinks at him and explains, in even slower English, what he means…”

1. Rajesh Parameswaran, accessorized with city.

Rajesh Parameswaran’s “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan” won its category in the National Magazine Awards a few years back, and it’s pure realism, he explained. Parameswaran had recently heard of an incident wherein a bogus plastic surgeon injected patients not with silicone, but cement. Raju Gopalarajan does not intend anything as diabolical when he sets out to impersonate a doctor, after being fired from compUSA. His wife Manju may or may not have realized what was going on, but we, assert the narrating community, “liked Manju so much, and we miss her.” When Manju sang “we would notice a hollow space in our chests, and we would feel that space filled with a sweet longing…”.

1. Charles Yu, SoCal voyager to the land of the short story. 2. Cameron Ackroyd of Knopf, Mark Vorkink of the law.

If Parameswaran’s reading explored the hollow spaces within; Jim Shepard took care to fill them with a tidal wave in the form of “Cretan Love Song,” a precise short short in which an ancient disaster takes on contemporary proportions: “It’s a wave, of a size without precedent. At sixty miles away it already appears an inch tall.” Barges echoed uncannily upriver and the clouds went pink over New Jersey; one hoped at least the Minotaur’s maze was waterproof.

However improbable a volcanic explosion near Manhattan, it’s even less likely you’d encounter a whole reading of short stories in LA, Charles Yu remarked, and he’d know. Excerpts of his “Standard Loneliness Package,” however, brought us to an even bleaker, if funnier universe, in which pain can be outsourced for a fee: “Death of a cousin is five hundred. Death of a sibling is twelve fifty. Parents are two thousand apiece…” How much to forego a return home and the sisyphean washing of dishes, I wondered, loath to leave the park. Staying until next Monday seemed unrealistic, though, but I loitered with my lemonade, plotting a return.

***

— Elina Mishuris was last seen by Roosevelt’s nose.

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