Comedies of the Cataclysm: Vol. 1 Brooklyn Presents Matt Bell at RAC

1. Rahawa Haile, fiction writer and literary reading regular. Seriously. She goes to more of these than me, and has a fantastic head of hair. 2. Jeff Brewer, fiction writer, Dorian Gray aficionado and diaper conversationalist; with Nicole Treska, Jeff’s minion (for fun) and writer. Both work at City College. We talked about diapers and Oscar Wilde for ten minutes. No joke.

While everyone else either enjoyed the warm evening in a park or participated in Occupy’s May Day “festivities,” a handful of us found ourselves at CULTUREfix in the LES for another stellar Vol. 1 Brooklyn reading. This time they celebrated and launched Matt Bell’s — editor at The Collagist and Dzanc Books — novella-in-shorts, Cataclysm Baby. The Vol. 1 boys know how to throw a good reading, and brought Melissa Broder (MEAT HEART), Jacob Silverman, Lincoln Michel (Founding Editor at Gigantic) and EL’s own Julia Jackson to make it a literary evening full of lasagna, spontaneous assisted suicide attempts, a new authoritative history of the United Statesian religion, and a daughter’s voice that, if recorded, probably sounds like doom metal octave fuzz.

1. Here we see the Julia Jackson in a comfortable habitat. Note the unique contrapposto stance JJ employs. A rare sight indeed. 2. Jacob Silverman: “I got that swampy feeling around my genitals anytime a girl went down on me.”

Our own Julia Jackson opened up the night with two shorts set in Southern California. The first, a piece titled “Reduction,” finds a drug-addled couple navigating through couple and individual life while dealing with the narrator’s abortion. Though it didn’t seem like it. “‘Lasagnas are nutritious’ [Mom] said,” it opens, “and freeze well.” The piece’s voice skated somewhere between complete abandon and a pressing need to be heard, lending a line like “We made lasagna. I got pregnant” a darkly comic undertone. Jackson closed out her reading with a story about a first date with a “good man” at a California beach. At a grunion run. Many of you might not know what a grunion is, but pair that with the post-beach sex couple running to the break picking up slimy “grunions fucking.” This is what kids in SoCal do. I know it’s weird.

Tobias Carroll introduced the next reader, Jacob Silverman, as not only the sole Jeopardy champion–m/–in the room, but also the only one to piss off Michael Chabon’s wife. Silverman read his story “To The End of The Line.” If you’ve ever wondered what happens to those people you make small chat with on train rides, I recommend you seek this story out. “We only have a few chances in life,” the narrator, Monty, starts, “and I don’t want to talk to a mouth full of rotting teeth.” Monty’s attitude quickly changes as he converses with Edward, the stranger, and tells him his reasons for traveling to Bradock: suicide. Tortured by a story, Monty had to “get the story out of [his] head,” and resolves to jump into the river. “It’s very Romantic, in that big-R sort of way,” Edward says, “so what happens? I don’t know a lot about physics.” Monty begins to get nervous, to which Edward offers the most sincere, albeit weirdest, form of help. “I’ll walk with you the whole way,” he says. “Thank you,” Monty says. Sweet.

1. Lincoln Michel: “Who knew what or whom?” 2. Melissa Broder in action. Her, Julia and I had a nice chat about naked people. We agreed that Purple Fashion brought the bush back.

Lincoln Michel was next, and he was very funny, almost terrifyingly so. Michel read four pieces–a poem, two shorts, and a longer short–all of which alliteratively dazzled and shimmered. Michel’s marriage of the deadpan and totally absurd is a perfect iteration of the Uncanny, and it rules. The highlight of Michel’s reading was, by far, a story about John Adams, which is forthcoming in an anthology of the Presidents (Matt Bell is included too), titled “What We Have Surmised About the John Adams Incarnation.” “Recent drone investigations into the damned continent … have found a union of George Washington. The first of 50 tyrants.” Adams gets the unfortunate honor of being a “pale, bloated” incarnation, while Washington is a “shape-shifting and eternal” incarnation. It’s clear that Adams is a lesser god, a “kinder Thomas Jefferson.” So what to make of this? “Early United Statesians: a proud and terrified people.”

We just ran an interview with Broder, and in one of her answers she compares heroin to Slim Jims: both are vehicles of humans’ desire for the out-of-body experience. Broder’s poetry seems hungover from, like, a vision quest colored in black-and-white technicolor. They’re almost in reality but conscious that they’ll be forever psychedelically tinged. “I’m afraid of turning purple / of hearing voices underneath my hair.” Broder is also hilarious, and is exceptionally good at being simultaneously serious and hilarious. Lines like “Jealous women jealous me into being a jealouser” and “I am proud of my no game” get me really stoked on poetry. Also, in one of her poems, she says “Jon Benet” three times after a list of very Romanesque names. Radical.

1. Matt Bell. I’d like to know how often you think about Canada. I think about it a lot. 2. Jason Diamond is not demonstrating a human-bird flight technique. Instead, he is discussing the finer points of his booming “Jewy” voice, and how it doesn’t need a microphone.

Matt Bell’s new book Cataclysm Baby sort of scares me into wanting to read it, one part masochism, and one part dare. Bell’s imagination is massive. And dark. And I want to know why. In the most general sense, this book is about failed family authority figures, and in a less general sense, a collection of tales about the instability so often found within notions of stability. Bell read three selections from the book that concerned sisters. It was difficult to find where my head-feet should land in the stories, but that’s part of the experience of hearing this book. Instead, I latched onto sentences. “I catch my own face in the vast amber beyond … A face like my face.” Bell has work in the newest issue of UNSAID. Bell thanked its editor, David McLendon, for helping him start the drafting of what would become Cataclysm Baby. The dark edges of Bell’s sentences definitely echo UNSAID aesthetics, and to wonderful results. Like so: “Could no longer give place to the words ‘no,’ to ‘stop,’ to the words ‘no please stop.’” I just listened to his interview on Other People, and he is a totally nice, warm dude who thinks often about Canada, which makes his imagination much more terrifying and awesome.

Find Cataclysm Baby and MEAT HEART in the internet or at your favorite local shop. On 5/14, catch Vol. 1 Editor Jason Diamond in conversation with Rosecrans Baldwin at Greenlight. Party.

Cataclysm Baby

by Matt Bell

Meat Heart

by Melissa Broder


— -Ryan Chang is from Orange County, CA and lives in Brooklyn. He is Staff Writer to The Outlet, and his fiction and essays have appeared in Art Faccia and Thought Catalog. He is the internet here and here.

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