Love Stories From The Dark — February’s Franklin Park Reading Series

1. Hannah Goldman, hair stylist, Frank Hollenkamp, artist, Chris M. Allport, stage director, & Paris Langle, writer, sharing the booth with me. Woo! 2. Penelope Bloodworth manning the Unnameable merch table. Spend your money there.

The ever-popular and awesome Franklin Park Reading Series, curated by Crown Heights local Penina Roth, needs little introduction here, but in this first paragraph I’ll tell you that it’s only becoming more packed every month. I got to Franklin Park around 7:15, a full 45 minutes before the posted start time, and it was pretty damn full of people who love reading. Upon entering the huge main room I spied four or five copies of Ben Marcus’ new novel The Flame Alphabet at the bar and booths. By the time the readings commenced, the bar seemed more like a punk rock show than a seriously massive reading series. It delivered on both counts.

1. Chiara Barzini possessed, apparently. 2. Does anyone remember this symbol from the late ‘90s?: m/.

Quickly: Every second Monday of the month, Roth selects five authors (emerging and established) and invites them to read on a theme at Franklin Park (this one time, Roth let us bring videos and some writers from our journal. She’s neat). Luckily, I nabbed a booth from a departing group, of which one member is a regular from the cafe I work at on Classon (thanks, Hannah!). This only helped my legs, as my line of sight to the microphone was quickly blocked by bodies cramming together. I snuck out to scope Unnameable Books’ table with books by the reading authors, and I got Chiara Barzini’s really, really pretty collection of stories, Sister Stop Breathing, for $5 less than cover price. Sweet.

1. Brandon O’Connor, fiction writer, with Dave Hoss, Kather Perkins, writer/musician and Hannah Leighton, nonfiction writer. Party.

Februrary’s theme — unconventional love — traversed the dark, the sinful, the grim, and the toxic avenues of relationship and love stories. Will Snider, the night’s first reader, read us “Mogadishu,” a story from his collection-in-progress. Our two characters, Richard and Margaret, are journalists in Mogadishu during Operation Restore Hope, and attempt to not hook up. Though after taking turns watching the night bomb raids through night vision goggles, they end up getting down, perhaps out of necessity — “a lazy invitation to love” — or libido (Here’s a madlib version: “Making love at Mogadishu makes you [verb] like a [explicit adjective with gerund] fire hydrant. You get it.). Hot and heavy sex scene aside, Snider’s tale is one of two people trying to find hope and validation in the face of pure destruction of “this dusty corner of the world.”

Roth confessed to the crowd that she is a “Chiara groupie,” the evening’s second reader. After her reading, I am too. Barzini, whose work not only has appeared in NOON and New York Tyrant, is also a screenwriter, and came all the way from Italy (!) to read from her collection, Sister Stop Breathing. For the theme, Barzini “picked the most traumatic romances” to read, which included a mistress who spends afternoons in the attic: “[W]hat am I doing in this attic, scavenging through boxes? Shouldn’t I get a haircut and proceed toward the world? Shouldn’t I be presentable to her?” Friends had gushed to me that Barzini was a fantastic reader, and her performance is exactly what I look for in a reading: heavy tone, a clear delivery, and pauses that let the sentences breathe. After flipping through her book this morning, Barzini really aurally animated her sentences. The crowd was equally entranced by the haunted prose.

1. Marly Hernandez-Cortez, photographer, with her fiance Stephen Schuyler, fiction writer, agasp at Barzini’s book, Sister Stop Breathing. 2. Novelist Martha Southgate doin’ her thing.

In a recent interview with The L Magazine, Kate Zambreno mentioned that her writing has been described as an “enraged, confused scream.” Zambreno quietly screamed scenes from her new novel, Green Girl, a story about a perfume clerk in a London department store, the kind that sprays you upon entrance. In a style reminiscent of Kim Gordon mixed with Damo Suzuki (Can), Zambreno echoed Ruth’s, the protagonist, stale clerk-mantra of “Desire — care to try? Desire, desire … Have you ever experienced desire?” Zambreno made the bleak, soul-crushing pressure of the service and retail industries palpable with her hammering delivery. Here was a “romance” liquefied and forced onto your skin, and it deterred and disgusted everyone in Zambreno’s world. It was pretty punk.
After a break of cigarettes, drinks, and blinding people with my camera’s flash, Martha Southgate read a quiet tale of desire and infidelity from her novel, The Taste of Salt. In the section, Josie, who is the sole black senior-level scientist at an oceanography institute and married to a white scientist, lusts after a black colleague; Josie reminds herself “I’m not allowed… to feel that kinky hair under my hands after so many years of straight hair.” It was Southgate’s first public reading of this particular section, and what struck me besides her tempered, effective delivery of love caught in the throat was the easy insertion of Internet references. In an e-mail Josie receives: “he sent back a little sad face.” 🙂

1. Ben Marcus. That’s it. 2. Novelist Kate Zambreno with FP’s new intern, Erika Anderson! She has Twitter.

The evening concluded with a reading from Ben Marcus. Ben Marcus is fucking metal. The Flame Alphabet has fire in the title, children kill their parents with riffs of toxic words, and the parents debate abandoning said children. As Marcus himself said: “It’s pretty much good times throughout this book.” Marcus kept the whole room rapt with his rhythmic barrage of love turned inside out, the inner strife of a parent who describes this linguistic disease as more like “divide and collapse. Divide and weep.” Spoiler alert: Marcus read from a scene where our protagonist spends time trying to concoct a new language that doesn’t infect adults. His true desperation was fully communicated in Marcus’ singular prose, and perfectly closed out the night.

Last week I overheard that there were over 150 people crammed into Franklin Park for one of the readings. Amidst the chatter that publishing and reading is in crisis, you don’t feel it here. Roth and cohorts have a true, genuine love for writing and make it a fantastic, communal experience, contrary to that cliche that we’re just loners. The audience turn out, consistent hat-tips of press and draw of nationally-recognized authors testifies that reading is not in crisis. Next month is their third anniversary, and will feature Shalom Auslander (Hope: A Tragedy), Adam Wilson (Flatscreen), and Melissa Broder (her new collection, Meat Heart, is forthcoming). It happens on 3/12. Go go go.

— Ryan Chang is a writer and student living in Brooklyn. His work has previously appeared on Thought Catalog. He is in the internet here and here.

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