MIXER: Maureen McLane, Karen Russell, Nina-Marie Gardner & Motherwell Johnston
1. Nina-Marie Gardner, reading about MySpace and men. 2. Karen Russell and her magic brain.
This month’s Mixer Reading and Music Series, which was on Wednesday, had a killer line-up: Poet Maureen McLane, novelists Karen Russell and Nina-Marie Gardner, and musician Motherwell Johnston, a.k.a. Christian Gibbs. Plus Melissa Febos was returning from living upstate to her first co-hosting stint (she shares the duty with Rebecca Keith) in a long while. It’s a hard adjustment to get used to non-city life, she told us: upstate, there’s no dirty diapers in the streets, and nobody is clipping their toenails in public.
Gardner was the first reader, and she took the tiny stage at Cake Shop to share with us a passage from her book, Sherry and Narcotics, about an American girl in London who goes to Manchester to meet a man from MySpace. The reading featured the “most sinister rum and coke [she had] seen in her life,” the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and some sexy barroom making out. But, perhaps more affectingly, it also told the story of a girl who is propelled more by alcohol than anything else, and the sad, blurry hue this lends to everything she may experience.
Russell was up next, and she apologized for the absolute unsexiness of her story in comparison to Gardner’s. She did tell us it was about the dust bowl, and that we could think of the land as not putting out for a “long, long time,” so there was her story’s sexiness right there. As always during a Russell short story (or novel, for that matter), I was effectively transported into her protagonist’s world and mind — this time it was an eleven-year-old boy. I am convinced that if we cut open Russell’s head, there would not be pinkish-grey squiggly matter. It would resemble the most elaborate Polly Pocket ever, but instead of little girls in plastic pink outfits there would be dozens of different families in different eras, all just heartbreakingly and beautifully going on with their daily lives.
1. Maureen McLane, just chillin’ with Karen Russell.
McLane went first after the break. At first I groaned inwardly when I heard she was a poet because — and I almost don’t want to say this because it sounds so ignorantly cliched, but it’s the truth so what the hell — I have a really hard time differentiating between Merely Pleasant-Sounding poetry from the Really Good. But McClane is awesome. From the first poem she read — “Envoy,” which is extremely short and finishes up her first book — I was into it. Her words were simple, beautifully chosen, and had a definite sense of humor, yet they still managed to reverberate in the air like stabbing exclamation marks. After I insert the Powell’s link to her first collection into this blog entry, I’m going to click on that shit and buy me some poetry.
1. Mother is very well, thank you.
Motherwell Johnston closed out the night with a trio of songs, just one white-boy fro-ed man and his guitar. His music was soulful and beautiful and sad, and one of his songs was called “Skinny Ones,” which was a very “literal” song about Johnston/Gibbs’ envy for the young hipsters living in Williamsburg, which had Karen Russell, along with numerous other audience members, laughing.
When I go to the best kind of reading, I leave with this feeling like my brain is a sponge, newly pulsating with added Culture and Thought and Odd Beauty — and this happened to me at Mixer. God bless Rebecca Keith and Melissa Febos.
by Nina-marie Gardner
by Maureen Mclane
Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries)
by Karen Russell
–Julia Jackson is the editor of Electric Dish. She writes fiction and has an MFA from Brooklyn College.
— Photos courtesy of Melissa Febos and Mixer.