Steam On The Side Mirror: Karolina Waclawiak Reads at WORD

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The opening line of Karolina Waclawiak’s debut novel, How To Get Into The Twin Palms (Two Dollar Radio), is “I see a couple from The Twin Palms fucking against their car across the street from my apartment.” During the open Q&A at WORD Bookstore in Greenpoint on Wednesday night, I asked her why she chose that image to open her book. She said that Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask, insisted she not bury it in the middle of the novel, but bring it to the front. Sam was right. Stanley Elkin might have agreed with him. I bet Lydia Davis would. Twin Palms is partly about how the narrator, Anya, takes on a fabricated Russian identity. Like Anya, Waclawiak was born in Poland and identifies largely as American. But Twin Palms is not about Waclawiak. Twin Palms is a work of fiction.

1. Ross Simonini asking Waclawiak, “So just how Polish are you?” 2. Writers Chris Garrecht-Williams and Lee Ellis.

Waclawiak read a short excerpt from her novel, punctuated with concise, consciously emotionless, image-driven prose, then settled in for a conversation with artist and writer Ross Simonini. The audience gave us another angle. Is Bukowski an influence? Yes, but so is John Fante, whom Bukowski himself recommended to his own audiences. Did Waclawiak try to evade the question? Not at all. Is her work autobiographical in any way? Mostly not. Her character Anya attempts to take on a Russian, not Polish, identity, and sleeps with a lot of Russian men to try to achieve that. Waclawiak did not. She tries to work from the grain of truth and fictionalize 95%. That’s the beauty of fiction as opposed to memoir, she said.

1. Craft books author Liana Allday, elated with her freshly signed copy of Waclawiak’s debut novel. 2. Emily Pullen, cordial manager at WORD and editor at Two Dollar Radio. 3. Karolina Waclawiak, delivering a classy excerpt from her novel.

Memoir is more closely married to the truth. Is it true that the magic of Los Angeles sunsets are contingent on smog and smoke? It is. Why does Anya chase after a burly Russian fireman who displays none of the more traditionally sexy Nabokovian traits? Why did Anya want to pretend to be Russian? Was her mother disappointed in the character’s choices? Did Waclawiak ever consider marrying someone Polish? How does her work at The Believer connect with her work as a novelist? Would she consider doing a treatment for the big screen? Yes, yes. Is Waclawiak’s next book going to be about Polish immigrants? There’s not one Pole in the whole book, she said, taking all of the questions directly and personably. She just sent off a manuscript today.

It had been a long time since I braved the hirsute, wire-rimmed streets of Greenpoint. I wasn’t prepared for just how Polish, or Polish-American, or Polish-themed Greenpoint would be. On the way to the reading, I passed Karczma, a Polish restaurant, The Polonaise Terrace, Staropolski Meat Market, Poland Farm Fruits and Vegetables, even The Polish & Slavic Credit Union. Was it coincidence that Waclawiak’s novel touches on Polish-American identity in Los Angeles? I think not. It’s definitely a conspiracy to push me in the direction of sauerkraut soup and pierogies, which wouldn’t be hard to do.

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— David Moscovich writes flash fiction and performs his texts both live and on the radio, fragmenting, ricocheting, and refurnishing language until it meets its own devolution. He lives in New York City. Find him here and here.

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