Summer is Here! — June’s Franklin Park Reading Series
1. The crowd during break, a baseball game, and… fire twirling? (See blur on right of screen.) 2. Kate Moory, MFA candidate at Queens College; Will Jameson, who’s at WQXR; Karina Bariski, blogger and barista.
Yesterday’s reprieve from the weird weather coincided with the Franklin Park Reading Series in Crown Heights. While the theme was “Summer Kick-Off,” the stories last night were definitely not sun-tanned or cheery. Andrew Cothren (Crown Journal), Jennifer Miller (The Year of the Gadfly), Elizabeth Ellen (Fast Machine, SF/LD Books), Patrick Somerville (This Bright River) and Diane Williams (Vicky Swanky is a Beauty, NOON) regaled the audience with tales of puberty, melancholy rabbits, plane crashes, white collar prison, and fetishes. Sounds like we’re in for a gothic and gray summer, and I’m all for it.
1. Andrew Cothren, with beer. 2. Curator and host Penina Roth! 3. Some dope books by some dope people from a dope bookstore called Unnameable Books, manned by Adam, who’s dope.
As usual, the dedicated regulars filled the big room quickly, booze in tow, and perused the Unnameable Books table or mingled amongst themselves. Pushcart-nominated Andrew Cothren, founding editor of the new Crown Journal, was up first with a story about a plane crash, reminding us that whatever one doesn’t do in life doesn’t “really matter… as [a] plane approaches terminal velocity.” Stories with second-person narrators often tank or overly patronize, but Cothren’s balanced mix of intimacy and detachment kept the story, like the plane, buzzing in tension to excellent effect. The narrator, a personification of a passenger’s memory, calmly addressed its passenger as if it were a flight attendant. “The dark, lush green of the field is now filling the window” carried a coldness I didn’t necessarily want to feel, but then I thought Wouldn’t I want someone holding my hand through a crash? Only if it said something like this to me: “The way you experience time … complicates your existence.”
1. Author Jennifer Miller: “She’d never seen so many naked bodies in one place.” Elizabeth Ellen: “The woman’s face was pained similarly.” Also, rad shirt.
Jennifer Miller was next, and read two sections from her new novel The Year of the Gadfly. The first section introduces Iris Dupont, a fourteen-year-old journalist who talks to Edward R. Murrow. While the rest of her family thinks she’s strange, the precocious teen rightly argues: “Why should a person limit their interlocutors to the living?” All readers should toast to that. The stand-out section of Miller’s reading was definitely Lily Morgan, an albino teen who takes a trip to a waterpark, a veritable no-man’s-land for someone with her complexion. Lily ventures into an outdoor pool, where she catches her friend Hazel engaged in an activity involving a water jet. Following a memory of her dad etymologizing the word “masturbation,” Lily ventures, again, into uncharted territory. Cue clenched eyes, life-changing pubescent experience, scarlet sunburn and total humiliation. One nervous camp counselor: “Does it hurt? Here’s first-aid.” What’s puberty without extreme discomfort?
1. Gina Schiappacasse, Fashion and Illustration Person, and Therese Little, fiction writer and Technology Consultant. 2. Susannah Davies, Archivist at the Reversible Destiny Foundation (not associated with Scientology, BTW) with Embry Owen, who’s at the Social Policy Research organization MDRC.
On the heels of early teenage sexual experiences, here’s Elizabeth Ellen: “This first one is called ‘Middle School Sex.’” Ellen gave a shout-out to fellow reader Diane Williams. The two writers share a primacy for voice, and a curiosity about where things can go if that voice is brave, honest and unbridled. In “Middle School Sex,” the crowd got another side of puberty, this time with a narrator grappling with boredom, and learning how to understand desire. When she mimics Nabokov’s Lolita by eating chips, there’s no response from her crush, Saul. “I was waiting for the beauty. It felt like I was always waiting for the beauty,” she says. Ellen’s delivery of teenage apathy was sincere. Ellen is also hilarious. In “Samuel L. Jackson is Not a Good Name For a Rabbit,” the narrator travels between sadness and rage without finding an appropriate receiver. On rabbits: “I got a 17 lb. rabbit named Larry, because Larry seemed sufficiently melancholy.” On road rage: “I’ll ride your ass for 100 miles until you move over.” Since Larry “doesn’t have a wide range of facial expressions,” she attempts to change him with a new name. That doesn’t work either. “Samuel L. Jackson is a stupid fucking name for a rabbit.” During the break, Unnameable Books completely sold out of their copies of Fast Machine.
1. Patrick Somerville: “’The snore pills shrunk everyone’s balls, Dad.’ ‘By how much?’” 2. Diane Williams: “She said, ‘I am Diane Williams.’ They went out to the terrace for a cigarette.”
After the break, Patrick Somerville helmed the mic with a reading from his novel This Bright River. Somerville introduced Ben, a dude in his early 30s with not a lot going on besides trying to sell his uncle’s old house right after the housing market crash. Ben’s also fresh out of white collar prison, and before his father assigned him the duty of selling the house, he had a nice time working for a pharmaceutical company whose “medication to help men stop snoring [also] decreased the circumference of their testicles.” Ben falls in love with Lauren, an old flame, and the last part of Somerville’s reading was from one of her sections, “Space Station”: “He’d moved the family to Montreal, and punched my mother in the face at the dinner table.” Lauren’s narrative was centered around her mother’s secret scheme to escape Montreal, and realizing the “hard truth about people: that you can be brave… and not exactly good.” Somerville was an engaging and excellent reader, and wonderfully introduced these two stranded, helpless characters.
The final reader for the evening was Diane Williams, author of Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty and the Editor of NOON Annual. I’m a big fan of Williams’ stories, and was excited for the opportunity to hear the rhythms and sounds I’d previously only heard in my head. “There are so many voices,” Williams prefaced, “that I expect to be relieved.” Indeed — Williams read in careful, measured steps to allow each word to breathe into the next, and each story felt like a pressure-lifting sigh. In “The Use of Fetishes”: “‘Have you been able to have sexual intercourse?’ / She said, ‘Yes! And I had a climax too!’ / This idea is compact and stained and strained to the limit.” A couple short-shorts later, Williams read the funniest literary dick joke I’ve heard yet, “Stand”: “I couldn’t get his penis to do anything either. It hung like a mop or had a life of its own. How it got up in the first place, I don’t know. He couldn’t get my vagina — I wanted to say — to utter a word.” Afterwards, I thought about the role of the joke, how they help distract us from drama and tragedy, while still making us laugh. Williams is a serious joker, and satisfies on all ends.
Franklin Park Reading Series never fails to deliver on an awesome night of literature, booze and people. Next month on 7/9 is their annual “Travels and Journeys” night, and stars Rupinder Gill (On The Outside Looking Indian), Eric Sasson (Margins of Tolerance), Mark Leyner (The Sugar Frosted Nutsack), Matthue Roth (Yom Kippur a Go-Go), and Polly Bresnick. Be there.
by Elizabeth Ellen
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