Calling a Wolf a Wolf
by Kaveh Akbar
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Alice James Books
“to make life first you need a dying star…” writes Kaveh Akbar in a poem from his debut full-length poetry collection. Calling a Wolf a Wolf is (in part) about redemption and the dream-like ways in which it both exists and does not exist. Like the star, Akbar must die to really live. At one point, he recalls telling his mother he has only six months left, thanks to the destruction of his addictions. To avoid near-certain death he begins the never-ending work of self-denial; as seen through the poems, he alternatively blooms and wilts so that he may be daily reborn into a body that is a little less broken than before.
Akbar’s salvation largely entails coming to terms with the visceral reality of his own body. He expresses his detachment from physical reality through shifting depictions of how he relates to his own form. Weaving in and out of the poems are recurring dissociations with the body that at once longs to live and works to kill him. At first, his body barely exists at all, envisioned as smoke, or a shadow that merely “follows [him] around.” As time goes on, he grows to appreciate his own form. One senses that Akbar’s journey to sobriety is a sort of out-of-body experience in which he must somehow reclaim ownership of his own corporality to truly heal. Still, the process is ongoing and always undoing itself, as he alternately embraces and dismisses his physical reality.
As the poems stretch onward, the reader senses that Akbar’s vacillating disassociations are much more than symptoms of his disease. As he continues to step out of himself to view himself as Other, he discovers who he wants to become. It seems that by observing himself from the viewpoint of a bystander he escapes the fear of self that is intrinsic to his addiction. At the same time, he contrasts this depersonalization with an oddly tender personification of addiction. He recalls with bittersweet nostalgia memories in which addiction appears as another person, one with whom he feels a sort of camaraderie. What’s more, as fear lessens, compassion grows. He loves his body “more than other bodies” and compares his former addiction to a tune that is “halfway lovely.” Nonetheless, as Akbar impresses via haunting imagery and trembling syntax, fear creeps in and compassion fades in and out.
Akbar’s poems abound with images presented as metaphors or similes for something else—hence the title, which insists on being taken literally. A body is a “mosque borrowed from Heaven,” and a girl who sobs after orgasm reminds the poet of addiction. The reader finds himself forging connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, a willing voyeur in a world where the sacred is mundane and beauty is sorrowful. Even the pace of the collection is both unpredictable and rhythmically pleasing; it deftly alternates between racing descriptions and slow epiphanies. Its rhythm feels vaguely nostalgic for the way it echoes the peaks and valleys of one’s own experience with suffering.
By the book’s close, the reader is achingly aware that Akbar’s battle with addiction is not only ongoing but eternal. He declares “I live in the gulf,” which is to say that he exists in a liminal state, not quite here nor there, but somewhere in-between, continuously becoming and “unbecoming.” In this way, Akbar intimates that his redemption, rather than a concrete entity, is an abstraction only made real through daily struggle. He will never be without struggle; rather, each day entails a renewed decision to become stronger, more intentional. What’s more, he demonstrates with otherworldly imagery that those who suffer possess an astonishing sensitivity to beauty, able to find it in even the saddest places. Indeed, Calling a Wolf a Wolf does precisely that.
We’re excited for the Texas Book Festival taking place this weekend here in Austin, not least of all because we’ll be busy hosting events! Join us Saturday night for the TBF Lit Crawl; we’ll be at Fast Folks (1201 E. Cesar Chavez St.) from 8:30-9:15 pm talking Inspiration. We’ll be hanging out with authors sam sax, Kristen Radtke, Sarah Rafael García, Mike Scalise, and Tillie Walden and discussing the inspiration behind their work and the techniques they use to conjure new ideas.
After the Lit Crawl, fields editor Sean Redmond will be DJing with Miranda Fisher (editor of punk zine Casting Couch, bassist for the Zoltars/NIKE, and vocalist for World Premiere) at Drinks Lounge (2001 E. Cesar Chavez) from 10 pm to close as part of a new monthly event taking place the first Saturday of every month. American Heartbeat brings you the best in power pop, jangle pop, punk, glam, bubblegum, psych, and more – and it’s this year’s unofficial Lit Crawl afterparty.
Then, on Sunday, join Sean as he moderates a panel in Capitol Extension Room 2.014 from 1:15-2:00 pm. New Approaches to Nonfiction brings together authors Greg Garrett (Living with the Living Dead) and Edward McPherson (The History of the Future) to discuss American culture past, present, and future, with a lens toward our apocalyptic tendencies, zombie culture, and urban landscapes. We hope you can join us for this exciting Texas Book Festival event.
Kara Walker, U.S.A. Idioms (2017). Image courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co./Hyperallergic.
Congratulations to this year’s MacArthur “Genius” Grant winners: 24 incredibly talented writers, artists, activists, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, and more. Among this year’s picks is Viet Thanh Nguyen, who we had the pleasure of seeing read two years ago, when his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer was first released. If you haven’t yet read it, there’s no better time than now. [Washington Post]
Reports of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment of numerous women in the Hollywood movie industry have called to light the industry’s complicit attitude toward sexual abuse. It’s not a time to question why these actresses did not come out sooner; it is time to denounce Weinstein and all those in executive positions who practice, acquiesce, or otherwise work to silence the voices of victims. We’re looking at you, NBC, Amazon, and Twitter. [VICE]
Filmmaker David France is under fire for allegedly stealing the idea for his documentary on trans activist and drag queen Marsha P. Johnson from Reina Gossett, a trans artist who claims that France saw a grant application video she had put together in 2013 when the two were working at Kalamazoo College’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. France claims he had come up with the idea earlier. The situation raises questions about privilege and representation, and who gets the green light (and the grant funding) to tell others’ stories. [NBC]
Kara Walker’s new exhibit at Sikkema Jenkins in New York presents yet another uneasy look at racial violence, presenting America’s cultural history of racism through a series of sketches and collages. It may be painful to look at, but as the article points out, it’s certainly less painful than watching the news. [Hyperallergic]
Latinx pop stars are not new to the Top 40—Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Shakira and countless others have become household names. But they all fit a certain niche segment, representing a “tropicalized” musical aesthetic heavy on hip-shaking and romance. Will Reggaeton stars Luis Fonsi and J Balvin change that? What will it take to expand the space that Latinx performers are allowed in the US musical mainstream? [Buzzfeed]
The New York theater community is reeling from the death of Michael Friedman, an up-and-coming playwright who passed away last month, just nine weeks after testing positive for HIV. In contemporary society, where PrEP and other medications have greatly minimized the dangers of HIV and AIDS, Friedman’s death is a shocking reminder of the lingering dangers of the disease. [The New York Times]
Congratulations to Michaela Hansen for winning American Short Fiction’s Short Fiction Prize for her story “The Devil in the Barn,” and congratulations to Keith Sanders, Edward J. Monroe, George K. Johnson, and Ryan Forbes for winning the publication’s inaugural Insider Prize, a competition for incarcerated writers in Texas prisons. We admire the publication’s work to provide this outlet to these prisoners, which was undertaken with the help of Deb Olin Unferth, who teaches writing classes at the Connally Unit in Kenedy, Texas.
We want to bring your attention to two fundraisers which we encourage you to support. Muy Excited is a web series being developed by former fields contributor Andie Flores, along with artists including Vanessa Marie Gonzalez and Jesus I. Valles, who we featured in our seventh issue (Valles will be performing at our eighth issue release party in Austin next Wednesday). Today is the last day of fundraising for their project, and we encourage you to support these talented individuals! We also are impressed with the many beautiful bricks that have been created as part of the Build Hope, Not Walls fundraiser, which works to support immigrants and refugees. Alejandra Almuelle, who is featured in our newest issue, is auctioning off a piece, as are many other local artists whose work we admire. Put your dollars to a good cause and support one (or both!) of these fundraisers.
—I. Feigle and Sean Redmond
We are happy to celebrate the release of our eighth issue. Featuring profiles of San Antonio’s art/dance collective House of Kenzo and Chicago artist Paul Erschen, alongside interviews with artists Alejandra Almuelle and Drew Liverman; poets Kaveh Akbar, jayy dodd, and Monica McClure; author Jennifer Murvin; and writer and artist Gregor Weichbrodt. The issue features a portfolio of photography by Shawn Bush, an essay and photography by Lauren Moya Ford, and a host of visual art, short stories, and poetry.
Featured artists in our autumn/winter 2017 issue:
Lauren Moya Ford
Jonathan Blake Fostar
House of Kenzo
Minoosh (Raheleh) Zomorodinia
Our Austin release party will be held at Big Medium, located at 916 Springdale, on October 18 from 7:30-9:30 pm. The event will feature readings from Jesus I. Valles (who was featured in our seventh issue) and Taisia Kitaiskaia, as well as a performance by House of Kenzo. Readings will begin at 8 and House of Kenzo will perform at 8:30. Drinks will be available courtesy of Hops and Grain.
We hope to see you there!
About the Artists:
Jesus I. Valles is a Mexican storyteller, performer, and educator. He was most recently seen in A Perfect Robot as Diego. His spoken word work has been featured in FAT: The Play and Friends. Valles is a regular contributor for Greetings From Queer Mountain! where he tells stories about his questionable life choices.
Taisia Kitaiskaia is the author of Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers (Hachette/Seal), illustrated by Katy Horan, and Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles (Andrews McMeel). She holds an MFA in poetry from the Michener Center for Writers, and her poems can be found in journals such as Crazyhorse, Pleiades, jubilat, Guernica, The Fairy Tale Review, and Fence.
House of Kenzo crawled out of a filthy future post-apocalyptic portal and landed in 2017 Texas to send a message from/to the collective consciousness. The message is simple: PEACE. CUNT. UNITY. COIN. The club athletes will install environments that explore the textures of storytelling with our bodies. Original surreal musical compositions by LEDEF and Tone Padron will guide the visual poetry of the art collective to transcendence.
Huang Yong Ping, Theater of the World (1993). Image courtesy Huang Yong Ping/Guggenheim Abu Dhabi/The New York Times.
The 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to British author Kazuo Ishiguro, who, “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” The prize took Ishiguro by surprise, and the author says he feels inadequate receiving it before other great living authors like Murakami, McCarthy, Atwood, and Rushdie. Humility is always a winning trait in our book. [The Guardian]
Animal-rights supporters have successfully convinced the Guggenheim to remove three installations from its highly anticipated show Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World. The pieces, including a video of pit bulls positioned close enough to attack but harnessed in such a way as to never make contact with each other, came under fire from protesters and online petitions who claimed that the museum was sanctioning animal abuse. The controversy has pushed audiences to once again consider whether and how potentially offensive art should be displayed. [The New York Times]
Dia:Beacon’s new exhibit featuring posthumous work by land artist Walter De Maria bridges the artist’s natural and industrial inspirations. “Truck Trilogy” features three Chevy pickups with steel rods in their beds, each with a different shape. De Maria’s work can baffle the uninitiated, and Yelp reviews to it shed light on what viewers expect from space that is designated as art, even when that space may just be a room full of dirt, steel poles, or a trio of trucks. [Hyperallergic]
We’re delighted to discover this interview with emerging Chicago poet and sociologist Eve L. Ewing, who just released her debut collection of poetry, Electric Arches, through Haymarket Books. Electric Arches tackles subjects like violence in Chicago, gentrification, and trauma, while also imagining new narratives around Afrofuturist themes. Look to this space for a review of her book in the near future. [Pacific Standard]
Anthony Fantano, the self-proclaimed “Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd,” has been identified as a moonlight alt-right edgelord. In recent years, Fantano’s monetized vlog The Needle Drop has made its mark on the world of music criticism with a subscriber base of 1.1 million. At the same time, Fantano’s less popular and recently deleted vlog, thatistheplan, pandered to alt-right meme communities on Youtube, cementing his place in a depressingly long list of alt-right double agents. [FADER]
Seattle’s newest art gallery, Party Hat, sets out to be funny and accessible enough to change the world. Although founders Adj McColl and Mary Anne Carter believe in accurate representations of the world and its atrocities, they also believe that there needs to be a space of respite and humor, where actual dialogue between the highly bifurcated poles of the left and right can take place. “Humor is a digestif for the left and an aperitif for the right,” Carter explains. “It reduces your inhibitions and increases your capacity to listen.” [The Stranger]
The Texas Biennial went up last week here in Austin, celebrating work from artists all across the Lone Star State and, notably, some neighboring Mexican communities. Curator Leslie Moody Castro discusses her long drives and all the artwork she had to think about in this interview. If you haven’t yet seen the exhibit, you can view it at 211 E. Alpine through November 11. [Austin Chronicle]
—I. Feigle and Sean Redmond
Truck art by Remed, part of the Truck Art Project. Image courtesy Panci Calvo/The New York Times.
Our hearts go out to everyone whose lives have been uprooted by the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey. We would like to do our part to help, and so we will donate 100% of proceeds from subscriptions this weekend to a hurricane relief charity of your choice. Subscribe here and we’ll get in touch with you to coordinate your donation.
Some may be wondering how Houston’s museums have fared in the aftermath of the storm. Thankfully, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston are both barricaded with sandbags and equipped with water pumps and floodgate activation systems. The Project Row Houses, Rothko Chapel, and Menil Collection have also reported no damage. [Huffington Post]
Glasstire provides a more comprehensive list of east Texas art spaces and how they are coping with Harvey. Along with all of the major institutions included in the preceding article, Glasstire provides an update on nearly 30 art-based locations throughout the affected area. They note that the Houston Center for Photography is reaching out to artists in the area to provide support. Also, the Art Center of Corpus Christi is opening their space to safely store pieces of art for artists. [Glasstire]
Although most of Houston’s major museums and non-profit art organizations were prepared for flooding and have been protected since the waters hit, many independent spaces in the Theater District of Houston have incurred severe water levels that will negatively impact the community. Similar to what happened when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, many artist studios and rehearsal spaces are under the roofs of unsafe infrastructure in disaster-prone locations. Fresh Arts and the Texas Commission of the Arts are compiling a list of resources like grants, funding, and art and disaster readiness supplies available to artists stricken by the disaster. [Hyperallergic]
We Are Here at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) recently opened “I Am You,” the first of three exhibits planned to celebrate the institution’s 50th anniversary. The series is a look back at the museum’s collection of 20th- and 21st-century artists, including Francis Bacon, Marisol, Jonathas de Andrade, and Shirin Neshat. The second exhibit, “You Are Here,” and third, “We Are Everywhere,” will open in October. The series covers a range of media from sculpture, video, sound, mixed, and painting that will showcase the power of art to change what we see and want in our culture. [Art Slant]
Louis Menard gives us a tip for interpreting Robert Rauschenberg’s early work in the Museum of Modern Art’s Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends. Covering the artist’s seminal 15-year run of iconoclasm and anti-art aesthetics, Menard notes that all of Rauschenberg’s memorable and ubiquitous work is on display along with contemporaneous ephemera. Rauschenberg’s photographs from Black Mountain and collaborations with his wife Susan Weil, John Cage, Ty Twombly, Merce Cunningham, and Jasper Johns set the scene to understand the conceptual shift of the 1950s art scene. [The New Yorker]
Jaime Colsa, owner of a Spanish transport company, is financing the Truck Art Project, a series of semis painted by local Spanish artists that travel across the country. Counter intuitive to most of our understandings of a successful art career, the project moves away from the street to gallery path and more toward the gallery to street path. He wants to bring many reputable Spanish artists together, who possibly got their painting starts on the streets, to move their work away from insular institutions and into the public’s view. The project has become so popular that there is now a waiting list of artists looking to join. [The New York Times]
Elia Alba, The Dreamweaver (Chitra Ganesh) (2013). Image courtesy the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation/Hyperallergic.
Inspired by iconic yet often whitewashed “Hollywood Edition”-style shots from Vanity Fair, The Supper Club is artist Elia Alba’s five-year project that reimagines fellow artists of color in fantastical and Afrofuturist photographs, each subject presented as a tableau with an accompanying nickname characteristic of their art. Alba’s images will be presented at New York’s 8th Floor gallery this September, alongside transcripts of socio-politically charged conversations from the dinners she hosted for her photo subjects and peers, all of which will be published as a book in 2018. [Artsy]
This past weekend, a pop-up exhibit about O.J. Simpson opened at the Coagula Curatorial in LA’s Chinatown. The O.J. Simpson Museum features original art by various artists, bootleg T-shirts, media artifacts about the case, and other memorabilia that captures the public’s obsession with a trial that is still considered a major cultural moment intersecting race, sex, celebrity, and violence. While not a nuanced examination of the case, the museum is a look into our belief that murders and celebrity deaths are abnormal spectacles rather than indications of a larger culture of violence. [Hyperallergic]
Back in May, Jia Tolentino boldly declared that the personal-essay boom is over. But is it true? Merve Emre considers the works of Durga Chew-Bose, Mary Gaitskill, and a host of others in this wide-ranging exploration of the essay and its various manifestations. Tl; dr: the essay is as vital a literary form as ever. [Boston Review]
Conspiracy theorists, take note: the iPhone as we know it was created in 2007. So what is this Native American holding in Mr. Pynchon and the Settling of Springfield, a mural painted by Umberto Romano in 1937? And does it have anything to do with William Pynchon, Thomas Pynchon’s earliest colonial ancestor? [Motherboard]
“The Coffins of Paa Joe and the Pursuit of Happiness” is a two-part show running at Jack Shainman Gallery and collaboration between gallerist-collector Shainman and a Ghanaian craftsman. Joe’s eleven coffins, displayed alongside 16th century portraits, modern art, photography, and antique ritual masks, are designed to look like 15th century castles the same way some coffins resemble a favored object from the life of the deceased, such as “a Mercedes-Benz or a Nike sneaker.” [Art News]
We all have our favorite books—but what do we make of the books we don’t like? I, like the author of this essay, have no use for Ulysses, and yet it’s often considered the crown jewel of modern literature. This essay does not make me feel any differently toward that overrated experiment, but I do appreciate the insight it provides into taste and how it serves as a window, revealing our individual conceptions of what literature is, what it should do, and what it’s for. [The New York Review of Books]
And Austin fans, we’d be honored if you’d consider voting for us for best non-Chronicle publication in this Best of 2017 poll. Sign if you agree! [Austin Chronicle]
—Jae Lee and Sean Redmond
by Catherine Lacey
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Readers may be drawn in by the premise of The Answers, Catherine Lacey’s second novel. As the book jacket explains, a movie star devises an “experiment” in which the duties of a girlfriend are parceled out to individuals playing various roles. Our protagonist, Mary, who has a mysterious ailment and even more mysterious backstory, is assigned the role of the Emotional Girlfriend. It’s a bizarre concept, but one that the book spends relatively little time with. Instead, it serves as a springboard for Lacey to delve into something beautiful and important: an examination of what it means to be in love, what it means to connect to another person.
Lacey explores these potentially cliché questions through a truly unique character—Mary’s voice is different from that of any other narrator I’ve read in recent years, perhaps ever. She is written in a way that conveys both the heavy impact of her unusual background and the complexities of the character herself. Her past experiences with her religious extremist parents give her a sense of fragility as she navigates a world she knows little about, but at the same time, her innate character allows her to emerge as someone with deeply held convictions of her own, even as she questions nearly everything around her. It’s a testament to Lacey’s talent that these two forces never appear to conflict with each other, rather forming a duality that makes Mary a far more interesting character than she may first appear.
As deftly as Mary is portrayed, there came a point at which I felt myself growing weary of reading her introspective inner monologue. But just as I started to become fatigued, the narrative exploded into the second part of the novel. No longer did the prose hew closely to Mary’s experience; instead, it followed a number of seemingly minor characters, developing them fully and allowing their perspectives to round out the themes of the book without ever coming across as heavy-handed. The complex, multidimensional characters of The Answers contrasted sharply and tellingly with movie star Kurt’s archetypes created for his “Girlfriend Experience.” Just as Mary is much more than Kurt’s artificial “Emotional Girlfriend,” the other actors in Kurt’s experiment emerge as fully realized humans rather than archetypes. Ashley, the Anger Girlfriend, is particularly engaging, serving as Mary’s foil or, perhaps, her complement.
Lacey’s prose kept me spellbound as the narrative turned, splintered, and finally became whole again. This is a novel that demands to be read slowly in order to appreciate not only the nuance of its ideas but the beauty of its writing. Nearly every page sparkles with sentences that linger. “Eventually she got out of bed, took a long shower, gargling and spitting mouthfuls of water, then screaming, just a little and quietly,” Lacey writes near the end of one chapter. “It seemed her whole life had been a series of waves, that everything and everyone she’d ever known had come at her with a force she couldn’t fight, rushing in, roaring, sucking her down, nearly drowning her before spewing her out again, leaving her alone on a shore before another wave came over her, another force from some unseen center.” As I approached the book’s final pages, I found myself slowing down, cherishing it, not wanting it to end.
The Answers is, quite simply, the most stunning book I’ve read in quite some time. Contrary to its name, there are no answers here, only questions for the reader to ponder long after turning the final page.
Viron Erol Vert, Long Live Your Balls (2017). Image courtesy Lucia Hinojosa/Hyperallergic.
Yesterday, 16 of the 17 members of the White House Committee of the Arts, including Chuck Close, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kal Penn, and Ken Solomon, resigned from their positions. In their resignation letter, they listed a slew of offenses the President has perpetrated toward people of color, the humanities, and the press. They stated that their silence would be a sign of their complicity in his actions, and that “art is about inclusion.” The first letter of each paragraph spelled out one word: RESIST. [Art News]
We’re happy to see a trend in the removal of Confederate statues from commemorative public spaces over the past two years. Many have been put into storage to await their destiny, while others have been donated to museums for educational purposes. With so many more to be torn down, the question remains: what will happen to these pieces of art that embody the ugly and hateful ideals of our nation’s past? [Artsy]
James Draney explores the centuries-long debate of what medium is best for communication, expression, and narration: The throat? The pen? The screen? Draney moves from Plato’s fear that replacing oration with writing would kill the inner spirit of man to Heidegger’s hatred for the clerical and diddling typewriter. Have the media in which we have used to translate our thoughts transformed us at the same time? What are our spell checkers and language predictors doing to the way we think? [Lit Hub]
Catch up on Turkish political history through this gorgeous walk-through of Viron Erol Vert’s Born in the Purple, an exhibit currently on display in Berlin. Turkey’s political crises bear disturbing parallels to our own, and Vert’s exploration of power structures and how they manifest through cultural paradigms is worth exploring. Also, it’s gorgeous. [Hyperallergic]
Surrealist and mystical filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s latest film, Endless Poetry, has been showing at the Gene Siskel Film Center this past week. Based on the auteur’s childhood in the poetically revolutionized Chilé of Pablo Neruda, I’m sure we can expect the essence of meter and rhythm found in every shot and edit. Christopher Doyle directs the cinematography of the film in a style that emphasizes Jodorowsky’s genius. [Chicago Reader]
The Picasso, as it is known ubiquitously throughout Chicago—the 162-ton untitled, monumental sculpture by Pablo Picasso located in Daley Plaza—turned 50 on August 18th. Last week, the sculpture was restaged by the city to commemorate not only the anniversary but to also promote the “Year of Public Art” that is taking place through Chicago in 2017. Here’s to 50 more years to the city’s most famous skate spot and jungle gym. [Chicago Gallery News]
Austin’s electronic scene is having a renaissance, and thanks to the growing stature of artists such as S U R V I V E, who penned the Stranger Things soundtrack, people are starting to take note. If you’ve been wondering what the fuss is about, here’s a primer from Austin’s hottest artists and DJs discussing their favorite fellow performers and venues. [Noisey]
If you haven’t seen Expedition Batikback at Co-Lab Projects’ Demo Gallery, you should get down there. Featuring work from fields favorites Manik Raj Nakra (who designed our awesome new T-shirts and tote bags), Ryan Davis, and upcoming interviewee Drew Liverman alongside a mix of great artists from Austin and The Netherlands, the show is a playful exploration of batik, an Indonesian method of dyeing. The large cloth paintings are sure to add some much-needed joy to your day. [Glasstire]
And here’s a fun 62-minute documentary celebrating touring life with Xetas, produced by the band’s Kana Harris. We’ve been fans since at least our third issue, and we’re stoked to see them continue to grow and gain recognition for their melodic brand of punk. Cheers! [Austin 360]
—I. Feigle and Sean Redmond
The End of Eddy
by Édouard Louis
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The End of Eddy is an autobiographical account of author Édouard Louis’s life as a gay youth growing up in Hallencourt, a small town in rural France. The story is a harrowing collection of vignettes presented in not-quite-chronological order—they swirl in and around Eddy’s family and friends, his life at home and at school, and, most importantly, around the events that come to mark Eddy’s growing sense of his homosexuality. Although somewhat difficult to delve into initially, the haphazard arrangement allows for a thorough submersion into Eddy’s childhood, experienced like unpleasant memories bubbling to the surface as Louis probes deeper and deeper into the recesses of his psyche.
The contours of the story will feel familiar to many in the LGBT community; as with all stories of this nature, it is a story of anguish that is sure to bring up memories of similar experiences for many readers. I was not spared from my own memories while reading Louis’s memoir, and was in fact surprised by how similar my own childhood in rural Connecticut was to Louis’s life across the ocean. I was reminded of my own regular encounters with bullies, and the subconscious complicity that drove me to interact with them, as if I’d secretly desired being tormented, or, as Eddy remarks, was too afraid of the consequences of avoiding them. I saw myself in the taunts from peers who preyed on the gawky and effeminate, and I saw my own father in Eddy’s, not just in the way he berates his son for a lack of manliness but in the way he breaks down crying when Eddy tries to run away. It would be hard to say I enjoyed these scenes, but there is comfort in the strength of seeing your own experiences reflected in the lives of others, and celebration in surmounting such hardships.
Louis’s insight is notable, capturing in vivid psychological detail not only his own attitudes and behaviors but those of the people around him. “I eventually started hanging out with a couple boys from the village,” he writes. “If I called them my buddies, the gang, anyone could have told that this was pure fantasy, and that I was actually an isolated unit orbiting around them.” The fraught tension Eddy experiences when sharing space with men is represented with unflinching honesty, and the anguish he suffers when watching his peers partake in male bonding activities that he cannot share in is palpable. He presents in uncompromising detail the discomfort of having his friends try to coerce him into watching porn, and the secret agony he hides while watching his classmates get drunk and naked, howling at the moon together, oblivious to each other’s bodies. Of course, Eddy must refrain from participating, using heterosexuality as an excuse that nobody, least of all himself, buys into.
What sets this novel apart from so many other gay coming-of-age stories is the way Louis ties his experience to the poverty of the community. He casts a keen sociological eye to the way that attitudes and behaviors are shaped. He writes that his mother “didn’t realize that her family, her parents, her brothers and sisters, even her children, pretty much everyone in the village, had had the same problems, and what she called mistakes were, in fact, no more and no less than the perfect realization of the normal course of things.” These mistakes, as she puts it, would be familiar to many downtrodden Americans: teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, unemployment. “I could have gone further with my education,” she insists, “I could’ve gotten a credential.” Instead, she’d “made it through and had a bunch of beautiful kids.” The insistence on her own agency—I could have done it, but chose not to—is so emblematic of human nature that you almost want to believe her. (This, of course, is why low-income whites vote Republican.) He writes that his neighbors, “who had even less money and a house that was always dirty and falling apart, were the object of my mother’s scorn… they belonged to that segment of local inhabitants who were called slackers, people who lived off welfare, sat on their asses all day.” One wishes that the actual French were presented, so we could see just how closely the original mirrors the translation, the sentiment feels so familiar. At the same time, many of the book’s vernacular translations come across as dated and stilted, occasionally calling into question the authenticity of conversations; the reader’s belief is momentarily displaced.
While the book succeeds for Louis’s acuity, it struggles for his writing. The characters’ thoughts and dialogue intertwine clumsily with the narrative, inserted via italics in ham-fisted ways that push the boundaries of readability. Perhaps this technique works better in the French, but it comes across poorly in the translation. Worse, Eddy’s attitude is almost unbearably pretentious. The way he looks down on his family for their shortfalls while adopting mannerisms and behaviors that he ascribes to an enlightened, smarter, wealthier class does little to gain sympathy for his character. One has to wonder if the young age of the author, a mere 24-years-old, might explain the unpleasant tone and half-boiled structure of the book. For a character so readily sympathetic to come across as unlikeable is an astonishing achievement.
In the end, readers looking to probe the complexity of adolescent homosexuality will find much to like about The End of Eddy. Louis remains uncomfortably close to the incidents of his youth, and his recollections are freshly painful in ways that may elicit masochistic pleasures of rediscovery in the reader. Although it is difficult to recommend this book to everyone, those that identify with the protagonist—and those looking to broaden their understanding of the troubles that young gay men face—will not be disappointed.