At the party, Ellen counts a dozen zombies in half-assed costumes, a shredded T-shirt, a smear of fake blood. When she moves, she sweeps her cape dramatically and it feels good. There is dance music and liquor bottles on the kitchen counter and clear plastic cups. Not a shred of food, just booze. She picks up a cup and sees a fat black spider in the bottom and screams.
‘It’s fake, silly.’ Ursula plucks the spider from the cup and nests it in Ellen’s hair. In the driveway, Ellen zipped the girl into the Statue of Liberty costume she’s wearing. At first, she wanted to be a slutty witch, but Ellen talked her into the Statue of Liberty—the tallest iron structure ever built! How could she resist?
The girl vanishes into the party with her fake torch. The song changes. Bodies clump together in the living room. Ellen watches them stomp and thrash. A zombie sucks on a ballerina’s neck.
Novels remind us that the hard questions matter, they always have, and that we can’t ignore them just because we’re comfortable, well-fed, sheltered, and secure. Maybe those same comforts, which give us time and leisure enough to read novels in the first place, are the very reason why we need them so badly. A great novel is always felt as a kind of gift, and here’s the strange thing: these gifts are heartbreaks we wouldn’t suffer, tears we wouldn’t shed, agonies we wouldn’t undergo, if we simply left the books alone and did something else with our time.
'Did you know an elephant has as many neurons as a human brain?' she says. 'Did you know that they have nerves in their toenails that help them understand sound?'
‘I didn’t know,’ Ellen says.
A new, non-profit literary journal has launched in Austin, Texas. Each issue of The Austin Review will include four pieces of flash non-fiction, four short stories, and one work of critical analysis. Special attention will be paid to writers from the city that gave us Sixth Street.
But then, other people’s relationships are always mysterious. A relationship is a closed world, and it’s impossible to see clearly into the interior from the outside. St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Only the singer hears it and the one to whom he sings. Only the external details are clearly visible: once there was a young and passionate poet who fell in love with a married man, and the affair inspired a magnificent work.
Usually, with a novel, you start with no idea what to do because your job is to create convincing characters and then they just run around getting crazy. The problem with writing a memoir, obviously, is you can’t do that because you sort of know what’s going to happen. Because you’re the character.
“By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is a staggering accomplishment, an exquisite and often ecstatic rendition of a tumultuous affair: ‘Jupiter has been with Leda, I thought, and now nothing can avert the Trojan wars. All legend will be broken, but who will escape alive?’” — Emily St. John Mandel