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“Going to Hell, and Coming Back”: the recent work of Renny Ramone, Teresa Smith, & James Nulick (Expat Press)

To bid farewell to a difficult 2020 and welcome a more hopeful 2021, David Vichnar of Equus Press has penned a series of mini-reviews covering the best of contemporary independent small-press production, each instalment dedicated to three of their most recent & interesting titles. In the fourth instalment, the focus is on three books lately brought out by Miami/NYC-based Expat Press

Expat Press, the brainchild of the prolifically productive & deeply devoted Manuel Marrero, is special in a number of respects. As pointed out in a recent Publishing Roundtable I conducted with him, Expat has offered its titles as free PDF downloads since the start of the pandemic, the idea being “that people will download the PDFs, pirate them & port them into other formats, xerox them & plaster them in public spaces […] Longevity is the goal.” Re the publishing “programme” of Expat, he observed, “We’re not around to publish the right kind of literature for the mainstream, we’re almost antithetical to it in our ethos. We need to think about what we want literature to be in the future,” emphasising the collective dimension in small-press publishing (“Fundamentally, publishing is an altruistic enterprise, but we’ve come a long way from a hobby press to start thinking about our legacies. David Hickey would call these ad-hoc pleasure communities.”) “Seizing the means of production” via free distribution of texts is of course a fundamentally democratic process: “Democratization happens when you don’t need connections to get published. When you find work you like & engage the artist via the work. The work must come before, because the system functions through nepotism & gatekeeping. Eventually it will become transparent that smaller presses are selling as much as larger ones. The industry is a glass house. We don’t have interns or a slush pile.”

Marrero is himself an accomplished writer, author of the excellent—if too “ancient” for the present overview—Thousands of Lies (2015), whose very title aims “to dispel the notion that books contain irrefutable truths,” & of the monumental Not Yet“an Epistle from the Eschaton” whose 1,100 pages are well beyond the scope of these mini-reviews. Next time! Perhaps in tandem with such excellent recent additions to the backlist as The Better Face of Fascism by bibles@appropouture, the single-person avant-garde movement of currentivistm, which chronicles a year under the Trump administration as his first child is to be born, demanding a balancing-act of death, & Dale Brett’s Faceless in Nippona tale of one individual’s attempt at self-discovery & extreme escape told as one of the most sincere recent novels about “banality, modernity and existential ennui to exist, this side of 202X.” 

Marrero is also the author of an excellent piece of advice to writers (as meted out in an interview by Aiden Burke): “Go to hell.” Heeding this advice, the three titles in focus here have all come out over the past two years & all deal with the potential & constraint of the “short” form.

The setting is Miami, the 1st-person narrator is nameless until the very end, the action is that of one night on the tiles, & the premise is a Kafkaesque conceit: “A man suffers a head injury. What a lovely way to burn…” (Publisher blurb).

The “hole in the head” the narrator suffers as consequence to some bad-hallucination driving is actually only the most visible of his problems: from the get-go, he refers to himself as “uncomfortable in the confines of my skin” (5), he struggles with the “irrational yearning to be apart from everything” (6), describes himself as a neither-dead-nor-alive Schrödinger’s cat & relates his first suicide attempt, undertaken as early as the prenatal state:

I met the reaper at a young age and we would periodically confront each other throughout my childhood. My first suicide attempt was on day one, as soon as I saw the harsh lighting creep in through my Mother’s womb. I quickly wrapped the only cord I could find around my neck. They gave me a good smack for that one, boy. (14)

A suicide on the umbilical cord—gotta love this guy.

The narrator is a cinephile (a scriptwriter himself, of sorts), & so the story is rife with movie allusions, the recurring ones ft. CasablancaInsignificance (yep, Marilyn & Albert), there’s the replay of the Lloyd-the-barman routine in The Shining, & throughout the tale it’s the narrator’s “move” in a game of chess with His Grimness (à la The Seventh Seal). Of course, dreaming/hallucinating & moviemaking/watching are two sides of the same phantasmatic coin: on the twin subjects of movies & hallucination, check out this Interview with Ramone. The story is thin, & Ramone is certainly not going out of his way to suspend your disbelief (cf. the characters’ names: his lady-friend is called LADY, his frenemy, FOIL). Joyless House Publishing review does as good a job at plot summary as any: “Our narrator returns home to his mother after breaking up with a long-term girlfriend. He gets in a car accident, leaving his brain exposed, then proceeds to spend the night hopping between glamorous female friends at night clubs, strip joints and upscale art openings. The usual.”

Apart from flicks, it is also peppered with literary allusions. Whether off-hand, like those to Joyce’s “The Dead” (“what is a woman a symbol of?” [12]) and Kafka’s The Trial (“Someone must have been telling lies about me” [101]); or more elaborate, like that discussion of the link between “Billy Burroughs, Freud and Sophocles” (48) & DFW’s “long and tedious book” which the narrator “loved deeply and resented even more (53), & still he picked up tennis because of it. As he observes at the very bitter end, “books are made out of books” (109), & so are human lives. 

But Ramone is at his best when, like his protagonist who says, “I forget that I am and begin to be” (80), he forgets about playing the literary spiel of pastiche & parody, allowing his damaged protagonist to be his whiny, petty, jealous, sensitive, insecure & brilliant self. This transition from clinging to the past & acquired learnedness & uncluttering oneself towards future liberation is nicely encapsulated through one missing comma. The narrator remembers about the boxes with his old stuff he’d forgotten to pick up (“FUCK, THE BOXES!”), but then decides to let go of them (“FUCK THE BOXES!” [80]).

“This is my story: sad, but true” (85), & Fever does manage to eke out of this tale of an individual ne’er-do-well a broader critique of the American society at large: there’s the “impending nuclear warfare incited by the president’s Twitter account” (23), the repressed anarchist affiliations, art “feeling like a lie” (27), narrative is “neophobic” as it fears any- & everything new (70), etc. Constant throughout is the crippling self-awareness that self-analysis might very well be self-defeating: “something about this is emasculating but the immediate analysis of it even more so” (42).

For all the gloominess, though, there’s also the saving graces of irony & slapstick humour. The protagonist’s Jewishness is employed in the service of such lamely funny puns as “JEW GO” instead of “DID YOU GO?” (32) & of such wisecrack as “sneeze the kind only a nose with Jewish ancestors could blow” (51). Or the exercise of going through the kinds of terrible conversations one could be having in an art gallery, as when Renny imagines the possible answers to the question, “What do you do?”:

“Well I do have this amazing talent for being able to turn food into poop… I’d show you but it actually takes me a while, how much time do you have…”

“I pretend to be a writer so people will leave me alone with my computer for most of the day…” (66)

The most interesting formal gadget employed here is the numbering of the chapters, which go from 1 to 6, only to (from page 40 onwards) start their countdown back to 1, again. The point behind this being, the narrator’s hole-in-the-head catches up with him in the end, & having watched “the greatest film I ever saw” (108), i.e. the parade of all his lovers past, he dies:

Death shakes my hand before he picks up his scythe. 

Fair game, but I got fucked.

Mate.

My particles begin to act like waves, though their energy isn’t destroyed. The idea that it had ever been created in the first place had been an illusion this whole time. Just as suddenly as the whole ride begun with a flash of light it concluded in reverse and went dark. Nothing lost.

An End. (110)

A zero-sum return to the nothingness at the beginning—nothing lost, “An End.” Quoth the Joyless House reviewer: Fever “somehow, miraculously, allows the steady pop & philosophy 101 references dropped amidst the cartoonish milieu of Miami night life to find the reader in a sort of zero-gravity state of judgment, pulled perfectly taut between pity, incredulousness, and envy. […] Hot hell. And they said it couldn’t be done.” A self-cancelling kind of narrative, a loop of counting-up & counting-down back to zero, a rollercoaster that only takes us to the no-place we started out from, but one whose brisk 110-page ride is well-worth taking.

Theresa Smith’s collection of 10 short texts (one hesitates to call these “stories” or even “narratives”) is one of those little texts that contain every- & anything, a singularity swallowing multitudes. Heck, if some of your notes copied from a work of fiction reads, “complex metaphors for the quantitative aspects of myself”, followed by “multiverse -> vagueness -> not a neither-nor, but a both-and,” you know you’re not dealing with a light-weight.

has it all: section 4, “BARABBAS,” reimagines the biblical Passion of the Christ as a botched movie-set re-enaction, as carnivalesque mêlée of false identities, tardy extras, forgotten lines & distorted archetypes. “HENRY” (no. 7) revives Henry James in order to conduct an interview on the sleazy subtext of “buggery” & child-“boffing” in such canonical books as The Bostonians The Turn of the Screw (“the screw,” he admits begrudgingly, “is after all at the heart of the book” [57]). G.A.M.E., “story” number 3, centres on a species of arcade-style games that harbour the vicious intent of taking over the world—“the game is sane”; “The Game is Everything” (22)—the eponymous acronym standing for “Gödel-Assisted Mimetic Engine” (25). In “THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE ARCHEOLOGIST” (no. 5), entire cosmogonies of alternative (Egyptian) pasts & (global) futures are unveiled as an archaeological conclave stumbles on a possible skeleton key to unlocking space & time. The “story” also comes furnished with a “TABLE OF PREPOSITIONAL TRANSFORMATIONS” & a “DIAGRAM OF FORMS” (42-3). Finally, “L” (no. 10) explores the mysteries of a fictional planet on which “language and reality are two names for the same thing, an intersubjective, infinitely recursive action continuously creating and sustaining the L race” (79). What a wonderful world that would be!

In these stories, what it means to be human is taken apart & reassembled with the precision of a surgeon & the glee of a bricoleur. As per the publisher  blurb: “Curiosity is the engine that drives Theresa Smith, the quintessential voice in science fiction you can’t afford to sleep on, and the thrum of her electric heart the compass. Tune in to her signature madcap, boundary-defying innovations.” To defy boundary is, in a work of fiction, also to defy genre. In a much-recommended interview with the publisher, Smith elaborates on her penchant for (and her academic expertise in) philosophy & science, placing her writing in that grey zone between science & fiction—or science as fiction & vice versa, if you will. To write “fiction” as “science” is first of all to eliminate a point of view: “The self-titled piece in “L” is the one that comes closest to eliminating a point of view completely, and for that reason, it might be my favorite of the collection.” Elsewhere she speaks of fiction as exploration of being human & dealing with knowledge, (mis)understanding, & ignorance:

I do think it’s essential to have writing that explores the experience of being human in a detailed way, and to the extent I can do that while talking about drilling through layers of spacetime using a directional alphabet, I try to.

When I feel good about my writing, it’s usually at those times where I’ve found a novel way to misunderstand some philosophical argument or mathematical proof. This is not difficult, especially where math is concerned. I almost think I’ve found a way to make my ignorance work in my favor. It’s a resource that needs to be conserved.

In a nearly perfect echo of pataphysics & its “science of imaginary solutions” Smith speaks of her stories as “impractical solutions to invented problems,” but ones that can “point out certain patterns in the way people address real-world conundrums. As far as “ethics” of her fiction is concerned, it has to do with exposing the “vicious systems” at the heart of our thinking/acting: “systems of behavior or belief that are internally consistent, but incredibly estranged from reality,” & which “abuse logic.” 

This might not sound like recipe for engrossing fiction, but when put to effect with Smith’s inexhaustible imagination, unceasing ability to take the unexpected turn, her capacity for deadpan rendering of the biggest shockers & her sense of the fantastic in the most mundane, it simply—works. Take her least “otherwordly” story no. 2, “PROBLEM”. Its recipe is this: take the word “PROBLEM” & without ever specifying it, mix it with as many “real-life” situations as possible. And so, departing from the narrator’s “careful derangement of facts” we get statements like “the problem was unstoppable, it wouldn’t quit, in moments of unguarded hilarity, I toasted it”; “the problem was really two problems: me, and the problem”; “the problem had a thing for problems, of course” (17); “the problem and I now went around with each other exclusively; neither of us dated”; “it’s wandering in the front year the next day – I call to it from the porch”; “I go to help but it stops its act to wave me away, with a little apologetic smile” (18); “the problem is feeling sorry for me; this is the problem-world, the tired smile seems to say – you don’t understand”; “I call the problem owner”; “I wonder if the problem has been bothering their cats” (19); “people are all too eager to pull out their wallets and start showing me pictures of their problem. Look!” (20). All this on just a meagre four pages. Go figure!

Ultimately, of course, fiction can only work on solving the “problems” of fiction. And it is to Smith’s credit that her metafictional games keep coming up with fresh metaphors for the act of creating/consuming fiction. In G.A.M.E., the perennial paradox of the “self-contained” game that includes everything except/including its own rules is rendered as follows: “for the game to be self-contained, there must exist some extrasystemic rule re: that which can be done within the game. But there can’t be because the above. But there has to be, because… alright. You get it.” (24) Yes we do, for this equally applies to the activity of reading fiction, which is what we are doing (are we?).

In THE THIRD TIMEKEEPER, Smith’s meditation on time with quasi-religious connotations (the perennial struggle between “The God of the long hours” vs “God of the small hours”) ends on “An explanation that explains itself, explaining nothing” (49), & if that isn’t the perfect definition of self-referential metafiction, I don’t know what is. In HENRY, the subject-matter of buggery in James’ work (“buggery barely hinted at in long, throttled tortured spasms of language that stumbled, recovered, apologized, flung fearful half-digested accusations at the nearest pair of trousers” [52]) ultimately boils down to the question of “You weren’t screwing with me, right?” (61), as only fiction-writers with their “eyes blue as sheep’s milk” know how to do, with their readers.

Fiction “screws” with us readers for chiefly two reasons: like the language it employs, its universe, even though its “operation is essentially orderly,” consists “fundamentally of a vast number of chaotic systems,” & these chaotic systems, when operating upon each other, create a multiverse which is never a neither-nor, but always a both-and:

The multiverse was not born ad vacuum, acquiring parts as time granted it fortune. Rather it began with everything, and is slowly dwindling to nothing. It began in vagueness, and will end in permanence. Vagueness, or ambiguity, is not a neither-nor, but a both-and. (73)

There should be more readers operating the Gödel-Assisted Mimetic Engine of Theresa Smith’s marvellous little book L, willing to get “screwed” by her entertainingly elusive non-stories.

With James Nulick’s Haunted Girlfriend, the box-ticking critic is again faced with a conundrum: are these seven texts stories, novellas, fragments of novels, novels with all the sideline BS taken out? Many come with their own further segmentation & subchapters—is this book a “collection of collections of stories”? Its title, first of all, has no individual counterpart or materialisation in the stories—the characters in them are haunted, to be sure, & more frequently than not it is they who do the haunting themselves (the traumatised ghosts of their past selves, long-dead before their suicide, that they are) but just who & whose & why this girlfriend might be is kept perfectly ambiguous. A collection of horror stories without their titular monsters, then?

As aptly summarised in Anthony Dragonetti’s piece for Neutral Spaces, all of these stories circle around perennial themes like “love, beauty, goodness” & how to go about saving the world  “should we open our hearts to them. Of course, as humans, we don’t. We use the powers of those things to destroy ourselves and the people closest to us.” And surely enough there is self-destruction & inward-pain & hopelessness galore on these pages busy with “people who do things ranging from the simply bad to the unspeakable as they try to find happiness, meaning, love, and all the other things we’re constantly being told that we need to live a fulfilling life and which ultimately ruin us.”

The novella-length centrepiece, “BODY BY DRAKE,” is what the other six shorter pieces build towards & hinge on, & has been covered in detail by the review in Neutral Spaces, so suffice it to say here it is a labyrinthine science-fiction epic, which manages in the space of its mere 80 pages to build an entire cosmogony of a new world, including a term glossary for the bewildered visitor at the end. Its future sombre world so “corporated” that people who have reached 55 years of age get “recycled”, & so populated that corpses have to be dug out for incineration—one is reminded of a Kundera story called “Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead”. 

This is the background for a tale of a love triangle of biblical proportions, a cautionary tale critiquing racism, classism, & ableism, & a pessimist diagnosis that however many imperfections the future might get us rid of, evil won’t be one of them—indeed, says the publisher blurb, “Nulick’s stethoscope to the human condition serves as a penetrating diagnostic of our times and the frightening days to come.” As Nulick himself observed à propos “BODY BY DRAKE” in an excellent interview with his publisher:

I think Drake comes from a terrible frustration, the disconnect from humanity we all feel. […] There is an incredible unease in the land right now, incredible mistrust. Our government hates us. Our “elected officials” no longer care about the desires or the wellness of the people. Everyone is trying to get something from someone else. […] Personally I think we are doomed as a species. We’re too hateful, too selfish, we don’t know how to love one another. It’s easier to hate. […] perhaps we deserve extinction, and the sooner, the better.

Where “BODY BY DRAKE” takes on full-fledged futurism, the other tales hover even more daringly on the fringes of the everyday here-and-now: only they plunge headlong into scarred psyches of the mentally ill, they venture out into the underworld of the disenfranchised, expelled, & the homeless, they take a long hard stare in the distorting mirror of celebrity culture, the society’s obsession with incarceration & punishment, how addictions are built-up but desires never met, how body-shaming is the stuff of growing up as a girl these days. Throughout these pieces, one feels a creeping fascination with the taboo, with the outside, the outcast, the left behind, & a strong preoccupation with the obscene, i.e. with what’s left or delegated “behind the scenes.”

The two stories that thematise the violence of trivial existence with most savage directness are the most punchy & briefest ones. “PEACH” confronts nothing less than the nature of cruelty, a searing portrait of abuse & trauma. A boy & his mother are stigmatised as “wrong” by “the girl” * “her mother” who tells her “never to go near him” (27). All that is wrong with them, in the beginning, is that “mother claims poverty”, & so the boy tells time on his wristwatch instead of an iPhone. A spiral of abuse and bullying unfolds, resulting, rather unsurprisingly, in the boy striking back in the most horrendous fashion:

The boy pushed her so hard against a tree it knocked the breath from her. she had trouble breathing, couldn’t scream, was crying now […] He was breathing heavily when he removed his bubble coat. He was much thinner than she imagined. I want your peach, he said, ripping at her jeans, her panties. (30)

The girl’s final stream of consciousness brings to mind the eerie mix of agony & relief in the finale of The Trial.

“HUSK” is told from the perspective of a nameless female rockstar whose “wiki page states I was born in 1968, but we both know that isn’t true […]. We both know I was born in 1958” (165), kept perennially young by her taste for young Latino boys, Makropulos-Affair-style, which began in her youth with the following epiphany:

I bent over and bit him on the shoulder, my teeth puncturing his skin. He screamed like a girl and ran from the room. The feeling in my mouth was exquisite, as if I had been reborn. I looked in the mirror, beautiful and radiant, […]. Callipygian, Lou’d once said, in his office, framed gold records reflecting my face. Lou titled my second album Hover to Zoom, I got the idea, well nevermind. The Jews are good with words—they created the world, after all. (167) 

When suddenly the rockstar vampirette disappears, the police investigators enter her flat, finding “five or six mummified corpses” in the living-room, & “something moving” under the comforter:

Is it human? I can’t tell. Does it have teeth? The open mouth reminded me of the victims at Pompeii. I felt drawn to the darkness of it. […] Damn, it’s her, man. As we moved back toward the hall, a soft garbled voice came from the direction of the comforter. Wait, it said. (171)

A celebrity commodity stripped of her glamour, reduced to the “attractive darkness” that she always was, only age & oblivion have now brought into relief?

“MY NAME IS LUKA”, the opening story, concerns the Benthamesque project of EPS, “Eternal Punishment Screen” (13), the installation of an inviolable screen into inmates’ cells with a 24-hour loop of their crime-scene photographs & footage, a constant visual reminder of their crimes committed. What starts as an artistic Kafkaesque joke turns realer than any lethal injection when The Corporation decides to implement the gadget – “The Corporation had mistaken my satire, an obvious nod to Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, for truth” (17). Following that is an interview with murderer Luka Magnotta, the first guinea-pig of the “treatment”, full of “I’m not sure’s” and “Maybe’s”. And the problem of EPS, of course, soon surfaces—by turning crime into spectacle, it misses its disciplinary role by becoming an object of fascinated enjoyment. The prose becomes as beautiful as the thinking behind it twisted in passages such as:

Is Magnotta a morally repugnant purveyor of dark goods? Am I just as guilty for consuming them? Society only creates a theatre of the absurd when there is an audience present to bear witness. (19)

Following the interview, Magnotta writes a long letter (“Well, he’s in prison, I thought. He has a lot of time for this kind of thing. I’m on the outside and I have so little time; the world continues to tell us faster faster, faster is better, more more more more, more is better” [20]) stating “I only wanted to be beautiful”—but realising through ESP (“You are worse than death!”) that all he created is ugliness (“And the noises, oh god the noises”). His simple suicide note reads, “I can’t get these images out of my head. I am punished for love.” To which the narrative deadpan adds, “His suicide was neither recorded nor televised. Control, Alt, Delete” (22). A giddying finale this miniature head-spinner.

“THE MOST BEAUTIFUL QUESTION IN THE WORLD” tells of the tribulations faced when growing up to be a large woman in today’s culture of body-shaming. The narrator is an adolescent girl looking back on the angsty years of maturation, when her “empty pillbox” tells her it’s Sunday (120), when she watches “boys turning into nervous jaguars” (122) & keeps getting told “the world enters woman through the cleft between her legs” (123). There’s a certain nostalgia for childhood as an age in which we are “closer to the ground and more intimate with the soil” (130), & a strong—one hesitates to call it feminist—conviction that “the world would likely be a much better place, a safer, more loving place, it if were a touch more feminine than masculine” (132-3), proofs for which are too numerous to count. But the tragedy of adolescence—as everyone lucky enough to survive it will confirm—is that the body grows & becomes even more alien: “Is there such a thing as perfection of the flesh? If so, it is only for a very short time, perhaps eighteen to twenty-four when we are the least aware of our bodies, and yet most attuned to them” (133). And together with that, the contact with the soil is broken, boys turn into nervous jaguars, & “the world comes to you even when you’re hiding from it” (137).

“DELONTE LOST” is a triptych of “stories” told in long single-sentence soliloquies, only gradually turning into an unmarked two-way conversation between a nameless interrogator & people of the underworld. Their setting is Seattle, the home the wealthiest on the planet (Gates & Bezos) & yet also the desolate wasteland to a large homeless population. Nulick to Marrero:

All this incredible wealth enveloped in filth. […] You get inured to it, but it’s always there. I see the homeless, the mentally ill, and think ‘there but for the grace of god go I.’ I think Delonte bubbled up from all this negativity toward the mentally ill. I think Delonte West’s story is fascinating. A man who had everything and then lost it all. I feel for him, I truly do. It must be terrible when your head is broken, when what one sees outside his own head looks different from what everyone else sees.

So these are soliloquies of speakers “not quite holding it together,” for how could they: they “sleep in the Jeep” (141), while also obliged to pay visits to the “facility” presided over, in a neat nod to Kesey, by “Nurse Ratshit” (143-4), inhabiting an environment where  “they tell you what to watch and who to buy” (147), dealing with “a low-grade humming in my head, a machine I can’t see, just out of reach” (155) or with “these LEDs in my brain” (157).

So the “problem of suicide” resurfaces, as the omnipresent “the eyelash in the eye” on the periphery of vision, & yet this ultimacy is ultimately refused:

you put the gun in your mouth and suckle the barrel like you always knew you’d do […] and you vaporize your head but there’s pieces of you all around the room, and the problem is still there, only you’re not in it, now it’s someone else’s problem, and that ain’t love, man (157)

And so these voices go on, not only “because without words there’s nothing” (142), but because they still have what to believe in & what to give:

It’s a terrible system, my friend. You give to the world, and all it does is take, take, take. But the world is filled with beauty, sometimes too much beauty, that’s why I got out. And now my friend, goodbye, and good luck to you. Keep that vest, take care of it, it belonged to a very good friend of mine. I will man! (154)

“Vinyl-Hearted Boy,” the collection’s finale dedicated to Dennis Cooper, Nulick’s all-too-personal narrator takes us on a ride through the music of his youth through & polymorphous sexual openings/closures. Genet meets Salinger; or if that doesn’t work, imagine Musil’s Törless time-travelling to grunge America, having learned the lesson that “sometimes we end up loving what we hate” (176). 

In places some of the gender refiguring is naively poignant (“I felt very broken, and very female” [187]; “he was rough; I felt like a girl” [189]), elsewhere it’s almost funny (“no girl ever gave me a blowjob like he, so we naturally fell in love” [188]). Again the story reads like a survivor’s testimony re growing up into a sexed being, & an elegy for a lost world: “things were simpler before I turned into a boy, turned into a boy who thought of things only boys think of, of insects and speedboats, the small evil root between my legs, my inheritance, and all that came with it” (189-90). For a world where, as children, we were not only closer to the ground but more attuned to time (“when I was twelve, the years piled up slowly like trophies behind glass” [187]). Now that “the years condensed as I’ve gotten older” and “golden trophies behind yellowed glass” are no more, “it’s hard to keep up.” 

The best way for fiction and us, its practitioners/consumers, to keep up is to keep at what Nulick’s Haunted Girlfriend does best: expanding our minds and empathy, inciting our deadened sense of wonder & caring, daring us to visit the darkest places inside us, and reach out: “and I write these words, and you read them, and my brain becomes part of your brain, my consciousness one with your consciousness, and we are tied, inseparably, by sentences” (183). 

The books of Expat Press, whether read in private or “xeroxed & plastered in public spaces,” leave this world a little better than they find it.

My next instalment, in two weeks time, will be devoted to Anti-Oedipus Press.

© David Vichnar, 2021

About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
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