I got Normally Special yesterday. I had two hours between my fiction workshop and my night class, so I read it. And then I read most of it again. And then I read "The Mill Pond" and "An Unsteady Place" a third time.
Most of xTx's pieces (in the book and online, from what I've read) are very, very short. For whatever reason, probably because I like the situations she creates, I'm drawn more to her "longer" pieces, particularly in Normally Special. When I made my list of the stories that drew me in the most, I came up with "Standoff," "The Mill Pond," "Exactly Raisins," and "An Unsteady Place." Out of the those, only "Exactly Raisins" is one of the really short ones.
In my notes for this book I have the phrase some kind of rollercoaster mindfuck, which is an inadequate but sort of interesting description of my reading experience. There is something unsettling about the stories as a whole, and that definitely works to the book's advantage. I'm glad that I had time to read it in one sitting because I felt pulled from one story to the next.
In Noah Cicero's interview with xTx on HTMLGiant, she says, "I am a slow writer and I like to get every sentence and every word ‘right’ before moving on to the next sentence. I can spend my entire lunch hour on a paragraph. It’s frustrating." I understand feeling frustrated about that kind of process, but I think that it is very apparent in Normally Special that extreme care was taken with every sentence. As I've stated numerous times, these are very short pieces, and every word counts. Nearly every sentence in Normally Special is what I call "live wire writing." Writing that makes you feel a physical, buzzing tension when you read it.
Here are some lines I wrote down while I was reading. I forgot to write down the page numbers, and I don't have the book with me.
From "The Mill Pond":
"We drank Kool-Aid out of jelly jars that were always dirty, but I never said anything."
Okay, I thought, I wrote this down, but I guess it was too long. In my notes I just have the whole paragraph about eating the Suzy Q. This is good, I guess, because now I haven't ruined it for you if you haven't read the story yet. I think it's the best part. All I really want in life at this point is to write a story like "The Mill Pond."
From "Exactly Raisins":
"All I can hear are grunts. They are the ugliest sounds I ever heard."
From "An Unsteady Place":
"Downstairs, I don't tell Frank how brackish seawater trickled from their mouths when I tried to kiss them good night."
I liked this book a lot, I hope I've made that clear. As I said in the last post, I also like xTx's blog, which I think I forgot to link to.
Now for even more about Dennis Cooper:
Out of all the Dennis Cooper I've read so far, I think I'm most disgusted by the spitting scene I just read in Frisk.
Seriously, I had a physical reaction in the middle of the Cathedral common room. I made a face. I think I gagged a little. Dennis Cooper describes a lot of disgusting, fucked up shit in his books, but something about the way he describes this just got to me. Here's the passage:
"He starts coughing and snorting up stuff from the dark recesses of his throat and nose. He emits grayish goo in a long, unbroken, lumpy thead. Then he wipes his lips. I swallow noisily. 'Thanks.'" Frisk p. 69.
I can't even. I feel a little bit sick just reading it over again.
Also from my notes:
What I'm getting out of Dennis Cooper thankfully goes beyond how to describe violent gay sex in explicit detail (though I think I'd have a better shot at it now than before). He does crazy, crazy things with structure and POV. Awesome crazy. The POV in Frisk is some kind of first person omniscient. I've never read anything like it before. There's a first person narrator, but in telling the story he talks about the actions and thoughts of other characters that he couldn't possibly see/know. Add to that the fact that there's a section in the middle that's an imagined, fictional account written by the protagonist, and things are pretty convulted and interesting. The best part about it, though, is that it makes perfect sense with the character and the concepts being explored in the story. Mind blown.
I'm trying to think if I have anything else to write about. I had my last class of junior year today. I'm going to a pizza party with my fiction workshop on Monday. I'll be back home in a week, and I'll be staying there for the summer unless I get this grant that I applied for. That's about it. I started writing a story about a kid who hits another kid with a baseball bat and cracks his skull, which I shouldn't be doing because I still have a twenty-ish page revision to finish.
"there is a difference between being disenthralled and being disillusioned" -Louis Menand