on Lorrie Moore’s “People Like That Are the Only People Here” (from Birds of America)
A beginning, an end: there seems to be neither. The whole thing is like a cloud that just lands and everywhere inside it is full of rain. A start: the Mother finds a blood clot in the Baby’s diaper. What is the story? Who put this here? It is big and bright, with a broken khaki-colored vein in it. Over the weekend, the Baby had looked listless and spacey, clayey and grim. But today he looks fine—so what is this thing, startling against the white diaper, like a tiny mouse heart packed in snow?
This Lorrie Moore story is one of my all-time favourites. I find the beginning intriguing, haunting, heartbreaking; it had me at the edge of my seat. Already in the first few sentences, Moore establishes the rules of the game by indicating that this isn’t just fiction but meta-fiction, a story about story, where the writer’s authorial voice and commentary is a part of the narrative. I love that it messes with you, makes you wonder: who is the Mother? Who is telling this story? and by doing that blurs the lines between fiction and real life.
Ayelet Tsabari is the author of the story collection The Best Place on Earth, published by HarperCollins.
STACEY MAY FOWLES
on Linda Spalding’s The Purchase
Of all the books I read last year, the opening line to The Purchase hit me the hardest.
Daniel looked over at the daughter who sat where a wife should sit.
At the risk of gushing, that line is such a spare, cold, beautiful thing—both heavy and light, meaningful and meaningless. I remember I was struck by how well-crafted it was, so sparse yet full, so cryptically haunting and gripping, that I actually took a photo of it before I turned the page.
I had the opportunity to interview Spalding later that year, and I’ll always regret never asking her how she came to those handful of words strung together, and why she chose to open the book with them. It was certainly a wise move, a brilliant way to get a reader to immediately commit to over 300 pages.
Stacey May Fowles is the author of Be Good and the illustrated novel Fear of Fighting, which she also staged as a theatrical adaptation. Her new book, Infidelity, will be published in October 2013.
on Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho
ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care…
Ellis’s novel is pure Ouroboros—the allusion to Dante, reduced to a scrawl of graffiti, prepares us for the book’s final lines, “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT,” also a “sign” the main character, Patrick Bateman, notices yet refuses to examine. Thus, we cycle back, wandering the circles of Hell (or a vision of a jaded, very modern Hell), imagined as a book of tremendous suffering and relentless surface. The “blood red lettering” immediately situates us in a world of graphic, gaudy visuality, and this meandering, comma-stripped sentence introduces us to Bateman’s infuriatingly impatient monologue. For so artfully beginning by perfectly anticipating its final lines, American Psycho is a beautiful example of daunting novelistic unity.
Spencer Gordon is the author of the short story collection Cosmo, published last year by Coach House Books. He is co-editor of the online magazine The Puritan and the Toronto-based micro-press Ferno House.
on Mick Brown’s Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector
On an unseasonably warm day in December 2002 I found myself sitting at a room at the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, waiting for Phil Spector to call.
My favourite music journalism provides the standard facts and figures while offering a glimpse of process that led there. Mick Brown started this book before Spector’s murder trial, and he perfectly sets up the balance between an exhaustive, classic biography and the weirdness of his own experience writing it here.
Sam Sutherland is the author of Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, published by ECW Press. He lives and shreds in Toronto.
HILARY SCHARPER on Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
This is a magnificently baffling and yet thoroughly irresistible “beginning” to an extraordinary novel. We are with a man whose death is imminent, sharing his very last memory, which, almost by definition, has to be a non sequitur. The memory itself, however, is much more: it suggests an incongruous association between gun technology and the discovery of ice in one lifetime. Who is this peculiar man and how has he come to face such a violent death? There is only one place to go—and that is into the profundity and beauty of the author’s prose.
Hilary Scharper is a Toronto-based author. Her debut novel, Perdita, was recently published by Simon & Schuster.
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