CLMP recommends "These Are the Fables" by Amelia Gray
Vol. 13, No. 3
If I’m the first person to tell you about Amelia Gray, we obviously don’t have any Facebook friends in common. More than a few CLMP members have published her: Tin House, Guernica, DIAGRAM, American Short Fiction, to name some. And Flavorwire just named her one of The Top 10 Best Millennial Authors You Probably Haven’t Read (Yet). So, let’s do something about that.
I first encountered Amelia Gray accidentally at a reading, maybe four years ago. She got on stage with a handful of note cards and said she was going to read some “threats.” And then she proceeded to scare the crap out of me. With each card, a promissory note of a very awkward and/or terrifying thing that would happen (to who? me!? gulp). And, once she pronounced the threat, she crumpled it up and chucked it at the audience. I bring this up to warn you: Amelia gets up in your face.
Her stories aren’t the type you read and then forget when and where you read them. You’ll remember. You’ll remember because it’s like rubber cement, or some other addictively-bad smelling thing, that you can’t get away from and have to roll-peel off your skin for days. Take “These Are the Fables,” for example. Believe you me, the burnt sugar smell of the blazing Dunkin’ Donuts is going to need more than a shower to ditch.
In the glow of the glazed and sprinkled flames, is a couple too-old-to-be-forgiven-for-this-type–of-behavior plotting their next moves through Texas. They learn they’re with child. We learn what we think is a lot about how to read this couple. From the get, you’ll think Amelia is generous with the details. She lures you in with information, you think you have it all down, and then you realize those surface information nuggets are just a distraction and all the while something else has been happening. There isn’t a lot of action or a big cast, and yet, each encounter, every action, like any great short story, is just so—well—pregnant. So in this trail of smoke through Texas towns avoided and considered, here’s a story about closed doors, physical contact, willful ignorance, the search for meaning, obsessive love, the inertia of the day to day, and, ultimately, what to share. And, while the images of the couple can at times be endearing, each time you read this story, you’ll say to yourself, Jesus H. Christ there is just something menacing about this picture.
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These Are the Fables by Amelia Gray Recommended by CLMP
WE WERE IN THE PARKING LOT OF A DUNKIN’ DONUTS IN BEAUMONT, TX when I told Kyle that I was pregnant. I figured I’d rather be out under God as I announced the reason for all my illness and misery.
I said to him, Well shit. Guess we’re having a baby.
“Lemme see,” Kyle said. I handed him the test and he squinted at it for a second before tossing it into a bush. A stranger set his coffee on the roof of his car and clapped. Kyle flipped him the double deuce. “People these days,” Kyle said.
I said that my mama will be happy.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “Your mama’s dead. And you’re forty years old. And I have a warrant out for my arrest. And I am addicted to getting tattoos. And our air conditioner’s broke. And you are drunk every day. And all I ever want to do is fight and go swimming. And I am addicted to Keno. And you are just covered in hair. And I’ve never done a load of laundry in my life. And you are still technically married to my drug dealer. And I refuse to eat beets. And you can’t sleep unless you’re sleeping on the floor. And I am addicted to heroin. And honest to God, you got big tits but you make a real shitty muse. And we are in Beaumont, Texas.”
I said, These are minor setbacks on the road to glory.
“And,” Kyle added, “the Dunkin’ Donuts is on fire.”
“Why does the rain make us feel so romantic and strange? Maybe it’s the fact that we are unnatural spectators of it, from inside our homes, and it is a reminder that we have the power to live our whole lives like this, if we choose. It’s not the smell of fertile ground kicked up by raindrops, or the slick leaves, or the way we must amplify our voices to be heard over this larger presence. It’s the power of the rooftop that makes us want to fuck under it.”—Amelia Gray, “AM:69”
NAP 2.9 WITH SELECTIONS BY JANEY SMITH.
WORK BY ALISSA NUTTING, AMELIA GRAY, AMY BERKOWITZ, AMY GERSTLER, AMY SILBERGELD, ANA CARRETE, ANNA JOY SPRINGER, CARINA FINN, CARRIE HUNTER, CARRIE LORIG, CHRIS KRAUS, DONNA DE LA PERRIÉRE, DOROTHEA LASKY, EILEEN MYLES, JESS DUTSCHMANN, JI YOON LEE, KATE DURBIN, LILY HOANG, LINDSAY ALLISON RUOFF, MADISON LANGSTON, MEGAN LENT, MEGHAN LAMB, NIINA POLLARI, SARAH FRAN WISBY, SUSAN M. SCHULTZ, TERESA CARMODY, AND XTX.
Franklin Park: Ben Greenman, Touré, Amelia Gray, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Sam Lipsyte
I am bewildered.
How does Penina Roth, founder of the Franklin Park Reading Series, do it? Not only does she bring in multiple amazing authors, but she does it several times a month (there are two FP events in May), and she draws in a huge crowd, every time. I BookStalked Penina a few weeks ago, and this is something I really should have asked.
This past Monday, I traveled to Crown Heights and had the pleasure of seeing the following authors: Ben Greenman, Touré, Amelia Gray, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Sam Lipsyte. (The next event, on May 13, features Karen Russell, Elissa Schappell, Leigh Newman, Roxane Gay, and Michael Heald.)
Amelia Gray, Threats
A warning to all fairweather readers out there, those who like creepy, pins-and-needles fiction, but only so long as it sweeps all of its ugliness back under the rug and restores a sense of calm and balance and peace of mind to the world by the time you turn the last page: Amelia Gray is onto you.
To be sure, Threats, the Los Angeles resident’s aggressive and riotously messy debut novel, leads the reader down a dark road—namely, the increasingly frayed psyche of a man whose wife has just died, though he can’t remember how or why (or if he’s responsible). But just at the point when you expect the car to turn back around and take you home, Gray shoves you out the passenger door and abandons you there on the filthy pavement, scrapes and all.
“The standouts in this collection are those that behave just as you’d expect them to, yet leave you in a place that you weren’t expecting to be left. They almost operate like practical jokes — luring you in with clean, unadorned sentences and then plodding along from one paragraph to the next. If you’re not paying much attention you can lose yourself in the structure and just kind of float to the end, only later realizing that you’ve been had — tugged along through a story without any real conflict or resolution to speak of. There’s something about Gray’s humor that simply is, and therein lies the beauty of this new thing the kids are doing.”—
- from “This other thing the kids are doing,” my cousin Dave’s review of Amelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird
If Barthelme is an influence here, then his influence is a mixed blessing, for his legacy, really, is most visible on some of the weakest links in this collection — stories in which Gray jettisons tradition altogether and revels in the fragmentary, in the inscrutable. Whereas humor in Barthelme is a means to an end, Gray’s humor, at its best, is the end.
This reminded me of something Salman Rushdie said on the latest New Yorker fiction podcast:
There is a danger of Barthleme’s that he makes you think you can do it and actually you can’t do it. … I remember as a young person finding myself doing what was clearly an imitation of Barthelme and having to stop myself. Hemingway’s like that, too. You think you can imitate him and you can’t. Barthelme’s even more idiosyncratic, of course … You have to leave it to him to do it, and even sometimes he couldn’t do it.
… Certainly, when I was a young writer reading the magazine, the stories of Barthelme were the things that really leapt out. Not always successfully. Sometimes they were just so weird that you couldn’t go along with them. But very often they were kind of mind-blowing because they were so odd and because his way of telling a story was so oblique and so indirect that you had to really, really pay attention just to find out what was going on. And they’re funny, too.
Tuck away Rushdie’s “even sometimes he couldn’t do it” and “sometimes they were just so weird that you couldn’t go along with them.” These are ideas worth remembering whenever a critic stamps “Influenced By ______________” on a contemporary writer and faults her for not living up to the legacy of the supposed influence. I welcome the humble “If” in Dave’s “If Barthelme is an influence …”
Are you growing mistrustful of others? Do you suspect that your wife does not actually have cancer? Is every trip to the mailbox an exercise in loathing and remorse? Are your coworkers having trouble finding anything interesting to say when they talk about you behind your back? Do you deeply despise people who possess many of the same opinions and motives as your own?
- AM/PM, Amelia Gray