New Fiction, Newish Book Review 2: On the Move
[Trivia question: What “classic” 80s movie had a sequel featuring the subtitle used in the title to this post? Answer at the end of the post. Hint, courtesy of the band Ween: “_________ was filmed at Woolworth’s / Boyz II Men still keeping up the beat.”]
I have a short story up at the Fourth River, a great literary magazine out of Chatham University that is now venturing into online territory. I’m very pleased to be part of that initial push, and to be published alongside Tina May Hall and Geeta Kothari. My story, “Woman in the Woods,” was written before I started graduate school and I worked on it most of the time that I was in grad school and a little beyond that, too. I submitted it for a (truly great and useful) exercise in Chuck Kinder’s fiction workshop wherein everyone submits a “crap story” at the outset of the class. No one is too put out to hear that their crap story is crap, and everyone’s defenses are lowered that much for the beginning of real workshopping. At the same time, the sometimes radical suggestions your classmates made for repairing the crap story were often brilliant, and of course you were desperate and detached enough to give them a try. At the end of the course you submitted a revision of the crap story; for me, at least, that draft was markedly improved.
“Woman in the Woods” is about the actor Bruce Campbell on the set of The Evil Dead, the classic 1981 horror film that launched the career of Campbell and of Sam Raimi, the director, Campbell’s childhood friend. Some particulars of the film’s plot are changed, and if you read the story you’ll see that it’s obviously fictional. But I tried to stay true to the sense of Campbell that I got from reading his autobiography If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. In particular, there is one passage that inspired the story: during the filming of Evil Dead, staying in a remote cabin in Tennessee, Campbell got a telephone call from his father in the middle of the night, asking if he (Bruce) had seen his mother. It was the first realization Campbell had that his parents were splitting up. The book was otherwise such a good-natured schtick-fest, and Campbell on the page was so jokey and upbeat, that coming across that passage felt like a weird, lucid view through the cracks into something Campbell was keeping hidden, or that he’d forgotten as it receded further into his past. The choice to cash in favors and take out loans to shoot this low-budget horror film (and one, moreover, that was decidedly unorthodox in 1981, including elements of humor) represented a huge risk, and I could never quite buy Campbell’s depiction of the movie shoot as a long, relaxed hang-out session, albeit one that featured 16-hour days of getting fake blood dumped on him. I suppose I’m projecting now, and was projecting when I first wrote the story, but I guess “Woman in the Woods” is an interpretation of what my own internal state would have been had I been in the middle of nowhere, betting my future (at least to some extent) on this movie. I would have been, in a word, stressed.
Anyway, enough about that. I also have another book review up at Hot Metal Bridge. It’s of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station. I’m proud of the review because it’s the first one I’ve done for a book that I felt less than enthusiastic about, and I think I remained pretty fair-minded in writing about this novel. Leaving the Atocha Station is a decent book, and Ben Lerner is quite a writer. But he’s not a natural novelist, and it shows. However, the mix of textual and extratextual stuff going on with this book, which I at least skim in the review, is pretty interesting: Lerner is best known as a poet, and so a lot of the preoccupations of the novel are with writing poetry, its potential, ways to interpret it, what it gains and loses from appearing within the context of prose.