. . . Kelly Link

. . .

Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is a charming zine in the proto-Web tradition, but I didn't expect to find the two best short stories I've read this year tucked up its slender cuff. What a "coup," as they say in the editor's native Scotland!

With frighteningly typical aplomb, Karen Joy Fowler's "Heartland" demonstrates the equation:

Tropical resorts Fantasy lands Ground meat

Club Med MGM McDonalds

Brightly colored plastic and happy little people, as maintained and portrayed by grim Oompa-Loompas -- pay no attention to the sentimentalizing whip-wielders behind the curtain.... Oh, it's barely possible that you or I might, given sufficient prompting, work out that premise, but neither of us would be able to incarnate it in so convincingly organic a form. This is politics drawn from life and returned to living flesh.

And Kelly Link's "The Glass Slipper" is the most interesting modern take I've seen on Cinderella. Of course I would be interested, being as it directs the spotlight off the girl and onto the Prince, whose motivations have always been rather shadowy. What would drive a nice guy (because, after all, we'd really prefer him to be nice) to go around fitting shoes? Is fitting shoes really a good way to meet Ms. Right? (I can't tell you myself, 'cause I got fired from my shoe store clerk job after just two weeks, thus condemning me to life in the software industry.) If it is, mightn't you meet Ms. Right through the process itself, even without an official win on the foot? I mean, you can probably get to know someone as well by fitting their shoes as by dancing with them, right? And so we find ourselves pratfalling over the tangled, by no means strictly causal, relations of fetish and love, attraction and consummation.... It's what fairy tales were made for: to warn us about real life.

Rosebud Wristlet
So the next time some deadbeat stoner asks you how come you don't subscribe to Conjunctions or the New Yorker, you look 'em right in their beady bloodshot eyes and say "Fuck you, buddy! I subscribe to Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet!"

. . .


Although the New York Times Book Review still hasn't printed a Carol Emshwiller cover story, it has at least printed a Kelly Link recommendation (courtesy of Salon's Andrew O'Hehir). Good on 'em!

In fact, it's getting so you can't swing a copy of stranger things happen without hitting a Salon employee. All the more reason to buy a copy!

. . .


A reader asked that I:

get down to it bobbers
And this I did not do.

Another requested:

the body of an american
But Dos Passos or MacGowan, I knew not which, and so I merely sat and mulled my whiskey straight.

And another would very much like please some:

tahitian vanilla.....
But who placed this order I do not know, although I suspect Clarence King.

Yet another informs me:

I spoke to a member of the loyal Naderite opposition in Boulder, and she told me after Allard's win she's focusing on her wedding plans, which involve avoiding all traditions of the "wedding-industrial complex."
And I could have suggested she register at Cut Loose and yet the draw came tardily upon my hand.

Josh Lukin testifies:

I thought of your entry on memorable and moving last lines the other day as I read "The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories" by Etgar Keret, who Justine Larbalestier thinks is the Kelly Link of Tel Aviv: "I tried to imagine my mother's uterus in the middle of a green, dew-covered field, floating in an ocean full of dolphins and tuna." "Or else, if the broad in the square wouldn't have had a boyfrined in the army and she'd given Tiran her phone number and we'd called Rabin Shalom, then he would have been run over anyway, but at least nobody would have got clobbered." A whole book chock full of heartbreaking final lines.
Still, several days hence I have not read Etgar Keret's prose collection nor even his comic book.

And when a final reader tells me of one who

was trying to remember the name of, and came up with "The Cruising Politician."
I can only wonder at the undeserved bounty of my days and on my head.

. . .

The Launderer's Hand

Continuing the discussion:

As has been pointed out many times before, "genre" is not a simple compound, or even a clear formula, and its assorted aspects of publishing, writing, and reading are only loosely interdependent. Some writing, it's true, affirms generic coherency, snug and compact in a neatly labeled bundle. But much of what I'm drawn to seems badly wrapped, corners rubbing against frays and duct tape.

It always comes marked, however. No matter how much writer or reader idealizes invention from whole cloth, there'll be some natural discoloring, someone to see a pattern, and someone to apply a dye. Even the launderer's hand grows red with wringing.

To drop the metaphors:

  1. My favorite writing is sui generis.
  2. It was (and is) all published (more or less antagonistically) within a generic context.
  3. Assuming that one particular genre has special access to the sui generis greatly reduces the chance of actually finding it.

Which is why, as I wrote earlier, plowing cover-to-cover through some 19th century volumes of Blackwood's or Harper's, or High-Modernist-era New York Times book reviews or High-Hollywood-era movie reviews, would be salutary for most English and creative writing majors. Someone who refused to look at smut would have missed Lolita (fittingly, Nabokov himself first received Ulysses as an exemplar of smuttiness); someone who refused to look at sea stories (or flop gothics) would have missed Melville; someone who refused to look at cornpone humor would have missed Twain; and so on. And someone who refused to read academically canonized writing would miss all the same books now. For we who love to be astonished, it's worth attempting to read Hammett's and Thompson's (or Fitzgerald's and Faulkner's) prose the same way whether behind pulp covers or a Library of America dustjacket.

To take a limit case, there are (and have been) an astonishing number of readers who treat everything written by women as its own genre, resulting in a comedy of re-interpretation when misattributions are corrected and as the purported "genre" is denigrated or celebrated.

All this from publishers and readers. For a writer, genre may considered a conversational context, with one's social circle not necessarily restricted to one's neighbors, or even to the living. Since the literary mainstream's "discovery" of Patricia Highsmith began, I've seen a number of bemused references to the influence of Henry James, but this isn't an unusual phenomenon. The work itself is always more (or less, if truly "generic" work) than whatever genre it's in.

Carol Emshwiller, John Crowley, Karen Joy Fowler, Jack Womack, and Kelly Link write the sui generis they write and publish in whatever genre welcomes (or allows) them. But a contemporary may find it useful to learn that they all began publishing within the context of the science fiction genre, whether they themselves started as genre readers or not. And although I seek out Dalkey Archive and Sun & Moon Press spines in the bookstores, I enjoy knowing that the past decade of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has shown more lively variety than any university-sponsored or trust-funded fiction journal.


Lucius Shephard also

God, yes. There are, oh, let's not start feeling guilty about not mentioning M. John Harrison, there are lots more. And then all the great writers who are publishing mysteries, thrillers, romances, Y/As, and including, sure, the literary mainstream and the poetry presses, but all of them, now ignored or long forgotten or even deservedly noticed, should get more than just a for instance, and I just meant for instance.

A welcome update, fourteen years later, from Josh Lukin:

Well you know my fave bemused reference to the influence of Henry James . . . although I'm sure Baldwin's Jamesianity too incurred some bemusement (to say the least) in his day, of the "'Notes of a Native Son'? What does this guy think he is?" sort (I don't at the moment have the wherewithal to turn to my Marcus Klein and Maxwell Geismar and Irving Howe and see if that was among their beefs).

I've been reading some James stories and am struck by their reliance on Ideas (pace T.S. Eliot). And I mean Ideas in the way SF writers mean Ideas: premises that one can quickly pitch to an editor (or to a writer, if one is that kind of editor I did have a pair of cats named Horace* and Campbell). It's an unoriginal insight that post-Chekhovian litfic doesn't make for good log lines the way that older stuff does; but I wonder whether pitchability has an economic origin or not: did Maupassant**, whom James might have gotten it from, write for magazine editors?

*Horace is still with us, but he doesn't like me to read the New York Edition. He will plop himself on it or gently close it or try to eat "Daisy Miller." I had to get hold of the first book editions of the stories so he'd leave me alone.

**Did anybody else pan their influences as interestingly as James? Not Wilde, not Nabokov, not Alan Moore . . . the list isn't as long as Harold Bloom led me to believe . . .


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.