I didn’t know anything about Frank Ocean until I started looking at all of the Best Albums of 2012 lists. He was on everyone’s list and was pretty near the top of all of them. So it was time to check him out.
It turns out that he’s affiliated with the Odd Future collective, whom I’ve talked about in the past. But he’s also been on a lot of big name records. Channel Orange is his debut album (that’s not a mixtape) and the big surprise seems to be that this song (which he sang live on Jimmy Fallon) is about a male lover. And I guess that’s progress.
So Ocean sings a slow R&B style, and I have to say his voice reminds me of Prince a lot. Which is a good thing. I really like this song. It has gospelly keyboards (but in that Purple Rain kinda way). And a really aching vocal line. It’s really effective and it’s really simple. And I think that’s what I liked best about this song and others that I’ve heard–he’s really understated. Crazy, I know.
Now I do not like R&B, it’s one of the few genres that I just don;t get. And yet there’s something about this album (the tracks I’ve listened to) that is really compelling. It’s not awash in over the top R&B trappings, and it doesn’t try too hard. It’s just Frank (not his real name) and his voice over some simple beats. A friend of mine recently said that all of a sudden she “got” this album, and I think I may have to get it as well.
[READ: December 30, 2012] McSweeney’s #12
At the beginning of 2012, I said I’d read all of my old McSweeney’s issues this year. I didn’t. Indeed, I put it off for quite a while for no especial reason. Now as the year draws to an end, I’m annoyed that I didn’t read them all, but it’s not like I read nothing. Nevertheless, I managed to read a few in the last month and am delighted that I finished this one just under the wire. For those keeping track, the only issues left are 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 10, 38, (which I misplaced but have found again) and 42, which just arrived today. My new plan in to have those first four read by Easter. We’ll see.
So Issue #12 returns to a number of different fun ideas. The cover: It’s a paperback, but you can manipulate the front and back covers to make a very cool 3-D effect (by looking through two eyeholes) with a hippo. The colophon/editor’s note is also back. Someone had complained that he missed the small print ramble in the beginning of the book and so it is back, with the writer (Eggers? Horowitz?) sitting in Wales, in a B&B, and hating it. It’s very funny and a welcome return.
As the title suggests, all of the stories here are from unpublished authors. They debate about what exactly unpublished means, and come down on the side of not well known. And so that’s what we have here, first time (for the mos part) stories. And Roddy Doyle.
There are some other interesting things in this issue. The pages come in four colors–each for a different section. The Letters/Intro page [white], the main stories [pink], the Roddy Doyle piece (he’s not unpublished after all so he gets his own section) [gray] and the twenty minute stories [yellow]. There’s also photographs (with captions) of Yuri Gagarin. And a series of drawing that introduce each story called “Dancewriting”–a stick figure on a five-lined staff. They’re interesting but hard to fathom fully.
A surely nonsensical letter about animals on trial.
Compliments McSweeney’s on Issue 11 (except for the typos–of which thee were legion). The issue made Elliott raise a number of unanswerable questions.
There are miller’s moths in Manguso’s studio.
He is an unknown Toronto based writer–his latest book is called As Yet Untitled. He gives a synopsis of it–there’s no POV character, indeed no perspective at all. It’s a bout a crew of Goths at a summer camp and how they change when they come back the next year. Amusing nonsense.
Hudson refuses the position of McSweeney’s War Literature expert, despite his recent publication (and explication) of books of Gulf War Fiction. He does include a list of lecture topics for all Gulf War fiction, though.
RYAN W. BRADLEY, ELI HOROWITZ, JEFFREY BRAND
McSweeney’s had received an unattributed submission called “Gorilla Girl.” They put a note on their site seeking its author. Three people responded. They removed two from consideration right away. The third, Ryan W. Bradley continued a lengthy correspondence in which he claimed to be the author but could offer no proof–his computer crashed (so no backup), he had been drunk and remembers nothing of the story. It was his friend (Brand) who sent it in on his behalf, but Brand didn’t read it. The question, dear McSweeney’s readers is, is he telling the truth? To my knowledge this was ever answered (but I feel his bullshit is piled too high).
SHANN RAY-“The Great Divide”
This was a dark and violent story. It was well told but I did not like it. It’s about a strong man who is later in life called on to do nasty things. He eventually becomes a guard on a train. On one trip, someone is robbing the passengers. Because of when (and where) the story is set, the main culprit is a Native American. And he is roundly punished by the white folks, even though there is no evidence against him. The story gets very violent by the end, which is why I didn’t care for it.
RACHEL SHERMAN-“The Neutered Bulldog”
This was an interesting story–I couldn’t tell the gender of the main character until a few pages in, which made me rethink the beginning. This is an interesting problem I think: authors assume you know the gender because it is the same as the author’s gender. Maybe that’s not true but it’s what it feels like. Anyhow, this is a fantastical story about a teacher who seduces students and the effect it has on the class. Enjoyable but not realistic at all. And yet the use of the neutered bulldog metaphor was great.
ANDY LAMEY-“My Life as Samuel Beckett”
Indeed, this story looks at Beckett at his day job and in his humdrum life (which is contemporary).
WYTHE MARSCHALL-“Cold France”
This was one of my least favorite pieces–each section lists France as a different adjective–cold, dark, merry and then cites evidence. But France is also a whale and a dog and it just seemed silly by the end.
BEN EHRENREICH-“After the Disaster”
My favorite story. I know that I have read this somewhere else, but I can’t figure out where (unless I read this story in this issue when it came out, which seems unlikely). Anyhow, before the unnamed disaster, a man in Brooklyn (Bruno) and a woman from Midtown (Mildred) briefly meet in front of the giant squid exhibit at the museum of natural history. He is unemployed (and frankly dirty and smelly) and she is well put together–but clearly a little odd. They have a weird but warm conversation about squids and Bruno falls in love. He looks for her again but doesn’t find her. Then the massive disaster strikes–power is lost and order is destroyed (no details about the disaster are given). There are gangs and there is looting and ultra violence. Bruno hides out for a week and then he feels compelled to go find Mildred. So he goes to the squid, where she is trying to smash open the case. Together, the bring the squid to her house, where the emotional part of the story begins. This story was really weird but really well done.
I also liked this story quite a bit. A man, who gave his landlord a false identity, is a failing actor. The landlady caught him getting a blow job from another man and she is treating him very coldly at the moment. He gets a job at an AIDS charity, driving meds to AIDS and hospice patients. The other guy in the van (who is HIV+ and is about to get fired) is crazy. He goes to the park and buys crack and smokes it in the van. These two disparate stories come together nicely at the end in a weird, crack-filled scene.
JOHN HENRY FLEMING-“The General”
I did not enjoy this one page story in which the word general is thrown around for its double meanings. It seemed like it was trying to be clever, but it failed.
ANDREA DESZÖ-“The Numbers”
The story is set in Romania and is all about young students working to become model pioneers. There are ten duties one must follow: love your country and be willing to die for it; love and obey the leader…and on all the way down to helping your mother carry groceries. Interestingly, the main character and her family believe God, which the country dismisses outright. Later in the story each child gets her numbers. “This is you: 1735″ so you can be reported for good and bad deeds. It is a story of conflict between two ideologies. I found it a little confusing but ultimately satisfying.
This was a sad story about a young girl Her mother died and she is being raised by her father. But she has been having emotional troubles lately. Indeed, she has tried to kill herself twice. As the story ends she is trying for a third time and this time her father finds her in the middle of the effort. The story is told from the father’s point of view–he has a strange job that involves steel ball bearings, which he winds up bringing home with him in his clothes and hair. I enjoyed this piece, especially as it went in unexpected directions.
SALVADOR PLASCENCIA-“The People of Paper”
This is an excerpt from Plascencia’s novel of the same name, a novel that I own but have not read yet. And wow is this crazy. There is, indeed a person made of paper and there are people made of meat, and there are different narrators. Federico de la Fe is a grown man who wets the bed–as the story begins he and his wife (who tolerates the wet spot) are going to the water’s edge to fill it with new straw. His wife has gotten used to it (ew), but once their young daughter is potty trained and her husband isn’t, she gets quite cross. It is only after his wife has died that he learns of a cure–sticking his hand in the fire. See, crazy–and we haven’t even gotten to the lady of paper yet. I’m assuming that actually reading the full novel will bring some clarity to this story. And this excerpt was so strange that I’m rather looking forward to the novel.
JAMES BOICE-“Pregnant Girl Smoking”
This stream of consciousness piece overlaps itself so many times that I found it really really hard to read. I understand that the story is all in one man’s head–the thought process he goes through after lighting a pregnant woman’s cigarette. There’s some interesting ideas in it and I enjoyed following the “life” of the woman and her child to fruition, but again it was so jumbled that I didn’t like the story overall.
SARAH RAYMONT-“The Last Words on an Aerogram”
This is a few pages of advice written from a woman to her daughter. Although the story leads us to believe she is not really the girl’s mother but more of a step mother. And she appears to be in some kind of prison. The mother has this aerogram stored against her chest and she takes the opportunity every night to write to the girl on the paper. Sections include: My Breasts are Old Soldiers, Speed is Technology, This Tomb is Mine and Death is a Strong Possibility. There was some really sage advice here.
RODDY DOYLE-“The Deportees”
I can’t believe it took me this long to read this story. I loved Doyle’s early, funny stories–The Barrytown Trilogy–and while I liked his later books, they were too heartbreaking to read. This story, which sounds like it would be heartbreaking, is actually a return to Barrytown and the main musical man Jimmy Rabbitte. It’s ten years on, Jimmy is a da three times now with a fourth on the way, but he’s got the itch. The itch to form a new band. And so he does. The story makes it all seem so easy (it is a short story after all), but it is so much fun seeing Jimmy working with all of these various people from various countries playing a music that none of them should like. Doyle makes this kind of story effortless to read. I loved it.
Doyle has a short story collection called The Deportees, of which this is no doubt a part. The story here ends…well, it doesn’t exactly end. It feels like he had more to do but just sent it off to McSweeney’s. As the colophon says…where is the rest of it? Is it a novel or short story? We do not know. And I don’t mind either. I enjoyed it so much I was happy to even have it unfinished.
TWENTY MINUTE STORIES
Dave Eggers asked all of these writers to take twenty minutes and write a story. This removed any kind of editing woes or obsessions over things, They were told to just simply write. Some authors hated their stuff but these kind souls allowed their twenty minute works to see the light of day. Each piece includes the date and time the wrote (and yes, some cheat and so a few more than 20 minutes, but they are forgiven since they were honest). I’m not going to review them, I’ll just give a one line summary. They’re all better than you might think for twenty minutes (which is less time than it took me to do this blog post).
J. ROBERT LENNON
A very basic plot. Man meets woman in short declarative sentences–seems like cheating.
DAVID EBERSHOFF-“The Hay Farmer at Dusk”
A surprisingly complete story about a man stuck under a tractor.
JONATHAN LETHEM-“Zeppelin Parade”
The zeppelin sails and the dogs sniff the gas nozzle–dogs like gas. What?
JENNIFER EGAN-“To Do”
A lengthy and literal to do list that really pays off as a plot.
A story of buying a wedding dress. Good punchline
EMMA FORREST-“Gentle Ben”
A funny family dinner story in which the narrator’s dad really likes Ben Affleck
RICK MOODY-“Physically Adaptive End User Interfaces with Hydro-Industrial Indoor Appliance”
A funny Rube Goldberg story about a thirsty man and the contraption that helps him.
A diary from 1968-2002.
An ironic revenge story.
Watching a boy named Crumb swim to shore and wondering if he’ll make it.
A masked wrestler falls in love.
STEVE ALMOND-“The Chicken Killer’s Remorse”
I guy likes his job killing chickens too much, and when he sings a sad song to the birds, it’s too much for the other employees.
JESSICA FRANCIS KANE
A man unwittingly promises a stranger that he will play catch with her son. A wonderfully awkward situation.
GLEN DAVID GOLD-“Coop”
Groucho Marx wishes to be alone.
A couple in therapy, with amusing highlights.
RYAN BOUDINOT-“Vacuum Cleaner”
A man vacuums the house, but keeps going–to the porch, the yard and beyond.
DOUGLAS COUPLAND-“The Vanishees”
It starts with 1% of the world’s population vanishing (the extraordinarily beautiful or smart). Then another 1%–this time with no connecting features. Eventually only 5% of the population remain. Then the flying saucers come–intending to erase all trace of humanity from the earth. A cool story, amazingly written in 20 minutes.
GABE HUDSON-“Tools Evaluation of Drams Battle Dress Utility”
A military story that I did not get.
Living with a gifted child.
JILL BIALOSKY-“The Old Longings”
A prose poem about fish.
A woman with snakes for hair sets out for the night–but she’s not Medusa, she just has snakes for hair
A teenage trip to Europe–and all that implies.
ASHLEY WARLICK-“Anne, 1985″
A man , a woman and a hygienist. How will it end?
A salon appointment gone askew.
PETER ORNER-“Miss Greenburger”
A student’s father arrives at school drunk and in his pajamas and everyone is affected.
DARIN STRAUSS-“A True Story”
His grandmother’s father played baseball on a pro team…long before Sandy Koufax.
LAIRD HUNT-“The Operatives Ball”
Agents try to date each other which is strictly forbidden. The agency will keep them apart at all costs.
STACEY RICHTER-“My Funky One”
A funny odd sort of stream of consciousness piece that ends with Steely Dan.
JULIE ORRINGER-“There Were Three of Them”
Her sister fell down the stars–it seemed like it happened in slow motion. She was sure she was dead.