short story

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me by John Weir

nosta

By Charles Rammelkamp

In the story “Katherine Mansfield” John Weir writes,

I don’t really understand friendship. If you’re in extreme need, I’m your best friend. Otherwise, I’m not there. There’s no second act in my life, but there’s a first and a third. I don’t do middles. I’ll stick around to fall in love and watch you die, but nothing in between.

Having lived through the slow, horrific death from AIDS of his close friend David, the author is experiencing a kind of PTSD. He feels survivor guilt. In “Humoresque” he writes: “My friends died and I didn’t.  Or: I should have died and didn’t. Or: in 1984, I figured I’d be dead I  five years; who didn’t?” Similarly, in the title story, “Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me,” he writes: “I’ve watched friends die, and I have never been any help except to hold you and say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

The first part of this collection, called “AIDS Nostalgia,” includes seven of the eleven interconnected stories, almost all of them alluding to Dave. Indeed, the very first story, “Neorealism at the Infinplex,” begins: “My friend Dave died of AIDS in the fall of 1994.” In “It Must Be Swell to Be Laying Out Dead,” he tells us, “He’s the first person I speak to each day, the last one at night. Phone calls early and late. Every day for the past five years has started and ended with Dave.” In “Scenes from a Marriage,” he helps Dave in the bathroom at a Broadway theater as he sits on the toilet, “his pants and diapers on the floor.”  His care of his friend is intimate and visceral, up close and personal. He feels helpless but responsible, anguished.  “How can I help him? I’m not a doctor. He’s my best friend, but he doesn’t want me to touch him.,” he notes plaintively.  Later in “Scenes from a Marriage” he writes, “By 1994 in New York City, AIDS had become routine, even as it stayed occult, a minority affliction.”

Yet Weir is also very funny, witty, especially in the voice of the manic, wisecracking David. He writes, “Now he’s dying, and I’m jealous. I’m competitive with Dave’s death. It’s all he cares about: dying, not dying.” And Dave, frustrated and desperate, lashes out at his friend/caregiver: “I’ve got news for you. You’re not the Messiah. You’re a fag. I’m a dying fag. I win the Suffering Sweepstakes. You think this is happening to you. Well, it’s not.”

“Katherine Mansfield” is a story about his romantic relationships soon after David’s death. Besides Marc, a successful singer/songwriter who regards Weir as his muse, there’s Phil, a younger guy he meets in an acting class. These relationships are doomed from the start, of course; Weir is too traumatized by death. He notes wryly about Phil, “A relationship that consisted of acting exercises, and an age difference big enough to span Madonna’s career, isn’t equipped to survive….” Elsewhere, he describes random furtive encounters in peepshow booths.

Movies, musicals, and stage plays are alluded to throughout these stories. Three of the stories – “American Graffiti,” “Scenes from a Marriage,” and “Humoresque” – are movie titles, as is “Imitation of Life,” the title of the third section, which contains only one story, the ominously titled “It Gets Worse.” “Katherine Mansfield,” by the way, is the name of the narrator’s friend Marc’s band; it does not allude to the British modernist writer, though Weir’s literary allusions abound, from Barthes and Foucault and Vladimir Mayakovsky to Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allan Poe, Thoreau, Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, Eudora Welty, Jack Kerouac, and so on.

Weir humorously channels the gay trope of worshipping camp actresses. In “American Graffiti” he writes, “I was an actress. I yearned to be. I still do. I wanted especially to be an actress in 1970s Hollywood movies. Those women!” He goes on to name-drop “Jane Fonda, Jill Clayburgh, Ellen Burstyn, Barbara Harris, Cicely Tyson, Carrie Snodgrass, Cloris Leachman, Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Diahann Carroll, Karen Black.” He compares himself to Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

The three stories that make up part two, “Long-term Survivors,” also focus on death and dying, including his mother, now in her 80’s, and an on again/off again lover/survivor named Scott.  His mother lives in a retirement community and has just suffered a brain hemorrhage. “My mother is a movie star without a movie to star in,” he writes in “Humoresque.”

Just as in real life – indeed, it often feels hard to distinguish between fiction and memoir and essay in Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me – the narrator is involved in gay political causes, protesting with ACT UP for AIDS research and care, and with Queer Nation, notably a protest outside the Russian Consulate in New York against Vladimir Putin’s Medieval laws against homosexuals. “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re only drinking beer,” they chant, as they pour out Russian vodka onto the pavement.

By far the most affecting stories are the ones that describe being bullied and called names in his rural New Jersey schools. Not yet even sure of his sexuality, he is nevertheless singled out and tormented by other schoolboys who taunt, “Faggot!” “Fairy!” “Fruitcake!” “Homo!”  “American Graffiti” takes place during his graduation from high school in 1976. As he crosses the stage to receive his diploma, the taunts are audible to all. The story is about his friendship with a girl, Lottie, whose parents seem to assume they are a romantic item. It’s a confusing time for both. The final story in the collection, “It Gets Worse,” takes us back to an even earlier time, in middle school, when the taunting began. “I was president of the fourth grade,” he writes, “my peak. Downhill since.”

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me is entertaining and heartbreaking by turns, always a gripping read.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Nostalgia-Killing-Grace-Paley-Fiction/dp/1636280293

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Sparring Partners from Mooonstone Press, Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

.

.

.

Advertisement

Seasons of Purgatory by Shahriar Mandanipour- Translated by Sara Khalili

seasons

By g emil reutter

In Seasons of Purgatory, Mandanipour writes of life in the Theocratic Republic of Iran. His character development and plot development is fresh in each short story.  Woven through are stories of defiance, front line war, a judgmental village, the taking of a daughter and belittlement of the father.

We meet Mr. Farvaneh in the story Shadows of the Cave. A defiant man who still wears a tie when he visits his wife’s grave. He also maintains a library and a fascination with the animals at the zoo across the street from his apartment. He is also the glue that holds his building together until the end when as in life it really doesn’t matter. Mandanipour brings us to the backward town of Guraab in the story Shatter the Stone Tooth. The narrator is there to help bring some education to the people of the town, yet he spends most of his time in a cave with a stone carving on the wall and a wild dog. The story progresses quickly as the town turns on him and in mass attempt to kill the dog in various barbaric attempts symbolizing the conflict between the man and dog and the town for one is urban and the other rural.  The title story, Seasons of Purgatory, brings us to the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war. Primarily the Iranian soldiers and their commanders who sit above a valley that is no man’s land. Mandanipour captures the violence, disregard for human life as an abandoned Iraqi soldier long dead leans on a rock formation as animals feed on him, bullets strike him and howls fill the valley.

King of the Graveyard tells the story of a husband and wife in search of their son and his unmarked grave in the local cemetery. They search for years, envy those with marked graves unable to grieve for their son. The son killed for opposing the revolution, shot down in the street and dumped in an unmarked grave so the family would be deprived of grieving.  Another couple have a son taken and disposed of and then in horror learn their daughter had been taken and raped, those rapists respond and give the father sweets pretending to be groomsmen. Heartbreaking as the father feigns celebration, dancing in the street.  The story Seven Captains brings a philanderer back to town twenty some years after his married lover was stoned to death for their relationship. It is an excellent example of love and betrayal on many levels throughout the story.

In these tales of collective and individual violence; of boredom, brutality of war and religion; love and loss; Mandanipour establishes himself as a gifted, well-crafted story teller. Seasons of Purgatory is a must read for lovers of the short story. The translation by Sara Khalili to English captures the intensity and vibrancy of Mandanipour’s stories.

You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Seasons-Purgatory-Shahriar-Mandanipour/dp/1942658958

g emil reutter is a writer of stories, poems and occasional literary criticism. He can be found at:  https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

.

.

.

Some Places You May Want to Visit

This is a short list of where you may want to visit to read some outstanding poetry and fiction on the net. Of course you may also desire to submit your work for consideration. Enjoy!

 

North of Oxford wordpress

 

Visit with us at North of Oxford

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

easy-header-new

Easy Street Magazine

http://www.easystreetmag.com/

midnight

Midnight Lane Boutique

https://midnightlanegalleryii.wordpress.com/

scar

Scarlet Leaf Review

https://www.scarletleafreview.com/

InShadesLogo-Square-Blue

In Shades Magazine

http://www.inshadesmag.com/

empty

Empty Mirror Arts and Literary Magazine

https://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/

panoply

Panoply – A Literary Magazine

https://panoplyzine.com/

blue

Blue Heron Review

https://blueheronreview.com/

odd

Oddball Magazine

https://oddballmagazine.com/

pang

The Pangolin Review

https://thepangolinreview.wixsite.com/mypoetrysite

canary

Canary Literary Magazine

http://canarylitmag.org/

jonah

Jonah Magazine

https://jonahmagazine.com/

.

.

The Liar’s Asylum by Jacob M. Appel

appelc_la_w-250x386

By Lynette G. Esposito

The eight short stories in Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum are amazingly fun to read.   The 168 page collection, published by Black Lawrence Press, explores common every day experiences with life twists that both surprise and confirm the human condition.

Appel is a keen observer of people interacting with their life situations.  John Jodzio, author of Knockout, comments,  ”I am in absolute awe of Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum.  The stories here are magnetic and knowing, funny and inventive.  Appel is a master of form—deftly able to conjure up pitch perfect characters whose lips spill out both truth and wit.”  I agree.

In the story when Love Was an Angel’s Kidney on page 120, Appel narrates the story of a young eighth grader fascinated with a high school athlete who comes to her father’s camp for youth who need dialysis. The story, in true beginning, middle and end short story form, shows how love can happen and end anywhere. While the young girl would give up a kidney for her innocent love when she is skinny dipping with him in the camp lake, her financially inept father is losing the camp to the bank and his wife to his best friend.  Her father never finds another woman for whom he would sacrifice an organ, but she wonders about her young love and if he still thinks of her.   She asks:   Am I what remains when an angel’s kidney evaporates in the past? This is an interesting concept when looking at love itself as it fades into the past but remains in the heart.

In Good Enough for Guppies,  the story opens with Divorce infected the air last summer and Appel sets the scene for old women (78) seeking love in a variety of places all told from a candid observer who once in awhile participates in the story by suggesting the relationship he has with his own wife.  The narrator, Gene, and his wife, Shelia, must deal with Shelia’s mother, 78, marrying a man in his forties with a Bronx accent.  Shelia is almost hysterical because it is her mother and Gene attempts to understand survivorship in a long-term marriage.  The story suggests and shows average people reacting to love at various stages in their life and how they react as well as judge others outside and inside the family.

Appel is a master of unique and inventive story lines that are well controlled, developed and meaningful.  He sets clear scenes with unique twists that help the reader see and understand the characters in more than one perception and in more than one dimension.  I enjoyed every story.

The book is available here: https://www.blacklawrence.com/the-liars-asylum/

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana

By Jacob M. Appel

Black Lawrence Press – 2016

Review by g emil reutter

Jacob Appel is an observer of life and family. This collection of short stories captures the internal dynamics of family or what we believe family is. He brings to us the intimacy of sibling rivalry, parental impact, of betrayal with a set of unique characters set in bizarre circumstances and the everyday.

In the story, The Butcher’s Music, Appel sets the tone for this compelling collection of stories. We are introduced to two sisters, one a butcher the other a professional musician who plays a Tecchler cello. In the end Appel leaves us to decide who the butcher is and who is not. In Boundaries he brings us to a remote Customs Station on the Vermont and Canadian border on Christmas. The two agents are snowed in preparing a holiday dinner for the evening and ready to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for entertainment.  In this story Appel captures the intimacy between the two agents who are yet to be romantically involved and how their evening is interrupted by a young woman who approaches their station to enter the United States when they discover her skin is covered in a sheaf of pustules. The tension in the story rises as they have to take her in the station and are exposed to her illness. Appel captures the media obsession and irresponsibility with a story that may not be what it is and the reports on cable news.

Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana is at times dark, at times humorous. Appel’s development of characters in these short stories is simply outstanding and compelling. As one turns the page from one story to the next an unexpected adventure awaits the reader.

You can find the book here: http://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781625579539/coulrophobia–fata-morgana.aspx

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at:https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/