“My husband met some women online and I found out” | Read Joanna Walsh’s story “Online”

Electric Literature has published “Online,” a story from Joanna Walsh’s forthcoming collection VertigoYou can buy Vertigo now from the indie imprint Dorothy (I ordered Vertigo along with Marianne Fritz’s The Weight of Things), the publisher who brought us Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper.

The first few paragraphs of Walsh’s “Online”:

My husband met some women online and I found out.

His women were young, witty, and charming, and they had good jobs—at least I ignored the women he had met online who were not young, witty, and charming, and who did not have good jobs—and so I fell more in love with my husband, reflected as he was, in the words of these universally young, witty, and charming women.

I had neglected my husband.

Now I wanted him back.

So I tried to be as witty and charming as the women my husband had met online.

I tried to take an interest.

At breakfast, I said to him, “How is your breakfast?”

He said to me, “Fine, thanks.”

I said to him, “What do you like for breakfast?”

(Having lived with him for a number of years, I already know what my husband likes for breakfast, and this is where the women online have the advantage of me: they do not yet know what my husband likes for breakfast and so they can ask him what he likes for breakfast and, in that way, begin a conversation.)

He did not answer my question.

Read the rest of “Online” at Electric Literature.

“The History of the Apple Tree” — Henry David Thoreau

“The History of the Apple Tree”


Henry David Thoreau

from “Wild Apples.”

It is remarkable how closely the history of the Apple-tree is connected with that of man. The geologist tells us that the order of the Rosaceae, which includes the Apple, also the true Grasses, and the Labiatae or Mints, were introduced only a short time previous to the appearance of man on the globe.

It appears that apples made a part of the food of that unknown primitive people whose traces have lately been found at the bottom of the Swiss lakes, supposed to be older than the foundation of Rome, so old that they had no metallic implements. An entire black and shrivelled Crab-Apple has been recovered from their stores.

Tacitus says of the ancient Germans, that they satisfied their hunger with wild apples (agrestia poma) among other things.

Niebuhr observes that “the words for a house, a field, a plough, ploughing, wine, oil, milk, sheep, apples, and others relating to agriculture and the gentler way of life, agree in Latin and Greek, while the Latin words for all objects pertaining to war or the chase are utterly alien from the Greek.” Thus the apple-tree may be considered a symbol of peace no less than the olive.

The apple was early so important, and generally distributed, that its name traced to its root in many languages signifies fruit in general. [Greek: Maelon], in Greek, means an apple, also the fruit of other trees, also a sheep and any cattle, and finally riches in general.

The apple-tree has been celebrated by the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians. Some have thought that the first human pair were tempted by its fruit. Goddesses are fabled to have contended for it, dragons were set to watch it, and heroes were employed to pluck it.

The tree is mentioned in at least three places in the Old Testament, and its fruit in two or three more. Solomon sings,—”As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.” And again,—”Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples.” The noblest part of man’s noblest feature is named from this fruit, “the apple of the eye.”

The apple-tree is also mentioned by Homer and Herodotus. Ulysses saw in the glorious garden of Alcinous “pears and pomegranates, and apple-trees bearing beautiful fruit” (kai maeleui aglaokarpoi). And according to Homer, apples were among the fruits which Tantalus could not pluck, the wind ever blowing their boughs away from him. Theophrastus knew and described the apple-tree as a botanist.

According to the Prose Edda, “Iduna keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again. It is in this manner that they will be kept in renovated youth until Ragnarök” (or the destruction of the gods).

I learn from Loudon that “the ancient Welsh bards were rewarded for excelling in song by the token of the apple-spray;” and “in the Highlands of Scotland the apple-tree is the badge of the-clan Lamont.” Continue reading ““The History of the Apple Tree” — Henry David Thoreau”

Does Suttree die? | A riff on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree

Does Suttree die?

At the end of Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree, I mean?

Look, before we go any farther, let’s be clear—this little riff is intended for those who’ve read the book. Anyone’s welcome to read this riff of course, but I’m not going to be, y’know, summarizing the plot or providing an argument that you should read Suttree (you should; it’s great)—and there will be what I suppose you’d call spoilers.

Oarsman is a sculpture by David Phelps, located at the northwest corner of Gay and Church Streets in Knoxville, TN. This photo is by Wes Morgan, part of his Searching for Suttree series.

So anyway—Does Suttree die at the end of Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree?

This question percolated in the background of my brain as I revisited Suttree this month via Michael Kramer’s amazing audiobook version (I also reread key sections—especially the last), in large part because of comments made on my 2010 review of the novel.

The first comment suggesting that Suttree dies at the end of the novel came in 2012 from poster “Jack foy,” who suggested that Suttree “has died in the boat and that it is his corpse cariied [sic] from there and his spirit and not his body hitching a ride at the finale.”

Earlier this year, a commenter named Julie Seeley responded to Jack foy’s idea; her response is worth posting in full:

I kind of agree that Suttree dies at the end also–or at least there are a lot of indications that the ending is meant to be ambiguous. Suttree reflects on his life, saying something to the effect of “I was not unhappy.” He visits his own houseboat and finds the door off and a corpse in his bed. A driver picks him up and says, “Come on,” even though Suttree had never even stuck out his thumb to hitch-hike It feels oddly similar to Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me.” All of the scenery whizzing by faster and faster does feel like (sorry for the cliche) his life sort of flashing before him. This was a thought-provoking novel that I am looking forward to reading again soon.

Julie Seeley’s analysis is persuasive and her connection to Dickinson is especially convincing upon rereading the book’s final paragraphs. In my Suttree review, I argued that the book is a synthesis of American literature, tracing the overt connections to Faulkner and Frost, Poe and Cummings, Ellison and Steinbeck, before laundry listing:

…we find Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and William Carlos Williams, to name just a few writers whose blood courses through this novel (even elegant F. Scott Fitzgerald is here, in an unexpected Gatsbyish episode late in the novel).

Revisiting Suttree this month I found myself again impressed with McCarthy’s command of allusion and reference. Its transcendentalist streak stood out in particular. (Or perhaps more accurately, I sensed the generative material of the American Renaissance writers filtered through the writers that came before Suttree). But one American Renaissance writer I failed to name in my original review was Dickinson’s (near) contemporary Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose work of course filters through all serious American novels. There are plenty of echoes of Hawthorne in Suttree—Hawthorne’s tales in particular—but it’s the way that Hawthorne ends his tales that interests me here. Like the dashes that conclude many of Dickinson’s poems (including “Because I could not stop for Death”), Hawthorne’s conclusions are frequently ambiguous. Like the conclusion of Suttree.

So: Does Suttree die at the end of Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree?

Well, wait. Let’s go back to the beginning. Of the novel, I mean. Like I said, I’d had this question buzzing around in the back of my head as I revisited the book.

So, the beginning. Well, I’d forgotten that Suttree had a twin brother who had died at birth. The twin resurfaces a few times in the text, and there’s even a scene in the musseling section featuring a set of twins. Does Suttree’s twin brother’s death in infancy prefigure Suttree’s own death? How could it not? But—at the same time—hey, it’s ambiguous if Suttree dies; should I have stated my answer to my own damn question earlier?—hey, at the same time, the twin brother’s death is not Suttree’s death sentence, right? It simply introduces a motif—the dead body. Continue reading “Does Suttree die? | A riff on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree”

What did Nabokov do to prepare himself for the ordeals of life?


From a slim profile based on Nabokov published in The New York Times Book Review in 1972. You can read the whole thing here—however, the NYTBR’s edit is different from the text above, which comes from Strong Opinions. In his brief preface to the Strong Opinions version of the interview, Nabokov notes that the questions’ presentation in the NYTBR’s “version would have been perfect had they not been interspersed with unnecessary embellishment (chitchat about living writers, for instance).

“The reticent volcano keeps” — Emily Dickinson


This Dickinson poem is a sort of epigraph to Anne Carson’s novel-poem-poem-novel Autobiography of Red. I had never read either, before today, somehow, but oh my electric!

Typical male protagonist

The figure of Rip Van Winkle presides over the birth of the American imagination; and it is fitting that our first successful homegrown legend should memorialize, however playfully, the flight of the dreamer from the shrew—into the mountains and out of time, away from the drab duties of home and town toward the good companions and the magic keg of beer. Ever since, the typical male protagonist of our fiction has been a man on the run, harried into the forest and out to sea, down the river or into combat—anywhere to avoid “civilization,” which is to say, the confrontation of a man and a woman which leads to the fall to sex, marriage, and responsibility. One of the factors that determine theme and form in our great books is the strategy of evasion, this retreat to nature and childhood which makes our literature (and life!) so charmingly and infuriatingly “boyish.”

From the introduction of Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel.

It was September now (Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree)

It was September now, a season of rains. The gray sky above the city washed with darker scud like ink curling in a squid’s wake. The blacks can see the boy’s fire at night and glimpses of his veering silhouette slotted in the high nave, outsized among the arches. All night a ruby glow suffuses the underbridge from his garish chancel lamps. The city’s bridges all betrolled now what with old ventriloquists and young melonfanciers. The smoke from their fires issues up unseen among the soot and dust of the city’s right commerce.

Sometimes in the evening Suttree would bring beers and they’d sit there under the viaduct and drink them. Harrogate with questions of city life.

You ever get so drunk you kissed a nigger?

Suttree looked at him. Harrogate with one eye narrowed on him to tell the truth. I’ve been a whole lot drunker than that, he said.

Worst thing I ever done was to burn down old lady Arwood’s house.”

“You burned down an old lady’s house?

Like to of burnt her down in it. I was put up to it. I wasnt but ten year old.

Not old enough to know what you were doing.

Yeah.–Hell no that’s a lie. I knowed it and done it anyways.

Did it burn completely down?

Plumb to the ground. Left the chimbley standin was all. It burnt for a long time fore she come out.

Did you not know she was in there?

I disremember. I dont know what I was thinkin. She come out and run to the well and drawed a bucket of water and thowed it at the side of the house and then just walked on off towards the road. I never got such a whippin in my life. The old man like to of killed me.

Your daddy?

Yeah. He was alive then. My sister told them deputies when they come out to the house, they come out there to tell her I was in the hospital over them watermelons, she told em I didnt have no daddy was how come I got in trouble. But shit fire I was mean when I did have one. It didnt make no difference.

Were you sorry about it? The old lady’s house I mean.

Sorry I got caught.

Suttree nodded and tilted his beer. It occurred to him that other than the melon caper he’d never heard the city rat tell anything but naked truth.

Another vignette from Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree—a transition scene perhaps, but one that draws Suttree and Harrogate closer, even as it underlines their differences.

In my review of Suttree a few years back, I argued that the novel is a grand synthesis of American literature, brimming with literary allusions. I singled out Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” as the basis for a later scene with Harrogate, so I can’t help but think of Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” here.

“Gabriel-Ernest” — Saki





“There is a wild beast in your woods,” said the artist Cunningham, as he was being driven to the station. It was the only remark he had made during the drive, but as Van Cheele had talked incessantly his companion’s silence had not been noticeable.

“A stray fox or two and some resident weasels. Nothing more formidable,” said Van Cheele. The artist said nothing.

“What did you mean about a wild beast?” said Van Cheele later, when they were on the platform.

“Nothing. My imagination. Here is the train,” said Cunningham.

That afternoon Van Cheele went for one of his frequent rambles through his woodland property. He had a stuffed bittern in his study, and knew the names of quite a number of wild flowers, so his aunt had possibly some justification in describing him as a great naturalist. At any rate, he was a great walker. It was his custom to take mental notes of everything he saw during his walks, not so much for the purpose of assisting contemporary science as to provide topics for conversation afterwards. When the bluebells began to show themselves in flower he made a point of informing every one of the fact; the season of the year might have warned his hearers of the likelihood of such an occurrence, but at least they felt that he was being absolutely frank with them.

What Van Cheele saw on this particular afternoon was, however, something far removed from his ordinary range of experience. On a shelf of smooth stone overhanging a deep pool in the hollow of an oak coppice a boy of about sixteen lay asprawl, drying his wet brown limbs luxuriously in the sun. His wet hair, parted by a recent dive, lay close to his head, and his light-brown eyes, so light that there was an almost tigerish gleam in them, were turned towards Van Cheele with a certain lazy watchfulness. It was an unexpected apparition, and Van Cheele found himself engaged in the novel process of thinking before he spoke. Where on earth could this wild-looking boy hail from? The miller’s wife had lost a child some two months ago, supposed to have been swept away by the mill-race, but that had been a mere baby, not a half-grown lad. Continue reading ““Gabriel-Ernest” — Saki”

Crimes of the Moonlight Melonmounter (Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree)

Still Life with Watermelons, Frida Kahlo

Two pairs of brogans went along the rows.

You aint goin to believe this.

Knowin you for a born liar I most probably wont.

Somebody has been fuckin my watermelons.


I said somebody has been …

No. No. Hell no. Damn you if you aint got a warped mind.

I’m tellin you …

“I dont want to hear it.

Looky here.

And here.

They went along the outer row of the melonpatch. He stopped to nudge a melon with his toe. Yellowjackets snarled in the seepage. Some were ruined a good time past and lay soft with rot, wrinkled with imminent collapse.

It does look like it, dont it?

I’m tellin ye I seen him. I didnt know what the hell was goin on when he dropped his drawers. Then when I seen what he was up to I still didnt believe it. But yonder they lay.

What do you aim to do?

Hell, I dont know. It’s about too late to do anything. He’s damn near screwed the whole patch. I dont see why he couldnt of stuck to just one. Or a few.

Well, I guess he takes himself for a lover. Sort of like a sailor in a whorehouse.

I reckon what it was he didnt take to the idea of gettin bit on the head of his pecker by one of them waspers. I suppose he showed good judgment there.

What was he, just a young feller?

I dont know about how young he was but he was as active a feller as I’ve seen in a good while.

Well. I dont reckon he’ll be back.

I dont know. A man fast as he is ought not to be qualmy about goin anywheres he took a notion. To steal or whatever.

What if he does come back?

I’ll catch him if he does.

And then what?

Well. I dont know. Be kindly embarrassin now I think about it.

I’d get some work out of him is what I’d do.

Ought to, I reckon. I dont know.

You reckon to call the sheriff?

And tell him what?

They were walking slowly along the rows.

It’s just the damndest thing I ever heard of. Aint it you? What are you grinnin at? It aint funny. A thing like that. To me it aint.

One of my favorite passages from Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree. The title of this post also comes from the novel, several pages later, after the melonmounter has been apprehended.

David Foster Wallace’s blurbs as “a parallel history to the aesthetic agendas he set down elsewhere”

There’s been a bit of DFW overload in the wake of that movie, which has made me wary (and weary) of so many of the “thought pieces” out there. But I really dug Lucas Thompson’s essay “David Foster Wallace and ‘Blurbspeak'” in the L.A. Review of BooksFrom the article:

….I think there are three key reasons why it’s worth paying attention to these blurbs. For one thing, they work as an oblique record of Wallace’s evolving views on what literature is really for, comprising a parallel history to the aesthetic agendas he set down elsewhere. Read carefully, his blurbs reveal intriguing overlaps with these broader agendas, as well as gesturing to the particular qualities he valued in fiction. They also indicate an engagement with a surprising and often counterintuitive range of texts, hinting at Wallace’s broad intellectual interests. And finally, the blurbs themselves are in most cases finely crafted, elegant sentences, which may even represent one of the final frontiers of Wallace’s published — though uncollected — work. Although much of Wallace’s previously uncollected essays, teaching documents, and other work have been published in recent years, the twenty-odd blurbs he composed across his career have, in my opinion, been unfairly neglected. The following survey makes a case for giving these blurbs a closer look.

New American Stories, a collection edited by Ben Marcus (Book acquired, 8.04.2015)


New American Stories is an anthology out now in enormous paperback from Vintage. The collection was collected by collector Ben Marcus. An excerpt from his introduction:

Language is a drug, but a short story cannot be smoked. You can’t inject it. Stories don’t come bottled as a cream. You cannot have a story massaged into you by a bearish old man. You have to stare down a story until it wobbles, yields, then catapults into your face. And yet, as squirrely as they are to capture, stories are the ideal deranger. If they are well made, and you submit to them, they go in clean. Stories deliver their chemical disruption without the ashy hangover, the blacking out, the poison. They trigger pleasure, fear, fascination, love, confusion, desire, repulsion. Drugs get flushed from our systems, but not the best stories. Once they take hold, you couldn’t scrape them out with a knife. While working on this book, I started to think of a it as a medicine chest, filled with beguiling, volatile material, designed by the most gifted technicians. The potent story writers, to me, are the ones who deploy language as a kind of contraband, pumping it into us until we collapse on the floor, writhing, overwhelmed with feeling.

You actually can smoke a short story, but to do so is inadvisable.

I’ll be riffing on the book over the next few weeks with our Correspondent in Colorado, Mr. Ryan Chang.

Here’s the tracklist:

Said Sayrafiezadeh, Paranoia

Rebecca Lee,  Slatland

Jesse Ball, The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp, and Carr

Deborah Eisenberg, Some Other, Better Otto

Anthony Doerr, The Deep

Yiyun Li, A Man Like Him

George Saunders, Home

NoViolet Bulawayo, Shhh

Maureen McHugh, Special Economics

Sam Lipsyte, This Appointment Occurs in the Past

Lydia Davis, Men

Donald Antrim, Another Manhattan

Zadie Smith*, Meet the President!

Denis Johnson, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

Joy Williams, The Country

Christine Schutt, A Happy Rural Seat of Various View Lucinda’s Garden

Don DeLillo, Hammer and Sickle

Mathias Svalina, Play

Lucy Corin, Madmen

Mary Gaitskill, The Arms and Legs of the Lake

Wells Tower, Raw Water

Rachel Glaser, Pee on Water

Tao Lin, Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money than There Exists

Rebecca Curtis, The Toast

Robert Coover, Going for a Beer

Charles Yu, Standard Loneliness Package

Deb Olin Unferth, Wait Till You See Me Dance

Kyle Coma-Thompson, The Lucky Body

Rivka Galchen, The Lost Order

Donald Ray Pollack, Fish Sticks

Kelly Link, Valley of the Girls

Claire Vaye Watkins, The Diggings

*Isn’t she English? I guess it’s the stories that are American.