In her new collection of short stories, New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Shelly Oria covers a lot of ground. As the title suggests, many of the stories revolve around individuals who are physically and metaphorically torn between the United States and Israel. But the book’s main draw is the Oria’s uncanny ability to create rich, fully realized characters in the span of just a few pages, and to do so in a way that demonstrates her grasp of an impressive range of styles, genres, and structures.
Oria herself was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Israel, and learned to write in English in New York—an experience that is echoed throughout the collection. In the eponymous first story, for example, an Israeli woman living in New York confronts her feelings about the three-way romantic relationship she’s currently in and grapples with the knowledge that its other two members are sneaking around together. In another, entitled “The Disneyland of Albany”, an Israeli artist brings his daughter along with him on a trip to sell his paintings to an American Zionist, while he himself tried to suppress his conflicted feelings about the political actions of his homeland in order to make the sale. The expat point of view is thoroughly examined by the author, but it is interwoven cleverly throughout the book and often serves as a secondary plot point.
Oria puts a wide array of narrative techniques and structures on display. One story tells the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship through numbered kisses. Another reveals the relationship between two roommates and lovers by breaking down their activities each day of the week. Yet another catalogues the conversations a woman has with retail workers in fitting rooms. Rather than distracting from the story itself, these creative approaches to revealing the inner life of a character serve to pull the reader further into the narrative.
The variety doesn’t come only in the format. Each installment swings wildly from the seemingly mundane (an Israeli expat visiting home and not being able to distinguish between the siren that signals a time for remembrance and the on that connotes emergency; the fear a woman has that her wife is going to leave her for her male cooking instructor) to the magical realist. Between the front and back covers awaits tales of sinister fog, a woman who can stop time, a phantom beeping, and more.
Regardless of style or genre, each narrator–be it a man, woman, straight, gay, etc.–shares a desperate desire for human connection and a paralyzing fear of loneliness and isolation. The woman in the threesome and the roommate with the weekly routine both work very hard to avoid doing anything that may drive away the passionate woman in their respective lives, while the woman who has the power to stop time allows herself to be used by a man who has promised her a baby. The fact that the reader can become so invested in such a quick snapshot is a testament to Oria’s deft touch as a storyteller.
Despite the disparate elements it contains, New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 is a harmonious, compulsively readable collection. Oria has demonstrated in an intelligent and subtle way that some needs and truths are universal, regardless of the version of the world you happen to inhabit.
New York 1, Tel Aviv 0
By Shelly Oria
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Paperback, 9780374534578, 229 pp.
Al Michaels' book covers Super Bowls, Olympics, World Series and working with legends. David Greene meets the play-by-play voice, and talks to Michaels about his book, You Can't Make This Up.
“The best artists explore form’s elasticity, sensitive to how far they can stretch it before the work fails.”
“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from writer Justin Allen.
Justin Allen is a writer from Northern Virginia. He earned his BA in Literary Studies from Eugene Lang College, The New School last spring and has written for AFROPUNK, The Studio Museum in Harlem’s Studio Blog, and Saint Heron. He is also one third of artist collective BD GRMMR, alongside friends Yulan Grant and Brandon Owens. He lives in Brooklyn.
At 12:00 a.m., I arrive to a friend’s apartment for his birthday party. The thirty or so guests wear an assortment of skinny or cuffed jeans, streamlined training sneakers, and designer jackets. Olmeca Altos tequila-cocktails get poured and passed around in plastic cups as arriving guests contribute their bottles and six-packs to the selection.
I’m in Brooklyn, namely Bedford-Stuyvesant. I wear cuffed, black Levi’s 501s and a pair of black Nike Air Max. I should mention my age–22–and that few attendees look to be over thirty. Most are of color, primarily Black and Latino, and many are queer. Many, including myself, are also not from Brooklyn–neither born nor raised here–but we live here now.
At 7:30 p.m., I arrive to Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s concert venue the Warsaw. The space is cold and white. The weather’s dropped from summer to fall temperatures and the audience is predominantly white.
I am here to see The Blood Brothers, a hardcore band I have not seen perform live in eight years, but whose music I have more than once described as changing my life.
Formed in Seattle, Washington in 1997, The Blood Brothers dabble in a collage of genres: metal, funk, post-punk, blues. Songs switch tempo abruptly, toy with unfollowable structure, bombard the listener with lyrics shrieked, screamed, and entangled in elaborate metaphors addressing topical issues. Their 2004 album Crimes responds to the reelection of George Bush.
Their drummer, Mark Gajadhar, is South Asian and their bassist, Morgan Henderson, is Black. Between their set and the opener’s, the venue plays mid-2000s hip-hop–Three 6 Mafia and 50 Cent–that none of the white people know how to move to.
Early on I see another Black guy and feel both exposed and encouraged to say hello. He sees me, too, but we don’t introduce ourselves.
I have the day off, so I work from my apartment and think about my grad school application. I assure my three recommendation letter–writers I will have a personal statement to them today. I have written nothing. The kitchen’s dirty, so I clean. After I clean, I work out: five sets of seventy crunches, twenty push-ups, thrity squats. After I workout, I do laundry.
This feels a little clinical, no? This tone, I mean. Maybe it’s less skillful of me to tell you I have no idea what I’m doing, but–I have no idea what I’m doing, reader. Rarely, throughout my life, have I kept a journal, so writing daily entries for others to read feels new. Uncomfortable. Maybe I should be less self-doubting.
Anyway, where was I?
So, I do get to writing my personal statement, but not until around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.
This past friday an editor from Lambda Literary contacted me about writing a piece for their monthly column The Banal and the Profane, for which queer writers document each day of one week. I, of course, accept the invitation.
I mention this because, when I begin my personal statement, I am thinking about said forthcoming and currently unwritten Lambda Literary piece. This results in my writing a hybrid of what I imagine to be a personal statement and what I imagine to be my Lambda Literary piece instead of just one or the other.
I begin with my going to see The Blood Brothers in Greenpoint and describe my reimmersion into a crowd of white, hardcore music enthusiasts in ASICS sneakers and hoodies–a demographic I thought had gone extinct back in 2009 when I quit Myspace. From here I transition into how The Blood Brothers inform my writing practice:
The Blood Brothers’s song structures introduced me to formal rule-breaking, and how to break rules effectively. What conventions I had learned at the time for qualifying good music–on pitch vocals, catchy choruses, sonically and conceptually approachable lyrics–their music upended. At first I hated their music, its screaming and seemingly random shifts. But soon the band taught me that music, and art, are not about fitting preconceived forms, but innovating forms to fit subject matter. The best artists explore form’s elasticity, sensitive to how far they can stretch it before the work fails.
Rapper Mykki Blanco releases their new album, Gay Dog Food, this month, and they’ve just unveiled a slew of featured artists via Facebook. Their most interesting: Kathleen Hanna.
Interesting, for me, because I haven’t listened to Kathleen Hanna since high school when she played with Le Tigre and I had a Myspace. Though too young to experience the Riot Grrrl movement she partook in, I rummaged through Bikini Kill videos on YouTube when, freshman year of college, a friend posted photos of the band on her Tumblr.
I google Kathleen Hanna and surf her website. Unknown to me, she’s remained productive in recent years, this year curating a show in Canada and even starting a new band in 2013. My most interesting find, however: a post on her blog about Brontez Purnell, a queer, Black zine-maker and singer for Oakland-based band The Younger Lovers. Continued browsing leads me to a video for The Younger Lover’s song “Get Up Get Up (Love Makes My Heart Beat Faster).” The song ignites nostalgia.
Will this be somethin’, or will it be nothin’ at all? While you waste your time, I put my make-up on.
I recall my teen years of sexual discovery and suburban apathy–a simultaneous absence of, disinterest in and hunger for explanations.This former version of myself I both retrospectively romanticize and presently try to avoid, determined to distance myself from past emotional obstacles while curious as to how pasts fumbles inform current hesitations. I utilize third person to keep him at a distance.
Will I been anything than a fucking clock-puncher?
In the song, Purnell’s voice sounds young in a stridently soft and curiously confident sort of way, and echoes through an empty space of guitar chords as upbeat as they are inquisitive. His lyrics express uncertainty and contemplation, but demand answers.
Good men have died so I can take the spot, so Ima–
My former version was too timid to demand answers, so he’d slam shut his bedroom door and blast music that demanded answers for him. Because suburban Northern Virginia was designed for comfort and convenience, a narrow spectrum of emotions kept neighborhoods and their households quiet. That this constriction slowly ate away at him, no one seemed to notice.
Get up, get up, it makes my heart beat faster. Get up, get up–faster, faster, faster…
An off-duty police officer shot and killed an eighteen year-old Black male in St. Louis, Missouri. When I wake to reports, various news outlets publish the victim’s name as either Vonderrit or Vonderrick Myers. Some report that the officer shot him sixteen times, some report seventeen. One account states that the victim fired at the police officer first while another, that he was not concealing a weapon, but holding a sandwich he just bought from a convenience store.
Scrolling Facebook, I also read news from Los Angeles where, a week ago, two robbers shot and killed a trans woman identified as Aniya Parker. The robbers attempted to steal Parker’s purse before opening fire. They fled the scene.
In her speech to my graduating class this past May, Zadie Smith unpacked the glossy allure of the “private”:
Walk down these crowded streets with a smile on your face. Be thankful you get to walk so close to other humans. It’s a privilege. Don’t let your fellow humans be alien to you…There will always be folks hard selling you the life of the few: the private schools, private plans, private islands, private life. They are trying to convince you that hell is other people.
“They are trying to convince you that hell is other people.” That line struck me. Hell is other people. I feel parallels between the news reports and this statement–between frequent killings and the equation of others to hell, a feared place for punishment–though I’m unable to explain what I feel as thoroughly as I wish I could.
Maybe I’m not making sense, but I struggle to make sense of these things. I’m just sick of fear and of people turning up in headlines dead. If this is confusing, I assure you I’m just as lost but even more angry. All I’m certain of is that America is in pieces.
Around 11:00 p.m., I arrive to a friend’s apartment for his birthday party. Before I arrive, my temporary debit card, my only form of payment, expires. I bring no alcohol.
My friend answers the door wearing a wide-brim, black hat and holding a champagne glass. I begin to explain my coming empty-handed and he welcomingly swats away my apology– “Oh please, come inside, come inside.” He tells guests his birthday is officially at midnight, so before we sing we wait for our iPhone clocks to switch to 12 a.m.
The fifteen or so guests wear an assortment of skinny or cuffed jeans, streamlined training sneakers, designer jackets, and sip cocktails made from a selection of juices and liquors accumulated on the kitchen table.
I’m in Brooklyn, namely Carroll Gardens. I wear my black 501s, cuffed. Few attendees look to be over thirty. Most are Black and all but a select few are queer.
You may have noticed, reader: of the two birthday parties I’ve attended with you, I don’t mention how old either of my friends are. This is because being a twentysomething means we all think we’re old, even though we’re still relatively young. Probably because most of us believe we should know what we’re doing, but actually don’t. Or maybe we just think we don’t. Or. Maybe we know, but say we don’t to excuse ourselves from humiliation when we fail. Maybe all of us, all ages, are always failing.
Anyway, I’m out of stories to tell you. The night ends with me getting drunk, hailing a cab in the rain with friends, and going home. The rest of my Saturday is relatively uneventful. I would end this with a poignant observation–a one-sentence paragraph, for emphasis. But that might suggest I know what I’m doing.
God'll Cut You Down is a new book based on the tangled true story about the murder of a white supremacist by a black hustler. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with the book's author, John Safran.
Ron Rash's latest collects 34 of his best short stories; critic Alan Cheuse says they're searingly beautiful, "as if someone has taken a stick from a blazing fire and pressed it into your hand."
The Office for Intellectual Freedom sponsors IFAction, an email list for those who would like updated information on news affecting intellectual freedom, censorship, privacy, access to information, and more. Click here to subscribe to this list. For an archive of all list postings since 1996, visit the IF Action archive. Below is a sample of articles from November 16 – November 22.
Filtering, Censorship, Whistle blowing, Misinformation, Free Press, and Free Speech Articles
Access, the Digital Divide, Net Neutrality, and Intellectual Property Protection Articles
Privacy, Surveillance, Hacking, and Cybersecurity Articles
NPR's Scott Simon talks to Carolyn Chute about her new novel, Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves. The book follows a reporter as she investigates a remote commune and its charismatic leader.
Fortune India editor-at-large Hindol Sengupta's new book chronicles India's lurching progress away from a state-controlled economy to a more open system that encourages business and investment.
Provence, 1970 examines the early American modern food movement and its pioneers, including James Beard and Julia Child. It appears at No. 13.
A Michigan man sets out to prove that apparent phone calls from the beyond are actually a hoax in The First Phone Call From Heaven, appearing at No. 10.
George W. Bush details the life of his father, George H.W. Bush, in 41. It debuts at No. 2.
Debuting at No. 1, Stephen King's Revival centers on the disturbing relationship between a disgraced minister and a drug-addicted rock musician.
The lists are compiled from weekly surveys of close to 500 independent bookstores nationwide.
President Obama announced an executive action on immigration this week. For an in-depth look at the issue, author Gustavo Arellano recommends two nonfiction collections about Mexican immigrants.
Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, hosted Wednesday's ceremony — and made a few racially charged jokes while doing so. He apologized after a backlash Thursday. Also: A Beach Boy plans a memoir.
Poet Tess Taylor reviews "Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine. It's been nominated for a National Book Award.
Fresh out of college, Peter moved to New York City in 1975. Wide-eyed and determined to make it as a poet, he and his boyfriend, Harold, moved into a place in Brooklyn, ready to face whatever hurdles came their way. Fast-forward to 2012, Peter is a bigwig at an advertising agency and Harold has long since died of AIDS, along with dozens more of their friends. The city has changed; Peter has changed, but he still longs for fulfillment, for family and for love. Is that too much to ask for at 59? In Now and Yesterday, Stephen Greco richly details gay life in New York City, providing a nuanced account of how it’s changed throughout the decades. And by splitting the narrative between the 28-year-old literary hopeful, Will, and the aging Peter, Greco explores generational issues often overlooked within this “Peter Pan” gay culture of ours.
Peter first met Will at a party his friend Jacob was throwing. Will was the bartender, and while Peter stood out for his looks and physique among an aging crowd of New York City gay socialites, the recognition was not mutual. A relatively successful journalist back in San Francisco, Will learned quickly that this eastern metropolis was not an easy place to make one’s way. There were the challenges of establishing oneself on a career path, of manoeuvring through a cityscape built upon the foundations of drugs, sex, and money. Peter, too, had had to learn to navigate the scene, and while there were certainly differences, the struggle to remain true to oneself amidst a sea of superficiality was central to both of their concerns.
When Jacob recommends Will for a party Peter is throwing, the two meet properly, and a friendship begins to grow that surprised them both. Yet as feelings unfurl and make themselves known, the specifics of their circumstance begin to confuse. Peter isn’t looking to be a “daddy,” and he doesn’t want to just fool around. His feelings for Will are deep and ever growing, but he fears making a move. Is he too old for Will to see him as sexual, as desirable? The longer we live, the more learn to endure, but one is never too old to be afraid. The fear of being kindly rejected because of his age, the shame of having to watch Will squirm as he explains he’d rather be friends, prevents Peter from expressing his true feelings. As young as Peter may feel, their generational differences stand out stark against an otherwise placid background
New York is a haven of gay culture and society–and it has been for a long time–but it’s easy for this present generation to forget that these streets were once a battleground. The same density of people that allowed the gay arts to flourish ensured that AIDS would ravish a generation. Those who lived though it, like Peter, carry the loss they experienced with them. Death, which made itself known in such a dramatic way, is always just beneath the surface. And especially as his fellow survivors begin to age, death returns in new and frightening manifestations. Jacob who, like Peter, survived his partner’s death, is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. To have been conscious of one’s own mortality for decades breeds a unique approach to life–and the closer they move towards death, the more nuanced their understanding becomes.
The weight of his past is something that Will can see in Peter, but not fully understand. It’s a burden that Peter doesn’t realize is inhibiting his future. By allowing the spectre of Harold to remain so absolutely, he ensures that there isn’t space for anyone to truly fill the void he left. It took many years, and the love of a guy as special as Will, to show him that he needed to move on from his loss, not merely survive it.
At its heart, this is a novel about love. By focusing largely on the insecurities of Peter, Greco allows his internal dialogue, which does come off as slightly sophomoric at times, to highlight the universality of our approaches to romance. Increased age does not carry with it a lessened desire for companionship. At 59, Peter doesn’t want to settle for a boy-toy– he’s still after the romance of his life. Greco’s novel shares the important message that even within a community that idealizes youth, it’s never too late to find true happiness, and it’s not wrong to want it.
Now And Yesterday richly details the cultural evolution and history of New York’s gay scene and its attention to the AIDS crisis, in particular, makes it an important addition to the canon of gay literature. The fact that the history of HIV isn’t included in most school curricula, coupled with the generational barriers that the gay community has yet to properly dismantle, makes this a uniquely accessible and relevant piece of work that educates as much as it enchants.
Now and Yesterday
By Stephen Greco
Paperback, 9781617730603, 444 pp.
In his short story collection, former Marine Phil Klay takes his experience in Iraq and clarifies it. On Wednesday, he won the National Book Award for fiction.
When journalist Alec MacGillis started looking into McConnell's early politics, he says he was "startled" by how moderate the Republican used to be. The book traces McConnell's shift to the right.
In a ceremony that saw both icons and newcomers honored, it was a fiery speech by the science fiction legend that had attendees talking. Also: A Jonathan Safran Foer book gets adapted to ballet.