PEN/O.Henry 2011 – Mark Slouka, “Crossing” from The Paris Review

Art: "Father and Son" by Glory Fraulein Wolfe

Sometimes it wasn’t so easy to know how to go, how to keep things alive. Sometimes the vise got so tight you could forget there was anything good left in the world. But he’d been talking about this place – the rivers, the elk, the steelhead in the pools – since the boy was old enough to understand. And now it was here.

Any discussion of this story will necessarily spoil it. But good news – it’s available online, so take a few minutes (it’s fairly short) to read it before you continue here.

Something, isn’t it? Who would’ve guessed that a story that starts so quietly (if ominously) would have us hanging on the edge of our seats? Not me – Man vs. Nature has never really been my thing. But when it’s combined with Man vs. Self – well, now, that makes it special. I suppose all Man vs. Nature is really a metaphor for Man vs. Self. This one just does it so well.

The story opens with impending doom all around – rain, mist, black road, razor sharp line of open sky. And yet our protagonist isn’t gloomy: “…his mind flashed to a scene of a black road, still wet, running toward mountains larded with snow like fatty meat. For some reason it made him happy, and he hadn’t been happy in a while.” That image – “larded with snow like fatty meat” – that’s pretty distinctive. Memorable. There’s a reason for that. “Fat is Flavor” all the chefs like to say – it’s also a heart attack.

He has a boy in the car. Early on, the narration just keeps referring to him as “the boy”. Turns out it’s the man’s son, and he’s picked him up from mom’s. “…when the boy came running into the living room he threw him over his shoulder, careful not to hit his head on the corner of the TV…” He’s caring towards his son. It takes some reading, given the aloof narration, but the boy’s happy to see him and Dad is playful yet protective of his son. It’s kind of odd, this disconnect between what’s happening and how it’s narrated. I’m not sure what this means, other than it’s unsettling. Maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be.

I got a little stuck on the details of crossing the river, first with the backpacks, then with his son on his back. It’s a shallow river, but seems like it’s rough enough that just walking across isn’t possible: it requires a walking stick and precise maneuvering to avoid slipping on the rocks and getting washed downstream where some unimaginably horrible fate awaits. Thus the boy can’t cross on his own, he must be carried. I had to turn off the left side of my brain for this one. I just took his word for it. He certainly seems to know what he’s talking about. He realizes, once he and his son are across and hiking to the barn they will use as a campsite, that on the return trip he’ll have to carry the walking stick in his other hand. Well, wait, he just crossed the river twice in each direction, he changed hands then, yes? Oh, wait, he means while holding his son, which he did on only one of the four trips already taken. I got unnecessarily bogged down in this.

But it was really quite something once I let go of figuring out exactly what was happening in real space-time and just read the story. Take it slow. Have to get back. Melted marshmallows over a campfire. A father-and-son tradition. Maybe this time he could make this right. Half his son’s rib cage cupped in his palm as they slept. Stuck in the stream. Can’t go forward, can’t go back, can’t stay still. The world consists of can’ts. And then:

For a second, he felt the hot, shameful fire of remorse and then unending pity – for himself, for the boy on his back, for the world – and at that moment he remembered hearing about a medieval priest who, personally taking the torch from the executioner, went down the line of victims tied to their stakes and kissed each one tenderly on the cheek before lighting the tinder.

Charles May, of the wonderful Reading The Short Story blog, recalls the ending of Beckett’s The Unnamable:

…you must say words, as long as there are any, until they find me, until they say me, strange pain, strange sin, you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

I’m completely unfamiliar with Beckett’s trilogy; reading it gave me goosebumps, though I don’t begin to comprehend it.

In the Contributor Notes, Slouka tells of a time when a river crossing like this actually happened to him. For fifteen years, he couldn’t get the story to work, to affect others the way the event had affected him – “There are few things more excruciating than learning you’ve put your child’s life in danger,” he says. It was only when he came across the tale of the medieval priest that he was able to figure it out: he must leave them in midstream.

A word about the title. It’s not “The Crossing” or “Crossing the River.” It’s the present imperfect form of the verb, Crossing. In the process of crossing. Left in midstream. And very, very incomplete.

He’d never get this story through a workshop that way. Good thing he didn’t have to try.

PEN/O.Henry 2011: Leslie Parry – “The Vanishing American” originally published in The Virginia Quarterly Review

"White Buffalo" by Marilyn Speck Ballard

The last word he spoke, right before the gas, had been a retort to one of Olivieu’s stories: baloney. That’s it. Sometimes he woke up at night, stuttering and apoplectic. Baloney? He couldn’t think of anything more than that?

This was another story I dreaded reading. I’ve already said I hate Westerns, and seems that goes for stories about filming Westerns, too. I read the first half page maybe four, five times before flipping over to the next page. But man, is this loaded with everything.

Indian #9 is the only name we get for the protagonist. He’s not an Indian at all, he’s an actor, an extra. His voice was “gassed out of him in a trench in the Argonne Forest.” The movies – pre-talkies – seemed like a fine career. He’s been playing gangsters and crooks for a few months, and this is the first time he’s had an actual line – he will move his lips and the words will appear on the screen. “Soon, back home at the DeLuxe Theater, everyone would see him speak again – his mother, his sister, his neighbors – all crowded onto those stained velveteen seats, squinting through the roiling dust at his face, two stories high.”

A herd of buffalo has been shipped to Catalina for this scene. Indian #9 ponders that no one is coming back for them. And the particular buffalo he’s working with in the scene is white. He thinks it’s pretty remarkable. So do I.

He goes through a lot during his day of filming, merging it with the war, writing a letter to Olivieu, the army buddy who didn’t make it. And there’s a young blond man, another actor, who kind of hangs around him. They end up crowded into the cab of a truck with a cute costume girl: “…even though she twisted subtly against Indian #9’s groin, grabbing his thigh with every lurch and turn, he was all too aware of his knee knocking gently against the blond man’s….”

The scene of the actual movie scene being shot, and the immediate aftermath, is really nice, rich and again loaded. Instead of his assigned line, he mouths, “Olivieu!” Maybe a little too loaded. Is that a valid complaint? There’s too much in the story? Nothing feels truncated or underdeveloped, there’s just so much. A little heavy-handed, maybe. Like surf-and-turf with a side of lasagna. But delicious.

After the scene is shot, he has some camaraderie with the other actors, and he has his moment with the costume girl in the dressing room.Life is good. “Still, he couldn’t help but think of the buffalo, how they had been left there in the glen overnight, how no one would be going back for them.”

When the movie plays in his neighborhood, he goes to see it. I think I held my breath for these three pages. I was completely surprised. It’s a little heavy-handed again, I suppose, but I loved it anyway. Sometimes too much of a good thing is a good thing.

I enjoyed reading Parry’s Contributor notes about the herd of buffalo (their descendents are still on Catalina today) used for the real film The Vanishing American, how she saw that film when she was a kid, and how later she put it together with an idea she had for a veteran who’d lost his voice in the war. This is her first published story. I’m eager to see what’s next.

The Second Person Study, Part 12: Writers Speak For Themselves – Marko Fong, Thomas Kearnes

Are You closer together... or are You farther apart?

Since I am very lucky to have access to writers and editors at Zoetrope, and since this study actually started there as a question I posed on one of the message boards, I asked some of them to tell me of their experience, either as writers or editors – or both! First up, Marko and Thomas. All stories mentioned here are available online!

The main question I asked was: “Why did you use second person?”

Marko Fong (who appears several times in this blog for his stories and his insights into issues of craft, like here and here) intrigued me initially by saying he saw 2nd person as a kind of alienated first person, so I asked him to elaborate on any second person stories he had available online:

Zin,
thanks for thinking of me…I have two online. Also very glad that you’re going to write something about 2nd person.

I struggled with Law of Return until I decided to go second person. One of themes of the story is what makes someone complete. Would the narrator still be the narrator if he didn’t have OCD. Can Ambrose be Ambrose without being Itzhak’s father? The “you” is used to underscore that issue of “which is you?” and in the narrator’s case is the OCD you or is it something to excise? He’s trying to figure it out.

Battleship, I saw in second person. I think it’s also an alienate “you”, but in a different sense. It’s more of a “this can’t be happening” feel. There’s this science fiction like scene at the beginning, there are all these things that happened in the family. The narrator almost hasn’t had a chance to process it all normally. He sees it happening, but he can’t acknowledge feeling it. Hence “you” is both alienated and sort of accusatory.

So for Marko, in the case of “Law of Return” a change to second person resolved a writing issue and strengthened the theme of the story! And I love the idea that he heard the “you” as he started writing “Battleship” and used it as alienated and accusatory! These insights into how a writer writes are gems! Thank you, Marko!

Thomas Kearnes also uses second person, quite often in fact. He is very helpful in figuring out what is keeping a piece from working – one of my mantras when I am working on a piece is, “Will Thomas be surprised?” – so I was delighted to get some insight from him on his use of second person:

My history with second-person narration is quite extensive. Indeed, the first flash I published back in 2005 was written in the second person. I have no clue why I employed this device. To my recollection, I’d never read a short story that used it. It was total inspiration.

Throughout my career, the “you” voice has cropped up again and again. To date, I’ve published at least 10 stories that use it. In some instances, the narrator is addressing another, usually a lover. In these instances, the narrative style just increases the intimacy. It’s like reading a stranger’s love letters.

In other instances, however, the “you” voice is meant to be, in the words of one of my colleagues, “the voice of God.” In “Your Big Dick Can’t Save You Now,” I felt a first-person narrative would be unwise since my protagonist is so shut down emotionally. A third-person narrative, on the other hand, would allow the reader to witness the story’s vulgar, heartbreaking elements from a distance. Using the second-person voice forced readers deeper inside my protagonist’s psyche. I wished to offer them no escape. You know you’re screwed when even the narrator is taunting you!

Hope that’s a good enough explanation. Thanks again for including me in your project. Feel free to ask me anything else if necessary. Take care!

I love this idea of the increased intimacy of second person, as in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Once in a Lifetime” – and also as the “Voice of God” – the ultimate instruction manual! This is such a powerful story, and I agree part of that power is the use of second person. Thank you, Thomas!

I think it is very interesting that one author is using second person to show the alienation the protagonist experiences, and another to increase intimacy between protagonist and reader – and both work! I just saw the movie The Bicentennial Man where Robin Williams plays a robot who changes over the course of two hundred years, and in the beginning he refers to himself as “one” – “One is glad to be of service.” Then only after he moves closer to humanity does he refer to himself as “I.” I think the “you” of “Battleship,” the way in which it is used, invokes a sense of the more formal “one” and is distancing, alienating. But the “you” of “Your Big Dick Can’t Save You Now” is more of someone looking at the protagonist – what Thomas calls the Voice of God. This is similar, I think, to the way in which third person can be very close to a character, or very broad, and can zoom in and zoom out. So can second person!

Next up will be editors Ellen Parker (FRiGG) and Joe Levens (The Summerset Review).

The Second Person Study, Part 11: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

Hello, You are Zin, Helping Yourself

Begin by meeting him in a class, in a bar, at a rummage sale. Maybe he teaches sixth grade. Manages a hardware store. Foreman at a carton factory. He will be a good dancer. He will have perfectly cut hair. He will laugh at your jokes.

Here is a book that even announces it will be an instruction manual! Not all of the stories are second person, but most of them are, and I have to admit, I got tired of it pretty quickly.

Part if it, I think, is time.

I got this book from the library and just started reading the stories without looking at any preface or introduction or jacket blurbs. And I kept thinking, This feels like the 80s. And you know what? It was published in 1985! It was her debut collection! I did not realize this. Oh, the 80s. Madonna, Reaganomics, MTV, AIDS, and Women Who Love Too Much. Women who in the 70s had learned to live alone and get professional degrees and have sexual desires without feeling ashamed and give orders to men and who pays at a business lunch when the host – uh, hostess – is female. Women who already went through the cute answers to “What does your husband do?” and no longer have to get his signature to apply for credit or have a tubal ligation. And now these women in the 80s were sitting around wondering, so why are we so miserable? and looking right back at themselves because it must be their fault, after all, so do not love so much, do not love the wrong men, learn to meet your own emotional needs, as you learned to meet your sexual and reproductive needs via a variety of appliances and medical procedures.

So Robin Norwood wrote Women Who Love Too Much and Lorrie Moore wrote Self-Help. I found Norwood annoying at the time. I find Self-Help annoying now, and I am sad about that. I wonder if 20 years from now I will find “How to Leave Hialeah” annoying. I wonder if I would find it annoying if I read it now. I wonder if I would have found Self-Help annoying if I had read it then.

But I am happy I read it! I now know that the instruction-manual form of second person, what Richardson calls the “hypothetical,” is best used in infrequent small doses.

Project Runway Season 9 Episode 5: Off the Track

Picasso's Guernica

First: I’m going to say some mean things about some contestants. So I have to acknowledge upfront that they might be totally different IRL – they’re under a great deal of stress, they’re sleep-deprived, they’re competing for a lot of money and professional exposure, and who knows how things have been edited. So I’m talking about electronic images on my TV screen, not flesh-and-blood people (though I believe I’m getting to the point where if I ran into a couple of them on the street, I’d vomit on their shoes). And I reserve the right to change my mind when I re-view this in a few months. Or even a few days. After all, I change my mind about Anya every episode.

Second: In the opening credits, they cut Tim’s “How do I have attitude?” and then “Attitude!” I’m truly dismayed that I even noticed this.

Now, let’s get started. Bert is a snake in the grass, a passive-aggressive psychopathic monster, and a lying liar who lies. See “First” above.

Now, I’m trying to see Bert as the Michael Costello character of this season: misunderstood, ganged up on. Or as Marcel on TC2 (as opposed to the later Marcel who annoyed me but still didn’t deserve what happened to him way back when). But from what I’ve seen, Bert isn’t misunderstood, or awkward, or autistic. He’s just an asshole.

NOW we can get started.

Little magical elves – oops, not any more – deliver boxes with T-shirts and sneakers to the designers while they sleep. Anthony Ryan asks Bert, “What’s that?” and Bert looks straight at the pile of boxes on the counter and says, “What’s what?” This goes on a while until Bert decides he’s had enough fun. Cecilia is depressed and won’t get out of bed. Becky tries really hard to coax her. Eventually she succeeds. Danielle wasn’t expecting to be in the bottom three in the last challenge, but is glad that at least she was in the top of the bottom three, which I think is called “lowering expectations.” Remember the first week when she wasn’t satisfied to be merely safe? Just wait ’til you see how low expectations can go…

They all get dressed in their tee shirts and sneakers and meet Heidi and Tim at some famous arena. Since the challenge will involve four teams of three, they will run a single 200-meter lap, and the first four to finish will be team captains. Well, it’s a switch from pulling buttons out of the evil velvet bag, but it’s pretty unfair to the women and the 57-year-old. Not to mention the chubbies, but everyone knows we chubbies deserve whatever unfairness we encounter.

Anthony Ryan doesn’t want Bert on his team. Viktor doesn’t want Bert on his team. Bert doesn’t want anyone on his team.

But before we get anywhere, Cecilia tells Tim she’s had it, she doesn’t want to take anyone else’s opportunity, and she’s quitting. Heidi sounds a little exasperated, and they watch her walk out of the arena. Becky interviews “If Cecilia really feels the way she says she does, then its good she’s gone” and sounds a bit meaner than I think she meant to sound.

They run the race. Olivier falls, but gets up and keeps running. Josh, Bryce, Anthony Ryan, and Viktor are the winners. Tim sounds really surprised when he announces Bryce came in second. He doesn’t really look like he gets that much exercise, does he? But the kid can run. Viktor is surprised he did so well, since he never runs unless someone is chasing him with a gun. Bert comes in last, and Heidi joins him for the last few meters. Olivier’s knee is very bruised. Tim says, “That looks bad.” Heidi says, “That does look bad.” I think it looks bad, too. Olivier lies down. Next thing we know a Medic is taking his blood pressure.

Wow, they’re killing designers! Drama! Cut to commercial. It’s pronounced a “panic attack” which seems about as vague as Ivy’s “dehydration.” I wonder if one of the qualifications for this season was the ability to run 200 meters.

They pick teams:

Josh takes Anya.
Bryce takes Kimberly.
Anthony Ryan takes Laura since they worked together before.
Viktor takes Olivier because his style is clean, he can construct, and he compromises.
Josh picks Becky.
Bryce takes Danielle.
That means Anthony Ryan gets Bert. He’s not thrilled. He thinks Bert’s stubborn and childish. He has no idea, but he’s about to find out.

Viktor and Olivier are a team of two. You know they’re going to bring back Julie – that’s probably why Cecilia left, because she wanted to give Julie another chance. But no! They aren’t falling for that this time. They tell Viktor he can pick any of the four eliminated designers. Immediately shouts of “Josh C!” ring out. But Viktor takes a minute, consults with Olivier – and picks Josh C. So Mormon Josh is back. Which means I have to go back to typing Mormon Josh and Not-Mormon Josh. That’s ok, it’s better than trying to tell the difference between Danielle and Julie. And it’s ok for Cecilia too – her plan to benefit Julie failed, but they get to hang out together at the sequester house for a while. She’s probably pissed that things didn’t work out the way she thought they would, but she should’ve quit on the runway before Julie was eliminated.

And now, finally, after someone quits and someone nearly dies, we get the actual challenge. Heidi is shilling her sneakers for New Balance, so the idea is to design outfits, not necessarily exercise clothes, to go with those shoes. Think fashion, it could be a dress or a suit, basic with a twist, it must use the same fabric as the shoes, which is denim and/or suede. Each team must present three cohesive looks, and the winning look will be sold on Amazon as part of the line for NB.

Team Not-Mormon Josh (Not-Mormon Josh, Becky, Anya): Becky is excited because she’s done a lot of knitwear. Except, wait, I thought they were supposed to use suede and denim? She suggests an off-the-shoulder dress and leggings; Josh tells her no, no leggings, not ever, they’re so over. She wants to design a sideways N on the back as part of the straps, and Anya gently shakes her head. Joshua interviews that Becky is not a style icon. Anya interviews that Becky is trying out ideas and it must not feel good that they’re shooting them all down. But apparently Anya agrees with Josh that they’re pretty bad ideas and need to be shot down. They pretty much have Becky doing all the sewing and Anya and NMJosh doing all the designing. Josh interviews, “I need Becky to be working, sewing, I don’t kneed her to be thinking too much, or designing.” She’s not happy, being treated like an intern. Heidi asks during her walk-through, are you just sewing and the others are designing? And Tim says, I don’t want your role to be so triviliazed that you’re thrown under the bus. Becky gets worried. Things escalate. Not-Mormon Josh tells Becky: “You do dowdy dresses, you know that, right?” Becky runs to the ladies’ room, but the cameras follow her (the camera operator must be a part-time papperazzi). NMJ tells Anya Becky’s demographic is forty-to-death which would be funny if Becky wasn’t so upset. I really feel for her, having been the outcast dismissed by the cool kids a lot myself. that’s ok, Becky, you’re the first designer whose name I knew! Anya goes into the ladies’ room to comfort her. NMJ joins them, right in the stall, the camera picking up every sniffle, and he gives what I thought was a very complete apology, not “I hope I didn’t offend you” or “I’m sorry IF you took offense” but more like “I’m sorry, I’m tired, my head is speaking before I’m registering what I’m saying, it was inconsiderate of me to be so crazy.” I was impressed. It’s the most sincere apology I’ve seen on reality TV (or in politics, for that matter) since Stephen apologized to Candace in the TC1 reunion for telling her she was going to fail horribly because she bought foot cookie cutters. I’ve already noticed others disagree. I don’t think he made up for what he did, but I do think he was decent, if belatedly. They share a group hug in the ladies’ stall “with sanitary things all over” as NMJosh says. That gets a laugh out of Becky. I have no idea if they let her actually design her outfit, but she seems reasonably not-miserable for the rest of the show. ETA: With all the drama this week, I’ve neglected to give enough credit to Becky. I name her Mensch of the Week. Or whatever the female equivalent of Mensch is (Mensch, for those who weren’t around when Yiddish was cool, is a Good Guy). She could’ve wrung a lot more drama out of this than she did. Instead, she accepted Not-Mormon Josh’s apology for his disgusting behavior, and got back to work. And she didn’t say a word on the runway when Anya accepted kudos for the dress she, Becky, sewed, because Anya never sewed jersey before, either. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s gonna catch up with her some day. But not today.

Team Viktor (Viktor, Olivier, Mormon Josh): Viktor starts talking about a motorcyclish jacket; it has Michelin-man sleeves which is much cooler than it sounds. Olivier is talking about a longer skirt, and Viktor says it has to be activewear. Olivier reminds him about “think fashion, it can be a suit” and Viktor says, “Yeah, you’re right, ok.” So much for Viktor being hard to work with. Mormon Josh thinks Viktor does a great job as leader, keeping them on track, but then again Viktor is the reason he’s back in the competition so he might be biased. Olivier makes a long elastic-waist skirt, and Viktor and MJosh worry it’s a little Amish. When Heidi does her walk-through, she says it’s a little farm-y, and tries it on. They think it looks great with her jacket, but as she points out, they don’t have her jacket to cover it up. Tim points out they have very different looks: “Auntie Em is not going to get on a motorcycle.” That’s pretty good. Olivier interviews he can prove them wrong. Uh oh.

Team Bryce (Bryce, Kimberly, Danielle): Bryce goes back to the cowl in spite of Nina practically having a seizure over his idea to do a cowl last week. When Heidi does her walk-through, she is dubious: it’s a hoodie-cowl, and she asks if it’s really cool, in a tone that suggests it isn’t anywhere near cool. She doesn’t like any of their initial looks, in fact, so they pretty much start over. Laura interviews that Bryce is a sunken ship (I’ll have to remember that one) and he should’ve stayed in the back of the race so he wouldn’t have to lead. Laura isn’t even on his team, but she’s one of the Cool Kids so she can say stuff like that about other teams.

Team Anthony Ryan (Anthony Ryan, Laura, Bert): Things start out bad. Bert does three sketches and they don’t like any of them. He interviews that it’s like they’re the team and he’s just tacked on. Yeah, that’s accurate, and it isn’t nice. Except… it looks to me like Bert creates situations so he can exploit them. Remember the opening scene where he couldn’t see the boxes AR was telling him about? The boxes right in front of him? Well, now he can’t remember AR’s name, because AR is “insignificant.” When Heidi does her walk-through, she’s concerned about AR’s “Grecian Goddess high-waisted jumpsuit.” That doesn’t sound too complimentary. Bert has little other than a narrow skirt and muslin top, and Heidi says she loves chic but she doesn’t wear sneakers with chic. Heidi, if you’re going to be designing shoes, you must learn: they are not sneakers. They are running shoes. Athletic shoes. Walking shoes. Sports shoes. Shaper-shoes. Anything but sneakers. No one pays $129.99 for sneakers.

After the walk-through, Heidi points out time’s a wastin’ and they only have a few hours – but then she announces that instead of working until 11pm they have until 4am and everyone cheers. Because wouldn’t you cheer if someone told you that you were going to work until 4am?

Now, here’s the thing: AR explains to Bert that if he’s not interested in changing his design as they’ve asked him to, they will explain this on the runway and he should not consider it throwing him under the bus. Bert intervieews something awful about them being from the Midwest, and he has some kind of problem with Not-Mormon Josh over which sewing machine he’s using (I’m not sure how you can call dibs on a sewing machine but apparently NMJosh thought he did and Bert wormed his way in while NMJosh’s back was turned) which isn’t important but just shows what a total ass he is, and how he ends up in the middle of all these little skirmishes. It’s not coincidence. He just thrives on creating chaos and then sitting back and saying, “See how everyone’s against me!” NMJosh gets in a parting shot about Bert being closer to death than he is. I’m not sure if he means literal death, as in being old (which is mean), or in the competition. I’m trying to be fair here. But I still say Bert creates these things. I’ve been around people like this, they’re all calm while the people dealing with them are frothing at the mouth. I was married to one of them.

The Runway

Heidi comes out with the same hands-in-pockets pose as Nina used last week. On Nina it looked kind of sexy and hip. On Heidi it looks like she’s doing a hands-in-pockets pose, and it doesn’t help that she’s wearing a sparkly black pants outfit with her famous sneakers. Mormon Josh is wearing a shirt I really love, bright colors in checkerboard arrangement. I love that shirt. Mormon Josh beats Heidi in my book.

Erin Wasson is guest judge. I don’t know who she is. Apparently she’s a model and a designer. Just like Heidi!

Team Viktor:
Viktor made a grey drawstring-waist dress, loose and flowy, and his motorcycle-ish jacket with Michelin-Man sleeves. There is a nice feel to the dress which could easily have been capital-D-Dowdy, and the jacket is impressive. I wonder if they go together, but maybe the differences unite them, like this team.
Mormon Josh, who joined the team late and had no say in shopping or overall direction, sends out narrow black pants and an asymetric-necked grey t-shirt and a model in a back brace. Oh, wait, no, her backpack fell off the straps! No, that’s a design element, these black ribbed cuffs around the shoulders. It looks like pajamas to me, including the rumples. But he did make decent pants. And I have to relunctantly admit the diagonal seam across the tee is interesting.
Olivier presents The Crucible, Act II. Remember Michael Drummond and his dumpy grey skirt for the Jackie Kennedy challenge? This is its sister. It looks like the fabric is ribbed horizontally. And on the Lifetime Rate the Runway pic, she has a horizontal something just below her crotch. It’s bizarre, completely unexplainable. Maybe the top is long and is tucked in? Or she’s wearing some kind of strange chastity belt? It didn’t leap out at me on the runway, so it could just be a fluke that got caught on film. On top is a black shell (there are some interesting seams or darts horizontally, kind of nice) with a – say it with me, chillun – racerback! And there’s either a belt, or something has a black banded waist.

Team Bryce:
Bryce is the huge surprise this week. Considering how awful his work has been so far, he sends out a really nice short grey dress with buttons on the side. Wow. This is one of my favorites. It’s casual but crisp, and the way the armholes are formed make it interesting.
Danielle makes a turquoise chiffon tank (it’s got black knit lining which peeks out at the neckline but looks like a double tank) with a racerback (another season trend?) and a black slightly high-waisted skirt. I don’t think there’s anything terribly wrong with it, but it is a little sloppy looking, especially the neckline of the tank and the waist of the skirt. Apparently it’s a lot more sloppy looking in person.
Kimberly sends out grey shorts with a black cuff (I think it’s weird – it’d be fun in bright colors but the grey-and-black is too restrained for such a fun element, as if I know what I’m talking about) and a shortish buttoned jacket with roomy sleeves over a black tee. The jacket looks really elaborate, but it’s hard to tell because it’s all black. I think Kimberly might be the dark horse in this thing. I don’t particularly like this outfit, but it looks like quality to me. Again, like I know what I’m talking about.

Team Anthony Ryan:
Anthony Ryan brings out a horrible flabby charcoal grey romper thing. Rompers are nasty under the best of circumstances, but this one is extra-special-nasty. The shorts part looks like he gathered up some fabric and passed it between the model’s legs, then sewed it on the sides. Diapery. And there’s a light grey patch on one shoulder that I suppose at least gives you something to look at besides the massive herd-of-camels-toes. The sleeves do a sort of pleasant drape when viewed from the back, if you can take your eyes off the crotch. Anthony Ryan is in big trouble. I kept thinking, he’s toast.
Bert has a watery blue print off-the-shoulder top and a narrow short grey skirt. It’s very nice, actually. That galls me to say, but it is what it is, and it is quite nice. I’d call it one of my top three looks.
Laura sends out light-on-dark horizontal-print shorts (maybe it’s a skirt, I can’t tell, it’s too dark) with a dark-on-light vertical print tank and a khaki flutter-front vest. Hmmm. I think the vest might be interesting, and I think the reversal of top and bottom in print and toning is an interesting concept but all together it just looks sloppy. Not horrible, but not great. At least it’s interesting.

Team Not-Mormon Joshua:
Not-Mormon Josh makes a sleeveless tee in grey-on-grey zigzag print, black shorts, and a very interesting vest that’s half sheer cutout. I didn’t get too good a look at it – maybe it’s only sheer cutouts in the back? – but it caught my eye and I went “oooh, what’s that?”
Anya sends out pretty much the same dress she’s made twice before. At least the back is the same. It’s mostly that grey-on-grey zigzag print, nice, with a bright neon pink outlined grey insert down the front. These front inserts must be this season’s latest trend, because everyone’s doing them. It’s the same halter-into-racerback she always does, with a very exposed zipper. There’s more pink around the hem. I wonder if she’s going to be another April: “what a nice black sheer with cutouts thing” “very chick black sheer with cutouts thing” “you’ve been doing the same thing every week, you’re out”. Or if they’re so smitten by her charm they don’t even see that she can only handle one neckline. Remember, Laura helped her sew the neckline and collar on Nina’s Jumpsuit look. It’s a nice look. The zipper is a little horrifying, but that’s just me. It is quite pretty. Another favorite.
Becky has a grey and black tank top with a short tight black skirt with a horizontal striped side panel and that same neon pink outlined insert off to the side. It’s not terrible. It looks kinda hubba hubba to me, but most things do.

The judges announce there is no clear high or low team, so they’re going to talk to everyone. Which they would’ve done anyway since they would’ve had to have had two high and two low. But this way it sounds like they’re doing something different.

The interrogation

By the way, did you know ombre is gradation in tones? I know because the same commercial ran at least three times during this show.

They go for Team Anthony Ryan first. It goes bad, fast. AR disses Bert’s look, and turns out it’s the one the judges like the best o their group, which makes Bert do a little dance of joy and makes me want to pop him, but I understand. In his mind, he’s been abused. This is Bert’s talent, to make it look like he’s the one being dumped on when he’s got everyone else so messed up they can’t function. He’s very good at it. He should run for office in the Tea Party, except, oh, yeah, they’d bar the door if he got too close and fumigate the room afterwards. AR points out that he took Bert aside and told him they were going to say they tried to get him to change his look- and Bert denies it! It’s on tape! I saw it! Bert is a lying liar who lies! Either that or he forgot, just like he didn’t see the boxes he was peering over the morning before. Fact is, Bert has passive-aggressiveness down to a science. He should give lessons on how to drive people crazy. AR’s Fan Favorite rating is 34%. Bert’s is 4%. (Anya is in the lead with 43%). But my heart is sinking, because all signs are AR is going down tonight, and Bert is going to gloat. In the judges’ “little chat” they conclude that Anthony Ryan lost control of the bus. Well, there it is, he’s the team leader, he failed to lead his team, and he made a crappy garment. Butter him, ’cause he’s toast.

Team Not-Mormon Josh is up next. Heidi says he used the extra hours she gave them to bedazzle everything. He defends the pink accents – I like them, too. But Heidi is looking for boring, I remember that from last season, poor Mondo working in grey. Everyone loves Anya’s look, especially the exposed zipper. Her model looks very much like Kojii from a few seasons ago, but it’s probably just the hair. MK tells Anya it bothers him that she took something so soft and tried to tailor it too much. But he loves it anyway. Nina likes NMJ’s shredded vest (it isn’t shredded, really) and the side insert on the shorts, but thinks Becky’s shirt is too short and her skirt is too tight. Yeah, that’s the hubba hubba factor. MK calls it a hacked tee. Then comes the question we’ve all been waiting for: how did you work together? NMJ presents it pretty honestly, and Bekcy doesn’t dispute anything. The judges note that in spite of the conflict, their collection is much more cohesive than AR’s conflict-ridden team. In their Chat, they note that NMJ picked one teammate for her vibe and one for her sewing skill, and he led well. Yes, he led well in recovering after he beat Becky into a bloody pulp.

Time for Team Viktor. They love Mormon Josh’s backbrace tee. The model says he’s reinvented the t-shirt, it looks like the straps of a backpack. Yes, it does, are you saying that’s a GOOD thing? They love that Viktor went road warrior and ask who came up with the vibe. Viktor, of course, which is kind of a surprise to me. They aren’t crazy about Olivier’s Amish look, it doesn’t go with the others. In chat, they praise Viktor’s leadership. Maybe this goes some way towards identifying where the problem was in the Stilts challenge. Heidi notes he also made a very ambitious garment.

Team Bryce front and center – MK likes Bryce’s grey dress the most. I agree! The other two look like they were designed by more than one person. He’s very critical of Danielle’s turquoise chiffon tank, especially the knit lining. Nina doesn’t understand adding that color in only one place. They suggest it would be better to have Kimberly’s terrific jacket over Danielle’s yuck top, because the jacket doesn’t go with the shorts and it would cover the jacket. In their little chat, Nina points out Danielle has ambitious plans but thinks she’s more of a wizard with chiffon than she actually is. I don’t think Danielle’s look is all that bad. But I didn’t think her Nina look was all that bad either.

In the lounge, Anthony Ryan gives his much-touted quote: “I have not been this pissed since I had cancer.” Ok, Anthony Ryan, that’s two, one more mention of cancer and you’re outta here. And I’m on your side!

In the Judges’ Chat, Heidi goes off on Anthony Ryan. Nina fights for him. Wow, I’m on Nina’s side for once. That scares me. Because AR does deserve to go home. Except I hate to see Bert win this round like that – and make no mistake, Bert is fighting a war, and it’s less overt than Penny coming after you on FNS, but it’s just as calculated. You say one thing wrong to Bert, he hates you forever, and he’ll do everything he can to destroy you. Of course, Anthony Ryan cooperated.

They get into the very interesting debate about whether it’s “the worst garment that runway” or if overall performance and promise are taken into account. No one on PR, to my knowledge (which isn’t vast), has ever claimed they judge each runway without considering the past, as they keep claiming on TC (and given Jen’s elimination in Episode 2 of All-Stars, I tend to believe them). But come on, Christian Siriano should’ve gone home for his prom dress, Gretchen should’ve gone home for several of her looks, Santino should’ve gone for the exploding phoenix skating costume, Wendy for just about everything she ever made, etc etc. They’ve always considered past performance and who they want to keep around for balance or drama or whatever. They’ve never claimed otherwise, until now, and now they’re pretty much disowning a policy they never had.

Heidi lines everyone up and says, “This is my challenge and you might have noticed I’ve been changing the rules a little bit. So I want to do mone more thing to mix it up.” I never realized that the person whose challenge it is could change the rules. After the garments have been made.

Viktor wins. There is clapping and dancing. He gets immunity, and his dress and motorcyclish jacket will be in the NB collection on Amazon.
Not Mormon Josh wins, too. He gets immunity, and… Ah, here comes the interesting part – Anya’s dress will be in the collection. Huh? Doesn’t that mean Anya wins? It means Heidi is picking looks for her line and getting them cheap, making money from the designers designing the looks, in fact.

For elimination, it’s down to Danielle and Anthony Ryan. Danielle? What did she do that was so awful? Danielle is eliminated in one of the most blatantly unfair aufs ever. I’m flabbergasted. Ok, so I’m glad Bert doesn’t get to dance on AR’s grave. But Danielle was no way no how deserving of this. Heidi tells AR he would’ve been out if it had been up to her, but she was overruled by the Marie Clair machine.

I just visited Amazon:

Anya’s dress (“This edgy-sporty maxi dress has such great details, like contrast piping at the hem and an exposed zipper in the back…Designed by Anya Ayoung-Chee and Joshua McKinley“) [emphasis added] in slightly different fabric – more like camouflage, and by the way with the pink-piped center insert eliminated – costs $118, which is very reasonable. I don’t see any contrast piping at the hem. I also see the model is wearing open-toed sandals, not sneakers, unless they make open-toed sneakers. Still, it’s nice.

Viktor’s dress (“Soft and deconstructed, this little frock has a cool, crinkly texture, making it ideal for traveling.
Designed by Viktor Luna”) is unavailable – now there’s good marketing right there. The motorcyclish jacket is shown on the main page, but not on the item page, so I’m thinking it’s not part of the deal. [ETA: Viktor's dress is now up for $98, the motorcycle jacket for $398]

Next week, they work with children. Olivier glues the top to his model, which is against the rules. I love the fashion industry, where you have to have rules against gluing things to people.

The Second Person Study, Part 10: Daniel Orozco, “Orientation”

Hello I am Zin, come right into your office!

Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the Voicemail System answer it. This is your Voicemail System Manual. There are no personal phone calls allowed.

This is hilarious! Anyone who has ever worked in an office will love it! And very happily it is available online (it is fairly short and a very quick read) so you can see what I mean!

It is, however, puzzling to me. It does not seem… like a story? It is more of a scene, yes? It conveys a place, a setting, an atmosphere, but no narrative at all. It feels like a novelty piece. It is an orientation tour, with the airing of the dirty laundry of all coworkers. Advice about the temps. Admonitions about the coffee fund and supply closet. I loved it!

Orozco has his first story collection just freshly published, with this as the title story. And the New York Times review comments: “Seventeen years after it was first published in The Seattle Review, the story’s sentences retain their snap, but anyone reading it now — 15 years after the hysterical workplace simulacra of Saunders’s “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” and 10 years after Ricky Gervais’s comedy series ‘The Office’— is likely to find its setting and tone shopworn.” I do not think I would go that far, but it is not as cutting edge in content as it once was. I am still very eager to read his collection.

It is definitely a dramatic monologue, and again I am caught in the person-and-a-half quandary. It does have far more of a “you” feel – an instruction manual feel, per the Richardson category of “hypothetical.” (I also think there is an autotelic feel to it but I will get there in a minute). There is very little “I” in it. In fact, we end up knowing something about everyone except the speaker of the monologue and the person being addressed. It is also the most autotelic pieces I have read outside of the explanation Richardson gives of the term! So – but not when discussing work flow and commands not to touch the coffee maker! So it manages to be all three of the types of second person!

But… it is still addressing a homodiegetic character! A new employee, who seems to have asked a question when the orientor (the only voice we hear) says: “What do I mean? I’m glad you asked that.” This to me is the only real false note of the piece, it just feels like the reason that sentence is there is not because the orientor would actually say that to an orientee who had just asked a question, but because it is necessary to break away from the reader and get the attention back on a homodiegetic character – which means it is not second person! Even though it is all three types of second person! But it is not!

But – and here I am torn between two authorities – Janet Burroway, author of one of the most widely known and most respected writing texts, Writing Fiction, uses this story in that very volume as an example of second person! I am not going to tell her she is wrong! I am so confused! I even emailed Brian Richardson in the hopes he might be able to help me figure out this dramatic monologue thing, but he probably thinks I am trying to enlarge his mortgage or finance his private parts (borrowed from the clever fellows at Right Hand Pointing).

This is one of those playful aspects of second person, I think! It is very playful! I felt played with!

In any case, the story is quite wonderful, and if it is a little less startling now that dysfunctional offices, like dysfunctional families, are part of pop culture, it is still fun to read!

Television Catch Up

Hello, I am Zin!

Now that Food Network Star is over, I am not blogging any TV shows, but there is some very brief follow-up and some add-in I want to do so I am combining it all together!

Food Network Star: I did manage to watch the first episode of The Sandwich King, the new show Jeff Mauro won this time around. If I were Giada, I would tell him, “More energy!” I think they are prepping him to get out of the kitchen and be Guy Fieri Lite, because he spent half his time in a Chicago beef stand (the Chicago version of our New England clam shack, I guess). Apparently Chicago takes beef sandwiches seriously. He spent four hours making a pot roast (and a day and a half marinating a jardinaire, which is basically high-calorie crudites) to make a pot roast sandwich and call it Chicago beef. Ok. He also made figs and cheese on foccaccia. Ok. There was something about it has to be stinky cheese. He used Fontinella, which I do not think is that stinky, if I am thinking of the same thing – but I could be wrong, cheese is not my strong suit. He said it is made from Fontina and cheddar and other non-stinky things, which seems rather bizarre, or maybe he said it tasted like a combination. To me, stinky cheese is Limburger. I once ordered a cheeseburger to go at the grill across the street, and got it with Stilton because I thought it sounded cool (I did not know what it was) and on the way up in my elevator I wondered if someone had left garbage in the elevator all day and it still smelled. I was pretty upset when I found out it was the cheeseburger I had just bought. Now that, to me, is stinky cheese. And Jeff? Please, please, please! There is no “m” in “sandwich”!

Anyway, Jeff was subdued and I felt bad for him, like he was the horse that was broken, except that was Chris. I hope he is enjoying it! I do not think I will bother with his show any more. I suspect he will be off doing something about Chicago Diners and Dives pretty soon. But it is not like I am very good at predicting!

The Glee Project I did not blog about this, but I looked forward to every episode and even rewatched some of them! I confess: I am a bit of a gleek. The second season was pretty bad, but I still want to put Kurt in my pocket and carry him around right next to Mondo (I am going to have a collection of Tiny Pocket Gays pretty soon, they just make me feel better! Maybe I will even add Rachel Maddow, though she is in a very different category but she still makes me feel better – I have her website on my Favorites list just so I have a teeny little thumbnail Rachel Maddow smiling at me every time I open something). So The Glee Project was sort of the Next Glee Star except it was a lot better because everyone really had something to offer, even the people who went home really fast. Well, maybe not the first guy, he was a bit of a pill, but who knows what they edited out. And there was the guy who quit because he couldn’t keep on kissing girls seeing as he is a Christian and he does not think it is ok to kiss one girl when he is dating another (though he managed to kiss the pretty girl and only drew the line when it came to kissing the fat girl. To be fair the pretty girl kissed him and he was surprised, so surprised he had to call his mother and confess his sin. I am not making this up!).

And the final result was the most rewarding of any competition show I have ever seen! Everyone won! I actually thought of a 60 Minutes episode I saw about ten years ago, about “trophy kids” how an entire generation has a room filled with trophies just for showing up, because it is the era of “everyone wins” and employers were complaining because nobody seemed to know how to actually make an effort, they felt they should be rewarded just because they made it to work and not even all that late! So I thought, this is the result, reality shows where There Are No Losers (except all the people who were eliminated before the finale of course – sorry Matteus, and poor Hannah, they still believed right up to the very end, but in the end kids it always, ALWAYS comes down the Beautiful People and One Black Diva).

It was really an amazing show because none of them were jerks! Oh, sometimes there was some snivelling and a little hint of Mean Girl, and some Hey Me Tooism, but all in all they were pleasant and quite talented. I have become interested in Wicked because of “Defying Gravity” and you may see the Gregory Maguire book appear in this blog some day! And I am kind of happy all four finalists won, because they are all pretty good and I hope this will be a good step for them. I just hope someone will also see Hannah and Matteus and Cameron and Ellis and McKynleigh (I am not sure if that is exactly how her name is spelled, but it is spelled with a lot of bells and whistles like the “y” and the “eigh”).

So Samuel, of the dreadlocks (I have a well-known love of dreadlocks) and the smoky gaze, gets seven episodes on Glee, and then we will see. He was a lot of fun. When Do-Not-Kiss-Me,-I-Am-A-Christian-Cameron finally left, leaving Ryan Murphy to long for another actor to play the Christian character he has been dreaming of (because, you know, the actor has to be Christian, it is not enough to just play a Christian – is it ok to restrict hiring actors on the basis of religion? I do not think you can insist your secretary or your chef or your accountant be a certain religion, but show business always has different rules), Samuel stepped up and declared he loves Jesus SO MUCH he has a tattoo of “Jesus Christ” on the back of his neck (but we never saw it). That was to make up for saying he did not really want to play someone gay because his mother would be upset but he explained to her it was only acting and she realized it is ok as long as he is not actually gay. Seriously, show business has very different rules, there are places where you would get fired for saying things like that, but the rumor is Ryan is displaying his broad-mindedness now and embracing other views. Ok. I see Samuel as another Susie from FNS: tell me what you want me to be, and I will be it! Then in twenty years they write a memoir about how they gave up some aspect of themselves to be a Star.

And Damien gets seven episodes too, because he won, too. He is adorable, I have to say. He is very Irish right down to his brogue. He performs in Celtic Thunder, which PBS airs ad nauseum. Oddly, he turned into a swing singer. He insists he can not dance but he moves nicely. He is pleasant. He has these eyebrows that operate independently. The plan – at least what was muttered on the show – is to have him be a foreign exchange student, and poor Brittany can not understand a word he says but has a crush on him. I can see that!

They were very clear that Alex did not win, but he gets two episodes anyway. Which is good, because as the episodes went on, it became clear that Alex is the Voice of the group. Absolutely amazing, powerful, soulful, just beautiful. Alex is a guy, and I am still trying to figure out if that means he has always been a guy or if he is in transition, because he could be either a guy or a girl. He is gay, by which he means, I believe, he is attracted to men. And of course he is black and in high school, so he is living the nightmare they portray on the show. I do not think I ever saw him really smile. He played in drag a couple of times, and he is very good at it though he has not yet learned to walk in high heels. He sings girl songs just like Kurt does, which is sweet (one of my favorite lines of the terrible second season was “I make my living singing the female parts”). And he sings the hell out of them. Listening to him at the finale, it was clear, he was in his own league, and I am glad he got some recognition and will get some exposure on Glee. I think as he heals from his adolescence, which is not even over yet, he can become a real Force.

And Lindsey, who they tried to make the bitch. “I am a trained soprano so that is why I can nail it” she declared in the first episode, just so we knew and did not think she was just some scruffy kid who happened to sing. She is tired of being perfect, the pretty girl. She is more Rachel Berry than Rachel Berry. I have to confess, I came into Glee late – about halfway through the first season – and I thought Rachel was “the popular girl” for about three episodes before I realized she was “the obnoxious one”. Because everyone is a type on Glee. And that is who Lindsey is. She sings real pretty, though. And she is pretty.

So I am looking forward to seeing these people (I will not call them kids – they are not kids, even if they are going to play kids on TV) on Glee in a month or so! And I very much enjoyed The Glee Project and am sad to see there will be a second season – because it will not be the same. They will try to “drama” it up, people know what to expect now and will bring in what they think they want, and it just will not have the off-the-cuff strangeness about it. But I will watch it anyway!

Project Runway Season 9: No, I am not the one blogging this, but of course I watch it! And I have to say that the thing with Anya getting help is going to come back in a later episode. Maybe one of the people who helps her is going to get jealous that she is in the top three and s/he is not, and they will point out to the judges that maybe she is not the prodigy they think she is; or maybe Viktor will (stupidly, IMHO) forget his restraint and will start bitching; or maybe she will not get help one week and will send out a dress that is unfinished and Heidi will say “What Happened?” and it will all come out and the judges will be Shocked. Except – people help each other all the time! There is nothing against the rules about it! And in fact I would like to see Michael Kors try to make a jumpsuit in twelve hours, go ahead, I want to see that! But the way they are playing this, it is going to come back. And then I will say my favorite words: “I told you so!”

The Sing-Off will be back for the third run in the fall! I have mixed feelings! I loved it the first year as a surprise Christmas week special! It was so nice, in that week when nothing is on TV, to watch such a fun show! Then they expanded it a little for the next year, but it still was basically taped in the summer and broadcast in December with one finale night. Now they want to turn it into American Idol, and that makes me sad! It will screw up the college and high school groups for one thing. It means more pressure to put on a good show, not simply to present the groups and have them go for it. I suspect it is going to be much more pop and rock oriented – no more Sweet Adelines or Whiffenpoofs or Old Black Men (I still get searches for “old black men on the singoff”). I loved that it ran for three nights straight, and that will change. I hope they do not bring audience voting into it until the very end! The good news is that Pussycat is gone. I am not familiar with her replacement but she is not part of a Vegas dance troupe and that counts in her favor! And Ben Folds of course will be back. In spite of my reservations I am looking forward to it!

Thank you! That is all!

Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi: “Gilgul” from The New Yorker, 8/15-22/11

Robert Zucker: "Spirit of Kabbalah" 1976

Robert Zucker: "Spirit of Kabbalah" 1976

“You know,” she said almost shyly, “that I have the ability, if you wish, to look into your eyes and tell you when you will die?”
“No, I didn’t realize you could do that.” He hesitated for a moment. “And I don’t want to know.”

The take-away from this story, for most I suspect, will be: Huh? There is no answer. Ravitch, broken and desolate, tries to discover something that will heal his soul, hears Gerda’s story, and works on interpreting it within his life. He fails, at least he has not succeeded by the end of the story. We don’t know what the answer is, either. Huh?

But what if the story isn’t about the answer, but about the question?

The New Yorker background article about this story – it isn’t an interview, since the author died in 2009 – is more revealing than the story itself, perhaps. Yerushalmi was a historian, not a fiction writer; this was his only fiction. His specialty was the Spanish expulsion of 1492. His particular interest was the relationship between “Jewish memory and Jewish history,” looking scientifically as a historian at something more visceral and cultural. This duality, the conflict between head and heart is reflected in Ravitch, with his educated father poring over Hebrew tomes, and his mystically-oriented mother worried by superstitions about the Angel of Death and fingernail parings.

I was caught up in this story while reading it. I had to force myself not to skip ahead to get the answer – no, stay on the page, stay in the column, and as I got closer to the end (I allowed myself a glance to check for the little black diamond at the end of the text on each page, so I knew I was almost finished) I started wondering how the story could possibly be resolved in two columns… one column…three paragraphs… a couple of lines, what? There is no resolution? That is the resolution? Ok…

From the little I’ve read of Jewish stories, they seem to have the same impenetrable quality as Buddhist koans. They make no sense to me until someone explains what they’re about, then they are completely clear. But there’s always this beautiful quality that something, something important, is happening, if only I were wise enough, well-read enough, to understand it. The background article brings in Kafka’s “Before the Law;” yes, I see the similarities, the gate meant only for him, even the fleas, and I’m still not sure how to put it together with this story. I’m not sure what Ravitch is supposed to do. But I’m thinking that my insistence about framing that as the central question is exactly what the story is about.

Ben Marcus: “What Have You Done?” from The New Yorker, 8/8/2011

Art by Marcia Petty, "Generations"

"Generations" by Marcia Petty

Delay the body time, the time itself, the time, while he built up his nerve, or whatever strategy you employed when bracing yourself for Cleveland. For the people of Cleveland. His people.

This story contains its own syllabus for at least three classes, one on the reveal of information (slowly, gradually, stealthily), another on choosing setting (from the Book Bench interview – don’t worry, I’ll get there), and finally one on the use of very close 3rd person. Plus a psychology class or two on You Can Go Home Again – In Fact, You Can Never Leave. I don’t know where to start.

I will defer once again to the wise Betsy at The Mookse and the Gripes who writes: “This is a superior story of peculiar power, and its effects depend upon a slow reveal, so if you haven’t read the story yet, I’d recommend you read the story, not this!” I agree. So if there’s any chance at all you can find a copy of The New Yorker from August 8, 2011 at a friend’s house or your local library or for that matter your dentist’s office, stop now. You don’t want to spoil yourself. Go get your teeth cleaned, and read. It’s worth it. And if your dentist doesn’t have The New Yorker in her waiting room, get a better dentist.

On the reveal of information: in an eight page story, we’re still learning and confirming background on page eight. It’s the Ben Marcus way of avoiding flashbacks, he informs us in his Book Bench interview: “The characters in the story — Paul’s mother, his father, his sister, and his brother-in-law—they are the back story, because they react to Paul as if nothing has changed…. Maybe if I can find a way to write flashbacks that don’t seem digressive, or don’t put a huge parking boot on a story, killing its momentum, I will. For now, when I disrupt the present of the story and give a flashback, it’s not only like I’ve defanged the story, but I’ve extracted all of its teeth and deflated its whole face as well, so what’s left is a rumpled mess.” I think it’s pretty brilliant, this fuzzy-focus and hinting, and I hope he never learns how to write a flashback. Storing the backstory in a character, or a set of characters – I wish I’d thought of that. This is what writing teachers are talking about when they scold me to “stay in scene” and stop zigzagging back and forth.

Marcus chose Cleveland as a setting specifically because he’s never been there. “I think the vacuum I sense around a place I haven’t been, like Cleveland (I guess I’ve been in the airport), is helpful to me, absolving me from being a tour guide, letting me focus on the story itself.” This is really freeing from the “Write what you know, research every little detail, know every twig and traffic light and shore and cobblestone.” This story could be set anywhere, but he uses changes in the skyline (a likely thing in any major city over 20 years) and architecture as a nice little wedge a few times. The skyline changes; the view from his family’s house never does. And it’s no coincidence the title is in past tense.

I’m not so sure I understand his comments on the use of third person: “With the third-person point-of-view, I could have Paul indulge dark, horrible thoughts, which the reader listens in on, but his awful condemnations are sealed off from the world of the story.” I guess if it were first person, the “I” would still be present at better moments. I’m not sure why the “he” doesn’t give the same effect, but I’ll take his word for it. Because it moves from an extremely close Paul focus to more of a group shot? I still struggle with third person POV as more than a not-first-person catch-all. But between this and “Nothing of Consequence,” I’m learning.

The pace of the reveal is what makes this story great. We start out knowing only that Paul is in Cleveland and some family – Dad, Alicia, Rick – meets him at the airport. We don’t know who Alicia and Rick are for a while – they turn out to be his sister and high-school-friend-turned-brother-in-law. We don’t know why he’s in Cleveland (family reunion) until the third column of page 3. We find out his mother is “resting” and along the way – all the way to page 8 – we get hints she’s ill; this seems like news to Paul but he doesn’t inquire and no one tells him the whole story; we never really find out if she’s specifically ill or if she’s just getting old. He’s been out of touch with the family for a while – he didn’t know his sister moved three years ago – and I kept wondering why he’d return for this family reunion. That question is never answered.

Most importantly, we pick up strange signals. Everyone seems to be afraid of Paul. His mother is frightened to be alone with him. They treat him with kid gloves. He’s very aware of this. “Everyone in his family was constantly needing to rest, but never from physical exertion. Always from the other kind of exertion. Resting from him, Paul the difficult, who latched on to your energy center with his little red mouth and sucked it dry.” “‘Let’s not set him off,’ his father had probably advised. ‘Let’s nobody get him going. It’s just not worth it.'” We get peeks into what it was like in the family when he was a kid. His sister Alicia knows he’s masturbating after he’s been in his room for ten minutes (and she’s right) based on his youthful behavior. Rick is defined as his friend in high school because: “…they’d once almost gone camping together.” There’s a reference to heirloom breakage. Paul had a stormy childhood and adolescence, it seems. And his family will never let him leave it behind. It doesn’t help that he’s been estranged and out of touch with them for many years.

The immediate conflict in the story comes when he tells them he has a good job and a wife and two-year-old son, and they don’t believe him. Oh, they say they do, in that “Yes, yes, of course, we believe you” sort of way, but he reads his mother’s face: “Such concern in her face, such pity, as if to say, poor, poor Paul, who still needs to lie to us, and what did we ever do to create this man?” As a reader I actually wasn’t completely sure myself until he spoke to his wife on the phone, carefully moving out of earshot of his family-of-origin. And by the way, we don’t know for sure that he’s not abusive to her, though I suspect it would be in the story if he were. She thinks he didn’t bring her to the reunion because he’s ashamed of her. It’s himself he’s ashamed of, of his past, of who he used to be, the Paul his family will never move past.

Eventually Paul reverts to his earlier behavior patterns, confirming everyone’s belief and restoring the balance the family needs. Yes, that’s it – he is the Bad Seed, and everyone (including Paul) is invested in keeping it that way. You think I’m making this up? As Marcus says in his interview: “If families could suddenly repair themselves, a part of literature would die out.”

The story ends on a note both hopeful and dismaying. He has a plan to remedy the rift, but it’s heartbreaking to see him consider it: he’ll mail them evidence of his new family. “In their own time, they could examine the evidence of their son’s new life. They could do it without him standing there. Paul would send all the proof he had and then he would wait. He’d be many miles away, where he could do no harm. At their leisure, they could examine the parts of their son that would not hurt them.”

I approached this story with great trepidation. I’ve read two other Ben Marcus stories: “The Moors” from Madras Press, and “Rollingwood” published earlier this year in The New Yorker. Neither appealed to me; I couldn’t get even slightly interested in the former, and I found the latter depressing and dead-end. “What Have You Done?” makes me pause and reconsider. The Flame Alphabet is something I think I want to read, after all.

The Second Person Study, Part 9: Miranda July, “The Swim Team” from No One Belongs Here More Than You

Hello, You are Swimming Zin!

This is the story I wouldn’t tell you when I was your girlfriend. You kept asking and asking, and your guesses were so lurid and specific. Was I a kept woman? Was Belvedere like Nevada, where prostitution is legal? Was I naked for the entire year? The reality began to seem barren. And in time I realized that if the truth felt empty, then I probably would not be your girlfriend much longer.

I have to admit, this story has really very little to do with second person! The first (above) and last paragraphs do address a “you,” in that same person-and-a-half voice. The “you” is an ex-boyfriend the narrator is talking to. She does not interact with him in the story, and she merely recalls having seen him, so I am not sure, perhaps he is actually a heterodiegetic character (the more you use new vocabulary, the easier it gets! I did not even have to look it up to spell it this time! Though I will check it just to be sure… It is right!). But those two paragraphs are still very much “I” paragraphs, as are all the paragraphs in between. Not that there are many paragraphs in between; it is a very short short story.

Still, it is a wonderful story, and I do love to spread the gospel of wonderful stories! I will confess, I did find a message board posting that contains the entire text of the story (it is that short…1676 words, not quite a flash but very close to it). It is a four-year-old collection, and the story was in Harper’s in 2007, and a movie has been made of the story, so maybe if you promise to think about buying the collection, I will include a link. In any case, I bought the collection, instead of checking it out of the library, because it was reserved for the next 300 years (she has a movie coming out, The Future, so she is “hot” right now). That assuages my guilt a little bit. I am glad I did, it is wonderful!

This story is something you just have to accept without doing a lot of detailed questioning. It starts with the “you” paragraph quoted above. Then we move into the story itself, the one she would not tell. Oh, it is so much better than a year spent naked or as a prostitute! She taught three old people how to swim – in her house! No water! There was no pool, no lake, no ocean, so she put bowls of salt water out to teach them to breathe correctly (face down, exhale, turn head to side, inhale) then showed them all the strokes. She was on her high school swim team so she knows them all. She was particularly impressed by their butterfly: “I thought the kitchen floor would give in and turn liquid and away they would go…”

This started because she was living in an incredibly small town (we never find out why she was there, but she was stuck there, alone, afraid to ask her parents for the money to get out; she writes her parents regularly to tell them she is working with a made-up agency called R.E.A.D., teaching at-risk youth to read). And she overheard one of the old ladies at the store talking about how you have to breathe underwater to swim. And she yelled out, “That’s not true!” And she offered to teach them to swim in her apartment!

She looked forward to these lessons, twice a week. For two hours a week, she was Coach. They thought her name was Maria, though it was not; she does not know why they thought this, and we never learn her real name. They left her casseroles in exchange for the lessons, so she did not need another job. This was how she spent the year. This is what she was afraid to tell her boyfriend, because it seemed to boring compared to prostitution or nudity. I think I would be completely enchanted by learning this! I think she is much better off without a boyfriend who would think this was “barren” – or without a boyfriend she was worried might find it so.

Then the story ends with another person-and-a-half paragraph that sheds some light on why this is coming up for her now. Loneliness triggers past loneliness; all new losses feel like all the losses that have gone before.

The sort-of switch in person is very effective because it starts and ends the piece, and emphasizes the reminiscent quality of the recollection. And the pain of the present. It is really quite special. It is a piece I wish I had written, a piece I could have written!

But I might have gotten all bogged down in details, just like swimmers in real water! I would have drowned in explaining why she was in Belvedere in the first place and how she managed to live, to buy toilet paper and pay rent when her only income was a casserole twice a week. I have to remember this! Sometimes those things do not matter! A lot of people probably think they do and they will dismiss this story as drivel, but this collection won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and was one of Time magazine’s top ten books of 2007, so emotional truth can take you places logic and facts do not begin to reach!

PEN/O.Henry 2011: Adam Foulds, “The Rules Are The Rules” originally published in Granta

Peter didn’t particularly like Jack….He looked too much like the cinema’s idea of a boy, too much like everybody’s idea of a boy, and this made him vain. He was vain of his footballing skills in particular….He was strong and petty and cruel, at least in his careless mastery. Peter’s sympathy was elsewhere. It was his natural Christianity perhaps; he felt himself with the boys who weren’t as fit or as sure of themselves, the frightened ones. Those boys, however, lit up when Jack joined them.

I’m afraid this story was lost on me. First, I was totally confused by the initial soccer match. I didn’t even realize it was a soccer match for a page or so, it just seemed like streaming gibberish to me except for the passage above. I didn’t realize the story was set in England for a while. I didn’t realize Peter was clergy, and I still don’t know if he’s a Catholic priest or Anglican. At one point Peter admits he would have prefered a church with a more medieval look, “something with the ghost of its Catholic past hovering just under the whitewash,” and I’m not sure if that means a Catholic or a Catholic-turned-Anglican church. Are there Catholic churches in England? Yes, I am that ignorant! Are gay Anglican priests allowed? Are they allowed to marry? It makes a difference. The Random House blurb (yes, I cheated, but how do you read a story without understanding the context?) refers to his “closeted homosexuality.” I don’t see how a priest could live with another man and still be closeted. Most clergy find their lives are constantly scrutinized in excruciating detail by their parishioners. I’m very confused.

But enough of that. Peter tests the limits of my sympathy. If he’s a closeted gay priest in a church that abhors homosexuality, he’s got a tough row to hoe. I try to remember that as the running soccer practice continues throughout the story, and, as shown above, he comes down hard on perfect Jack over the slightest suspected foul: “If he hadn’t been guilty at that precise moment, he had been at others and would be again. He was selfish and superb, a greedy player. The boy needed punishing.” In the meantime Peter is living with Steve, also selfish and superb and greedy, Steve who “stepped in and out of Peter’s cage like it didn’t exist, who argued that it didn’t exist”, who runs the bars at night and only comes home to Peter when he’s had enough of what he finds there. Gee, I wonder if there’s a connection.

I try to remember the tough row he hoes when he internally sneers about a couple of new parishioners. He assumes they’re bumpkins, and is worried they don’t take the upcoming christening of their daughter seriously – to them, it’s a pageant. He’s probably right about this. Most people don’t take religious rituals or holidays as more than social events. He seems suspicious as well, as if he thinks maybe they’re checking him out. He gets a little officious with them at a meeting to discuss the christening of their about-to-be-born baby, and at the christening, he gets a little bitchy:

But for the rest of them, this was a day out, a souvenir experience, and he couldn’t reasonably ask more of them. He reminded himself of that and his anger flared during the service only once when, with the godparents, they smirked at having to repeat that they rejected the Devil. Christianity: good for horror films, good for a laugh. He stared them down.

The baby girl in his arms brings to the front his deep desire to be a father, a real father of a baby, not titular Father to a bunch of people who see church as a mildly unpleasant duty. He hurts her. Not seriously, of course; he chills her with an excess of water and a bit more pressure than necessary when making the sign of the cross on her forehead. But he hurts the baby. Deliberately. She cries, and when the parents react as parents do, he reassures them and continues without relinquishing the baby.

Peter the Passive-Aggressive Priest finds many ways to punish others, so it’s hard for me to have sympathy for him. I suppose that’s the point, one of the points. That he’s in this cage of rules he’s made himself or volunteered for, and yet he resents those who don’t similarly restrict and torture themselves. And I wonder, is this what the entire clergy, the church, organized religion is about? People setting impossible standards and then lashing out when they can’t meet them? Maybe that’s where the story has been trying to lead me, after all.

In his Contributor Note, Foulds said this started with the image of a priest holding a baby for baptism and longing for fatherhood: “It was this predicament, this public moment crowded with private feelings and detailed physical experience, that compelled my attention.” He wrote a bit then put it aside until Granta commissioned this piece for their “Sex” issue, when it morphed a bit into the a study of how sex and personality are interrelated. I’m not sure where I missed that, but I’m sorry I did, it sounds wonderful. The Random House blurb: “The intensity in the story derives from the awful sense that there is no escape from the rules because they are the only ones Peter accepts.” I don’t see this either; there’s no religious fervor in him anywhere in the story; soccer is more of a draw than theology or devotion to any deity. I think my problem is that I really don’t understand why he stays in a system that denies and despises who he is, and this story doesn’t shed much light on that; it just outlines once again how destructive it is.

Project Runway Season 9, Episode 4: All About Nina

“All about Nina.” The new mantra for Project Runway. I never had any problem with Nina until she went all Gretchen last season. Now it seems it’s all anyone’s interested in: will Nina put it in her magazine. And if nothing else, this episode decreased my already-low level of respect for fashion magazines. Because Nina’s boss is a piece of work. I just can’t wait until All Stars when she shows up to mentor and uses it as a twelve-week opportunity to show the world how cleverly she can out-Simon Simon. What, is this some kind of belated revenge for 1776?

In the casual-apartment-conversation-while-the-videocam-guy-is-standing-over-us-pointing-cameras-in-our-faces candid segment, and the talking-heads-between-episodes segments:

Cecilia is more confident. Uh oh, you know what that means.
Bryce thinks he’s in their sights. I think he’s right. And I think that’s where he deserves to be.
There’s a note on the chalkboard in one of the rooms: “Bring the bald guy back!” Someone misses Mormon Josh. I’m guessing Joshua. That’s sweet.

Heidi comes out on the runway and tells them they’ll be dressing a very important client who knows a lot about fashion. Of course, it’s Nina. Bryce immediately thinks, “Oh #@&%.” I’m not even sure what the expletive is, it could be any one of a number of things. Becky is worried because she is Alternative and Nina is Classic. Danielle is comfortable.

Nina says: classic with an edge, streamlined, clean, tailored. No pleats, nothing voluminous, no loud patterns or colors. Later, Tim says Nina told him she does not want to see a runway full of grey. That’s right, folks. Include navy blue, black, and brown! Because as we’ll see, yellow and green and orange are out. The prize is a Marie Claire ad on NYC taxis (which Anya finds cloyingly magnificent), and of course bragging rights: “Nina wore my dress!” Later, Nina announces there will also be an editorial in Marie Claire. I wonder why the delay – maybe she wanted to get a look at what they were coming up with before committing to this? The designers will sketch, and Nina will consult with them before they go shopping. Then she’ll do a walk-by while they’re working. Laura has immunity. The guest judge is Nina’s Boss, Joanna Coles. The what-do-you-mean-we-have-a-second-guest-judge is Kerry Washington, Actress and Arts Advocate. Maybe she was supposed to be on last time but she missed her plane?

Anya: She feels an affinity for Nina’s neutral tones and muted colors. She shows Nina a sketch for a jumpsuit, and Nina warns her about the degree of difficulty. In Mood, Anya finds a very mustardy printed silk, and frets with Tim, “It’s a risk.” He agrees, it is a risk. She takes the risk. When Nina does her workroom walkthrough, she asks Anya, “Is there a Plan B?” No, not really. Tim advises her that since she’s made the commitment, she must own it and make a spectacular garment. Over the course of things, Joshua asks Anya if she could dye the fabric. She goes through the “I’ve never dyed anything except the first challenge” (she gets a lot of mileage out of those “excepts”) so he helps her; I don’t know where the dye came from. Then Anthony introduces Anya to his fiance who might come to NY to get married since gay marriage is now legal there. The boys do love the beauty queen. Then Laura gets worried that Anya is struggling – at the two hour warning, there’s no collar, and it’s in two pieces – so Laura jumps in to help. In the end, a decent brown jumpsuit goes down the runway. First thing I noticed was the belt, which is great. The legs are capri length, and they are cut so it looks like they’re riding up on the inseams. The model has a slight wedgie, but I guess you could call it well-defined buttock cleavage. I can’t see Nina in this in a million years, but everyone loves it and Anya is in the top three. Viktor’s a little catty about her getting help (it’s a pretty common occurrence), and Becky thinks her lack of sewing skill is going to show eventually – but not today.

Kimberly: Because she’s feeling confident, she wants to do something besides pants. Nina wants pants. She specifically wants Kimberly’s tailored pants. So Kimberly decides to do navy pants. Smart girl! She picks a kind of glittery gold fabric for the top which, I don’t know, it seems a little gaudy to me, especially for someone who was so definite about no bright colors or loud prints, and a little glitzy for the office, though I suppose a fashion magazine office is different from the offices I worked in. It’s kind of tweedy, not real lame, so it’s not as in-your-face as it could be. Cecilia is worried about too much blue, but Nina’s fine with it. On the runway, she sends out a wide legged pant with a gold sort of surplice top, she used her original dress sketch and turned it into a top. She’s in the top three.

Viktor: He is thinking futuristic, dramatic but conservative. We don’t see Nina’s reaction to his sketch. On her workroom walkthrough, Tim worries about the napkin front of the skirt, but Nina likes the roundness in the hip area. It’s two piece but it looks like a Little Black Dress. On the runway, it’s definitely a LBD with a really nice boxy cap sleeve and bell skirt. Very plain, though. He’s in the top three.

Becky: I love her earrings, I kept thinking she had small bits of hair we’d never seen before, or extensions or something. She finds this mud-spattered print that’s pretty cool, an ombre look. Anthony Ryan picked the same fabric; we never figure out who picked it first. She puts the dark part at the hem and has diagonal insets running over the dress, it’s very nice. It’s my favorite, I think; at least it’s one of my favorites.

Anthony Ryan: He’s going to show Becky how to use their splatter fabric properly. He tells Nina it’s a modern ombre. At the model fitting, he tells his model she needs a padded bra, and she points out it’s already padded. Oops. He sends down a spatter jacket over a solid skirt. It’s quite nice, I like it a lot, but it’s probably considered very ordinary.

Bryce: He shows Nina a sketch of a cowl neck, and she hates it. He calls his look a mini, and she asks just how mini that is. He has a plunging neckline. Nina is worried. Hey, wasn’t she such a fan of Laura Bennet? He has trouble with fitting, it’s too big and it looks worse the more he takes it in. In the end, the runway shows a grey dress with a navy center inset and long sleeves. It’s awful. It looks very ordinary. And it looks like it’s made from poly doubleknit. He’s worried about the hem, I think the whole thing looks like something I’d make in home ec from a Butterick pattern. And it still doesn’t fit his model.

Joshua: His main question for Nina is: do you wear bras? Now, Joshua has turned out some decent stuff in the past, so I’m wondering if he was doing too much work for Anya because he sends out an orange dress with what looks like the lead apron they put on you when you get your teeth x-rayed. The bright orange and silvery grey also brought to mind traffic cones or hunting vests with duct tape repairs. Pretty simple dress for all that. Kind of reminds me of Mila if it was in more muted colors. I was wondering what was going on with all the people using orange, then TLo reminded me that Nina was wearing an orange blouse when she did the sketch critiques.

Laura: During her workroom walkthrough, Nina wonders about Lauren’s Christmas green fabric. Laura worries, maybe she’ll opt for the little black dress. It is awfully green. Shiny green. Thing is, I really like the design. The sleeve (I would’ve liked the bands to be a little drapier), the skirt, it’s all pretty cool, but the shiny green, eww.

Bert: Bert makes a sleeveless little black dress with plunging front and back and center slit. It’s about as template as you can get. I think he’s saving himself for the real competition, after all the slackers go home. Either that, or he really doesn’t have any ideas.

Olivier: Olivier makes pants with a weird vest that looks like two semicircles at the waist. It’s somewhere between meh and odd. Maybe he’s saving himself, too.

Cecilia: She feels good about tailoring, she likes to tailor, wants to make a jacket and simple sheath dress. Nina is concerned the jacket feels dated, very Dynasty. Cecilia looks blank. Maybe she wasn’t in the States absorbing TV culture in the 80’s? She focuses on the dress because she can’t convince Nina of anything for the jacket. At Mood, all the fabrics she wants are too expensive. She bought something she thought was purple but it turns out to be grey. I don’t quite understand that kind of mistake. If the lighting at Mood is really that bad, I’d think they’d get a lot of complaints. On walkthrough, Nina says the fabric is sad and mousy. Cecilia interviews she appreciates blunt and takes the criticism and keeps working but she doesn’t have a plan B. Her model hates the garment, and Cecilia doesn’t blame her. Later, back at the apartment, Cecilia complains her model has gigantic nipples. I thought I’d misheard this, but that’s exactly what she said. I think Cecilia is running out of things to complain about. She sends out a tan one-shouldered dress with grey panels on the side and grey-and-tan diagonally striped trim at the neckline. I love the trim, all 1.5 inches of it, but I don’t understand wearing a one-shouldered dress to work, and the two colors don’t go together. Plus there’s some weird stuff on the dress, it just looks rumpled. Cecilia is in the bottom three.

Julie: She wants to make a simple, clean coat dress. She’s aware she’s running out of chances. Nina likes the sketch, and Julie thinks she understands her style. She thought PR would be a cruise because she went to fashion school. What? Didn’t you ever see the show? How many times have they talked about the stress, the short time allowances, the overwork, the lack of sleep, the pressure? Cecilia thinks Julie is very different, she’s a real artist and a wonderful companion, always making people laugh. And she probably is a very good designer and can make wonderful things, just not under the time and material constraints here. On the walkthrough, Nina says the collar is too big, it should be more dainty. Tim mentions Julie always feels confident then falls apart. She admits she doesn’t sew every day and she’s overwhelmed. Cecilia helps her with finish the arms and gluing the hem. Nobody seems to complain about that. I guess because it’s so awful it’s clear she’s not a threat. It’s a beige, grey and orange coat dress with a bizarrely splayed collar. The closure looks like it’s pulling Very sloppy. She’s in the bottom three.

Danielle: She sketched a silk organza jacket and pants, but Nina preferred a pant with a beautiful blouse, so she went with that. She gets another awful bright green fabric. On walkthrough, Nina says she liked the hard-and-soft of the sketch but this is just soft and soft, like looking at a reflection. Danielle suggests stitching in back. Nina says no. Danielle suggests something else. Nina says no. Nina is being a real pain in the ass here. I’d hand her the fabric and tell her to make her own damn outfit. She sends out a garish green blouse and black pants. She’s in the bottom three, which was pre-ordained with all those no’s, I think.

So we have Danielle, Kimberly, Anya, Viktor, Julie, and Cecilia on the runway. I honestly had no idea who was in the top or the bottom. I thought Viktor was probably in the top, but I thought everyone else was in the bottom. Silly me! I should’ve remembered Nina’s a pushover for a jumpsuit.

In the lounge, with the Chosen Six on the runway, they try to figure out who’s top and who’s bottom. Bert makes some kind of comment about Olivier. I didn’t quite catch if he was saying he was out, or he won – Bert has proclaimed Olivier is some kind of genius prior to this, but it sounded to me like he said he was out – but then someone points out Olivier is sitting over there and that’s kind of embarrassing. Bert could use some embarrassment.

The Inquisition

Viktor‘s LBD goes over well. Simple, lots of structure, elegant. Heidi says you can’t go wrong with little black dress, Nina says great job. And it has the option of separates. He paid attention to the client. MK likes the shoulder and tailoring. Kerry says it’s really different, there’s youth in shape of skirt. Joanna thinks it’s a nice suit, does day to night easily, it’s elegant and beautiful.

Julie doesn’t do so well. MK calls it a housecoat, the kind you clean in with a bunch of kleenex in the pocket. It’s sad. Heidi doesn’t think it looks like Nina (I think it might if it were made well and with better colors, why did everyone pick the orange and grey this week?), and it looks like it was already worn on a twelve hour plane ride. Julie still likes it. Joanna proclaims it unwearable; if Nina came to work in this, she’d be asking to be fired.

Cecilia had the wrong fabrics, but finished as well as she could. She says she didn’t have any dye, which is interesting – too bad she doesn’t have Joshua looking out for her. Not that it would’ve helped, it was still a one-shouldered boring dress. She knows her client wasn’t happy. Her model’s nipples did not appear to be a factor. Joanna gets really nasty – what would the fashion department say? They’d all avoid her and gather together to talk about her, what is she wearing? If that’s how your employees behave, I think you should be over there doing something about it. MK hates the fabric and colors. Kerry says it’s not an office look at all. Nina says it’s already creased and looks sad. Cecilia pretty much agrees with them.

Kimberly is a different story. Nina loves it. Heidi loves the look. Your look doesn’t need accessories to sing and dance. What? MK loves separates and praises Kimberly for getting the modern working woman. Joanna loves the shirt, it transforms how you feel.

Anya explains how she knew Nina wasn’t happy with the color so she dyed the fabric. She never mentions it was Joshua’s suggestion, nor that he helped her. Nina is amazed at the transformation and at the quick thinking, because it was originally a lot of mustard. Now, remember, Anya loved the original color and only changed it because Nina sneered at it. Heidi loves it, loves the back, and goes into the whole “I can’t believe you’ve only been sewing for four months.” Anya says something about being a quick learner, never mentioning Laura putting on the collar. Joanna loves the shape and it works with the big life Nina leads. Kerry and MK again praise her for dyeing the fabric. I’m undecided. Anya didn’t have a clue anything was wrong with the color until Nina said, “Hold the mustard,” and then didn’t know what to do about it until Joshua said, “Hey, I have some dye and I’ll help you” and it was in pieces without a nicely draped collar until Laura said “I’ll help you.” Anya gets by with a lot of help from her friends, and she thanks them back in the lounge, but the judges are completely unaware of it (at least, they are if it’s true they don’t know what goes on in the workroom). Thing is, she doesn’t do the helpless damsel in distress routine. She’s nice, and that sure inspires a lot of people to be very eager to help her beat them. Because Joshua and Laura weren’t on the runway, were they? Like I said, I’m undecided. Does Anya really know how to play the game, or is she a really nice, talented neophyte who happens upon strokes of luck at the most opportune moments? I’ll let you know.

Danielle wishes she’d gotten sheerer fabric. Not sure it would’ve helped. MK calls it pedestrian, the blouse an aunt would’ve worn in the 80’s. Nina says she was too ambitious so she ran short and had to improvise. Kerry doesn’t hate it, but it’s not for Nina. And Joanna insults women everywhere by saying it’s the sort of thing she could see someone wearing to make pureed squash for the baby, not for someone like Nina. What? Most women wear jeans and t-shirts, or sweats, or just chinos and sweaters or blouses, not silk organza, to puree squash. And never green, it clashes with the squash. I love how these people have all these stock characters, the aunt, the housewife, like they’re never encountered a real person in their lives, just the rarified fashionistas. Joanna thinks Danielle is depressed. If Nina wore I to work, she’d think she was ill. I think Joanna needs to stop trying out her clever shots in prep for All Stars and just talk about the clothes.

Kimberly wins.
Julie goes home.

In the lounge, Cecilia feels bad and says she knew Julie wanted to be there, and she didn’t really care at this point, and someone asks, “Did you say that?” Well, of course not! Now Cecilia is on my shit list.

Kimberly goes to Nina’s office and sees her wearing her outfit. I wonder if Kimberly did the fitting on that? I mean, fitting pants can get kind of intimate. Then she goes out to see the cab sign with her design on it. Whee!

Next week: Someone collapses on the track. Looks like lots of drama there and in the workroom, but they gave no hint about what the challenge would be. Presumably, something sports-related. Maybe more activewear for Heidi’s line, because that went over so well last time.

New Additions to “Cool Sites for Writers and Readers” page, and “Online Fiction etc. to Read and Love” page

We haven’t updated the Cool Sites for Writers and Readers page – or, for that matter, the Online Fiction etc. to Read and Love page – all summer, so it’s time to catch up.

New in Online Fiction etc. to Read and Love:
Poetry – “Prepositions” by Elizabeth Savage, from Prime Number Magazine 11.2
(There’s so much great reading out there, and I had several pieces all listed out…. Then I deleted the list… oops)

New in Cool Sites for Writers and Readers:

Shelf Awareness – A site (and twice-weekly free newsletter on request) about books and the book industry, in two flavors: for readers, and for book trade professionals. Includes reviews of new releases in all categories, and articles on everything book-related. Founded by publishing industry veterans John Mutter and Jenn Risko.

McKenna’s Way – [Sorry, this site no longer exists] articles by McKenna Donovan and guests on various aspects of writing, from grammar and craft to motivation and finances.

Reading the Short Story - Retired literature teacher Charles May shares his views of various aspects of short stories old and new.

One Story at a Time – Starting Sept. 22, 2011, Katharine Weber will be leading this two-week message board discussion of a single story at The Book Balloon. The first story will be “Everything that Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor.

Short Story Slore – Reviews of short stories, collections, and novels, as well as occasional challenges and assorted literary information.

Rejection Wiki: A wiki site recording literary rejections to help in determining whether you have a standard, tiered or personalized rejection.

The Second Person Study, Part 8: Jennifer Pelland – “The Call” from Unwelcome Bodies

Photo by Linda Johnson

Photo by Linda Johnson: "Double Take"

Would you give up your humanity if it meant saving everyone else’s?

When the call went out for a volunteer to try to enter the mysterious ship, not knowing who was inside or what they wanted with us, would you answer it? Would you say goodbye to all that you knew, divide your belongings into labeled piles to be handed out to your family and friends, kiss the cats on the head, and willingly deliver yourself to the unknown, knowing how many had tried and gruesomely failed before you?

Can you tell a story only by asking questions?

Hello, I am Zin, and my friend Stan (Hello Stan!) sent me this wonderful science fiction story for my second person study! Thank you, Stan! I love that science fiction can use second person, too… of course it can! In fact, I am surprised science fiction does not use more unusual narrative approaches, including second person.

Except… I am wondering if it is really, officially, truly second person? Hmmmm…

It certainly reads like it. Subjunctive is part of the second category Richardson describes, the one he ultimately called “hypothetical,” typically the self-help manual. If this were a self-help book, it might be asking questions like, “Would you like to learn to build a bookcase?” (Oh, how many times I have tried!) But this narrator is not some distant indistinct authorial personna, it is a character in the story! It is the “I” asking the questions! Asking questions of “you” – does that make it first person? Or is this a new category, the “interrogative person”?

I will start from the beginning! The story, what is the story? It is not available online, though some of the other stories from the same collection are. The story asks about three pages of questions that convey all kinds of information about this Close Encounter type of thing. We get the exposition:

Would you step forward out of a sense of duty to your species and your planet? Would you instead be interested in being the first human that the aliens allowed to meet them in person? Would you be in it simply for your ticket to fame and historical immortality? Or would you really just be running away from a life that was too complicated and difficult to keep living any more, hoping that by surrenduring yourself to the ship, you’d never need to worry about messy human choices again?

The story never says what the motive of the narrator was (how cool is that?), but from the way this is written, the rhythm and sequence, I am thinking it is the last choice, the running away that he experienced. Would you be noble or curious or egotistical? he asks. Not me, I am simply depressed. I am curious to know more about this. If I were critiquing this story, I would suggest adding more information about what messy human choices he was running away from. Oh, and I would want to clean up many sentences, especially the end of the very first sentence in the opening quote. And I might suggest breaking up the litany of “would you” even more than she does. But I am not critiquing this story, and Jennifer Pelland has published many books has twice been nominated for a Nebula award, so what business do I have giving her advice?

The questions also tell the story:

…would you step over the bodies of those who had tried before you…
…would you shrink from their gelatinous touch?
Would you scream when they jellied your bones…
Would you rail and beat the mush that was once your hands against the pearly carapace they’d poured you into…

And like that, until the last sentence, when it shifts gears. It’s pretty wonderful, and it felt accusatory, fiercely angry, and hopeless at the same time! And it covers some major human conditions and asks some tough questions: Would you understand? Would you exact revenge? Rage, or reason?

Here is the best part:

Who is “you”?

Is the “you” a “homodiegetic audience,” the people of the time and place in the story, the people of the fictional Earth in the story (it is specifically mentioned that this planet is Earth)? Or is the “you” – you? A heterodiegetic audience? The reader? Me? The effect of the tone and the phrasing is to make the reader feel spoken to – or yelled at – but of course these things have not happened so it can not be me, it is not a series of questions about 9/11 or the 1969 World Series or even a non-specific Christmas, it is about something that has not happened, that people know about. So the “you” must be in the story! Which makes it a homodiegetic monologue, and, yet again, person-and-a-half. But even if this not being “real” second person, this is exactly that playfulness Richardson was talking about ! That slipperiness in which “the reader alternates between identification and distancing” and “oscillates irregularly from one pole to another.”

That is why it is such fun to read!

Food Network Star 2011 – Finale

Hello, I am Zin, and I am not the Next Food Network Star!

It is finally over!

First, the reunion. Very little of any interest happens. Except we find out Mary Beth does not like Jeff! The judges ask her if she would watch his show, and she hesitates… “it is difficult to separate the personal from the professional…” What? Fogs says she only realized there was tension at the final elimination, and they show what we did not see last week: right after Mary Beth is eliminated, she cries and struggles to keep her composure, and Jeff moves over to hug her. She waves him off with a slightly brusque “I am all right.” It is not harsh or angry. And I can understand – when I am trying to hold it together, kindness is the most sure way to turn me into a tear bucket! But somehow this became something evil! I think they are burning bridges with Mary Beth and I do not understand why. I never picked up on any tension between Mary Beth and Jeff before. I am confused.

Everyone is very mamby-pamby about Penny. I think this means they are rehabilitating her image? That would make me sick.

Jeff does a pretty good Tush – an imitation of Bob, that is. Justin does a not-that-good Bobby. Vic has invented his own Victionary with his own words in it, like “lachanga.”

And did you know Susie has a dead father in heaven watching over her and whispering things in her ear? I think they have medications for that.

The actual episode starts with a Camera Challenge which will eliminate either Vic, Susie, or Jeff. Now, I am a little biased because I said several weeks ago it was between Vic and Susie, but that was before Jeff started his surge. I think it has become obvious since last week that Jeff had the camera skills to pull it off. They see Guy Fieri II in him, I think! Good luck!

For the Camera Challenge, Jeff goes back to his heritage – hey, what heritage? Jeff has heritage now too? Yes, suddenly he is Italian learning recipes at the knee of his grandmother. He makes a deconstructed eggplant parmesan sandwich. It all stems from his father Gus who could create a sandwich from nothing, and everyone would know in the morning he had been in the kitchen over night making sandwiches… are you bored yet? But then he talks about peeling the eggplant and salting it to remove the bitterness and using panko and I am relieved that he actually is talking about cooking at least a little bit! Everyone loves it.

Vic does the Feast of the Seven Fishes in one dish (I have always wanted to make that some Christmas eve, except I hate bivalves), and tells a story about Christmas Eve and never mentions the bowl of seafood in front of him. They love the heart and soul and how personal his dish is, and Bobby says the flavor is good but he wanted to hear more about the technique, thank you Bobby!

Susie hears her dead father telling her to make pork carnitas so she cooks pork in lard. And they show a picture of her dad. I am thinking, oh, she is going to win. She tells a story about him going into the back yard with his sombrero (oh, dear lord spare me) and cooking in a copper pot while Mom grilled cactus. Then Dad would serve citrus margueritas (she is making this up, yes?). Everyone drools on themselves.

Vic is eliminated. They keep looking for a rough-looking soft-hearted bald guy and they never really get one they like. I guess Duffs are hard to find.

They film their pilots, and Guy directs. Jeff makes a braciole sandwich and tells a story about he and four kids in the kitchen helping Mom pound the steaks and make the braciole, and I am thinking, if Mom was stuck with four kids in the kitchen, no wonder she was pounding steak. He keeps saying “Boom!” and I am thinking he is copying the Emeril “Bam!” but Guy thinks he is trying to fill dead spaces and tells him to stop it, which might be something I can finally agree with Guy on. Jeff looks like a mess, his shirt untucked and stained, some kind of stupid cardigan or jacket over it. But I have to admit he is pretty smooth and can be amusing. I do not really understand braciole sandwiches, but maybe that is just me. I just wish he could pronounce “sandwich” without putting an “m” in it. Once I think he called it a “sangwich.” Which does not have an “m” I must admit, but is even worse.

Suzie looks really nice in a flowered dress. She makes sopas with chorizo refried beans and cabbage slaw and hears her father again. Poor girl!

They bring in a focus group and of course it is the eliminated contestants! Penny the woman-hater cuts Susie down by saying she was better in the diner shoot. Howie thinks Jeff has too much shtick. The judges tell them how wonderful they are. At one point, after Fogs is going on about how Susie is contagious – oh, no, infectious – Bob wants to tell Susie she has such joie de vivre, but he can not, since it is not Mexican. It is perhaps the crowning moment of this incredibly stupid season.

Just to make the evening a complete disaster, Brooke Johnson shows up. Bobby tells Susie and Jeff that their families are waiting in the wings. At this point I am truly afraid that if Susie wins, her dead father will walk onto the stage. Maybe as a ghost. Maybe as a desiccated corpse dressed in mummy wrappings.

Jeff wins! His show will premiere… Oh, I do not remember, Sunday at 11:30 I think? I believe he will make sandwiches!

Thank you for joining me in watching this display of idiocy! See you next summer!

Justin Torres: “Reverting to a Wild State” from The New Yorker, 8/1/2011

New Yorker art by Autumn Whitehurst

I spotted a golden feather on the edge of the concrete platform, waiting for me, while I was waiting for the train.

I don’t know where to start with this story. The structure? It runs backwards – 3, 2, 1, 0. The story being told? Heartbreaking. The title? My thanks to Betsy for her comment at The Mookse and the Gripes which put it into perfect focus for me: it’s about domestication.

But don’t take my word for it – read it yourself, it’s available online.

My interest was first piqued by the golden feather the narrator (we never get his real name) finds. What’s a golden feather? It could be a glittery feather from a craft project. A yellow feather. It never occurred to me it was a feather made of gold – jewelry – until I got to the thin gold chain. A lot of things in the story are like that in this story. It kept me off-balance. Like at the end of the first paragraph: “It was late, past midnight, and I was headed uptown to clean for a man.” What does that mean? Is that what the kids are calling it these days? But there is actual cleaning involved, with ammonia and crumpled newspaper, and presumably some non-cleaning activities.

The story then goes back to the breakup with Nigel, complete with tears and blood. And the relationship with Nigel, complete with deceit and lies. We finally find ourselves at ground zero, our narrator and Nigel, now only nineteen, arrive at a farm where they spend the summer doing chores.

There’s so much to like here. The story starts at the end with a golden feather in the subway jungle, and ends at the beginning, on “the slope of a minor mountain” before a storm. Caretaker Nigel, who nurtures plants and kittens and one very duplicitous lover, but who turns out to have a breaking point, one that, to be honest, I don’t understand. In the end it’s a romance, a marriage, gone bad, told in a way that makes it more than that.

I was still on the fence when I read the interview Torres did with The New Yorker. I know, a story is supposed to stand on its own, but some of us need a little help. There’s a reason he structured it the way he did: “…if the action of the story itself moved backward, all the harm he’s inflicted and the love he’s sacrificed would really come alive…” – and it does. It’s a lot more than a gimmick. He also says, “I thought this was going to be a rather sad story, but as I neared the end I felt as if I were slowly restoring something precious the narrator had made a mess of, which was an unexpected pleasure.”

For me, too.

Project Runway Season 9 Episode 3: “Go Big or Go Home”

Stiltwalkers. $500 budget. The first team challenge of the season. A live outdoor public fashion show. Kim Kardashian as guest judge. And this still ended up one of the most boring episodes of PR since the beach-and-movie-set season.

Heidi conducts her challenge intro on stilts. I was very impressed. Until all the stiltwalkers (I wonder, do they say that on Career day, “I want to be a stiltwalker when I grow up”?) come out on the runway. Significant improvements must’ve been made to stilts in the past decades because they’re all walking along the elevated runway, and it seems to me it’s a recipe for true disaster. I still remember the Chinese stiltwalker on ANTM falling in the final runway show. Someone falling off this runway could’ve really been hurt, and would’ve taken everyone else down. But, like everything else about this episode, it got boring real fast. How can stiltwalking be boring? Ask PR. (I’ve since discovered there are “drywall stilts” so named because they are used by plasterers and painters to work on ceilings and high walls, so I stand corrected and less impressed – if some house painter can learn to use stilts while actually painting a ceiling, I guess Heidi can manage it).

The challenge is to make an outfit for a stiltwalker. They have $500, one day, an outdoor public runway show, and… will work in teams of two. Everyone gets scared. Heidi picks teams from the evil Velvet bag:

Anya and Olivier – my first thought was “The Dream Team.” Later, Tim used the same term for them, and I did a little happy dance. I have to admit, I was initially ready to rake Miss Trinidad and Tobago apart with my little cat claws, but she’s come across as very reasonable (at least she’s been edited to appear that way). What turned the tide for me: seeing a closeup of her nails, stained with black dye, in the first challenge. Reminded me of Gordana in the S6 wedding dress challenge. This woman cares about her work more than she cares about her pretty nails. She is happy to work with Olivier. But we see little of them in the episode. It is all about fighting, after all – what, you were looking for design?
Bryce and Fallene – The Bad News Bears. She’s worried about being paired with another bottom-level designer. He says they have a big bullseye painted on them.
Bert and Viktor – best hope for drama, since they’re both snarky. Neither of them is happy with the pairing.
Kimberly and Becky – Kimberly is not inspired by Becky’s designs, which seem very plain to her. Interesting, since I don’t even remember who Kimberly is. But that’s the editing.
Anthony and Laura – could be dramatic, they both have snark potential.
Joshua and Julie – Joshua is a little nervous.
Danielle and Cecilia – who?

Now, we know what usually happens in team competitions – the Dream Team falls apart, someone starts out working together great but dissolves into eye gouging, the Bad News Bears rise to conquer. Um, not so much, no. And it was STILL the most boring episode ever.

Heidi tells them: Eyecatching, imaginative, and larger than life. Stand out. Be in. Tim says: think about Paris Couture week, what is real and what is not.

No. Think Spiegel’s. I think Lifetime, and Marie Claire, and Piperlime have finally created the product-placement show of their dreams. But it’s ok, we can still watch Christian and Seth and Chris March on reruns. Even Joshua notes, after the top and bottom are announced: costumes in the bottom, ready-to-wear in the top. Even for a stiltwalker challenge. Damn. I’m depressed.

The stiltwalkers come in to talk about designing for stilts. They say nothing interesting, we just hear glimpses of “below where my foot goes into the stirrup” and “so I don’t stumble.” These are real women, but they aren’t REAL real women, you know?

Bryce and Fallene try very hard to win a prize for drama. But they’re just boring because they say the same thing over and over again. Bryce sneers at Fallene because she doesn’t know how to cut fabric “on grain.” Now, I remember having some issues with grain when I took Home Ec in junior high (yes, that’s how old I am, Home Ec was still required for eighth grade girls). So I happen to know what they’re talking about. I was taught to use the thread-pull method, and it took me hours. But most PR people use the tear method. It seems Fallene just cuts. I’m guessing a lot of self-taught PR designers have cut over the years, and that’s why a lot of garments look awkward on the runway. This is the first time it’s been mentioned – it wasn’t even part of the Michael Costello complaint litany last season – and it’s the most interesting thing in tonight’s episode, which tells you exactly how boring the whole thing was. But back to the drama: Bryce makes it clear that he, a recent fashion school graduate, is far superior to Fallene, a hairdresser who decided to design clothes. Fallene, bless her little self-flagellated heart, agrees, and falls apart completely. She wants to make a turquoise waistband for the belt, but Bryce freaks. She has no input, and feels like Bryce will “bite her head off”; nice guy, that Bryce. I think turquoise would’ve helped. Tim has to comfort her just before the runway show, which is sweet but also a little sick. They start with their model being a ballerina with tattoos and funky hair. This inspires them to make what Heidi calls the Black Swan: a black tulle tutu over black leggings, a black tank top, a piece of brown print fabric acting as a belt, and the red flower headpiece. It looks like something I could have made in my eighth grade HomeEc class (and trust me, nothing I made was wearable). They are so bottom three. KK says it’s the tank top she wears to bed plus a tie wrapped around the waist. Nina says the idea had promise (promise of what?) but no detail. MK likes the headpiece even though it belongs with another garment, and Fallene is glad she made something. HK (a lotta Ks in there) asks who should go home, and Bryce first says, “Both of us,” which is brave of him, considering how denigrating he was to Fallene all along, but phony, since he knows it isn’t a double elimination week. But Fallene steps up and says she should go, and he, phony little snot, agrees. There really isn’t much to argue with, since she really can’t sew, and she didn’t make anything but the headpiece that didn’t have anything to do with the garment.

Viktor and Bert play Name That Queen. Victoria. Elizabeth. Marie Antoinette. It’s all the same to Viktor. Now, I happen to love picking on people who have no idea that were very different people who lived in very different eras and had very different styles (and yes, even I could tell the difference, I think). And I have to agree with Bert’s assessment that Viktor needs to do a little book reading (as opposed to, say, magazine reading). But it was petty and snide. Hey, at least he didn’t bring in Cleopatra, he limited it to post-middle-ages Europe. Sure, Viktor is an annoying hissy-fit on two legs. But so is Bert. Bryce says Bert will argue even if there’s nothing to argue about, and I’m not sure how Bryce knows this, but I have to say it looks that way. I gave up trying to figure out which one was the villain. I wanted them both to shut up and go away. Both of them were doing everything to protect their own asses in the even of failure, which the assured by their behavior. They should be ashamed of themselves. Bert says “It’s a fantasy, not a costume;” apparently his fantasies involve wallpaper. In the morning Bert likes the garment better, but regrets “being encumbered by Viktor.” Oh, Bert, you sweet talker, you. Bert makes a sort of brocade burgundy and gold flowered bodice (Viktor thinks the print needs to be more modern, and I kind of agree with him), and Viktor makes a grey irridescent skirt. It made no sense to me – the colors, the fabrics, the styles, it’s two completely different garments. No surprise. And it’s bottom three. MK says it looks like wallpaper and curtains at a tacky catering hall, which is pretty accurate, actually. KK thinks it’s the scene in The Sound of Music where Fraulein Maria rips the curtains down and makes play clothes for the Von Trapp kids. Nina says it’s bad costume. Bert distances himself: “It wasn’t what I wanted to present.” Hey, buster, you said you liked it this morning! Viktor says “I own it fifty-fifty with him” which is something you’d expect from a fashion designer who equates Victoria, Elizabeth, and Marie Antoinette. Bert says Viktor was emphatic about his ideas but didn’t sketch. Neither of them thinks he should go home, big surprise. I think a serious Season Grudge has formed! Thing is… I suspect Bert is going to have grudges against just about everyone by the time he’s through.

Joshua and Julie have a running theme of colliding-converging. And Matadors. He’s pretty bitchy. He says she and he could switch genders, she’s a rough chick. Well… No, I won’t go there. She thinks it’s gone great. He thinks he’s working alone, and makes a gesture behind her head. But in the end he’s surprised she actually made a good top. A top he wants to bedazzle. She lets him, damn fool. A Bedazzled Matador on top, these black and dizzifying white zigzag pants that I think are amazing. But they’re in the bottom three. MK yells, ole ole ole. Drama doesn’t mean tacky. It’s a weird hybrid (which it kinda is). Heidi says it can be inspired by a Spanish matador and still be chic. Nina says she has extremely long legs it’s bizarre. Nina, honey, the model is on stilts. You do realize that? You gave them a stiltwalker challenge! This is where I get very angry with Project Runway. Heidi admits it’s well-made and sharp. Who should go home? Julie takes it. I don’t think she’s in any danger, though.

Kimberly and Becky don’t get each other. Kimberly thinks Becky stares a lot. Becky is tense. But they end up getting along fine. Kimberly likes to tailor pants and Becky likes to do jackets, so they divide it up that way. They make a one-sleeved double breasted jacket in a green and yellow diagonal stripe, designed to show off the model’s tattoo. The pants are just pants, except they’re ten feet long. The model is using borrowed stilts so she’s not walking as smoothly as possible. That just cracks me up. Borrowed stilts! Heidi calls their outfit a show stopper. A show stopper? It’s nice – I’m not crazy about the color, but I like the one-sleeve jacket design – but a show stopper? Sharp, she says. Almost perfect. MK calls them kickass tailors, praises the cut of the pants. Every woman will want that tattoo (no, not every woman). Nina loves the pants, is not sure about the half-collar, which she thinks looks a little circusy (FOR GOD’S SAKE, NINA SHE’S A STILTWALKER! Ok, I am going to calm down…) but admits it’s impeccably tailored and the proportions were right. It’s a cohesive look. I’m very depressed. It’s gonna be a Gretchen season again, isn’t it?

Anthony and Laura start with an idea for a hoop skirt “like an old plantation girl” but change directions when Anthony can’t construct the frame. No blame, no drama, no tears, they just work on another idea. Now that’s how you work as a team. They make a very red thing with feather shoulder pads over illusion fabric. I hate illusion fabric. I hate it on figure skaters, and now I hate it on stiltwalkers. Tim says the shoulder pads are very on trend for fall. Those who know fashion a lot better than I do say it’s pure Gucci. I wouldn’t know Gucci if he bit me on the ass, but I immediately thought of Kenley (I can’t find it, but I could swear she made a blue flowered dress with feather shoulder pads), who was also accused of “referential” treatment. And they are in the top three. KK loves the color and the belt and thinks it looks elegant, not costumey. I’ve never seen anyone but a figure skater or dancer wear illusion fabric, but maybe I need to get out more. Nina likes how the wind made it flow, but she’s worried about Referential Anthony. MK ask himself that eternal existential question: if you scaled it down, would it still be fabulous? And he answers himself from the depths of his wisdom: Yes. They ask, who gets the credit? Anthony passes it to Laura, which impresses the hell outta me. He may only have one ball, but he really does know how to rock it.

Danielle and Cecilia have a pretty solid common vision. Danielle keeps asking if Cecilia is comfortable doing this or that, and Cecilia gets a little offended by it, but has the sense to get offended in interviews, not in the workroom. They show how it’s done, too. They make a turquoise chiffon blouse with a beaded collar and a tank liner, and tan chiffon pants. I think of the Southwest inspired outfit that got someone whose name I don’t remember sent home on Season 6, The Dead Zone, because the color palette was so drab. Except I loved that color palette, and I hate this one. The turquoise is a little too garish (at least on my tv), maybe too yellow, and the tan doesn’t work with it at all. And of course, they’re in the top three. Heidi likes the colors, and the sheerness. KK thinks it’s chic and has bling and color. MK is very impressed with their chiffon, declares it the trickiest fabric (until someone works with something else like satin or linen that becomes the trickiest fabric). The verdict is: they can both sew. But everyone makes fun of the hair. Even Cecilia calls it a giant pumpkin. The hair stylist was a little overly generous with his personal interpretation of their instructions, and they were stuck with no time to change it.

Anya and Olivier are practically ignored this week. They talk very quietly, they consult, they worry, they work. The adults in the room. They are the ultimate no-drama team. And given the dearth of screen time they get, I’m thinking, maybe this is why people hate Obama. It isn’t about race at all. It’s that he isn’t good TV. Olivier has immunity, but Anya doesn’t get all flukey about that. It’s really impressive. Did I mention I’ve done an about-face on Anya? When she sees the outdoor runway and the press and the crowds, she says it’s exhiliarating. Nice choice of words for a beauty queen. The outfit, not so much. I can’t even describe it – it’s like a grey April dress over a watery blue print. Cecilia says it looks like an evil queen from one of those movies, and I wonder what movies Cecilia is watching. Anya worries that Tim doesn’t say much on his walk-through because he doesn’t know how to say “I don’t like it.” Oh, don’t worry, Anya, Tim would never say “I don’t like it” but he’d have no problem whatsoever conveying that to you, along with exactly what he didn’t like and quite possibly a suggestion on how to think about fixing it. They despair at one point, their dress is a mess, but they believe it’s going to come together, and it eventually does. Not terribly well. They are the one team in this week’s abbreviated purgatory zone between top and bottom.

In the end, Laura wins.
And it comes down to Viktor or Fallene… no surprise, Fallene is out. She was pretty much demoralized, nice job, Bryce. But I don’t think it’s wrong, she needs a lot more experience working with fabric instead of hair.

Next week: design a dress for Nina. I’ve never noticed what Nina wears. That tells you a lot, doesn’t it?

A couple of postscripts: I’ve discovered there are some blog readers who don’t know about Tom & Lorenzo’s fabulous Project Runway blog. It focuses more on fashion than on drama (they do all kinds of fashion commentary, not just PR), and it’s amazing. It takes them several days to get all the pieces up – they give detailed critiques on each look, complete with screen shots – but it’s worth it. If you haven’t been over there – go! They thought this was a stupid challenge, too.

And… Project Runway has announced the All-Star season lineup. Yes, it’s official. The good news: Mondo! Hey, who needs better news than that? MONDO, I said! Ok, you want more? Austin, Elisa, Anthony, Gordana! Rami. Sweet Pea. April. Jerrell. Mila. Oh, wait, we’re getting into bad news territory now. Kenley (secure the cats). Michael Costello. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Michael Costello, if he lived down the street I’d go visit him for lunch every day and bring him soup (in Maine, people do that. Not so sure about Palm Springs). But… I think he shoulda quit while he was ahead, and I’m afraid it’s not going to go well for him, and I’m really really afraid I’m gonna find out he truly is as big an ass as the Mean Girls made him out to be. I hope I’m wrong. But they made me cry for him once, and I’m not gonna do it again. Now the really bad news… no Tim Gunn! How can you have Project Runway without Tim Gunn? But none of the usual judges, hosts or mentors will carry over. Not even Heidi. Angela Lindvall will host (I confess, I don’t know who that is), and the judges will be: oh, dear. Isaac Mizrahi. Heavy sigh. Georgina Chapman, who has been a guest judge, I can deal with that. And in a move I can only assume is designed to produce maximum drama, Joanna Coles, Marie Clair editor-in-chief, will be mentor. Somehow I don’t see her as the mentor type (said in a dry tone).

PEN/O.Henry 2011: Jane Delury, “Nothing of Consequence” from Narrative

"Coconut"  by Ethan Daniels

"Coconut" by Ethan Daniels

Some of the women mentioned the situation, as they called it, to their husbands when they phoned home from the Director’s office, left to them after he’d gone to bed…. The husbands barely reacted. Thirty years earlier, upon hearing about Bernadette, the husbands might have worried about their marriages. Thirty years earlier, at the airport in Paris and Lyon, the husbands would have kissed their wives longer. A few of the women became angry upon hanging up. Bernadette might have it right. What if they found a student of their own? Broke rules in all directions. Right here in the classroom, against the map of Europe, or, like Bernadette, on the beach, where they supposed she and Rado went.

I have to admit I was leery of yet another “romance set in an exotic location” story, but I thought it felt much more organic to the setting than either “Water Party” from One Story or “Pole, Pole” from this volume. But I have no real basis for that opinion. What I found most interesting in the story was how point of view was used. Or, more accurately, points of view.

Bernadette is a teacher from France, in Madagascar to train French teachers there. She’s in late middle age, rather unattractive, widowed. She strikes up a friendship with Rado, a young star student (he’s a schoolteacher on the island; these students aren’t kids, they’re teachers) who longs to move to France and become a poet, who is perhaps clinging to Bernadette because she has a position at University, if only a lowly part-time continuing-ed deal. Bernadette has read his poetry, and she was not impressed. The story focuses on how their relationship is perceived by the other teachers, the mob mentality that forms, and how ultimately Bernadette is chased back to France because of her “inappropriate” relationship with Rado. The end skips forward several years and revives a leitmotif of the coconut, which is present throughout the story. Very evocative, lyrical. I couldn’t help but smile.

Bernadette and Rado are the only named individual characters in the story. Bernadette’s roommate and the Director of the school, though they are significant characters and appear in several scenes, are never named. But a very strong and important character is a group I will call The Women, these teachers from France. It’s a very interesting use of a group as a character.

I’ve been paying more attention to voice and POV lately, thanks to Zin’s involvement with the Zoetrope discussion of this volume. This story uses a shifting POV and distance in what seems to me to be an effective manner. It starts out with a “long shot,” establishing the basics of who and what and where. It’s almost a third person plural “they” narrator – The Women, arrived from France, are a group, a whole. Then in the second paragraph we focus on Rado, but from a distance, as he appears to the teachers: “…he never made an error in construction or conjugation, and he listened to their explanations with a critical tilt to his head…took notes with a fountain pen. He was young, in his twenties, but he walked in his youthful body as if borrowing it on the way to an older one.” This is still from the “we,” The Women, point of view, so to speak.

We are then introduced to Bernadette. We watch as she and Rado talk over dinner. It’s still from a distance, from the “we” view, only Bernadette is not part of the “we,” she is a separate “she”: “…she fiddled with the corner of her napkin. Now and again, she laughed, which the women had never heard her do.…Rado laughed with her. The solitary line that marked his brow deepened, and his teeth showed, as they did not in the classroom.” This continues for several days, this mealtime behavior, and the Director does not notice, but the Women do: “Their discussions could be overheard in snatches: Rimbaud’s Catholicism, the lyrics of Prevert, nothing to raise suspicion in the Director, hunched over his plate at the other end of the table, necktie tucked into his shirt front. But the women interpreted what he ingnored…. In the communal bathroom, on the path to meals, and evenings, over herbal tea, Bernadette and Rado became the subject of hushed conversation.” Without needing any internal views at all, Delury conveys the surprise and envy of a group as one character.

We get to eavesdrop on one of their talks:

The coconut, he told her, as she followed him into the plantation, can travel for hundreds of miles on the ocean, even washing up on the shores of Antarctica and Ireland.
“Really?” she asked.
He smiled. “There is no fooling you, is there?”
“Perhaps if you were a botanist. Instead of a poet.”

And then we finally get a glimpse inside Bernadette’s head. She’s read his poetry, and it’s awful. Flat. “He chose obvious words for obvious subjects. He did not see past the surface of things.” This strikes me as supremely ironic, since it is people seeing, or not seeing, past the surface of things – The Women seeing past the friendship, Rado not seeing past her University title – that causes them all the trouble.

Bernadette’s roommate defends her to the group, and starts to think of The Crucible when she hears murmurings against Bernadette. This roommate does not get a name, but she is identifiable as the roommate – no one else gets any kind of identity, not even something like “the tall woman from Lyon.” The most we get is “one of the women.”

We go back to Bernadette and Rado, discussing the gossip, and we get closer to Bernadette again. She is a bit smitten. At least, she is enjoying the attention. But she knows Rado is attracted to her University position, though he misunderstands it and thinks it is much more prestigious than it actually is. “She saw it happen the first night, the way his eyes stopped roaming, but she didn’t correct him.”

And back to The Women, who call their husbands at night on the phone in the Director’s office and complain about Bernadette. Their husbands don’t give them the outrage they desire. This single paragraph is noteworthy for how it uses The Women as a single character, it’s really quite remarkable. It’s also effective at showing there is more to the outrage than Bernadette’s behavior; The Women are dissatisfied with their own lives, and Bernadette is merely the spotlight upon that dissatisfaction.

There are parts I don’t understand – in particular, a paragraph that seems to be from a strong narrative overview but includes a peek into Rado’s attraction to Bernadette’s University affiliation, and admits that if there were to be a genuine relationship, he would expect her to be a wife/slave. It almost seems like an authorial aside, to let us know, in case we aren’t sure: “Seen in this light, they were victimizing each other.”

The romance is finally consummated under a coconut tree. It’s a great scene, all flashbacks, imaginings, and coconut water.

The Women, of course, can tell. They finally pull the plug and report Bernadette to the Director. I’m not sure of the time period in which this is set, but I’m a little surprised French women are so outraged by a little hanky-panky. Even dissatisfied and jealous French woman.

Throughout the story, Bernadette’s dead husband is invoked as she works her way through this pseudo-romance. She begins to understand more about him, and more about her feelings during her marriage. He’d had an affair years earlier, and only confessed on his deathbed. She was outraged that she’d been denied the choice of whether to forgive and move on or not. And at the end, “He thought he was seeking her forgiveness, but he also wanted her rage.” Because what’s the use of betraying someone you love if they don’t see it as a betrayal?

Bernadette leaves Madagascar to avoid scandal; Rado asks what will happen to her, and she assures him, “Nothing of consequence.” I won’t describe the coda – you can read it yourself (the story is available online, though you will have to register with Narrative Magazine – it’s free). It’s worth it. The Women, coconuts, poetry, Rado, it all comes back, because nothing ever disappears. It’s very nicely done. This story snuck up on me, and it was a very nice surprise.

Zin Has Another Story!

Hello, I am Zin! I have another story up!

“Drowning” is online at Berg Gasse 19. [ETA: I am sorry, but the site has dissapeared! This makes me sad! I hope Darcy is ok, she did not tell me she was shutting down, it just expired! I have removed the link from the sidebar! But I figure, it was there, so I will not remove this post!) It is an actual short story, not a flash! And there is no goofiness in it, no wings that fly away, no giant plastic noses, no plumbing! It is quite grim, in fact.

It was “inspired by,” I guess you could call it, by a real thing that happened here in Portland a couple of years ago – a man was working on a Saturday down by the waterfront and he saw some teenagers push a couple of homeless guys into the harbor! No one died, the men were fine, the teenagers ran away and were never caught, the man had to climb a fence to help one of the guys get out.

I read this article while I was waiting for an MRI of a “solitary pulmonary nodule” (which turned out to be, like most of them, absolutely nothing, but at the time I was pretty upset; I had quit smoking six months before and I was really going to be pissed if I had cancer). I tried to write a story from the point of view of the homeless men, from the hero, and the kids, and I liked the kid version the best! It took on a life of its own and started to be about trust, and who a kid believes and who they do not believe – they will do anything Justin Beeber says to do, or is rumored to do, but their parents, not so much!

I had to turn into the POV kid and imagine the harbor scene and the bullying scenes in detail, which was really scary! I am a gentle Zin! So the scary ended up kind of in the story too.

Food Network Star 2011, Episode 10: Iron Chef

Hello, I am Iron Chef Zin!

Hello, I am Zin! It is almost over – tonight, the Final Four! Susie is becoming a better person! I am not sure how a reality competition as stupid as this one can make one a better person, but she says she is! Jeff has wished for this a very long time! I do not think “very long time” means the same to him as it does to me. Mary Beth has the burden because a great chef was sent home! I do not know what that means. Vic is no longer Vegas, he is Vic Moea which sounds a little French to me for an Italian mamma’s boy but that is what it is. He deserves to be here! He says so! Ok. He is going to Bring It! I think he has got the hang of these inane inserts.

No Camera Challenge tonight because it is Iron Chef night! They all see their portraits in black-and-white Iron Chef style hanging on the walls of a makeshift Kitchen Stadium. Alton Brown is back! I know people hate him since he lost weight, and he is kind of obnoxious on this show, but I still love him!

There will be two battles, two contestants will face off in each, and two will commentate (I hate this word, but much to my dismay, it is legitimate). Each one will judge the food his or her opponent makes. Each side has an hour. And the four most recently eliminated contestants are brought back as sous chefs – Chris, Penny, Whitney, and Jyll.

Since Jeff won last week, he gets to pick his opponent – Susie! And he says he picked her because she was smiling at him but damn now he realizes he paired himself up with the best cook in the competition! I think he says this because he does not want to seem like he was dissing her as the weakest! I wonder if that is really what he was thinking, or if he was thinking, “She is a ditz.” She is, but the judges have loved her food! No matter, they have loved most of his food, too. And if I am being truly paranoid, I will say, because I still think Susie will be the ultimate winner, they did not want to leave viewers with the impression that anyone thinks she is a weak cook so they made him say that in interview. Jeff also gets to pick his sous chef, and he picks Whitney. No-Brainer!

When Mary Beth sees Penny, she says, “It’s like so many horror movie villains you think are gone.” Yes! And of course as we have known since last week, Mary Beth draws Penny as sous chef. I think they would have had her pick and pick and pick until she drew Penny. I think someone did a magic trick that made sure Penny was the only name in the jar! Susie gets Chris, which makes them the ditziest team on the planet. That leaves Vic with Jyll.

First round, Vic and Mary Beth: The secret ingredient is… Rack of Lamb! Alton Brown does a pretty poor imitation of the Chairman. Mary Beth interviews, “This is where the challenge lies, you can do anything with a rack of lamb.” So she immediately decides to do… three lamb chop dishes. Vic, on the other hand, plans a carpaccio, lamb burgers, and chops.

Mary Beth sees pears and sweet potatoes. Pears are fall, sweet potatoes are winter, so she will do three seasons of lamb, fall, winter, and late winter-early spring. Wait! Lamb is a Spring dish, yes? Spring lamb? Easter lamb? Anyway, she will at least treat her identical cuts of lamb differently, she will grill, roast, and pan sear. Mary Beth is really being stupid in this challenge. I wonder if they have guaranteed her a travel-around-eating show if she throws the game, makes it easy to eliminate her; it takes smarts to screw up a challenge without seeming to screw it up, because she does a great job of that! For one of her dishes, she wants a lot of Umami, “one of the five primary tastes,” so she uses parmesan and walnuts. Hey! Wait! I remember Alton Brown saying he does not believe in Umami! Maybe he has converted! Penny is shown cutting an onion and a sweet potato in slow motion, except it is not slow motion, she really is moving “at the speed of dirt” as Michael Symon says. Giada complains to Alton. Alton calls Penny on her slow pace and she smirks. After all, she wants to be famous as an incredible bitch and all-around horrible person with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It does not matter. Mary Beth is going home no matter what she does.

Vic experiments with his carpaccio, and when he pounds it, it falls apart. He changes to seared extra-rare loin, sliced, which is pretty flexible of him, I am actually impressed. Vic decides to make a lamb burger, because it is all about being the chef you are and knowing it. Ok. He makes grilled frenched chops with mint grand marnier sauce; Michael Symon thinks it sounds awfully sweet because he is using mint jelly, not mint leaves. He makes french fries by frying them three times; “At the same temperature?” asks Alton, with concern. Alton thinks they are burned. Vic tastes one for Susie and her mike, it does sound more like a pretzel than a french fry.

Jeff, who is commentating, says he is calling one dish the Umami Explosion, the name of his high school rock band. Alton asks him how he would include Umami, and Jeff names parmesan and fish sauce but says he can not give away all his secrets since it is a competition! And Alton Brown is charmed, the panel is amused! Jeff is the Hero of Commentating! He also gets a prize for using Umami and Trifecta in the same sentence, though I do not know why that is such a big deal. He is pretty good, I have to say. He does a throw to commercial very smoothly.

Susie admits commentating is going to be difficult for her; she stammers around a little explaining the carpaccio change. She tries to explain the spices, and Alton says, “Would you call it Mediterranean?” She sounds like she’s saying, he’s using basil and sticking to his Italian roots. Alton points out that Italy is pretty much surrounded by the Mediterranean. I think he is being overly fussy. Susie is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I can understand there can be a difference between “Mediterranean” and “Italian.” She sees white asparagus and Alton asks what the difference is – she says green is more bitter and more “fiber-y-er” and Alton again pokes fun at her. I am no fan of stupid people on TV but I think Alton should stop. He has misspelled words on Good Eats, you know? And he has researchers and writers and rehearsal before he gets on camera.

Round One Tasting:

Vic serves rare seared lamb over arugula with vinaigrette. Mary Beth likes it, but thinks the arugula is not very sharp and the dish is all lush, could use something to cut through it. Everyone else – including Bobby Flay and Michael Simon – thinks it is very good lamb salad. Bobby likes the pistachios and bleu cheese, and Michael thinks it is very balanced with good texture, nice finesse. Bye, Mary Beth!
His Lamb Burger with garlic mayo, balsamic carmelized onion is great. Fogs says this is the best dish she has had from him. Giada loves it. Bobby complains about the fries.
His last dish is lamb chop with mint and grand marnier sauce. They discuss mint jelly. Bobby says mint jelly has no room in the Iron Chef kitchen. Vic interviews, “Well, it was in the kitchen!” and I immediately think of Spike telling Chicago Rick “You had frozen scallops in your cooler” except Vic is smart enough to not say this to the judges. It was a trick ingredient! The third Rail of Kitchen Stadium! Michael Symon says he has never had mint jelly and never will again. Both have just insulted legions of home cooks who proudly serve lamb with mint jelly every Easter Sunday.

Mary Beth presents her winter dish of Israeli couscous, and grilled lamb chop, because she loves to grill outside in winter. I think this is something she made up. Vic says it could have had more seasoning but overall it is a good dish. Michael says it could have used a bright vinaigrette. I think he is getting back at her for the comment she made about Vic’s dish.
The fall pan seared lamb chops with pears, Vic says, is overcooked but overall a good dish. Bob says the elements are beautifully conceived, it is fall on a plate, but the lamb is grey and overcooked.
For late winter-early spring she talks about making a roast when it is still cool, so she served roast lamb chops with sun-dried tomato. Lamb chops are not a roast! And sun-dried tomatoes are not spring! Vic says the lamb is overcooked but overall it is a good dish (he is stuck on repeat). Giada points out that for a lamb challenge, it is not good when the lamb is the worst thing on the plate, but she loves the stories. Mary Beth is the Kelsey of this season, they will keep her around and use her for writing and whip her into shape for a show at some point, but she will not be a cook.

Second Round: Jeff and Susie. The secret ingredient is… Lobster. Jeff is worried, because Lobster is difficult for sandwiches, it gets rubbery if overcooked. I do not think that is unique to sandwiches!

Susie wants to make a ceviche. She gives sous chef Chris instructions on cutting up the lobsters, and he says, “Do you want to cook them first?” Oh, yeah, do that, too. She wants to make a potato cake and use cumin like her grandmother and her mother taught her. Wow, that is only once this episode she has worked that in! She makes enchilladas and uses chard to wrap them.

Jeff makes a lobster roll with tail meat, walnuts, and red onions. It is a good thing Scott Conant is not there! He gets very upset about raw red onion. Michael Symon is skeptical about the walnuts. Jeff will also make a BLAT which is a terrible name for a sandwich – bacon, lobster, avocado and tomato, where the avocado replaces the mayo. Except… oh no… there are no avocados in Mock Kitchen Stadium! So he uses mayo and makes a LBT or LTB which makes me think it is a gay sandwich, without the gay. No, it is a BLAT without the A and BLT is already taken! This is very strange, eventually he just calls it a lobster club, which is what it is after all, thank you! His third dish is baja style lobster taco with radicchio fennel slaw. It dawns on him – without the avocado he is making three sandwiches with store-bought mayo!

Mary Beth is doing ok commentating except Alton keeps asking her very detailed questions. What is the difference between a bisque and a… he never really says “soup” maybe he meant “stew” or “chowder” but we will assume he was going to say soup. She says it is thick and creamy and a nice bed to dive into and sleep for a week, which is a cop-out. I always thought bisque had almost-pureed stuff in it and tiny pieces not quite pureed, but from looking around I see the definition is pretty loose, cream, fish stock, pureed fish, whatever. It is a thick soup! When she says something about sea salt he asks her what type of salt is not sea salt, and she goes bonkers, he reminds her of the Socratic Method in law school, and she holds up kosher salt. He tells her in an aside (and us) that all salt is sea salt, even in salt mines, there is no salt where there was not once a sea. He did this on his “Eat This Rock” show. Which he had researchers and writers for, and time to prepare! They are really letting Mary Beth have it!

Vic is worried about his commentating skills. Vic mentions harissa paste, and Alton asks him what that is. Vic fakes it, peppers, then holds up the tube (which looks exactly like a toothpaste tube) and says, “It is a spicy paste in this tube, it is toothpaste from the devil!” which is a pretty cute dodge (Bobby really cracks up) but Alton tells him to say he does not know and go find out.

Round Two Tasting:

Jeff presents his lobster roll with mayo, onions, walnuts on a potato roll. Susie says the lobster is cooked well and the other stuff is good. Michael Symon likes the walnuts after all, it is a successful dish. Fogs says the elements came together. Bob loves that Jeff saw the lobster roll through his Sandwich King lens. Wait, a lobster roll is a sandwich, how else would you see it???? I think Bob is fishing for something to say because he has been quiet and he needs some screen time.
His baja style taco in tempura batter does not do so well. Bobby says the batter is way to thick. Fogs likes that he reinterpreted a taco.
The lobster club on challah with lobster bisque and caviar: Bobby says the lobster is cooked perfectly. Michael calls him on the mayo, why not make and aoli or at least add acid to the mayo. Giada says if you put lemon in your mayo it will change your life. I think Giada is exaggerating. A lot. I mean, I was stunned when I first used freshly grated black pepper, it was a surprise and I started using it often, but it did not change my life, and I do not think lemon in mayo will do that either.

Susie presents her lobster ceviche with citrus. Jeff likes the texture and crunch. Michael says it was successful. Bob, still looking for something to say, says her verbal presentation is perfect. I think that is what he says. I am not sure. It seems rather strange. Maybe he had outpatient brain surgery earlier today?
Her second dish is the chard enchillada stuffed with lobster sautéed with cumin like her grandmother and mother showed her, zucchini and jalapeno puree. Giada says it is creative. Michael says it is well cooked.
Third is her lobster stew with potato cake. Bob loves the stew, something about sizzling sunshine. I think Bob needs a vacation! Giada loved the smell, knew it was Susie. There is Susie now, I can smell her coming!

As they all wait in their little room, Mary Beth interviews they all have something to bring to the table and it is a hard decision. Not hard at all, Mary Beth.

The Inquisisiton:

Mary Beth: Bobby notes she was handicapped with Penny, but that is life in Kitchen Stadium, you have to overcome adversity (as opposed to life everywhere else, where adversity is unheard of). He admits Alton is tough. Bob says she brings food to life and makes him fall in love with food. That is sad, Bob and a pizza in the wee hours, cooing sweet nothings. Giada says Mary Beth was the best judge, she took it seriously. I thought she screwed up on the lamb salad! Bobby loves the idea of her food but the execution was only 75%. Giada gives her points for eloquence but not execution. None of this is new.

Vic: For the third time they mention his new name. I still say it is French. Bobby says the salad was a good start, the lamb burger was terrific, those two dishes were best in battle, but the lamb chop with mint jelly sauce was the worst. Bob says he has grown more than anyone else in this competition (and if he grows more, he will have to hold his arms straight out). But he struggled with commentating and did not show a base of knowledge. Bob says he did become proactive halfway through and started volunteering info. Bobby thinks he was not an honest judge, every dish was “overall good.” Fogs does not know what “not bad” means. Then the killer: “We are looking for a star, not a student.”

Jeff: Bobby says he was a serious contender since day one. Not so! They thought he was a clown! They harass him over the mayo again. Bob says he charmed Alton brown, and did not know that was possible. He has a quality that can not be taught, and has stuck to his POV from day one. Bobby says his judging was right on. Jeff says he looks like a sandwich. I have no idea what that means.

Susie: Giada remembers begging her to go back to her roots, and see how far she has come! Do not break your arm patting yourself on the back taking credit for Susie, Giada! Everyone told her to go back to her roots! Giada says she approached the challenge as an Iron Chef and mastered the ingredients. Her judging was on point. Her commentating was not that good, she was uncertain, and her authority went out the window. Fogs tells her to say she does not know and will find out instead of making stuff up. Does anyone not think it is strange that she has to be told this?

In the Jeff vs Susie Lobster battle, Susie wins!
In the Vic vs Mary Beth Rack of Lamb battle, Vic wins. They say it was close. I do not believe them.

Mary Beth is out, big surprise! She was doomed several weeks ago, when someone said she had not made any dish that really was a wow, even though her meat loaf wowed Paula Deen. It is like Adam Gertler, once Bobby said he did not have the food knowledge, he was doomed. But he is a Star anyway, and I think Mary Beth will be as well!

Next week, the Finale – Reunion Special at 8pm! Oh, that will be good! In the Finale, one of them goes home after the Camera Challenge, and then Guy Fieri directs the Pilots. I guess Guy Fieri always wanted to direct. The Focus Group will include former contestants. Penny will go after Susie. Penny does not like women. Fortunately for Susie, I do not think it matters any more.