Jess Row: “Summer Song” from Tin House, Summer 2012

Someone said, the problem with summer is that it goes on too long. It’s an interstice, a pause, a suspended sentence. You want it so desperately, then you can’t wait to get out of it. It gives you the illusion of permanence on earth. No matter what, it always comes back.
Someone else said, if I have to eat another bowl of gazpacho, or drink another glass of sangria, I’m going to fucking kill myself.

More prose poem than narrative, this reminds me of one of those party scenes in a movie – there’s a crowd of voices, the camera focuses on this conversation or that one, zooming in to listen more closely, then flitting away to find another knot of chatters, another party.

If you’ve been to that party – where in one corner someone is earnestly trying to raise a serious issue about current events, the big academic question of the day, or the less-than-admirable behavior of a group of which he’s a part (Americans, or the Middle Class, say), and a bored self-important blowhard (or half-drunk attention-seeker out of his intellectual depth) hijacks the conversation with a clumsy joke to himself become the center of attention again – then you know this story.

They worried about the inchoate, almost unmentionable things you can’t talk about at parties, like the problem of evil in light of God’s omniscience, or the potential for decades-long economic depression following a global credit collapse, or the future of the country, given that, I mean, half the kids in Alexa’s kindergarten class barely even speak English. Was it ok to hang bunting across your porch even if you disagreed with the war in Afghanistan to promote the success of Wallaby’s Organic Market, where red, white, and blue vegan cookies were on sale for $10.99 a pound?
But perhaps all those were forms of avoidance, of eliding the real problems, the intimate problems.

There’s a reference to Ray Bradbury – “A few wondered if Bradbury was still alive, and one or two said, oh yes, I read an interview with him in the Paris Review – made extra-bittersweet by random chance of timing, and the ending paragraph lands a glancing blow on terrorism-ism, but overall it reminds me of Cheever. Or post-9/11 Prufrock.

I love Jess Row’s writing (and forgive him when his character starts pontificating), and again he doesn’t disappoint. He juxtaposes the general and the specific, the thoughtful and inane, in a short (six-page) lyric that’s embarrassing as we maybe see ourselves, and beautiful. It’s kind of strange that the two stories I chose to read because they were very short (I was in a waiting room, not expecting to wait as long as I did, so as it happens I had time for this and Amy Hempel before my name was called) turned out to be more essay than narrative. In fact, I thought that might be the theme for the issue –I hadn’t read the Introduction yet, shame on me – but the “miserabilism” theme fits just as well.

There will never be another summer like this one. There will be another summer like this one. There will be, like, another summer. There will be another summerlike summer. One summer will be like another. A summer will never be like another one.

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