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A Little Smut Never Hurt Nobody

Laura Briskman

Maybe it's my current workplace (academic publishing), but my lunchtime circle loves to hate on Fifty Shades of Grey.

"The writing is terrible."

"No self-respecting woman treats herself like that."

"People read it on the subway."

"The movie's coming out, though. I'm going to see it, I think. My friends want to, not me."


Now, I certainly follow the arguments against Fifty Shades' literary cred. And perhaps the protagonist, a strong young woman on the first page, loses herself to whips and entrepreneurial dominance because it's spicier bedtime reading. Maybe we're all just a little jealous because many of us are aspiring writers and we're watching EL James take up our B&N shelf space.

But I do feel that it's important not to ignore the importance of this series from a publishing standpoint. According to Business Insider, 70 million copies of the Fifty Shades series have sold in the U.S. (That—and it breaks my heart a bit—is more than Harry Potter.) It has been translated into over fifty languages. Lots of people have read Fifty Shades of Grey. And even more people are talking about it. Because Fifty Shades is the head cheerleader: you may think you're better than her five-inch heels and four-inch skirt, but you'd damn well better treat her with respect.

I think that we probably get a book or series like this every couple of years. It keeps the presses pressing and the publishers employed. Back in high school, before the days of Fifty Shades, I picked up a copy of Valley of the Dolls at my local library. The librarian tapped the crackling dust jacket and said quietly, "Oh. I remember this one." The 1966 Susann title suddenly seemed incredibly dirty. (All I knew about it at the time was that it was allegedly based on Judy Garland's struggles with narcotics.)

My grandmother always liked to know what I was reading. I mentioned Valley of the Dolls to her during my next visit—old people would appreciate old books, right?—and she wrinkled her nose. "That's trash, Laura."

Maybe it was trash in 1966. But it has become one of my favorites. It's slightly sexual (probably very sexual for its era), and I find none of the characters aspirational. But one reason that I love Valley so much is its portrayal of '60s Hollywood—admittedly to someone who knows very little about the '60s or Hollywood. And it was a bestseller of its time. It feels significant. "Everyone" was reading Valley of the Dolls when it came out, and even those that hadn't cracked the cover were criticizing Susann for her inability to write.

Where does this leave us, then? In a vicious cycle, doomed for generations to read (or not read, or to pretend not to read but actually read) mediocre books that will define the publishing industry and pee their territory on top 10 lists and bestseller shelves? Perhaps. But that only further convinces me that it's dangerous to be such snots about the whole thing.

This isn't to say that I have learned something from this parallel. Believe you me: if I have a grandchild, the day that he or she brings over a copy of EL James' first book and says, "Look what I found at this garage sale. It's from 2011. Who even has print books anymore? And what's S&M?" I will probably go through that familiar hate spiral because I never sold millions of books and say, "That's garbage! Getting your work published used to mean something. Give that to me. I'm burning it."

Laura Briskman is a graduate of Kenyon College. She now works in academic publishing in New York.


Interview with Rita Bullwinkel: Ice Worlds, Undead Voices, and Allusions to the Complete Other

Maria Anderson

Rita Bullwinkel originates from the San Francisco Bay Area and currently resides in Brooklyn. She has also planted her feet in Providence, Rhode Island and Delhi, India, where she worked at the Indian National Gallery of Modern Art. She is the recipient of several grants from Brown University and a fellowship from Vanderbilt. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in NOONHeavy Feather Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Two Serious Ladies, and Gigantic Worlds: An Anthology of Science Flash Fiction

How would you, in a sentence or two, describe your writing? 

A perilous attempt to swim the English Channel. An elective surgery in which the doctor may have accidentally left the scalpel inside the patient. 

What sorts of voices are most compelling to you?

Those of ghosts or other kinds of undead.

What do you look for in the stories you read? How would you say your reading breaks down, if you had a pie chart, in terms of poetry, short stories, longer prose, and nonfiction?

I am an obsessive reader of many different formats in which words appear. I usually find new words to read through words I have previously read. Below is an approximate graph of my word consumption. 

What is something people often misunderstand about your writing?

I am not sure if I believe writing can be misunderstood. I think when one writes something they make an object, and that when that object is published, separated from the existence of its maker, it is given away into the abyss of collective consciousness where the minds of the world can do what they like with it.

I like to learn about the little things writers are obsessed with. For instance, when I try to think about my obsessions, I usually think of various passwords for things I’ve used over the years. Dung beetles, people who don’t sleep or sleep very little, rattlesnakes, and hunting are mine. What are yours?

I am fascinated by illness, how your body can rebel against you. It is quite baffling, to me, that something like your blood can kill you, revolting from within. The relationship one has to their body is bizarre, and that bizarreness is perhaps most clearly exposed during times of sickness.  I think this is why I am interested in illness. It becomes a clarifying agent.

I have also, recently, become increasingly interested in ice worlds. Anna Kavan’s Ice, Tarjei Vesaas’ Ice Palace, Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Kobo Abe’s Inter Ice Age 4, Vladamir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. In all of these books, ice functions not only as setting, but as a divine being that has to be reasoned with, some type of silent deity that is both threatening and full of comfort. I have found that, as a reader, when I am in an ice world I am more easily sedated into the narrative. I am not sure why that is. I am trying to find out.

You’re an assistant fiction editor at the Brooklyn Rail and an Associate Editor at NOON. Which literary magazines do you read?

There are so many fantastic lit mags out there. People truly are fighting the good fight. I read The Black Warrior Review, The American Reader, and Two Serious Ladies perhaps most religiously. Uzoamaka Maduka has shaped The American Reader into something spectacular, with Ben Marcus and Ben Lerner both in her arsenal of editors. Amelia Gray’s “On The Moment of Conception,” published in the December 2012 issue, is one of the best stories I have read in eons. The Ramon Isao and Joe Wenderoth pieces were also fantastic.

Which visual artists have you been into recently? Does art tie into your writing at all?

Many of my stories are birthed out of images, although these images are usually my own, things that come to me late at night or very early in the morning. I find great pleasure in the visual and that is, perhaps, why images have such power over me. I have recently fallen in love with Clyfford Still’s work. His violent, invasive paintings are captivating. I wish I could live with one of his marvelous canvases.

Clyfford Still

I have also been taken by the work of Linnéa Gad, a Swedish artist who lives and works here in New York. I saw one of her exhibitions last October and was shaken by her careful consideration of the visual. The exhibition mainly featured highly detailed paintings of interiors, with some parts of the image occasionally rubbed out, creating a type of vacancy. The cold, simple, exacting of these environments was stunning. I love the way in which her paintings hold back and allow viewers to insert elements of their own imagination. Each of her paintings is a window into some whole, other complete world. I think this skill of creating the allusion of a complete, original other, is the most valuable thing any artist, writer or painter, can posses.

Linnéa Gad

What are you reading/listening to/watching right now? 

I have been enchanted by Ethiopian jazz, as of late. I have also been enamored by Darkside, the Dave Harrington-Nicolas Jaar duo. I saw them live in Istanbul last May and then again at Terminal 5 here in New York in January. Both were two of the best live shows I have ever seen. Their Istanbul show was on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in Taksim, the backdrop to the stage an open-air view of both continents and the Hagia Sofia. It was insane, all these Turks waiting for the beat to drop and the light turning.  

As for words, I have a series of sizable stacks of books that encircle my bed. I have to step over them in order to enter and exit my sleeping premises. The stack closest to where I lay my head when I sleep contains an Addis Abba travel guide, Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke, the Guru Granth Sahib, and Joanna Ruocco’s The Mothering Coven.

And movies. I don’t think I have yet fully recovered from the splendor of Tran Anh Hung’s Norwegian Wood.

If your writing were an animal, what kind of animal would it be and why?

A three legged dog. Deformed, but surprisingly mobile.


Get Ready for Jewelry Show and Tell at Wordsmith

Wordsmith finds common ground between jewelry and writing. The exhibition is set up and the zine is printed, but you're not out of chances to participate.

At tomorrow's opening reception at Magers and Quinn, we want you to bring your weirdest, most beautiful, most historied, most something piece of jewelry and tell us its story.

Now don't start wringing your hands over the fact that you purchase 100% of your jewelry as an afterthought in the checkout line of a fast fashion retailer. You chose that piece for a reason. Plus, no one said its story has to be nonfiction. This is an opportunity to give your trusty $5 studs the backstory they deserve.

Need some inspiration? Our staff decided to take the challenge.


How my Connemara marble earrings are like 50 Shades of Grey:

There are, supposedly, 40 shades of green in Connemara marble. That one's obvious. 

The Connemara marble earrings I bought in Ireland at the Cliffs of Mohr gift shop are the best impulse buy I've ever made. 50SoG is pretty much all about impulses.

Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian Grey in the movie, is from Northern Ireland. The region of Connemara, where the marble is found, is in Western Ireland.

Did the characters of 50SoG ever do it on a marble slab? Probably.

Okay, so my earrings are nothing like erotica. But I'm obsessed with them, just like a lot of people are obsessed with the book.


The first jewelry items I bought for myself that cost over ten dollars were these Brach Earrings from Nervous System's Algae line. According to their website, this line "…explores a range of botanical patterns created by systematically abstracting the cycles of growth and bifurcation seen in plants."

I don't know about that, but they remind me of the antlers of a very tiny stag, or of the veins running through a very tiny person's lungs. (That last one probably has something to do with the "Nervous System" name behind the jewelry.) Plus, the fact that I paid more for them than I've ever paid on jewelry means I feel like a super-classy lady whenever I wear them.


­­­When I was 15 I found this owl necklace at Forever 21 and thought it made me unique, just like everyone else who shops at Forever 21.

I named it Oxford, as in Oxford the owl, because alliteration is cool and all owls should have pretentious names. Sometimes Oxford is mistaken for a dragon or a beaky Ron Swanson, but Oxford is most assuredly an owl.

A few months later, in my German class, we had to write and illustrate a children's book about animals to demonstrate that we could pretend to speak German. Naturally, I wrote mine about Oxford.

The plot went like this: All of the other animals hated Oxford because he was green. Then he met Penny, a purple owl. He fell in love with her, but then she left him. Oxford cried. The end.

Eventually, a second-grade class came to visit us, and we had to read our stories to the kids. I probably got away with the dark nature of mine because there aren't any second-graders in my hometown who can speak German. Even my teacher couldn't speak it.

At the end of the class, the kids went home with the books we made. Mine probably became shredded paper at the bottom of a hamster cage.


But hey, at least my necklace never became home furnishings for a rodent.


I don't remember much about my great grandma Ev, but I know she was a sentimental proto-hoarder. One of the umpteen times the Red River flooded—the real bad one, I think, in 1997—my family drove to East Grand Forks to help her clean out her soggy, box-filled basement. While the adults worked, I gathered spoils. I came away with a few scarves and plastic bangles that Grandma Ev had sported in the '60s.

In the years since, Grandma Ev's accessories have disappeared one piece at a time, lost between bedrooms or houses or cities. At least twice I've watched the bangles break, once when some ham-fisted guy tried one on. I dismissed it with an "it's ok, it's just a shitty plastic bracelet," but by then I only had a few left, so in reality, I was gutted. Now I'm down to one, which I never wear but keep anyway because, like Grandma Ev, I'm a sentimental proto-hoarder.

It's not that it's pretty or interesting, but it's endured while all my other cheap jewelry has lost my favor. Next time I steal an old woman's stuff, I'll go for quality.


There's a ritual I go through in the morning to get ready. Piece by piece, it feels like I'm suiting up for battle. And while I don't have a sophisticated three-piece suit and tie, my fuchsia lipstick and bronze pendants give me all the armor I need to feel my power, confidence, and beauty—getting me ready for anything.


All That's Left is a Band of Gold

For someone who has a complicated relationship with marriage, I am surprisingly attached to one particular inherited symbol of holy matrimony: my dad's wedding band. To be accurate, the gold band actually belonged to my mother's father. He was a man who, like many men before him, somehow ended up not raising his children. My mom inherited the relic. I guess that's the least a child of divorce can look forward to. That and less fighting.

I became its owner during a nostalgic afternoon when my mom kindly let me sift through her dusty jewelry boxes. I sometimes imagine its engraved inscription "M.L.B. TO W.D.H. 6-9-62" pressing against the skin of my middle finger, leaving an imprint of my grandparents' initials, an inherited attachment to dysfunctional relationships. I never really knew my grandpa, but his memory gives my mom a place of refuge, so I guess he must have been a good guy. I generally don't trust good guys, though.  

Ironically enough my mom and my dad, the second users of the ring, are still married. You might be wondering how I now posses it, if their matrimony is still intact. Good question. My dad, who built worlds with his hands, never really saw a use for the band. I like to imagine that he never wore it, but probably he did, for the first few days or weeks. It was more likely that the first time he slipped it off, he realized how superfluous it was. I know it sounds bad that my dad doesn't wear his ring. Trust me, he's a good guy. I guess I already told you not to trust them though.

Earlier this spring my brother announced his engagement to his girlfriend. The ring of our grandfather now has a new calling. I am wearing it as I type now, the worn gold gives off a soft glow in the sun. I plan on going with my brother to get the ring resized. I insisted actually that he keep the inscription on the inside and pay extra to maintain those initials. While I don't have an attachment to marriage (just distaste for it) I somehow love what this particular wedding band represents.

This ring is more than a marker of heteronormative relationships. For me this ring maps the interstices between myself and the men in my family. My grandfather who I never met. My father who spends his time off chipping away paint from the side of our house and fixing things I didn't even know existed. My brother who is moving back to Minnesota this summer.

Maybe it's fitting that a gold band represents my ties to these men. They say gold lasts forever. Or maybe that's diamonds. I don't really have a taste for either. 


What to Expect at the Wordsmith Opening on Thursday

It's a super chill literary hangout that you're super aggressively
encouraged to come to.

Thursday, April 24
7:00—10:00 p.m.
Magers and Quinn
RSVP on Facebook


What to bring: 

  1. Yourself.
  2. Your weirdest, most beautiful, most interesting, most something jewelry.
  3. Your reading glasses.


What to expect: 

  1. A jewelry-meets-lit art display.
  2. A Wordsmith zine.
  3. A reading from Maggie Ryan Sandford (at 8:00 sharp).
  4. A space to photograph and tell the story of your weirdest, most beautiful, most interesting, most something jewelry.
  5. Super sick gift bags.
  6. Themed music.
  7. Girly dranks.
  8. Lots of books. Buy one!


Sneak peek at the show: 


Samantha Mitchell, Adventure Time Brooch

Leslie Boyd, Junior's Room


The Poetry of Queer Theory: A Reading Guide

In every language the loveliest question / is, You can say that?

—Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick 

Lizzy Shramko

While most people spend their weekends hanging out with friends, making delicious food and generally being productive human beings, earlier this March I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at a graduate conference entitled, “Attachments: Queer Investments in Capital & Globalizations.” Organized by the Graduate Interdisciplinary Group on Gender Studies at the University of Minnesota, the conference addressed larger concepts of how bodies are regulated through the state, the non-profit industrial complex’s stake in the queer community, and temporal adjustments to the ways we think about crip-ness.

For those unfamiliar with the queer world of queer theory, here’s how I describe it to confused family members and friends: a critical discipline that came about in the ’90s, queer theory is as much about queerness as it is about reading the world in queer ways. While queer signifies personal and political identification with groups organized around sexuality and gender, it is also a stand in for the atypical, atemporal, improper and non-normative. Some say it emerged from post-structuralism, a school of philosophical thought that many prominent queer theorists were schooled in. There are also strong connections between comparative literature, art criticism, and queer theory. Queer theory encourages scholars and people to read the world around the in queer ways— it’s like Comp Lit’s weirder cousin, complete with septum ring and neon hair. The strands of queer theory that most interest me are connected to Third Wave or Third World Feminism, and borrow strongly from texts like This Bridge Called My Back.

If this doesn’t give a coherent definition of queer theory, then I recommend you check out this delightful blog that explains it in a much more entertaining, perhaps more realistic way. 

One way that queer theory "reads" queerness into and across external texts is demonstrated in how the Queer Attachments conference was designed. Coordinators expertly framed panels around Beyoncé lyrics that ranged from “Drunk in Love” to “Get Me Bodied,” a nod to queer theory’s critical engagement with the world around us. The use of Beyoncé lyrics (which, yes, are a form of poetry), made me think about the literary histories and teleologies of queer theory, and how the world of literature and queer theory intersect and overlap.

Some examples of how queer theorists have read queerness into explicitly literary texts include Judith Butler's analysis of Antigone, one of the archetypes of Greek mythology and key player that became a blueprint for playwrights around the world. Luminaries like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick got their start teaching writing and literature and like many other theorists, Sedgwick even wrote her own poetry—her poetry is quoted in the beginning of this piece. Currently other queer theorists find themselves housed in departments like English and comparative literature. And before queer theory was even a discipline, poets like Audre Lorde, who laid the groundwork for different strands of queer theory, anticipated the ways that queer theory would grow alongside literary arts in decades to come. These intersections are not a coincidence.

Perhaps that is what I love the most about indulging in queer theoretical texts. There is something exciting about the fact that you can effectively queer the world around you. Queer theory equips you with the tools to read queerness into the field of literature, which has traditionally celebrated white, straight male authors and challenges you to view them from a different lens. It also encourages you to read the literary into texts not traditionally associated with "high brow" writing - like Mrs. Carter. It goes beyond the postmodern turn of deconstructionism and recognizes the weirdness, the political, the gross, the atemporal, the value and the queerness in all.

Intrigued? I’ve compiled a list of the most literary queer theoretical texts for the prose-minded to peruse:

Shakesqueer: A Queer Companion to the Complete Work of Shakespeare

Edited by Madhavi Menon

Ok so the name kind of says it all, but this book is filled to the brim with queer theoretical explorations of Shakespeare’s work. From language to themes to reflections of the author himself, the theorists in this book aim to recognize the queer in one of the most referenced authors in Western history. The writers also challenge notions of how “queerness” is expected to make itself knowable.

Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death

By Judith Butler

Again, this one spells it out in the title. Butler, one of the most prominent scholars in queer theory, uses Antigone, a character who became one of the most well known tropes in modern literature, to rethink her importance in feminist and sexual politics. Butler is famous for thinking about the performative postures of gender—a concept that has received as much scrutiny as it has acclaim.

Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics

By José Esteban Muñoz

Muñoz, who taught at NYU’s Performance Studies Department, sadly passed away late last year. His seminal text, Disidentifications, explored the ways that queer people of color navigate mainstream culture through transforming texts, performances, and people through their own performances. His book theorizes the very political queering of the majority culture and offers a perspective on how to think about the potential for queering the world of literature—in the future and as it is happening now.

Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity

By José Esteban Muñoz

Muñoz’s second book explores the temporality of queer time and reads a temporal dissonance into writing by authors like Amiri Baraka and Frank O’Hara, among other artists.

Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories

By Elizabeth Freeman

Another exploration in the temporal connections with queer theory, Freeman’s book provides a new reading on artists in an attempt to reveal the temporal dissonances and political significance of their work. Using contemporary literary theory to read her texts, Freeman shows how the fields of comparative literature and English are in constant conversation with queer theory.

Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction

By Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

This book goes beyond analyzing individual texts and fixes its queer gaze on the history of the novel. Sedgwick, along with other contributors, explore the queer worlds of authors like Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James, among others. A must-read for writers and readers interested in the literary arts.

The Weather in Proust

By Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

This collection of pieces written by Sedgwick was published posthumously after a battle with terminal cancer. While she was working on a book on Proust, this collection goes into a diverse assortment of texts, from Proust to Sedgwick’s own textile artwork. Sedgwick redefined the ways that psychoanalysis and affect theory were imagined within the scope of queer theory.



Blog o' Blogs: Best Literary Tumblrs

Alyssa Bluhm

I write this blog post knowing full well that the only Tumblr you really need to follow to get a healthy dose of popular art and lit is Paper Darts. However, for those who are into that variety-is-the-spice-of-life thing and want more than one tentacle of our Octolady clogging their homepage, here is a chili-bowl of blogs for your pleasure:

1. Dude in Publishing

Essentially the reaction-gif blog of the publishing world, Dude in Publishing is like the popular kid in high school everyone wanted to be friends with ("Maybe if I follow him I'll get a job in publishing, too!"). But since employment isn't likely to rub off on blog followers, this post about how to make it on your own might be helpful.

P.S. Anyone who loves breakfast this much is worth a follow. You go, DiP, you go.

2. Incorrect Sylvia Plath Quotes

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never know if they are genuine." This especially applies to Sylvia Plath, whose poetry inspired many songs, including the one from the '90s that goes, "Whoop, there it is."

3. Googly Eye Books

They put googly eyes on book covers, because this is the internet.

4. Literary Jukebox

This blog pairs a quote from a book with a song. Genius, right? It's kind of like Slaughterhouse 90210, except you don't have to feel left out when you've never seen the TV show.

5. Tattoo Lit

This blog might be an inspirational resource for anyone looking to get literary ink, or anyone looking for which clichéd tattoos not to get (hint: typewriter fonts), or for people who don't want tattoos but still think it's cool when people devote a whole sleeve to Harry Potter 

6. The Final Sentence

Let's be real—who has time to finish books anymore? Learn all you need to know about a book just by reading the last sentence. Warning: spoilers ahead.

7. Google Poetics

You know how people are always talking about how art is in those silly, everyday things we always take for granted? Google's search suggestions is one of them, and sometimes it makes for some good poetry. 

8. Ultimate Writing Resource List

There are probably a few versions of this list floating around, but every writer should have easy access to a comprehensive list of literally every piece of writing advice on the internet.


The Coming-of-Age Tale Gets Mixed Up with the WWE: "Savage 1986-2011" by Nathaniel G. Moore

Richard McClaughlin

As a society at the beck and call of mass culture, we're well into the second coming of reality television, (a medium that came into global power some 15 years ago) where plumbers, school teachers, fitness instructors, homemakers and janitors have the chance to become household names overnight. We continue to waltz knee-deep in the ever-boring business of the tell-all celebrity memoir that some people call "books." Contemporary fiction has joined the slow drip of this particular genre grab, taking on a life of its own in a confluence of expression and anonymity with fictional versions of lives we would otherwise never hear about. Sheila Heti and Tao Lin are fostering the people with urban fiction's take on the barrage of self-stuffing.

Described by Taddle Creek magazine as "a book whose tumultuous creation is a tale on-par with any W.W.E. storyline" Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986–2011 (Anvil Press) takes the confessional love letter, puts a mixed tape in the envelope for good measure and throws it on your front porch, waiting obsessively for you to hear the truth. The truth is of course, according to Nate, the novel's voice and for all intents and purposes, narrative linchpin. According to Moore, the book had to have a major shift in treatment towards the end of its construction before he would show it to any publisher. "It lacked rhythm, it needed to be pushed closer to home, get a bit uglier and at the same time, more beautiful," Moore explains. "I rewrote it in first person, removing the original third person elements, changed the names around to those of my actual family, save for Holly who is the sister I never had, and based it entirely on what I remembered to be my legendary life with my family."

Nathaniel G. Moore's Savage 1986–2011 takes the confessional love letter, puts a mixed tape in the envelope for good measure and throws it on your front porch, waiting obsessively for you to hear the truth.

Since it's publication in late 2013, Savage 1986–2011 has included the release (online) of a short film and sporadic text and video features on the places and people that inspired and assisted with the novel's completion. Most of this has transpired through a Tumblr page (savageanovel.tumblr.com) but other bits Moore has released on Vimeo, and Savage Shorts on Youtube and on internet message boards.

"The use of black and white drawings by Vicki Nerino and Andrea Bennett added to the private feel the book gives off," says Moore. "The short film was necessary and came about for two reasons: because of the culture clutter that runs rampant in the opening chapters, and because I wanted to bridge the past with the present using old footage," Moore says, suggesting the tapestry of colors and products, music and personal visuals could be played out in the film in a way that was different than the book itself.

A perennial mouthpiece in the young Toronto publishing community, Moore is a both a long-time supporter of publishing and also one of its biggest antagonists. In a recent interview, Moore likened the business side of books to that of pro wrestling's prearranged outcomes.

The wrestling industry is "able to do the exact same thing over and over again and still make millions of dollars," Moore told Taddle Creek editor Conan Tobias. "The book industry is the same way. Although the money is completely skewed, it is, to a degree with grants and poetry contests, it is fake, it is prearranged. There are those situations where people say, 'No, I don't want to have that person win,' and no one can tell me that hasn't happened in Canadian publishing."

The wrestling industry is "…able to do the exact same thing over and over again and still make millions of dollars. The book industry is the same way. Although the money is completely skewed, it is, to a degree with grants and poetry contests, it is fake, it is prearranged."

While Moore admits many of his contemporaries believed the book to be entirely devoted to someone's obsession with wrestling and Randy Savage, he's been delighted with the end results of the product and general buzz the book has garnered. "People have walked away with different things, appreciated separate elements of Savage, and that's something I'm tremendously proud of, I almost got the sense that some people didn't expect to read a book so straight-forward from me, which, based on my past books I can't entirely blame them for."

And while popular culture does from time to time shout from the pages (Playboy, Terminator 2, Star Wars, George Michael, New Order, Wrestlemania, Cape Fear), the story arc is a unique look at one family member's recollection of his rise and fall and of a messy nuclear family meltdown with bouts of hope, lust, power, love and corruption all fountaining out in loud Technicolor.

Using the exploitive world of pro wrestling as a tiny thread in the storyline, Savage 1986–2011 is framed between the twenty-five years the narrator (named Nate) first sees Randy "Macho Man" Savage in the summer of 1986 until the passing of the wrestler in May 2011. The book revisits Toronto's 1980s and 1990s, bad parenting, explicit teen mischief, lazy pizza afternoons, personal fantasy and suburban dread. With George Michael or New Order playing on a constant loop in the background and armed with his trusty VHS video camera, Nate sets off to document the final years of a family caught in its growing web of dysfunction.

With George Michael or New Order playing on a constant loop in the background and armed with his trusty VHS video camera, Nate sets off to document the final years of a family caught in its growing web of dysfunction.

The book serves as both a time capsule and examination of the apparatus of the real and that which is perceived to be false or untrue. Each character believes in his or her own realities and the depths of their subjectivity, however erratic these emotional aggressions may appear to the reader.

"You have all those fundamental coming of age elements but also the break down and slow death of a family from the grandparents to the parents to the children," Moore explains, suggesting even the cat dies at some point. "We all live in the emotional garrisons we create for one another," the author points out.

Moore's two previous novels and two poetry collections vary in length and style and are hard to summarize but I'll try here (Bowlbrawl: full contact bowling league; Let's Pretend We Never Met: a poetic look at the author and the Latin poet Catullus somehow interacting in the present day; Pastels Are Pretty Much the Polar Opposite of Chalk: surreal pop poetry; and Wrong Bar: a group of teens plot a dance party and someone dies).  

Moore says Savage 1986–2011 took more than ten years to complete and was both difficult and exciting to work on, but most of all emotionally draining, sometimes requiring large chunks of time in between edits and revisions. "Beyond all that sulking teen anxiety stuff, which is part of the structure or whatever creative writing class slang you wanna to use, I think Savage is a very funny book, but then again, I live an alternative lifestyle."

Savage 1986–2011
by Nathaniel G. Moore
Anvil Press, 2013
buy on Amazon







Richard McClaughlin is a poet and writer from Etobicoke.