Month: October 2019

Book Review: Banshee

By Diana Love

Banshee opens with a moment of bodily violence and tragedy. Not the personal tragedy of Samantha Baxter, sitting in an oncologist’s waiting room, moments from the cancer diagnosis which will unravel her, but the tragedy of a stranger:

The flesh blew off her bones underground. That’s how the waxy anchorman put it; you could feel his lips loving to make the shape of the word blew. The reason they knew? They’d had to exhume her. He sighed, going for horror, but conveying pleasure, maybe not accidentally.

So begins Rachel DeWoskin’s delicious, dangerous swoop of a novel. Sam pushes the grisly news story off-kilter, focusing less on the dead girl specific than on the suspect perversions of dead girl media universal—a link between the suffering of dead women in television shows, and the suffering of the figure we were about to meet on the page. This would not be, I realized immediately, the fragile narrative of a meek or docile patient. This would not be the narrative of a patient person.

Set just before and in the few weeks immediately following Sam’s diagnosis of breast cancer, Banshee hurtles us forward through a tight and tense timeline. With a double mastectomy and a not small glimpse of mortality looming, Sam began taking actions which I found as strange as they were compelling. In starts and in impulsive stuttering stops, Sam begins to burn down her own life. A professor of poetry, Sam starts sleeping with one of her own graduate students — the much younger Leah — cheating on her husband Charles for the first time and breaking with the ethics of her professional position.  Less an affair of the heart than one of the flesh, Sam is casually incautious with Leah’s feelings, not thinking too hard or too carefully about how these trysts will impact her life or marriage after her scheduled mastectomy, once she is in recovery.  Indeed, Sam spends much of the novel thinking large and very universal thoughts about pretty much everything except what might happen after  this operation. If there is, indeed, to be an after. She is much more concerned with sloughing off the weight of everything that has been her life until now. Sam has outbursts at faculty meetings, calling out hypocritical behaviors she’d previously been politically savvy enough not to mention. She hides in the back of her own car in the university parking lot, unwilling to teach class. She skips office hours for secret rendezvous with Leah, goes home to watch midday television.

As readers, we stay close to Sam, privy to her true thoughts, able to see the angers and desires that drive her. Outwardly erratic, I watched her behavior crystallize around a tight inner credo: to never again do anything for the sake of others alone. When Charles confronts her about the bits of the behavior he can directly observe—and Charles seems capable of observing only the barest tip of that iceberg—he demands to know what this cancer diagnosis means. “It means fucking my student,” Sam thinks furiously.

It means fucking my student, and never being polite or apologizing again. It means shedding every rule like itchy lizard skin, suffocating all the people I love most, you included, and freeing myself. Then putting back on only the ideas and habits I believe deserve to be worn.

“It just means I need a minute to think through who I am,” she ultimately says to Charles, comparatively blandly, “in case this is the end.”

DeWoskin has been clever in her construction of Samantha Baxter and of her world. She does not give Sam a directly abusive husband, just an unimaginative one who sees Sam’s emotional unmooring in the face of her diagnosis as unreasonable—and unseemly—behavior. She does not give to Sam bowel cancer, or bone, or any of the more immediately deadly varieties, but breast. A cancer with a relatively high survival rate, especially when caught early as is the case in Banshee. She sketches for Sam a callow affair with a young student, letting us witness the full range of Sam’s irritation and impatience at Leah’s every bit of earnestness toward a love affair. DeWoskin provides Sam with a daughter, too, nearly the same age as her graduate student lover – Alexi, who Sam is convinced would be disgusted to learn about Leah. So DeWoskin does not allow too much self-righteous wind to puff up Samantha’s sails. Even Sam herself, at points, is struck with self-revulsion: Was it possible that I had never read a female character as disgusting as I was turning out to be? And if so, what did that mean for me as a human being?

Yet I couldn’t help being charmed by Sam, by her fierce and selfish desire to follow her own desires. In a world filled with unsympathetic doctors, milquetoast partners, and dead girls strung up from trees, who doesn’t want a little selfish rage now and then? Freedom to be her worst self allows us to catch glimpses of all the other milder, nicer, calmer selves Sam and scores of other women often compromise themselves to be. Might not there be a little bit of Banshee in each of us? That harbinger of death, that uniquely female form of violent rage—what might we do should the banshee come to call?


Diana Love is a poet and short story writer, somewhat working on her first novel. Her work has previously been published in Literary Mama, and she is a current MFA student in the low-residency program at UC Riverside. Diana grew up amidst the inanities, adventures, and mundanities of the greater San Fernando Valley. She is currently on the Westside, where she is a co-lead for the Westside Chapter of Women Who Submit. She is an excellent whistler.

Dark Ocean Night

By Allen M. Price

EXT: ROCKY POINT PARK – AFTER WORK – NIGHT

In view of the coastline, but a distance away. The unlit amusement park rides hug the night sky.

A SHIP HORN SOUNDS

Ezekiel and Patience and Matthew sit on the rock wall, cartons of clam chowder and clam cakes and beer are next to them. The moon and the stars reflect in the ocean. The ocean waves slap against the rock wall; it’s high tide. A light breeze blows.

Patience takes her sandals off, dips her feet into the water. Ezekiel lights a joint then passes it to Patience. Matthew’s drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.

None of them has touched their food.

Ezekiel gazes out at the black sea that we can only hear, silently trying to free himself from his troubles when he says:

                       EZEKIEL
I wish I could swim.

                        PATIENCE
Let me teach you, Zeke. You’re not too old. I wish you’d stop saying that.

                        EZEKIEL
I’m afraid of the water.

Patience gives Ezekiel an I-don’t-believe-you look.

                        EZEKIEL
It’s true. When I was seven, just before y’all moved in, Deborah took me to the “Y” for lessons. They strapped a piece of Styrofoam to my back and put me in the deep end of the water. I was the only kid who freaked out and sank to the bottom.

Patience and Matthew start laughing.

                       EZEKIEL
(lightly laughing)
It’s not funny. I thought I was gonna die. All I remember is some woman bringing me to the top. I never went back.

                        MATTHEW
(laughing)
All I can picture is a little black boy with a big white thing of Styrofoam on his back.

                        EZEKIEL
If I weren’t so damn afraid, I’d swim right to the other shore and start a new life. Just let the water wash away my sins. I could drown them all.

                        PATIENCE
Stop that.

                        EZEKIEL
Why? If I drown then my sins’ll wash away before I die. My body’ll wash up onto the other shore and I’ll be able to start my life again.

                        MATTHEW
That’s bullshit. Nigga just be you.

                        PATIENCE
Matthew’s right. We don’t give a shit that you’re gay.

                        EZEKIEL
How you know what I am when I don’t know what the fuck I am! I just want everyone to be fuckin’ happy and back the fuck off me!

                        MATTHEW
OK, OK. Chill, nigga. Aight.

Silence engulfs them, only to be interrupted by Patience taking off her shirt, jumping off of the rocks, and into the water.

                        PATIENCE
Come on guys.

Matthew strips down to his underwear.

                        MATTHEW
Here I come!

Matthew does a cannon ball into the water splashing everyone.

                        EZEKIEL
Nice! Real nice!

                        MATTHEW
Come on STUD!

Matthew splashes Ezekiel.

                        EZEKIEL
Quit splashin’ me, nigga. And quit calling me that.

                        MATTHEW
Zeke, YOU STUD!

                        EZEKIEL
No one thinks you’re gay when you yell that shit out to me in the goddamn school corridors.

                        PATIENCE
That’s because he’s on the football team.

                        MATTHEW
It’s a joke, nigga. You need to stop letting Dante fuck with you. That motherfucker don’t fuck with me because he knows I kick his motherfuckin’ ass. Piece of shit. He’s the motherfuckin’ faggot.

                        EZEKIEL
Tell you this: if that fucker was drowning I’d let that motherfucker drown. He ain’t the only one I’d let drown either. Some motherfuckers don’t deserve to live. I’m sick of motherfuckers getting away with shit and not being held accountable for the shit they do. Put their shit on everyone else.

                        PATIENCE
I don’t think he’s talkin’ about Dante anymore.

                        EZEKIEL
You goddamn right I ain’t.

                        MATTHEW
Who ya talkin bout?

                        EZEKIEL
I don’t know why people are so fuckin’ bad to each other. It don’t make no fuckin’ sense.

                        MATTHEW
THE FUCK YOU TALKIN’ ‘BOUT!?

                        EZEKIEL
TEACHERS. PARENTS. PEERS. SOCIETY. CRAZY ASS SPECIES.

The haunting melody of a whale appears in the distance.

                        PATIENCE
GOOD LORD! WHAT IS THAT?!

                        MATTHEW
A whale.

                        PATIENCE
Sounds like it’s crying.

Patience swims to the shore, a bit freaked by the sound.

The whale cries again.

                        EZEKIEL
It sounds so peaceful.

                        PATIENCE
Peaceful!? I’m gonna go sit in the car.

                        MATTHEW
Damn, Dog, you’d never know she gets her ass kicked at home. She be hidin’ that weed real good. Like everything be all good in shit.

                        EZEKIEL
She don’t talk about it. Not even with me.

                        MATTHEW
She don’t want anyone to know.

EXT: ROCKY POINT PARK – LATER THAT NIGHT

Patience is sound asleep in the backseat of Matthew’s car. Matthew is laying passed out drunk and high on the rock wall.

We hear the sound of a loud splash; it wakes Matthew up. He peers around once he is able to focus, sees Patience in the car, but cannot find Ezekiel. In an instant, he puts it together that the splash was Ezekiel. Matthew runs to the dock where he heard the splash and jumps in and disappears under the water.

He emerges a few long minutes later with Ezekiel, helping him swim to the dock. Matthew pulls Ezekiel up onto the dock. They both catch their breaths.

                        MATTHEW
WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING!?

                        EZEKIEL
I went for a swim.

                        MATTHEW
A SWIM?!

                        EZEKIEL
You and Patience were sleeping, I didn’t wanna bother you.

                        MATTHEW
OH, AND JUMPING OFF A FUCKIN’ DOCK, NOT KNOWING HOW TO SWIM WON’T BOTHER ME!?

Ezekiel sits looking at the rippling water.

                        EZEKIEL
I can’t do it anymore, Matthew. I can’t keep fighting just to stay alive. I ache and I’m tired of trying to live a life that I don’t wanna live. Every day I go to school with the threat that someone’s gonna beat the shit outta me. And then I come home and watch Patience get the shit beat outta her. My head is barely above water. It only makes sense to let it go under. I’ll stop ruining everyone’s life.

                        MATTHEW
Killing yourself WILL ruin everyone’s life!

                        EZEKIEL
My mother won’t have to work three jobs, you won’t have to defend me, and Patience can live with my mother as her own and get away from her shithead mother.

                        MATTHEW
You ain’t thinkin’ clearly. We need you here nigga. I need you here. You’re my nigga. It’s you and me. Gay, straight, I don’t give a fuck. We’ve known each other too goddamn long to let something like that fuck up our friendship.

Ezekiel doesn’t speak. He, for the first time, wonders if Matthew might be gay. Matthew picks up the cross around Ezekiel’s neck and says:

                        MATTHEW
What you wear this for? You think He’ll save you? You haven’t even met him.

                        EZEKIEL
Not yet. Came close once before. I never told you this, but in ninth grade I slit my wrist in the back of Art class. It didn’t go deep. We were making ceramics and I took the razor across my wrist.

Matthew punches Ezekiel in the shoulder.

                        MATTHEW
The fuck’s wrong which you?! I can’t lose you, Zeke. I’m serious. Talk to me if you need to talk. Just say you won’t do that again.

Ezekiel stares up at the sky and says:

                        EZEKIEL
I just wanna be free. Like the moon and the stars and the endless sky. All good things are wild and free…like Thoreau said.

                        MATTHEW
Stop fuckin’ around. I’m serious.

                        EZEKIEL
What’re you saving me for? My mother don’t want me, my father don’t want me, the kids at school don’t want me. I’ll be better off when I’m gone. Y’all be better off when I’m gone.

                        MATTHEW
I want you. And I want you to want to be here. I don’t give a shit about what people say about us. It’s just me and you.

Ezekiel pauses, looks at Matthew perplexed.

                        EZEKIEL
Me and you?

                        MATTHEW
People talk. Say that you and me faggin’ out with each other. I don’t give a shit.

Ezekiel is taken aback, unsure what to say. He stares at Matthew’s legs.

                        MATTHEW
You’re always looking at my legs.

                        EZEKIEL
They’re jacked.

                        MATTHEW
(laughing)
And hairy as fuck.

Ezekiel gazes at them.

                        EZEKIEL
All that running…

                        MATTHEW
You used to run too. Sixth grade. Holliman. They had the running program we joined.

                        EZEKIEL
Yeah. I only did it ‘cause I didn’t wanna go home after school. You got to do 200 laps around the school to get the t-shirt.

                        MATTHEW
I got four bars on each sleeve, more than anyone else in the whole sixth grade. I feel free when I run. Can escape everything and everyone. My mind goes blank. Man I friggin’ love it.

                        EZEKIEL
Like you’re running from something.

                        MATTHEW
You’re a buzzkill, you know that?

                        EZEKIEL
Gotta have a buzzkill for the buzz, right?

Matthew grabs the back of Ezekiel’s head and kisses him. Patience watches as they kiss for long seconds. Ezekiel appears shocked when Matthew lets go. Matthew looks relieved.

                        PATIENCE
(appearing suddenly)
Well, it’s about time.

One by one they start laughing.

THE WHALE CRIES again.

Its cry silences each of them as they all stare out into the dark ocean night.

FADE TO BLACK


Allen M. Price is a writer from Rhode Island. Excerpts of the book he is writing appear in River Teeth, The Fourth River (chosen by guest editor Ira Sukrungruang) and Jellyfish Review, and The Coachella Review. His fiction and nonfiction work appears in Sou’wester, Cosmonauts Avenue, Gertrude Press, Columbia Journal, The Adirondack Review, Tulane Review, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. His chapbook ‘The Unintended Consequences of Haitian Reparation’ appears in Hawai’i Review.He has an MA in journalism from Emerson College.

 

TCR Talks with Tim Murphy

By Scott Stevenson

Tim Murphy is the author of the novel, Christodora, longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal.  It was also named a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian and an Amazon Editors’ Top 100 Books of the Year.  As a journalist, he has reported on HIV/AIDS for twenty years.

Correspondents is his follow-up to Christodora and was an Amazon Best Book in May 2019.

This multi-generational novel follows the life of an American reporter of Lebanese-Irish descent, Rita Khoury, and her Iraqi interpreter, Nabil, who is gay and persecuted by his culture.

Tim described to me how he wanted to depict Rita and Nabil’s families so we could appreciate how a family in the Middle East is not so different than those in the West. They are just subjected to more extreme circumstances. This story takes us to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Each location suggests a different stage of civil conflict. Iraq’s conflict is in progress and Lebanon is in a stage of aftermath.  Correspondents stops before the Arab Spring begins, but the DNA of the future Syrian civil war can be detected.

The Coachella Review: How do you feel about the Iraq situation today?

Tim Murphy: I’m amazed at the extent they’ve been able to pull it back together. It is an extremely complicated place. It really reflects what Lebanon when through in the 70s and 80s. Lebanon is still an extremely fragile place. Unfortunately, Iraq has become a proxy for Iran.

TCR: Omnivoracious, the Amazon Book Review blog stated, “Correspondents is proof that the best novels are as important and insightful as nonfiction.” Since you’re a journalist, what made you decide to write fiction instead of nonfiction?

TM: My day job for 25 years has been as a freelance journalist covering HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ issues. I’ve written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, POZ and The Nation. I got into kind of a rhythm and the work kind of comes to me. Now I take assignments that allow me to make a living and give me some creative freedom. I always wanted to be a novelist. I started a neighborhood paper when I was nine, and a school paper when I was ten. I guess I always wanted to be a journalist too. I published two gay YA novels in my twenties and felt like I wasn’t done with fiction. I hadn’t written fiction in the decade before Christadora and wanted to give it another chance. No one had written a narrative version of AIDS, so that’s where Christadora came from. I kind of felt the same way about Correspondents.  There hadn’t been a real-life, journalistically-informed novel. I really like researching for novels and wanted to examine the intersection between fiction and nonfiction.

TCR: Elliot Ackerman, author of Waiting for Eden stated, “Correspondents is the novel I’ve been hoping would emerge for a long time.” Your book really takes flight in the chapter where Rita and Nabil meet.  Can you talk about that?

TM: I read endless, endless accounts of journalists covering Iraq and I wanted to show the dynamic of journalist and interpreter. The interpreter is the fixer and my reader needed to see both of them awkwardly establishing their dynamic. I had to show them jostling and developing their rapport. Also, I wanted their families to be mirror images of each other. That family could be my family. When you see the effects of the occupation (in Iraq), you feel it in a very real way.

TCR: It seems Rita and Nabil both struggle with loneliness and isolation. Can you talk about how those themes play into their stories?

TM: I never really thought of them as isolated. Nabil experiences more of that than Rita and is isolated in his sexuality. He is alone in that knowledge. I never thought of her as isolated. I don’t really see her that way. There is an event where she and her family became isolated in their grief.

TCR: Don’t you think she is isolated for being a single woman in the Lebanese culture?

TM: Not at all. Her father is very ambitious for her. The pursuit of education is a very big thing for that community. Her mother is more of a victim to that type of thinking, that a woman shouldn’t have a career.

TCR: Who is telling this story? From the very first page, I sensed a guiding voice. Why did you choose an omniscient point of view instead of writing in first person?

TM: It’s told in close third, a third that felt like a first. I really like that old-fashioned voice that can telescope into different characters’ heads. I haven’t written anything in first person since YA.

TCR: There is a chapter with a shooter and it has a very different tone than the rest of the book. Can you talk about that shift?

TM: I wanted the shooter chapter to be very strange for the reader. I wanted to capture his confusion and show him as addled and confused.

TCR: Correspondents is not set entirely in the Middle East. We do spend some time in Boston and Washington D.C., as well as El Cajon, which is Spanish for ‘drawer.’ I didn’t know about the Iraqi émigré population there. As a reporter, how do you feel about the lack of media coverage in the aftermath of the Iraq occupation? Have we put this conflict in a drawer?

TM: That’s interesting. I never thought of it that way. The Iraq debacle is a thing we walked away from, and I was aiming for the Karmic element in the book. The roots of that conflict are deeply embedded in our roots of high tech violence and the gun culture. The U.S. is so big. We’re a superpower. It’s almost like you live in the Death Star and you don’t realize it. We accept our militarism and don’t interrogate it. It’s so completely part of American life and has become this thing we accept.

TCR: Why did you need to tell this story?

TM: I’m a very political author. For a narrative to be compelling, you have to tell a good story. I wanted to write real characters.


Scott is pursuing his MFA in Nonfiction at UCR Palm Desert and spends the rest of his time steeped in the advertising world of Hollywood delivering the commercials and trailers you can’t skip on the internet or on your mobile device. He loves to explore Southern California. There is always an unchartered neighborhood with an interesting history waiting to be discovered in the City of Angels. It helps if there’s a bar or coffee shop or both located there. He was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, a flyover city for helicopters smuggling cocaine from South America in the 1980s. He recommends watching “Cocaine Cowboys” to understand his native state. @scotterson on Instagram

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