- Writers Retreat
- Writers in School
- OUR SUPPORTERS
There’s this theory that activist and writer Eve Ensler and I talk about from time to time about people who are living in the world who are alive and people who are living in the world who are dead.
Call it a way of looking at human beings that explains death not only as something that stops life in one motion but also describes what people are doing when the engine of wonder sputters and leaves someone stranded and soulless: alive but hollow and strange. We all know people from both sides of the theory: dead people, living people.
Lonely Christopher’s first book of short stories is called The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse (Akashic) and everything about it—from its title, subject matter, syntax, even to the author’s photograph (a dark and barely decipherable image of a man squeezed into an open closet with his head inside a cage)—feels like a document delivered from a community of people who are living but who are… dead.
Not only are characters in these stories haunted by their own, (mostly), missteps, but they are fixed in their wrongness and are drawn as static, self-interested, inarticulate creations lacking real passion for anybody or any thing.
They are living blocks of wood who, more often than not, have mistaken addiction, violence and hanging around, as life. Here’s a scene from the first story in the book, “That Which”:
Dumb sat anxiously in the tub, Morton, having lowered the cover, sat on the toilet, and Lucy stood in the doorway of her bathroom holding a beer. “What then?” asked Morton. “Then he said, ‘I don’t usually drink vodka,’ and I told him he told me that when he was puking in the wastebasket before he passed out,” said Lucy. “uh, yeah,” Dumb agreed. “And described how you felt for me, please,” said Morton. “Nothing, I guess,” Said Dumb. “Everything really hurt, and maybe there was only room for some thoughts about what a bad idea it was to have drunk that much.
This strange and completely other book (an imprint of Akashic Books called Little House on the Bowery, curated by Lambda Literary Award winner Dennis Cooper) is made up of stories quixotically drawn around people like the ones above and other kinds of them that we all know but sort of wished we didn’t or, perhaps more importantly, never have really looked at closely enough to see if there was any light inside.
A great upheaval of the lost are here: outside the outside—beyond merely being marginal: sorry, negative and weirdly enough (?) gay most of the time. They all have names that practically declassify them as being human: Burning, Victim and Ash and you’ve already met Dumb.
The stories have strange titles, too: “Nobody Understands Thorny When,” “Game Belly,” and the title story: “The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse,” which is about two boys—one them who happens to be dead—both “listening” to Glenn Gould playing Bach, among other things.
The story really has nothing (or is it everything?) to do with sex or love or Glenn Gould. It reads—as every story reads—as a chance encounter, a haphazard arrangement of language with some people and places thrown in and after a while the complete avoidance of complexity or lyric beauty in subject matter or in language really begins to wear one down.
There’s no real morality or understanding of life as these stories have their curtains fall—all unseemly parts of an arbitrary sum: skewed syntax, an expanse of desert where once some flowers were.
And, of course, they can be surreal.
The story, “Milk” begins: “The horse was in the kitchen.”
It ends with this:
‘That horse was nothing but a pain in the neck,’ my mother said at supper. My father winced and ejaculated an overstated sigh. We ate meatloaf and broccoli and drank tall glasses of milk. The television, carted in from the living room, played the evening news a low volume following our required prayer. The stable thereafter was a shed. Father brought a new riding lawn mower he kept in there. The name of the horse was Black Beauty even though it was brown.
Much of the writing in the other stories has the same musicality and sense that sentences are independent statements of thinking related or not related to a strict story sense. Sometimes this works beautifully and one is sort of transported into this bizarre world of saying something and anonymity and at other times it all feels pretentious and meandering.
And there’s this overriding, somewhat annoying contrivance that generates every story which has to do with the metaphorical placing of people in the dark wood and having them not find the way out.
Because so many of Christopher’s stories are populated by characters who don’t have names one would associate with human beings, we’re back in that place of living with dead people.
The worlds that Lonely Christopher makes in this, his debut collection, are all cages, at a time of the world when we really need more stories about people who are shamelessly free—helping people be alive, not letting them be dead.
THE MECHANICS OF HOMOSEXUAL INTERCOURSE
by Lonely Christopher
Paperback, 9781936070800, 200pp.