Tibor Fischer’s story of his struggle to get published will forever be emblazoned on a few of my neural pathways and so when I see something new by Tibor, I feel compelled to have a look-see.
In the present case, Crushed Mexican Spiders (Unbound/UK) is a small, handsomely published tome containing two stories: the title story set in contemporary London— grimy Brixton to be specific —where the so called “poet laureate of London grime” (Fischer?) snaps off a quick-witted tale of legerdemain. The second entitled “Possibly Forty Ships” purports to be the true story of the Trojan War (and here I thought Ridley Scott’s version was true— I mean Brad Pitt as Achilles— what could be more plausible?) The two stories bound are in a beautiful small hardback edition, with captivating cover photographs by Czech photographer Hana Vojáková
Here’s a taste:
Ahead of her, struggling up the stairs strugglingly was a mother and pushchair, laden with bags and a screaming kid. Homebound workers salmoned past without offering a hand, blinkered by visions of supper or respite.
The comatose staff of London Underground didn’t think of helping the mother. She wouldn’t be helping either. Ten years ago when she had moved to London, she would have. Imperceptibly but perceptibly the city toxified you. Parking across strangers’ driveways, not saying thank you when a door was held open for you, murder. Somehow it got you.
London informed you that you got nothing for a lifetime of decency; not a free glass of water. Not that behaving badly necessarily got you anywhere, but it was generally easier and more fun; and finally any career criminal from Albania or genocidist from Rwanda passing through London got the same medical treatment as you and better housing rights.
You didn’t want to become the sort of person who didn’t help an entoiled mother, but you became one. No one had helped her when she had needed it. And now her help muscles had withered away. Single mothers were especially annoying because of their dishonesty. Very few of them could hack it. They either leeched off friends and family, sucking in services and cash or they botched it up, while maintaining how coping they were.
Outside, on the pavement, a Portuguese junkie was kneeling, while a buxom exorcist wielding a bible, intoned with two back-up entreaters and sprinkled him with holy water…
Crushed Mexican Spiders continues
Richard Russo, author of a slew of wonderful books (including, if you care about such things a Pulitzer Prize winning novel) and screen plays (including the greatly under appreciatedIce Harvest) teams up with his artist daughter Kate, to produce Interventions (Down East Books), a lovely slip cased collection of four slender bound volumes containing four never-before-published novellas (whatever they are) by Russo.
Given that this is the season of superabundant commencement addresses and that David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College address, This Is Water, stands as a paradigm of well-spoken, if not useful, advice, I nominate Richard Russo’s Colby College oration as one to keep at hand and savor, not in the least, for containing within it this amusing parable:
About ten years ago I was teaching at a large Midwestern university while I waited for the opportunity to teach at a small, eastern liberal arts college, which came in due course. One Friday night my wife and I went to a party given by one of my graduate students in a house that, if it had been a car, would have been a Studebaker up on blocks. The keg had run dry half an hour earlier, a collection had been taken up to buy another, and it had only just dawned on the people at the party that nobody knew the guy who’d volunteered to go get it. In the living room the rickety furniture had been moved out onto the porch to create a dance floor, and Grace Slick was singing “Somebody to Love,” a song I’ve never been able to resist, especially when the volume on the stereo is set on stun, as it happened just then to be. “When the truth is found to be lies,” Grace wanted us to understand, “you know the joy within you dies.”
Across the room, dancing with a kind of free-spirited abandon that I happened just then to admire, was a good-looking young professor of religious studies with whom I’d had a couple of run-ins and never particularly cared for, though she was far too attractive to dislike entirely. She approached life, it seemed to me, with the kind of bitter cynicism that I associate with academics who have come to believe, rightly or wrongly, that they will not be granted tenure. Is it even necessary to add that she lacked a sense of humor? Anyway, at the moment, the young religious studies professor’s face was lit up from the inside with something I’d never witnessed before–joy, unless I was mistaken–which made me wonder if I’d misjudged her. I hope this might be true. Did I say she was attractive?
It was maybe an hour later when we professors, perspiring and red-faced from our exertions, and unused to being up after ten o’clock, began to take our leave, so that our grad students could begin the real party. My wife and I left through the kitchen so we could thank our hostess, and there we encountered an intimate and utterly unexpected scene. The professor of religious studies was sitting at the kitchen table, her head in her hands, sobbing pitifully, over and over again, “All I ever wanted was to sing a little rock and roll.” Staring at the chipped, beer-soaked Formica tabletop, she’d had a revelation, you could tell. Thanks to Grace Slick she was beginning to see her life in a whole new way. To this point she’d imagined that her problem was that she wasn’t going to get tenure, whereas she now saw, to her complete horror, that of course she would. Whatever had lit her face on the dance floor had been extinguished, and it was hard to imagine it would be rekindled any time soon. In this, her moment of terrible truth, I found myself liking her better than I ever had before, though, with her defenses down, she wasn’t nearly so good-looking. Seeing her sitting there, so despondent, you could imagine the effort it took to present herself to the world each morning.
Currently reading Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (Ecco)