Showing posts from May, 2022

Difficult Peace

  Years ago, when I inherited a gun shop and sold the inventory, I had to send a pistol through the mail. I brought all the necessary paperwork to the post office, the clerk was helpful, and then we got to the question they ask about every package: does this box contain anything dangerous? "That's an interesting question," I said. "On the one hand, it's a gun. On the other ... there's no ammo in there. So it's just a hunk of metal and plastic, no more or less dangerous than any other hunk of metal and plastic." In the context of being mailed from one licensed gun dealer to another, that package was not, in fact, dangerous. Were someone to open the package and put ammunition into the gun, then it would become a deadly weapon. As mass shootings continue to bring attention to certain types of gun violence in the U.S., I find myself remembering this conversation. I find myself thinking about the idea of safety.  Because I have written quite a bit over t

John Keene's Sentences

  This short essay about John Keene's story collection Counternarratives was first published at the Emerging Writers Network site in May 2017. That site seems a little buggy these days, so for the sake of archiving the essay, I am copying it here. Counternarratives remains for me the most impressive story collection by an American writer published in the 21st century.   KEENE SENTENCES   The stories of John Keene provide an aesthetic to push against the power of the cultural forces that venerate quick, easy thinking; forces that reduce knowledge to soundbites and hottakes and quick! mustread! breaking! stories, enforcing a compulsory presentism that is little more than mass amnesia — and self-aggrandizing mass amnesia at that. It’s a prose aesthetic to fight against any impulse insisting life here and life now is the most, the best, the worst, the only. His 2015 collection Counternarratives — easily one of the most invigorating English-language story colle

The Rats in Our Walls

  It began as a blog post. I was just going to write here some quick thoughts about H.P. Lovecraft's 1924 story "The Rats in the Walls" and how the narrator made me think about people who've lost their brains to QAnon conspiracies.  Then I couldn't help thinking about the concept of degeneracy, and of eugenics, and of Madison Grant, a name once famous and now forgotten, literally erased from the archives. I returned to a book I had read a decade or more ago, Jonathan Spiro's excellent Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant , a book that explains so much about the United States, popular ideas of science, the troubled history of environmentalism, and, in its own way, people like H.P. Lovecraft.  And then I wondered if maybe we ought to see Lovecraft's narrators as deeply unreliable rather than as visionaries. What if Lovecraft's fiction is a testimony to yearning as much as to horror, and what if the yearnin