Fiction Pick of the Week: "William and His Woman Friends"
A man's friendships with various women reveal psychological and philosophical complexities.
A man's friendships with various women reveal psychological and philosophical complexities.
“She is a tech bro — except she’s a woman, trying to sell underwear. Or, as she sees it, innovating in the ‘period space.’” A profile of Miki Agrawal, founder of Thinx.
A young woman's fears and observations, both past and present.
On the false narratives of anorexia.
A depressed young woman takes a serving job alongside ominous, creepy co-workers.
A father’s attempt to combat the wage gap.
Southern generational and gender divides.
"I got the word. When I saw her turning up the earth for peonies, it was like those clumps of hard red clay were speaking to me. Those spindly arms of hers with tattoos down to her elbows begged for someone with a hearty dose of Luke, Matthew, and Paul."
A series of instructions for a woman in a small town.
"Purport, coyly, that you are dating a tall pile of driftwood arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way, and let’s say this wooden statue’s name is Chad and that he is generally a little slow on the uptake. Say Chad is like a Nordic carving of a real person in that he is extremely beige, even his hair, and he can go for a long time without blinking or saying anything of substance. Say you might as well be dating a Hummel, except Chad is more durable."
A woman bonds with her terminally ill sister over food, memories, and shaky lives.
"When Ava won the middle school election, there was peach cobbler with a filling so warm it burnt my tongue. When I failed chemistry, she silently let me lock myself in my room, but I came down for dinner to lasagna with short ribs that fell apart at the slightest nudge. Mom would only speak to us seriously once our mouths were full; with blueberry-banana pancakes the morning of the SATs, chicken-stuffed bell peppers after soccer games, and over spaghetti carbonara for high school heartaches. We came to interpret her innermost thoughts in meticulous meals culled from Julia Child and the Rombauers. It was like she needed something to distract us when she was fully there."
Baby Girl and Perry, two small town partners in crime; from Hunter's forthcoming debut novel.
"The Estates was a ritzy-ass neighborhood with a gate at the front and open sidewalks on either side. Perry and Baby Girl had hit the neighborhood before, strolled right in. Those sidewalks were an in- vitation: Come on in, and steal some stuff while you’re at it. Perry had started to think if rich people weren’t afraid of their stuff being taken, they wouldn’t feel so rich."
A woman takes a very odd job as a human pipe defroster.
"And none of the customers are what she had expected. They don’t stare, googley-eyed, while she slips out of her coat. They don’t try to touch her or make jokes. If they stick around at all, it’s to chat about thermodynamics and temperature gradients and conduction and convection and spray foam insulation and all the boring things Sheila has never been interested in herself. She nods politely and pretends to understand it all, waiting for them to leave her alone with the pipe."
A revolution in full-figured fashion.
A woman travels in a band on the way to their next show.
"With raised eyebrows, Jay crouched down, turned his hand up, and motioned wide. From the flat top, we could see oil rigs in the distance. A pair of buzzards looped in a slow figure eight. I wondered what kind of body lay out there on that red expanse, just out of my eye line, drying out under the sun into those bleached desert bones people put on fireplaces. They disgusted me, sure, but something about them called for touch, to feel those natural cracks in skulls, how similar we are to porcelain on the inside. Once we lose our connective tissue, we can show softer to those that put their hands on us."
A space station custodian reflects on her terrestrial past.
"She scrubs the fingerprints from the instrument panels, watches the lights flicker and dim. She wonders how many rags she’ll go through, how many surfaces have to get clean before she can finally empty herself of the past. She doesn’t know about metaphors but she knows that even the smallest human vessel has boundless storage for sorrow. Was there a right way to take in so much sorrow it burned clean through the lungs and heart? Was there a right way to atone?"
A woman's sexual, educational, and career developments; NSFW.
"She spent many an hour in the presence of those adult models during various parties. Gin and tonic in hand to ward off the bong and tabs of Ecstasy and acid, she sat in a side chair listening to indie rock bands (Morphine was a favorite) or death metal as the mood struck surrounding male minds, and she studied the women. The pictorials always ended with the women’s legs spread or mouths wide open with questing tongues, although faces were not a necessity in certain periodicals. In the spread-leg scenario, the women used long, pointed acrylic fingernails, usually painted a harsh red or cotton-candy pink, to open themselves for optimal viewing. The effect, to Susannah’s eye, was that of a newborn marsupial ripped from the pouch and pinned for display like a reluctant specimen in a Victorian curiosity cabinet."
A hairdresser confronts class issues and a local murder.
"During my lunch break, I thought about what I thought about Elena Czarinsky. Honestly, I’d never liked her much. She was one of those women who flashed her electronics around to remind everyone she had a real job where she was irreplaceable. She tipped with the generous lunacy of a woman who’s had to take her clothes off for a living. Once she told me she got off bad guys just to show she knew the law better than the next guy, and it wasn’t an apology. Actually, I could have hated the woman."
A giantess attends her normal-sized daughter's wedding.
"She had practiced the art of speaking with barely a sound until sometimes she could not even be sure that she would be audible to a human’s undersized ears. As she made her nomadic way across her land to that of the humans, she had spoken to herself in ever quieting tones; everything she would say to Freya when they met, everything she had longed to tell her baby through the long nights, the songs she would have sung to soothe a teething gum, the reasons for the way of the world and the whys and the hows, the way their parting had left a crack running through her, a fracture so fundamental that she knew she would one day simply fall into two pieces."
A group of female lovers take on a singular identity.
"We live in the most coveted spot on campus: the first in a row of bungalows at the top of a wooded hill. The yard is pine needles and dirt. The walls are red brick and thick like Collins’ skull. Between us, we’ve read Wuthering Heights 23 times. But we are sure Collins lied about her number. Watching Veronica Mars with sub-titles is the most reading we’ve ever seen her do."
Two sisters, a mother's dementia, and a "magical" bean tree.
"I thought about it some more. Even if there were a magical tree, why would she be chosen to keep it? I’ve seen her walk into more glass doors than I could count. The whole scenario rank of Big Foot. I couldn’t tell if my sister was playing a joke on me or if someone was playing a joke on her."
A disenchanted academic attends a wedding.
"In the mail, you receive one letter. In between walking the Labrador retriever, attending meetings, and planting trees in disadvantaged parks, a friend has found the time to get engaged. You are invited to the wedding. You are not sure how you feel about this or whether you will have the emotion to attend. Lately, you are forgetting what it is like to be human. Someone has replaced your body with a poor working contraption. It comes upon you when you are wound up in the phone cord, fumbling in your pockets for the sympathy you used to think you had. Who is this new cruel person who listens to the exploits of kittens and puppies like a broker making transactions on the stock market? Your friends are concerned. Somehow, you have forgotten what it is like to be around other people. Your psychiatrist says it comes from a lifetime of observing people and never interacting, but you also suggest it has something to do with spending inordinate amounts of time with dead philosophers in an academic environment."
An early excerpt in honor of this week's publication of An Untamed State (Grove Atlantic), Gay's debut novel.
"Most of the city was asleep or laying low. I ran down a dark, unfamiliar street, my bare feet slapping against the pavement. I ran to find my way back to my happily ever after. It was dark and hot and still. I ran over shards of broken glass, felt my skin come neatly apart. I bled. My feet were slickly wet. I did not stop running. The Commander told me to run until I could not run anymore so that is what I did. My thighs burned. It felt strange to be able to move so freely, to breathe fresher air. I wanted someone to find me. I wanted to stop. I kept running. When I passed people standing in their doorways or ambling down the street, I stiffened, knew they could not be trusted, so still, I ran. I saw a cross rising into the sky, reaching up. A church would be a safe place. I hoped."
The interactions and memories of a gas station attendant on the outskirts of Atlantic City.
"I make coffee at 4:30 in the morning: the parking lot full of idling big-rigs, their headlights on, their cabins dark. I arrive before the guys who work the pumps. All of my prep work is done in the dark, without the store’s lights. The men watch me moving in the lone gas station on a highway through South Jersey. The store a box of windows."
A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.
"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."
A story of unhappiness and creative outlets.
"Last winter, when she was supposed to be designing a parking garage for a luxury shopping center in McLean, she built a city instead. She got the idea when she was surveying the lot where the parking garage was supposed to go. In her leather pumps and peacoat, she stood on the flat expanse and looked out; the land was a deep brown, lightly marbled with snow. She walked the perimeter, her hands in her pockets, her heels sinking into the dirt, her breath a white cloud in the air. She felt on the edge of something."
Two friends find solace in sexual escapades while struggling with their own fragile connection.
"The four of us ended up in the bathroom—Darlene and Viktor in the claw foot, me and Illia in the shower. I tried to tell my guy he had the same first name as a favourite figure skater, but language was restricted to bodies only. Still wet, the Russians left scrambling to the airport. Dar and I woke hours later, a tangled two, and walked out of my bedroom to a small balcony that overlooked a maze of alleyway garages. We recounted the day and the night before, before she left."