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Thousands of U.S. troops are headed to Central Asia, and they're not leaving anytime soon.
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BOOKS: Cuban literature is back ... and looking for answers.
BOOKS: Mark Nesbitt’s short but Gigantic stories.
FILM: Taking Time Out from work, identity and reality.
Walking the Talk
The living legacy of the radical past.
March 29, 2002
The Grace Card
Marc Nesbitts short but Gigantic stories.
ace, sex, college and booze. These are the four thematic kingpins that muscle their way through Marc Nesbitts Gigantic. Breaking noses and bruising hearts, this debut short-story collection is as heady as a Charles Bukowski poem and as rowdy as that poets many barroom brawls, but the stories are never clumsy or banaljust clamorous and passionate. Like the best of jazz improvisers, Nesbitt is almost spazzy in his enthusiasm for the potential of language. Gigantic so noisily dines on words, sipping and slurping and smacking until theres just a carcass left, that language gets a new lease on life.
In Quality Fuel for Electric Living, Nesbitts sentences shiver with kinetic force: The dash says 8:13 in the A.M. and Im already sweating; last nights whiskey still twitches in my stomach, biting at the lining. So dehydrated my blood feels like electric tinsel. Zeroing in on the precise way we communicate with ourselves and others, Gigantic is loaded with junkyard-dog syntax, loopy turns of logic and an in-joke sense of description. But for all the individuality, its never cryptic. Instead, its intuitive and playful.
The first day of his job with the State Highway, Nimrod, the character reeling from a painful hangover in Quality Fuel, is assigned to remove some fresh kill off the road by his boss, Pucker. A half-Canadian-take on a redneck, with neck veins screwing spiral, alive and a State Highway T shirt tight as a rash and sun faded green, Puckers forceful yammering is like shrapnel, so piercing Nesbitt worries it could halve a skull.
Those descriptions seem enough to convey the point, but Nesbitt takes it one step furthernearly all of Puckers dialogue is in capital letters: HERES A TELLING STAT ABOUT MY LOVE LIFE, LETS GET THIS ONE ON SPORTSCENTER! PAST SIX MONTHS, ONLY NIGHT I GOT LAID AND THE ONLY NIGHT I PUKED BOTH FELL ON THE SAME DATE!
Visually, this may seem like nothing more than a gimmick, but the dialogue is so blaring, especially in Nimrods mind, that the trick seems not only justified, but completely necessary. It also shows that Nesbitt, who was selected by The New Yorker as a 2001 Debut Fiction Writer, isnt afraid to bang on the bars of literary fiction, a genre that is sometimes too mousy for its own good.
or all of Nesbitts fireworks and playfulness, he knows how to be subtle and serious with a theme. Sex, college and booze give Gigantic its color, but the race card, so to speak, is what gives this book its muscle, its fine-tuned sensitivity to being the odd one out.
The characters in Gigantic are acutely aware of riding the chasm between white and black, never fully inhabiting either, encompassing both. Like the author, most of the central characters are of mixed heritage, but Nesbitts too smart to attack this bull straight on. Instead, the details stain the background, and the book is all the more powerful for it.
In Polly Here Somewhere, Nesbitt writes, My white mom and black dad hunch in gray slumps at opposite sides of the house, watching snow fall in fistfuls. Later, when the unnamed son wont mingle at the junior high dance, we learn he hangs out away from the crowd, for reasons like I got Hendrix hair but cant play guitar. Or breakdance. Its a perfectly modest detail, but it says everything.
In The Ones Who May Kill You in the Morning, Cole, already humiliatingly employed as a lawn jockey, is asked to wear a ski mask while he greets guests. The boss spells out the reasons in, well, black and white: Well, no offense, but youre yella as a sick Chink. ... And Ill be honest, people dont need reminders of someplace they didnt want to be. Or worse than that, some mistake from a long time ago.
Cole wears the maskhes an agreeable type and he needs the job. And though he gets a little revenge on Fatsby by sleeping with his flirty, hypocritical daughter, the real revenge, the one that grabs the reader by the collar, doesnt hit until the very last moment. Coles co-worker, Vince, drunk and incensed, commits one brief act on Coles behalf that makes a statement louder than bombs. Its the kind of moment so loaded with violent feeling were left wasted in its aftermath, exhilarated and spent.
But however much we want to cheer on Cole and Vinces victories, piddling or dramatic, the effect is unsettling. What fate might Cole meet when the adrenaline wears off? What will happen to Vince? More hauntingly, think of fates met by so many before them. Moments like these make Gigantic not just a stylish feast but a book with lasting impact, one that whispers in your mind long after the last shout is over.
Margaret Wappler is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
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