In These Times    
Independent News and Views
HomeAbout UsSubscribeArchivesProject Censored
   
Search The Site
Advanced Search

Features

An interview with RAWA’s Sahar Saba.
 
Thousands of U.S. troops are headed to Central Asia, and they're not leaving anytime soon.
 
Give Us 0.01 Percent
It’s time for the Tobin tax.
 
Pedal Revolution
LOCAL MOTION: New York rediscovers the virtues of car-free public space.
 
A Commentary on the Nader 2000 Campaign.
 

Views

Editorial
Stand Up for Peace.
 
The West Wing’s workaholics
 
No Logo
IMF: This time it's personal.
 
Appall-o-Meter
 

News

Amnesty International targets INS for treatment of 9/11 detainees.
 
Half Measures
NGOs reject U.N. Monterrey Consensus.
 
Plan Colombia, globalization stir unrest in Ecuador.
 
House Arrest
Indigenous organizers jailed in Baja California.
 
Political Prisoners
In Person: The Angola Three.
 
BellyWashers Vitamin C Drink.
 

Culture

Cuba Confidential
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 Nesbitt’s short but Gigantic stories.
Plutonium Storage Prototype
Where will it go? So asked the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which held a competition to design a public monument that would also serve as a secure repository for the world’s “excess” plutonium.

Race, sex, college and booze. These are the four thematic kingpins that muscle their way through Marc Nesbitt’s Gigantic. Breaking noses and bruising hearts, this debut short-story collection is as heady as a Charles Bukowski poem and as rowdy as that poet’s many barroom brawls, but the stories are never clumsy or banal—just 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 there’s just a carcass left, that language gets a new lease on life.

In “Quality Fuel for Electric Living,” Nesbitt’s sentences shiver with kinetic force: “The dash says 8:13 in the A.M. and I’m already sweating; last night’s 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, it’s never cryptic. Instead, it’s 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,” Pucker’s 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 further—nearly all of Pucker’s dialogue is in capital letters: “HERE’S A TELLING STAT ABOUT MY LOVE LIFE, LET’S 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 Nimrod’s 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, isn’t afraid to bang on the bars of literary fiction, a genre that is sometimes too mousy for its own good.

For all of Nesbitt’s 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 Nesbitt’s 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 won’t mingle at the junior high dance, we learn he hangs out “away from the crowd, for reasons like I got Hendrix hair but can’t play guitar. Or breakdance.” It’s 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 you’re yella as a sick Chink. ... And I’ll be honest, people don’t need reminders of someplace they didn’t want to be. Or worse than that, some mistake from a long time ago.”

Cole wears the mask—he’s 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, doesn’t hit until the very last moment. Cole’s co-worker, Vince, drunk and incensed, commits one brief act on Cole’s behalf that makes a statement louder than bombs. It’s the kind of moment so loaded with violent feeling we’re left wasted in its aftermath, exhilarated and spent.

But however much we want to cheer on Cole and Vince’s 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.


Return to top of the page.




©2002 The Institute for Public Affairs | Contact webmaster.
home | about us | subscribe | archives | project censored