Tim Horvath, meet Nani Power

January 25th, 2010


You know that Padgett Powell book that’s nothing but questions? That’s what I was hunting for in the Portsmouth Library when I stumbled onto Nani Power’s Crawling at Night. I’m not sure what exactly caught my attention about it—a cover design that looked like some lost Smashing Pumpkins album, accolades from some Names, the Atlantic Monthly Press (didn’t know they had one)—but I lingered on it. She also had several other novels. Now, by no means am I so well-read that I don’t find new authors all the time, but taking up such shelf space at the local library, she somehow seemed like someone I should know. In her jacket photo she resembled Charlotte Bacon, a former mentor of mine, but I was pretty certain it wasn’t Charlotte in disguise. The book, I could see, was about sushi, and Nani Power had worked in a sushi kitchen for a while, and that drew me in a little further. Are motives always so noble and intellectual? I was hungry, and here was some kind of sustenance.

Still, it was by no means a sure thing that I would continue to read—every second a trial. One page explained that the phrase “crawling at night” came from the Japanese “yobai,” which stems from a tradition of hosting travelling guests on futons, whereby a male guest could anonymously slip into a female’s futon and stay if accepted, slip away discretely if rejected. I kept going. By no means was the book the radical stylistic plunge that I’d been hoping for in Powell’s Interrogative Mood, but it had menus for chapter headings and lists and the opening sentence was “Lists are life.” Hey, yeah. No but yes. Lists of “dead things wrenched from the ocean floor, arriving daily in their iced beds. His needs.” All at once, the orderliness of lists, the squishy glisten of sushi, the discipline of making, the violence in it, the need. Hunger.

And language, sentences. In the end, it came down to the sentences.

“How he judges tuna for its fat content with a flashlight in the dawn fish   market alongside the haiku image on a barren branch. All thoughts whirling like flimsy scales flashing in a sink’s wetness, yet they get sieved along the way.”

Need I tell you that I checked it out?

Fast forward a couple of weeks. By some inexplicable collision of the universe’s pulp, Camera Obscura receives a story from none other than Nani Power. At first I can’t believe it; it seems too serendipitous. But the sentences in her “214″ make it unmistakable that it’s one and the same author:

“She made his stomach turn like frogs, in her new clothes, smelling like stores.”
“Her name was a bag of broken sounds.”
“You see a cat ass tear through some place; he’s like this one.”

To top it off, her story is about elements in collision; it is made out of the cloth of disparity, held together by its propulsive voices and energy, violence and need and something soft lurking beneath. I think it a very fine story in its own right, the coincidence hovering around it for me serving merely as an added pleasure, an unexpected spatter of roe in the midst of apiece of sushi that you’d assumed was solid through and through. I’m grateful to have made the acquaintance of Nani Power for the second time in a few weeks, and to acquaint—or reacquaint—you with her.

Nani Power is the author of Crawling at Night (Grove/Atlantic Monthly, 2001),a New York Times Notable Book of The Year and a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Award as well as the British Orange Award. It has been translated into seven languages. Her second novel, The Good Remains (Grove/Atlantic Monthly, 2002), was also a New York Times Notable Book of The Year, and a finalist for The Virginia Library Award. The Sea of Tears, her third novel, was  published in January 2005 by Counterpoint Press. Her newest book, a food memoir, Feed The Hungry, was published by Simon and Schuster in April 2008.

Her stories have been published in numerous literary magazines including The Paris Review, Salon, Gargoyle and Nerve.com.

Tim Horvath is a prose editor for the Camera Obscura. More about Tim at The Darkroom

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Tofu Hotdogs and a Contortionist

January 12th, 2010


For those of you who have experienced life-changing revelations in the deli meat aisle of the grocery store, this excerpt from Thea Swanson’s story Freeway Striper will immediately ring true. For everyone else, her vivid prose will be your revelatory guide.

The newest story to join the first issue of the Camera Obscura Journal is Freeway Striper by Thea Swanson, which begins:

“Terrence had what he considered a mystical experience between the tofu dogs and the mechanically separated chicken-and-beef kind. Truth be told, the dogs were five aisles apart from each other, but that was the thing: he spent forty-five minutes in Albertson’s darting back and forth between the two, putting links down and picking them up again, until finally, he squatted in a neutral location, knees touching ketchup bottles, sixteen dogs propped on relish jars. On a bun package, in slippery blue ink, he wrote his new hypothesis: a man can only go as far as what he puts inside himself. This he decided he would tinker with a bit—word wise—but the truth of the statement was gold.”

Thea Swanson holds an MFA in fiction from Pacific University in Oregon. Her work appears in Crab Creek Review, Image, Our Stories and The Write Mother. Though she grew up within the curbs and grids of Buffalo, New York, she now tries to locate herself within the paths and trees of Washington State where she writes and teaches at West Sound Academy.

Also, recently added is a lean piece of writing doing a lot of work with very few words just to live up to the title. Big Top Photographic Exhibit – November 2009: Georgette the Contortionist through the Years, by Cynthia Litz.

Cynthia Litz is a physician whose fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Night Train, NANO Fiction, NOÖJournal, and The Annals of Internal Medicine. She organizes writing workshops at an adventure in Dallas called the Highland Park Literary Festival.

More to come…

M.E. Parker, Editor
Camera Obscura Journal

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Water over the Bridge

January 5th, 2010


The proverbial ‘they’ has insisted for quite some time that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in doing so they have short-changed both the picture and the human mind. Regardless of the arbitrarily imposed limit of one thousand words, the point is well taken that the mind immediately conjures a story upon viewing a picture. Though there is often an obvious story, each is as unique and personal as the course a daydream takes as it pinballs through the mind.

If the story is not obvious, if the picture is abstract or unrecognizable, the mind is nonetheless stimulated into storytelling of one variety or the other, either with interest or with disdain (though the two are not mutually-exclusive), imagining perhaps the story of the person who would create such an image, the person who would appreciate such an image, or even the janitor who has to clean around said image on a daily basis (if it hangs in a museum) and how fortunate, or unfortunate, this janitor is that his fate as landed him in the daily vicinity of such an image.

broken bridge“Bridge the Gap” is not intended as a writing exercise or some sort of party game (although, given the right images and the appropriate beverages, I can imagine that it could liven many parties I have attended recently). Rather, its purpose to take the reader on an unexpected journey. The pictures are the ingress and egress of a story born when the two images meet, celebrating the synergy of words and images.

 Though no one satisfactorily bridged the gap the first time around, this is in no way an indictment on the intrepid writers who attempted it. Standards are high, expectations are murky and stakes are low. Each time a bridge fails, the previous $50 is added to the last. The next bridge, currently posted, will be worth $100. Happy Writing.

 M.E. Parker, Editor
Camera Obscura Journal

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