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