The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “All Lateral” by Matt Sumell

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When we speak of a story as “voice-driven,” that typically means it’s written in first person and that the narrator has attitude. Instead of quietly striving towards general objectivity, the narrator—à la Holden Caulfield—gives us a unique angle on the world that keeps our eyes fixed to the page. Matt Sumell, in his story “All Lateral” from One Story, shows us some compelling ways in which that’s done.

From the opening sentence, Sumell’s language is oddly constructed and unpolished, creating a sense of a character who is brash and informal: “Consider the look on Whatsherface’s face when I bought her a well drink and told her I lived on a sailboat.” The narrator isn’t interested in political correctness, nor impressing us with lyricism. He simply doesn’t care—or at least it appears that way.

Nor is he interested in being polite. Sumell’s narrator is the antithesis of a Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People disciple, and wonderfully so. Notice the line of argument he takes with Whatsherface at the San Pedro bar when they begin arguing the relative merits of cats:

“‘Look,’ I said. ‘I didn’t tell you about the drowned cat to make the argument that cats as a species are bad swimmers, but they are bad swimmers. What they’re good at is murderous rampages. Not only do their turds cause birth defects and mental problems, but cats spend all night looking for small animals to kill. For fun. They don’t even eat most of them.’”Continue Reading

The Story of My Purity

9780374270445The Story of My Purity
Francesco Pacifico
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2013
304 pages
$26.00

I don’t know much about providence, but it seems extraordinarily lucky that Francisco Pacifico’s first novel to make it into English translation—a ribald picaresque of Catholicism, breasts, and a conspiracy theory wherein Pope John Paul II was a Jewish puppet—was released within a week of Benedict XVI’s resignation. With the whole world is watching the Vatican for a hint of scandal, what more could an author ask for?

Pacifico’s book follows a down-on-his-luck Roman and relatively recent convert to Catholicism, Piero Rosini. By day Piero works as an editor at an ultra-right wing Christian press—where his most recent editing assignment is the book proposing the papal conspiracy—and by night he goes home to an empty new housing development on the outskirts of Rome. There, thanks to his newly-minted celibacy, he doesn’t have conjugal relations with his wife, and instead spends a great deal of time visiting the nearby Ikea.

Into this descends temptation, in the form of 1) an aspiring writer who draws Piero into a modern-day salon at a local café; and 2) his sister-in-law’s fabulous breasts, about which Piero cannot stop obsessing. Soon he has decided, nervous-breakdown-like, that he must flee to Paris for the summer and collect himself, apparently unaware (or maybe very aware) that the only place more full of temptation than Rome is Paris—and there things there go from bad to worse.

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