The Writer’s Lot
The Emily Carpenter Takeover on Great Jones Street
There’s a book on my shelf by Dr. Laura Schlessinger innocuously titled “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.” Not my usual fare. The author’s well-documented philosophies are a mystery to me, still; her notoriety, not. This is the kind of book I would neither buy nor endorse. And yet, I did and I do. Why? I keep it on the shelf, in spite of its author and subject matter, because I noticed it had a note tucked into the first few pages, a story within the story:
This is an important book for you to read and understand well. All I have ever asked of you are said within.
The note continues. It is a personal plea for help. A man, guided by voices from without, to cry for his wife who by now knows this is a turning point in their marriage. It is signed, “Love, Jack.”
Between loved ones, to be heard and understood is a powerful force. Does the book make it more powerful? When Jack shared the book with Colette was there no other way to convey his desire? To share a book is indeed to share a thing that he cannot express himself. It’s almost as if the weight of it, the book and its physical presence, was also part of the message.
And yet, this is the writer’s lot. To share the unsharable truths for the sake of the reader. To provide a body on which to pin a note. To give our own hearts as if to say, “This book is me. It is my body and it is my soul. Read it with care and I will be touched.”
Every time I read that note, it takes me aback. I wonder how the book came to be in my possession. Did the wife read it and kick him and his book to the curb? Did it end up in the used bookstore when they rid themselves of their things in pursuit of separate lives, this one together a lost cause? Did they reconcile? If so, why lose the book? Was it too harsh a reminder of a time they’d rather not linger?
Oversharing. Encoding our lives in texts written by others and sharing them is a common enough phenomenon these days. Consider how many times a day you see an article on Facebook accompanied by a one-word endorsement: “This.” We use the shorthand of social sharing to speak for our internal struggles. Not daily. More frequently than that. Our shares have multiplied seemingly so in proportion to our struggles.
In Emily Carpenter’s new book “The Weight of Lies” this phenomenon is exposed by the main character Megan whose mother is a famous writer, Frances Ashley. Megan owes her livelihood to mom’s novel “Kitten” which propelled her mother into considerable fame and fortune. Her world is marred by “Kitty Cultists” and sycophants and she has learned to distrust anything coming from that fiction’s success.
And yet, she has avoided reading it her whole life. Why?
The results are a page-turning mystery. Carpenter slips a book within a book, lives within lives, and desires within desires. The many layers of intrigue pile up. There are revelations. There are ruins. There is redemption. I loved this book.
ICYMI, Emily curated the five stories of the week this week. The week started with “Delsa Redecorates” which is a first-person inner monolog of a woman at the end of her sanity. Given her dire circumstances as a cult-captive turkey gutting factory slave, this is understandable. Carpenter, who used to be in show business, does a fine job narrating this story in her Live Reading too. I highly recommend listening to this one.
In fact, we’re experimenting with a new format for audio called Musobooks. If you want a Live Reading mashed up with indie music, listen here instead.
Tuesday featured “Pretty Little Parasite” by David Corbett, which was a Best American Mystery Story in 2009. David also reads his story, which I listened to all 45 minutes of last night. David cannot sing a false note. This story is longer than most around here and it’s worth it. The story is a Las Vegas story between a woman, her newborn daughter and the narcotics officer she has unwittingly become emotionally invested in while he is undercover (in every way) and himself culpable in her betrayal. Man, this is a deep story. And you come away caring. It really is a damn fine mystery.
Wednesday, we got a taste of Desirina Boskovich’s “Dear Owner of this 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup.” First, let’s pause to reflect on the insane genius of that title, yeah?
Insane genius. How do you not read this letter? How do you crumple it up and throw it away without reading at least a sentence? And so it goes. This is a heartbreaking missive sent to the unrelentingly obtuse. If you stick with it, there’s a very satisfying twist. It’s the stuff episodic television is made of. In my dream, Great Jones Street becomes a TV series not unlike Black Mirror and this is definitely on my short list for Season 1.
Thursday, we reprise “And Yet” by Brian Evenson, who, if you missed an earlier newsletter, just landed a coveted Guggenheim fellowship. There’s nobody in mystery/horror fiction who thinks Brian is undeserving of your attention. “And Yet” is a 10-minute read and an 18-minute listen. It’s mastery.
Friday we close the work week with “Other Gods” by Emily Carpenter. It’s another story told from the first person of a young woman, this time a teenager, who has suddenly become the cult’s voice of God. It’s a 7-minute read and a 12-minute listen. This character is a lot like Delsa, fierce in her determination to break a vicious cycle. And, again, listening to Emily Carpenter read is a pleasure unto itself.
That wraps this week. But wait, there’s more.
We have the first few chapters of Emily’s new book “The Weight of Lies” which you can read right now. It’s the opening, where the intrigue is set in motion and Megan and Frances (ex officio) are introduced. I hope you take it in and then go buy the damn thing.