I wrote this story long before the movie franchise of the same title appeared. I’m not saying the movie people stole the idea from me, even though I’m pretty sure I invented hangovers, but if Zach Galliafinakopolisopoulous wants to kick a couple of euros my way for, you know, “thanks, man” or whatever, I would not complain.
In fact, I wrote this story a long, long time ago, when I (briefly) attended college in Charlottesville, Virginia, a town and a state I had never visited before enrolling there, and which I have not visited since dropping out, which was either the best decision I’ve ever made or the worst, or both, or neither.
The story when I first wrote it was close to 15,000 words. In its current form it is less than 900. People should not subject other people to their prolix juvenilia, is my point.
Though the conceit of the story suggests that it takes place during the time it takes to listen to both sides of R.E.M.’s Murmur, I do not advise taking that conceit as veridical, though if someone wants to test the proposition, please do not let me stop you.
Two further notes: 1) this story originally appeared in the fine literary/music journal Yeti (issue 6), which can be found here; 2) the character Violet McKnight, keen-eyed observers may note, has the same name as the character Violet McKnight in my most recent novel The Failure. The two girls are not related and in fact remain unaware of each other’s existence. I’d prefer to keep it that way, if it’s okay with you. Thanks.
1. Calling out in transit (4:05)
Sam Anonymous had a drinking problem.
* * * * * * * *
Brown vinyl of the sofa peeled with sticking sound from humid flesh of back and legs as he sat up. Pattern of raised swirls on the vinyl were reproduced on skin: corresponding incarnadine impressions.
2. Your hate: clipped and distant (4:30)
Low whistle of kettle rose in pitch and volume to climax in piercing shriek that unmoored the murmur of Sam’s thoughts. From tin of instant coffee he spooned quantity of dark powder. Hands shook slightly as he struggled to fill the cup with sour-smelling coffee. Scratched idly at the corner of one sleep-swollen eye: steadied himself against the counter. A ribbon of water lined the front edge of sink where he had sloppily rinsed the mug. When he pressed against the counter water seeped into the waistband of his boxers.
3. Martyred: misconstrued (3:58)
Her name was Violet McKnight. Five foot two in bare feet. Short hair dyed unnatural red swept back from lunar face: cranberry strands fell in her eyes when she made an emphatic gesture. Nose small, well-formed, eyes the color of root beer, narrowed to skeptical slits when challenged.
* * * * * * * *
Spitting toothpaste into sink Sam noticed with equanimity that the spent paste was streaked with blood from his gums.
4. Not everyone can carry the weight of the world (3:24)
He was twenty-nine years old. In February he would be thirty.
5. Inside the moral kiosk (3:32)
A wave of nausea broke and receded. Sam hunched forward on the couch. Palpating his cheeks: annoyed by growth of stubble. Counting backwards could only manage four days before the fog of elapsed time refused to lift.
6. Shoulders high in the room (3:30)
Weaving unsteadily down the street, he saw her outlined against the black glass of her bedroom window, body limned by a nimbus of yellow streetlight.
1. Did we miss anything? (3:55)
Sam yawned, stretched his arms, stood and heavily walked across the room to turn over record. Returning to couch: revisited by a coil of his earlier nausea unwinding in his gut and feathering upwards through his chest. Unsnapped the cap from a plastic bottle on the table next to alarm clock, shook two aspirin into his hand, placed them with thumb and forefinger carefully in back of mouth, and swallowed with effortful gulp.
* * * * * * * *
What use is experience without memory?
2. We could gather: throw a fit (3:18)
One thing at a time: watching Violet bend towards him by light of a guttering candle.
3. All nine yards (3:05)
Scratched his hair in imitation of thought. Hoisted himself off the couch and began sorting through pile of clothes on ugly square of brown-and-white carpet.
Love is a crazy and unkempt thing that grows like a wild weed in the heart. It will suffer the cruelest attempts at eradication with quiet strength, and will take root and prosper in even the stoniest soil. True love, like true art, admits no moral influence. Had he read that or was it original?
4. Shaking through: opportune (4:30)
In frustration he ripped the front buttons and stripped off the shirt: left hand got tangled in the cuff: which he had abstractly buttoned moments earlier: and pull as he would: flap as he might: the shirt refused to let go. Sat down on the couch: head in hands, the tattered shirt trailing to the floor like captured flag of some defeated army.
5. Up the stairs to the landing (3:01)
World adheres to stringent rules of form and content: these rules, Sam knew from prolonged contact with books, were not frangible. Just as a story must have beginning, middle, end, so a soul must have one body to inhabit. Proliferation of the soul’s forms would mean rewriting rules of human contact.
6. Long gone (3:17)
The wind picked up and there was a smell of rain. Sam buttoned his overcoat with reddened fingers. The tips of a succession of telephone poles flecked the sky on the far side of the broad avenue: up one of these scrambled two squirrels.
Dark tracery of oak limbs: russet and orange and mustardy leaves: cold rain-scented air: combined to form an impression of remote beauty that reinforced and focused his sense of longing.
Continued past a brick house, windows ardent with citrine light. Fragrant gray smoke curled from its chimney: leaves of a silver poplar fluttered in the wind, undersides flashing white like a flock of luminous moths: from thick tangle of azalea bushes came sounds of a small animal scrabbling for food or shelter.
Fine rain needled his face but he did not mind the wet because in his heart he carried a word —finally! — that was the word he needed. He held the word before him like a lighted candle to ward off the rain, and the cold, and the black despair of night as he walked towards Violet’s house.
- It's a long climb up the rock face at the wrong time to the right place
- James Greer's books on GoodreadsGuided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Rollreviews: 24
ratings: 195 (avg rating 3.70)Artificial Light (Little House on the Bowery)reviews: 6
ratings: 71 (avg rating 3.66)The Failurereviews: 9
ratings: 59 (avg rating 3.65)EXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fictionreviews: 4
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.60)Two Letters Collection, Volume 2ratings: 5 (avg rating 4.60)
Friendly Fire"James Greer, one of the nimblest and most multilayered American fiction writers, has, with his latest novel The Failure, pulled off a sublime and shivery-smooth literary hat-trick-cum-emotional-gotcha. I defy anyone to come up with an equation to explain how this book's first impression as a ridiculously clever, funny crime story can gradually disclose a metanovel built from far more encyclopedic scratch only to reveal upon its conclusion a central, overriding thought so heartfelt literally it trembles your lower lip. This is one stunning piece of work."—Dennis Cooper"James Greer's The Failure is such an unqualified success, both in conception and execution, that I have grave doubts he actually wrote it."—Steven Soderbergh"Greer has done it again: a big-city, techno-jargon-filled thrill-ride with slick medium-brow drop references to our (once-shared) mythological hometown. What could be more poignant?"—Robert Pollard"How do you assess if your life has been a success? For starters, take time and turn it on its head. You'll first need to find its head. Luckily, James Greer's novel The Failure will help--it's a brainy, boisterous, unsettling, and unsettled look at a group of people thrust into the most confounding of existences, complete with petty crime, high science, love, sex, and cars. The narrative winds and darts, gleefully uncooperative. The characters have funny names and sometimes funny existences. Still, you will recognize them. They are us."—Ben Greenman
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