Thursday, July 21, 2011

xTx is (AB)normally Special

My title really ruined that oxymoron belonging to xTx's latest story collection "Normally Special." I've not read too many contemporary writers with nom de plumes, but of them, I like xTx best.

Frankly, I wasn't so sure that'd be the case. I mean, xTx reads like the title of a Vin Diesel movie (fitting, since he too is operating under a nom de plume, thank god). Happily, there's where similarities end because xTx doesn't tell stories as they might be by The Diesel. She tells visceral stories that make you feel something, sometimes something terrible (an emotion you weren't sure you understood / weren't sure you were capable of having), but, hey, if that's the effect, that's the effect. And these effects are enviable.

I've actually enjoyed the pocket-size quality of a lot of these various indie books I've gotten my hands on of late. (They make for great, surreptitious reading while I'm at work, for example.) Others, which I'll have further comments on, no doubt, are Ethel Rohan's "Hard to Say" "Artifice 3" (a great indie literary magazine), "Big World" by Mary Miller and "AM/PM" by Amelia Gray.

These are books by lesser known but equally worthy writers as those you'll find in prominent places like The New Yorker, Paris Review, Harper's, Granta and so forth. A Patrick Somerville to match a Gary Shteyngart, a Roxane Gay to match a Z.Z. Packer, a near-every late 20s-early 30s female writer (namely, Alissa Nutting, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Jill Summers, Faith Gardner, Mary Miller, Frank Hinton, Ethel Rohan and, of course xTx) to match Karen Russell and Tea Obreht, a Michael Czyzniejewski to every Stephen O'Connor. And you get the idea. I like and have read many contemporary authors of all persuasions / categorizations. I refuse to concede that the better known ones are of a higher literary caliber. If anything I might say the opposite is the case. (I know, I know, how very provocative / controversial of me to side with what is presumably the anti-establishment (the independent publishers) but then again sort of its own smaller, niche establishment in its own right. Well, I'm siding with somebody! Dammit!).

All right, the point is xTx. Her stories fill you with grit, ask you to get gritty, enjoy making you feel like you're being abraded by something especially coarse. And I grant that this might sound a little tongue-in-cheek, but that's only because I have trouble expressing these types of emotions. (Yep, admitting a little vulnerability here, folks.)

My favorites of "Normally Special" were "Standoff" -- which I was on the verge of tears reading, but I didn't cry mostly because of manliness and mine being what it is. But the story is fucking powerful sad. I loved it. The mother and son relationship is tortured by all kinds of emotion, by guilt and by loss and by uncertainty. "She Who Subjected the Sun" is an ambiguously dystopian vision, one in which we are able to understand women have been returned to a state of subjection, or more so, really, made to desire being made subjects, perfectly docile, welcoming their subjection. It's something akin to a normative imposition of the sex slavery trade.

Many of my other favorites were colored by a kind of ambiguity. Maybe it was ambivalence, ambiguous ambivalence. It got me to thinking and to feeling, which I like.

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