Olive Amdur

Friday Reads: December 2021

Curated by ELLY HONG

For our December round of Friday Reads, we spoke to two of our contributors from Issue 22. Read on for recommendations that strike a unique balance between comedy and tragedy.

Recommendations: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel, and Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry

Friday Reads: December 2021
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Tell Me About Bobby Kennedy

By BOB JOHNSON

The night Barack Obama was elected president, Roger Sinclair and his family gathered in his living room to watch the results come in. And there Roger—lifelong Democrat, city councilman, local party chair—drank a bottle of Merlot and elbowed his granddaughter Emily in the cheek, breaking her orbital socket. 

Before the incident, the evening had been a happy one. Roger’s son Joel and daughter-in-law Colette were as rapt as he by the momentous events. All agreed that John McCain (a patriot, to be sure) was mired in the past, while the young candidate from Chicago—his beautiful family, his dazzling smile—represented an optimism the country hadn’t seen in a generation. 

“It’s a return to Camelot,” Roger said, lifting his glass, though Joel’s and Colette’s puzzled faces told him they missed the reference.

Tell Me About Bobby Kennedy
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I Will Be in the Place You Least Expect to Find Me: 10 Questions with Latifa Baqa

Latifa Baqa’s gripping stream of consciousness short story “Adam’s Apple” is a highlight of Issue 21’s portfolio of fiction from Morocco. A feminist, human rights activist, and award-winning author, Baqa is interviewed by The Common interns Sofia Belimova, Olive Amdur, Adaku Nwokiwu, and Eliza Brewer. They discuss editing, the devil in the details, and countering the traditional expectation of the male gaze. Nariman Youssef translated the interview, as well as the original story. This is the first of two interviews conducted by the summer interns with Issue 21 contributors; the second will be with Abdelmajid Haouasse.

Headshot of a middle aged Moroccan woman with glasses standing in front of a pond on a sunny day

TC interns (TC): What inspired “Adam’s Apple?” Can you describe your process of writing and revising it?

Latifa Baqa (LB): The idea behind ​​“Adam’s Apple,” like pretty much all ideas you may find in any of my fictional texts, began with a sentence. Meaning that one sentence preceded the idea, in a way not unlike how one note might resonate in a musician’s head before the rest of the tune. This is how it often happens: before I begin writing, a lone sentence rises up in my thoughts, for no obvious reason. I remember how this one stuck in my head for days: “We shouldn’t lay bare what we carry within us more than once.” The rest of the story followed from that sentence, beginning with a minor character who barely features in the narrative: Alzamourie, the neighborhood’s baker, who was a real person in the working class neighborhood where I was born and raised. To be more precise, one element that started making its way into the story was Alzamourie’s teeth. I just could never forget his teeth. It seems almost absurd, but I find more reassurance in the foggy arbitrariness of memory than in the clarity of conventional reality.

I Will Be in the Place You Least Expect to Find Me: 10 Questions with Latifa Baqa
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The Eclipse

By ANNA LIDIA VEGA SEROVA

Translated by JENNIFER SHYUE

 

Translator’s Note

Anna Lidia Vega Serova’s stories make my mouth quirk and make me wince, usually not simultaneously. The pitiless sweep of her narrators’ gazes spares no one, not even the characters they’re latched fastest to. When my own eyes are fixed on the task of translating her words, of scooting puzzle pieces around until they snap satisfyingly into place, I forget how unblinking that narratorial gaze is, how its effect sometimes abuts brutality, and sometimes tips straight in. I remember when I watch other people react to my translations, after it is too late to offer content warnings or make excuses for unlikable women. (What can I say? I like unlikable women—or, more accurately: I admire them.) Vega Serova’s stories brim with them, which is one reason I am drawn to them.

The Eclipse
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I Heart Ugly Nature

By CHARLES HOOD 

This essay is from the collection A Salad Only The Devil Would Eat, out now from Heyday Books.

ASAL cover

Once upon a time I lived at the beach, and not just any beach, but one of the good ones: Newport Beach in Orange County. A hashtag search delivers 2.3 million Instagram hits; if you stand at the end of Newport’s wood-planked pier on winter mornings, Catalina Island looks close enough to touch. I was not there the day a masked booby showed up, but I have seen a sea turtle, a bloom of moon jellies, and a stout man paddling a paddleboard completely naked. Coffee in hand, sitting on the front steps of my rental cottage, I would admire the early surfers jogging past in neon-trimmed neoprene, shortboards clamped under blond arms. I envied their urgency and zeal. According to their wet suits, their names were O’Neill and Rip Curl. Their girlfriends were even prettier and more fit than they were. I had a surfboard too, but it didn’t do me much good. Any wave obvious enough and slow enough for me to catch just petered out in the kelpy slop thirty seconds later. Mostly, I used it to prop open the door when I brought in the groceries.

I Heart Ugly Nature
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Safety Advice for Staying Indoors

By MARY O’DONOGHUE 

 

The farmer’s daughter began her fifth period, more excavating, more mortal than the previous. The toilet under the stairs flushed half-heartedly, returning red-brown effluent. Go down, go away, be off to the underworld! She pumped a second time, jangled the handle to make her point. But there would be more. Dark clumps and entrails, another six days of the end of the world.

Safety Advice for Staying Indoors
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Joyriding in Riyadh

By TARIQ AL HAYDAR

 

“Saudi wastemen came over the bridge for boozy orgy celebrations.” —Noor Naga

The horror of the city. As Dhari tapped the steering wheel, he calmed himself by visualizing the beautiful woman who should be sitting next to him soon: shoulder-length blonde hair and sky-blue eyes. He eyed the two security guards idling at the gate of the hospital, joking with each other. The gangly one spit on the ground, then turned to the one with long hair, who handed him a cigarette. Dhari’s friend Dawood got caught with a woman he wasn’t related to once. Dawood was actually lucky to spend only a week in jail, but Dhari knew he couldn’t handle prison for even a day. If only he could have been born somewhere else, where people weren’t separated from one another like this. Whenever he watched American movies, he marveled at how men and women got together, threw dinner parties, clinked glasses. Relationships, dances, first kisses, all these things were taken for granted. How would they view Saudi weddings? Separate ones for men and women. At a wedding, all one did was shake men’s hands, drink tan Saudi coffee in small ceramic cups, and sit, waiting for meat and rice to be served.

Joyriding in Riyadh
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My Body as the George Washington Bridge All Lit Up at Midnight

By ALEXANDRA WATSON

434 wires unlock the land
double-decked suspension
hot for incandescence
a 14 lane corridor
top exposed
stiffening truss
to come over


limbs sling across the chasm
100 million self propelled cells
carbon hardening soft iron
opens all 29 tolls
bottom enclosed
can’t afford
unanchored 

My Body as the George Washington Bridge All Lit Up at Midnight
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Family of Origin Rewrite: 1982

By K. IVER

 

My father teaches ethics at a university. 
My mother teaches ethics at a university. 
They save. Their money. Buy 
a large bungalow in Connecticut. 
They continue. Saving. Enough 
to support the San Francisco AIDS
Foundation and their baby.
They read the news and wish kindness
into our laws. One of them will say
Sweden hasn’t been to war since 1812. 
The other says you can start a business
in Sweden and get free healthcare.
They’re excited. About my arrival. 
They remain. Calm. When 
midnight cries wake them. 
My father waits. For my mother to heal. 
Before asking for sex. She’s good. 
At saying no. She throws meditation
and exercise and intense therapy 
at her trauma. Still goes to AA. 
When wrong. She promptly admits it. 
Every night she arrives home from
the university. Her soft. Low voice. 
Builds a replica in my throat. She wears 
minimal. Makeup. Cuts her nails down 
because who needs the fuss. When I walk. 
Into a room. And see my father. 
I continue walking in. When my father
and I leave. The house. Lots of women
introduce themselves. When we get back
he tears. Their numbers over the trash. 
On weekends my father and I dig 
in the dirt. I watch him plant 
lilac bulbs around the spruce. He lets 
my small hand pack the ground. 
Affirms it as help. When my father puts.
me to bed with true stories of him 
sewing clothes for new mothers 
in Ukraine. I fall asleep fast.

Family of Origin Rewrite: 1982
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