Ted Conover began reporting his latest book, Cheap Land Colorado, in May of 2017, in a scenic and unforgiving stretch of the San Luis Valley known locally as the Flats. He tells the story of a diverse cast of off-grid homesteaders, struggling to bootstrap a life on the rural margins. Conover was first introduced to the locals as a volunteer for a nonprofit called La Puente. Under the tutelage of a military vet named Matt Little, he went door to door offering help with basic necessities like food and firewood. Over the course of the next five years he became a regular fixture in the valley, splitting time between a rented trailer parked on the property of a local family (the Grubers) and his adopted home of New York City where he teaches in the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Eventually, Conover bought his own parcel in the Valley, haggling down from twenty to fifteen-thousand dollars. When we spoke by phone in December, he said, “I’m probably not the only writer in New York on a crowded subway car who sometimes misses the place they grew up.”
The Challenge of First Impressions: Lisa Wells Interviews Ted Conover
The following are two stories from Evil Flowers by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated by Kari Dickson, published by FSG (2/14/23).
The Cliffs, When Dead
To get to the top of the White Cliffs of Dover was not that hard. It was, in principle, just a matter of walking. Moving one foot in front of the other, up a narrow, romantic path through the green grass. The hardest part was getting to England in the first place. Being a neurotic and booking flights could be problematic. Veronika knew all about that. Because she was a neurotic.
Documentary filmmaker Alice Diop brings an unsettling sense of reality to her first fiction feature, which follows a novelist attending the trial of a woman accused of drowning her 15-month-old child. Based on a real-life incident of infanticide, the courtroom proceedings depicted in Saint Omer borrow from the 2016 trial of Fabienne Kabou, which Diop herself attended. In synopsis, this may sound like a lurid mix of fiction and documentary, but this precise and emotionally complex film, which sprung from Diop’s fascination with Kabou’s trial, does not have the anxiety-stoking energy of a true-crime story. It is so rooted in the point of view of Rama, the writer attending the trial, that I hesitate to describe it as a courtroom drama. The film’s dual focus—on both Rama, the writer, and Laurence, the young woman accused of infanticide—turns the trial into something other than pure spectacle and results in a story that looks closely at the frighteningly powerful bond between mother and child.
They say the accident that left me with temporary amnesia is my inheritance. No house or piece of land or chest of letters, just a few weeks of oblivion.
Mami had temporary amnesia as well, except: where she was eight years old, I was twenty-three. Where she fell down an empty well, I crashed my bicycle into an opening car door. Where she nearly bled to death in Ocaña, Colombia, in darkness, thirty feet below the earth, I got to my feet seemingly unharmed and wandered around Chicago on a sunny winter afternoon. Where she didn’t know who she was for eight months, I couldn’t remember who I was for eight weeks.
They say the amnesias were a door to gifts we were supposed to have, which Mami’s father, Nono, neglected to pass.
The minibus stops in the middle of the road and the driver opens the door, he says something in Russian which I take to mean I need to get off. I begin to walk on a red dirt road that meanders down, and in front of me, the vastness of the Crimean terrain opens up, splotches of yellow overgrown grass, young bushes and wildflowers, the quiet dark sea in the distance.
“I am living permanently in my dream,
from which I make brief forays into reality.”
—Ingmar Bergman, The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography
Erminia danced the Charleston. My friend Gianluca told me how, almost every evening, his grandmother would pause on the threshold of the French doors that opened onto the terrace and trace out the steps. Her arms swinging, legs twisting, a toe to the front, then to the back, a heel swiveling to the side, a toe to the front again. She confined her movements to the doorway as though she wanted to go unnoticed, and yet somehow she demanded the attention of anyone nearby. Whenever I was at Gianluca’s, I always saw her singing softly to herself.
Or else swoon to death, the young poet wrote,
though these in the seminar’s steadfast room
appear to want little or none of it,
however coddlingly the professor prods.
They are the poet’s age at death, or almost,
but do not find “relatable” these words
composed by one who knew his passion hopeless—
especially the sleepless Eremite,
belonging to another world and time,
and even his fair love’s ripening breast conjures only suspect looks, withering stares,
or now and then a tolerating nod.
Of course, they must assume their own bright stars
will rise aloft some digital empyrean
Sundays I’d walk down the hill toward the green four o’clock
dark beginning like a rumor—
always she was leaning over the counter, head tipped toward
a tiny phone,
her husband turning the pages of a Daily Mail like a man
whose suspicions of human nature were
being fed fresh evidence.
Stale fryer fat, ale, black and tans in the fridge.
They knew I’d be there before the match started. You alright yeah Every Sunday a matinee I attended for three years
as volcanoes exploded
and she died,
white slipped into my beard
wars began and others ended.
Each Sunday the words gathering new weight
as words do when you repeat them. You alright I didn’t know but by halftime if I wasn’t too pissed
I’d walk home in the furred darkness before the beer wore off
and a sudden gust of wind could blow cold air on my heart.
There is comfort in a lack of context, dishes on the floor, jewelry on a peg board, grand piano next to an abandoned plastic phlebotomy practice arm. All the parts of the world shuffled and randomly dealt amongst rooms. A sort of magic trick, skinned in dust, connecting all things to a singular body—the auction house. I remember finding a large bowl of teeth.