Amherst College’s sixth annual literary festival will take place virtually this year, from Thursday, February 25 to Sunday, February 28. Among the guests are 2020 National Book Award fiction winner Charles Yu and longlist nominee Megha Majumdar. The Common is pleased to reprint a short excerpt from Yu’s novel Interior Chinatown here.
Join Megha Majumdar and Charles Yu in conversation with host Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint (visiting writer at Amherst College) on Friday, February 26 from 7 to 8pm.
It was a hot Los Angeles day when Dad took me to the Oaxaca Festival. As the women onstage twirled their colorful skirts, I could feel the sun sink into my skin and sweat drip down the sides of my face. The light fell directly on my neck and shoulder. I wished I’d brought sunscreen.
By SEAN BERNARD
Living with Ricky is fine. The things you accept—they’re small things. Like the way he kicks off his shoes in the hallway at the end of the workday, leaving them there for you to nearly break your ankle on when you have to pee in the middle of the night. He has a point: if you know you’re going to trip on them, why don’t you just move them? Or also how he’ll fall asleep after work on Fridays—you both get off at five, but he always gets home first and somehow has time to be on his third Corona when you walk into the apartment, and he’s sitting in the yellow beanbag chair, half-asleep with an Angels game on, remote tucked safely under his leg. He’s happy to wake up early Saturday morning after you’ve talked the night before about sleeping in together, the weekend being the only real chance you get to wake up with him slowly, to lie in bed in that half-drowsing state that’s exactly how you’d spend your whole life if only someone would, you know, create a job for that, a job where pajamas were the uniform, a bed the office, and being snoozy and not really worrying about the clanging outside world was the main task at hand—those mornings, while you’re drooling into your pillow, Ricky will yank on his sponsor-laden clothes and go bicycling. Leaving you to wake up alone. Which isn’t so bad, but then he’ll call around noon asking you to pick him up at the local craft brewery as he’s had too many to bike home. That’s responsible, though. Calling you.
Where does Los Angeles begin and end? A response to that question stammers when faced with the infamous concrete sprawl of the city without a center. The hazy boundaries of the metropolis would seem to resist any effort at a comprehensive and coherent portrayal in novel form.
The wide maze of highways, the omnipresent gloss of billboards, the horizontal swarm of neighborhoods and business parks and shopping centers that resemble each other, and the army of cameras transforming the city into a vast stage set have led writers to describe LA as a projection of surfaces that blurs reality and fantasy. The long-established connection of LA to the film and television industry makes it easy for visitors to view the hybrid architectures of the city as mere props and the multicultural residents as typecast actors and actresses always “in character.” In Nathanael West’s seminal LA novel, The Day of the Locust, the protagonist Tod Hackett sees “people of a different type” standing apart from a passing crowd costumed in the latest fashions. About these marginalized onlookers, Hackett understands “very little…except that they had come to California to die.” By “California,” Hackett means southern California, Hollywood land—the living spectacle he aspires to depict in a painting called “The Burning of Los Angeles.” The moribund folks on the sidelines of LA’s trendy masquerade have recently migrated from the midwestern and eastern U.S., lured by the elegance and leisure depicted in movies and advertisements. The American migrants in West’s tale have “eyes filled with hatred,” an expression likely owing to the disenchanting realization, upon arrival in LA, that most occupants of Hollywood land do not live forever in the glimmering form of an image.