DEAR MALAE: I swear I offered this to a bunch of publications in the straight community but no one wanted it, at least not from me, so here it is on an insignificant blog. I tried! Feel free to use. –N
Peter Nathaniel Malae’s new book Son of Amity begins with themes familiar to his readers: violence, incarceration, cultures tangled and erased by poverty, hatred for the consumer and the less-dedicated, and perhaps the Californian writer’s greatest contribution to twenty-first century literature: an identifiable search for the use of masculinity in our time.
As before, the economy of description is refreshingly socio-economic. Malae’s mission to portray common people brings us undernourished, overfed, jelly-spined poor whites, but also dignified and convincing portraits of men forgotten in prison and in Bush’s Middle-East conflict, and women rejected, imprisoned, by the ignorance in their environments.
But this is no rerun of What We Are: like Jimmy Baca before him, the author’s own evolution since he disappeared into the “Pacific Northwest” makes the reader an attractive offer to evolve according to his characters’ examples. There are three males in this dialect-rendered story. Which is the titular Son of Amity?
Here Malae repurposes his previous characterizations to disarming effect. For a start the writer’s voice, mercifully, is separating from the narrator’s. Malae always demonstrates an ear for specific slang, something that really impresses academics, but in Son of Amity, especially the memories of prison, we finally get to observe what this slang, in its various pressure and quantity, really means between characters.
Central to the three adults’ seemingly-doomed cohabitation is a highly-realistic evolution of characters’ wills and desires, something unfit in What We Are’s immediacy. Starting with revenge for a rape, the characters’ common ground shifts under them as the victim of the violence takes the will to both choose forgiveness and transform the violence into a child: Malietoa to his Samoan uncle, Tophat to his veteran father, the latter crippled by the former.
The use for masculinity is found in a shared faith in family centered around the child Benji, and not in an act or a gesture. The outcast’s longing for a family to serve –and worth serving –in previous work has arrived. As What We Are’s exasperation before an expanded mind rouses similar feelings to Immigrants in Our Own Land, so this meditation on refocused life approaches the glorious beauty of Black Mesa Poems.
Throughout the book, Malae turns his previous work’s conceits against themselves using time and natural renewal: here we hopelessly serve our past even as the future offers us a ride without reservations, in this case the innocent child at the lead. The book’s greatest charm lies in watching the three adults reluctantly choose the boy’s inspiration over their baggage. Who, then, is the Son of Amity? I would argue that it’s the boy, and I propose that the narcissistic masses of this country read this book and follow their own Malietoa, their own Tophat.
Malae never neglects the portraiture of people trying to both live up to the past and make some way of living in the present. Perhaps the clearest symbols of this are Pika’s Samoan umu Thanksgiving turkey at the book’s finale and Michael’s worship of the Vietnam vets. But the conceit and the dignity lies in Sissy’s internal monologue throughout, in which the urban, feminist, progressive reader must coexist with the fact that Sissy’s post-rape decisions come from a need to move forward without any plan.
Highly recommended for those needing an immediate dose of reality.
For you simpering simpletons don’t know Malae, I recommend starting with What We Are and then joining us on the ride for Son of Amity, which just came out this month. Be the first on your block to read it!
What We Are, besides being the Sanjoseest-ass book ever written, is a tight piece of prose from the point of view of a man who grasps his own masculinity and desperately wants to put it to use in service of his family and community, but can’t, and so jacks it off with dumb violence and relationship-ruining. Along the way the author makes some hilarious satires of Silicon Valley, of which we can never do enough.
To the end of reading, appreciating and contextualizing Malae, I’ll just leave this essay here from when What We Are came out, in which Fiction Advocate weighs the whys and wherefores of how Malae and Junot Díaz use so-called ‘high and low’ language juxtaposition (hello —deja el show. Have you read Dos Passos, pendejos?) but the latter gets a Pulitzer for it in Óscar Wao. As a huge fan of Óscar Wao myself, particularly Achy Obejas’ fucking killer Spanish translation, and as someone who also put down the last page of What We Are and wondered how the hell this didn’t get any awards, I’m only too interested in continuing the argument begun in the article. Not to encourage it, but the comment string is pretty salacious too. Read, read and argue away!
Beginning approximately 1PM today, Wednesday 20 June 2018, cops cleared out the Shelf, a popular camping spot for homeless San José citizens.
The Shelf is on the Guadalupe Path, beneath the 280/87 interchange, whose conception is documented in Jan McDaniel’s master’s thesis Demolition of a San José Neighborhood. The novel I’m working on takes place right here, as does much of my real free time.
Was on my bike finally on the way to visit someone there, when the cops show up. Crews in trucks marked Tucker and Jensen came to pack up trash and whatever gets left behind. SJPD is known to impound and eventually destroy property during sweeps like these.
It is not totally illegal to sleep out in San José, which is a rare luxury in the area. However, a representative of the Santa Clara Water District confirmed by telephone today that it “owns” the entire Guadalupe River. Water companies in the city are known to frown on camping on their property, so the call to clear the Shelf could have come from them. There is also a restriction on sleeping in cars and “storing” vehicles on public curbs.
It’s a drag because the camp has held out for a solid six months, as peacefully as we can imagine without having seen it the whole time. A man I was talking to as a source for my novel was living there, though I did not see him when the sweep began , and now I’m not sure if I’ll find him again. We haven’t traded phone numbers. I would like to have shown him my appreciation better, even with just a beer or a sandwich.
It appears that the 2016 Eugenio Negro novel “Meat Ladder to Mars” will indeed become nonfiction, at least most of it, thanks to President Trump, who “plans” to “direct” NASA to send North American astronauts to the moon and to Mars, presumably as soon as possible. And who will work these launch jobs? We’d better read the book.
Video by Nick Taplin, Post-Consumer Records
Saw a video a few months back of Brontez Purnell reading from his up-and-coming book Since I Laid my Burden Down and had to get a copy as soon as it came out. Tried to read it with his voice in my head. The book has been doted upon with a marvelous thick library jacket by New York City University’s Feminist Press.
The punk rocker, performance artist and otherwise notable Oakland figure, whom I remember as one of the few interesting people on Earth in the vacuous universal hell of 2005, published the zine Fag School beginning in 2003. He has also published the Cruising Diaries in 2014 with the collaboration of Janelle Hessig, from whose Tales of Blarg I first heard of his exploits, as well as 2015’s diary-style Johnny Would You Love Me if my Dick Were Bigger. Since I Laid my Burden Down is sort of a Bildungsroman framed in a memoir. Is there a word for that?
DeShawn, blessed with the emotional receptivity that marks a faggot amongst his church-centered community, reflects during a funeral trip to his Alabama hometown of his trajectory in making his life meaningful, and not wasting his faggot people skills in the office of a rural preacher. Regardless of his shifting relationship with his mother, there is the feeling that he thinks his mother has limited her life becoming a preacher herself.
DeShawn is drawn as a product of generations raised by women, with men absent or devoid of father quality. The protagonist seeks mentorship and trust naturally, nevertheless, through his everyday channels, even through an older married lover. Despite making his own way, fleeing Alabama for California, DeShawn never really feels like he can stand the weight of his life on his shoulders, and has problems with memory and scale. Like a lot of us.
The book is full of family, church, death, sex, and the perverse distortion of time and place unique to being in one’s early thirties. Particularly rewarding are the terse but deft descriptions of family members, such as “DeShawn’s mother always spoke recklessly when it was unnecessary, and coolly when it was greatly needed.” Wait –how do they ever know when is which? Does the narrator mean this in hindsight or…?
Throughout the story DeShawn visits two funerals and relates cleaning out several dead people’s houses, visits the gracious and lovable mother of both an early lover and an early abuser, and wears out the patience of a girlfriend in New York, all the while taking stock of the relationships he put on hold or fled when he left Alabama. Along the way he sees some ghosts that grow more vivid and some that thankfully fade.
The prose is unadorned and direct, more diary-like in the beginning, with creams of sly humor beaten in. The back of the book features quotes that I personally found a little hysterical, such as “foul-mouthed and evil.” Perhaps these refer more to Johnny. Purnell’s narrator swears a lot, but only in that the book irreverently records the living language, and is meant to be read out loud. This, in my opinion, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Anyone obsessed with Pitchfork-level simile-spraying could find any great oral art in corners of Brontez’ sentences, from beat literature to Henry Roth to … I don’t even know, I hate that phony free-association name-dropping stuff. Altogether I appreciated that the prose, though steeped in contemporary slang and naturally-occurring humor, betrays none of the lascivious revelry of Johnny but rather a deep and true affection and understanding for most of DeShawn’s characters, regardless of whether he gets along with them.
He knew feeling good was a setup
Reading the sexual escapades and mentions of a youth steeped in punk rock, it was kind of hard for me, at least, not to place Brontez himself in for DeShawn –as he placed himself as close to the fictional glass as can be in Johnny –so I recommend the reader enjoy the book first and then go cyber-stalk the poor, highly-exposed author. The night their post-Loma Prieta freedom punk warehouse gets closed down, even a fictional lover tells DeShawn “everyone knows who you are.”
I also appreciated how Purnell manages to fit the realities of Deep South life into the story in tiny but excellent bites. This stuff is unimaginable for us west-coast types with our Hollywood-deadened intellects, and the author even points that out in a funny moment. He relates how the principal at the school would remind DeShawn, when he got in trouble, that “your great-granpappy used to raise chickens for my family…” This is the medium of DeShawn’s family’s story that must never be overlooked: in the south there are these horseshit relationships that can be evoked as if to show loyalty, but are really just threats of force. In turn, the protagonists internalize this doublespeak and wield it on each other with varying degrees of purpose (we’ve got this out west with Latino immigrants too). Maybe I just found this insightful and brilliant as a dumb Californian beach bum. What am I gonna school the reader with, the abusive roundabouts of various pelagic fish?
It’s probably clear by now that my only challenge for Purnell for next time, should he decide to do a next time, is to work out before writing who the narrator is. This way the key emotion, be it sex-crazed enthusiasm or reflective love, can really shine through consistently. The reader also could really get cozy within the work’s world if Purnell takes the above decision, moving on some from the format that seems to have begun with Johnny. Finally, this will doubtlessly also address some nitpicky tonal issues I have with some parts.
Since I Laid my Burden Down is a document of a unique life within its unique time and place, an effective and efficient balance of the personal and the universal. Cut that self-conscious crap out about “I don’t recommend every book to everyone.” Get Brontez’ new book and have everyone you know read it!
I have to say, for myself, that I feel that more of these kinds of stories are auspiciously coming into my life. Not necessarily being written, but coming to my attention. Maybe I just don’t get out enough, I don’t know.
But anyhow, when I read Since I Laid My Burden Down, I enjoyed it in one way the same as I so immensely enjoyed Malae’s What We Are: in that the books are full of people I would be friends with. It’s not so simple as “an outsider,” because the question would be, outside of what? Rather it’s a member of a certain socio-economic group who has made certain socio-economic choices within the flush of cash of the Bay Area, a consciously growing and becoming, empathetic scumbag, with no time for the oppression of success, health or other bullshit. Stuck in a phenomenological spiral. The kind of people whose extinction I constantly fear after years of living in Santa Cruz and San José. When I read these books I feel like they were written for me!
Incidentally they both dropped Bukowski’s name, who may well have been highly empathetic besides being a scumbag. Some scholar can comment below about that.
I feel, further, that this book’s approach belongs at least in part to the great tradition of “pack all my youth into some stories so I can stop trying to remember every last bit of it and get ready for the all-out fuckery of maturity.” Brontez certainly demonstrates in Burden the wisdom and ability to handle time and memory necessary to do so, and he certainly has a fascinating maturity and decline ahead of him, unlike most of us. The Savage Detectives is also a great example of this approach, and even I myself, at least as concerns dialogue, am dumping all the silly shit I ever heard from fifth grade up into the mouths of my characters in Byebye and Shlort, the thing I’m working on. I’m excited to see what Brontez comes up with next.
Acabo de leer este relato en peligro de olvido sobre los esfuerzos de Payeras y su diminuta guerrilla para enseñar letras, organizar y retribuir tierras en las aisladas regiones indígenas del noroeste de Guatemala comenzando en 1972. Me llamó la atención desde una pila de libros en la venta bibliotecaria, y supe de inmediato que el libro me iba a fascinar.
Se trata de la guerrilla que tras años terminaría con nombre de Ejército general de los pobres (EGP) que espantó tanto al puñado de ricos de origen española y estadunidense que controlaban vastas tierras, enriqueciéndose con el labor de indígenas analfabetos, como usted el lector capitalista se engorda con las fresas pizcadas a espaldas rotas aquí en Santa María, Salinas y Guatsón.
Para mí la cumbre del relato fue cuando matan al dueño explotador de una finca sin tocar un centavo de la paga que interrumpieron. El libro incluye cuando posible a vocablos indígenas para cosas comunes de la selva. Me gustó mucho su medida distancia con la que dibuja los personajes y acontecimientos, que deja sitio para ironía, cariño, espanto y la todoimportante autocrítica marxista. Me asombraron también las descripciones de esos personajes ocultos en las aldeas de la selva, a cuyos tiques y característicos personales Payeras describió con tanta atención y humor.
Realmente nada más se necesita decir del libro en 2017 aparte de ésto: imagínense que ahora casi nada se ha mejorado en Guatemala pese a los esfuerzos relatados en el libro, y que hoy en día gringos pendejos de Berkeley de California hacen su eco- y café-turismito en esa misma región guatemalteca en busca del café perfecto para sus fair-trade non-profits de mierda…
Recomiendo el libro a todo quien tiene ganas de aprender más de la historia de resistencia indígena, o sea de revolución, y a quien luchara con la Mockingjay, con el ejército de Dumbledore, etc etc etc.