“I had the goal of writing a feminist novel with a first-person male narrator. Karl is not the most dudely of dudes, of course, but I liked the idea of a man casting a kind eye on someone like Lena, who stopped caring what everyone thought years ago and is just trying to make it through her day without crying. I liked the idea of having the male gaze on a woman most men would ignore or revile, with him actually admiring and loving her for her positive qualities, for who she is and her strength, which goes largely unnoticed in her life.”
* fiction by Beth Thompson excerpted from MQR 54:4 * Once, on the bus in seventh grade, she’d grabbed my contest-winning self-portrait and held it out the window while we drove down Fountain Street. Kids laughed. I grabbed a binder from her shoulder bag and tried to do the same thing. It was heavy. I dropped it. The binder’s contents—lined paper, neon Post-its, a package of metallic pens—spilled onto the road, causing an old woman thirty yards behind us to swerve to avoid them.
In the January 2016 issue of The Wire, Stewart Smith writes of pianist Matthew Shipp’s latest album: “Of the five albums Matthew Shipp issued as leader or co-leader in 2015, The Conduct Of Jazz is perhaps the finest.” It is a fine album; I’m listening to it now, fondly remembering the sublime experience of seeing Shipp in duo with bassist Michael Bisio earlier this spring. Still, The Conduct Of Jazz doesn’t make The Wire’s year-end top 50 cut, though it does make Downbeat’s roundup. My guess is that, one way or the other, Shipp doesn’t care. “What’s the use—I’ve got too many sides out as it is,” he was quoted saying fifteen years ago, in reference to a plan to retire from recording. “I don’t feel the psychological need to continually flood the market with this material…. Embellishment for the sake of the cash advance. That’s a kind of cynicism I’d rather not get into.”
Even our blueprint for a romantic comedy suggests this bias: two unlikely people start out as enemies and end up falling in love. Against all odds, the circumstance proves stronger than the individual will. Which is perhaps the reason why writing about romantic love is so difficult in fiction: we have to first figure out why we fall in love in real life. Is it a choice? An accident? Both? Neither?