Kill Us On the Way Home by Gwen Beatty

Kim told me she was going to take a week to look at the new Stephen King book of short stories she was reading (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, just in case you don’t know), so I thought I should take the next week (this one) to talk about something I’d read recently that I really dug. Gwen Beatty’s new chapbook put out by Passenger Side Books, Kill Us On the Way Home, immediately sprang to mind (and continues the short story theme no less).

I knew I was going to grab this one as soon as I heard it was coming out (and only $5 shipped made it an easy decision to confirm). I’d read a few of Beatty’s pieces before, and certainly wanted to read more. Passenger Side Books also immediately gets a vote of confidence from me. Considering the previous offerings that I’ve read from that micro press (Whatever Don’t Drown Will Always Rise, Murmuration, Infinity’s Jukebox, If There’s Any Truth In a Northbound Train, and Soft), I can trust that I’m going to dig anything new they put out.

That was certainly the case with Kill Us On the Way Home.

Given the nature of the book, I’m not going to quote as heavily as I normally do. Kill Us On the Way Home is a chapbook of six short pieces and quoting heavily would simply give too much away. I can certainly gush about the book though.

Let’s consider “The Most Important Part About Being Fake-Pregnant.” A young woman meets the pregnant wife of the Mormon ex-boyfriend who had proposed to her not long before. She lies and says she is pregnant too, not telling the wife who she is. Her new boyfriend helps her construct fake pregnancy belly after fake pregnancy belly as she gets closer and closer to the unsuspecting wife.

“It really is wild that we are only two weeks apart from each other,” Lorrie repeated over the next few months. We would laugh over virgin cocktails about the strange parallels between our pregnancies and lives. We would cry to each other about our inattentive partners. She told me everything about Mark. From the way he likes his socks folded, to how he was in bed. She told me everything that I already knew about the man she married. She told me exactly what my life would have been if I had been less like myself.

It’s a strange story, filled with a strange hard to hold for long yearning, and it definitely gets under the skin of the reader. All the stories in Kill Us On the Way Home do. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, though “The Most Important Part About Being Fake-Pregnant” would definitely be high on my list.

Of course, that list might also include “Seven Things About Hot Dogs.” Perhaps also “Knots.” Maybe “Memorial” too. Well, you get the idea.

Beatty writes words on the page in Kill Us On the Way Home like she’s carving faces into giant logs with a chainsaw. The words are spare, the writing sometimes harsh, but the phrases and people are bent and surprising (“Our Mother was dying and my sister Maxine and I were on a game show that wouldn’t quite save her.” from “Sphinx Moth”), and the emotions evoked can be extreme. These stories are strong, and magical. Kill Us On the Way Home is a must read chapbook from a must read press.

 

Fahrenheit 451’s predictions…influence on literature today…Part 3

So.  We started out talking about Ray Bradbury.  Then yesterday I took you through the plot of 451 and my opinion of it.  I forgot one thing during that time.  Until the last part of the novel, I LOVED Bradbury’s way of setting a pace in the story.  He could and did speed up the narrative using shorter sentences or even fragments, sometimes there was a staccato beat to the words almost.  Loved it.  Then we got to the long expositories at the end and that changed.  The tempo went just all sorts of out of whack and never got back the same feel.  Dave told me earlier today that Bradbury typed it on a pay by the hour typewriter, so possibly he was running out of money to finish it.

But separate from that was the eerieness of some of Bradbury’s qualities of his dystopian universe.  The statements I am about to share, seem more apt for society today than they did even ten years ago.  I’m going to share the ones that really hit me, discuss and then will briefly touch on the influence 451 has had on some other books I’ve read.  (I assume they did, and if not it was just a weird parallel lol).

Ok, so looking at my notes, the first thing isn’t a straight quotation from the book.  But, Montag’s wife, Mildred is addicted to wearing ear buds.  Montag describes them as having wave sounds, or sometimes people sounds.  It just made me think so much of Ipods.  Mildred wears them to block out the real world, the outside world.  So many people I see today do the same thing.  Earlier today, I was cleaning my kitchen listening to my Ipod with my ear buds in.  That’s why I keep saying, even more eerie than ten years ago as ten years ago Ipods were just coming out.

Clarisse tells Montag this about her peers; “I’m afraid of children my own age, they kill each other.  Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone.  Ten of them died in car wrecks”.  Earlier today, I read an article that a friend reposted to facebook about another young teen, who tormented at school about being a homosexual, killed himself.  And while his death isn’t a direct murder from another peer, in a sense they contributed to his death.  Also, last week, I watched a documentary on Pruitt-Igoe, a St Louis projects area from the 60s…go here to read more.   There’s of course, the shootings, the car accidents etc, just like Clarisse says.  But I think the suicides from bullying could be added into it.

Montag’s boss, Beatty, tells him “School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosphies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored.  Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work.  Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?”  I don’t remember the exact educational models that were running around being implemented in the fifties.  But a lot of these things _have_ happened in the last 30 years as we attempt to mold our children into more self confident, well rounded individuals (and fail miserably most of the time haha), through the “everyone’s a winner” movement, also, philosphies that say children will naturally gravitate towards learning all of that.  Some items I am a strong believer on children being able to teach themselves.  (For example:  I don’t ever tell my daughter, no it’s said like this…I just mirror the statement back at her with the correct pronunciation.  She’s smart enough to get it eventually).  I don’t know, the statement just seemed fitting for schools today.  We pretend that we are teaching them more than how to push a button etc, but in reality, in today’s world?  They can’t just get by anymore with a liberal arts college degree, now everything has to be specialized.  They’re in essence, learning how to push buttons.

This next one from Beatty (I feel like it might be Beattie, not Beatty but I wrote in my notes Beatty, so Beatty it is) is really relevant with it being election year! “…If the government is inefficient, top heavy and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry about it”.  Really, in today’s world, people “worry” but for the most part their “worry” is whatever a 5 minute sound bite on their news channel of choice has told them what to worry about.  Very few people actually go and read about their candidates and their government.  There’s another section where Mildred and her friends are discussing the last presidential race and how the President won, and they were glad as he was so much better looking than the other candidate.  And isn’t that true of today?  Last election, there were two strong females…Clinton and Palin.  People were RABID about Clinton’s style, her looks etc.  Some seemed to hate her based solely on her pants suits.  Palin though, now some people LIKED her merely because of her pant suits.

Those were the things that really stuck with me.

Another character from the book, Faber, a retired professor, had the following things to say about books and why Bradbury’s dystopian society grew to hate them.  I just loved the statements so much I had to share them.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us”

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared?  They show the pores in the face of life.”

“the books are to remind us what asses and fools we are”.

Just liked those!

So, unless you’ve lived under a rock or maybe in a third world country, you’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games, our latest dystopian wonder of a trilogy (and it is amazingly good, trust me).  I’m not going to talk about The Hunger Games, as I don’t see as much of a connection between it and a different Young Adult series I picked up last year and began.  Ally Condie (oddly, another person in Salt Lake City, Utah…maybe I should move there and then write a YA series…something in the water.  I am of course referring to this famous author) began a trilogy in 2010.  The first one, called Matched, begins a trilogy about a society where at 17, the government matches you with another person, very rarely from the same community, for marriage.  Everything like this is decided for you.  Now, the thing that struck me as the same, the thing that was completely influenced by Bradbury…in this society only 100 songs, 100 poems etc were chosen as okay for people to read…they were ones that kept dissension down.  The main character finds two poems that her grandfather passes to her.  She shares them with a boy.  One is a Dylan poem.  There’s a scene, where her father, who archives prior caches of this type of stuff is at a site, and she goes and they’re burning books.  Then, later, they come across people living outside of the society, and she is absolutely amazed at all the books.  Books and literary information is on black market trade in this trilogy.  It’s what I kept thinking about reading 451.

I’ve always been a huge reader.  And maybe Dave can address this in a future post, but for me personally, books have always provided a touchstone to my life.  They’re a stability and sometimes a way for me to process an emotion or an event in my life.  Reading books provides me with a depth of understanding on the human condition.  I have never been able to understand people that don’t read at all.  I feel like your view on the world has to be a bit limited if you’re not willing to pick up a book.  TV and movies and the internet can take you so far…but books can take you all the way.  Books give you a peace inside that other media has never done for me.  And that’s I think one of the major things Fahrenheit 451 says to me, that if we lose that…then our society crumbles.

Happy Reading!