The Ugly in All of Us: Normally Special by xTx

28 Apr

I’ve been a fan of xTx’s work for a while, and I’ve really enjoyed watching her great talent develop into this sure-handed, deeply-felt style that rubs bloody raw and and yet feels oddly compelling, oddly comforting–like the relief after a boil is lanced. The pieces included in Normally Special are without a doubt her best yet, I’m sure in part due to the excellent editorial instincts of Tiny Hardcore Press editor Roxane Gay. And I have to also give Roxane props for recognizing this raw and screaming talent and putting it in its own little and lovely book.

But of course the majority of the credit belongs to the brain of Ms. xTx herself. And it is a strange and monumentally understanding brain. I’ve read reviews that express some terror of the author, in a joking way of course, but I found the anger and panic and denial and desperate unhappiness and sometimes desperate happiness in these stories to be absolutely refreshing rather than terrifying. The excess of emotion often coincides with or causes a certain kind of unattractiveness, perceived or real, that’s usually not quite polite to write about in books today. Women are supposed to be beautiful when angry–they’re not supposed to have snot running down their faces and wear striped shirts that don’t fit over their fat bellies. They’re supposed to be confident/angry, not scared/falling/panicked/flailing/angry. They’re not supposed to be sometimes smothering, sometimes wildly inappropriate, sometimes indifferent as mothers or lovers or both.

In short, women are supposed to have their shit together nowadays. And in xTx’s stories, they mostly don’t. Nobody does. Which is not only refreshing, it’s truth-telling. Not just about women, but about everybody’s deep dark falling-apart-insides. Inside everyone is a place where a little girl hides in terror or a child watches a mother with nothing but disgust. In “Because I am Not a Monster,” the xTx writes, “I will never find you. Don’t worry. You are safe. Unless you do not want to be safe.” We’ve all got parts that are ugly and scary, and xTx specializes in guided tours through these parts and places, for those who would dare to follow her.

As she writes in “Things I Could Tell You,” she wants, desperately, to tell us the things we aren’t supposed to tell about. She takes our hand and helps us understand that even in these places, sometimes even in the ugliest actions, words, and emotions, there can be love. There can a be a kind of brief respite, a grace that releases us, even just for a moment or a second or a year. There can be pain and sadness and broken people but even there, a story worth telling, a voice worth hearing. A pain worth feeling because even caught in its teeth you might be glad to be alive. You might be glad to be you, even in all your ugly.

xTx’s Normally Special, from Tiny Hardcore Press, is available for purchase here as an e-book or book book. Normally Special is currently in its third printing. Any new orders will ship on or after 5/10/11 when THP has the new shipment in stock. E-books ship immediately.
*I should note here as a disclaimer that I have work forthcoming in Tiny Hardcore Press, which in no way has influenced my opinions on the books or authors or editor or anything else, but I still just thought I should put that out there.

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