“Happy Birthday, Clementine”

18 Jun

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Robert Stapleton, founding editor of Booth. His work has appeared with Word Riot, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. He teaches at Butler University.

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Over the next week or so I’ll highlight some pieces I love from current issues of lit journals.

“Happy Birthday, Clementime” by Lisa Glatt
Gulf Coast. Summer/Fall 2012.

As our culture increasingly prizes hipster irony and the pursuit of more authentic living (see HBO’s Girls, Bored to Death, etc), I find myself drawn to literature driven by character and heart rather than nostalgic self-consciousness. I’m reminded here of William Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel prize acceptance speech–when he advised that “the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Glatt’s narrator, a twenty year-old about to have sex with a married man at a party she helps throw for her recently mothered best friend, wields a corrosive self-awareness, though without the ironic smarm. She’s lost weight—knows it may return at any time—and longs for someone to kiss her “hello and goodbye, again and again and again.” Andre Dubus’ “The Fat Girl” faintly echoes here, though Glatt moves this tale into a larger exploration of sex, abortion, and rebirth without the fated pathos of Dubus’ story and sans the nauseating–aren’t we hip–shock humor of the Girls abortion episode.

This story is a relief map of the body. These characters eat, drink, fuck, smoke, and snort because they’re after something just beyond their reach, something electric and unnamable. Early on the narrator muses, “I was the girl you thought might be athletic under her clothes but when you got me naked, I was all soft with a marshmallow belly. I wondered if the guy I loved who didn’t love me back was disappointed when he touched my belly on the way into my panties and if that had any effect on his decisions.” Imagine Girls written with Richard Ford poignancy (Rock Springs era). Get your hands on this one.

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