Fiction: The American Scene

Pop Lit Fiction

ABOUT AMERICAN CULTURE

IS there an American culture distinct from other cultures? Apart? Unique?

WHAT would be traditional aspects of that culture?

One hallmark of American culture for sure is American-style football, around which much energy is expended every week, every fall, at several levels– pro, college, and high school. A sport of unique speed and strategy, accompanied by uniquely American color and noise.

The smell of autumn. Homecoming. Marching bands. Cheerleaders. Local rivalries. The Prom. The Big Game.

As we’re currently into football season, New Pop Lit this week presents a short story, “The Austin Strangler” by Nick Gallup, which perfectly captures that milieu, along with everything right and harmonious in partaking of tradition, romance, and games.

He was definitely intrigued and bolted outside. He saw a Carolina-blue ‘55 T-Bird with the top down. That was beautiful, but what was inside was even more beautiful, a girl he’d known for years, but only from afar. He now knew her name, Lauren, and he’d never seen her in anything but shorts. She was a cheerleader for Austin High School, the cross-town rival of his high school, Harrington.

Leyendecker_Football

(Art: “Autumn” by Franklin Carmichael; “Football” by J.C. Leyendecker.)

 

 

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Fiction, Film, Editors, and Gurus

Pop Lit Fiction

THE SUBJECT of editorial independence has come up within the literary world much of late– especially with the recent ouster of Ian Buruma at New York Review of Books.

TO STAY topical we present a new short story from that always entertaining observer of American business, manners, and culture, Alan Swyer.  His new tale, “The Sage,” looks at creative smarts and editorial independence within the film industry– a business Alan Swyer knows much about.

CAN Swyer’s lead character, a movie maker named Tarlowe, rescue a troubled film project involving a difficult celebrity wise man– and maintain his integrity while doing so? An inside look at a tumultuous world.

The non-stop travel, coupled with interviews that ranged from eye-opening to scintillating, proved to be a dizzying experience. But even as he reported in periodically, informing his benefactor about what had been said, and by whom, a question kept gnawing at Tarlowe. How would the man who billed himself as The Sage, but who came off in person like a somewhat epicene song-and-dance man, fit in among such luminaries?

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(Art: “Burning the Darkness” by Nicholas Roerich.)

Halloween 2018

Pop Lit Fiction

WHAT MAKES A GOOD HALLOWEEN STORY?

A good Halloween story should be truly scary– or at the least, disturbing. Something which climbs inside your head to unsettle your dreams. Or magnify your nightmares.

Our Halloween presentation for 2018, “God, the Machine” by Travis Simpson, does not involve pumpkins, demons or goblins. The story features instead that most frightening of nature-or-God’s creations, the human mind. Set in a futuristic world swiftly becoming contemporary and real.

She imagines the room filling with water, their bodies floating inside, spilling whatever blood is still loose inside them free in billowing clouds, a little like the nebulous entity outside the craft. This is the will of God, who moves through all dimensions and put this plan in her life from the moment she was conceived.

rivera controller of the universe

(Art: “The Headless Horseman” by Ichabod Crane; “Controller of the Universe” by Diego Rivera.)

What Happened to Proletarian Literature?

Populist Fiction

THERE WAS A TIME. . . .

There was a time when the American literary scene was defined by proletarian writing. Notably in the 1930’s, with the novels of John Steinbeck (Cannery Row, In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath) but from others, all-but-forgotten names like Horace McCoy, James T. Farrell, and Jack Conroy. The genre became so important that no less an author than Ernest Hemingway tried his hand at it, with the regrettable artistic and commercial failure To Have and Have Not.

After World War II the literary establishment, whether from reasons of commerce or ideology, de-emphasized populist writing. Scattered authors continued to add their insights and experiences. The excellent novella On the Line by Harvey Swados (1957) was one of them. By and large, though, with the rise of middle-class MFA programs and word-focused “literary” writing, the proletarian style of American literature fell by the wayside.

WHAT is the proletarian style? It’s marked by unpretentious prose– no sparkling Updike stylistic fireworks, sorry. No David Foster Wallace convoluted ruminations. Instead, simple accumulation of hard experience, focused on the working class, usually about economic hardship or collapse. Leaving the reader with a very different sort of impact. As if the reader had been– appropriately– punched between the eyes.

WE have an excellent contemporary example of the form, from a writer of now, Tim O’Connor, who gives us “The Baler.” In his story O’Connor expresses past hopes along with a disillusion which runs through many new writers. Amid a swiftly-changing world, an absence of faith in the future– in their future. As the editors of this site are from the long-beaten-down city of Detroit, we know that feeling well. As if the floor has dropped out from beneath you.

“The Baler” is a visit into a land alien to many Americans, the industrial world–

It’s the kind of scene you’d expect a factory worker to thrive in. The one where all the men at the bar are middle-aged and overweight. A majority of them have thick mustaches and wear thirty-year-old hats with retro beer logos on them. If you squint your eyes hard enough you can imagine them crushing cans of Schlitz, commiserating over another failed pennant race by the Tribe under the glow of a neon sign.

Thmas Hart Benton-Boomtown-mural

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(Art: “Detroit Industry” by Diego Rivera; “Boomtown” by Thomas Hart Benton.)

 

New Poetry: A. J. Huffman

Poetry

ART presents perspectives.

New literary art at its best offers fresh perspectives– unique ways of viewing everyday reality. What poet A. J. Huffman does in “Fast Food Religion and Other Poems.” From dinosaurs to drive-thru windows, Huffman’s four poems display a range of insight, visuality, and commentary– each of them a puzzle or a painting waiting to be deciphered.

Imagination triggers transportation
to prehistoric jungle. A distant air-born
monster screams welcome!

Agathaumas

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(Art: “The Conversion of St. Augustine” by Fra Angelico; “Agathaumas” by Charles R. Knight.)

Fiction: Life in High School Now

Pop Lit Fiction

THE NEW GENERATION

WHAT are the kids doing, thinking experiencing? HOW are their lives different from ours? What’s changed? What burdens, obstacles, expectations and insanities are they going through– beyond those which we who’ve been around longer have already faced?

HAS there ever been a more connected yet more alienated generation?

WILL they soon simply proclaim in one voice “Enough!” and be done with all of it, and with us?

QUESTIONS which are raised by our new feature story by recent high school student A.K. Riddle, “Now All the Kids Are Making Noise Just Because It’s Something to Do.”

Experience? A.K. gives us a ton of it, along with the emotion and confusion of being young– of being human. Along with exceptional writing. Plus, a structure which doesn’t fit a predictable mold– which one would expect and want from an artistically fresh and talented young writer.

There’s a lot going on in this story. We hope you like it.

I wished I could play with them and laugh along to their jokes and sing along to their rap. But, as I looked to the clear sky and opened the door a little to feel the cold air, I remembered that I was just a poet. I was just there to tell their stories, not be like them. I don’t know if I liked it that way, but that’s just the way things were.

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(Painting: “The Dance of Life” by Edvard Munch.)

Our Insane World

Pop Lit Fiction

WE meaning mankind have existed in insane periods in the past many writers and artists throughout history have been judged or diagnosed insane including Van Gogh and others like Dostoevsky Beethoven and Kafka have been on the edge, there have been crazy times, but have they been quite as extreme and chaotic as flat out mad crazy as OUR time? Now, in 2018?

Blame it on electronic media? Facebook? Twitter? Video games? The collapse of culture and decay of civilization?

TO ILLUSTRATE today’s madness we present to you the reader a story by Andrew Walker, “Blue Men in Black Coats,” which floats in between reality and madness, so that we ask, “Is this real? Any of this real? Or is it too real?” The story is too spot on, too much a presentation of now and the insane world which surrounds us.

The blue men do not look at you. From the books you’ve read, the shows you used to watch, the notes scribbled down in the pocket notebook you don’t use enough, you figured they would be some sort of bizarre, alien force come to act as a metaphor, an image, a symbol. Something come alive from the stories you have yet to write.

But these blue men appear to only be existing as anyone else would: to enjoy their Saturday.

picass_blue_room

(Art: “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe” by Van Gogh; “Blue Room” by Picasso.)

 

 

Poetry: The Vanishing Church?

Poetry

WE’RE not political but we try to be topical.

Tradition is under assault as never before. Will the foundations of our civilization be wiped from our computers, our minds, our memory banks? Our traditions and history, our institutions, are flawed, sure, as mankind is irrational and flawed. Many want us to start over with a blank slate. To wipe away all tradition, roots, past.

A lobotomy is a blank slate.

THESE musings prodded by our new featured poetry, In a Darkened Cathedral and Other Poems by Benjamin Welton. Thought-provoking poems for a contentious and thought-provoking time.

The priest, an old man, is in bed.
I am the only one left in a rotten pew.
The gray stone walls leak with black moisture.

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ALSO, almost on topic is our latest New Pop Lit News post– an editorial on the emptiness of our post-truth age.

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(Painting of St. Peter’s by Giovanni Paolo Panini.)

 

Poetry: Farewell to Summer

Poetry

LABOR DAY in the United States is upon us! Traditionally, marking the end of summer. Of lazy days and magical nights during which anything can happen. To celebrate the soon-to-vanish season, we present “On Midsummer’s Night” by C.A. Shoultz— containing wisps of ghosts of night which themselves may disappear before we’ve fully experienced their call, their magic.

And then a child appeared to me–
Or not a child, for so he seemed
Much older than he looked to be.
He handed me a crimson mask.
For life and love,” he said, so free–
I shrugged, and put the red mask on,
And through the woods was further drawn.

JohnSimmons-Hermia_and_Lysander._A_Midsummer_Night's_Dream

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ALSO– Labor Day means the return of classes and students to colleges across the land. Will the reintroduction of one of America’s most renowned writers, Junot Diaz, to the public world as a professor at MIT go smoothly? We’ve covered the controversy all summer at our NPL News site. Here’s background on the issue.

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FINALLY, we introduce our Complaint Department. Have a problem with ourselves, our site, or our ideas? Let us know about it! Thanks.

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(Main painting by Ferdinand du Puigaudeau; second painting by John Simmons.)