I loved Candyfreak, and that was nonfiction. I loved Steve Almond for his fabulous review of the new Bret Easton Ellis book. The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories made me love him more. I started it yesterday morning before work, read more last night (Until I fell asleep--I'm old, okay? I can't stay up all night reading anymore.) and finished it this morning.
He had me right from the title story, which is set partially in Cambridge. People (like me) who have spent far too many hours in Harvard Square will appreciate this:
It's the first day of spring and the streets finally smell again: tar and garbage, sesame oil, a sweet old perfume. Everywhere, the righteous folk of Cambridge are strolling the polleny avenues, letting the breeze sift their hair. Not even the punks around the T can muster a decent rage, just bits of loud theater, and Harvard Yard seems almost bearable in this mood, rid of its suicide. Students are draped across one another, unbearably young, auditioning for sex in chunky shoes.
"Almost bearable" is a perfect description of certain days in the Harvard Square area.
"A Happy Dream", a very short, sweet story starts just outside of the Brattle:
Henry was out in front of the Brattle waiting for his sister, Marla, who was late, on the verge of standing him up actually, when he saw a woman zip across the street on a ten-speed bike. This was crazy. It was early February, the roads were still layered with dirty snow. The woman bonked into a parking meter, locked the bike, pulled her hat off and there was her hair, a soft cascade of the stuff. She looked around briskly and made straight for Henry.
"You must be Michael," she said. "I'm Kate."
(If anyone had already read this book, let me know. Because I want to talk about that story).
It wasn't just the references to my old stomping grounds that I loved--there were actually only a few stories obviously set in the Boston/Cambridge area. "Appropriate Sex" is set at a college during the Lewinsky scandal:
I did not say anything. I did not think about Mandy's tattoo or any part of her. I did not watch her apply lip gloss. I remained very still. I remained very still and thought about the tapes of Clinton talking on the phone with one of his old flames. She asks him, "Do you like to eat pussy?" And he, the future President of the United States, answers: "You bet I do." The shock jocks had this snippet on a continuous tape loop. What a noble answer! A president who goes down! It was sad to watch those dopes in Congress mugging the guy, day after day. Thirty years ago, when JFK was getting head from whores in bathtubs, nobody made a peep.
The real strength in these stories (for me, anyway--I'm sure that someone else could take something else completely different away from them) is that even though they're funny and sometimes crude (in a good way), they're sensitive at the same time. I'll be checking out My Life in Heavy Metal very soon.