June’s New Writing on the Net is curated by The Masters Review reader Jen Dupree, with new work from Ben Lerner, Maria T. Allocco, Kathleen Alcott, Amy Neswald, and Kristopher Jansma. Settle in with your weekend reading list below!
Stories about expectations—defining expectations, subverting them, failing to meet them, setting new ones.
“Ross Perot and China” by Ben Lerner | The New Yorker, May 20, 2019
“Along with the sheer terror of finding himself in the wrong house, with his recognition of its difference, was a sense, because of the houses’ sameness, that he was in all the houses around the lake at once; the sublime of identical layouts. In each house she or someone like her was in her bed, sleeping or pretending to sleep; legal guardians were farther down the hall, large men snoring; the faces and poses in the family photographs on the mantel might change, but would all belong to the same grammar of faces and poses; the elements of the painted scenes might vary, but not the level of familiarity and flatness; if you opened any of the giant stainless-steel refrigerators or surveyed the faux-marble islands, you would encounter matching, modular products in slightly different configurations.”
“As my mother served our family in America—pasta, stew, and steak—she passed along these stories, over dinner. She’d hold out her half-open fist, curled as if ready to snatch it back, an invisible gesture of rice to show me how little she had to eat each day. She’d tell me how on her brother’s back, they’d forage for crickets and berries. How the richest girl in school—the daughter of a government official—befriended her. She’d leave behind a single egg on her plate and my mother turned away, head held high.”
“America Was Hard to Find” by Kathleen Alcott | ZYZZYVA, May 27, 2019
“Something had changed, they knew. She was always leaving her shoes somewhere, then the slippers they offered as corrective. It was a kind of self-neglect that enraged them: barefoot by the refrigerator at midnight, barefoot as she carried him up the stairs, a sideways angle that made him laugh, singing the songs her sister had. As though a solution were just a matter of the right slip-on loafers, Claudette suggested a day in the city, see the Easter displays at the department stores. Wright stayed behind with James, something Claudette suggested, girls’ day out, with a wink her daughter did not acknowledge.”
“Forty-Six” by Amy Neswald | The Rumpus, May 29, 2019
“The night forty-six builds up the courage to bite, Kate rides the subway to work. Across from where she’s sitting, a fifteen-year-old girl, maybe older, sucks her thumb. She leans into her mother. The two figures melt around each other; their flesh bulges—pockets of water separated by a thin fabric called skin. They sit still as sculptures aside from the girl’s suckling cheeks and her mother’s running nose. At the far end of the car, a homeless busker pounds a lifeless children’s drum with pencil wrapped in packing tape. A man applies foundation, blue eye shadow, false eyelashes, and mascara. By the end of the tunnel, he’s become a she; she slips off her work shoes and steps into platform pumps. A woman in a business suit huffs Sharpie markers, uncapping them one at a time from a box stolen from her office’s supply cabinet. She drops the spent markers on the subway floor. Night is all these things. It’s when people peel away their masks of conformity, peel away the lies, peel back their skin and grief and pain and allow their essence to emerge. Essence becomes presence. No more pretending.”
“The Samples” by Kristopher Jansma | The Sun, June 2019
“Dr. Zarrani continues in her practiced, even tone, explaining to Ms. Richmond that she has a malignant osteosarcoma in the bone of her left eye socket. Dr. Zarrani watches as the patient slowly absorbs this information. She prefers the ones who don’t cry — not because there is anything wrong with crying at this kind of news, and not because it makes the conversation easier for her (though it does), but because it is a sign of how things tend to go. Crying wastes time, and people who waste time, who wallow, are less prepared, less capable. It’s that simple. In 1978, when supporters of the Ayatollah killed Dr. Zarrani’s father and her older brother, she didn’t cry. Instead she grabbed her little brother, Mehdi, by the wrist and pulled him down into a ditch behind the house, where they lay in the mud until the coast was clear. Those who do not cry survive more often. This she believes.”
Curated by Jen Dupree