Holy hell it’s getting hot in here. And why? Because today, exactly one year after we humbly went live, we present Trop’s first ever BEST OF THE WEATHER.
When country artist (and Obama supporter) Brad Paisley dropped his controversial new song, “Accidental Racist,” Trop editor-in-chief Tom Dibblee had a great idea: poll my college students for their responses.
As you may know, the deadline for Trop’s Fake College or High School Class President Commencement Address Contest is this Sunday. And so in these recent weeks, many of you have expressed concerns about the best way to go about composing a truly winsome commencement address. Well, as luck would have it, we have internet access.
Chelsea Losh is a writer and full-time farmer (www.babeandsagefarm.com) living in Gordon, Georgia. She was designated the valedictory speaker for Georgia College’s graduating class of 2010. I caught up with her recently to see if she had advice for anyone planning to submit to the Trop Short Fake College or High School Class President Commencement Address Contest.
When Tom said he wanted to do an entire site redesign, I said, yes, let’s do it, sounds good. When he said he wanted the Weather to figure more prominently on our front page, I, as Weather editor, enthusiastically threw my support behind the move. When we opened the column to submissions and landed our name in Duotrope, I peeled the plastic ring off a container of Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Snaps I’d been saving for just such a celebration. We were entering a new iteration. But now the day has arrived, dear Reader, and I’ve got to admit that I still have no idea what the Weather exactly is.
Inman Majors is the author of four novels, including Love’s Winning Plays, a smart, nimble comedy about SEC football that made BookPage’s Best Books of 2012. Majors currently teaches creative writing at James Madison University in Virginia, where I was once his student.
I caught up with Majors this Thanksgiving to talk about his most recent book, as well as football, family, and writing. We met at his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just outside Charlottesville—a town which Majors, who hails from Knoxville, would probably not like us to use as a point of reference, because the denizens of Charlottesville “act as if that place is Paris, France.”
ROGER SOLLENBERGER: Could you first talk a little bit about your work preceding Love’s Winning Plays (LWP)? Maybe from your most recent novel, The Millionaires, on back.
INMAN MAJORS: Roger, this feels suspiciously like the kind of question you’d give me as a little payback for tormenting you and your classmates in workshop. I can see you chuckling.
There was the first book, Swimming in Sky, which is a kind of delayed coming of age story. My protagonist is having a quarter life crisis well before this was socially acceptable (the book is set in the early nineties). It’s a serious book with funny parts and kind of a post-divorce family drama. It has some nice lyrical moments, I think, and I like the rawness of the situation and the emotional honesty.
The second is Wonderdog, a political comedy set in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (where I got my MFA). It’s a full throttle comedy, rapid fire, and, I hope, linguistically interesting.
5, 6, 7, 8,
grash grash grash grash
dumdumdumdum, dum dumdum
For a while I lived in New York, and yes, it seemed the cool thing to do, but then I left, and now it seems cool to have done that. To have abandoned the highway and headed for the ditch. But that can’t be true. If it were, I don’t know why more people aren’t leaving New York now. But maybe they are. Maybe a handsome young someone has just ducked into a gallery on Rivington Street, rapped a silver spoon on a bottle of PBR and said, “Yo, guys! You know it’s even cooler if you leave,” and half of Brooklyn has returned to the bedroom communities and 7 Elevens and sod of their youth.
Four years back, while visiting the University of Florida to check out their MFA program, I had the opportunity to meet the novelist Padgett Powell, who teaches fiction there. I did not make good on this opportunity, however, and I now find that regrettable, considering Powell is one of the last of the mythical old guard of sly Southern bourbon-barrel novelists, a stream that I suppose started with Twain, runs through Faulkner and Percy and continues on down to Charles Portis and Barry Hannah and Larry Brown and the like. This missed opportunity is all the more regrettable to me now that I’m slated to write this review about Powell’s latest novel, You & Me, a book that eludes conventional literary value judgments—of good and bad, of meaning. It’s a book that’s not necessarily “good” but definitely is “awesome”; a book not necessarily concerned so much with meaning as it is with wisdom. Which raises a whole heap of questions about aesthetics and ontology and what a book’s supposed to do—or what a book can do, for that matter—and presents such a cast of problems when it comes to trying to write a fair and honest review that I really wish I had some sort of anecdote to help get this thing framed the right way. A personal encounter with the author in his self-selected professional environs would be just the thing to get me rolling here, wouldn’t it?
But I didn’t wait around to meet him on that trip. At the time I had no idea who living literary legend Padgett Powell was—though that didn’t stop me from acting like it. At the time I had no idea what serious writing was, either. (The Florida MFA program knew this, too, and later that year perfunctorily denied me entry.) The story I’d submitted with my application was a fifteen-page comedy about a redneck father and son (Larry and Lil’ Larry) who steal an ostrich from a nearby zoo and start up a sort of zoo circus in their back yard. But maybe the MFA admissions panel didn’t even have to read it. Maybe they simply knew I was the guy who visited that fall pretending to know exactly who Padgett Powell was, claiming to have read “a lot” of his work, even The Interrogative Mood, which at the time had only been out for a couple months, and moreover, knew I didn’t even want to hang around long enough to disabuse myself of this unfamiliarity. So the problems with approaching this review today, four years down the road, are in fact the second consequence of my ignorance.
Jonathan Franzen writes novels of the world. David Foster Wallace, novels of the self. And in this, the fourth and final installment of Roger Sollenberger’s interview with Club Monaco Man Tom Dibblee, Roger and Tom discover the self of the pants.
I knew from the start she was anxious by the way she kept pulling at her hair, twisting the hairs on top into little thorns, then messing them up and twisting them all over again. She’d had it cut short, and when I swung by her place to pick her up her mom had told her she looked like a boy, and though I didn’t exactly disagree, I wasn’t dumb, either, and I knew it was on me to make her feel like a woman again. Which wasn’t a problem. I’d been with ugly girls before, girls uglier than boys, even. So we drove around some, took 22 out of town, toward Sparta, east, where the tree line dropped back off the road and the sky got a little bigger, and I picked a small red brick church right off the highway and we parked behind it and drank some warm Genny Drafts and rolled into the back seat.
From the outside, Bogey’s Bar and Grill, in Bunker Hill, West Virignia, looks like a large, ranch-style house. Pale yellow siding and a peaked roof the color of rust, windows flanked by slatted black shutters. Not much different from the home I grew up in, the House of Sencindiver. But the House of Sencindiver was not so noble, was, in fact, always wanting for that one indispensable mark of lordship: the doorbell. Growing up, my friends’ houses all had them. Neighbors, too. Up and down Pickett Lane homes both one story and two had the little golden medals screwed to their chests. Travelers, take heed: Your own power is inadequate in summoning us, for even the most stalwart of knockers have despaired at this threshold. We may be in the basement. We may have the volume up. We may be busting dust, or making protein shakes. Mash this gleaming button and wait. Someone will be with you shortly. Please wipe your feet. Too ostentatious for my parents. They stuck with the original iron knocker, which didn’t even have a lion on it, but it was still heavy and demanded physical effort of our guests and so, to me, was far more presumptuous.
Scientology! Auteurs! Handjobs and fingerblasting! A naked sand nymph! We here at Trop can’t think of a recent movie that’s inspired such an even mix of exaltation and exasperation as P.T. Anderson’s The Master. It’s plenty critically acclaimed, sure, but it also has been met with some (occasionally valid) trolling by moviegoers (check out those Metacritic scores!). Either way, no matter how you feel about it, auteurist masterpiece or masturbatory mess, The Master is the kind of movie that lingers in your head, the kind of movie that demands some kind of drawn-out conversation. So, if you haven’t found anyone to have that conversation with, then you’ve come to the right place… because the four of us had that conversation for you.
[Caveat emptor: the following discussion is freckled with spoilers.]
EVAN ALLGOOD: Time to kick off this Master discussion. The opening question, courtesy of one A.C. DeLashmutt, is…
Why are Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) so drawn to each other?
Pants, store, friend, self: yes, all men experience self-discovery. But few are lucky enough to do so in pants, and fewer still are lucky enough to do so in exactly the right pair of pants—a pair that fits, a pair that arose from history.
Last week, in the first installment of Trop Weather Editor Roger Sollenberger’s interview with Club Monaco Man Tom Dibblee, Roger and Tom discussed: pants, fit, weight fluctuation, belt indentation, bodily health, sexual function, shades of khaki, corduroy, bruises, transcendence, and billowy dress shirts.
Christopher Beha’s debut, What Happened to Sophie Wilder (WHTSW) could have been the worst kind of novel. That’s because it is, at its most reductive, a novel about novels; a story about writing, told by writers. This level of literary self-reflexivity is the terrible legacy of postmodernism, and it can suck real hard—clever instead of wise, absorbed but never transcendent, Borges at his worst, Paul Auster at his best—and this book is self-reflexive as hell. But it has to be: Beha is taking that shitting bull right by the horns. The self-awareness is at once this book’s biggest and most egregious flaw, yet is also the element most vital to its relevance and its overall success. And WHTSW is undeniably a success—Beha pulls it off, winks, nudges and all, offering up an ambitious, measured, and wise first novel. It’s annoying to read about writers—and both main characters here are writers—but that’s sort of the point: when you’re in real danger of having written yourself to death, and Beha seems to be afraid we have, then only a story can bring you back. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been waiting for that.
I pack my dad’s Camry and ramp down the long driveway on my journey out to Bunker Hill, West Virginia, where the sun is just setting and I’ve landed another gig with that cover band, The Five Hour Energy Band. The gig is a Halloween party at the bar the bass player owns, Bogey’s, and I’m going as Sharkosaurus—the titular monster from a bogus History Channel doc about a hypothetical amphibious hammerhead that may or may not have been responsible for checking Chinese imperial expansion in the 12th century. I found a rubber Jaws mask at Party City, which I’ve now got pulled over the passenger seat headrest, and I found a dark green Russell sweatshirt and matching sweat pants in my father’s closet and detailed them with scales and gills and a brown saurian belly. The mask should also do wonders for my haircut, courtesy of the aspiring cosmetologists at Northern Virginia Community College.