June 2011

Sara Gerot

fiction

Normally Special by xTx

xTx, the anonymous author of Normally Special, a collection of stacked and striated stories, is sickeningly and beautifully aware of her subject's presence at the front of a metaphorical classroom. 

The opening story, "For the Girl Who Doesn't Know That She Has Everything," predicates her position at the front of the class. Part assertion of authority over the endearingly maudlin little student(s), and part affirmation of support and love, it yanks the reader into the sort of uncomfortable second person address that we are all becoming more comfortable with by the day. This sort of claustrophobic vignette announces to the reader (and rightly so) that there will be no jumping off. No respite. No shying away. And no letting go of these narratives for a very long time. It signifies that the reader is now under her direction. We don't know exactly who we are or what part we will be playing, but we are too compelled to leave our seats.

There is play of projection throughout the book. It's most striking in the story "The Honking Was Deafening." The narrator details a scene of a fall in a crosswalk by a Chinese figure skater. xTx infuses the moment with a cinching reminder of one of the gnarliest veins in the book: the Daddy. The narrator says, "I knelt beside her and she smelled so beautiful and I thought, nobody here that is watching us, none of these people knows this, about her lovely smell." The Daddy of this book doesn't notice, and whether he is the Daddy of the skater, the narrator, the author, or our own is moot. She notices the smell, the sweet smell of this skater in "bubblegum pink, silver sparkle leotard," and so do we. I say the smell was sweet, but the word xTx uses is "beautiful." Here there is room for interpretation. Here we are not limited by specific description. Left to my own devices, this Chinese figure skater smells like a transsexual stripper named Foxy on stage at The Garden in Des Moines, Iowa, because it was the first and last place I smelled beauty. This give and take of the visceral is perpetually at play. "The Honking Was Deafening" twists this experience as it ends with "a 'don't fuck with me' resonance" in the voice of the skater. This hits the heart with a dart of fiery time-released poison. This pain is untouchable. The poignancy of some moments can never be translated from one's experience to another.    

The book slices deeper with "The Mill Pond" and the heart-lacerating search for authenticity. It inflicts fresh puncture wounds exploring the already battered theme of the impossibility of escape, specifically the escape from the environment, and the bulge of a pubescent body. Tinkerbell, the narrator of "The Mill Pond," is racked with the ever-burgeoning self-awareness of a preteen. She grapples for a hold on the motivation behind her own search as she seeks out the elusive meaning behind the millpond. She doesn't "know why they call it a mill pond because there is no mill." She says that "maybe there was one there back in the 1800s or something." 

Tinkerbell searches for "relics" and "ruins," envisioning "wooden beams with iron spikes," along with other uninviting glimpses of old. Her mind flashes like a computer screen scrolling through a slideshow of Google images of mills. The message in this piece is murky but pungent. Dignity is a myth, a fairytale. Old things like mills, and ponds, and lecherous neighbors only appear to "look dignified, even though they were just old pieces of something bigger." The static nature of adults seen through the eyes of this narrator forces the reader to choke on the sin of disuse and the shameful sameness of adults. What a disappointment are adults, mired in stupidity and hypocrisy. What a huge, fucking disappointment. We agree. While xTx is our temporary, metaphorical teacher, we can agree.

Even though it's not possible for alleviation to come from the hands of another, we can do it for ourselves -- at least according to my therapist. Even though reading this book, reading every word of this riveting book, will maim you, I highly recommend this experience. Guaranteed to set the standard for unsettling books you'll read this year, but read it anyway. It will be okay. She is here. Our teacher is here. For a time we are not in front of our own classes but are visiting the innermost hallowed classroom of xTx. We are in her building. We are a part of her class. "I" am in her class. Open up and read. We no longer need to stand outside like the tiny child on the cover of this tiny book. She is in. Our teacher, xTx, is in. We are welcomed. Let the inculcation begin. 

Normally Special by xTx
Tiny Hardcore Press
ISBN: 9780982469
96 pages