What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Wednesday Edition

Writers George Saunders, Jonathan Eig, and Andrei Codrescu
review experiences at Field-Tested Books.

Coudal Partners

The Voice of America
by Rick DeMarinis

Field-Tested by Steve Almond

at the library in El Paso, Texas

This is all happening when I’m around 23 years old. I’m working at a newspaper in El Paso, Texas, and I’ve been assigned to go interview Rick DeMarinis. Who is Rick DeMarinis? I have no clue. He’s a writer, whatever that is. The only reason I’m going to interview him is because Hollywood has optioned one of his books. He writes books. What a waste of time.


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But I figure I should read something he’s written, just in case it comes up. This requires that I go to the El Paso Public Library, down into the basement, where they keep the fiction. There’s a lot of Stephen King down there and a lot of dust. I’ve left myself maybe half an hour to spare. I find his book, The Voice of America, open to a story called “Insulation,” and read the first line:

“I am haunted by lightning.”

There’s something in the line, an almost flamboyant candor when it comes to fear, that makes my heart thump. This is probably because I’m scared all the time and even more scared of admitting it. Whatever the reason, I simply sink into the story, which is about a man who believes he has inherited a genetic disposition for getting struck by lightning, and therefore, spends his life in a state of terror that is something like purgatory.

It’s funny and terrifying and told so simply, without a trace of that glib cleverness I’ve taken to signify good writing. I read the entire story straight through, and when I look up, 20 minutes have passed and I realize that DeMarinis — just some dude — has completely kidnapped my consciousness, and now I’m going to be late for my interview with him. Also (I’m fairly certain of this), that I’ve made some pretty shabby decisions as to how to use my time on earth.

That’s why we read, I think: to find better decisions.

Steve Almond is the author of two story collections, My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow, the novel Which Brings Me to You (with Julianna Baggott), and the nonfiction book Candyfreak. His new book, (Not That You Asked), is a collection of essays. He lives outside Boston with his wife and daughter Josephine, who can now make the noises of seven different farm animals. He can be found online at his website.

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