What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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State Shell of New Jersey: Knobbed Whelk
The Field Notes County Fair edition. Our tribute to the 50 states.
Field-Tested by Jonathan Messinger
in Guadalajara, Mexico
I would pause, walk to the bedroom window, and peer down at the pool shaped like Africa, then return to the stiff hotel bed and read some more. I was waiting out the morning float of a mother and her tweenage daughter, who bobbed on matching inflatable hoops, bored. Id already been in Guadalajara two days and had enough uncomfortable cameo roles as the awkward gringo. The day before, Id walked from the hotel to downtown to take in some architecture and hit the cien pesos store, a private passion. I got lost on my way there, as Guadalajara is built to discourage walking, and found myself deep in a poor neighborhood, the school-age kids sitting on stoops and sidewalks, pretending to throw things at me. And laughing. Laughing their asses off. I couldnt blame them.
In the hotel room, I was snug in the safety of Please Dont Come Back from the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos. Id had a strange desire to read this book, set in small-town Michigan, while sweating out the Mexican afternoons. In the town of Please Dont, jobs have fled but alcohol hasnt a timeless equation. Bakopoulos takes it one step further: bereft of work, both idle and wild, the fathers have disappeared. Theyve “gone to the moon,” leaving the 15-year-olds of the town to run things: work the lousy jobs left behind and sleep with their friends mothers. The book is about transcending all of that, about trying to break that cycle and terminate that desire to run. And as it carries through the life of the narrator, out of the teenage years and into young adulthood, it turns out that transcendence is fucking hard. Moral of the story.
I was riveted to this book. About nine months before the trip, Id broken up with my partner of nine years, precisely one-third of my life. At the same time, a close friend had unexpectedly died. And then, suddenly, there I was, in a Mexican city with this beautiful new woman Id been dating for six months, who was there for work. I dont usually read novels with arcs that take you across a characters life. I prefer lean novels wrapped around moments. But Bakopoulos tracked in his narrator that singular restlessness that I was beset with nine months earlier. For the first time, reading this book, I started to think of my life as having some sort of narrative drive, as my past shaped the state I was then in. I wouldnt credit a novel with forcing me to pound out a different path, but I would credit it with forcing me to face up to something I didnt like about myself. And I credit it with keeping me out of that hot Mexican sun, lying in that hotel room, trying to set things straight, and waiting for my girlfriend to return.
Jonathan Messinger is the author of the short story collection, Hiding Out, which was named one of the best books of 2007 by the Omaha World-Herald. Hes also the books editor of Time Out Chicago and founder/co-host of The Dollar Store Show, a literary and comedy series featuring performances inspired by junk purchased from a dollar store. He co-publishes Featherproof Books, a small press publishing novels and downloadable mini-books. His fiction has most recently appeared in Other Voices and Awake!, an anthology from Soft Skull Press, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Read the next Field Test by Debbie Millman