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Prose off: Granta story put forward by bigots Sigrid Rausing and Luke Naima v. Fleming story (three paragraph version)

Tuesday 1/23/24

Granta, as we've covered in these pages, is a British literary magazine that is supposed to feature the very best fiction in the world. Of course, as we've seen again and again, all of that fiction is actually awful. It is put forward by a billionaire heiress named Sigrid Rousing, and editor Luke Naima. Greetings, bigots. How goes the bigotry? I know you feel differently, but there actually is more to life than shitty writing and bigotry. I get it, it's hard for you to see that, being what you are, but it is true.

I thought it'd be nice to have something in keeping with this British angle. There's a Stone Roses bootleg called Welcome to the Resurrection, which was taped at Leicester University in December 1995. It's very good, even though the Roses were working without their original and superior drummer. I think of these prose offs as the story version of an auto-da-fé. People get lit up in public. Exposed and lit up. But instead of welcome to the resurrection, we have welcome to the auto-da-fé. The prose variant.

Let's be as congruous as we can with that theme, shall we? And we'll mix it up this time. We'll use three paragraphs: first from a Granta short story, and then from a story of mine. Three v. three. Each excerpt will have to do with light and fire. Lines up very nicely.

This is from a short story in Granta called "Solo Poly" (so very in of you!) by Sophie Francis Kemp. Want me to tell you all of the things about her that are the same with all of these people? Okay. She has an MFA. Shocking. She's taught in the writing program at Columbia University. Shocking. She's had work in The Paris Review and The Baffler. Shocking. Simon & Schuster is putting out her novel next year. Shocking.

So this should be amazing, right? Here we go:

She was my main acquaintance at the compound. We had many conversations about what awaited us on the other side of the house, about the guests, who were shrouded in mystery. I believe on the other side of the house they are in need of our services because they have deformities. But not ones that are difficult to work with. Perhaps he has one arm small, one arm large. Or he is blind, requiring a glass eye. Motorollah was very smart. Before the bus picked her up her mother and father encouraged academic pursuits. She went to high school. She went to sleepaway camp. She knew about the Socratic Method, numbers which are divisible, the names of Cubist painters and a bard called Barry Bonds. She took me outside one night and pointed up to the sky and in her alto voice she told me that the streak of light we could see was a meteorite, a rock born in the cradle of blackness which we call outer space.

And how lovely this occurrence was. A pilot light bursting from the blanket of the whole of the deep big sky. I know of the pilot light because of the gas flame I used to cook meals for mother and father, who detested my soufflés. Motorollah knew of meteorites because she was academically inclined. Because she had been to high school. Because in high school you are given a telescope, a book, a teacher in a lavender smock speaking in a dulcet tone about the tail, the tail that bursts from the void. She would say, this married woman, this teacher, in a dulcet tone: AND THE EARTH WAS WITHOUT FORM, AND VOID; AND DARKNESS [WAS] UPON THE FACE OF THE DEEP.

I sighed and gingerly placed my head on Motorollah’s shoulder. Motorollah who was full of knowledge. Motorollah and her days of heaven. Motorollah who identified the song of a bird as belonging to the bobolink. Motorollah, Motorollah, Motorollah. She squeezed my hand when I did this, when I gingerly placed my head on her shoulder. We are going to find our true purpose soon, she said. Please take your head off of my shoulder.

And she completely sucks at writing. Whoa. Shocking. I would not have seen any of that coming. Would you?

"Her mother and father encouraged academic pursuits." No? You don't say? Shocking! And a bard called Barry Bonds. Not a baseball player. But a bard. Oh. Makes great sense.

You know who honestly believes this person is good at writing? Not her agent. Not anyone at Granta. Not our buddy J.W. McCormack at The Baffler. Not anyone at The Paris Review. Not the editor at Simon & Schuster who gave her a book contract. Not her friends, not her family. Not her. Not anyone in the goddamn world. Not really.

And Motorollah, eh? Any relation to Motorola?

"Motorollah, Motorollah, Motorollah."

That's just so bad. It's funny how bad it is, right? You want to read 5000 words of that? How about a book of it?

She's simply one of them. She sucks at writing and she's one of them. That's all it is. So they hook her up.

This is how bigotry works.

I like this part. Don't you like this part? You've read what that other person wrote, and now we get to what it's going to be compared to. Insofar as that's even possible. Remember what I was saying earlier about looking all the way through to the bottom?

Here we go:

Once his friend had fallen asleep, the boy who later became a man who visited this house that was so hard to find, would venture out unbeknownst to anyone. He had stashed a can behind the garage of what he was confident would be enough gasoline to do the job. The fire would be lit, and he’d return to his friend’s house, sneaking back through the front door, climbing into his sleeping bag, as if he’d never left.

Truth be told, he’d never lit a fire in his whole life, even when some of the other boys he knew experimented with bundles of dried leaves and twigs they’d gathered inside circles of stones in the forest behind the last of the houses of the development. He just watched and thought about it. Harder than he had ever thought about anything, save what he wished for his mother.

One time they pulled a mouse out of its hole in winter. A boy said it was dead. The thing was stiff. De-limbered. He flicked it with a finger, but there was no thud. It was like flicking a rock. Another boy, taking the mouse from his friend, declared it to be alive, you could feel a heartbeat. The same boy put the mouse’s body in the fire and it didn’t move until all of its fur was gone, and then just a twitch.

All of the fiction I have is infinitely better than what Granta slops out there. But, given a choice, Granta would never allow my fiction in their pages, because I am not one of these people. That is bigotry. It's the definition of bigotry. That is how the bigot operates.

And here it is, pulled into the light, again and again. This isn't about the work, save in how my work towers over what they publish, and that kind of qualitative contrast is embarrassing, so another reason to lock out this person. Again, this is bigotry. And this latest entry in this journal was the lighting up of bigots.



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