Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras


What if the most powerful person in the world is a woman?

Today, I walked past a stand whose last remaining newspaper showed a photo of our candidates for President on the debate stage. A phrase came to my mind and just floated there, seemingly out of place. The most powerful man in the world.

I’m a white American male who voted twice for Barack Obama. I will this November cast my vote for a woman to be president of the United States. At the same time, I’m a citizen of the EU with extensive experience abroad, enough to allow me to see America from the outside even when I’m Stateside.

If I’m unable to watch American culture and customs with the eyes of someone who has never lived or visited the US, I can certainly sense the confusion so many abroad feel when they see our spectacle (this “debate” between a blowhard bully and a constantly interrupted woman many times his superior in everything from her knowledge base, experience, empathy, intelligence and political savvy) and wonder “How is it possible that someone should want to vote for this fiend?”

I know plenty of the fiend’s supporters, as I grew up among them. Some of them will vote on an anti-immigrant platform despite themselves being immigrants, displaced persons or the children of refugees. Some continue to hang on to a whitewashed Nelson fantasy of an America that put everything…everyone…in the “right place”. They now look at America and see a country where next to nothing is being arranged as their fantasy would have it.

It’s this perception of disorder that I want to consider. The election of a black man as President of the United States sent many into a panicked fit. The world was supposed to be one way, but it turned out to be another. Everything was supposed to make a kind of sense they were used to, but now nothing made sense anymore.

What was to blame? It wasn’t their worldview. No. The problem was that the world had gone wrong; it had been taken from them, its rightful owners, by rogue elements. It needed, as quickly as possible, to go right.

Originally, quickly meant either less than or no more than four years. But in 2012, it meant yet another four. Now, in 2016, those people stand at a threshold that, in their view, presents a chance for everything to go right again, for the world to be returned to its rightful owners.

Of course, to their great fear, there’s a chance for it to head to even greater disarray.

How can these people possibly perceive even greater disorder? Think of how often we throw around the phrase the most powerful man in the world to describe the President of the United States.

The phrase is significant to our collective consciousness. Part of the problem is that  we think in hierarchies, but for the sake of my example, let’s take it at face value and agree that, indeed, the President of the United States is the most powerful. Think for a moment, then, of what it will mean when the planet’s most powerful individual is a woman.

Germany and The United Kingdom and Lithuania and Austria and San Marino and Liberia and Georgia and Argentina and Costa Rica and Brazil and Switzerland have selected women heads of state. But those elections of women did not require the key phrase to be revised. How would we revise it? The most powerful woman in the world, spoken today, has a ring only slightly different from the world’s greatest female athlete. Both phrases assume there is someone greater and more powerful, and that person is most definitely male. But if we say the most powerful person in the world and end up meaning she’s a woman, the panicked see their order of things fall further apart.

Americans love power and success perhaps more than anything else. One person might have a high level of skill in something, but they won’t matter to anyone until they have presented success. Success is always money, as money determines one’s ability to impose or influence. You might be benevolent or evil, but in America you are only real and worthy when you’ve got enough power.

We don’t hate cons. In fact, we’re almost forced to love them. I am among those Americans who work in a place that’s pretending to be one thing (a college) but is actually another (a business). Others of us sell a product nobody needs, a tool or gizmo we know harms much more than it aids. Selling something, from a drug to a “service” or “course” is its own justification. And the more of it we sell, no matter the method or outcome, the more successful we are. The best sentence is the one bought more often than any.

That explains, partially, the appeal of a wealthy yet blatantly sexist fiend and con. But his act is only part of the gig. Alongside it stands a test of our collective identity. Sure…some people are voting against Clinton because they have some set of immovable reasons that have less to do with the fiend and more to do with how they perceive her nature. I’m driving at a larger sociological point: People are fine, to a degree, with a powerful woman, but they’ve never been faced with the prospect of her being the most powerful person of all. Electing Hillary Clinton to America’s highest office—a woman, mind you, more prepared than any candidate running in my lifetime, far better prepared than Obama was the first time around—would require us to rewrite the descriptive phrase.

To what consequence? The revision would push us further towards thinking not of people as men but of women as people. Quite naturally, it would also require us to rethink our concept of power. Let’s not pretend huge numbers of Americans are not prepared for either shift. Like their candidate, they like to settle things without any admission of guilt.

 

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Photo: Mural, East Garfield Boulevard, Chicago, IL


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Readers ask: Does The Fugue make allusions to Lolita?

Well, someone finally noticed this, so I feel I should respond. “Hey, Gint,” a reader asks, “What’s with the age gaps between the lovers in your books? Is Lita Avila an allusion to Dolores Haze?”

The reader has noticed that both Finding the Moon in Sugar and The Fugue depict lovers with a notable age difference. Perhaps naturally, they’re wondering if I have some kind of fetish.

Audra and Andy from Finding the Moon are probably more than a decade apart. Andy, born in 1986, claims he was never able to figure out Audra’s true age and puts her birth date somewhere between 1977 and 1972. Of course, Audra’s vain and a liar, so her email address, audra1974@zuikis.lt might be set up to make her seem younger than she truly is. Dazed and confused, the stoner boy Andy never notes the year in her address as evidence for anything. If Audra is truly born in 1974, it means she and Andy are twelve years apart.

Yuri and Lita of The Fugue have a wider gap. Lita’s just a teen when they meet, and they are almost two decades apart. Neither character seems to think much of this, and (minor spoiler) Lita’s family are all either dead or gone by the time her initial crush on him evolves to something more mature.

When I wrote and self-published Finding the Moon in Sugar, I thought The Fugue was a dead project that no one would ever read. I was definitely conscious of the repeated age gap—that makes it a motif, right?—but didn’t worry too much about it. Once I knew The Fugue would be published, I figured the only way someone would catch it would be by reading both books, which would be wonderful if they did. To me, Lita and Yuri’s relationship is a rich construction that reveals so much about both characters and also the nature of trauma. I had no intension of tampering.

Now…did I have Nabokov in mind when I chose the name Lita (the character’s full name is Angelita Avila)?

Nabokov’s Dolores (Lolita) Haze is Humbert Humbert’s victim. Humbert is not merely her abuser and rapist but also her legal guardian. And while Hum suffered the tragic loss of a child-lover while a kid himself—an experience that leaves him searching for a surrogate or an incarnate…an avatar, if we will—he admits that he deserves to be tried and sentenced, even if he does beg readers for leniency and forgiveness.

Yuri is not victimizing Lita. For much of the time after first leaving prison and returning to Cicero, he is hardly able to interact with anyone, so shell-shocked that he imagines buildings that aren’t there, and he can’t  know how to thank Lita for her gift of a broken bicycle. He later sculpts her portrait not out of a desire to possess or control her but as a way to release his affection, which is probably discomforting, though not necessarily because of Lita’s age: Yuri has lost almost everyone he has ever loved, and now a stranger has given him a gift.

It’s true that Lita’s portrait is crossed with his memories of other women—Lita’s is not the only portrait he has sculpted. And Lita, young and self-conscious, never imagines he has sculpted her portrait. When she guesses it represents some other woman, she’s partially right.

Honestly, when I thought of the name Lita, I was also thinking of names for other characters. So my concern with the name Lita had less to do with Nabokov and more to do with its similarity to Alina, Yuri’s interest from his teen years. I wanted names that seemed shades of one another…variations, if you will. (In an early draft, Alina’s name was Lina.)

I was reading a lot of Nabokov at the time, so it probably did things to my mind. But I didn’t see Yuri and Lita’s relationship as taboo or profane, and I didn’t think of Lita as Lolita’s literary variation, at least not consciously.

I should probably say that I had several crushes on older girls while still a 13 and 14 year old at summer camp. One of those girls turned out to be a lifelong friend. I’m sure the intensity of such feelings and experiences evokes itself in my writing all on its own, without me needing to do very much.

Still, in future novels, what lovers I surmise will all be around the same age. I feel like I’m done exploring these age gaps and that my fiction has expressed what I wanted, even if I can’t say what that is.

 

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Unburdened from sin or connected to God

Reviews of The Fugue have, until this point, compared the book to the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Virginia Woolf, Boris Pasternak, Betty Smith, Nelson Algren, Richard Powers, Flannery O’Connor and others.

Commentators have noted the book’s fugue-like structure, its homage to classical music and opera, and its use of various techniques of visual art, among them simultaneity. The latest review, from Amy Strauss Friedman, writing for the Yellow Chair Review notes the novel’s similarity to pointillism.

Aras has given us a masterful web of narrative that feels much like pointillism in painting, in which an artist uses individual dots to create a larger, intricate image.

She goes on to write:

The Fugue is an epic work that will ensnare you from the first chapter and won’t let you go even after you’ve finished it. It is a composition that all should hear.

I guess the only way to see if all these people are just talking craziness is to read the book for yourself. As your library to order it, get it at your favorite bookstore or buy it here.

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Honestly, Europe, now’s not the time

In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten into several conversations with Europeans—British, Dutch, German and Lithuanian—who were having fun at America’s expense. Just today I received an article written by a friend who contemplates American identity as the stuff of hyperbole, superficiality and non-sense. Of course, none of these people could hide their current trepidation, not entirely.

The joy that Europe usually feels poking fun at American idiocy is at once an expression of bewilderment, superiority and self-consciousness. Honestly, I think it’s past time to be poking any fun, and Europeans really do need to start asking themselves some serious questions. What will the continent do in the case of American political, cultural and economic collapse?

People might shrug this question off. European nations are, after all, survivors of calamities. But the current moment is troubling. Europe has looked at the United States, at least since the late 40’s, as a stable global player, and American political and economic interest has been predictable, even dependable, no matter how often it has proven vile. Currently, the threat of chaos is real and I don’t feel Europe is having the necessary conversation.

What’s Europe’s plan if America turns fascist? Make fun of our lack of culture and our poorly educated population all you want, but a fascist America would really put the heat on you. American descent into abjection would strain and risk so many systems. From a bird’s eye view, perhaps a massive teardown of the world’s power structure is exactly what’s necessary for our long-term survival. But it really won’t be any fun to watch the fields getting torched, or to find ourselves standing in the middle of one.

I suppose I’m saying, Europe, that your American friends are ashamed and frightened, and it should embarrass you if at this moment you need to feel better about yourselves by calling us idiots. We know we’re idiots. This thing in America is a mess: we’ve a critical mass of people holding jackhammers to the home’s foundation. If that crew gets to work as it wishes, you might be forced to bunker down in a way you haven’t for many decades. Sure, you’ll survive, as you always have, but I don’t see you laughing on your way to survival, just as I don’t see any global foundation being rebuilt without rational and sensible European leadership.

On an individual level, if you want to be a friend to an American, don’t immediately start pestering or laughing. We know you’re confused, but don’t start an interrogation. Instead, ask us if we could use a cup of tea or coffee. We really, really could, and if you made it for us while we sat forehead-in-palm at the table, we’d only love you. You can spike it with amaretto or brandy while you’re at it. We should have that drink together because, as we both know too well, there’s no place to escape from this planet. No matter what November brings, we’re all going to need each other.

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Photo: late summer light along US 45, East Central Illinois.


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Autographed copies in Memphis

I’m happy to announce that Burke’s Bookstore in Memphis, Tennessee is currently stocking autographed copies of The Fugue. Memphis residents interested in my writing should support their local independent bookstore. 
936 South Cooper Street

Memphis, TN 38104

Phone 901-278-7484

info@burkesbooks.com


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Another generous review: Alternating Current/The Coil

I met the start of the work week with the news that another review for The Fugue has appeared, this time in Alternating Current/The Coil. This review is generous and humbling, with the reviewer, Al Kratz, paying some of the most careful attention any reviewer has paid to the narrative.

[The] qualities that made the read challenging are also why it was ambitious, realistic, and ultimately, a success. There are no easy answers. There is no easy way to tell the story.

Read the rest here. Buy The Fugue here. Or order it from your favorite bookstore.

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