New fiction from Manuel Marrero (Making Friends with Expat Press, Part 2)

Well, hello everyone. Welcome back. I trust that since our last blog post, Making Friends With Expat Press, Part 1, everyone has had the chance to familiarize themselves with the material on the web site, And I hope that some of you have gone ahead and purchased one or more of the fine books available in Expat's catalogue. By now, I'm sure it is quite clear to everyone that to ignore the artistic output of our new friends from the eastern seaboard would be an act of willful idiocy. And what kind of craven, belly-crawling scum would wish to keep nosing around, brow furrowed, in the filth of the intellectual gutter when the path to enlightening reading and fine eye candy has been so clearly illuminated?

Right. So we are all deserving of a treat. Well, it just so happens that the Joyless House editorial staff have gotten our cracked and greedy, ink-stained fingers on a couple fresh swaths of unpublished screed from Manuel Marrero, cult-leader and head propagandist at Expat. If you've never read Marrero, then I think these two excerpts will serve as a nice introduction to his style, a hot teaser for of his forthcoming, and a gateway to his earlier work. It is strong stuff. If you're already familiar with Manny's output, I believe you'll recognize here, a continuing evolution.

Thousands of Lies (2015 by Marrero) is a strong head trip of a novel. It would probably qualify as metafiction. It is dense. It is claustrophobic. It is, at times, difficult to tell exactly what the author is getting at, what's happening, just who is whom. A pretty honest divulgence of the internal dialogue then, eh? How often do you know exactly what's going on? Do you know who you really are? The book is high-minded and fun, the kind of fun that is suggested by a lot of broken glass and overturned furniture as confronted through the haze of an afternoon hangover. 'We certainly had a time, didn't we?' The book is a success. A sense of desperation is imparted throughout. You can feel the author thinking, scrambling, seething. His internal world becomes yours. Burroughs is a heavy name to invoke, but the genius of his transgressive stuff is the force by which he wrenches you, the reader, out of your comfy consciousness and into HIS world; that's the sort of trick of compulsion that Manny turns with Thousands of Lies.

The following pieces, I believe, indicate a stronger focus and better writing, like something gruesome was purged with Thousands of Lies and now the machine is running fast and clean. Or maybe that just sounds nice. Anyway, if this sampling is a good indication of the novel to come, we are in for a treat indeed.

Old Flame

Marie was on the lam again. Black Market Tony had tipped her off to a new batch of methamphetamine that was just the tits. She examined wistfully her new kicks.

A specter haunts her steps. She'd incurred news of her pregnancy on her return to Barcelona, chose the path of wedlock. Romulo allays her concerns via WhatsApp.

- I ain't stopped.

- Really?

- Really.

Wrapped in drag, she paces the streets smoking a cigarette. She passes under cyclical, recursive awnings. She's in love and lust, substance unalloyed, his perspiration tatted on her breasts. The feeling is pain bound up in pining, in suffrage yet reaching for the tawdriest refuge. Her life to live. Her life to cast unironically as she wishes. She welcomes solicitous smiles. They make her feel wanted, pure, unmolested and unadulterated. Womanhood cognate. Everything ad libbed, down to lone breaths. This is a coda for an old flame that never went out. Enlisted in ignorance, within earshot. I fell in with her from a tender age. We attended the same school. She was quite literally the girl next door, and I saw her emerge from silhouettes on swings, dressed in prom attire. I saw her on mornings before she was ready, strolled with her to share a colada. She rejected my advances time and again, but never relented in casting vertiginous swoons over her shoulder. She dated my girlfriend when she was still male. Her mother was kind as milk and ale, her father stern and militant, paratrooper in the Bay of Pigs. I shook with anxiety from the coffee. Her embraces were always long and short, and the long and short of it was I could never want her more, never make her wet, never uncomplicate her complicated life. The life she envisaged was rife with philosophy and lacking in judgment, never wifey material, teeming with vice. Enshrined in travel documents.

She strolls, head bowed beneath hoodie, checking her email intermittently while the night howls interminably. She passes the ombudsman and thinks of the draconian immigration order she didn't vote for. She isn't registered. He waves hello to her. She stops to bandy about crooked spanish, niceties. Her phone vibrates against her palm and she retreats, citing some flitting commitment.

- I ain't stop thinking of you.

- Me either. What am I going to do?

- You gonna come to me. Im'a book your flight.

She swoons as he sends a picture of his quarters, a scabrous beat away from being done with it all. A geodesic dome. A tent. A breathtaking view. I called her marble mouth, because even her most barbed ripostes were laundered with sweetness.

Barcelona is bustling with all manner of drunk rejoicing, sub rosa crimes, racial and religious tensions. She shrugs into her first floor apartment as a car bomb detonates, hot rain littering the alcoves and alleyways. Sirens take the night from her as she slinks down recumbent on a sofa missing most of its side fabric. Her cat lunges at her abdomen, and she pets its collar eliciting purrs, falling asleep without typing a response, as quickly and easily as she's known to do.

The breadth of this tragic moment. Some side-eye for the complicit dreaming.

I've seen honest men, pious men, shattered in the brilliance of the arc light. I've seen their charred offerings teed up for lesser malignant gods of weakness to devour. Roundly reviled, which for them is to be celebrated. Sobriquets too vile to be renounced by tongue alone. Cadging sharp darts from Cupid's piccolo. Auto da fe.

Half a year later, on the lam. A Christian militia after her, combing the corners of elevated boulevards. She swaddles the babe and ensconces herself in a cab, whispers the word airport. She internalizes Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation. We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning. On American cities, they are built by people for people, to facilitate their broad crepitant swaths, comings and goings, without any debt to history remitted. A man-made singular thrust, for people, circumventing history. European cities, like Barcelona, like her native Havana, are peopled around history. Peppered with irreducible natural flourishes, cracked pavement, uneven spiral steps leading to nowhere but concrete baths. I croon, I scream her name, Marie. What a fool I am to love you. To pine so acutely for someone I scarcely respect. To revere you abstrusely. To commit affronts on patched paper to be sold. Just like a knave. Unmoored, uprooted, careening toward Sacramento International. A week ago you said Mexico.

A weathervane conducting energy in stasis.

I've been without love now longer than I anticipated. Since my life changed irrevocably, impulsively. Memorably. I don't indulge my feelings anymore. It's a categorical, empirically sound choice. My joints in pain. Put the kids to bed. Boost autos for cash, ensorcell publicans for the money.

We've been two years apart and they were longer than the first twenty-seven combined. Twenty-seven is how many years I was ascending toward a state of grace before I chose myself, not knowing then what I know now. I miss you to pieces. Cry litany, anodized cant. I glimpsed your photo on Facebook and it unhinged me. You are so beautiful. So beautiful it hurts. You will always be my first choice, my gun moll, my guerrilla. Recall the insurgency in the jungle, when you were frightened enough to keep us moving north. Recall Sonesta. Recall the state-sponsored Jaguar reservation, psychological terrorism. Let them work the jukebox and we shall write the music and writhe. All its descants and denouements. I will always love you. I will never forget you. I think of you and dream of you always. I harp on my failure to love you as you were owed. Can you feel me groping for your heat signature in space? Over the outcroppings of the gorgeous apocalypse. At the popular front where you are curiously missing. Have you gone rogue? I guess some dreams do not die, they merely dim with unforgiving age. Dreams are sobering, maladaptive and counterproductive to living. Counterfactual. But while this dream endures, let it rage unmuzzled. Suck life. I love you. I still love you. I detest you. I'm your mouthpiece. Your marrow. I'm in love with you. I never doubted it, but that I could love someone so much and for so long without a scintilla of reassurance about their existence, as to coexist with all the filth and the violence, is cause for existential alarm. Pointed arrows, nocks grooved to the small of your back arching, your waist bending.

It is untoward of me. Sordid even. I am unmoved by caution.

Don't come crowing at me anymore. I'm a child of God. I was born in a sylvan promise. I was summarily executed when the Stasi came, quiffs ablaze. My red letter was violence. I blew it, the sacred peace. The oblast ostracized me with little more than a notarized protection order rubber stamped by your local alderman.

A child is born, what next?

You dither. Grit teeth and drag feet. You know what a Herculean task it is to raise a child. Maxine was on the mend before you called, ravaged by emotion. Your sister, who offered you a plane ticket home, no strings attached. I've seen low-hanging fruit shattered beneath the spire of arc lights, greylisted, excommunicated.

This is a fermata. Fer-ma-ta. Domestic but global.

I wrote a poem for the end of days. Just like everyone else. It's a dustbowl ballad. Listen. Its steps are haunted.

*** *** ***

Rib Age

An ethicist studies the glyphs.

Take stock in whatever you hold dear

for the day of reckoning is near

no thousand men nor thousand lies will avail

when an errant sheet of fog blankets the unseen precipice

Attenuated patience Northender, you must esteem

you must teach them to lust for flesh again


The year is uncertain while other matters crystallize. The pungent smell of mold gives pause to the wary skeptic, but he proceeds courageously yet, for what he was told could not in any good conscience be taken lightly. A decisive skill set dwells within these walls, one that must stir and surface. These themed fingers have had their practice, now cue their orchestral accompaniment. A balletic entrance for the holy conduit, gliding on mighty phantasmagoric auspices. The amanuensis pulls the lever and begins. She's a murderer, one who cast stone from glass house. Extant exculpatory evidence for those willing to excavate it in the eyes of Gods; extenuating circumstances now prized in desperate times. The chorus ululates. One must be careful not to erroneously vindicate a rotten plight before Gods, lest the sacrament be derogated and subject infantilized to the ruin of all. A potent ammoniac tint billows through the room and nudges his confirmation bias toward immaterial sacristy, sputum wets his proverbial beak and the barbital breath of the Reaper blows. The conduit is now a weathervane for her anxiogenic history and a clean bill of spiritual health materializes. Godless once, now ensorcelled by the metaphysical veil between plenary fields, the piano's fingers practice a crying jag, playing chicken with the subject's limen, teasing it to recumbence. Sunken in folds of deep reverie, submerged in dreams of cosmogenic purpose, stoning to death he who stood obstructive on the path to her freedom, she is seated in royalty, steeped in amniotic fluid, cerebral shunt emerging. A defiant riposte issues forth against celestial condemnation. What was unpardonable is now pardoned. His work is done. The sky growls.

Tereza dithers between sleep and wakefulness in her repurposed tool shed. She murmurs a mantra, makes a sign of the cross and lifts herself on svelte elbows. Cactii in aluminum cooking pots, picture frames with tattered daguerrotypes of ancestors known only by name, and books. She reaches for the one on the nightstand and begins to read and ruminate on a sallow page. The book is The Sun Also Rises. The historical context lost on her but the words ring immortal. The last one she read was some seriously daft and toothless horseshit, a nearly comical exegesis on third way utopianism from which she discerned nothing urgent or useful. The walls shudder with the breeze and she, tuckered out from fitful sleep, threads her arms into a wool sweater. She minded the knocking last night. The howling stopped short of devouring her dreams. The bough breaking din of carousing which once seemed like a righteous reconsideration of decades-long famine under abusive slumlords now degenerated into moonlit riots against any semblance or sigil of authority, historical glyphs of weaponized ideology martyred to the frost. She sets Hemingway aside and reaches for her notebook to scribble more synonyms for the decisive event that rendered her mute agoraphobe: shtupped, boinked. She allows herself a wooden laugh, curdled spit. There is but one painful egress; the way outside. With Claw in hand she cautiously wanders outside to feed the last dwindling saplings that alight on her birdfeeder. She quickly ducks inside before securing the iron latch and forcing the rusted bolts. Panting, de rigeur at this point. A corrupt bargain comes smiling. Tereza cut her teeth on his thin skin and now she's mad they're beveled and bloody. Her Waldorf education, her Hazelden rehabilitation accrue to nothing of net knowledge or lingua franca requisite now to reforging the steel of civility's provenance, a distant echo, a promissory note, family. She's sick with the terrible knowledge imputed to her by her assailant, the blight, the scourge, the stain. Synonyms she writes down. She, logophile. Safe but not happy in her world of language.

She reminisces on when she couldn't even wake normally without plugging into the hive mind and getting that dopamine rush from the digital news. It made her lonely, all the followers, the social climbers and sycophants, the homesteaders who booked it when the levees broke, themselves merely a facade of civility and stewardship, of magnanimity and munificence and what's left? Monomania and attendant scribbling in a notebook. Indulging anodyne fetishes and trappings against a broken clock. The hands of history have stuttered and stopped. She stares at the coaxial transom wrought of adobe bricks. She traipses toward the porthole and admires for a moment what precious sylvan beauty remains of her living idyll. Ambiversion unquelled, she summons up molecular-level disdain for the degenerated populace and pounds her fist on the door with a whimper, half impulsively hoping it'll tear the rustic shelter asunder. A Northender of Thule, she rages autosuggestively against the dying of constellations. Her every word is borrowed from a gust or geyser. She catches them and scribbles.

It's only going to get worse, she thinks. A morass of criminal neglect, a pervasive aura of non-belief and poverty of thought, civic investment and infrastructure on an island of borrowed time. The denizens pour rotgut down their gullets that promote chronic nihilism and stymy solidarity. They saunter concrete roads and meadows barefoot, dried up valleys and outcroppings, canyons and gulleys, cannibalizing and setting industrial waste ablaze. They march prostrate in ad hoc assemblages and diffuse throngs, but nothing resembling a cooperative pack of dogs. The skeletal frames of charred automobiles litter the vast landscape and peter out over a severed highway. Crepitating closer to the dedicated artery with the Schumann Resonance, the husks of preterm fetuses plucked from their wombs and strewn chaotically across the burnt blacktop. Beyond, a runnel of blood. Then a declivity. We infantilized and coddled the journos until they grew faithless and derelict. Patience, Northender. Your time will come. Its criminal velocity will roar through the insides of glass houses, dislodge the landed gentry, free the serfs, raze their entrenched estates, leaving nothing but sound. Barking, hissing, screeching sound. An ode to air and spit. But for now, middling rewards, sunk costs, diminishing returns, faithful stewardship and prayer. A book with the Stations of the Cross. A portrait of Angie Dickerson. Embedded ideals. For all her voracious readership, she imagines Hemingway as a shadow from an apocryphal libretto, a singing muse, emaciated and winnowed out from journalism, apprising her of echoes, a vespertine stillness now settling over her ponderous ruminations, ready for the long night, authoritative, sleepless and mensural, a lathe that cuts deep into her, and the gutless maw howls again like a litany of fresh mourners, an appetite not bound by satiety but wounds, vapor wake scars, marching scowls, turgid abscesses and liminal frissons. She settles into the anxiogenic squirreled away payload of raw organ meats. Ever near depletion. Two more long nights before she must hunt. She wonders aloud whether this time she will be the prey. She erects another impermanent fabric structure to wile away her time. This time is bondage, and her mental agility bounces around the room like a flashlight darting around a flesh corridor. She mewls. And nightshade brings a recursive problem. She picks up dollops of sleep with a mental skewer. She sweats. She touches herself and her beloved attacker makes her wet inside, her damp bedsheets hollowed out, poring over every detail of his revanchist face, his muscular arms, his gaunt jowls, his penetrating musk, his cozy penis, and his arctic blue eyes guide her to a crescendo, a climax of je ne sais quoi ecstasy. Her face puckers into a crying jag for an instantiation of mortal grief, before a mucosal inhale and feral grimace. Visions of gravel and blood. A plinth stabbed into a vital sign, she twists. And a death that sensed relief and release. Processing her own thoughts feels like swallowing a cinderblock. Surrogates of pleasure centers. Her bed sores ache. Her scribblings read like she never rolled out of bed. Her natural habitat is her mind. Molloy, faithful companion, lulls her into a brief but needed sleep. She dreams vividly on this night. Her father's face recedes into shadows and she bounces along unmoored searching for him. She can feel him feeling her searching for him. She tracks his heat signature across painted plains. The stasis nauseates her into a fetal curl. The shadow now recedes, and she leaps ardently onto the prow of a dreadnought, cutter flotilla bouyed by horizon, and clutching the bow, she rubbernecks around, deploys her backhand to shade the unblinking white light, and gazes into preterit warmth. She locks eyes with the predator and growls something sempiternal, amoebic discharge, a miscarriage of sleep, redolent of dread and malaise, a rejoinder for the Canaanites who wander outside leaderless and high, succumbing to primal urges. The last light flickers and her lids flutter into a delirious parasomnia. She cannot move, but she sees them now moving en masse, adumbrating the casual spectacle, the penumbrae of dark, arabesques of suffused light. She will rise and lead them where they ought to be, beyond the tool shed's abutting scorched earth, the barren barn and once arable hectares, to a promised land of milk, honey, fertility and purpose. She. Patience, Northender of Thule, their time is up, anarchy's time is up. Grasp oneiric Claw, take it farther than your sylvan home, for your time has come. Oily pores and apple cores at your feet, breathe purpose into them within a hair's breath of extinction. Her autocratic scaffolding will leave none unturned, will be untoward, the desiderata of her regime will be coalesced around a single purpose: solidarity at last. Society. They'll balk and they'll buck, but they'll listen. They'll curry favor with her for positions of leadership and eminence. They'll recall their heritage bound in glory. The profoundly sick society will heal and adjust to its inveterate health. She bites and tears at the organ meat, a calf's liver, chews its sinewy adipose tissue, savors its texture. She thinks, boy do I miss him to pieces or what? Suck it up, buttercup.

*** *** ***

Stay tuned to the Joyless House Book Reviews page for upcoming reviews of new offerings from Expat Press by Mallory Smart and Joseph Harms

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