Uncle is an incontinent scold from a sanctimonious country inhabited by howler monkeys and screech owls who love to lecture but hate to listen. In this brave new world virtual friends are actual strangers who prance, preach, and provoke (but mostly they just preen) while weaving outrage and electrons into a community quilt so thick it smothers. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief
Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies is several things. Part memoir. Part economic treatise. Part fiction. All of it is factual, but the reader is left wondering how much is fictional. For example, the narrator and the author have the same name. So are they the same person? Did the author’s father (a doctor) actually treat Donald Trump (as the narrator’s father did) for heart problems in the 1990s? Or is that simply a metaphor for a presidential administration with heart problems? Does it matter? Did the author actually have syphilis (as the narrator does)? We’re just asking for a friend on that one.
While we do not know the answers, the uncertainty over what is fact and what is fiction, which runs throughout Homeland Elegies, is one of the essential queries of our times. It also drives a compelling story. But be careful of your conclusions, because (as Mr. Akhtar informs us) “interpretation has more to do with the one interpreting than the one being interpreted.”
There are two homelands in the novel: Pakistan and the United States. Both have problems. The narrator’s parents left Pakistan as young adults and immigrated to the U.S. And the book is filled with many other characters who immigrated from Pakistan, with each having varying degrees of trouble assimilating. As the narrator’s mother states, “[i]t’s not our home. No matter how many years we spend here, it won’t ever be our home. And maybe this brings out things in us that were never meant to be brought out.” Now a natural response for any American, whose family has lived in the U.S. for more than two generations, is go back to where you came from, you ingrate. And that would be one of the more polite renditions. However, Homeland Elegies makes clear that anyone whose family has lived in the U.S. for more than two generations should just shut up when it comes to opining on how easy it is for immigrants in this country. We don’t know what we’re talking about – and we should be thankful for that. Even the narrator, who was born in the U.S., has trouble considering himself American – and that is in no small measure related to how people react to him after the attacks on 9/11.
The author/narrator (again, not entirely sure there is a distinction) is several kinds of American, including Muslim-American and Pakistani-American. The question is this. Is he American-American? And that question (wonderfully) is not answered until the final sentence of the book. And even then the answer is not definitive. Throughout the book, Mr. Akhtar is concerned about how the majority of Americans perceive him. At times his physical safety depends upon it. “If all this sounds somewhat paranoid, I am happy for you. Clearly you have not been beset by daily worries of being perceived – and therefore treated – as a foe of the republic rather than a member of it.”
We can tell this is a serious book that demands being taken seriously because the narrator quotes the 20th century’s seventeenth most famous sociologist, Norbert Elias. “The established majority takes its we-image from a minority of its best, and shapes a they-image of the despised outsiders from the minority of their worst.” So what does that mean? No idea. But perhaps white Americans should stop pretending that we are all like Abraham Lincoln – just better looking.
Finally Homeland Elegies also makes clear that it doesn’t matter whether you are Muslim-American, African-American, Irish-American, or Obnoxious-American. If you are Thinking-American, there is cause to be concerned about the current state of our country.
Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans
Lately there has been some discussion about the U.S. Congress passing legislation that makes it easier for individuals to discharge student loans they can’t pay. On behalf of all the for-profit colleges in the country, let us assure all prospective college students that this is not a good idea.
Currently getting a student loan is easier than getting pregnant – assuming you are trying to get pregnant. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, yet not using condoms or other forms of birth control, then getting a student loan is harder than getting pregnant. We seemed to have digressed.
The point is this. Student loans are like STDs. They are everywhere, and they are pretty easy to get. That’s because lenders don’t have to do any due diligence. They do not need to worry about whether you may not be able to pay the loan back. That’s because it is ridiculously hard to discharge student loans. They are like ex-spouses. You always have to pay them, and they never go away. They will attend your funeral and dance on your grave.
If you’re a lender or a college, that’s great. But it is great for a student, too – especially if that student wants to major in Celtic Clog Dancing or the Mythology of the Icelandic Yule Lads. If lenders need to start doing due diligence and if they need to worry about whether the student can get a job to pay the loan back, students may not be able to get loans for those majors. And that simply isn’t fair to colleges – especially for-profit ones that really rely on the student loan industry to make gobs of money.
So lobby your congress member to vote against any legislation that makes it easier to discharge student loans. You can trust us on this, because we really care. About our shareholders, that is. We really care about our shareholders.
Titmouse Beak, President of Pungent Sound Community Bank
Treacherous Gulp, Esquire – Counsel for Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology
We expected to be impressed by Charles Yu’s satire, Interior Chinatown, because it won the 2020 National Book Award for fiction. It did not disappoint. The story is about Willis Wu, who is an actor trying to make it big in Hollywood. For an Asian-American male, that means he is trying to graduate from being typecast as Generic Asian Man to being typecast as Kung Fu Guy. He has all the necessary skills to succeed, including a fluency in Accented English and the ability to do the “Face of Great Shame” on command.
As the story opens, Willis is getting small parts on the TV cop drama Black and White. These parts are variations of Background Oriental Guy. Though the setting is a generically-exotic and safely-eroticized Chinatown, the lead male detective is Black and the lead female detective is White. They are in the exquisitely-named Impossible Crimes Unit. The storylines are also black and white. Even the car they drive is black and white, which is technically wrong (since they are detectives) but ultimately correct given the book’s satirical intent.
So how do Asian-American actors succeed in a black and white Hollywood? Or for that matter, in a Black and White America, how can Asian-Americans find acceptance? They don’t and they can’t. “There’s just something about Asians that makes reality a little too real, overcomplicates the clarity, the duality, the clean elegance of BLACK and WHITE . . .”. Willis’ mother hopes that he will be more than Kung Fu Guy. But Willis is confused. How could any Asian man in America be more than Kung Fu Guy?
Interior Chinatown is a seriously humorous and humorously serious novel. The Asian-American experience will never fit into a black and white story. “We’re trapped as guest stars in a small ghetto on a very special episode. Minor characters locked into a story that doesn’t quite know what to do with us. After two centuries here, why are we still not Americans? Why do we keep falling out of the story?” In a Black and White America, who will tell the story of the Asian experience? And if all the stories must be Black and White, how can the complete story of America be told?
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology recently welcomed Firearms Loving Americans Constantly Confronting Innovation and Decency (FLACCID), who held their annual convention celebrating the Second Commandment of the U.S. Constitution.
FLACCID members were everywhere. And they invited our school chaplain, Father Orifice (pronounced Orifeechee – people always say it wrong for some reason), to give the opening prayer. Father Orifice proudly reports, “FLACCID members stood at attention throughout the prayer – it was a glorious thing to see.” So with such positive reviews, we decided to print his prayer here and hopefully you’ll be equally aroused to action.
The Second Commandment
God is a Gun. And the Son of God is a Gun - making God, Son, and Gun one. And God sent his only Gun to man so slights and sins could be avenged and trespasses need not be forgiven. And you shall not separate man from Gun lest you feel the wrath of Gun. Father Orifice, Chaplain of Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology
The internet says a gothic novel must have (i) a spooky castle or mansion in a remote location; (ii) a thicc atmosphere of dread and suspense; (iii) ancient legends, mysteries, and/or curses relating to the strange family residing in the creepy castle; (iv) ghosts or supernatural events; (v) thicc sexual innuendo or (even better) explicit sex, which leaves the reader feeling dirty and delighted; (vi) women in distress; and (vii) tyrannical men who enjoy distressing women.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia has clearly consulted the internet, because her novel, Mexican Gothic, checks all the must-have boxes. However, despite observing all the conventions, the story never feels conventional, because her protagonist, Noemi, never wilts despite the peril she is in. And the house is spectacularly malignant. It is an organism intent on making evil.
The book opens with Noemi’s father receiving a strange letter from Catalina, his niece. Catalina has recently married Virgil Doyle and left Mexico City to live with Virgil’s family in their ancestral home. In the confusing and rambling letter, Catalina hints that she is now a prisoner of the Doyle family. Having grown up together, Catalina and Noemi are close, so Noemi is tasked with traveling to this barren corner of Mexico to find out what is going on.
Originally from Britain, the Doyle family has lived in Mexico for generations. But they remain anglophiles. As if that is not bad enough, the gruesome patriarch, Howard, has a disturbing interest in eugenics. Major Theme Alert: eugenics is bad. If you think eugenics is cool, do not read this book. It will only disappoint you. Also, what the hell is wrong with you?
If you think eugenics is problematic or (better yet) horrific, you will enjoy reading Mexican Gothic. The bad people are truly evil. Noemi is a strong, likeable protagonist. And though she becomes a prisoner of the house along with Catalina, Noemi is no damsel in distress. Quite the contrary. As Ms. Moreno-Garcia tells us, Noemi learned rebellion as a young girl in Catholic school while muttering the rosary. Her strength serves her well. But there is one frustrating problem with the book. The reader discerns what Catalina and Noemi must do to escape well before they do. And when Noemi finally figures it out, it is too late.
Or is it?
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
I was staring at the Peaks of Otter http://blueridgeparkway.org/poi/peaks-of-otter, which are right outside Roanoke, when this poem came to mind. I hope you like it.
This is a poem about my nipples. I call it "Titillation" because that's a pun and people pretending to be poets use puns as the illiterati use memes: to prove how clever we are. So prepare to be impressed. * My nipples are erect all the time. So reliably erect, when nothing else is. In thin silky shirts they are steeples. In thick cotton pullovers they are pimples. Are they impressions that misleadingly point to titillation? Or are they just sad signs for all to see that my world has become cold? * I'm pretty sure that's a metaphor, which again showcases my cleverness - something I desperately want to convey. You'll also find I did not rhyme. People pretending to be poets don't do that anymore. It's crass. And, yes, I know. By writing about my nipples I risk being accused of indulgence and narcissism. But that's a risk people pretending to be poets are perfectly happy to take. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief First Published in Defenestration.
In 2017 Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This reminded us of how much we loved his book, The Remains of the Day, which we read many years ago. So we intended (back in 2017) to write a tribute to Mr. Ishiguro celebrating his achievement, but we forgot. Regardless, it is never too late to celebrate great literature, and now is as good a time as any to revisit this work. As an aside, we did not read the book again (why would anyone ever read a book twice?), so everything that follows is based upon our memory. Fortunately, our memory is perfect.
Much has been written about The Remains of the Day. In fact, the book is so well-respected we made it mandatory reading in our 20th Century Bloviated Literature course. Because it is nearly impossible to say anything new about this book, we have decided not to try.
The major theme is the dignity of service or work, as personified by the main character, Jeeves, who served as a butler to a noble Englishman, Lord Nazi Lover. [Note to reader: this was in the 1930s before it was cool to be a Nazi sympathizer]. After the English lord dies, the American hero, Clark Kent, flies in and buys the English manor. Based upon a peculiarity of English law, the butler conveys with the house, and Jeeves now works for Mr. Kent. [Note to reader: it is unclear whether current English law still allows you to buy a manor home with the butler included, but it probably does].
Mr. Kent discovers that Jeeves has not had a vacation since he was 6 years old, so he allows Jeeves to borrow his Rolls Royce (see how nice Americans are) and take a drive in the countryside, which is described sumptuously by Mr. Ishiguro. High jinks then ensue, including Jeeves’ visit with Mrs. Plushbottom, a woman who once worked at the manor house. As the story progresses, we learn that Jeeves may have been in love with Mrs. Plushbottom, but his dignity and his dedication to Lord Nazi Lover prevented him from disclosing this. Then, Jeeves drives back to Mr. Kent and resumes his service.
Mr. Ishiguro does a stellar job of skewering the English elite. And rightfully so. They are pompous, prejudiced, prudish, privileged, and perpendicular. Which then begs the question. Were Jeeves’ many years of dignified service dedicated to a despicable person worth the sacrifice of love and potential happiness? Mr. Ishiguro telegraphs the answer by making that employer a Nazi sympathizer. So the answer, of course, is yes. Nothing in England is more important than sacrificing your personal happiness to devotedly serve a Nazi sympathizer. At least, that’s how we remember the book.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor
We are thrilled to announce that Luvgood Carp has won Pungent Sound’s first annual poetry contest with his poem, The Muse of Prune Poetry. We wish to send our hearty congratulations to him, as this is an incredible accomplishment. And we would like to thank our judge, Luvgood Carp, for his tireless work in making this happen. Please enjoy the winning entry below.
The Muse of Prune Poetry
The generic stuff won't do because my bloviating muse demands the artisan brews. He . . . she . . . it (I don't know which) is no service dog. It's a different kind of bitch with a pedigree that's more buffoonery than ancestry. And me? I'm more beggar than beneficiary - told to appreciate what is given me. And what do I receive? At night when I go to bed it plucks gold and silver prunes and chucks them at my head. Or it nuzzles next to me, snoring through a nose that looks like Swiss cheese. But when I'm on my knees begging for inspiration (and the only thing I see is that wedge of Swiss cheese); when I pray for a phrase, word or half a thought, a couplet or participle (it could dangle or not). When I start to cry because I don't know why this alcoholic muse is mine, it frowns and gives me a frosty reply: How's this for a thought? Poets get what they deserve and that's what you got. Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief First Published in Lighten Up Online
Having done our fair share of surfing the net, we have encountered numerous poetry contests. For a fee, journals will pretend to consider your poem for a prize no one has ever heard of. Then, they will award the prize to some friend or acquaintance; give that friend or acquaintance a pittance; and keep most of the money for themselves. We thought – that’s brilliant. We should do that, too.
So because we need money, we are accepting submissions for our first ever annual poetry prize. Please submit your poem, along with the $99.99 entry fee. The prize winner will receive a used tote bag from Block Island Trading Company. (http://blockislandtradingcompany.com). Our lawyer, Treacherous Gulp, insists we post this disclaimer. Block Island Trading Company is not a sponsor of this contest. In fact, they know nothing about it. We just have an old sand-crusted tote bag that we purchased years ago.
We are looking for poems on freedom – the kind that only money can buy. Your verse should soar with the buoyancy of a pink pebble that has landed on the back of a musical wasp without changing the wasp’s flight trajectory or a single note of its song. Importantly, the poem should not rhyme (not even by accident). Nor should the poem be humorous (because poets aren’t funny). Rhyming and/or humorous poems make us vomit. Poets writing such tripe are not creating art. They are simply covering themselves with zoo filth. So please stop.
By submitting a poem you agree that we possess perpetual ownership rights over the poem. We will be able to do whatever we want with it, which includes ignoring it and never sending you a response or feedback. You, of course, will surrender all rights and agree to never think about it again. You also agree not to sue us if we remove your name from the poem and pretend that we wrote it.
Finally, we believe that poets should not be subject to any artificial barriers, such as talent or skill. So anyone may submit, but that does not mean we will actually read your poem.
Good luck! We look forward to receiving your money!
Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief