Literary Rock and Roll a Crescendo for Story Week

If you’re wondering why this review is going up so late in the day, it’s because it takes an eager journalist that long to recover from the fine storytelling and debauchery that is an essential part of the Literary Rock and Roll experience. But let’s focus on the story-telling, and get to the debauchery later.

The theme was “Girl Trouble”, and Jane Hamilton, Joe Meno, and Gillian Flynn would do their best to elucidate what this meant to them while onstage at the venerable and effortlessly cool Metro. If you’re wondering how the manly Meno snuck into this lineup, let me assure you that he is one of the best writers out there at sneaking into a girl’s head. There’s a scene in his novel the Great Perhaps where a young girl’s sexuality blooms, and the scene is so beautiful and so accurate it made me cry. So I had no issues with his inclusion.

Jane Hamilton immediately brought the rock and roll. This was a woman who earlier in the day had been singing on one of the panels, so while no one knew what to expect from her, you knew it would be delivered with pizazz. Hamiliton’s essay focused on just this very thing–a surprisingly tender and honest look at her own marriage to a husband whose spontaneity and sense of adventure pale before Hamilton’s exuberance. It was a song of triumph, or irritation leading to acceptance, a portrait of how to love someone who isn’t like you and isn’t going to change. The essay was read with that same exuberance, same joy, and dare I say, as someone in a relationship with a person whose street-crossing habits are similar to Hamilton’s husband (wait until the walk sign shows up instead of dashing madly to the median), sprung a few tears in my still-sober eyes.

I don’t cry very often at readings. Just three times in my memory, and once was at Lit Rock and Roll when Patty McNair read and I had a bad day and a very strong whiskey and coke on an empty stomach. But one of those times I cried, it was because of Joe Meno. His command of short fiction full of quirky characters who struggle to assemble their lives has few equals. This unpublished piece, about a high school Spanish teacher whose linguistic abilities are limited to ordering Nachos Belle Grande at Taco Bell, and his schizophrenic, bird-obsessed younger brother David, had equal potential to summon tears. Meno’s voice is always a curious mixture of sweet and sharp, rough and alluring. Sort of like a Sour Patch Kid. Hopefully he’d like that simile. In any case, his reading was flawless, and once again everyone marveled at Joe Meno’s seemingly endless talent, thanking their stars that he’s chosen Columbia College as his artistic home.

I apologize for the upcoming lapse of journalistic excellence. You see, by the time Gillian Flynn, author of the smash hit Gone Girl, took the stage, your reviewer was too a gone girl. All I remember of Flynn’s reading were spiky metaphors and Randy Albers delivering a tumblerful of amber liquid to her onstage in the middle, which caused her and the audience a fit of giggles. If anyone else out there knows what happened, feel free to comment. I will say what probably didn’t help is that Flynn was skipping around in her novel, perhaps not the best thing to do with an audience whose attention is diverted by $5 Metro drinks. But from what I gleaned from the sentences bouncing against my sodden brain, Flynn can write.

Instead, let’s review those drinks the Metro came up with for the event. Imaginatively named–among them the Virginia Woolf, Yellow Wallpaper, and Jeannette Winterson (with orange liqueur, no less), they tended towards the sweet. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but when you have four drink tickets and an obligation to use them, the overall effect is cloying. Nor are either Woolf or Winterson really sweet in personality, though both can be lush. Still, no matter–the Metro is liberal with its whiskey, and the crowd lapsed into various states of intoxication surprisingly quickly.

One final note–Jane Hamilton is just as fun a dancer as she is a reader, pin-wheeling arms, total dance floor usage, and a big smile on her face. And that about sums up a magical week of stories. My only suggestion for next year is that author dancing be mandatory.

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