Vanishing Point A Bookand Websiteby Ander Monson



City bridges the gap between I and we. We, a bunch of Is, connected by collection in a fairly arbitrary space like this. Page can do the same. And electronic space like this. Or book. Even one sentence that you read connects you, reader to author, brain to brain, and it is good to have a brain, and to connect for a moment to another. Loneliness is the essential condition. It's okay. A friend thinks about renting your house with his new girlfriend. What to make of that, you wonder. This space can now be his and hers when once it was yours and another hers. Some people like to have sex in their parents' bedrooms, or their friends' parents' bedrooms, or their friends' bedrooms. Some of us think about taking over a life for an hour or a night, those lives seen through windows on cold nights when you're out there trudging in the city, and could feel the consciousnesses of everything around you if only you were a superhero. They only exist in cities, too. I can't think of a superhero without a city.

I'm reading a just-released anthology, Not Normal, Illinois, of stranger threads of fiction by midwesterners, edited by one of those same midwesterners. I'd thought about this for a long time, the idea of having a literature, that by collecting these names in a hand's worth of book, you make the case for a tradition. Some are less obvious. The Wedding Cake in the Middle of the Road is an old anthology I bought from Goodwill several years back. It was from the 80s, maybe the 70s. Every story had to start with a wedding cake in the middle of the road.

That's one kind of community. Not Normal is another. The reference is the city in which my brother was born, Normal, Illinois, and these fictions are strange. But it's powerful to see them gathered in one place. And to suggest a tradition that's at odds with the common view of the midwest as bland, square, flyover, honest, straight-talkin', and essentially good but good in a way that is entirely meaningless. Good in this case meaning at best uninteresting. Though the beacon of the Iowa workshop brand emanates from the idea of the midwest, this is a whole other project. Weirder, stranger, less narrative, less chronological. It's as if by reading this book I feel like I am in a city with a population of a couple dozen. And these aren't names I associate with the midwest, the Sherwood Andersons, the Carl Sandburgs, the Hemingways, the Jim Harrisons, you know, those men with guns and straight-shooting sentences (of a sort). Well, Stuart Dybek's in there, that good Chicagoan, but with a hilarious, dirty, and kind of wack-ass story.

It is an emotional experience, reading these other midwest voices. An other finding another. The kinship is temporary, sure, I'm pretty sure of it, or at least I tell myself I am, but what is not?