What would you write if no one knew who you were?
In the spirit of the demolition derby, where drivers take heedless risks with reckless abandon, welcome to the first convocation of the Secret Society of Demolition Writers. Here is a one-of-a-kind collection by famous authors writing anonymously–and dangerously. With the usual concerns about reputations and renown cast aside, these twelve daredevils have each contributed an extreme, no-holds-barred unsigned story, each shining as brightly and urgently as hazard lights.
Unconventional and unapologetic , this publishing equivalent of a whodunit features an eclectic group of fictional characters, including a delusional schizophrenic narrator, an egg donor with second thoughts about her decision, a pharmacist who forms a weird crush on a woman who beat both of her parents to death, and a little girl who understands that an old safe is the threshold to another, ghostly, world. Equally diverse and surprising are the authors themselves: Aimee Bender, Benjamin Cheever, Michael Connelly, Sebastian Junger, Elizabeth McCracken, Rosie O’Donnell, Chris Offutt, Anna Quindlen, John Burnham Schwartz, Alice Sebold, Lauren Slater, and Marc Parent, the editor of the collection. Never before has such a wide-ranging and talented group of authors been assembled to such explosive and entertaining effect.
The Secret Society of Demolition Writers is an intriguing puzzle in itself, but it’s also an important addition to the careers of some of our finest storytellers–even if we never really know who wrote what. Its boundary-smashing fiction offers exhilarating proof that for an artist, withholding your identity can mean gaining your freedom.
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MARC PARENT is the author of Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize as well as a New Visions nominee and a NEBA Honorary Selection, and Believing It All: What My Children Taught Me About Trout Fishing, Jelly Toast, and Life. He has written for The New York Times and USA Today, among other publications. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three sons.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It seemed the sun never sank that summer. All day long the air was thick and the river running through our town was just a dead gray snake with a sulfurous smell. Without wind, the tops of the trees drooped and when you fanned your face, the air was like a wall of water barely moving over you. People complained. Air-conditioning units banged, and the ice from a Slurpee was cool blue heaven before it melted on the pad of your tongue.
I didn’t want to get a job selling Slurpees, the way so many others my age did. I certainly didn’t want to be a lifeguard, hoisted high in one of those chairs with an emergency cross blazing at my back. I look eh in a bathing suit. I’m twenty-one, sun sensitive, my skin as white as milk in a blue china cup. I am the kind of person who seeks shady places and books; I like any book that has to do with houses and their insides. I like the old books about Boston houses—Edith Wharton and a man named James write about those—and I like the new books you get in the paperback rack in the drugstore, books where living rooms have velvet drapes and people are in love for two seconds tops. I’ve been in love a few times, but nothing worth noting here.
I live with my mother. In our town, most of us do. We go to the high school, a big industrial brick building with rows and rows of slick red lockers, and then we graduate up to the community college where huge elms shade the campus and there’s an archway you have to drive through that says something important and Latin on it. At the community college, most of us major in physician’s assistant training programs, which means you learn to draw a lot of blood and read pressure. Others do something with software architecture. I knew right from the start these career paths were not for me. I knew, and always have, that I wanted to do interior design, to make homes as beautiful as they possibly could be, to understand the subtle but serious distinction between mauve and merlot, or how to bring light to a row of wavy glass windows, to choose a carpet that complements the color of wood that soaks up the shine from the beaded chandelier, the one I chose, swinging from its root in the freshly spackled ceiling.
The summer of heat, the summer before my junior college year, my mother’s cancer returned, after ten years’ remission. My father left us a long time ago, for Florida. At first my mother felt just a small ache in her bones and then the ache turned into a limp and she finally had to admit the pain grinding and grinding at her hip was not arthritis. The doctor confirmed it with a CAT scan. He showed us the recurrence, there on films so gray they looked covered with cobwebs, there on the furniture of my mother’s bones, her architecture all wrong, chips and calcifications, black stains where the malignancy was. The body is a house. Make no mistake about it. The body is a house and the organs are the plush parts and the bones are the scaffolding and bed frames and bookshelves on which you hold your memories, your disappointments.
We came out of the doctor’s office, into a blast of heat. My mother waved a rolled-up patient information sheet in front of her face, perspiration lining her lip. “I’ll do the chemo,” she said. I wanted to put my arm around her, draw her in close, oh mom, but it’s not that way between us. We get along, but if you were to give us a personality test, you’d get opposite results. She’s loopy and eccentric and has little sense of style. She wears bedroom slippers a lot. I shop at all the outlets for Joan and David shoes and Talbot’s clothes. My mother has a knot in her hair, and instead of combing it, she just lets it get bigger and bigger until at last the lady at the salon just has to cut it out. She lives off my father’s alimony and spends her days reading horoscope charts and smoking cigarettes until the ash gets so long it drops off onto the carpet. Frankly, I have higher aspirations. A woman should. I’d like, for instance, to accumulate some wealth. I say to my mother, “Don’t you need a retirement plan?” and she takes a deep suck off her cigarette, her cheeks collapsing inward and says, “Whoop de doo, I’ll be gone before then.” I say to my mother, “Don’t you want to dye that gray in your hair?” and she says, “Gray tells the truth, Cynthia.” Standing close to her, I can smell decay, the same way I can smell that river that runs through our town, odiferous vapors rising up, singing tunes of sinking things and wretched things and houses taken by torpedoes.
I don’t remember ever being close to my mother. I don’t remember ever holding her hand or sitting in her lap. She invited me, over and over again, and I refused. I can be distant and scared. In our high school class there was once a girl named Leah Kowalski. Leah had a bad lisp and a gimp leg that ended in a prosthesis. Sometimes she’d take the prosthesis off, unbuckling the leather-and-steel contraption, removing it from where it nestled on the knee, and I’d see what was beneath. I’d see the sheen of amputation, the skin and spoke of bone, and I’d want to touch her there. Right there. Of course I never dared.
In the summers, in my town, most of us flip burgers or bag groceries or work in the hospital gift shop, but these things aren’t for me. I wanted to make some money. My mother’s cancer had returned, a boy was abducted while he walked home from the mall, his murdered body found in the weedy woods, and I dreamt of Leah Kowalski; she was saying operator, operator and coming towards me in an old-fashioned black dress with gorgeous buttons of pure pearl. I’d wake up shaking, the tree shadows fingering out across my bedroom wall, the occasional car swooshing by in the street outside, the heat just building like a bomb. I was in Gerry’s one day, ordering a low-cal soda, when I saw the sign. It was pinned on the community bulletin board, right next to the sectional sofa for sale. egg donors needed the sign said. generous compensation. 21–34. Call . . . and it gave a toll free number. Now, first off, I have always loved dialing toll free numbers. Sometimes I do it just for the thrill of reaching all the way across the country, to a voice in Texas, or Louisiana, or maybe even France, for free. But it was more than that. Generous compensation. I thought here might be a way to get wealthy. Here might be a way to stockpile some cash, start a serious savings plan, and move my way up and out of this tiny town of two-room houses and poor cable reception. I’d like to live in a place with just a bit of panache. I’d like to live in a house that has a foyer. I’d like a bathroom where the tiles are white floor to ceiling, except for the thin floral band that belts the midsection, beaded with water when I shower.
So I called. We are talking, here, the difference between a $5.61 summer wage, and a generous compensation. Who knew what it would be. I was thinking, maybe a couple of hundred? I had no idea. When I say that I mean that absolutely. I had no idea at all.
He was a lawyer. He said to come on in. We made an appointment for the next day. While I was waiting for the next day, I sat on my mother’s porch swing and sipped some soda. My friend Alice called and said she’d kissed a trumpet player; he had an incredible lip. My friend Marie called and said mud was good for your face. These girls I am close to, but not by much. I have always been dreamy and inward. I am always building places inside my head, rooms where quilts hang on antique racks, hallways with ceramic hands cupping candles on the walls. This world, that world, my world, where it is perfect and lonely both.
The next day, I went in to see him. He had a 1-800 number but an office just two bus rides away. I live in Troy, a tiny town; he was in Albany, big city, far but not far, if you see what I mean. His office was in a high-rise with one thousand windows. The elevator doors parted soundlessly, and I whooshed upwards, stepping into a silent hall, and then a waiting room of utter white, a carmine couch, a sleek telephone on the glass side table. He called me in. He was handsome as hell, or heaven. He said his name was Ike. Ike Devin. He had one of those faces that descend like ledges, and bead blue eyes. He wore chinos, perfectly pressed, and an excellent Oxford shirt that showed the little trigger of his Adam’s apple. “Sit down,” he said, and I did. “I have hundreds upon hundreds of couples,” he said, and he told me the tale, the women too old to make good eggs, the couples late thirtyish, always in love. They were looking for donors “like you,” Ike said, “healthy and smart,” and I could feel myself beginning to beam. Of course, like me. “A young woman like you,” Ike said, “has probably thousands upon thousands of genetically sound egg cells,” and when he said that I thought of my mother, her genetically unsound cells, and then I thought of my stomach, its flat pale plane, the little wink where the belly button was, the way Ike looked at me, approving, a small smile on his face. “You think I’d be a candidate?” I said.
“Quite possibly,” he said.
“Which couple would get my egg?” I said.
“It’s what we call a reciprocal process,” Ike said. “You choose them and they choose you, a partnership.” Then Ike pulled out a file drawer and riffled through it. “Here are all the profiles,” he said. “Here are all the couples who might want your genetic material.”
“How much?” I said.
“Five thousand,” Ike said.
I felt my eyes pop out like a p...
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