Shane and I were chatting yesterday about this here blog you’re staring at right now. We’re still in our baby stage, and yesterday morning, as we gummed our budding teeth on eggs and bacon, we came up with some new ideas. New idea #1: Sunday Fiction Nuggets (healthier than McDonalds’ version). I recently joined Fictionaut, partly to join a community of active writers who can offer feedback, but also to dive head first into a pool of new and living fiction. That’s right, you’re coming with me. And we don’t just want this to be a one-sided deal either. Read the story (they range from 100 to 700 words) and add to my interpretation. Or kindly tear it apart. Or share your favorite line from the story. Whatever you do, don’t leave me up here on my soapbox. So, aside from today’s epic fail, you can count on a little nugget of Fictionaut fiction right here on Sunday mornings. I’ll bring the coffee.
[The first nugget after the jump.]
“Tomorrowland” by Sara Lippmann
Today’s morsel, “Tomorrowland,” is a great way to start off this series. I’ll admit, the way Lippmann slips between reminiscences of the narrator’s childhood and the present tense of her daughter’s third birthday at Disneyland caught me a bit off guard. At first read, the initial detour down memory lane didn’t agree with me, but Lippmann’s language is mischievous without being sneaky. I had read it wrong; she wrote it just right.
This is one of those stories that you do yourself a disservice to read only once. I read it first in my head; I was distracted, my roommate needed to know where her shoes had gone. The second reading, I slowed down, replaced my coffee on my bedside table, read it aloud. When I finished, I said, “God damn.”
Lippmann juxtaposes the assumed innocence of childhood with a sexuality that is distinctly human and thus, pervasive. She explores every direction sexuality can take us, each way we can experience it and the consequences that emerge as those experiences interact. We’re at Disneyland, children with their families, larger than life cartoon characters roaming around. But Lippmann shows us the falsity of innocence, that we are never one thing, but instead in a constant state of discovery, of uncovering what’s inside of us and those around us. The narrator’s perspective of Disneyland is tinted with her past and so is our reading of it. Her sentences serve so many purposes: They show us where they are, what they’re doing, and they remind us of the layers underneath. Suddenly a little girl on her father’s back becomes uncomfortably suggestive: “My husband crouches and she boards his shoulders, straddling him.” Is the narrator injecting this sexuality where it doesn’t belong? Are we adding our own perverse view to this innocent world? Or perhaps Lippmann is showing us that there really is no place that sexuality doesn’t belong, because there is no place that it isn’t.
But this isn’t some cheap trick to show us that our sexual pathologies are inherent; “Tomorrowland” shows us that sometimes we don’t see things simply because we decide not to see them. Disneyland is touted as the place where anything can happen; who says that those are only good possibilities? Anything can happen in the real world as well, from the great to fucked up. I fear I’m getting off track here, this story isn’t a fuzzy blob of themes and ideas; the narrator is as solid as the asphalt burning up through her sneakers. There is a tone to the narrator’s description that suggests self-loathing; not only does she express distaste for her and her husband’s sex life, the list of her memories – sodomy at a truth or dare game in the second grade, kissing a drunk boy by happenstance, arousing dreams of prostitution – feels like an attempt to explain that she’s earned the way her husband makes her feel: “Sometimes I get that slut feeling with my husband. …Last week afterward he flicked my ass and asked for popcorn.” When she comes back with the popcorn, he’s watching television.
This sense of blame is only in the telling; reading about her encounters with sex shows the devastating effects of its misuse. Rather than a medium for intimacy and interaction, the narrator has only experienced bodies as a spectacle, as something to experiment with, to prod. Her entire understanding of sex is clear in the way she reacts to her husband entering her without so much as a warning:
Last night he came up behind me while I was flossing my teeth. I leaned over the sink to spit the blood from my inflamed gums and he prodded. I thought he would stab right through me.
Of course, a part of me is flattered.
All of the double (triple, quadruple) entendre doesn’t even hold a candle to Lippmann’s final unsettling sentence. She and her daughter stare into the mirror at a Disneyland salon while her “husband jaunts off to Tomorrowland for a quick thrill on Space Mountain.” Rather than this moment of reflection ending in an explosion of realization, the narrator makes one quiet and disquieting observation: “I worry my daughter will meet a nice man.”
This isn’t a story about how everything’s prostitution and sex messes everything up. Rather, Lippmann shows us the world, in its Sunday best and good intentions in order to peel back a bit of the wallpaper. If even the fantasy dreamland of our childhood is governed by priced lists of services, what’s to keep us from organizing other areas of our world in that way?