Literary Stylings

“Paperback Writer”

by Mattia Ravasi

He was nineteen years and seven months old. He still hadn’t made The New Yorker, he hadn’t even become rich yet, and so he decided to do something about it.

His workshop was also his room, and had been his sister’s room before. He had had to complain for years to eventually make his father paint the pink radiator a manly hospital-room white. The bright thing was pressed between his bed and his wardrobe; it wasn’t a wide room. There were postcards on the wardrobe’s doors, and a single large poster with a flying saucer floating above a forest, “I want to believe” written below the trees. He had not watched a single X-Files episode in six years, and he had often planned on taking the thing down. Yet every single time he tried, he was inevitably assaulted by a wave of guilt and shame that made him feel like he was about to kill his infant self. “Why, future me?” he imagined himself crying. “I thought we were friend. Oh why would you do this oh no my intestines!” The poster had stayed. The only other decorations in the whole room were a couple of black-and-white pictures, stuck to a shelf above his desk, across from the radiator: Steinbeck, Joyce, the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

He was facing them right now, bent as he was over his dusty Hawlett-Packard. They’d not yet invented the green jelly you squash against the keyboard to take away all the dirt (not in his country, anyway), and beneath his space bar bred anthrax and ebola. He’d asked for a typewriter for his eighteenth birthday, and he still had it, and still considered it the most precious among his possessions; but he’d stopped using it as soon as he’d realized it didn’t feature a Backspace button.

His literary career had come to a grinding halt a long time before. All he’d achieved in the previous year were a horror novella about a cursed PC keyboard whose Canc button gave you cancer if you pressed it (the idea had come to him in his sleep), and the first line of a novel composed only of other novels’ titles. It went “The Man in the High Castle Choke: Something Wicked This Way Come! Finnegans[,] Wake!” He’d experienced massive writer’s block on that one.

But now he felt new lymph running through the tree of his narrative creativity, and he immediately noted down the lymph-tree metaphor on a post-it. He’d found great inspiration in a recent reading, Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, about the author’s days in Paris as a young writer. Among the many evidences the narrator gave of how shitty a human being he was, he also dropped a couple of golden writing tips. One had fascinated him particularly much, fruitfully fermenting in the back of his head for days: “Write a single true sentence. Develop from that.”

And so there he was at his PC, feeling a whole book, success, money, admiration, finally a paternal hug after seventeen years, all flowing behind the tip of his fingers, ready to be dropped over the keyboard, and the screen, and the world. He lifted his head and looked at you, saying “I am a fictional character, and not the author of this story;” then he focused on the white glow of illegal Microsoft Word before him. A single sentence. Something true.

The sky is blue.

Good, he thought. Minimalist. He turned off all filters and just let his hands go:

The sky is blue. BUT IT WASN’T BLUE ANYMORE, after the seventh thermonuclear conflict! It was stained with the flames of a thousand burning space ships, each one ejaculating a vortex of raging, acid death, each one at war with the other, with the wrld, with life and time themselves. The Earth below was erupting fire and blood and other red things

“OK this one doesn’t work,” he said, “but I guess I began with something stupid. It’s not like the sky is always blue, and then again for somebody else it may be light blue or shit.” He wasn’t discouraged, he knew True Art took time. He felt like the misstep actually meant he’d somehow improved. He canceled the paragraph and started over.

Men need water to survive. BUT THERE WAS LITTLE WATER LEFT after the seventh thermonuc

“OK, one track mind, not good when writing fiction. Again.”

Men need wa

“Oh, you sexist fucker!”

Human beings need water to survive. BUT NOT ANYMORE, after the latest discoveries in cybernetic science. An army of invincible atomic cyborgs is ready to take over Ear

“This one works fuckily too,” but again, that had been another stupid sentence. He had in fact a cousin who survived on Coke and Sprite. They called him Footless Joe; nobody liked to talk to him on the phone, because it always seemed like he’d just run up a flight of stairs, or was making caring love to somebody. And good ol’ uncle Albert, who’d gotten into the Bad Habit after Nora had died, but that’s depressing, you don’t wanna hear about that.

“OK, let’s start all over again. I need something delicate. Something sad and true, something Hemingway himself could have written.”

Human beings need 

“Oh, you sexist prick!”

Women need water to survive. And for that very reason Marie had stopped at the Cafè de la Rue in Rue de la Cotolette, in Paris, and she’d ordered a… glass of water… because she was very poor. Life was swell. She spent her days walking down Paris’ boulevards, bathing in the Spring sun, watching the joyful fishermen along the Seine and eating the fish-heads they left behind. At night she went with Ezra Pound to beat up old Jewish ladies. 

“This works, this is really

BUT SUDDENLY a raging explosion smashed the Cafè’s window!, and a gigantic biped robot stepped inside the shop. It was Erek-Zion, the Israeli droid, back through time to rid the 20s from all the anti-Semites, and now embarked in a problematic, thought-provoking, best-selling quest to annihilate humankind. “MAZEL TOV, MOTHERFUCKERS!,” it shouted, and then it opened fire with its nuke-armed 

“Oh for fuck’s sake!”

“What seems to be the problem, boy?” asked him Pad-zoo-zoo, the demonic spirit who infested his room and who was now sitting on the bed.

What, did you think he’d been talking to himself the whole time? That would have been messed up.

“It’s the fucking story, P-Z, it just doesn’t work. Seems to me that all my stories start well and look promising, but then they take some sort of supernatural ballistic fucked-up trajectory.”

“Why don’t you write about your aunt Nora? That would make a great story I reckon.”

“That’d be boooring!”

“I don’t know, I think her tragic ending and her husband decay could-“

“Pad-zoo-zoo, I’m the writer one! Just let me be! Please!”

“… Gee, I’m sorry man, I didn’t mean no offense or…”

“No it’s OK, it’s OK, I’m cool, just, just let me be.”

I looked NO HE HE he looked around, in search of inspiration.

My cat is called Penny

“OK I won’t even start on this one! That’s it! Start from a true sentence, Geezus… it’s like if there’s nothing like a true sentence, like if truth is something that changes according to perception, to point of view and experience and condition!”

“Hey I like that, boy! Sounds logic! And pretty original!”

“Doesn’t it, Pad? What I perceive as blue could be dark blue for somebody else! The cat I call Penny would have a different name for a different owner!”

“Yeah exactly” confirmed Pad-zoo-zoo, happy, clapping his claws and oozing green slime.

“It’s like what modernists said, you know?”

“That Jews are an inferior race?”

“No no no, the other thing… you know, that everybody has a unique voice? It’s like that, but brought to the next step!”

“Yeah! That’s great, boy!” Pad-zoo-zoo flew to the ceiling. “How are you gonna call this thing?”

“Since it is, like, the next step after Modernism, I think that… yeah… I just might call it… Aftermodernism! No no, wait, I’ve got an even better one… Wait for it… I’m gonna call it Modernism 2!”

“That sounds awesome!”

“Doesn’t it?”

And so he canceled what he’d written one last time, and bent forward, close to the screen, for he felt another story just behind the tip of his fingers.

Women need water to survive. And for that very reason Marie had stopped at the Cafè de la Rue in Rue de la Cotolette, in Paris, and she’d ordered a… glass of water, together with her friend and lover Ernest Hemingway.

“Hem,” Marie said, “don’t you think that the Spring is really swell this year?”

“It is for sure, Marie. The time is perfect for our species to rise…”

“How’s the book coming?” she asked, smoking a very thin cigarette.

“It’s fine,” Hemingway answered. “It’s gonna be a great success.” He knew this partially out of the great confidence he put in his own writing; but mostly because he had friends in the right places, writing for the right magazines and papers. Powerful friends. “The main antagonist’s Jewish. He’s an asshole… Everyone will hate him.”

“That is good,” Marie nodded, “how’s the book called?”

“I was thinking something like The Sun Also Rises. Something biblical, something that ‘ll make it look like I don’t have a drinking problem. Anyway, how is the Robot doing, over there in Germany?”

“You mean the Homicidal Iron-clad Terrorizing Lethal Europe-invading Robot?”

“Yeah, the Homicidal Iron-clad Terrorizing Lethal Europe-invading Robot me and you invented. We need to find a short name for that.”

“He’s doing fine. Soon he will gain great power over there.”

“This will please our lords from the deep,” Hemingway whispered. He’d first encountered the deep ones during a fishing trip he’d taken alone as a young man. He always went fishing alone, because he’d heard stories about seamen, and he was extremely homophobic. The deep ones had offered him immense wealth and glory, and a huge agleaming marlin too, if he willfully accepted to serve their plan of world dominat- BUT THERE CAME EREK-ZION, smashing the window with its atom-powered arms! Marie jumped up and pounced upon the mechanic time-traveling warrior, her blood-encrusted blade unsheathed, shouting her warcry of Hail Satan!

“Well look at that sentence I wrote!,” he said, “truth my ass.” Just for the sake of it, he wrote it again.

“ACTIVISM!,” Pad-zoo-zoo sneezed. That was the way he sneezed. “Bless you,” said the kid.

Marie jumped up and pounced upon the mechanic time-traveling warrior, her blood-encrusted blade unsheathed, shouting her warcry of Hail Satan! Erek-Zion sent her sprawling on the floor, and then it moved on Hemingway. It grabbed the terrorized writer’s arms with its metal six-finger hands, and it pulled really hard, detaching them in a second. It then used them to beat the American up and hard, punching him with its very own hands.

Finally, the droid threw both limbs out of the cafe’s window. “Take this, Hemingway,” it said in its metallic voice. “I guess you may call this… A Farewell to Arms!”



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