Sarah Feldman talks to Jason Heroux
WELCOME TO THE Pitch, a series on Partisan in which writers come clean about their works-in-progress—and share an exclusive excerpt. This week, Sarah Feldman talks to Jason Heroux about his work-in-progress, a collection of stories called Amusement Park of Constant Sorrow.
Tell me a bit about Amusement Park of Constant Sorrow.
It’s a collection of short stories, most of them only three or four pages long. They’re kind of absurd stories, where anything can happen. In one story, a person who kept his death a secret for many years is worried his family will find his death certificate and learn the truth. In another, a character finds out his father has turned into a bicycle and he’s not sure what to do about it. He finally decides just to ride his father around town. I don’t even know if they’re proper short stories, to be honest with you. If a short story—Proper Literary Short Story—is a well-balanced meal of character, plot, dialogue, and scenes, a short story from my collection is more like a microwave snack. A frozen burrito maybe.
Is there a “type” of character that turns up a lot in these stories?
[The main characters of these stories are] “average people”. They end up in such unnatural circumstances, and to have an average, everyday person as the [protagonist] helps make the strangeness feel a bit more a part of the flow. They’re just going along with it, taking things as they come. They’re not calling the police all the time. They’re not going to talk to their therapists all the time. They’re not really questioning things. Like in “The Sweet Life”, the narrator isn’t asking, “Why is this plant talking to me?” It’s just another weird thing that happens in his weird life.
Your previous books include both four full-length collections of poetry and a novella. What are some of the differences for you between poetry and fiction?
A poem begins with an inner vacancy or a clearing. That clearing could be created by anything, something I saw, something I read, a feeling of tranquility or a feeling of bewilderment. With prose, it’s almost the exact opposite. There’s a sense of overflow, a spill of narrative that wants to be contained. The prose piece becomes the container for that overflow. Both start with images, concepts, scenes, characters. Those are the sparks, but for me it’s that sense of either poetic clearing or narrative overflow that starts the fire going as either prose or poetry.
You can [also] write about the most depressing thing in a poem, and if the poem is done right, it’s quick and vibrant no matter what. So it’s hard to capture the daily grind in a poem. And that’s the other part of being alive. You don’t just have those moments of inspiration. You have that slog, and prose can capture the weariness that comes from going on and on and on. I think in this collection those two elements are combining a bit so that the prose has more life and the poetic elements have a bit more heaviness to them.
Excerpt from "The Sweet Life," by Jason Heroux
In our two years living together Marsha and I bought twelve plants and eleven of them died. The twelfth plant did okay. Marsha kept it in the sunroom, checking on it before and after work, and sometimes even coming home at lunch. I was jealous. She played Edith Piaf songs on the computer, saying the plant liked it. Apparently Edith Piaf’s music helped the plant grow. I liked Al Green but she never played him to help me grow.
One evening I had tickets for the comedy club, but we stayed home because Marsha said it was “plant watering” night. After she fell asleep I crept out of bed. “It’s not working out,” I explained to the plant. ”Nothing against you, it’s just the way it is. You have to go.”
“What will you tell Marsha when she wakes up and I’m gone?”
The plant had a good point. I hadn’t thought that far. “I’ll say you escaped to live with other plants in the forest.” The plant nodded one of its leaves like it understood, but we both knew it didn’t want to hang out with other plants in the forest. It was living the sweet life, La Vie En Rose, lounging around day after day with Marsha in the sunroom.
“Let’s not end on a bad note,” the plant said. “We should have a drink, you and me, for old-time’s sake.” It seemed fair enough. I carried the plant across the street to the tavern and sat the plant on the bar, ordered two beers and poured one into his soil.
“What’s all this about?” the plant said.
“You know what it’s about.”
“Honestly, there’s nothing between us.” A gross bug crawled out of his dirt, circling the rim of the pot. “Marsha feels comfortable around me, that’s all. She tells me things about her childhood.” I ordered another. Marsha had never even told me she had a childhood.
Next morning I woke up hung-over, couldn’t remember a thing. All I knew was that the plant was back in the sunroom talking with Marsha, telling her about how I tried to get rid of him. A few days later we broke up. I asked why but Marsha didn’t answer. Not a word. The last thing I heard leaving the apartment was Edith Piaf singing in the background.
SARAH FELDMAN's articles have appeared in The Coast, The Villager, Chelsea Now, and Popmatters.com.
JASON HEROUX's most recent poetry collection is Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines (2016). He is working on a book of short fiction, tentatively titled Amusement Park of Constant Sorrow.
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