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Posts Tagged ‘food fiction’

Is it safe to assume that “Queen Isabella Eats a Pineapple and Misses the Jews” is perhaps Cami’s most popular story? In part one I should have noted that I was setting this particular story (also from the For Every Year project) for a later post, because in not doing so it appeared as if I’d made a glaring omission. No, Snow Whale, I was saving it for later, like Fenway Bergomot’s grapes. In “Queen,” Cami hits a satirical high note as Queen Isabella finds that her first taste of pineapple—a gift from Columbus—makes her nostalgic for the Jews, whom she remembers like an old flame:

She had only just started to get over them, the Jews, with their stubborn, endearing habits, the way they’d circumcise their young and refuse to lift a finger on Saturdays, and could never ever say the name of God out loud. Infuriating. Adorable.

When Ferdinand intrudes on her reverie,”ready to start a day posturing over the spoils of the New World,” Isabella forces him to partake of the fruit:

But the scent of the fruit on her breath is too much for him, and he pushes his lips againsthers, causing her to lurch back and smash pineapple into his chin.

“All for the glory of Spain, my Queen, all for the glory of Spain,” Ferdinand says as he wipes his face with the napkin.

Perhaps it’s a little on-the-nose to signal the voracious nature of power via food and sex, but in this story those elements are completely ingenuous, which means we ride along the delightfully insane present of the story and save our horror for later. My question: is this story possible without Mel Brooks?

With a far less accessible message, “Made From Scratch,” from >killauthor, also features consumption and sexuality, but this time fed through the grinder of domestic realism.  Let me get this out here—anytime I encounter fecundity and meal prep in fiction, I think: fear of death. Probably not fair, but I’d say that’s the number one reason I don’t crack open a Best of American Short Stories without a gun held to my head. Cami’s domestic fiction is always riveting, though.

Told in multiple points of view—The Husband, The Wife, The Babies, The Family—”Made” describes the other side of the transaction featured in “Even the Smallest.” Once a year The Husband visits the pig farmer to procure meat and casings:

This bargain. As if knowing where their food came from, getting it, making it, eating it, right from the source, was enough to charm them against a past, a future, of stench. Or was it a penance of some kind? His wife could have everything she wanted—she would allow him to give her everything he wants a wife to want—if once a year he smelled this shit, she ground this flesh, they ate her meal. 

While The Wife is obsessed with preparing the meal, The Babies are obsessed with her:

We take things up. We bring them down. Noise. We see her, the One, smell her, and there is nothing else. We go there, we gather, we make her our center.

But it is only after they eat that The Husband can approach:

He swallows and starts toward her, but stops at the babies, still in their high chairs. Cock blocked again, they laugh.

There is something disturbingly charming in “Made From Scratch,” as muted as it is. For me it comes down to the piggy, raw desire of The Babies compared to the deferred desire of The Husband, all of whom seem to agree that The Mother is the meal, to be consumed nightly. Now that sounds like a horror story, right? I’m sure there are more generous ways to read this one, though.

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May is Short Story Month, and last night I dreamed about Cami Park, so it seemed natural to focus on her work for my May Plumb posts. But May is also the month I start back on Weight Watchers, and as I browsed through her remarkable catalogue of work, I could not help but notice that my favorite Cami stories are the ones that feature food & feeding in a big way. I don’t know what it means, but I can’t ignore it, either.

So to kick things off, here are four bite sized narratives that go great together.

Last Meals of the Saints

begins, “St. Frank sops gravy, forks greens along with beans and rice, crisps chicken skin between his teeth, dribbles the grease down his chin, and there is nothing, now, between him and this meal . . .”

From the For Every Year project, filed under year 1535, Last Meals is a marvel for its elegant management of the emotional presence of its four characters based on catholic martyrs dispatched by Hank 8. Cami gives them common names, common foods, and all too common understanding. St. Frank is avaricious and existential, St. Dobie is childish and pious, St. Earl is paranoid, and only St. Angelo is in and of the perfect moment.

Even the Smallest

begins, “SIX hogs come squealing to the trough, COUNT them, Mabel, Max, Bill, Sugah, Sincerity, Templeton . . .”

A Wigleaf story about meat and love and pigs that begins like a fairy tale and ends in an ecstatic sermon. Told by a child with a cosmology to beat back the darkness.

When You Heard

begins, “You were in the kitchen, reaching to the highest shelf, for the last can of chili beans needed for tonight’s supper. On your toes, the very edge of the shelf barely out of reach . . . ”

I almost didn’t include this one because I was on staff with Prick of the Spindle when we published it, but I remembered that Cami had said it was a piece that was close to her heart and that it had been so hard to find a home for it. This story of a woman trying to reach for a can of beans is sort of I Love Lucy meets JFK assassination.

Pete Jones’ Canadian Bacon Pizza

begins with a recipe for above. By now you may be getting a little worried, a little oogy, a little looking-into-the-abyss-y. Don’t worry. Finish with this Forklift, Ohio gag and one of the best last lines ever.

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