Queen Solomon, by Tamara Faith Berger, chronicles the erotic awakening and mental disintegration of an intense young man who meets Barbra, an Ethiopian Jew, when she is brought into his home by his father for the summer. Terrified of Barbra and drawn to her in equal measure, our narrator finds himself immersed in compulsive psychosexual games with her, as she binge-drinks and lies to his family. Seven years later, as our narrator is getting his life back on track, with a new girlfriend and a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies underway, Barbra shows up at our narrator’s house once again, her “spiritual teacher” in tow, and our narrator finds his politics, and his sanity, back in question.
Get a taste of Queen Solomon in the following excerpt, and read Tamara’s thoughts below.
Ariane worked with me during sex to change my ‘bad thinking.’ She actually called it ‘traumatized thinking’ – a need to smother all my bad thoughts with sex. Ariane said I had textbook sex addiction, that my shame from Barbra and the failed way it ended meant, in fact, that I hated myself.
For two years, okay, this is what me and Ariane talked about. I mean, this is what we worked on during sex. I didn’t tell Ariane that it was not always therapeutic. In fact, some- times it even made me feel worse. Like, Ariane would tell me in sex to go slower and why, and then harder and why, how to lick her, how to suck her and why and why. I secretly did not always subscribe to her method, even though I did like that we had a lot of sex.
What Ariane ﬁxated mostly on about my relationship with Barbra was that she thought that I thought that Barbra wanted to be submissive because Barbra explicitly told me to hurt her.
‘I was mistaken about that,’ Ariane deduced. ‘Barbra was obviously not a submissive.’ Ariane said that what we did was s/m 101. She said what Barbra did is called ‘topping from the bottom.’
Uh, does ‘topping from the bottom’ mean you make up all the rules? I wanted to ask her. Does ‘topping from the bottom’ mean that the knife is always truly yours?
I did not tell Ariane about our speciﬁc scripts. I did not tell Ariane about what truly happened at the ending. I told her my scar was from surgery when I was fourteen after I broke my collarbone. I told her, in general, that Barbra asked me to do something and I did it. I told her that we didn’t really have to say yes or no. It was a system, I explained, of complicit synchronicity. Ariane scoffed. She continually tried to school me. In sex, she said, the woman must lead.
‘This is ancient knowledge. Stuff the Tantrics believed.’
Did the Tantrics believe that a turned-on and traumatized woman could be actually violent? Tantric is outdated, I thought. What did they know about consent?
Ariane assured me that my true self was not chauvinistic.
She said that all real men worshipped cunt.
Ariane said, ‘If you love cunt, you actually have to know how to treat it. If you love cunt, you have to know your way around its complex abyss.’
Sometimes I thought Ariane only liked me because I made her feel worshipped. I loved Ariane’s body. She was long- armed, big-nippled, bluish-skinned. When we had sex, I usually licked her pussy for an hour. Between Barbra and Ariane, I’d practised cunt-licking. Girls always said that they loved my way of licking. I always signed my name on their thighs. I licked them and tricked them, massaged them and slapped them. Pussy foam, pussy oil. I liked period pains. I got off being smothered. I liked to see girls get really wild. Licked-open cunts liked to get really wild.
I told the cunt to sit on my face.
I said to the cunt, please hump my whole head.I loved cunts lodged with matter. I loved a maw full of cunt on my pillowcase.
I would like readers to get a rise out of this section, to get a little dizzy between the head and the crotch. At first, the terms are flipped around victimhood, setting up a guy who has been sexually traumatized while Ariane, his girlfriend, is the dominant sexual presence. As this section progresses, the reader learns that the narrator had an S/M relationship with Barbra years ago where he was clearly in over his head. He is thus stuck between two dominant female lovers, while he remains linguistically in charge. I actually wrote this section as an ode to cunnilingus, and that’s how I would love to have it stand, yet I’m also aware that there’s some pretense in my narrator’s braggadocio.
What I’d like readers to take away from this section is that sex gives us knowledge. Ariane says that if you love cunt, you have to know your way around its “complex abyss.” While Barbra, the hidden character in this fragment, seems to have taught the narrator everything he knows: how to ‘top from the bottom,’ how to play mind games in sex. Mind games go with cunnilingus.
I hope that readers can overcome any aversion to a male narrator synthesizing his lovers with the word cunt. I love the power of this word. I think it consistently grows in erotic and syntactical meaning. Cunt is hot and “lodged with matter,” as my narrator understands.
Tamara writes fiction, non-fiction and screenplays. She is the author of Lie With Me (2001), The Way of the Whore (2004), (republished together by Coach House Books as Little Cat in 2013), Maidenhead (2012) and Kuntalini (2016). Her fifth book, Queen Solomon, was published by Coach House Books in October 2018. Maidenhead was nominated for a Trillium Book Award and it won the Believer Book Award. Her work has been published in Apology, Canadian Art, Taddle Creek and Canadian Notes and Queries. She has a BFA in Studio Art from Concordia University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.
Amanda’s newest book, Disfigured, is a compelling look at fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney, showing us how they influence our expectations and behaviour and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference.
Read an excerpt below!
Look at you, getting coffee, getting groceries, going on trips in an airplane. Pretending that you’re as able-bodied as the rest of us! It’s all just so inspiring.
At the beginning of Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers is disabled in several ways. She has amnesia and can’t recall her life beyond the six years immediately preceding her present. As the film progresses, we come to understand that she is also intentionally being disabled by her captors, the Kree, who are dampening her powers by keeping them artificially restrained.
But Carol, as most superheroes are wont to do, wrestles her way through to a happy ending. She does this both physically – through wreaking joyous, unrestrained havoc on her enemies – and emotionally, by distancing herself from the wild, perseverant machinations of Yon-Rogg and asserting her right to occupy her body and power in whatever way she sees fit.
I don’t have anything to prove to you. I don’t have anything to prove to you. I don’t have anything to prove to you.
I whisper the same thing to myself at night. The ‘you’ wears many faces.
Once, while I was sitting at my desk during lunch period in fifth grade, a student sitting beside me asked if I could reach under my seat to grab her pencil, which had rolled under my chair.
‘She can’t,’ my red-haired nemesis said behind me. ‘She’ll have to bend over and take the pickle out of her ass first.’
The rage that came over me was immediate and hot, overwhelming. I slammed my chair back into her desk so hard that it tipped her own desk over, pushing her so the chair she sat on teetered back on its hind legs. Wobbly and ready to collapse, exactly the way I felt. Her laughter was immediate, tinged with surprise and a sliver of terror. I heard the rest of the class laugh, too. Twenty-seven years later, I can close my eyes and hear that laughter exactly as it sounded on that day so many years ago.
I have never wanted to be a superhero, or a demon, something other than I was, as much as I did in that moment. To push the chair away from my desk and turn around and send that girl sweeping up through the air and back against the wall so hard that her skull cracked; to see her face split open upon impact and watch the blood and the brain matter trickle out down her cheeks. I wanted to stand over her as she screamed and grind her face into the floor. I wanted to turn an arm back toward the rest of the class who had laughed with her – who had always laughed with her – and do it to them, too. I wanted to see them cower, to see them lose themselves in awe. I wanted them to cry and scream and beg for mercy.
But I also wanted to be right to withhold that mercy – I wanted my anger to be justified, to make sense, to be understandable. To mete out punishment that was as clear and unbiased as that from a goddess. I wanted them to love me, to be terrified of me, to want to be me. I wanted all of this even though I knew, already, that in a few years I would go to a different high school and meet other people and move on from this part of my life. I wanted all of this even as I gasped in my rage and pulled my chair back up to its regular position and heard the girl behind me right her own desk and chair, her laugh shaky and hard. I wanted all of this through the rest of that afternoon as I stared at my desk red-faced and hot.
I wanted all of this through the next day, and the next, and the day after that one and the week after that. Limping through the hallways, limping through my life.
I have not stopped wanting all this.
Eventually I moved on to high school. I met other friends; life was indeed different. I travelled and lived in different cities and had lovers and felt beautiful and many of the things I had wanted came true.
I still have not stopped wanting all this. These triumphs, these vindications.
I go back, and back, to that day. I still want them to love me, even though I know it isn’t worth it – even though I know, more importantly, that my anger and rage at the unfairness of it all is directly tied to the fairy-tale/superhero lens through which I was already, unconsciously, viewing the world. If my world was unfair, surely that meant that things would swing back around eventually. Surely events would put themselves to rights, surely I would get my happy ending, too, even if it took a little while – because isn’t that what happened in all of the stories I was told? Life could be unfair but the world itself was a fair place. Be good, do good work, and you would either be rewarded or find the strength within yourself to put your world to rights. That’s just how it went.
I didn’t fantasize, back then, about what the world might look like if it actually was fair, if there was no need for superheroes at all. I didn’t imagine what life might have been like in a world without bullying. I took it for granted that the bullying would come, because I walked differently and occupied a different space and the world I lived in told me that was what happened to bodies that were different. It seemed easier to imagine a world where I had magical powers than a world where different bodies just existed together side by side.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. In an article for nbc’s Think on the famous quote from Martin Luther King – a quote that was itself inspired by a sermon by the nineteenth-century clergyman Theodore Parker – writer Chris Hayes notes, ‘The claim expresses a specific kind of informed optimism, an eyes-wide-open faith in humanity. Obviously, there is evil and trial and tragedy and hatred all around us and yet good, ultimately, does prevail. In the same way you can’t tell the earth is round as you walk on it, the trajectory of history is imperceptible as we struggle through it; but rest assured its contours are there.’
What happens, though, when your eyes have never been wide open in the first place? If you are a disabled person whose life has been one sidelined narrative after another – the disfigured witch or the monster or the dwarf, the ill child as beatific sacrifice so that her parents might see God and better themselves – where is the moral arc of your own story?
The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but sometimes that arc takes a preposterously long time. And in the world we’ve built, it’s easier for us to imagine that only superheroes – or perhaps fairy godmothers — can bend the arc for us. Everything else just takes too long.
What might it have meant to me – at eight years old, at ten – to know, deep in my bones, that I didn’t have anything to prove to the classmates who told me that I walked funny, who sneered at the way I ambled through class? To understand that I wasn’t waiting to become a princess or a superhero or even waiting for an unconventional rescuer, but instead was not in need of rescuing at all because there was nothing wrong with my body?
What does it mean for me now, at thirty-seven, to understand that the world still sees my body in this different way? As a disabled woman, I am at once hyper-present and completely invisible. My limp can at times be mild, and so I can sink into the background – an undercover agent in the able-bodied world, which is a kind of superpower and disguise that doesn’t feel quite right, although it feels better than those long-ago days at school. My disabled body, bereft of both fairy godmothers and superhero change, is either an object of pity or an object of tender fascination, but rarely something other than that. We are sad Tiny Tims or we are everyday superheroes, inspiring those who can walk and run just fine with our inhuman strength in completing the impossible ordinary. Shopping in our wheelchairs, walking with our canes. Navigating the world with our guide dogs and scooters and other supports – augmentations that aren’t sexy like the claws that come racing out of Wolverine’s hands or the arc reactor in Ironman Tony Stark’s chest or the impossible body that gets to be Steve Rogers’s, but are nonetheless that we use to make ourselves be more.
Building a world that either accommodates these tools or makes it so the tools aren’t necessary in the first place (why the need for a body that can fight wars if you build a world where there are no wars?) is a particular kind of magic, it would seem. One that still eludes us all.
A little over two years ago, I walked to work at the hospital one day and felt, as I battled the wind, the familiar words that pound through my head on a regular basis, in rhythm to my lopsided, hurried gait.
You don’t walk like everybody else.
YOU DON’T WALK LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.
It’s not unusual, this refrain. I think it every time I hear my footsteps on the ground. I hear it every time I catch my body passing by a window. And yet, for some reason, that day something changed.
It’s not that you don’t walk like everybody else, the little voice continued. It was my voice speaking something I had known all along.
It’s that no one else in the world walks like you.
Why did it take me thirty-five years to realize this? Something to do with the way we tell stories – something to do with how we understand the body in both its regular variety and in what we perceive as its superhuman form.
‘We are capable,’ writes Tobin Siebers, ‘of believing at once that the body does not matter and that it should be perfected.’ And so we fantasize about eradicating disability in the same way that we fantasize about superheroes and magic – taking it for granted that the different body is aberrant in the same way superheroes are aberrant, gifts though these differences may be; longing for an act through which we will individually restore the world because systemic overhaul is too grand an undertaking. We’re all for subverting stories until the subversion requires a change in the real world that involves work, at which point we fall back to our regular narratives and look to the one who’ll come to rescue us. We take it for granted that the world is flawed and in need of a Captain Marvel to save it; we take it for granted that the disabled body is a bug in the system and do not, instead, celebrate its difference as a feature.
But my walk, my legs, my body – I am, all of me, a feature. (We are, all of us, a feature.) I have no fairy godmother because I have no need of one. I am not waiting for an unconventional white knight to come crashing up a causeway to my castle because I have seen the castle and its darkest heart and nothing in it scares me anymore. I have no need of rescue. I want more than the stories that posit the strong as those who survive and protect the rest of us. I want stories where people are not applauded for embracing difference but instead reshape the world so that difference is the norm.
I have nothing to prove to the world because the world has everything to prove to me. It is the world’s responsibility to make space for my body, my words, my lopsided gait – our bodies, our words, our ways of moving through the world – to hold my childhood dreams of being a princess and a superhero close and help me understand that there is no need to want to be either. To start telling different stories about a body that might just look like mine, and reshaping the world to fit them.
I am already enough. There is no need to be more.
Amanda Leduc’s essays and stories have appeared in publications across Canada, the US, and the UK. She is the author of the novels The Miracles of Ordinary Men and the forthcoming The Centaur’s Wife. She has cerebral palsy and lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she works as the Communications Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.
POP, by Simina Banu, delineates the intensities of a volatile relationship through a variety of lenses.The book invites the reader to journey both forward and backward in time, to retrace steps, solve word searches, and hold pages to the light.
Read on for a taste of POP and Simina’s thoughts on the poem ‘Critical Failure.’
POP began as a hodgepodge of short, fragmented pieces trying to capture moments of shifting emotions. In a sense, they were all failures. I attempted a variety of poetic forms searching for a structure that fit the feeling, but nothing quite got there. With time I realized that part of what was interesting was the failure itself—the varied, increasingly desperate attempts. Emotions could not be contained in the structure of a poetic form just as the relationship which had sparked them could not be contained and structured. It was this realization that led to the premise of the section titled ‘on separating from our poem.’
I’ve always been interested in the various rules and regulations of poetry: the sonnet, with its alternating moments of stress and unstress; the haiku, at once huge and tiny; the epic, with its mythical narrative arcs. I enjoy the way structure collaborates with the words themselves to create multiple layers of meaning. My favourite development, however, is when the poem breaks free. I am reminded of Phyllis Webb’s brilliant ‘Poetics Against the Angel of Death,’ where the speaker navigates—and escapes—all structural constraints to achieve a kind of liberty that is only emphasized by its formal demolition. I aimed toward a similar liberating energy in my work, to take a wrecking ball to past attempts at confinement and rebuild anew.
Simina Banu is a writer interested in interrogating her own experience with technology, consumerism, pop culture and the poetics of (un)translation. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including filling Station, untethered, In/Words Magazine and the Feathertale Review. In 2015, words(on)pages press published her first chapbook, where art. Her second chapbook, Tomorrow, adagio, will be released in 2019 through above/ground press. POP is her first full length collection of poetry. She lives and writes in Montreal.
The Pine Islands, written by Marion Poschmann and translated by Jen Calleja shows how a bad dream leads to a strange poetic pilgrimage through Japan in this playful and profound Booker International-shortlisted novel.
Curious to read more? Get a taste of The Pine Islands through the excerpt below!
When the curtain went up the actor was already standing in the middle of the stage. He wore a floor-length brocaded robe with a wide cloth sash passed around his waist, an enormous bow tied at his back. The years behind the white make-up couldn’t be discerned from the back of the auditorium. Delicate features, red lips, a visage of consummate elegance. He held a fan in his hand, and when it began to stir Yosa gripped Gilbert’s arm and held on to it. Gilbert stiffened, looked past Yosa and attempted to watch the action on the stage. He made an extreme effort but was unable to determine that anything was happening at all. The actor moved at a snail’s pace, he turned around himself infinitely slowly, put his foot forwards once extremely cautiously, let the fan sink a tiny fraction. If it was supposed to be a dance it was the most tedious dance Gilbert had ever seen, no mean feat when dancing was overwhelmingly boring for the spectator in the first place. Mathilda had once coerced him into accompanying her to a ballet performance, and he swore to himself after the first ten minutes never to go again, in case of doubt he should undermine his good nature, be tough, say no, he tormented himself through the whole one and a half hours, fidgeted in his seat, sucked on boiled sweets and at least succeeded in making sure Mathilda never approached him with such a suggestion ever again. However, when he compared the European ballet with the Japanese kabuki dance, ballet was frankly thigh-slapping, popular, primitive entertainment. The kabuki dancer moved in millimetres, he required many minutes to open his fan even halfway, it was like watching an amoeba for entertainment, and Gilbert clawed his hand – the small, cool hand of the Japanese man clasped to it – into the armrest, and bored his fingernails into the velvet.
Suddenly the curtain fell. Gilbert had managed to grasp not the slightest narrative, no progression, but Yosa relaxed, drew back his hand and informed him that the first piece had come to an end. It had been a quarter of an hour at most, which had nevertheless felt like an infinite expanse of time. The Japanese audience members sitting around them unpacked picnics and consumed them without leaving the velvet seats. Yosa offered him a small, sweet, rubbery ball made of rice flour wrapped in a salty oak leaf. Gilbert ate the sweet, leant back in his seat, listened to the prattling, boisterous multitude, and in a single blow he was pervaded by the tense anticipation of the audience. The Crossroads of Illusions – this is how Bashō had felt as he bid farewell to his previous life and was resigned to the idea that he would hike 3,000 miles. The practice of hiking as a journey through life, meaning that one stands at the crossroads and is able to choose whether one goes or stays, whether one keeps dreaming the dream one is currently dreaming or exchanges it for a different one. And, according to the teaching of Buddhism, when measured against the eternal truth, one choice is as unreal as the other. Gilbert now waited for the curtain to rise again. He was ready to give up all resistance. But he primly put his hands in his lap so that Yosa was unable to touch him.
The actor was now wearing a white robe with a hood that completely covered his face. He also concealed himself behind a parasol, which he half closed, then opened again, put down in the scenery, then picked back up. It was snowing on the stage, the actor’s feet, wearing white, split-toed tabi socks, pushed through the sparse flakes, the stand where he kept placing the parasol was covered with paperboard depicting a snowdrift. The set emitted an altogether depressive atmosphere, and Gilbert wondered whether this performance was really the best thing for Yosa. He himself was now eagerly waiting for the actor to take off the hood and once more show his feminine features. The slow-motion effect, he now realised, solely served the intensifying of a quasi-sacred concentration. And, in fact, the hood did eventually fall back. Gilbert clenched his hands together, eventually the white robe fell and unveiled flame-red brocade, there were multiple costume changes without a pause in the dancing, indeed two dark figures scurried around on the stage who, in their dark clothing, weren’t really there at all, and who, behind the slowly rotating parasol, released the actor of the sashes, the belts, ripped the upper layers of material from his body, and he burst out from behind the parasol in completely new garments. To Gilbert’s astonishment the costume changes took place in a matter of seconds, a real metamorphosis which called for an extraordinary amount of dexterity on behalf of the helpers, and enormous agility on the part of the dancer. His respect for the performance grew, because this finesse was also manifested in the gentle, slow-motion movements. He wasn’t entirely sure whether the woman on stage, whose intricate gestures he had grown to admire, should be the one he fell in love with or actually the man enacting this extraordinary control of his body, or whether he didn’t much more wish to be this lithesome actor himself, or, more specifically, to possess his exceptionally stunning beauty. Gilbert furtively tried to hold his own hand in such a perfectly graceful way in the dark auditorium, the way the dancer demonstrated, so utterly enticing, so convincingly feminine, which no woman on this planet would have been able to accomplish. Dear Mathilda, he formulated in the silence, it was an ambivalence that no one could match up to. No one at any rate who was real and alive.
Continue reading by purchasing a copy of The Pine Islandshere!
Marion Poschmann was born in Essen in 1969. Recognized as one of Germany’s foremost poets and novelists, she has won both of Germany’s premier poetry prizes. She is the author of four novels, the last three of which have been nominated for the German Book Prize, and she won the prestigious Wilhelm Raabe Literature Prize in 2013. The Pine Islands is her first novel to be translated into English. Learn more about Marion.
Jen Calleja is a writer, musician, and literary translator. She has translated works by Wim Wenders, Gregor Hens, Kerstin Hensel, and Michelle Steinbeck, and her translations have been featured in The New Yorker and The White Review, among others. She was the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library, and her reviews, articles, interviews, and essays have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, Modern Poetry in Translation, Brixton Review of Books, New Books in German, and elsewhere. Her first poetry collection, Serious Justice, was published by Test Centre in 2016. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter.
As everyone struggles to make sense of the COVID-19 outbreak and how to stay safe, a Toronto-based writing group, The 11th Floor Writers, held its March meeting using Google Hangouts. This allowed its members to still “meet” face-to-face and engage in a productive meeting without leaving home.
Virtual book club meetings with a “visiting” author might be one way for authors and book clubs to connect during these uncertain times. They allow book clubs to invite authors from across Canada. There is an abundance of technology that makes this possible. The key is to figure out which works best for individual book clubs and authors. With the exception of calling the author using a telephone, a virtual author visit requires an Internet connection, audio (speakers and microphones), a webcam, and a projector/computer so that the book club and the author can interact with each other.
To use Google Hangouts, one book club member (the host) needs to sign into a Gmail/Google account and go to Google Hangouts. There, hosts can invite members to be their contacts on Hangouts. They can only invite Gmail email addresses. Once the contacts are added, hosts can start a video chat and invite as many as 25 people to participate.
Tip: Hosts can also create a group of contacts to make inviting online book club members more efficient. While they can do all this through the web browser, they can also download the Google Hangouts app on any device and use the service that way, all of which is free. The drawback is that everyone involved in the chat must have a Google account, including the author.
Other options that most of our authors use include Skype, FaceTime, and conference calling.
Group Video Chat via Skype:
What you will need: The Skype app on a smartphone or computer.
Benefits: Easy for group chats; (up to 50 participants); free.
Cons: Video connection depends on your Internet connectivity (a slow or intermittent connection can lead to frozen screens or glitches).
Benefits: No need for any other technology/tech set–up.
Cons: Book clubs and authors cannot view each other; long distance fees may apply.
Etiquette for virtual meetings:
Test all technology before the meeting
Introduce everyone at the book club meeting to the author
Select a quiet area, free from distractions
Ensure all cell phones are on silent
Stick to your predetermined author visit time
Some final tips for book clubs:
Select one person to be the author’s key contact. Prepare for the virtual visit. Predetermine how long the visit will be (30-45 mins). Take into account any different time zones. Pick a format (e.g., do you want the author to read? Key talking points? Q&A?). Find out about any author fees or requests. Check the quality of your Internet connection, as well as the camera and sound. Have fun!
Some final tips for authors:
Check the quality of your Internet connection beforehand. Confirm your meeting times and the length of the online visit ahead of time. Discuss any author fees if applicable.
If this is your first virtual book club, practise! Look at the camera and not the screen. This will allow you to look out at the book club members. Ensure the space is quiet with minimal background distractions. Avoid interruptions. Turn off your cell phone and let others around you know that you are working. Have fun!
We’d love to hear from you!
Share your virtual book club meeting experiences! Tag us on social mediausing the hashtags #theauthorsbookclub and #inviteanauthor, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.