Sean Lovelace - Leukemia is a disease wherein the white cells run amuck and drink too much cheap beer, urinate in public and hang from motel balcony

Sean Lovelace, How Some People Like Their Eggs (Rose Metal Press, 2009)

«How Some People Like Their Eggs is a collection of 10 flash fictions about things falling apart, wrung out wrong, raveling and unraveling, from missing woodchucks to train-struck ferrets, from Bonnie and Clyde to Charlie Brown (a notorious fatalist and depressive), from meteorites to bear attacks to gunplay in the bait shop. And so on to flash fiction worlds of talking crows, percolating trees, Che Guevara’s omelets, and Ingrid Bergman’s sex life. These stories are light and yet succulent like a Cornish hen, whatever that means. How does an amphibian know the moment it’s OK to unfold the lungs? Wait. These stories are small but so is a hydrogen atom. Open these pages, split them apart, and BOOM. There you go. Enjoy.»

“Lovelace takes on Destiny, Luck, and Fate in How Some People Like Their Eggs. His little stories seek out these big-guy concepts and bring them down like in an old movie filled with gangsters, trench coats, cigarettes, and tough-talking women with nice legs—using smart dialogue and wit.”— Sherrie Flick

«Sean Lovelace is clever. His chapbook How Some People Like Their Eggs, the winner of the 2009 Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest, is brimming with shrewd, energetic comparisons: two people aimlessly walk “like two paper cups blown across a grassy courtyard”; bubbles in beer rise “like glass elevators”; a pamphlet makes someone’s grip feel like “pin-pulled grenades.” Leukemia is described as a “disease wherein the white cells run amuck and drink too much cheap beer and urinate in public and hang from motel balconies and generally harm themselves and others like teenagers on spring break in Florida.” And all this comes from the opening story.
Sean Lovelace is funny. Here he offers excerpts from Charlie Brown’s diary. Yes, that Charlie Brown, the bald kid with a beagle named, well, you know. CB wakes up each day to “birds coughing” and reflects that his familiar refrain Good grief is “[a]n oxymoron, or maybe life.” Then there’s the story of a guy obsessed with bocce, who feels like “a cloud in someone else’s dream.” With inimitable style, Lovelace describes a stomach as “flopping like a halibut in an ice chest,” and rain falling on a roof “like a giant herd of tiny, tiny horses running circles of free-living gallop.”
In the title story, Lovelace describes how General Patton, Yogi Berra, Andy Warhol, Howard Hughes, Bonnie Parker, and Archduke (take a breath) Franz Ferdinand Karl Anikò Belschwitz Mòric Bálint Szilveszter Gömpi Maurice Bzoch János Frajkor Ludwig Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen (why Giuermo, Strezpek, Pinche, and van Haverbeke are left off is never answered) like their eggs served. For instance, Billie Holiday likes hers
Sunny Side Up, inverted. Like two dreams dropped from a great height. Big and round and shiny and flat. Served with a glass of rusty tap water. Served fourteen minutes after cooking. While cooling. While cool.
And most astutely of all, Lovelace, recognizing the famed genius’s inscrutability, observes that “[n]o human being knows how Thelonius Monk likes his eggs.
Blood Sisters video Sean Lovelace slips easily between fantasy and reality, enough to make your own world spin. Besides members of the Peanuts gang, Ingrid Bergman makes a salacious appearance in “A Sigh is Just a Sigh.” You’ll also find Humphrey Bogart, admonishing that “a man needs to face what he’s made for himself.” In another story, a lawnmower gives a man “a don’t-even-think-about-it” look. How convincing the pathetic (remember the term is not pejorative) fallacies, how easy to suspend disbelief here.
And while Lovelace is a trickster and a jokester, he’s also empathetic, for even when his stories pirouette, go pyrotechnic, and slip the stream, he goes beneath the surfaces of things and finds as much gold as he does mud, lava, and earthworms. In “Crow Hunting,” Lovelace waxes lyrical and the results are masterful. You can’t help but sway to this line describing reappearing crows: “that final image, spiraling frame, buckling wings and heart, the curvature of returning.” Like Anne Sexton’s eggs, these stories “bloom and bleed.” And if you squint, you too might just see “a peony, a water clock, a lioness clutching at a crow,” swimming inside of them.
You could call these short stories, “short shorts,” without, of course, that Nair commercial from the eighties rattling your brain case; better yet, call these “flash fictions.” Actually, no, these are the word made flash. To tweak a Hilaire Belloc quote, “just as there is nothing between the admirable omelet and the intolerable,” so it is with fiction. And with How Some People Like Their Eggs we get the best of both feasts: culinary and literary.» —John Madera

«It has been said the hallmark of a great cook is one who can prepare the perfect egg. Eggs are tricky little things, particularly because it seems so simple. Boil in water. Fry in pan. Fry in pan while vigorously beating the egg about. Whisk in bowl then pour in pan with other delicious ingredients. But eggs are temperamental. Timing matters. The heat of the pan matters. The quality of your ingredients matters. There’s nothing at all easy about eggs. Writing is the same way. If you are literate, you can put some words together and call it writing but for it to make sense, for it to do more than act as words on a page, you have to be a great writer.
The ten stories in Sean Lovelace’s chapbook How Some People Like Their Eggs, winner of the Rose Metal Press Third Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, evidence the work of a great writer. Each story is unique in voice but not so different that the stories feel like they’ve been written by different writers. In many chapbooks, you get the sense you’re reading the same story differently. That was not the case here.
The stories in this collection start as one thing and end up as something completely different. Meteorite begins with a brief narrative about the only recorded meteorite to hit a human but quickly evolves into a story of two people at a restaurant that serves bad food. One of them has been stricken with cancer. The other doesn’t know what to say. There is wonderful subtlety in this story. For example,”Paige eats everything and says her stomach kind of hurts and I say I bet it kind of hurts. She says I’d win that bet and then orders the entire dessert menu, including an ice cream pie called Chocolate to Die For.” There is so much subtext in those two lines given the context of the story. It a masterful choice of words and a brilliant way to make the most of a short short form. Throughout the collection I was impressed by the deliberate use of language.
Charlie Brown’s Diary: Excerpts is clever, charming and unexpected. The tone of it captures Charlie Brown’s melancholic neuroses and while not everyone may read the story this way, I found it terribly moving and more than anything that’s always what I want from stories. I want to be moved. The title story is equally witty and moving, instructing how various figures take their eggs. You may be interested to know Che Guevara likes a bold omelet while Howard Hughes would like his steam-based in an autoclave.
My favorite story in the chapbook is I Love Bocce, about a nurse who loves bocce and yearns to have people understand the depth and earnestness of his feelings. Over an operating table, the doctors and nurses in attendance begin discussing the merits of bocce when an oveerager medical student says, “I played in Haiti, with coconuts, during a tournament. I actually grouped the balls so close that several laws of physics were altered.” His futile statement is ignored and understood for what it is. Surgery continues. It is a perfect moment in a series of perfect moments throughout the story.
Ultimately, this collection is witty, at times tender, at times magical, but always a fine example of how wonderful short short stories are when well-executed. In reading How Some People Like Their Eggs, I was reminded of Mozart and the Marriage of Figaro and how in one scene the score moves from aria to duet to trio to quartet to quintet until twenty voices are singing in perfect harmony. This collection is like that composition. Every word, every sentence, every story work together in perfect harmony.
I am allergic to eggs. When I eat them I get nauseous and itchy and sick in ways you don’t want to read about. When I could eat eggs, I enjoyed them scrambled a bit soft (not hard scrambled, dry and flaky), with a bit of raw salt and pepper. I also enjoyed hard boiled eggs because I liked to remove the hardened yolk in one piece and pretend it was a marble. That’s weird. I know. But now you know how I like my eggs. It was inevitable, that.» - Roxane Gay

«If I was Sean Lovelace, I might begin my review in the persona of Humphrey Bogart, Snoopy or a tree that grows coffee pots, enticing you in with the comic and seemingly preposterious, and then, once I have ensnared you, hitting you with something far darker, leaving an indelible impression. Such are Lovelace's short short stories. Don't be fooled by his pretty-sounded surname, he is not going to let you off easily.Thank goodness.
How Some People Like Their Eggs is an excellent example of the impact of the order of stories in a collection. I began the first story, Meteorite, having never read anything by Lovelace. The first paragraph tells of the "only recorded meteorite to actually hit a human being", the human in question being "a woman with hair wrapped high like a hornet's nest". I wondered where this might go. Lovelace lulls you gently for a moment, then leukemia is mentioned and you are suddenly aware that you are not where you expected, that this is not funny. But Lovelace does not wallow in pathos. This story is deeply real, made up of aborted attempts at conversation, apparent tangents that are not tangential ("two sorority girls stroll by looking absolutely themselves"), the most ridiculous ("The Ten Commandments for Cancer Survival") and an ending which, in saying so little, says everything.
What beginning with this story does is set the tone for the other 9 stories, the longest of which is six (smaller than normal) pages. The reader now expects oddities not just for comedy's sake, but accompanied by a punch in the gut, a more disturbing message.
It may be a cliche, but Lovelace does more in a few pages than many a "short" story writer I have encountered. I think it would be a disservice to attempt to precis any of the short shorts here, and a shame to spoil the delight of coming to them fresh. I will say that flash fiction lends itself extremely well to being re-read again and again to probe it further. I read the book straight through, then dipped in and out, and then read it again in a different order, the first story and then the last, the second and the second-to-last, working my way to the middle of the book.
Lovelace's writing makes excellent use of repetition: in Meteorite, for example, there are three mentions in three pages of cups, paper and plastic, a symbol, perhaps, of emptiness and disposability?; in Charlie Brown's Diary: Excerpts, each diary entry begins with the same bizarre phrase: "I wake, and hear the birds coughing". His openings can bowl you over: "My girlfriend was home from work, at least two hours late, and three inches shorter, which meant it had been a tough day." (Molasses).
There were one or two stories that didn't leave as indelible a mark as the rest, and I wondered if perhaps it was because I didn't follow certain American pop cuture references, or whether I had read them all too quickly without pausing, or simply because taste is subjective and I don't think I have ever enjoyed or been moved by every single story in a collection.
Sean Lovelace is an author whose work I shall definitely seek out, now that I've been formally introduced. Lovelace is a professor of creative writing, and I envy his students, having a teacher whose own writing is one of the clearest examples of creativity I've had the pleasure to review.» - Tania Hershman

"Cher orders her eggs coddled. Snoopy indulges in uncomfortable underwater sex. Marilyn Monroe sates her tastebuds with the cotton from an asthma inhaler. In his first chapbook of short short fiction, Sean Lovelace weaves the desires of pop-culture icons into an essentially sad, everyday world that anticipates death at every moment. The ten shorts of this collection open with a meteorite that strikes a woman in the thigh; whether it is divine providence or simply chance is a question that reverberates throughout the chapbook.
In the strongest story, “A Sigh Is Just a Sigh,” a husband and wife argue over whether anyone actually utters the immortal “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca. The answer (no) is not important. As if in their own private movie, commandeering full editorial control, Lovelace’s characters revise their lives at will. Ingrid Bergman seduces the husband in four separate lines of dialogue, like different takes improvised for a DVD gag reel. Another man works through many responses to his friend’s leukemia, until he settles on silence.
But Lovelace presents all of these alternate dimensions as if all the choices were possible, the roads less traveled as clear as the ones taken. The final story, “Endings,” offers multiple conclusions for some of its victims: “On the way home they either stop by Starbucks, run out of gas, or explode.” Cappuccino and combustion carry the same weight. Like a choose-your-own-adventure game, the ending is inevitable, yet which ending ultimately comes to pass doesn’t really matter.
These characters see what they want, imagining fictions such as a Hollywood fog sweeping through the mise-en-scène. A surgeon who “wasn’t well” starts a conversation during operation about loving bocce; it seems too absurd to have happened, yet it’s how he remembers it. The whole is greater than its parts: some stories feel disjointed (”Molasses”) or, in the case of “Charlie Brown’s Diary: Excerpts,” too precocious to be truly clever. But even Charlie Brown is aware he’s a mere cartoon somehow existing in our world. Lovelace writes about daily, mundane things-from Wal-Marts and traffic accidents to how eggs are cooked-then asks, is that what real life’s about?" - Joshua Garstka

An excerpt:

Sean Lovelace, "So, This Is Drink" (in Diagram )

«I do not know if Sean Lovelace considers himself a poet or a fiction writer, or if he thinks the twelve numbered sections of "So, This Is Drink" are poems or stories. I don’t know that it matters outside of the most academic circles, those who concern themselves with genre and school instead of just reading a piece, just listening to it, feeling the movement beneath the stark black letters. From the first section through the last, Lovelace’s prose sparkles, piling images upon images, going back, cutting forward, always retaining the razor’s edge of the writer’s vital wit. "So, This Is Drink" is divided into twelve sections, and this is the first:
As for kinship, my liver. (It whispers in my sleep.) As for bedding, a futon mattress and floor. As for music, Frank Sinatra, who sings, "Alcohol is your enemy, but you should love your enemies." As for drink, one Mexican beer in the refrigerator. The linoleum sags under pyramids of empty cabernet. Amber quart bottles squat in cobweb corners, their silvery caps astray, thrown sparks of phosphorous, spinning beneath the stove, under bookshelves, wadded shirts, the waxy gravy of the kitchen sink. The blender is cracked, swollen with residue, a milky orange sky, then clear demarcation, a horizon, most likely rum. The sun fills the room; sweat pulls from my skin. I squint; the windows glare yellow, mean—they bellow light. The sun wears the face of Jesus. The sun says, "Name my first miracle."
"Name my first miracle" is a hell of a way to start a story (and an easy question, if you’re a good Catholic boy like myself). Like the biblical water turned to wine, Lovelace’s story is full of hallucinatory changelings: "The bottles... morphed, this morning, into artillery shells," "Vodka is translucent for an instant, frozen, a flicker of time. It then turns to blueberries, which immediately ferment, and the shadows of black swans appear..." Just as Christ’s first miracle began his transformation from man into God, so do the transformations surrounding the narrator signal his descent into alcoholic delusion.
Each section brings with its own mood, its own rules. Section 5 has an orderly feel to it, the categorizing examination of a life, "the power of a routine"—it is one of two sections that contains a list, exhibiting surety instead of confusion, a reckoning of what has been lost so far. In this section there are also preferences disguised as rules, such as "Green glass is a good glass. I like to tip twenty percent, always. I like jukeboxes and girls with vertical hair. Summer, light beer; winter stout." There are proper ways to conduct oneself, even at this stage. There are methods to the madness, if it is madness. The following section considers societal rules (as opposed to personal ones), disregarding the ones that get in the way of the narrator’s drinking in favor of looser propositions.
As the work continues, we eventually reach the twelfth section, a midnight exposure where the narrator prays to be hidden, asking for someone to "hide me. Hide me tufted, in a foxhole, limbs tight. Hide me naked below a pile of musty quilts, a willow, or a stream-side oak; let my energy enter its roots, transfer—Newton's law." There is no conclusion here, no answers to the confusion and despair that has invaded the work from the first sentence onwards. Instead it ends with a series of cyclical images, suggesting not an end to drink, to despair, to loneliness, but instead an inevitable repeat of the day’s complications. In Lovelace’s story, there is no search for redemption or epiphany—Instead there is only the paranoid, hopefully peering through dirty windows at a world slowly getting drunk, slowly passing out, sad and lonely, watching and waiting for something to change.» - Matt Bell


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