Michael Hickins - The 11 linked stories in this collection form a bizarre and sometimes baffling picaresque tale. In each story the first-person narrator is presumably Michael Missing (a.k.a. Michael Famous), but he moves inexplicably from present-day New York to early 19th-century Louisiana (where he is secretary, surgeon, and lover to the pirate Jean Lafitte). In various manifestations Michael is a minor-league baseball player, drug runner, hired killer, and candidate for president

Michael Hickins, The Actual Adventures of Michael MissingiUniverse, 2000.


Michael Missing, the name of eleven different young men in various states of unrest, is the linked but unrelated protagonist of these wry and angry talesa hit man, the cabin boy of 19th century French pirate Jean Lafitte, erstwhile baseball hero and the man who would be President of France, a frustrated salesman who loses an evening with Captain Kirk in the unrequited hope of laying the town slut of Scarsdale. Readers will shudder as, to their dismay, they recognize themselves, or at least part of themselves, in the naïve and angry young man who sincerely wishes things were different, and who regrets he has never overheard someone say, Michael is a real good guy. A criminally funny and perceptive literary debut.

"Beneath the violence are wise and wryly funny tales of survival. For some readers, the beauty of such images as "I wanted to stifle my old girlfriend to death with the thick yarn of my voice," will not mitigate lurid rapes and murders. But they may, at least, promote interest in this New York City-born author's next move." —Sara Nelson

"I am astonished by this first work of fiction; Missing, we discover, uses words as weapons of survival." Irving Malin

"Hickins is no moralist. He merely presents to us in fiction the unprovoked, unfocused wrath we increasingly encounter in everyday life." —Rex Roberts

The 11 slick, sophomoric tales in this slender collection follow the predictable grooves of brat-pack fiction. The wisecracking, foul-mouthed narrator--in some incarnations a teenager, sometimes in his early 20s--oozes unearned, fashionable cynicism and wears many personas. As "Michael Famous," he bashes in a man's skull with a baseball bat with calm remorselessness and elation. As "Michael Missingeok ," he is right-hand man and lover of a 19th-century French pirate-rapist. In one story, Missing asks his aunt what it was like to be a prostitute, then has sex with her, then hauls cocaine and stolen goods for his uncle; in another, he threatens a misbehaving little girl by holding a gun to her head; in yet another, he recalls posing with a dead dog for a photograph, then has fetishistic sex with his eighth-grade teacher. Other pieces attempt satirical commentaries on baseball, hippies and the art world. In their sudden transitions, flip tone, gratuitous sex and violence, these snide stories resemble "underground" comics--and are just as two-dimensional. - Publishers Weekly

The 11 linked stories in this collection form a bizarre and sometimes baffling picaresque tale. In each story the first-person narrator is presumably Michael Missing (a.k.a. Michael Famous), but he moves inexplicably from present-day New York to early 19th-century Louisiana (where he is secretary, surgeon, and lover to the pirate Jean Lafitte). In various manifestations Michael is a minor-league baseball player, drug runner, hired killer, and candidate for president. The typical picaresque hero remains endearing because his misdeeds are less vicious than those of society, but Michael aptly describes himself as mean, cynical, and hard to like. Hickins's episodes are outrageously inventive, but the book's brutality usually overwhelms its comedy. - Albert E. Wilhelm

Michael Missing, the violent, lout-fetishist con-man antihero of these 11 linked stories may be the nastiest fictional figure this side of Bret Easton Ellis. He hates his mom, lusts after his sister and thinks nothing of crushing a stranger's skull with a baseball bat. If books were rated, this one would get an X for language alone.
But to lump these stories with other nihilistic young authors' fiction is to do a disservice to Hickins, who has more than shock value in mind. Beneath the violence are wise—and wryly funny—tales of survival. "In my sleep," Hick-ins writes, "my dreams were still a kid's. Awake, it was a question of control, hiding what I felt, and never feeling afraid. Anybody can be an adult."
For all his conning and grifting, Missing knows a few things about life: "I had...Tranquila's necklace as a reminder of that scarce emotion, sentiment" and about himself: "At least now I won't have to tell her the truth about my job. And that I have never sung with the boys. And that I have never held a friend to comfort his grief. And that I have never overheard someone say, 'Michael is a real good guy.' "
For some readers, the beauty of such images as "I wanted to stifle my old girlfriend to death with the thick yarn of my voice," will not mitigate lurid rapes and murders. But they may, at least, provoke interest in this first-time New York City—born author's next move. - www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20115325,00.html

One of Michael Hickins’ stories from The 1/4ly issue 13, “Summer Romance,” has stuck in our mind like old bubbergum on a used Reboks, a story we have re-read many times over the years, have read out out loud to family and lovers and enemies alike…and why? It’s a fine story, but is it great? Perhaps, when we first read it in 1989, we were in a place of life that resembled the events in Hickins’ story.
Every 1/4ly Hickins story was a treat from then.
We must have missed the 1991 publication date of The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing, because we did not find a copy, or bought one, until a decade later, in a remainder bin…a fine specimen of cover art by the unsinkable Chip Kidd, who did many wonderful covers for half of Lish’s Knopf books, plus 1/4ly covers.
Most of the nine stories in this slim volume (127 pages) were first seen in The 1/4ly; Lish had the manuscript since 1987 and its trip to a 1991 publication was no easy task, for writer and editor.  The stories may seem “different” from what Lish usually acquired, their atmosphere and sensibility grounded in the hardboiled crime genre, but with a slipstream feel, transcending the genre cubbyhole.

One might categorize this volume as a novel told in stories, akin to Sam Michel’s Under the Light that Lish published in 1991.  The nine tales are all told by “Michael,” a young man whose adventures include playing baseball, wielding a gun, having incestuous moments with aunts and cousins, and other kinky sexual encounters.  To say “coming of age” would not be untrue. Look at this from “The Last Donna” and how young Michael narrates the beginnings of his fetish for a woman’s feet:
The next time, Mrs. Klein seemed to know what I wanted.
“Take your pants off,” she ordered.
She lifted her dress over her head and kept hr bra, red panties, and pumps on.
“Is this what you want?”
“Yeah,” I croaked.
She pointed her foot at me and said, “Lick it with the shoe on.”
I licked th smooth red varnish on the big toe, and then the instep laced with thin blue veins. Then I took off her shoe.
“I know just what you want,” she said, wiggling her toes just out of reach of my lips. (p. 67)
In “Summer Romance,” MM pontificates about a group in a community house in San Francisco:
They talked as if the 60s were still going on.
They talked as if everything had just ended. As if there were fresh scores to be settled. As if it still mattered who was right. As if apathy was still the major obstacle we were all talking about.
Nostalgia for when they were just starting to be nostalgic.
Rubbing the sands of time in old wounds.
Hey, you people had your chance. You blew it. Fuck you. Move over. You had the right idea. Now let me at it.  (p. 84)
The book ends with a longish story, “The Profound Convictions of Michael Famous,” where a ten-year-old Michael seems to work as a hitman — who would ever suspect a kid? Or is he a kid? Maybe he just looks young, and he ages a year every week.
Later that day, an old cart lady told me the end of the world was coming.  I was pretty excited. It was something I didn’t want to miss […] I went to bed and tried to keep my eyes open. I didn’t even know what the end of the world was supposed to look like. (p. 111)

We had the chance to correspond with the actual Michael Missing (and Michael Famous) a few years ago. He told us the curious adventures the manuscript of this book took, and how through Gordon Lish, he became a husband and a father…with his kind permission, we reprint the email Mr. Hickins sent, one that we are sure you will find informative and entertaining:
 Gordon Lish used to teach at Columbia when I went there, both in college and grad school (79-83; then 84-86), and he had a rep for being a real asshole and not helpful to writers who didn’t suit his idiosyncratic style, so I avoided him studiously. I lived in France from 85/86 through 1997. I wrote the Michael Missing stories there and started trying to sell the collection. I would get rejected and write back to the editor saying, “well, thanks for reading; thanks for saying this is good but not for you; who do you think it might be good for if not you?” They would always reply with a name, and I would write to that person, saying so and so suggested I send this to you. Eventually I sent it to someone at Dell, a Jane something, and I said, I’ll be visiting NY in September, so I’ll drop by and see you. I guess people felt obligated to deal with me nicely because I was living in France. Anyway, she met me with the same story and suggested I send it to Gordon. “He likes young writers,” she said.
He later told me he called her to thank her for sending me along. “She said, ‘oh I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever read, but I didn’t know what to tell him, so I sent him over to you.'”
Gordon loved telling me that story.
He often asked me to take his classes–he said he wouldn’t charge me–but I never took him up on the offer. I had a kid in France to support and, besides, I was still wary of him getting too far inside my head.
But we got along very well for a time, and he of course supported my writing. He told me that he paid me more for my stories than anyone else (it was $100 rather than $50), and he really went to the mat for me once Sonny Mehta took over at Knopf. They did not get along. After awaiting approval for my book, Gordon finally told me he wrote Sonny a memo saying that unless he heard otherwise, he was going to go ahead and publish the book. And that’s what happened.
Aside from Backswing of the Slugger, and the final Michael Famous story, both of which he edited and cut back a little, he left most of my stories completely untouched.
When MM came out in the spring of 91, I came to NY to do a reading he had arranged for me at the New York Public Library. There must have been two dozen people present, including folks who came to see the other person on the program read, and a few homeless people who were sleeping. My agent at the time was Kim Witherspoon (Gordon recommended me) and she brought a few of her clients–Bill Tester, Peter Christopher, Diane Desanders among others.
We all went out for drinks afterwards, and Diane, who had written a story called “The Fucking Fuck I used to Fuck,” approached me and said her “race car driving, French speaking daughter” and her wanted to open a restaurant in France, and could they come and buy me dinner and pick my brains about living in France and such.
I said sure, and that fall they came and I met Molly. Now, at the time, I was in the middle of breaking up with my son’s mother, so nothing came of that except for dinner. But a year later, I went back to NYC for vacation and called Diane to reciprocate and ask her out to lunch. She offered to make me lunch at her place instead, and said that Molly was around and invited her too. During lunch, we talked a little about Gordon because Diane was taking his class, and he was acting strangely, and wouldn’t pull the trigger on her book. He kept asking her for the key to her apartment. She’d say, ‘what do you want it for Gordon?’ and he’d say, ‘you know what I want it for Desanders.’ No I don’t, tell me, and so forth.
Well, I walked Molly home after lunch and that was the last anyone saw of me that week. We decided to get married and do the restaurant thing together. I had an appointment with Gordon and went to see him, of course, flying high on sex fumes and other delirium. I sauntered into his office and plopped myself on a chair. “Hey Gordon! You’ll never guess whom I’m going to marry and open a restaurant with! Molly Elliott, Diane Desanders’ daughter!”
At which point Gordon half-rose from his chair behind the desk, pounded his fist on the table and said, “How come you get to have the daughter and I can’t get the mother?”
I kind of laughed and maybe we changed the subject. He hustled me out of his office pretty quickly. Next manuscript I sent him (he asked me to write a novel instead of stories because “that’s where the big dogs piss”), he returned with just a scribbled ‘Good luck in the restaurant business. –G’ on a Knopf-headed note.
Diane invited me to a party at 4 Walls 8 Windows to celebrate the fact that they had signed Gordon to a book deal for X number of books. I went up to him and said hello, and he said, “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
That was the last time I saw him, and it really hurt my feelings, because he really acted like he’d never seen me before in his life, and to me, well, he was the only person who ever validated that I was a good writer. It’s been very hard since then, because I’ve probably written 4 or 5 novels that could have been but haven’t been published. I finally published one of them myself. Sometimes I think Gordon published me because he was crazy, or because he was trying to prove a point, either to Sonny, or with the Q experiment, to the publishing industry as a whole, that literature is this giant fabric and that it can be more than the handful of people that they deign to accredit.

We have heard similar accounts, of Lish not publicly remembering writers he knew in the past, helped, published, defiled…is it faulty memory or part of Lish’s iconosclasticism? gordonlisheditedthis.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/the-actual-adventures-of-michael-missing-michael-hickins-and-the-lish-connection/

Michael Hickins, The What Do You Know Contest, mynameisbooks, 2012.

A coming-of-age novel narrated by 43 year-old Max, whose contemporary crisis emerges as footnote to the history.
The setting is Queens, New York, 1974. It is the spring of his bar-mitzvah, his sister Lizzie is involved with dangerous drug dealers, his father is dying of cancer, and Max suffers from a lack of respect from his peers.
As an adult, Max works for a trade fashion newspaper to support his wife and daughter, and is frustrated by the chasm between his job and his dream of someday winning a Pulitzer Prize, as well as by the sexual tension between himself and his wife Nicole. An unlikely affair with his former English teacher is the catalyst that brings him to the realization that he isn't a sap for sticking to his principles.

Drugs! Treachery! Painted toenails! In this story we follow Max’s recounting of his crucible childhood spring and summer of ’74, but while we do that, the now-grownup Max’s current bullshit bubbles to the surface. A coming of age story told the way only Michael Hickins can tell it.
Special thanks to Mr. Hickins for composing the secondary narrative entirely in Microsoft Word footnotes, which I had to surgically excise and restitch into the narrative proper. I hope you enjoy the interstitial story. Don’t forget, Prime Kindlers can always borrow the book from the Kindle Lending Library.

I’m really excited to be able to share my latest novel, The What Do You Know Contest, which is now available as a Kindle book. The title, as those of you who grew up in New York in the ’60s and ’70s probably remember, is inspired by a contest held by the Board of Ed every year, and which for a few of us truly pathetic dweebers, was a chance at some kind of validation.
It was one of those contests where you compete first against your homeroom, then your grade, and finally all the way to some state-wide Armageddon of knowledge.
The reason I wanted to write this story, and the reason I named it that way, is because I wanted to explore ideas like the value of intrinsic knowledge, the judgment of others, the quest for some kind of religious truth, and to get at the prayer I think hovers on the lips of every person at some point in their lives: I hope to whatever is holy that I’m getting this right.
“This” meaning your entire apprehension of the world, your personal ontology; that the sacrifices and the choices you’ve made are what you’d do all over again if you ever get the chance to die, know whatever there is to be known, and then get to be reborn with the chance to make the same choices all over again.
That’s why the story is narrated by the adult Max, who reveals — in footnotes to the story of the year of the Contest — a midlife crisis that reflects his ongoing desire for validation and an affirmation that he isn’t, after all, a sap. His adult life is in many ways a parallel to his adolescent life, with many of the same types of choices and ramifications.
Even as kids, too many of the choices we make have long-term ramifications. And many of the yearnings we have as adults seem as unreasonable and impossible to achieve as the dreams we have as kids. There’s no easy part of life. Max’s dreams of winning back his girl, striking out the best high school baseball player in the city, or saving his sister from her drug-dealing boyfriend and getting involved with the dog-walking lady, a beautiful and mysterious young woman who lives in his neighborhood, are no more or less inconsequential than his desire to win the Nobel Peace Prize thanks to his Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalism while bedding the woman of his dreams.
Oh yeah, the other thing is Max’s seemingly insatiable desire for sex — another trait that follows him from high school to his career as a journalist. So there’s some fairly graphic sex in this story — in case  you were thinking of buying this for your 13-year old.
I hope you try it out — and I hope you like it. -michaelmissing.com/2012/06/well-what-do-you-know/

Michael Hickins, Blomqvist, mynameisbooks; 2 ed., 2011. 

Set in 11th Century Europe, Blomqvist is narrated by the protagonist’s devoted amanuensis, faithful standard-bearer, and unrequited lover, Axel Oxensteirna.

Axel tells us the story of Blomqvist’s search for his betrothed, but in the telling, he also bares his own struggle to find his spiritual footing in a confusing and shifting world.

Part historical fiction, part mystical meditation, this Mediterranean odyssey traces the course of human history in matters that are relevant to this day.

Michael Hickins, Lion Heartbreak, mynameisbooks, 2011.

Nothing hurts a lion more than when he loses his pride. Life nails you to the ground. New story, same as the last. You try to tell the kids, but they just don't feel the need to listen. Fuckers figure they'll live forever. Having trouble sorting your life out? Try being a lion, for chrissakes.

Michael Hickins, Affair, mynameisbooks, 2011.

A frustrated salesman loses an evening with Captain Kirk in the unrequited hope of laying the town slut of Scarsdale. Readers will shudder as, to their dismay, they recognize themselves, or at least part of themselves, in the naïve and angry young man who sincerely wishes things were different, and who regrets he has never overheard someone say, "Michael is a real good guy."


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