The young man sat in the old house looking at a magazine. He stopped reading when he suddenly noticed the bird songs coming in through the open window: some were warbled, seeming almost accidental, some pinched and shrill, and others exactly like the car alarms on the Polacks’ cars. Those alarms, which, when he heard them going off at all hours indiscriminate and intrusive, only made him wish that whoever was stealing the car would just please hurry up and steal it already. The songs all mixed together, and he thought they sounded like an opera. Something with a purpose, that if he listened closely enough—maybe with his eyes closed—he’d be able to figure out what the big deal was. Okay, birds, he thought, give it to me. But it wouldn’t come, even with his eyes closed.
First published in Joyland Retro vol. 1 no. 2, The Underside of Charm has been selected as a Notable Story in Best American Short Stories 2013.
Ava sat in bed with Gretchen, a woman she’d met the day before in an AA meeting. Gretchen had been sober for eight years and it was her bed, her story.
I know the stare of someone sleeping with their eyes open. My therapist has struggled to remain focused in my last few sessions. She’s always saying, That must have been very hard for you. And then that stare, that warm, out-of-focus stare. But this last time I had moved on from the dissection of parents and religion to the fact that I had finally had the conversation I’d been meaning to have with my girlfriend and it had gone well. I was feeling good. Open. Ready for past, present and future to align, on their way.
Jonathan Lethem's new novel, Dissident Gardens, is available now. "Walking the Moons" appeared on Joyland during its first year.
“Look,” says the mother of The Man Who Is Walking Around the Moons of Jupiter, “he’s going so fast.”
She snickers to herself and scuttles around the journalist to a table littered with wiring tools and fragmented mechanisms. She loops a long, tangled cord over her son’s intravenous tube and plugs one end into his headset, jostling him momentarily as she works it into the socket. His stride on the treadmill never falters. She runs the cord back to a modified four-track recorder sitting in the dust of the garage floor, then picks up the recorder’s microphone and switches it on.
I bought a 3D printer the other day. I’d been reading about them in magazines over the past year or so, watched videos of guys in lab coats huddle solemnly around fabricated guns and waffles, and when I saw one on eBay I snapped it up without hesitating. It wasn’t listed as a 3D printer but a “dual extrusion autoforge.” When UPS rang downstairs I only nodded and signed my name, the same as if it were a shipment of boxer shorts.
Dad's old college buddy, Rick Savage of Savage Motor Cars, was there to greet me at the Las Vegas airport, dressed as sleekly as a rotund man of 54 could in a navy blue suit and diamond-patterned tie. "Well, if you aren't the spitting image of your old man," he said with a hand outstretched.
Excerpted from the complete novel manuscript, Everything I Want You to Be.
In New York, it’s not the changing leaves that indicate fall is in full swing. Regardless of how much time you spend with chameleon pigments while walking through Prospect Park, trees aren’t the ultimate barometer. It’s not the texture of the air, either; sure, it doesn’t hang with paralyzing humidity as it does through the summer, but cool breezes off the water and steamy air vents at service hatches manipulate the temperature year-round. Quite simply, you can’t trust what your senses feed you.
Megan ‘The Love of God’ Jeffries moved her finger. Click. The subject of the email read Please proofread the attached cover letter (ALIGNMENT ISSUE: AN ISSUE AT ALL?). New email calmed her. She scrolled with the same finger and read the email thread. Fifteen people including herself were attached. The office was quiet in a purr of central air, Xerox machines, and the hidden fans of computers. Megan continued petting the scroll-wheel of her mouse.
Moving outward from their cubicles came the voices of Tanya, Carol, and Cheryl.
“Hey, what’s everyone doing for lunch?”
“I like egg rolls.”
“I’m good. Brought my lunch.”
“Oh, whaja’ bring?”
We've reposted this story from our archives in advance of this month's edition of the Truth & Fiction podcast with guest James Greer. This very funny and insightful episode airs Thursday, May 9. More info here.
Even the sun runs late in Paris. In the pre-bloom dark, from an unshuttered window five stories above the street, Thomas Early could hear the Turks on the sidewalk arguing about attar of Damask rose. In Turkey the production of attar is strictly regulated by a state-run collective, but these guys were rogue producers, distilling in moist cellars the fragrant oil that had, in the past, both started wars and ended them.
I’d stepped into the courtyard of Café Amelie to take the call from Hannah but I could only make out every third word she said: Sam, the police, hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Mississippi. Sam was always getting into it with the police and I couldn’t even tell if Hannah was talking to me or to Nick or to someone else at the bar. She hung up mid-sentence.
My father’s friend had taken me out to lunch because he was in New Orleans for a lawyer convention, and he’d been instructed by my mother to feed me and report back to her. I could see him through the window dabbing his mustache with the napkin every seven seconds like he was checking the rearview mirror. I came back inside and finished my plate of oysters Rockefeller, chewing slowly so that he would do all the talking.