Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Real to Reel


Real to Reel
by Lidia Yuknavitch

Paperback
2003
Price: $13.95

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This third collection of fictions by Lidia Yuknavitch examines significance and meaning through a cinematic lens. With an intelligence that scalds every pretense and surface, her camera pans across subjects as varied as Keanu Reeves and Siberian prison labor. She zooms in on drug addiction, crime, sex of all flavors, trauma, torture, rock and roll, and art, finding untried angles, alien shapes.


Yuknavitch's fictions trace the inner lives of characters teetering on edges—death, birth, love, understanding—but never flinching at the spectacle of their violent descent. Her prose style is mesmerizing and fluid, deep and dangerous. These are unforgettable fabrications by the writer and verbal cinematographer at her best.


"This is not a book for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. The skill of the writer is impressive and there can be no doubt concerning her formidable ability."—The Compulsive Reader


"Yuknavitch's third collection continues her exploration, in the grand spirit of Acker and Atwood, of feminist and postfeminist issues... Each story is a gem that could not have been written by anybody but Lidia Yuknavitch; i.e., there is a powerful, singular voice at work."—Review of Contemporary Fiction


"Yuknavitch's imaginative stories have a penchant for irony. They delve deep into a materialistic culture that is not just obsessed with itself, but obsessed with its obsessions."—American Book Review


"For anyone looking for a unique and thought-provoking book, or interested in new ways of both writing and viewing the world, this collection could be it." —NewPages


Excerpt


Beatings


His face has the look of a boxer's mug, but only in certain light, particularly in winter, when shadows and darks and lights stand out in stark contrast from one another. Only when winter gives way to a single barren tree against an almost white sky, or a boulder shoulders its own outline against snow. His fighter's face emerges or recedes according to the light. So too do his eyes, the cups of fatigue underneath each giving way to the flattened spot just above the nose, the jaw clenching and unclenching itself while eating, or fighting, or fucking, or sleeping. You wonder where you have seen this face before, and then you think, his face echoes movies you can picture, men in movies beating back the world, Deniro in Raging Bull, Stallone in Rocky, Brando in On the Waterfront. At first this seems to be untrue, but the more you watch him move, at night, working out, pushing the body against darkness and winter cold, the more it is true, it is the film of a man and not the man, or it is the man caught on film repeating himself. Any image of a man which is against itself, which you suddenly see is any image of a man.


Outside in the gray he works out. Boxing. Short pulses. He faces off against a what is called a body opponent bag. It is in the shape of man's torso. The man's face has the look of an aggressor. He hits. The blows land in the head, the chest. In his mind ideas sieze, recede, then again raise and rise. Fisted speed dug deep and jab extended until it's shot strung back to the shoulder. His thoughts a neverending drive and end, and end, and end, and end.


Inside of the house where it's light he plays the cello. His hands change shape, like birds moving from the dull land to the winged sky. A metronome marks time with ticks, with rocking, with regular, adjustable intervals. Its measures and rules give meaning, sense, divisions and designs to sound. Unvaryingly regular. His hands cupping the instrument. His fingers carrying the crouch of a dream in which chaos orders and slows and sings. The strings as thick as the bones of a hand. The sound reverb bellows up through his wrists, up his forearms, through the shoulders, into the spine.


In winter even the trees are beaten. Gray of asphalt to gray of fence post to gray of field of dormant growings. Gray of the tips of branches and trunks, gray of the hills' hues dulling over, gray of the edges of things against the gray-white sky. Like color is bruised, bludgeoned, deadened.


Up close fingers fingering the thick strings of a cello look like they are something out of a dream. Close up. Suddenly the knuckles are fluid and seemingly without joints. The fingertips ride hard and wide; they tremble then go taut. The white skin stretching between fingers seems more like an infant's than a man's. And when the strings pulse and reverb, it is as if the instrument is of the body and not a wooden hulled-out object. Between his legs its singing rises. From his spine the chords pull up and out. Against his chest the neck presses; even his teeth resonate. The wood grain as deeply brown as his eyes. The notes rebody a body. You must close your eyes.


Any cadence saves him. For what is a cadence but a balanced rhythmic flow, as in poetry, as in the measured beat of movement, as in dancing, as in the rising and falling of music, of the inflections of a voice, modulations and progressions of chords, moving, moving through a point beyond sight, sound, vision, being. To fall, in winter, without ending.


He is thirty. One night he gets up to pee, then crashes dead weight to the floor in the bathroom. His wife finds him. He is having a seizure. He is not conscious. His eyes are open. She lifts his feet slightly even in her fear; blood transfusion. Then she holds his head in her lap and says his name and says his name and says his name until his eyes flutter open, like a fighter coming to. That's how his life became this fight. That's how his fighting became him. When you watch him work out you see a classic Hollywood theme taking form: the Fighter. His fight is with his father. His fight is with himself. His fighting so familiar he cannot recognize it, like a face in the mirror after shocking news.


Behind the fight there is always a woman. His wife. What is her part? She is thinking of all the men in her life. Her father, heart disease. Her first husband, heart murmur. Her second husband, liver and heart disease. Her second husband's father, heart attack. Her first husband's father, heart failure. Her father's father, heart attack. She is thinking she has seen this movie before. She is thinking that a movie today must take what has been told a thousand times and give it a form no one was expecting. This is how she keeps from killing herself.


She is a decade older than he is. She had thought herself to be the one closer to the edge of living. She had thought herself closer to genetic undoing. But it is now that she sees the death in all of us. The heart disease. What she has begun to see is that we are all an audience watching the image of a man fighting. What she has begun to learn is the black and white of slow motion. If she stands at the window and watches him working out, what she sees is a frame at a time. One move following another. The fist pulled back to the shoulder or launched to the false body in separate movements.


Zocor decreases triglyceride levels. Aspirin thins the blood. Fish oil capsules and flax seed oil wage enzyme war against the body's fatty walls. Arteries and blood roads and blued vessels bulge and thin in heavy rhythms. A glass of wine each night transforms from pleasure to prescription. Red meat is torn from animal, instinctual longing and replaced with white rice, broiled fish, food for the hairless and light bodies of Asian men. He obeys the regimen. He fears the weakness which may attack his bulk. He cannot picture himself, he is afraid he is changing in ways that he cannot live with.


He decides that he will begin to film himself working out and playing cello. First he doesn't know why. Later he decides that the films will be for his son.


No one's home movies are black and white. All of them by now have that eerie super-eight technicolor blur haze, its hues dulling reality into frames and shutter speed. He has no home movies. He never knew his father. The films he makes are in black and white. The rushes hang in strips down the wall of the door to the bathroom, or coiled onto white reels like little wheels. He tells himself he and his son will watch them together. He the fatherless. The images living and turning forever. Like a private movie star. Like old movies of prize fighters. Remember that the last scenes determine whether or not you will see the film again. And again.


She watches him work out. She admires the violence with which he fights. She thinks that if the body opponent bag were alive, he would kill it. She smiles. She smiles because they both believe in film.


We believe in the fighting. Still. We want to see the raging bull, a boxer beaten by a tragic flaw. We want to cheer for Rocky, we want to see a man's love bringing his violence to life-his fighting saving him and providing the happy ending necessary for sequel upon sequel. We want to see a fighter who is forced into labor that is not his die a heroic death. We want to see his own integrity kill him. We want Brando. We do not want the movie of a man who is losing heart.


Aikido, karate, judo, tae kwon do, arts of combat, of beauty, of sport, of self defense, of speed and thought, of the body unbodied from its tasks of being and let loose into movement and rhythm, of the arms unarming themselves, the wrists cocked back to fluid animal past rotations, the shoulders dipping and curling, of the neck forgiven its upright burden and relearning the side to side and back and under tricks of instinct, of the chest and biceps pumping and bulging like meated masses, of the hands letting go of tools and becoming not a part of the body, but the body itself, of all of the internal organs in symphony and not against one another, not individuated, but of one measured movement after another, as if the entire corpus was what drove things, and not the heart alone.


He doesn't know it but his numbers are improving, the good cholesterol beating the bad, the fats fading in sebaceous white waves. He doesn't see it but his weight is dropping, muscle, spine and nerve replacing the soft buffer which had been between the world and his heart. For isn't it his father's body he has inherited? He doesn't feel it but his heart's beating is no longer against him, though he fights as if everything, even the moon, were against him. Still, inside of his body, invisible, his heart is finding a rhythm which will bring him life, calm, like the soft pink of an open palm.


What is it. What was it. His father dead at thirty-three. Heart attack. The blood blocked, the oxygen cut off. The muscle, that fist-shaped meat, unable to breathe. His father. Thirty-three. Heart attack. Words like thrusts. And all that living up and through him. What is it. What is it. What. His fists asking.


He is working out in front of the house. His fist connects whap smack solid with his body opponent bag. He catches a glimpse in his peripheral vision of his wife and son inside the house, as if the house is a body, his wife and son a heart, watching, beating, smelling like infant's skin and milk. Then he strikes a blow straight to the chest of the false body. It is a kind of hope, this beating.