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October 21, 2004

Soft Skull Night at Happy Ending

by Ron Hogan

"Is Rebecca Myles here?" Amanda Stern asked the murmuring crowd at last night's Happy Ending reading. "No? Too bad." Apparently Ms. Myles had emailed her after last week's show to complain about how it was run, and Amanda was all set to turn the moderating duties over to her for the evening. The complainant was a no-show, however, so Amanda kept the show moving by introducing Irish singer-songwriter Mark Geary, who is awfully damn good (hear for yourself). He kept bringing up friends from the audience to sing along and play the harmonica with him; by the end of the evening, he'd even charmed the audience into singing the choruses, and he actually managed to pull off the "I'm ending my set by walking out of the room while strumming the final chords" trick without it seeming totally trite.

With that kind of talent, the two authors--both of whom, like Amanda, have had their latest work published by Soft Skull Press, one of our favorite indie houses--faced stiff competition. Cultural critic and poet Wayne Koestenbaum read from his debut novel, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, which he described as "the notebooks of a dying polysexual pianist" who is trying to stage a comeback performance in collaboration with Orfei, Italy's "Queen of the Circus," although everything about her in the book is completely made up. (For example, although the sentence "Watching the gladiator picture I made with Eric Rohmer gives me no pleasure" held my attention, a cursory search of the Internet Movie Database turns up no collaboration between them...though she did star in Two Gladiators.) Koestenbaum read from a series of postcards his Moira sends to the pianist, a selection which highlighted the poetic qualities of his prose with its love of language's potential for sheer aesthetic pleasure.

The other reader, Matthew Sharpe, took two passages from The Sleeping Father, his breakaway hit from last spring, including a hilarious bungled class presentation on Paul Robeson that includes a Nirvana CD and Leon Trotsky. He also read from a fan letter he'd written to Koestenbaum years ago, in which he transcribed the contents of every lavender Post-It note he'd found in a copy of Cleavage in the local public library. And he read us the Library of Congress catalog description of his novel, beginning with "Antidepressants--Side effects--Fiction," suggesting that it ought to include one more category: "Good deeds that come back to bite you on the ass--Fiction." If you didn't read it back in the spring, I'd strongly suggest you do so now.

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