Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead: Stories
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by Alan DeNiro
Category: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Description: A MAN LOSES his leg in a war, and a field doctor sews on a fairy tale in its place. A woman excavates her living room in order to discover what has become of her marriage. The Byzantine army invades a small college town. Giants move in next door. A boy in a town called Suddenly falls in love with a girl who lives in the Lake of the Dead. The secret history of Erie--past, present, and future--is revealed. These stories skitter sideways across literary and genre fiction categories, using the toolbox of genres like science fiction and fantasy to grapple with issues of identity, family, gender, and politics. DeNiro is frequently funny, surreal, or slapstick, but his stories also connect with readers on an emotional level, in unexpected and surprising ways. Even in the oddest of DeNiro's stories, his characters are real people grappling with real relationships, real heartbreaks, the small, cruel, pinprick absurdities of a universe which is larger and stranger than most writers ever realize.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 2006 2006
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [323 KB]
Reading time: 200-280 min.
"Smart and affecting."--Locus (Notable Books)
"Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead is a thrill ride. Men jump from buildings and walk away, Assassins are hired to murder novels, Byzantines spring from the hills and sack college towns. On each page Alan DeNiro performs feats of acrobatic skill, holding the edge with remarkable control. He has created a brand new world, and I believe every word of it."--Hannah Tinti (Animal Crackers)
"I'm not ordinarily an editor, so finding stories for the first six issues of Fence magazine was a guilty pleasure, and the subsequent work by formerly unknown Fence writers like Kelly Link and Julia Slavin has made me look like a prognosticator, or maybe an annoying drunk guy on a streak at a casino. Now here's Alan DeNiro, whose "Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead" was always my favorite. I'm thrilled to see him in bookstores at last."--Jonathan Lethem (Fortress of Solitude)
"Alan DeNiro's stories move in unexpected ways into unexpected places--up in the air, under the water, out of this world. He has a gift for precise language and poetic logic, his own unique sort of circus realism. Sharp, smart, and completely original, this is a lively, lovely collection from a memorable talent."--Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club)
"Reading Alan DeNiro's new collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, made me feel like a dog that twists its head a bit to the side on hearing a whistle too high for humans to hear. The dog is perplexed and intrigued by the sound--it knows where it's coming from but not really. Familiar enough, but maybe not. So too with these strong, out of kilter stories. DeNiro blows his own distinctly different sounding whistle and once you've heard it, you can't help but stop and take real notice."--Jonathan Carroll (Glass Soup)
"The wholly original, carefully crafted tales that comprise Alan Deniro's Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead are like colorful pinatas full of live scorpions--playful, unexpected, and deadly serious."--Jeffrey Ford (The Girl in the Glass)
In your absence, the Byzantines infiltrate our city. Several circumstances give the Byzantines a tactical advantage. It is a college town, relatively small, away from any significant airport or interstate, nestled in the Allegheny foothills. It is early June; most of the students--the only real hope for able-bodied defense--are in their hometowns. Finally, a hot azure hangs over the squat buildings of the town, making clear and rational thinking nearly impossible. It was easy for the Byzantines to send a contingent by riverboat and mountain road and assume control.
Where are you?
Yes, you reside in this story, even if you never appear.
You are in Pittsburgh, visiting Todd, your almost ex-boyfriend. I say almost because, although Todd has been cheating on you, you don't want to cut the cord. On a Thursday night, he called. Unbidden yet compelled, you decide to drive up to the city of three rivers, to unleak the damage that hasn't already burst through. To fuck and fight until the two are indistinguishable. You'll come back to the city with more questions unanswered, to hash out with me.
On that night, after your phone call, you leave my apartment (my efficiency) without giving me a sigil or sign to work with. The moon is a barn owl's face smoothed over by warm wind. Five minutes before you leave, I am already waiting for your return, feeling sick for you. Can I hear the armies coming?
Move backward a few hours, before you storm out. We are naked; it is five minutes before midnight, we make Pop-Tarts. You are already in exile from yourself.
Though we have showered, we didn't touch or wash each other during our showering, though I imagine that technically, water ricocheting off your shoulder and hitting my breast--or a thousand other discrete packets of skin--would constitute washing each other.
That water, however, would have been unintentional, a "cognitive misunderstanding." Similar to the penumbra, or glisten, that surrounds you. This is literal; don't construe this as a metaphor. The literal halo rests about two to three inches from your naked body. Your nipples are still hard. We haven't had sex in actuality, yet, or ever.
At this moment, I can hear the canter of horses descend from the foothills and green caves. Eating, I see pasted on my kitchen wall a picture of a mosaic of Empress Theodora and her attendants. Faces in gold and taffeta gazing at us like court stenographers. You tore this out of a National Geographic and gave it to me when we first started pawing and not-fucking, told me that I needed a moral compass.
"I'm going back to him," you say, and your back sags, and the canonized light around you creaks with it. I have come to accept these minor miracles of yours, drive off my own doubts, keeping angry at myself for entertaining doubts.
Theodora, pasted above me, doesn't look amused.
"But we were going to go hiking tomorrow," I say. A simple task, involving putting one leg in front of the other. I have the intense desire, always, to climb with people. For people to climb me.
You don't reply. In the archaeology magazine that I took from your apartment (why do you have this again?), there's an article about Byzantine bathhouses around Jerusalem, where they found scores of infant skeletons, dried dung, coins. Prostitutes used the bathhouse sewers to get rid of their baby boys--girls were sold into prostitution. This excavation caves into me.
You would have been comfortable there, among the laughs of anklets, or am I being cruel without measure?
After finishing your cigarette--which I didn't know you started until you finished, you say, "I need to sort all of this out."
"We've been talking about this until our lips are blue," I say. Todd, in many ways, is with us here in this university town. All of our discussions are permeated with him, and your relationship with him.
"We can't do this," you say, and pull down your sweater, fold and stuff your bra in your back pocket. No, we can't, but we are. No, we make ... love? No, you make as if to leave, and feign the kiss. I'm the tired shrinker, I live inside the jade of protocol. My door opens from your hand. There are other doors, somewhere. You walk out of one of them.