from Hoping To
Since the cops quit searching, Jim often meets me on my porch. It offers a view of highway and raw sun. We join hands and pray. We ask God to restore his lost Anna Bee. While we drink, I speak to him of Job. He listens. I love him too much to wonder aloud where she might be buried and whether or not she was molested in her vaginal parts beforehand. Besides, I couldn’t stand for her to be dead.
One newsman has stuck around to document the story. Each time he interviews me, I tell him about the way Jim and Anna Bee hold hands on their porch while the traffic doesn’t pass and the sun whitens our lawns. They love each other, I say. Today he wants a more specific anecdote. Something poignant, memorable. He’s freelancing this and thinking of heading home. Something to keep my spirits up, he says.
Once, I say, she related this dream of leading a caravan across the Maghreb, peddling spices in the disguise of a man. She spun such pleasant fantasies. The newsman asks if there’s anything else. Listen, I say, this is important. I have never before worried about any one missing body. I’m young enough and rich enough to live along this nowhere highway and drink whiskey non-stop and play rock ‘n’ roll loud as I like and wax my Porsche, so I do. Look at that Porsche, I tell him. He looks. Its beauty had made men kneel. He doesn’t doubt that. But, I say, since Anna Bee’s been gone I’ve been pondering the way those two hold hands. It’s made me contemplate the Lord. I’ve never believed. For their sake, I’m hoping to.
Crazy dangerous fuckers come out of Jacksonville Florida. We have Linda Blair and her projectile pea soup, the psychedelic band 1% masquerading later as Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Merrill, and now Marcus Pactor. Pactor writes. The writing is not putatively original but originally original, not muscular but cut, and not gratuitously difficult but difficult. It reminds you of when people tried to say new things in new ways. Who am I think about? Burroughs? No. O’Connor? Maybe. Rimbaud/Baudelaire/Blake? Don’t know, haven’t read them. But I know there is on the radar acts of revolutionary bearing down to do something new, coming from bent brains, and this feels like it.
Marcus Pactor’s debut collection of stories is nothing short of dazzling. The stories are fierce, funny, insightful and often lyrical without ever sacrificing the raw power of a character’s voice. Vs. Death Noises takes us on a dark, bizarre journey where the ponderings of William Blake and John Locke become bedfellows with group sex and bondage, tears of grief are cried into a discarded thong, an infected toe is the catalyst for a discussion on intimacy and love. The characters in these stories are burdened with loss, uneasy love, mourning and an unceasing hunger to find some kind of meaning in their lives. This search for hints of meaning–in the shape of a strand of hair on a bathroom counter, in an ice cooler full of caught fish, in the unsolved disappearance of a loved one–forms the hear-wrenching soul of this collection. In reading these stories, I blushed, I laughed, I found myself wonderfully uncomfortable and consistently awed by the origninality of Marcus Pactor’s style and voice. A brilliant collection!
This story collection stands as a corrective to the pathologist’s report: irony is not dead in American fiction. Which doesn’t mean that feeling is missing here. Vs. Death explores what it’s like to be alive in this country now, with both a brain and a body, neither of which, putative sex of the author notwithstanding, is necessarily male. In fact, this collection contains some of the smartest women’s voices I’ve heard in a while.
Vs. Death Noises cuts to the bone like a scalpel in the hands of a master surgeon. Tighly compressed, keenly observed, and scathingly original, Marcus Pactor’s debut is as unsettling as it is luminous.
Marcus Pactor has lived and cooked across the southeast. His stories have appeared in FOURTEEN HILLS, Conte, and elsewhere. He received his MFA from Texas State University. He currently teaches at the University of North Florida.