Review of 'He Is Talking to the Fat Lady' by xTx

xTx’s first chapbook of stories, He Is Talking to the Fat Lady, is a sobering collection of ultimately doomed narrators who, despite their self-destructive tendencies, seek out redemption through physical pleasure—perhaps at the expense of emotional stability.

I like the structure of this collection, as the transitions from story to story are smooth and calculated. It’s very easy, though, to focus on individual lines because they’re so precise, the analogies so appropriate, heartbreaking:
[E]xhaustion long gone, now transformed into something akin to transcendence and the encapsulated air within the hollow bones that kept birds afloat.
[S]he’ll buy gold tips along with new lips…hers gone, worn right through, an exhausted hangman’s noose.
The filth stays where they left it. Her feet and legs stained with it all. His too. This embrace unites them. It’s a place love hides. It will wash away. It will remain. There is nothing.
In the title story, a woman sits in a lawn chair at a barbecue waiting for a man (presumably her boyfriend) who’s gone to get her some water, but after getting the water he begins talking to another woman—a woman she feels is not as attractive as she is. In this short scene, as he stands there holding her water, talking to this other woman, she tries coming to terms with pangs of envy and inadequacy.

This story is reminiscent of Homer’s Odyssey, in that Penelope waits a seemingly endless 10 years for her husband Odysseus’s return from the Trojan War (a journey he makes, appropriately, across water—implying the narrator’s boyfriend holds in his hand entire oceans, the very element from which life originated). In this story, there are no suitors here to vie for the narrator’s hand, though a little girl does approach her and demand her attention:
I feel a hand on my shoulder. I am not startled. The touch is soft, almost ghostly. I do not even turn which proves I am not scared of the invisible touch. I think maybe it might be a trick of my skin or my clothes. That it how barely there it was.
This is also reminiscent of Beckett’s Godot, as he also never shows up. The little girl’s mother yells for her to “LEAVE THE NICE LADY ALONE,” yells so loud it scares the narrator. She looks at the little girl:
Sabrina seems nonplussed and hesitates for a heavy moment before complying. Innocently defiant. […] Good for her I think. I feel bonded to Sabrina.
This bond is forged in spite of the man who has yet to return with the water she requested, inverting the dynamic of marriage to incorporate not only a same-sex relationship but that of an adult and child.

The narrator’s concluding epiphany that she will never be satisfied reflects existential and even Buddhist themes of the cessation of desire:
I know now I will never get my water. He will never stop talking to the fat lady. The shade will never cool me. Sabrina will never really love her mother. I will never move from this lawn chair. […] I reach back into the bag of rice cakes.
Here the narrator shows how we substitute one desire, one addiction, for another. She seems to imply that the Buddhist ideal of cessation of desire is at best impossible and at worst a futile pursuit—paradoxically proposing that wanting to extinguish desire is yet another desire one must extinguish—that acceptance is the only solution.

In “And After, Upon Your Request, I Will Make You Both Ham Sandwiches,” an emotionally numb woman begs her boyfriend to physically abuse her:
Let me get pregnant with your baby so can kick me down the stairs. […] The baby will die inside me and I will bleed it out between my legs as you sit on a middle stair marveling at my numb aberrancy. Isn’t it amazing how I can’t feel a thing?
And then to cheat on her, to “bash [her] skull with a hammer,” and she imagines him telling the woman he’s cheating on her with:
Don’t worry baby, she doesn’t feel a thing. Ain’t that right sweetheart?
Physical abuse here serves as a deliberate metaphor for emotional abuse, a relationship the narrator unconsciously desires as a result of past trauma, left unknown to us and most likely repressed by the narrator.

In “When I Take Him to Yosemite He Forgets About Her,” two women meet, one of whom wants to give her son away to the other. She is exhausted, the son too demanding of her resources:
I hold her baby and he hates me. He wants her breast back. I give him mine and he swears.
The boy eventually comes to admire this new mother, “pats [her] cheeks.” She asks “[i]f he feels there is a chance for [them].” This story plays on the Oedipus complex through the inversion of courting rituals and replacement of the biological mother figure, suggesting this is the basis for all male relationships with women: The women they fall in love with are merely surrogate mothers, questioning also the notion of free will.

The stories in this collection are brutally honest, obscenely tender, and display a wonderfully subtle talent reaching out to us from beyond all the horizons of our own thoughts to pull us out of ourselves and into the world, and here we can see, through the pseudonym' xTx' how truly anonymous we all are, and ultimately how our individual struggles with identity parallel one another.

He Is Talking to the Fat Lady has sold out of its 50-copy print run, but is still available as a PDF chapbook w/ audio from Safety Third Press. Here is xTx’s blog.


Mel Bosworth said...


wordsforguns said...

Thanks for the review. Well done.

Eric Beeny said...

@Bozzy: Word...

@Matt: Thanks, I really liked it...