Originally published in A Public Space, No. 5, 2008. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 1.
Some people might like to wonder what the story they've just read was all about; I don't. "The first evening in my new city, I had a phone call from my father, wanting to know how I was getting on," reads the first line, and after dad drops some "lyric" musings on loneliness, we never hear from him again. Instead, our narrator is conveniently visited by his "backdoor neighbor," Charlotte, who is studying criminology at Tulane and promptly starts sleeping with our hero -- though she admits that she's still "permitting her ex-boyfriend, a reggae connoisseur, to sound her depths on weekday afternoons." This isn't really relevant either (and it's an awfully artificial line); we don't hear from Charlotte or meet her "old friend."
Instead, our narrator begins to describe his shitty neighborhood -- with nutria (amphibious rats) so foul that even the buzzards turn their back on them -- and gets caught up in the goings-on across the street, as a man clumsily attempts to burn down an apartment door (with a matchbook), an apartment that our narrator has been led to believe belongs to a whore. The man's irrelevant, too. Instead -- and I'm repeating the word intentionally -- our protagonist visits this woman, ostensibly to inform her of the crime, and ends up asking to lie in bed with her -- not to do anything, just to lie on the bed. They don't, of course, because she's not a prostitute . . . just a drug dealer. To us, the casual reader, it's just one more instead, another written shrug as Tower idly moves from point to point, failing to give us a single thing that might make us care about the circumstance or the characters. The only thing of interest is the anecdotal philosophy of the dealer:
"How all getting shot is, it's just you getting touched by a little thing, only it's touching you really fast. If it was going slow, you'd be fine as pie. For a while after that, I used to think that was big stuff to know, that it don't ever really matter what a thing is, whether it's going to hurt you or not. The only thing matters is how fast it's going."
And yet, even this gets a disclaimer, for the very next thing she says is: "But that doesn't make sense to make now like it did back then." Miranda July can link random moments by the sheer kinetic energy of those individual scenes, or the quirks of her characters; Sophia Coppola can have her characters encounter one another unexpectedly or in unusual situations because she's at least connected us to them. Tower just writes and prints, and that's unfortunate for all of us.