Through her three story collections and two novels, Elizabeth Crane’s singular literary vision has created worlds of characters standing boldly in the face of their complicated circumstances. And that has never been truer than in her new collection, Turf.
The end of the world as seen through a young couple in Brooklyn, who find a baby in a bucket on their front step; a group of geniuses who meet every Wednesday, able to unlock all the secrets of the universe except for the unknowable mystery of love; a woman and her dog walker whose friendship is uprooted by an incident at the park; these are dark, intriguing vistas explored in Crane’s glowing collection. For as places change, and people come and go, these stories in Turf remind us that it is the unchanging nature of the human heart that connects us all.
“[Crane’s] stories are fun and bizarre and wonderful and so, so sneaky . . . Elizabeth Crane mines the everyday and reveals what we’re missing. It’s unsettling. It’s hilarious. It’s . . . beyond. And you just know she’s having a great time, because suddenly you are, too.” —Lindsay Hunter, Electric Literature
“A daring piece of literature delicately teetering between story and observation . . . Crane demonstrates insight into our deepest fears and desires and what makes people tick.” —Publishers Weekly
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A big black dog sleeps on a sofa in Texas with his paws curled into his chest. The front door opens and a baby person comes into the house with the dog's mom and dad, dog gets up to sniff it, goes back to his place on the sofa. Everything was good right up until this moment; now, uncertainty. And it's raining. Where the rain ends, near the border of New Mexico, a toddler runs into a fuzzy type of cactus, won't stop screaming; her mom can't pull the tiny prickers out, they'll just be there until they're not. In Georgia a little boy wants to enter a pageant with his sister, mom asks him if he wants to be a gay boy, he doesn't know what that means, cries anyway. In Brazil, a five-year-old girl in a dirty dress sees a monkey throw its poop at another monkey, she will laugh about it on and off for the rest of the morning. In London, an expressionless ten-year-old boy in a pristine school uniform leans into the street to hail a taxi, he's got a math test today he wants to do well on, is already thinking about university. At Disney World, a boy gets lost, his dad thinks he's with his mom and vice versa, no one notices for an hour, the kid is crying in front of Snow White's castle. Somewhere in Africa, a kid plays a guitar with a missing string, sings a Michael Jackson song, he's good. If he had a video camera or a computer, it'd be on YouTube, but he doesn't. He's only heard of these things. In Venice Beach, some teenage boys grind their skateboards to a halt beneath an underpass, share a tiny rock of crack, laugh. In Switzerland two teenagers fall in love on a ski trip, the girl will move to the U.S. the next year with her family, this seems tragic at the time, but don't worry, they'll find each other again after a couple marriages and kids. In Daytona Beach, a college girl who lifted her bikini top earlier that day is passed out on a dirty motel bedspread. In a thousand cubicles in a thousand offices, a thousand men are looking at the same blurry online photo of a college girl lifting her bikini top, one of them thinks of his daughter, picks up the phone. Outside, beneath narrow ledges and tucked into alcoves, accountants and secretaries smoke in the rain; they shiver but they never wear scarves. Remember the good old days, when you could smoke in places? In Rome, a woman who won a prestigious art fellowship falls in love with a local, he introduces her to heroin, this detour takes a few years she won't remember much about. Somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma, a UPS guy delivers a package to a farmer who gives him a cup of coffee in a travel mug, says, Just keep it, guy will use that mug for years, think often of that small kindness. In Seattle, a barista makes a fine latte, looks in the tip jar at three dollars and change, and pushes up a sideways smile as she hands the drink across the counter to a businessman who's applying lip balm with his pinky in a weird way. His lips are very chapped. In Australia, a woman's house just washed away, she watched it from a tree. In Nevada, a croupier didn't take home enough for her electric bill, her cat curls up around her neck, she's got two more days before the lights go off. In India, a man's been at the same desk for ten years, he's good at his job, well liked, but every single day he thinks there's got to be something better, never tries, knows he's lucky, tries to just be happy for a wife at home that makes the dull days worth it. In Idaho, a new wife buys flour with a double coupon, bakes blueberry muffins for her husband. They're a little bit burnt on the bottom, he doesn't mind, they're going to do it again tonight. In Arkansas, a married man believes it's god's will that he sleep with his wife's sister; the sister is not fully convinced, but she's considering it. In Mexico City, a fight breaks out in a bar, a scrawny American tourist takes a punch to the eye but finally breaks it up, feels good about himself. In Chicago, a single woman has a fortieth birthday party, feels the love, her best friend comes from New York, it's one of the best days of her life so far. In Michigan, a woman gives birth to a beautiful, healthy boy; she's disappointed that he has her nappy hair. In Atlanta, a kid gets bullied at school, his mom goes over to talk to the bully's parents, they're surprisingly friendly, apologetic, the bullying continues. Over in Iowa, a lesbian couple, together thirty years, gets married by a justice of the peace, throws a beautiful backyard reception, tiny lights and joy, one of their dads refuses to come. In Philly, two middle-aged brothers take out loans and open a restaurant, it's been their life's dream, but they have no idea what they're doing. In Barcelona a couple is in a custody battle, the husband seems to be winning; privately, but in front of the child, calls the wife an ugly cunt. At a Paris cafe, a guy about to turn fifty realizes for a second where he is in life. He's never been married, never wanted to be, never dated a woman anywhere near his own age, has this moment where he feels lonely for this one second, then buys an espresso for the lovely young lady at the next table. In Nebraska, a mixed-race couple takes in the wife's elderly father; his dementia is setting in to where he often forgets to censor his racist comments, wife expresses shame, husband says, Wasn't exactly a secret. In Montreal, a widow who's been running every day for forty-six years, since she was in high school, blows out a knee, doctor tells her she has to stop running if she wants to keep walking, she has to think about it, takes her time, takes a cooking class, meets an attractive younger man, he's more persuasive than the doctor. On Park Avenue, a seventy-year-old man ends his banking career in disgrace, he's been embezzling from himself since the beginning, his children no longer speak to him, sees that famous baseball player on the news who got booted from the league for doping, had his World Series ring taken back, feels this guy would understand him, tries unsuccessfully to reach out. In Queens, four young actresses share a small two-bedroom apartment. Two of them are from Kansas, best high school friends, the other two they found on Craigslist, they're not from New York either. They're all scared, but only one says so out loud. The other three take the subway into Manhattan for auditions for student films, squeeze each other's hands, they're so excited. Across town in the East Village, a woman who left the city twenty years ago returns with her husband to find things totally the same and totally different. Maybe it's she who's totally the same and totally different, maybe both. It seems to her like the city has been picked up and replaced with a duplicate that still carries all her memories, that even though a lot of it is shinier than it was back in her time, the memories are still, well, less shiny, some of them, a lot of them, even the things that aren't real memories, e.g. people on the street she doesn't know, like some marginally attractive guy in in his thirties but who maybe chain-smoked for a few years with the windows closed, in a black shirt and black pants, sometimes a black hat, smoking, and with a lunky walk — do you know the kind? so many guys have a lunky walk, even the most handsome ones, you don't see a lot of women whose walk is so lunky, there's not much better of a word for it, this longstrided, bouncy, arm-swinging, forward-leaning walk (do you see it now?) — this guy exemplary of a long-ago type that would have taken up some good portion of her time, and what happens when she sees these types, on the street, is that they aren't just passed by, they blur into the real ones, and there is a wish that she could get just a little, just a little of the time back that was spent on these types, because time is moving very quickly now, and just in the one direction, and she knows she wasted good stretches of it on all manner of illadvised endeavors, and even if she could have let's just say ten percent of her time spent on these types returned to her, she could make very good use of it now. On Fifty-Seventh Street she'll remember that one dinner with a much older man from her office, they used to flirt, should have left it at that, was trying something other than men in black, that direction didn't stick. Over on Bank Street she'll remember that loft apartment she once looked at in Westbeth, wonders if it would have gone differently if she'd moved downtown, if she'd have slipped into a life that made more sense, or if downtown would have just been a variation on a theme. Uptown on Third Avenue she'll remember her first kiss, it was around here somewhere, she's sure, it's a bit of a sweet memory; he was nice, and he's still nice, that's a what-if rabbit hole too. Or where the Palladium was, a dorm now, she'll still think of that one time she went there when it was a club, shared a glance with one of those guys from the Brat Pack, which one was it. On Riverside Drive she'll think of her first therapist, how for years she shook her head to every reasonable suggestion he made, until one day he suggested she should teach, how it was like she'd been pouring nickels into the same slot machine for years and it finally paid out. Down by Wall Street the streets feel haunted, could just be it's nighttime, could be she feels like she's walking on the dust of her friends. Or she'll see some young woman going into Stuyvesant Town who looks like the grade school friend she'd been trying to track down, the one who never turned up on Google because she died before Google was a thing. Or she'll be in a neighborhood that she didn't spend a lot of time in but a restaurant location that's housed nine restaurants since she was last there will bring up dinners she couldn't afford, ones where she drank at home before dinner because drinks were nine dollars, or ordered an appetizer saying she wasn't hungry but it was really because she couldn't afford an entrÃ©e, but then the bill was of course always split evenly at the end of the night, at which time she always wanted to yell that she couldn't even afford the appetizer to begin with, remembers when it seemed like a good idea to get a hostess job at that restaurant, but how awful everyone was, the customers and the waiters and the owners, everyone, not approving of her clothes or her shoes or her hair or her ability to do her job (not friendly enough, they said), and that that job, and not a few others like it, usually lasted for a week or two at most. Or a doorway will look familiar, and even if it's a doorway that's been polished up, a doorway that has a nice new security system or some such, she'll remember the photographer upstairs who told her he was also a psychologist and did she mind if he just asked a few personal questions to get to know her better and how creeped out she was but still answered some of the questions before leaving — why? why didn't she just leave? — because don't you know that seven or eight years later that guy was brutally murdered in that very photo studio above that nice security system, by the pissed-off boyfriend of a lingerie model (the term lingerie and the lingerie itself and maybe even the term model all being used loosely here), and in the photo of the boyfriend/murderer, on the front page of the Post, on his way to jail, guess what he's covering his face with, his black shirt. Or she'll see some older guy with a high-pitched laugh at a bus stop who reminds her of the good parts about her stepdad, any or all of it cause for contemplation of her old, less good life, the one where she drank a lot and could not find a boyfriend or a job she ever really liked and was broke always and her mom her mom, with the crazy and the cancer, her mom is still everywhere here, in front of Fairway picking out fruit, on the Lower East Side in front of lighting stores and wholesale shops that haven't existed for decades, in a dishware store in Chelsea Market even though there was no Chelsea Market then and no such thing in that building even, that dishware store was ten blocks up. Sometimes that's not even so bad, some lady on the street carrying an ironing board looks like her mom from far away and she thinks of all the times her mom came over with things she might need, leftover fabric from a dress that could make a cute top, a saucepan, a book about forgiveness (was she asking to be forgiven, or the other way around, still not known, will never be known). You'd think years of therapy would help that some, it surely has, though there she is in her dreams too, again and again, on the days when her specter isn't out walking the street on her behalf. Everything seems different now, the streets have all these rejiggered new weird lanes where as far as I can tell there are parking lanes in the center of big streets like Second Avenue or Columbus. Her husband's never lived here at all, and they're both excited, it is a chance for a bit of a do-over (or for him, just a do) but both kind of scared too, a little bit. Look at where this is going now, so off track, as usual. This was supposed to be universal. Is it even possible for her to imagine a world that she's not at the center of somehow? Let's go back over to Jersey, where a ten-year-old Russian girl arrives at her new home, she's entirely unsure about it. In the UP there's a hoarfrost, sugary coatings of snow on every last needle of every last tree. Everyone's cold there, but they still kind of love it. In Minnesota too. Also in Lapland. In Iceland there's that whole darkness thing, can you imagine? Italian food is so good. Lots and lots and lots of people have cancer, are reading puffy old Us magazines with stories of somebody's third breakup ago while they get their chemo. I'd like to go to Spain someday. In Canada there are Mounties. And mountains. There's some bad shit going on in the stan countries, right? What's up with Antarctica, anyway? Am I the only one who gets it mixed up with Greenland? Wait, I think I forgot a continent somewhere, maybe. I was hoping to include all the continents. It's still me, you know that, right? It's always me. Well, here's this: in every town and every city a poem is being written; the percentage of good to bad is unknowable, whether it matters, also uncertain.CHAPTER 2
The Genius Meetings
On the first Wednesday of the month we meet at one of our homes to discuss our achievements and share our profound and original thoughts. We have done everything from creating mathematical formulas to inventing technologies that will save your lives. We are architects, artists, physicists, and scientists. We are authors, composers, philosophers, and chemists. We are religious men and atheists. We are married, divorced, single, and straight. We know of a gay genius, but he does not attend the meetings. There are no women in our group. We are not saying there are no lady geniuses, but we sure don't know any.
We do not expect you to understand. We always knew we were different. For a minute Frederick thought he was the same, but he wasn't. When he was two, little Frederick sat down at the piano and composed his first sonata, the first to include a solo for the Jew's harp. He thought, Oh, how nice it will be to play this for my little friends! Then his mom came in and seemed surprised, which in turn, surprised Frederick. When Marcus was four he discovered a hitherto unknown genus of insect while his brother was shooting spitballs. When Clifford was six he created a theory of abstraction just the title of which is ten pages long, so we won't bother. Our dear friend William had both crossbred a fig and discovered a dinosaur before the age of seven. These are just a few of the sorts of stories we share when we meet.
We meet to congratulate ourselves but also to purge ourselves. We meet to share things we cannot share with you. Smart things but also customs. Like the metaphorical value of sleeping in a nightcap, to keep the genius in. Or the fact that many of us hold on to what we collectively refer to as our "lucky things" (ranging from common items like the shirts or socks we had on when we won awards, to typewriters that don't work, to small locks of hair purportedly from the heads of geniuses that went before us), though not one of us believes luck has anything to do with it. Or the value of saving entire volumes of academic journals, every article ever read that pertains remotely to our work, nay, every scrap of paper we ever touched, just in case, even if it means we must delicately navigate around the towers of paper in our homes and offices. Or the need for exactitude and precision, the importance of a regimen, and the malignment and misunderstanding of analretentiveness in contemporary society. We are aware that there are those of the mind that our disciplined ways of life are harsh, that our strict routines have consequences both mental and physical; to this we say, maybe so, but you sure seem to like that electricity we got you. We meet to have a safe place to use words like ateleology and apotheosis without confusing or embarrassing anyone, and away from your judgments of pretension. We meet to smoke pipes filled with tobacco we brought back from foreign lands and drink one brandy or liqueur that lasts us the evening. We meet to talk about that time Eldred, a philosopher, smoked marijuana, and to thank him for sparing us that horror. We meet to talk about one painting by Schiele or one article on Hindemith for two hours. We meet to discuss papers that do not get published and tenures that get passed over. (These things don't happen often, but when they do, the despair is often paralyzing.) We meet to talk about theories that don't pan out (or are disproven! the worst!) and novels that remain imperfect and therefore unseen and possibly published after our deaths (edited so thoroughly wrongheadedly as to diminish our genius when redemption is no longer possible) and discoveries made by those not among us, and the years lost on these projects. We meet to talk about how hard it is to be a genius. We discuss the difficulties of never being wrong, and the loneliness of being the smartest person in the room. We talk about the ones who died too soon, of the great works of art or science not to be. We grieve for Hubert, who took his life at the mere age of thirty-four while composing an opera that was sure to become a masterwork (a devastating loss to Frederick in particular, as Hubert had become a mentor of sorts). We weep for the great doctor Thirlby, who leapt to his death in the throes of a manic episode before finishing that remedy for autism. We talk about our personal lives, the lone area in which we do not always excel. We often suffer from depression and even mental illness. We make poor choices. We marry only the most beautiful women, models and movie stars. One of us has married both a Miss America and a Miss Universe. Some of them are quite bright, some less so. There is nary a genius among them. That is not what we want. We geniuses love a gorgeous woman with a problem.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Turf"
Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Crane.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Genius Meetings,
Here Everything's Better,
Where Time Goes,
All the Wigs of the World,
Mr. and Mrs. P Are Married,
Best Friends Seriously Forever,
Justin Bieber's Hair in a Box,
Notes for an Important American Story,
We Collect Things,
Today in Post-Apocalyptic Problems,
Notes for a Dad Story,
About the Author,