The Letter of Doom

Another student received the notice yesterday. Thin white paper, bluish and dried ink etched on the page like a tattoo drawn in sloppy cursive. Its head stuck out of the mailbox; a threat so huge it begged for attention. The reactions were all the same—confusion, shock, and then shame. How could a stranger know their deepest, darkest secret?

People called it The Letter of Doom. It went from being the town joke to a phantom whose name you must whisper to say. The unknown perpetrator had become a god, respected and feared among the students.

The first person who got the letter was a girl in my school called Amanda. She’d been sneaking out of her house almost every weekend to see her college boyfriend until the angels caught her red-handed. Parents liked these anonymous letters because they had become easy microscopes that looked into the lives of their teens. Some found it creepy but were still curious enough to check the mailbox that no one used for any report. Funnily enough, the letters were hardly ever wrong.

Samuel had gotten one exposing his cigarette use, much to his parent’s dismay. The infamous drug dealer, Ife, had also gotten one, not to anyone’s surprise. The neighborhood teens called her igbolabi, a Yoruba word meaning “we gave birth to weed.”

I’ve been waiting for my letter to come in, since I have become quite fond of slipping fingers in between my thighs like a hook in the sea, always coming out with a piece of me much bigger than before. Bending and twisting like a contortionist.

But I guess it’s harder to spot a sin committed in the hidden crevices of hell, that is, my room where no inquisitive spirit can slip through. When I’m not doing myself, I’m watching other people on tiny, dim screens either in the church parking lot or during lunch in the locker room.

My friend Jasmine and I were talking about the letter a few days ago. I laughed as I narrated the hilarious response of my neighbors when their son got the death sentence. She said it was more of an indifference sentence. The tone was less warning and more declarative like God was simply telling you the fact of your sins rather than warning you to repent. They had become resigned to them, to you.

Monday morning, my mum glanced at the mailbox from the kitchen. She was one of those mums. She didn’t say anything about the letter but she was waiting and so was I so I could snatch it before her eyes caught sight of it. I got ready and went outside with my bag strapped on my back, rushing towards the bus. I stopped. There it was—a folded sheet of paper peeking out of my mailbox. I pulled it out and sure enough, the illegible cursive handwriting stared back at me on the page. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.



Dear Staff and Franchise Holders,

My apologies for the confusion caused by my most recent memo. It seems a “technical glitch” inadvertently substituted the word “resigning” for the intended “redesigning.” No, I am not stepping down.

Rather, it was to announce plans that will make critical changes to our production lines. Many task teams have investigated our options in this effort, and while the Evolution Q-6R3 program has produced many improvements towards our goals, it simply is progressing too slowly. I have decided we must retool and redesign immediately. This means some of you will be temporarily reassigned to different departments and job assignments. And to our franchise holders, some models are being phased out or may be temporarily out-of-stock as we move forward.

I will be issuing a complete list of changes shortly to all Departments, but here are a few of the critical changes:

  • Complete elimination of the mosquito and housefly lines. While there was initially great expectation for these products, it seems that they do not actually serve any purpose.
  • Elephant tusks are obsolete. They are being discontinued immediately. Since we will be working in that physical area, we need to address the long-standing concerns over the elephant’s trunk. While there are many fans of this popular feature, it is my belief a few minor alterations will make it more user-friendly. These include shortening and making it more like the popular Dyson Vacuum Cleaner line. The possibility of various attachments is still under review.
  • The duckbill platypus line will be completely revamped to make it more visually pleasing.
  • Chickens and cattle will no longer taste good. Liver will be given a sweeter flavor, resembling dark chocolate. And assorted green vegetables, especially kale, spinach, and brussels sprouts, will undergo a number of taste-driven improvements.
  • Man will receive some major changes, intended to improve relationships within the species. The various color options we introduced at the kickoff of production, have proven to be counterproductive. To correct this, across the board, all future models will be a pleasing shade of pastel green. All existing models will be phased out, as soon as possible. All female models will be packaged in closer proximity to the dimensions of the popular Barbie dolls. All male models will be more generously endowed.

Again my apologies to everybody, but especially to Barb, Pedro, Xien-Cho, and Fred, who handle the HELP DESK. Thank you for handling the massive flood of calls and questions. As a token of appreciation, please take the next millennium off with pay, compliments of me. I hope all of you will return fully rested and ready to continue the excellent service you provide.

And finally, everybody please join me in wishing Archangel Bob good luck in his new assignment. You will remember Bob was the driving force behind “Auto-Correct.” Bob has been assigned to Lucifer’s staff where he will be in charge of Hell’s Sewer System.





i was one of three juniors in the senior AP Euro class. he was the captain of the swim team and sat right in front of me (when we weren’t fucking in random acquaintances’ accommodations). he brought me lunch to our exam and i paid him back with a blowjob in the testing facility parking lot—right behind a church. afterwards, i mouthwashed and we split a blunt. now he’s an angel, making up for missed matches by sending me baggies of weed i randomly find on the street.


we were seventeen and used to chain smoking. Sav bought her first bowl, Grace was a novice, and i brought the bud. Sav and i joked about this being the place we met five years prior—a memory i don’t carry with me but know it’s true because she described me as “the loud kid” in youth group. we hacked through Scooby snacks, played it off with the lie that coughing gets you higher, and we all chuckled.


i was still seventeen and she was twenty-one. she lapped at me and i laughed. a Muslim girl and a Christian nonbinary person have sex in the backseat of a Honda Fit, under the shadow of a steeple, and then spark a spliff. they lounge in each other’s laps, unable to see the world beyond their suns, the fog and the film on the windows too thick. what beautiful blasphemy.


i was a freshman and my pastor knew there was nowhere for me to smoke. she subliminally signaled that i should blaze in the back corner of the parking lot by the trailer. i spent almost every night with six people piled in my Mini, passing a bubbler back and forth.


when the cops were loitering in the church lot, we would hop to a different spot. another holy house. we’d sesh by the soccer nets, behind the community garden, almost a vacation from our normal lives. it’s been six years since i toked at a temple, and lately God has been begging me for an offering. who knew they were such a stoner?

The Sins of the Father Drive the Child Mad

Judas is amused. Despite his preconceived notions and public appearances, God could put on quite a scene. He’s well aware he’s the only one finding any joy in what’s currently playing out in the centre of the room—blame it on dark humour, his twisted soul, or whatever else you want. Judas is certain that, years from now, others will join him in chuckling when reminiscing about today’s events.

Judas is also slightly frustrated. For the first time in the past century, for the first time since he started this job, he understands why some beings described God as “ethereal”. A spike on Their mace drags across the ground, momentarily separating the muted red that spreads across the floor. As They walk, the many eyes of the angels clinging to the wall flinch every time God’s bare feet squelch on the ground. Judas thinks this is part of what makes Them beautiful in this moment: Their disregard for the disgusting sounds ringing around the room, the blood seeping into the bottom of Their dress, Their sleek black hair swinging slightly as they walk, and the faint sweat glistening on Their forehead.

One of the angels on Their left flinches with her whole body as God nears, and They slow to a stop in front of her.

“How dare you?” Their soft voice carries through the room. “How dare you act as if none of you had a hand in this devastation.”

Judas can feel a grin growing on his face; he adores it when deities who hide their rage finally snap.

“I have asked time and time again for leniency, for help, for a break, and you have all denied me.” God turns to the angel as They speak, and Judas can see the feathers connecting the angel’s many eyes trembling. “What else would you have me do? Suffer silently for the next megaannum while you all flit around, wreaking havoc on humankind, and begging me to fix your mistakes? I refuse.”

For the first time since this all began, one of the angels speaks up, “But, My Lord, you cannot expect . . .”

“But I can. You have all expected so much from me, regardless of the lives it endangered or the realms it put at risk. I am done. I cannot go on like this.”

Their voice has remained soft throughout the entire encounter, and it now echoes through the room.

“You would not accept my resignation written on paper, carved into stone, or formed from mountains. So, you will be forced to accept it when written in blood. His blood.” God turns and exits the room, arm brushing against Judas’ as They go. The room remains silent as its inhabitants gaze at the body of the Father, slain to release the Child. Judas closes his eyes, breathes in, and begins to laugh.

With Resignation

There is a letter on the desk.

God’s Spokesperson approaches. His robes swish around his blue ankles like the mist at the bottom of a tumultuous waterfall. The office around him is one that is infrequently visited. It’s not off limits but simply feared.

It is furnished with dark wood and no windows. Tomes line the walls. There is only one chair—before which the letter is neatly fixed—and it’s more of a throne than a chair. Angels with eyes covering their bodies are carved into the rich wood arch. The leather of the seat and back of the chair shines.

The Spokesperson rounds the table. He carefully takes in its contents—an unpainted clay cup that holds several pens of various styles from centuries past; a stack of plain white stationery paper and envelopes; a glass paperweight in the shape of a fruit with little air bubbles for seeds; a disposable white lighter; two skulls preserved in alarmingly pristine condition; a set of small, circular glasses with silver frames; and one silver spoon with streaks that imply it’s been used and forgotten.

Then, there is the letter. It is written on the plain, white paper.

The Spokesperson sits.

A red feather quill rests across the letter as if it was not yet finished when its writer had gotten up to answer a needy call.

The Spokesperson moves the quill.

Dear Reader,

It’s time.

As if that was all that needed to be written, the Spokesperson understands exactly what is meant by so few words. Even in the beginning, God was resigned to this fate. In the end, He will have to destroy all that He created. It is something that all the angels—including the Spokesperson himself—know that God is not necessarily looking forward to. Still, it is a necessary destruction; it is inevitable.

That’s when the Spokesperson feels the change. Somewhere in the distance, there is a great rumble, and the foundations of Heaven itself shake. A rupture follows—a crack that rattles the clay cup and pens inside. One of the skulls rolls onto the floor.

The Spokesperson rushes out. In the distance, where the white landscape stretches out and where buildings tuck into hazy mists, there is a blast of fire. Wings of flame flare upward. A pillar rises from the fire, and a fault line of red and embers divide the ground. Heaven’s grounds split open, a crack in Earth’s sky below.

Ashes flit down from Heaven’s sky, and the Spokesperson knows that the Earth is experiencing its first rain of fire. It’s the beginning of the end. It’s time.

A Divine Appointment

Winston had assumed that death would grant him some measure of peace. Being a director of HR in the 1950s was not good for his blood pressure, nor his general view of humanity. Now that he’d been dead for more than seventy years, he had in fact grown more understanding of people, and blood pressure was no longer a problem. But Heaven wasn’t exactly the paradise the church had promised.

“Move your ass!” he yelled out his window, hoping to clear the road but knowing his shouts would be in vain. The guy riding a donkey in front of him just smiled and tipped his hat. In a realm where you could pick anything you could dream of for transportation—like unicorns or warrior bears or giant crabs—that guy had picked a donkey. Maybe he wanted to reconnect with his biblical heritage. Winston acknowledged his own mount was a furry dragon, though, so who was he to judge? Donkey or no, traffic today was ridiculously horrid.

Winston arrived at Heaven’s HR office an hour late, his coworkers frantically running this way and that. Not a good sign. Maybe traffic had been bad for everyone. His boss, Marcia, headed straight toward him.

“Winston, we need to—”

“I know, I know,” he said. “The roads were a mess. Got stuck behind this Amish guy who was in no kind of hurry.”

“That’s fine Winston, but there’s something else—”

“It won’t happen again,” he said, trying to forestall the berating.

“I know, Winston. I believe you. It’s just—”

“Why’s everyone running around like startled kittens?” He realized now the office was in a next-level state of panic.

“God quit.”


“Last night. Dropped Her letter with Peter on the way out. Pretty sure She’s scuba diving in Europa.”

The traffic was quickly becoming the highlight of Winston’s day. “How many has that been,” he asked, “ten in the last hundred years?”

“It’s a stressful job. High turnover is to be expected.”

“Yeah, but still. You’d think the recruiters would do a better job of picking out candidates to prevent this from happening.”

“They could only select from the applicant pool,” she said carefully. “You know that.”

“I know, I know. It’s just, we’re going to be here all night doing paperwork, not to mention God powers training, reacquainting the department heads with the new God, the ramifications on Earth without His or Her hand to guide them. No wonder there are so many atheists now. It’s hard to believe in a God when God spends half Their time learning how to do Their job.”

“Winston, I don’t think that will be a problem this time.”

“No? And why’s that?”

“The Board voted unanimously to move to an appointment system for God’s replacement. No more unqualified applicants.”

“Wow. And what sucker have you dragooned into that headache?”


Winston stared at her, slack-jawed. No peace for him on Earth or Heaven. “Goddammit.”

Severance Package

Hi, welcome to death! Let’s dive right in.

If you are reading this pamphlet, then you are a resident of a universe whose managing deity has recently quit, self-expunged, been killed, or put in a letter of resignation. Please view the following parting message from your deity:

Fine, you whiny bastards! I’ve heard enough out of you. You think you could choose better lives for yourselves? By all means, give it a whack. I’m out of this fucking joint.

How exciting! It appears your deity has opted for the “Choose Your Own Adventure!” severance package. Please note that by electing an omniscient, godless existence, you will be perpetually aware of your life path while living and unable to alter said path once chosen.

Please select from the wide variety* of available options below:

  1. You are born into the capitalistic ideal of a family. You are the middle child, number two of three. Your parents love you very much and enroll you in an accelerated learning program. You are accepted into Stanford University on a full-ride scholarship and become a leading figure in the realm of quantum physics. You give two TED Talks. At the second talk, you meet your wife, with whom you have three brilliant children of your own. One of them—the middle one—dies from heart complications three years after her birth. You are devastated. Eventually, your grief consumes your career, your savings, and your entire family. You are mildly consoled by the fact that your dead daughter selected her brief and painful life from a wide variety of available options, just like you.
  2. You are born on the side of a county highway. You are the middle child, number five of nine. You never meet your siblings. Your mother gives you up for adoption so you might have a chance at a better life, even though she selected her life path from a wide variety of available options and therefore knows how it all will play out, just like you. You fistfight your way through half of high school before getting expelled, after which you begin to write poetry about pain. Your work is published globally. Decades later, your mother meets you at a local Cracker Barrel and tells you that she has read all your poems. She moves in with you, and for one year you both laugh every day. Then her memory leaves her, and shortly afterward, she leaves you. You make an exorbitant amount of money from your poetry.

Now, please enjoy** your life! We’ll see you next time.

* Please note that due to high demand and the interconnectivity between all things, your specific options may be limited.

** Please note that due to high demand and the interconnectivity between all things, some pain and discomfort is unavoidable. Luckily, you will remain aware of your complete timeline throughout your life. What a treat! Knowledge will spare you from the worst and most freeing of all life’s evils: uncertainty.

Where Were You During the Collapse of Reality?

In a long white room, separate from all of creation, God takes a long drag from her cigarette, inhaling deeply past her Adam’s apple. As she puffs out, the motion of a delicate hand traces the lit cigarette past a hooked nose, along a square jaw, to rest beside thick hair—the oily, voluminous black of deep space.

“That’s it,” she informs the person across from her—a former employee of hers, stout, broad, feral-grinned. She aims the cigarette’s supernova-bright cherry at an ashtray on the table between them.

“Consider this,” she tamps it out with a hiss, “my resignation.”

When the pillars of reality suddenly collapse, the thing that flattens out, that really should never flatten out, is time.

In a Toronto flat, a paintbrush leaks across canvas. An odd but ordinary occurrence. Then, it releases in a winding stream of oily globules—every pigment that its bristles have absorbed since the artist’s first fauvist portrait.

Through a pair of headphones in Belize, a guitar chord metastasizes. Sound doubles on itself, exponential, as every musical composition across history, from dubstep to nocturnes to the drum circles of early man, begins to share the space of relatively few notes.

On a loud street in Jaipur, a pot of chai unmakes. From the boiling milk sprouts a thicket of cardamom plants, tangled ginger root, cinnamon saplings, and camellia sinensis.

In a public library on the US plains, the glue rooting book paper to spines and macaroni to children’s art unfurls into, hooves first, a stampede of piebald horses.

Oceans, rivers, lakes teem with fish and mammals and older organisms, re-becoming.

Millennia of sunlight reverberate into tangible, golden threads, dense like the teeth of baleen whales.

Human beings dissipate from one confused step to the next, clouds of recycled stardust and far-traveled water no longer held together by the passage of significant time.

As God, in her chagrin, unspools every atom across her long tenure, everything in existence, everything across the concept of past and present, attempts to re-exist all at once. There, in space, between one star and the next, the Earth ceases—one tumorous mass of matter, emotion, experience.

That’s that. So there.

Across from her, God’s companion plucks the cigarette from the ashtray and reignites it.

“Shame. It was just—oh, not getting good. But it sure as hell entertained.”

In answer, God is only silent.

“Well, if you’re calling it quits,” he inhales, fire reflected in brimstone pupils, “mind if I give it a go?”

Mouth of God

Dinah was content with her sister-wives and never complained about the chores she had. She savored how her fingers pruned after washing the sheets, mesmerized by the iridescent suds that illuminated the pores and cracks in her hands. Hanging the bedding to dry outside their mountain home, away from society’s burning gaze, felt like communing with Heavenly Father. The white fabric undulated in the breeze as if the Holy Spirit moved through it. The aroma of fabric softener and bleach mixed with the earthen scent of desert sandalwood was her definition of peace. Dinah didn’t think she could be happier until her husband told her it was time to bear a child of God.

Electricity coursed through her that day, her whole body vibrating with anticipation. She tucked clean, white linens around the bed. Smoothing them across the mattress, she willed it to be a pure and adequate place to conceive her child. She prayed for a son. Strong and brave and ready to hold the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The ecstasy of conception was nothing compared to the rage and shame of her miscarriages. By her third loss, Dinah couldn’t find the Spirit in daily routines. The white sheets she hung to dry no longer reminded her of temple rites but of ghosts from a Stephen King novel. Stolen from supermarket ventures, she consumed wicked stories while her husband was busy with her sister-wives. More and more he left her alone to read and do the laundry.

But no matter the amount of bleach, Dinah could still see the stains of her failure, a faint red orifice. Like a letter from the mouth of God, she knew, He had abandoned her.

He had quit.

She tore down the sheets and screamed back at the red cotton lips, called them names, and swore her revenge on Him. On the God that had resigned on her.

Throwing open the linen closet, she wrestled the bedding to the ground. White cotton, grey wool for winter, even the little green teddy and flower sheets—a hand-me-down from her favorite sister-wife—Dinah heaped them all into the middle of her quaint kitchen. She rummaged under the sink until she found an unopened bottle of rubbing alcohol and emptied it. The fumes made her cough. She encircled the bedding with candles, wax pooling onto the hardwood floor.

When the flame caught hold of the cotton, Dinah was surprised how quickly it spread. The pile transformed into a smoldering blaze; the heat warming her legs, her cheeks. Her eyes watered from smoke. Once the flames were high enough, Dinah threw the stained sheets on. She watched God’s mouth, pale pink and taunting, burn into a fine ash before she left the house. In her husband’s Chevy, Dinah adjusted the seat and wriggled the rearview mirror into place. Her gaze drifted from the burning home to the road ahead of her. The engine rolled over, thrumming beneath her, and Dinah made her escape to Phoenix.

Open Stage Night at the Back Door After the End of the World

One month into the…second or third “unprecedented” end of the world, I follow the crowds and bitchy Reddit posts to find God at the Back Door. The news cycle has finally moved on from their retirement. Even SEO experts are less focused on keywording for “which god is it that’s retiring?” and more on “learning to live in the end times.”

God has apparently been spending their own hours online, too. Even in the dark, it’s clear they’ve managed to contour their nose and faux beard better than I have at any point in my five-year career. They breast as boobily on the stage as the experienced queens do, their beard-tit combo a distilled “fuck you.”

I wait until they finish their “Act of Contrition” remix before I go up to the bar and order my drink. I make eye contact with the bartender. We make a communal effort to ignore both God and the muffled sounds of chaos on the street outside.

(It’s good practice to tip the Queens, of course, but I think I’ll tip the bouncer tonight for all the effort she’s putting into keeping God’s…fans…out of the bar.)

Cecil Rock-a-fella does his damnedest to follow God’s act after the post-performance applause dies down, but I—and, arguably, the rest of the bar—keep glancing toward the stage door.

God doesn’t make an appearance. Instead, when I look away from stage and door alike, I find them stealthily sliding into the seat next to me, wearing their wig cap and dressing gown.

“I noticed your carabiner,” God says with a nod. “What brand of pepper spray is that?”

I take a long, long sip of my drink. “Generic.”

God hums. “Is it better than name brand?”

“More affordable.” I glance down at the shellacked bar, half-expecting it to melt beneath God’s touch. It doesn’t. “I could get you some, if you like.”

God shrugs.

“But if you can’t afford any,” I say, because I can’t stop running my mouth, “there’s a back way out. You don’t—you don’t have to see anyone you don’t want to.”

God’s beard cracks as they smile. “It’s fine,” they lie. “I brought the trouble.” Their smile grows wry. “If my son can manage an angry crowd, I might as well try.”

“At least walk with one of the Queens.” Cecil Rock-a-fella finishes his song. I take another sip of my drink. “We’re used to it.”

God gives me a look like I’m fishing for pity, but all I can do is shrug. Behind their head, there’s a sign on the wall—affectionately graffitied to shit, sure, but as relevant as the day the owner put it up.

“Everyone: welcome. Consent: mandatory. Nazis: punchable.”

When the show’s over, I walk out of the bar holding my pepper spray tight. God—tits, beard, and all—walks behind me.

Meet Our Spring 2023 Interns!

If you’ve ever met one of our wonderful F(r)iction staffers, you’ll quickly learn that almost every one of them was once an intern in our Publishing Internship Program.

This program is run by our parent nonprofit organization, Brink Literacy Project. While our publishing internships are a great way to get a crash course in the literary industry, they can often provide a path to what can become a long and rewarding professional relationship. For more information, please visit the internship page on the Brink website.

Simon Kerr


What is your favorite place to read?  

More of a when/how: in the morning, with a pot of tea at the ready. 

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead?

Absolutely, I do. It leads to a small, abandoned home, just one room with a nest of quilts on the bed, a cold kitchen, walls lined with dusty books. I leave it undisturbed. (Okay, maybe I take a little cup as a memento.)  

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

I advocate for peace between coffee and tea drinkers. I love a slow morning ritual, whether grinding coffee beans for the percolator or choosing a tea to enjoy or stirring stovetop chai. 

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?  

“Tempest”! I love the play, and it corresponds with my favorite ASL sign, “hurricane.”

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

A notebook, because I’ll keep myself more sane writing than rereading any book on loop. And a Hozier album, because if I’m going to go feral on an island I’m going to do it right. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be?  

Less “industry.” Something more in the spirit of small businesses and co-ops.

Haley Lawson


What is your favorite place to read?   

My favorite place to read is in the comfort of my home. I’ll read just about anywhere though and usually have a book in my bag.

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead? 

I absolutely open the door! It transports me inside the library from The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. Carolyn and I chat over guacamole while she teaches me how to speak to lions. 

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.   

Black, preferably with a pastry on the side. 

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language? 

My favorite English word is “hinterland.” I love the idea of an untouched land that can only be found beyond the bounds of where we live. There is a mystery to it that makes me feel like a Hobbit in Middle-earth.  My favorite Mongolian word is “манайхан” (pronounced “mah-neh-han”). It roughly translates to “my people” and when used colloquially, it is endearing and kind. 

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut because I feel like I could read it over and over and still find something new. 

Frank by Amy Winehouse because her voice is incredible. 

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be?

Accessibility and equity for all—including a genuine celebration and inclusion of all races, genders, orientations, nationalities, abilities, and more. 

Marizel Malan


What is your favorite place to read?   

My favorite place to read is just about anywhere I can light a candle, have some fresh air and put on music—this means I typically read in my living room. But as long as I can throw some music on, I will happily read anywhere and everywhere.

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead? 

I open the door and it leads to a large, lush cave with a staircase along the left wall of the cave going all the way down. On the sides of the wall are torches and framed works of art. At the bottom of the cave is a small, comfortable camping area next to a lake, surrounded by moss on all sides.

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.  

During the summer I veer towards iced coffee with blueberry or caramel syrup and oat milk, but in the winter, I definitely prefer a chai latte.

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

My favorite English word is melancholy and for two main reasons: it sounds magical which I think suits the magical sadness of melancholy wonderfully, and it reminds me of one of my favorite paintings, Melancholia by Penny Siopis.

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

The one book I would have with me is Useless Magic by Florence Welch. It is a collection of lyrics and poetry written by the lead singer of Florence + The Machine. My reasoning behind choosing this book is purely sentimental: it is the most beautiful book I own and was gifted to me by my brother.

The album I would want with me would have to be Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter. Her amazing writing and the way she plays with imagery draws one into the story of the character which spans the length of the album and ends in her death. Truly the best company for my stay on a deserted island.

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be?  

I would like to change the disregard so many older publishers and publishing houses have for minority writers. So many talented, awe-inspiring and insightful writers are turned away or overshadowed in favor of promoting the works of billionaire writers with out-of-date opinions. It is high time that a change is made when it comes to the voices we put out into the world. 

Alex Schotzko


What is your favorite place to read?   

I love to read in all sorts of places—the library, a park, the deep woods, next to a fireplace, in front of an enormous window—but I think my absolute favorite reading spot is my bed. It just feels so safe and warm and comfortable (though right now I have a dorm mattress so its not that comfortable). Plus, my bed is the spot where I have (most of my) dreams, so my imagination usually feels more excited and open when I read there.

You’re walking up the side of a mountain along a winding, wooded path. You look to your left and discover, by chance, a door in the side of the mountain. Do you open it, and if so, where does it lead?  

Oh yeah, I absolutely open it. I’ve been waiting way too long for some weird magical stuff to happen in my life, so I would simply have to take that chance. Ideally, it would lead to some kind of fantastical magical place (while hopefully imparting some magical skills to me so I wouldn’t be completely useless there). Maybe it could lead to some place like Skyrim, or a (less problematic) Harry Potter universe, or straight into a Studio Ghibli movie? I mean, I’d even take Pokémon. Actually, Pokémon would be awesome.

How do you take your coffee? If you don’t drink coffee, describe your favorite beverage ritual.    

I’m really inconsistent with my coffee. Sometimes I don’t drink it for weeks, sometimes I drink it every day. I like cappuccinos, americanos, lattes, black coffee, any of it, really. Depends on the mood! 

What is your favorite English word and why? Do you have a favorite word in another language?   

I think my favorite English word at the moment is finger. Kind of a weird one, but for whatever reason I’ve been using it a bunch in my writing lately. It’s just so specific, it has such a particular feel to it, especially when applied to things that don’t actually have or aren’t actually fingers.

My favorite word in Spanish is probably susurro, which means whisper. It has a really cool sound, and also sounds like a whisper itself, so that makes it extra cool. And my favorite word in German is definitely künstler, which means artist. I just love that because it feels like everytime you call someone an artist, you’re also insulting them.

You’re on a deserted island. You have one album and one book. What are they and why?   

The album is most definitely and absolutely Choose Your Weapon by Hiatus Kaiyote. That album has already gotten me through plenty of metaphorical deserted islands, so I don’t see why it would fail me in the real thing.

Right now, the book would probably be The River Why by David James Duncan. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it’s clever, it’s sad, it’s inspiring, and it also occasionally has to do with fishing, which might help me on a deserted island.

If you could change one thing about the literary industry, what would it be? 

More diversity. Flat out. Not only diversity of people who are published (that’s a given), but also a greater diversity of form, language use, and genre. I want to see novels that are also collections of poetry, fantasy that is also science fiction that is also a dictionary (not sure how that would work, but it could be interesting). I think “fiction” especially tends to be a limiting form in terms of style conventions, and I would love to see all of it get stranger. 

Scenes From A Marriage: A Review

There is a brilliant passage in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, in which the Ramsay’s house—against the backdrop of the horrific clamor of The Great War—remains oblivious to the chaos of man-made destruction, slowly giving in to the pace and rhythms of nature. It came to my mind every time I pressed “cancel autoplay” while binge-watching Scenes From a Marriage, just to keep looking at the final shots of hustling ants, thawing snow, leaves rustling under the tiny paws of squirrels as the final credits rolled.

Onscreen, a conflict unfolded of a different kind. With strange fascination, bordering almost on sadistic pleasure, I gazed at the progressive dissolving of a family unit, no longer solid and successful as the first scene would have us all believe. Minutes into the first episode, an excruciatingly polite PhD student asks a clean-cut middle-class couple a series of somewhat nosy questions as part of her research. Jonathan (Oscar Isaac) sits back, relaxed, boasting his theories on the pragmatics of monogamy; Mira (Jessica Chastain), meanwhile, scratches her forearm, forcing a fake smile. Something’s off, this much we can tell even without having read the IMBD synopsis, and the student can tell as well, giving Mira a probing look.

But why our curiosity? Why this deep need to peek through the window of somebody else’s house to witness yet another mundane calamity of divorce? In his famous opening to Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote that, although all happy families are pretty much the same, the unhappy ones each face their predicament in their own particular way.

This doesn’t seem true. Obviously, suffering makes far better artwork material than bliss. But the ways in which we suffer and render that suffering are no less scripted than those of joy. This is perhaps the intent behind the beginning of each episode: we see the actors arrive on set, with crew members rushing by, cameras rolling, final makeup touch-ups being made. We are shown clearly that this is all pretense—we are reminded of it each time (five times in one binging session, in my case)—that the anguish we see is scripted. And yet, it all seems no less raw, no less real in the slightest. Hypnotized, I kept watching others’ wounds being inflicted and re-opened, because doing so feels like scratching an itch that’s much closer to home.

Chastain and Isaac’s quintuple feat of acting skills is not just a tale of a particularly messy divorce; it is also, perhaps most importantly, a story about how hard it is to let go—of the people we love, yes; but also of the people we used to be when that love was less complicated; and—perhaps most subtly and interestingly—of the objects that surrounded us while we loved the people we loved in this less complicated way. And why is the last one so hard, one can’t help but wonder, seeing Mira in the last-but-one episode, making a fuss about not getting a couch, just after professing her nonchalance to material objects as a sign of maturity and liberation superior to her husband’s? Or listening in on a phone conversation she has with her daughter while waiting for the movers, the little girl obsessing over the boxfuls of dolls she left behind. Or watching Jonathan admit to his ex-wife, long after the breakup, that driving past their old house has become an obsession of his. Of course, we could dismiss all these worries as mere excuses, ways the characters try to distract themselves from something more important, more poignant. But are they, really? Is the poignancy of a forsaken couch not powerful enough? Why can’t it be about things—the props, the décor of good times past?

This fondness for things is perhaps most obvious in the final episode, where the long-divorced couple decides to rent their old house as an Airbnb. Unable to resist this urge to peep into other people’s lives and play house in their former home, when they step in to the ruins of their former life, now tastefully furnished by their successors, a sense of unease sets in: the awkwardness of physically occupying the space once so familiar that is no longer theirs. But then, the mood changes. There is a strange comfort in knowing that the things you had desperately hoped for just didn’t work out. Perhaps because the gloom over them not having lasted dims in the relief of knowing that there’s no need to prove anybody wrong anymore—no need to try to make it last. Walking into that space, once so meaningfully laden and now empty—not even haunted, just vacant—you realize that there can be no coming back. The space, now changed beyond recognition, is no longer your own. This realization might make you feel nostalgic, like Jonathan, or even angry, like Mira, but eventually both of these feelings give way to the relief that this newly found space “is what it is, and is not what is not.”

Scenes From a Marriage tells a story about how desperately we hold on to things when the mirages of bygone feelings attack us with confusing force. It’s not just that petty grievances over objects can become our only way of venting frustration far too powerful to be put into words. It’s also about how we seek comfort in them; how we try to take shelter in their concreteness against the onslaught of the inevitable albeit unforeseen cataclysms of which—just like Jonathan—we perceive ourselves as innocent victims. Perhaps only to discover, like he eventually did, that our illusions of innocence and moral superiority over the ones who hurt us are just one more thing too difficult to let go of. Only then do we find out that the writing had been there all along, on the walls of the house we had been trying to put up precariously, against all odds. And when the props are taken down and the scenery has been changed, much like the protagonists of Scenes from a Marriage, at least we can rest assured that no one could tell us we didn’t try. And this, I would argue, is the ultimate pull of such dramas. It’s nice to sit back, relax, and watch somebody else do the trying for a change. It’s not that we want them to fail—it’s just that watching them inevitably do so in the end can make us feel less alone with failings of our own.