• John Grabowski

Violet Rothko and Other Stories — On Sale September 24th Everywhere

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

I knew as soon as I finished my first novel, Entertaining Welsey Shaw, that my second book would be a collection of stories and that all the stories would be contemporary, realistic, and about, quite simply, what's going on in our messy world right now.

I'm perplexed that while we live in tumultuous times, we don't seem to have an F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Tom Wolfe, a Richard Yates chronicling them. Or, if film is your poison, a Lubitsch, a Wilder, an Altman. Not for a moment that I'm comparing myself to these brilliant individuals. My point is that we seem to have decided lately to escape in the form of fantasy and escapism, rather than confront our world head-on. Yes, I know some of these "dystopian" creations supposedly deal with our blight. They're brilliant statements and all that. But they aren't, really.

To me, so much of today's literature oversimplifies and turns into comic book fodder complex, gray, and subtle issues, never troubling us with who we may find ourselves cheering for, because those in the tall white hats are visible for miles around. They give it to us pre-digested, in other words, and then congratulate us for "chewing." In reality we really don't have to worry about a state where women are slaves to their husbands or children are tributes in barbaric games resembling gladiator fests. If only evils were so clearly defined—which, of course, is their appeal. In messy real life, evil is friendly, convenient, and casually dressed in soft, cozy denim; it conquers us not by gladiatorial battles or sexual enslavement but through instant millionaire stock offerings, cars with shiatsu massage seats, and software that diverts us with cheap entertainment while it spies on how and where we spend our money. (Unlike in the evil Soviet Empire days, today's most valuable information is not whom you associate with, but what brands you have in your shopping cart.)

Real life is rarely as easy to deal with as our popular fictions. Margaret Atwood may feel she can separate good from evil. I am not as self-confident. But I can show both to you where you may not be looking for it. That's what I tried to do in many of these stories. They're filled with people. Not heroes and heroines. Not answers. Not even necessarily fully-articulated questions, because many of the people in them don't know what the hell is going on in their lives, or why they're doing what they're doing.

This fragmentation means it is a challenge to see the whole "process" that one's frequently rigid beliefs are a part of, sort of like the proverbial blindfolded people touching different parts of the elephant and reaching different conclusions that are neither "wrong" nor "right." Businesses congratulate themselves for their generous philanthropy when their policies created the very need. The media obsesses over a politician's semantics while not attempting to unravel their far more complex chain of actions. We worry about lack of workplace melanin diversity, yet no one notices they're mostly under 35 and live and work and think exactly the same way, despite their hair color, piercings or brand of jeans.

Back to this book. Someone asked me what holds the stories together. I think it's the small, everyday anxieties bombarding our lives that we have no idea how to even interpret, let alone deal with. The fact that we do it in a time of, in general, unparalleled (physical) comfort makes it all the more remarkable. Future generations will be impressed by how we wrung our hands over injustice and totalitarianism while dining on sushi and grass-fed beef. They probably won't find any answers in Violet Rothko and Other Stories, because I don't have them. But they will, I think, learn something about our zeitgeist in a way they won't anywhere else. They may even realize all ills, maybe most ills, don't come in the form of black capes and evil empires. One of the greatest writers of this or any period, Deborah Eisenberg, has said, "Reading literature fortifies us against a susceptibility to propaganda." That's the thing about dystopian worlds. They can appear bright and sunny.

Violet Rothko and Other Stories will be released on September 24th by Millennium. On sale at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and independent bookstores.

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