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Alistair McCartney reads from The Disintegrations

As a kid, when I read books, I skipped around a lot. I’d page through encyclopedias, fairy tales, Bible stories, and choose what caught my eye. I still read books of poetry that way, but with prose I mostly start at the beginning. I’m a kid again enjoying The Disintegrations by Alisair McCartney. In one story near the end, Eun Kung and the Ocean, the author and his character, a neighbor who has been raped and murdered, pass each other on the beach. The creation addresses her creator:

You think that’s why I was so crazy about the beach that summer? I’m not a fucking seer. I just wanted to catch some waves. But hey, didn’t I see you there? I was coming out of the ocean as you were heading in. Or was I heading in and you were coming out? I forget, but I remember seeing you and smiling, I recognized you from the deli, your unwelcoming face, like a house that’s been boarded up, but you didn’t recognize me. I must have been coming out of the water then because you looked right at me, then, as if I were transparent, already a ghost, you looked right through me to the sea and its briny elemental grace.

Alistair McCartney says The Disintegrations is fiction, and though the book reads like it is real—it is that well-written—I will take the author’s word for it, that he’s not the narrator whose face is unwelcoming, boarded up like an empty house—harder for death to get in no doubt. Reclusive by nature, the man telling the stories is so happy with his own thoughts, he doesn’t need others, colleagues or neighbors or friends; it’s when they’re dead that he finally recognizes them. Perhaps it’s easier to see the corpse in the coffin who isn’t moving, who never blurs so he can focus in.

I enjoy opening this book and looking around; the chapters are short, and if there seems to be no linear story line holding them together, they are all about death, so death does the binding. I’ve read several chapters over again even though I am still not finished with all of them. If you were in a book store and picked up The Disintegrations, but didn’t have the money to buy it, I’d tell you to turn to page 46, the chapter called The Birnies, and start to read. It’s a story that takes place in western Australia where the author grew up—He lives in Los Angeles now. Serial killers are his neighbors whom the author, as a teenager, waved and talked to. The story telling is compelling. Here is a paragraph with the newspaper reporting in italics:

There was a fifth woman, who got away. Collein Sheir was abducted at knifepoint by the Birnies, Sunday night, November 9. The couple drove her at knifepoint to their home. The next morning, she escaped through a window. That lucky girl, as the paper referred to her, saved by a knock on the door, ran naked through the park, the grass still wet with dew, straight to the local fish and chip shop. The owner was just getting the fryer going. The girl snatched up some newspapers to cover herself, those papers filled with the stories of all those disappearing girls, and began to tell him her story, in fits and starts. She began to weep, not about her predicament but because the thorns embedded the soles of her feet, from the park’s harsh grass. The police were called and, in a dark-blue dressing gown that was far too big for her, Colleen led them back to the pale-blue asbestos house.

I really enjoy the sentence in the middle that is completely the author’s: The girl snatched up some newspapers to cover herself, those papers filled with the stories of all those disappearing girls, and began to tell him her story, in fits and starts. If The Disintegrations is about death, dying and decay, how we fall apart at the end, it’s also about the naked lucky girl covering herself with newspapers of the dead, coincidence and the decisions made to take the paths one takes, how life connects us, always more about the living the dead.

The Disintegrations is published by the University of Wisconsin Press. You can check them out here:


Alistair McCartney

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