Vol. 13, No. 2
With debut authors, it’s natural for folks to compare them to someone who came before. Wells Tower likens Bennett Sims’ work to a young Nabokov, and Nicholson Baker. Benjamin Hale points to Thomas Bernhard and David Foster Wallace. Similar to these writers, Bennett possesses a mastery of vision, of language, that is rare. His grip and his focus are incredibly potent, and he never hiccups. And, similar to all these authors mentioned, Bennett’s writing is strikingly unique.
I first read the manuscript for A Questionable Shape on my laptop on the front porch. It was evening. The night grew darker, cooler. I remember sneaking inside to snag a sweatshirt. I remember the glow from the computer screen blacking out the surrounding night so that I was locked into this world that he had crafted. There are zombies, sure, but this is not a zombie novel.
Bennett has published stories here in Recommended Reading, as well as with A Public Space, Tin House, Zoetrope, and Orion Magazine. When I first read A Questionable Shape, Bennett was 26 years old. He is 27 now. That blows my hair back. In college football country, Bennett is what we refer to as a stud.
I don’t kid myself into believing that I was the very first editor that Bennett’s agent thought of when submitting A Questionable Shape (agents have to make a living, after all). Still I couldn’t believe that this beast of a book had found its way to me. I do feel as though I have been gifted with an incredible opportunity as an editor and publisher to be able to bring Bennett’s first novel into the world. I’m so excited to share it with readers.
I imagine that A Questionable Shape will be the only book of Bennett’s that we will be fortunate enough to publish at Two Dollar Radio, not because I wouldn’t publish his second novel (or his third and fourth) given the opportunity, but because I am convinced that Bennett will move on, he will move up, and he will create work that will outlive us all.
Publisher, Two Dollar Radio
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Join us on May 23 at WORD in Brooklyn to launch A Questionable Shape.
Excerpted from the novel by Bennett Sims
Recommended by Two Dollar Radio
I hastily left the narrow street at the next turning. However, after wandering about for some time without asking the way, I suddenly found myself back in the same street, where my presence began to attract attention. Once more I hurried away, only to return there again by a different route. I was now seized by a feeling that I can only describe as uncanny. Other situations share this feature of the unintentional return. One comes back again and again to the same spot. To many people the acme of the uncanny is represented by death, dead bodies, revenants… The return of the dead.
- Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny”
Human love is implicated with death, because it implies either resurrecting the beloved or following the spouse into the death realm. It is fitting that the lost one is a synonym for the dead one, since the dead are lost de jure and one loses them de facto in the labyrinth. Marriage requires the spouse to follow his wife into the labyrinthine realm of death… To follow them into undeath, as Orpheus did. Orpheus is the model spouse.
- Jalal Toufic, Undying Love, or Love Dies
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE UNDEAD SO FAR IS THIS: they return to the familiar. They’ll wander to nostalgically charged sites from their former lives, and you can somewhat reliably find an undead in the same places you might have found it beforehand. Its house, its office, the bikelanes circling the lake, the bar. “Haunts.” The undead will return to the neighborhood grocery store and shuffle down its aisles, as if shopping. They will climb into their own cars and sit dumbly at the wheel, staring out the windshield into nothing. A man bitten, infected, and reanimated fifty miles from home will find his way back, staggering over diverse terrain—which, probably, he wouldn’t have recognized or been able to navigate in his mortal life—in order to stand vacantly on a familiar lawn. No one knows how they do it—whether by tracking or instinct or some latent mnemocartography—nor why, but it’s an observable phenomenon. In fact, what it calls to mind are those homing pigeons, the ones famous and fascinating for the particles of magnetite in their skulls: bits of mineral sensitive to electromagnetic pulls and capable of directing the pigeons, like the needle of a compass, homeward over vast and alien distances. It is as if the undead are capable of “homing” in this way.1
At seven this morning, an hour before Mazoch usually arrives, I sit down with a sheet of loose leaf to write out some of the sites where we’ll be searching for his father today. The list is for Rachel, who’s still asleep. I’ll leave it on the coffee table by our copy of FIGHT THE BITE, the infection-awareness pamphlet that the Louisiana Center for Disease Control doled out back in May, at the beginning of the outbreak (chapter titles include “1. A Bite’s Never Alright [sic],” “5. A Knock To The Head Will Stop ’Em Dead,” et cetera). Recently Rachel has been requesting a list of those places “you two go every day,” so that, if I’m worryingly late coming home, she’ll at least be able to tell the police where to start looking. She’s right, of course. At the heading of the sheet, first item on our itinerary, I write down Mr. Mazoch’s old address.
He went missing from his house in Denham Springs several weeks ago, and Matt emailed me shortly afterward to enlist my help. We gave ourselves the month of July, just before hurricane season hits, setting this Friday as our deadline. Assuming that Mr. Mazoch hasn’t been detained, quarantined, or put down already, he might still be wandering, compelled, toward his remembered places. We figured it was only a matter of determining what places these would be, staking them out each day, and waiting for our routes to overlap. If our trip to his house in Denham coincides with Mr. Mazoch’s, then he and Matt will be reunited. To inspire us each morning, Matt copied out two Thomas Hardy quotations on separate post-it notes and taped them to the dashboard of his car: “My spirit will not haunt the mound/Above my grave,/But travel, memory-possessed,/To where my tremulous being found/Life largest, best./My phantom-footed shape2 will go/When nightfall grays/Hither and thither along the ways/I and another used to know” from “My Spirit Will Not Haunt the Mound,” and, “Yes: I have entered your old haunts at last;/Through the years, through the dead scenes I have tracked you;/What have you now to say of our past—/Scanned across the dark space wherein I have lacked you?” from “After a Journey.” Each poem seems to speak to the other across the inch of dashboard leather that divides them, just as I imagine Mr. Mazoch letting out an unearthly moan, and Matt humming out the open window to keep awake as he drives, and that moaning and that humming speaking to one another across Baton Rouge’s fields and highways, across all the remembered and misremembered suburbs that separate Mazoch from his father.