Apologia: A deliberately all-positive critical essay, usually designed to convince others of a specific opinion
Why I Signed 'Get Up Tim' -- An Apologia.
I always love telling the story of how Chicago author Sally Weigel and I met, because to me it shows one of the things I like best about being a small indie organization; because the fact is that Sally first came to my attention because of regularly commenting here at the blog way back when she was seventeen, and sometimes mentioning the blog where she was posting her own story snippets at the time. That eventually led to convincing her to write her first full-length manuscript, which eventually led to the well-received 2009 novella Too Young to Fall Asleep; and then since then she's been a celebrated literature student at DePaul University, getting published at a series of admired literary journals and even spending a summer in Spain studying foreign literature in its native environment.
And it's clear in her latest story collection for CCLaP, Get Up Tim, that Sally has become a profoundly better writer because of these experiences; for while the things I've always liked about her work are still there -- the probing characterization, the surprisingly gleeful embrace of prurience, the yearning to examine the human condition among a wide variety of settings and people -- in her newest work she is really hitting the nail on the head a lot more when it comes to these subjects, much more mature stories that really transport us to those environments a lot more than they have before. After all, this is one of the things I've always liked the most about Sally, is her ability even at a young age to really inhabit characters and places that are sometimes radically different than her own, and I'm pleased to see that college has done nothing but strengthen and hone these skills.
For example, take the title story, about a genial but weak-hearted professor in 1970s Manhattan, coming to grips with both his growing alcoholism and his recent breakup with a closeted Latino boy toy destined to one day marry a good Catholic girl and take over his father's diner, mostly by turning to yoga at a time when it was still considered fairly exotic in the US, flip-flopping between meditation and binge drinking sessions at Bukowskiesque dive bars; in this case, Sally really nails a Postmodernist look and feel to it all, the exact kind of laid-back, character-oriented story that was so popular among this real group of people back then. But then in "Sing You a Tune," she suddenly veers into a very different world, telling a Jennifer-Egan-like tale of a famous middle-aged rock star, slowly having a nervous breakdown in a posh Mexican hotel while being kept in a news blackout by her nervous team of handlers; or for a different take on the music scene, check out the exquisitely done "The Hand Jobs" (my favorite story of the entire book), about a punk teen who quits his band just a year before they accidentally break the Top 40, and whether it's this experience that has led to him becoming a shifty burger-flipping twentysomething anti-villain slacker or whether it's being a shiftless slacker that led to him prematurely quitting the band.
Of course, in a lot of these stories Sally does stick close to the young hipster middle-class crowd that she knows well, and it's here where the astute reader will find some of the most intense pieces of all; check out "The Quiet One" for example, in which a shy teen with a substance-abuse problem contemplates life while on court-ordered community service, or "Gambling," in which Sally cleverly conflates the waiting for an HIV test with the waiting for a college acceptance letter for one particularly snarky, particularly overanalytical high-school senior. Whether it's the homeless drifter of "Flower Punk" or the feminist-friendly but sex-crazed suburban boy of "Sometimes It's Hard to Say," it's when Sally examines her own generation that her writing really shines the most; and despite her well-known wish to break out of the "coming-of-age ghetto" as much as possible, I admit that I'm glad to see so much of her new collection concentrated among her Millennial peers.
Sally is a living example of the type of person I opened CCLaP specifically to support -- young, smart, wise beyond her years, who needs a welcoming environment to help her grow into the master storyteller she will one day be -- and I'm as proud to offer this new book of hers to you as I am of the first one, a short but powerful one-two punch that I encourage you to read in a row, if you've never tackled the 2009 volume. As always, the electronic copy of Get Up Tim is available completely for free if you so choose, so I encourage you to stop by and download a copy right this second.