Game World author C.J. Farley visited the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School a few days ago and had a great time! Many thanks to the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, and to Linda Shum for the great photos!
"Girl and Giraffe" by Lydia Millet, recommended by Karen Russell
Issue No. 95
In Lydia Millet’s collection, Love in Infant Monkeys, the author sets herself a Chinese finger trap of a constraint—what if every story in a collection were built around a different celebrity/animal relationship? Let’s speak frankly: this absolutely shouldn’t function. Millet’s straitjacket of a conceit makes those Oulipo dudes look like a bunch of slackers in muumuus. But Millet takes her own dare and she delivers, producing a slender masterpiece about humans’ engagement with and estrangement from the natural world. Love in Infant Monkeys collects ten stories, ten acts of sustained improvisatory brilliance. I first read the collection in 2009 and I loved every one. I admired the success of Millet’s interspecies matchmaking, her instinct for pairing certain outsized human personalities with bizarrely proportioned creatures: David Hasselhoff and a dachshund. Sharon Stone and a Komodo dragon. Every story is audacious, tragic, hilarious, and surprising, but the one I find myself returning to again and again is “Girl and Giraffe.”
There is something gravelly and savagely happy inside the storybook rhythms of this first line: “The man called George Adamson lived a long life, long and rough and most of it in the African bush.” “Long” or “short” is relative, of course; any man’s lifespan is always a winnowing strip of possibilities—constrained and foredoomed. A few lines later, we learn about the Adamsons’ brutal murders in the same cool register; it’s as if the story’s narrator takes on the impersonal serenity of the African bush itself, observing our bloody dealings from the vantage of implacable, autonomous nature.
But the real stars here are a giraffe foal and a young female lion, Girl. (In fact, in this story, the eponymous “Girl” is also a celebrity, albeit an unwitting one—along with 22 other lions, she has a role in the movie adaptation of Born Free.) One of the many bold narrative lunges inside this very short story occurs when Girl escapes, mid-paragraph, into the white space of our imaginations, some unwritten domain, a world that is completely silent, undocumented. She becomes a “wild lion” again:
“In Adamson’s autobiography the end of Boy is well described, while the end of Girl, who lived out her days in the wild, is invisible. Happy endings often are.”
This unusual story builds to an unforgettable climax. It’s a reminiscence—Adamson’s memory of one sublime afternoon, several hours spent on the periphery of an encounter between a giraffe and “his” lion. Girl behaves unpredictably, even miraculously, toward the giraffe, and all Adamson can do is observe: “Being a primate, he watched. Being a primate, he was separate forever”.
Like George Adamson, we are creatures “hypnotized by the future.” Time passes; we watch an eternal patience spread between Girl and giraffe, and contrast this with the mosquito lifespan of human attention, all of George Adamson’s irritation, frustration, craving and dismay. What is the real miracle here? Just a wide-eyed infant giraffe, chewing some leaves. And predatory reality, incarnated as a young lion, granting this tiny ungulate her reprieve. It’s a moment of extraordinary animal complicity; yet we stand outside of it, eavesdropping on an older language with George Adamson. Our birthright, as primates, seems to be conscious mystification, and chronic homesickness. Wonderment, too, thank God: Millet’s brilliant tableaux reminds us that no matter what is happening on the human timescale, somewhere, as James Merrill puts it, “the world beneath the world is brightening.” I held my breath, waiting for Girl to pounce.
Author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Support Recommended Reading
by Lydia Millet
Recommended by Karen Russell
The man called George Adamson lived a long life, long and rough and most of it in the African bush. He set up house in a tent with a thatch roof and dirt floor, full of liquor and books. He smoked a pipe with a long stem, sported a white goatee and went around bare-chested in khaki shorts—a small, fit man, deeply tanned. He was murdered in his eighty-third year by Somali lion poachers.
Joy Adamson, his wife and the author of Born Free, had been stabbed to death a few years before. She bled out alone, on the road where she fell. They were somewhat estranged by the time of Joy’s death. They had cats instead of children—George had raised scores of lions, while Joy had moved on from lions to cheetahs to leopards—and lions and leopards could not cohabit, so George and Joy lived apart. They maintained contact, but they were hundreds of miles distant.
Two of George’s adoptive children, Girl and Boy, had come to live with him in the early nineteen-sixties. This was in Kenya, where the Second Battalion of the Scots Guards was stationed to fight a mutiny in Dares-Salaam. It was the tail end of the British empire in East Africa.
When Girl and Boy were nine months old, the Scots Guards brought them to the plains beneath Mount Kenya, to a farm where a British company was filming Born Free. Along with twenty-two other lions, Girl and Boy had roles in the movie. Afterward most of the lions were sent to zoos, where they would live out their lives in narrow spaces. But Girl and Boy were given to Adamson, who had become attached to them during filming. He took them to a place named Meru, where he made a camp.
Meru was in red-earth country, with reticulated giraffes browsing among the acacia and thornbush. Zebras roamed in families and the odd solitary rhino passed through the brush; there were ostriches, too, and an aging elephant named Rudkin, who plundered tomatoes.
Girl was one of Adamson’s success stories whereas her brother, Boy, was an extravagant failure; yet Boy was the one that Adamson deeply loved.
Girl had been fed all her life, but she took readily to the hunt. Her first kill was a jeering baboon, her second an eland with a broken leg, her third a baby zebra. From there she took down a full-grown cow eland and was soon accomplished. Meanwhile Boy did not feel moved to kill for himself; he merely feasted off the animals she brought down.
So Girl became a wild lion, but Boy did not. Boy remained close to Adamson all his life, often in camp, between two worlds. Though he made forays into the wild, he did not vanish within it. And on one occasion, hanging around camp while people were visiting, he stuck his head into a jeep and bit the arm of a seven year-old boy. This boy was the son of the local park warden; soon an order came down for Boy’s execution.
Read some Lydia Millet while you wait for her debut YA novel, Pills and Starships! (coming sooooo soon)
Check out our four great nonfiction offerings for the Fall 2014 season!
- Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of Les Claypool by Primus with Greg Prato (September 16, 2014)
- The Half That’s Never Been Told: The Real-Life Reggae Adventures of Doctor Dread by Doctor Dread, with an Introduction by Bunny Wailer (December 2, 2014)
- Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, the memoirs of Ralph J. Temple (September 2, 2014)
- Starve the Vulture: One Man’s Mythology, a memoir by Jason Carney (A Kaylie Jones Book) (January 6, 2015)
Music and memoirs abound!
The we-are-changers #Unselfies project is featured in the April 2014 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine!
Los Angeles: In advance of their March 22nd event at the Los Angeles Public Library, T and Allison are hosting an LA-specific Unselfies contest via Instagram and their website! Upload your LA-based Unselfie to Instagram with the tag #LAUnselfies, or directly to the We Are Changers website with the caption “LA Unselfies” (http://WeAreChangers.org/Unselfies), to be automatically entered to win a signed copy of Changers Book One: Drew at the event!
Here are some things that Justin Bieber actually said made into New Yorker cartoons.
Johnny:I have read that Zora Neale Hurston died in poverty (or near-poverty). While this can be seen as fairly shocking, given Hurston’s enormous talent and her outstanding literary output, the reality is that most literary writers have been undervalued by society at large. If you could wave a magic wand to change the relationship that most authors have to mainstream culture, what would you change?
Bernice: The compilation of literary models by American authors, known as the American Literary Canon, is exclusionary, as women and writers of color are woefully underrepresented. My wand would wave away the belief system forcibly imprinted on our psyche which promotes the idea that books written by people of color and/or women are less important, less impactful, and are at best a hybrid of American culture. My wand would do away with those ridiculous labels that categorize our books by skin color and sex.
Eric:I couldn’t agree with Bernice more. The exclusion you speak of, Bernice, is of course just another aspect of the American cultural history that designated that the lives of women of all races and men and children of color were less important than the lives of white males. One of the ways that oppression works is to judge the lives of the oppressed as trivial and unimportant. It’s one of the ways that oppressors justify the oppression: “These people are unimportant. How do we know? They have no literature of any importance.” The way the literary canon was traditionally arranged (and marketed) grew out of all that.