For half-crowds only…

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wires by john linwood grant
Oklahoma 1968

“Wheels churned and axles creaked as we drove from one dead-eyed, God-fearing place to another, playing to half-crowds only.”

I hesitate to call this a classic Gas Station Carnival or Circus story, one that happens in places like Elk City and Turkey Creek, hesitating, that is, for fear of the awestruck passion of the reading moment, but also for fear of the tightrope walking needed by any reader to fulfil this story’s potential. I confidently sense, however, that my hesitation is not needed, as it is indeed a classic weird story (whatever its subject matter!), one that perhaps needs greater airing in the heights than it already has been given. We are all air-walkers at heart. Upon a knife edge.
The story is somehow both archetypal and original as just such a carnival story, its carnality erotically charged, too, as well as subtly so!
Such tensions between opposites are crucial to its power. But the eroticism stems more from its containing emptiness or flatness at its core as well as the fullness of a daring tumescence’s knife edge. The two characters Jackie and Lemuel are unforgettable in this regard. As well as the narrator himself, balanced on such tensions. A young man who tries both ends of that spectrum but knows which one he yearns for most. And his outcome is in a hall of mirrors.
This work means more than it seems to mean, and means less, too. It crosses many opposites of self-boundaries, along with the enormously evocative nature of the circus carnival itself and its performers, its clowns in particular laughing like hyenas at our own quandaries of self when reading this work.
Crystalline and limpid, the prose in this work simply aches to be read, but also aches to bear a mixture of misunderstanding as well as understanding, despite the surface clarity of what we see in its mirrors beyond the township’s preachers and the sense of the forbidden. Uplifting as well as devastating. Loving as well as darkly subsuming. How can that be? Only those who dare can manage it.
Pitiful and pitiless. 

“In those moments, I can almost understand the language of clowns.”

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Cross-referenced with ‘Scheherazade’ by Haruki Murakami here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/12/26/men-without-women-haruki-murakami/#comment-24366

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Full john linwood grant context of above here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/03/05/where-all-is-night-and-starless-john-linwood-grant/

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