xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She says nothing at notimetosayit.com.
After reading Normally Special, if I knew xTx’s legal name, I’d file a restraining order. Maybe she’s Aileen Wuornos. Maybe she’s a wiccan living under A.M. Homes’s bed. I don’t know, she freaks me the hell out.
Though sometimes brutal, sometimes devastating, I couldn’t look away. Especially not from the skill. Not from the beauty. Not from the truth. xTx is a voice unlike any other I know.
Understand that this is bone goodness wrapped in massacres of lovely, & if I wasn’t before, I am now an official fan of xTx.
xTx’s stories embody the terrors, wounds and deep emotions that tremor through our bodies as we walk around in our daily lives, pretending everything is alright. Nothing is alright of course, but xTx turning our hidden selves into meaningful stories helps a whole hell of a lot.
— xTx, “Because I Am Not a Monster”
I cajoled my way into this write-up; my self-promotional skills are both effective and shameless. I wanted to write about Normally Special, the short story collection by xTx. When granted to me after much cajoling [re: harassment], I stalled, contemplating the task. I dislike book reviews which attempt to pull money out of my wallet, or stuff the debit card back into my shirt pocket. Yes or no, withered thumb up or smooth, supple thumb down: Normally Special demands more.
When I corresponded with xTx about, among other things, Normally Special and its creation, our conversation turned sharp left into an alley, fell into a sinkhole and splashed into the blood and amniotic fluid and chlorine of literature, of memory: longhand for Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water. As writers, as people, we both loved the memoir — love feels inadequate, here — we honored the text and the subtext.
In talking about The Chronology of Water, I said to xTx, “I’m trying to find my own language here.” I said this as a man who hadn’t seen other men write about The Chronology of Water; I wanted to engage the book on my own terms, with my own words. No dice, so far. All I could utter was love as in “I loved it,” though meaning so much more: the interminable itch of wanting to be honest, even at the expense of clarity.
“I’d want my sweat to show you what it means.”
Tiny Hardcore produces tiny books; Normally Special felt infinitesimal in my hand, as though it needed a blanket and a lullaby. Others have compared its diminutive size to the relative hulk-like musculature of the prose, the voices deployed, the text and the subtext. A fair comparison, I suppose, if not well-worn by now.
Let us, then, speak of women — a specific type of woman, I mean: slow, quiet, internal burn; examining stones and the stray eyelashes dangling from her children’s cheek; brilliant, though hunched over by nameless weights or, god forbid, boulders engraved with the cursive of assailants. Stay with me.
“I would like [. . .] to show you how I strived.”
There is punch, power, to the stories in Normally Special; they are, indeed, hulk-like, incredible. In our discussion [and in retrospect], I unfairly described the collection as, “a wink, I suppose, to the absurdity of everyday living and all that entails.” Unfair as in “dishonest” or, better yet, “clear.” I felt myself rustling up the usual rhetoric used to extoll the subtlety of a work, to say it is more than braun, to suggest it has soul.
I needed a better, dirtier language — something messy and hacked to pieces — for to say without saying, “Normally Special has soul” is to say the obvious. Moreover, there is nothing absurd about everyday life. Absurdity used in stories and essays and poems is mere salve to sooth the very-real scars literature, the good kind, reflects back to the reader.
What, then, is the wink? It was there, I swear it. xTx winked at me, I know it. If the overarching opinion of Normally Special is true, that it is terrifying and haunting, a clutch of the throat, then the fears and ghosts and disembodied hands reaching from beneath the subtext — all of it — is preceded by a wink, which is typically followed by a nod: the conflation of eye/head coordination says, “Maybe these women, these voices and characters, are your women, sir. How does that grab you?”
Normally Special brought to mind, first, my wife, then my mother, grandmother, sister, nieces, aunts, cousins — and certainly the trail of ex-lovers left behind me, scattered across the forgotten path like sun-bleached bones. In thinking about these women, I didn’t feel guilt — rather, I felt compelled to consider them in whole, as individual universes made of matter so complex, applying my intellect to their makeup’s decoding seemed absurd.
What could I ever say about them? How could I ever devise or discover a language which serves as true communication of who they are in this world? How could I possibly use the word love — past, present or future tense — as commemoration of what they mean to me and, more importantly, what they mean to themselves? Perhaps that is the true nature of xTx’s wink, its subtext. “Shut up and read,” her wink said to me. “Shut up and listen. Just watch.”
“[ . . . ]the cramp of each of my muscles, and the withering of my fat, and the grind of my bones, and the blisters of sunburn [ . . . ]”
I am an unreliable narrator. Yes; brown thumb up; money pulled from wallet: buy and read Normally Special.