The Lakebound Heart

The Lakebound Heart 

Some stories are instant heartbreakers. Others hint at what you might become. This book is a heartmaker, one of the ones you read that changes it all, that book you read with a raised and knowledgeable eyebrow ‘cause yeah, you’ve read all the stuff, but more important, you’ve seen all the movies and you know you know what’s coming, how everything’s going to work out but you play along for sure because you’re the person who watches Halloween the eighteenth time the same way you watched it the first one. And then you read My Heart is a Chainsaw and that’s all bullshit because you don’t see what it’s about to do to you.

            It’s Carrie’s Hand Up from the Grave, with an I Spit on Your, and it’s a Scream on a Terror Train to Motel Hell at Crystal Lake that’s a Funhouse you root for like never before while you hold your breath and say fuckyeah out loud and holyshithejustdidthat the same way, too. Of course only in mastery can you deconstruct the component parts and build something new, something breathless, something you’ll read eight or forty times, just like watching Nightmare with your kids and their kids when they come along, or like me (who gets a cool name here but also has to hold their breath for at least 75% of the story to see if I’m a monster or if I get a machete or the nerd jacket) and gets to edit their kid’s academic papers on Texas Chainsaw and The Hills Have Eyes. We’re in the multigenerational layered scares of we know what’s happening here so much that we have no idea what could possibly be coming next and that’s the funnest it could ever be all of which is to say My Heart is a Chainsaw is for real the funnest and bestest it could be and it makes you want to put on all the masks at once and wish everyfckn day could be Halloween just this one time and that’s what reading this book will do for you, make you hold it out at arm’s length and stare down the crook of your elbow at it and put it down when the weight on the left takes over the weight on the right and you know it’s going to end and you don’t want it to but you can’t stop reading. We get a few of those books in our lives. This is one of them. Enjoy its heart, and marvel at how it remakes your own. I envy all the first-time readers, sure, but not as much as I do the fifth time, tenth time ones. You should probably do a bread bag book cover or something, something waterproof, bloodproof, spatterproof, cause there’s no reading this one just once. Don’t worry about taking it everywhere, cause it’s gonna follow you around for a long, long time, Lucky. 

Time to read the Jaws as slasher term paper again.


Joker Hot Take

Joker, Joker, Damn. A Devil

The last musical I sat through was far better, though Xanadu was possessed of a more ambiguous ending, brilliantly presaging that darling trope of the indie set. Here, extended dance sequences and backlit hero framings, excessive solo cello and muted color pallets can’t define an origin story that is incapable of getting out of its own way. And, the movie ends at what should be minute twenty of the inevitable sequel—a new approach to pre-marketing?

Why the psychosis, the sociopathic trajectory? Is it the untreated mental illness? The abuse we later find out about? The head injury we find out about subsequent to that? Does one cause the other? Both? A combination thereof? Do all of these things a Joker make?

Phoenix’s acting is adequate, making more of the writing than is there (and though I’m surely not the first to notice this, it would seem that at first sight of his appearance on the DeNiro show that he’s turned himself into Bill Hader). The photography isn’t frenetic enough. The lighting makes you sad. Or sleepy (one of my nephews snored through a central seventy minutes or so). The tension that never gets resolved adequately reflects the unfulfilled anticipation that heads into the trash with your almost-empty popcorn bucket, the build-up for this film overwrought for a final product we knew but didn’t want to believe would be disappointing. Anticipation’s half the magic of Hollywood. The other half we go to the movies for doesn’t live in this weak offering. But rest assured, with the next two in the sequence, it will. Or so they’d have you tell yourself. Don’t stop believin’. 🎥

The Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing

Honored and deeply moved to be the recipient of the 2019 Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing:

Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing (two awards)

Sacred Smokes by Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.

Judges’ comments:

Sacred Smokes is profane and filled with drugs and violence—in other words, an authentic representation of working-class urban life in the 1970s. That’s not all there is to the collection: the narrator’s voice is compelling and unique, maintaining throughout a story-telling approach. Many working-class readers will recognize in these stories the tension between desperate recklessness and the hunger for books and a better life. The collection’s tone-perfect survival humor helps create verisimilitude and keeps readers engaged with the collection despite its often-dark themes. Van Alst has not only written one of the few fictions about urban working-class Natives, he has revealed the deep truths of growing up working class in 1970s America.”

“The combination of authenticity, poetic musings, and gritty realism in of the author’s voice makes this book extraordinary. Theodore Van Alst’s ability to put the reader inside the head of the protagonist is remarkable. It shows the humanity and texture of life among those in the poverty/working class who actually enjoy being there, despite the many drawbacks and dangers. This book also illuminates an important, overlooked corner of working-class studies: American Indian experience in inner-city working-class neighborhoods.”Sacred Smokes Cover Final

Wonderful Review of Sacred Smokes

Many thanks to Toni Jensen over at Waxwing for this review:

“Theodore Van Alst’s debut story collection, Sacred Smokes, weaves humor and sharp, unexpected language through stories of violence on Chicago’s streets. The stories share a common narrator, Teddy, who guides readers through neighborhoods and regional dialect, through gang affiliations and the intricate dynamics of his family. The balance of humor with the aggressive world of the characters is winning. Though this is billed as a story collection, all these coming of age stories hang together to create one, larger portrait — of a place that’s rough and beloved, of Native and Latino and Black kids coming into themselves or not making it through…” 


Dr. Theo Van Alst Writes a Book

A cool and sweet short piece from Andrea L. Rogers. Thank you!

Andrea L. Rogers

Dr. Theo Van Alst is cool and smart and ready to fight if he has to. I like this about him and his writing. Sacred Smokes is confidently unapologetic. It smokes in the apartment. It doesn’t do the dishes. Native Lakota kid Theo survives in Chicago and Chicago survives in Dr. Van Alst. Theo has a distinctive voice and you can hear a bit of it in Theodore Van Alst – Reading Fall 2016  where he reads some of “Push It,” a story included towards the end of Sacred Smokes. What I enjoy is how different his work is from a lot of the work I read by native writers. Theo’s work is just Indians being Indians in the world.

My introduction to Theo’s work was in the Summer of 2016, a Fall craft talk in the Low Rez program at IAIA. Craft TalkNo More Navajo…

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On the Nine

If you ever (and still) called the L the Jackson Park or the Englewood, or the O’Hare or the Ravenswood, ate a Polish on Maxwell Street, ate at a Harold’s, lost someone you loved, gained someone you hated, smelled the subway downtown in August, wished the Sox were on instead of the Cubs (but maybe you were little and still watched the Cubs, ‘cause, baseball), knew that early morning summer air a few blocks from the lake, that air right before it gets humid and the city buzzes to life, thought about those old friends from the neighborhood every now and then (or for real every single damn day), walked by the shelter with the big cross on Wabash and wished you could just eat at Miller’s one time, and you like James Alan MacPherson, or Walter Mosley, or Denis Johnson, or maybe just really good stories well told by someone who makes you feel like you missed that class where they taught excellent writing but this author is going to give you his notes, then buy this Chicago book that illuminates the universal, spend some time On the Nine. Tony Bowers has put together a collection of stories the way you want to read them, the way I love to read them, at your own pace, all so good you can pick up anywhere in the book and read in any direction you want, every one paced and plotted just so, each piece created with heart that beats right out of real places, with real faces, bringing light and joy and pain to all those spaces we grew up to and in and around, our neighborhoods and their stories made real, with love, and with hope.