BENJAMIN STRONG

THE GLORIOUSLY IRRESPONSIBLE CAREER OF SCOTT BRADFIELD

HIS FICTION IS FULL OF MARXIST SIXTH-GRADERS, DELUSIONAL SENIOR CITIZENS, AND UNETHICAL PENGUINS. BUT ONCE YOU GET USED TO THE SURREALISM, THE JARGON-FILLED, MEDIA-OBSESSED WORLD THEY INHABIT BEGINS TO LOOK STRANGELY FAMILIAR.

DISCUSSED: Invisible Men, Exile, Michael Chabon, Atlee Hammaker, Werewolves in Southern California, Donuts, The Beauty Myth, Louis Althusser, Mike Douglas, Prisons, Penguins, A Vegetarian Diet, Anarchy

In Scott Bradfield’s spook tale “Ghost Guessed,” a boy asks for a set of green plastic army men, the kind that come in “theatrical poses, firing rifles from a crouch, hurling grenades, charging with upraised bayonets.” Instead, he receives for Christmas an antique lead soldier, a French hussar standing erect, poised to salute a superior officer. “That hanging at his side is a sabertache, see? Now you must be very careful. It’s probably best not to remove the plastic wrapper,” his mother suggests. Was the author handed a similarly weighty disappointment when he was younger? In a recent essay, “Why I Hate Toni Morrison’s Beloved”—which, despite the provocative headline, he doesn’t really—Bradfield recalls inventing his own toy soldiers:

I remember this space on the hall floor, surrounded by books I couldn’t quite read, with great fondness. These books were far from objects of worship, and I played with them like toys, stacking them in interesting configurations—pyramids and forts and obelisks—and imagining what might happen if the characters they contained were to wander out of their books and transgress into one another’s spaces. Would Ellison’s Invisible Man be a match for the Invisible Man of H. G. Wells? Would Mailer’s naked soldiers perform bizarre and unconscionable acts with Samuel Butler’s flesh-bound travelers, very likely in a hot bath before bedtime? I played with these books and even developed a sense of commitment to reading them some day, when I grew up, because I wanted to know what was in them and wanted them to know what was in me.

This young Prospero’s mischievous imagination already shows the chops of the grown novelist. After all, to conceive of golems and to fashion himself their omniscient deity is what the fiction writer habitually does. Play along with your own library. Picture the lawless hall floor where the residents of Bradfield’s own titles meet in wars of irreconcilable worlds. Would the citizens of an Animal Planet (1995) respond to Greetings from Earth (1996) with canine hospitality or feline skepticism? Or just a feral preemptive strike? And does The Secret Life of Houses (1988) lie buried beneath a cellar door, hiding the forensic clues to What’s Wrong with America (1994)? Sadly, these bibliographic thrillers are likely performed only along a bookshelf of the mind. Good Girl Wants It Bad, Scott Bradfield’s fourth novel, was published in August by Carroll & Graf as a paperback original, but the earlier novels and short-story collections of this howlingly funny, too-neglected American writer (who turned forty-nine this year) remain entirely out of print. In translation, some can be purchased new in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and France, but in the United States you’ll need to search for English-language editions secondhand.

Bradfield has taught writing and literature at the University of Connecticut–Storrs since 1989 and lives half of each year in London, where he has a small son. As a result, he’s displaced first from his native state, California, where most of his fiction used to take place, and then part-time from America altogether. An obscure writer depends on a Jamesian arrangement or else a job, and teaching at least affords him the necessary hours to write. But at heart he’s an exile, and American exiles (think Patricia Highsmith or Paul Bowles, precursors on his syllabus) don’t usually get the audience their work deserves.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Benjamin Strong lives in Brooklyn, and is working, sometimes, on a novel.

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