We’re starting a new series on the Hot Metal Blog, where we invite local and visiting writers to read an excerpt of their work. We’re delighted to kick off the series with the wonderful Becky Tuch.
Becky Tuch is an award-winning writer and founding editor of The Review Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Salt Hill, Hobart, Virginia Quarterly Review online, Salon, and others. Here she is, reading an excerpt of her story “The Emperor of Ice Cream” from Eclipse Volume 18, Fall 2007. We hope you enjoy hearing her read as much as we did!
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Last week, Dave Jannetta’s new documentary based on Poe Ballantine’s Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere was released for the general viewing public. The film, which is produced by Ballantine himself, is a beautifully rendered adaptation of the memoir of the same name, published by Hawthorne Books. Like the memoir, the film weaves multiple interconnecting stories, drawing a provocative depth from their juxtaposition. In the film, we see Ballantine’s difficult and ramshackle past turn satisfyingly domesticated, we see a rich portrait of small-town life in Chadron, Nebraska, and perhaps most intriguingly—and at the center of it all—we see the mystery of local math professor Steven Haataja’s grisly and untimely death (pronounced hah-de-ya). And as in the memoir, the film’s brightest moments are delivered by the whip-smart wit and ruthless honesty of Ballantine’s narrative voice, most notably when snippets of Ballantine’s prose peck across the screen, as in, “My past was so wild it appeared to have been lived by Peter Pan sniffing airplane glue.”
In the film, we’re introduced to Ed Hughes, the man behind the Ballantine pen name, and given a backstage pass to his life in Chadron and his six-year endeavor to make sense of Haataja’s death. And while the tenor of Ballantine’s prose guides the film forward, it’s these new voices—like Hughes’—unseen in the book, that make the documentary the perfect companion piece to Love & Terror. Whether we see Hughes in his kitchen mixing michelados with a Keystone Light or see him becoming frazzled and confused as he ventures out to backtrack Steven Haajata’s fateful last steps on the planet earth, the film brings new contours and in-the-flesh depth to his literary persona. And for Ballantine fans, we learn snippets of Hughes’ backstory that we might not otherwise, like how Tolstoy once stirred a religious awakening that carried him through the depths of depression or how his childhood was rich in literature and alien fantasies.
And in the end, the strongest voice emerges out of from the sweeping Nebraska landscape and in the testimony from the people of Chadron themselves, as Haajata’s friends and neighbors grapple on screen with his baffling death and disappearance. Was it a suicide? Was it a murder? Will we ever know? And in this mystery, what comes forth is the winning and good-natured charm of a community that cares deeply for one another. Through their sorrow and earnest desire to understand the unsolvable what’s revealed is the essence of what makes a place like Chadron sacredly American and desperately hopeful.
Earlier this week, James Verini won a National Magazine Award for his Atavist story “Love and Ruin.” Congratulations to James Verini and the The Atavist!
In 2011, Evan Ratliff was kind enough to talk with HMB about his new project and to tell The Atavist origin story. “It was kind of an accident,” he told editor Amanda Giracca. And in celebration of this beautiful “accident,” we’d like to dip back into our archives and share our conversation . Enjoy! (And, keep listening. After the first 15 seconds, the audio becomes clear and crisp.)
INTERVIEW WITH EVAN RATLIFF by Amanda Giracca, Fall 2011