Post Road Magazine #8

Some Things About Kevin Brockmeier -Thisbe Nissen

Kevin Brockmeier is the author of a brilliant story collection, Things That Fall From The Sky; a heartbreakingly beautiful novel, The Truth About Celia; and a children's novel called City of Names.

The first thing I ever read by Kevin Brockmeier was a story called “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin,” and I didn't get it. I remember telling people: “This guy in my grad program, I read a story he wrote—he's in workshop with a friend of mine—so in this story the main character is literally half of Rumpelstiltskin! You know how he gets split down the middle or something at the end of the fairy tale...? So this story is half of him after the split—and he goes through all about how Rumpelstiltskin gets around, you know, hurtling his one leg out in front of him or something, and the two halves of Rumpelstiltskin write letters to each other in the form of Mad Libs...? It's totally insane! I mean: this is what people are writing?” This was decidedly not what I had expected from graduate school. I was twenty-two and a moron; Kevin was, I think, twenty-three, and brilliant.

The second thing I ever read by Kevin Brockmeier was “The Passenger,” a story which takes place entirely aboard an airplane, because the world is an airplane: people are born with their luggage in the overhead compartment, stewardesses perform rites of passage, complimentary beverages are served. The narrator is in love with the woman in the seat in front of him, but he can't get up the nerve to talk to her. This story—which I read in the form of xeroxed computer printouts stapled together, its author's name in the upper left-hand corner, Graduate Fiction Workshop followed by the name of the professor, a date in early 1996—this story brought me to tears. Literal tears. Actual tears. It made me cry. I thought it was beautiful and heartbreaking and wondrous. I saw Kevin in the hall at school, introduced myself and gushed at him. His reaction seemed to be a mixture of honest humility, heartfelt gratitude and genuine surprise.

We used to drive out to a lake near campus in the spring and summer to sing songs. He knows songs, Kevin Brockmeier, folk songs, tons of them. We'd sing together the ones we both knew and sing the others to each other, little solo performances, those songs we so desperately wanted each other to hear. He's got an amazing, amazing voice, Kevin does—rich and soulful—a voice you can hardly believe emanates from his body.

No one has yet been able to satisfactorily disprove my contention that Kevin Brockmeier subsists solely on breakfast cereal (though Boo Berry didn't turn out to be as divine as he'd remembered it from a snowy morning in childhood), popsicles, and the occasional can of vegetarian soup. I know this. He had no car. I took him grocery shopping.

Kevin Brockmeier owns so many books he used to have to stack them on the floor of his apartment because he couldn't fit any more bookshelves in the place. I think his apartment is a little bigger now. He needs to have enough free floor space because he likes to lie flat on the floor to think. He likes, if possible, for the floor to be carpeted. It's more comfortable that way.

The day Kevin Brockmeier's story “These Hands” went up for workshop my best friend was visiting me and planned to sit in on the class. She's not a writer, and though she's an avid reader and an English teacher to boot she still tends to hold back her gut reactions to literature when in the presence of my writer-friends and me. She took Kevin's story into the other room to read it before class and crept out sometime later with a funny look on her face, wary of saying something that might offend my snobby writerly sensibilities, but so clearly moved by the story she had to say something. She spoke tentatively: “So this guy,” she began, “he's a genius, right?” “Yes,” I said. About that there was nothing to dispute •

Thisbe Nissen's new novel, Osprey Island, will be released by Knopf in 2004. She is the author of the collection Out of the Girls Room and Into the Night (Anchor Books) and the novel The Good People of New York (Knopf).

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