New Yawk City?

Dear New Yorker Magazine,

I write this letter to you out of a profound appreciation for everything that your fine city has done for me and a fervent desire that, someday, I might be able to repay the favor.

Allow me to explain. Since 2009, I have served as the creative materials editor of the Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies, which publishes fiction and scholarship that pertains to the Mississippi River Delta region of this country. When I began, I imagined that most of those who submit to our journal hail from the seven-state Mississippi Delta region, and so I was surprised to see, week in and week out, envelopes bearing a New York post code upon them.

And what a clutch of stories these were, so hard to forget. The one I remember most was set in Booger Hollow, Arkansas (population 12, and one coon dog), and featured a male protagonist who went by the name of Pee-Paw and who, at story’s beginning, was dejected on account of having been kicked out of the Ku Klux Klan after marrying a “Mexirican.” You could tell that the author had really done his research about Arkansas culture and the political economy of rural life. Another submission told the story of a poor Waffle House waitress married to a lowlife, unemployed man who spent all her tip money on booze and beat her regularly because she kept moving his favorite recliner from the front porch back into the house. (Actually, now that I think about it, several submissions from New York pretty much adhered to this basic narrative, but that just reveals how in touch the literary craftsmen of your fair city are with life below the Mason-Dixon line.)

Sure, I have some cynical colleagues who believe that these enlightened masters of the Big Apple are only submitting to our journal because they must see us as an easy publishing opportunity, but I recognize genius when I see it, and even if we have not been able to publish any of these stories, so much about these stories sticks with me, even today: the overt racism expressed by every white character, the ironic use of “y’all” when even only one person is being addressed, and the constant references to hillbilly culture applied, in true Dadaist fashion, to a lowland region known for its flatness. Though my colleagues did not agree, I saw a Pynchonian absurdity in many of these stories and sincerely hope that the authors get their due one day.

In fact, I have enjoyed these stories so much that I have decided to repay the favor New York has done for us—yes, I am writing a novel set in your city. Now, I have never been to New York myself, but I have watched a lot of movies set there, and I believe that I have truly captured the culture. Tentatively titled The Fifteenth Earl of Yawk, my novel-in-progress tells the story of neurotic Jewish gentleman who constantly obsesses over sex and, inexplicably, scores on a regular basis with women much more attractive than he is. Mistaken for an Italian by a blind shoeshine boy, he is hurled into the mafia underworld (since all Italians, I understand, are members of the mob) and undergoes a series of madcap adventures that includes: peeing on homeless people, running from mutant alligators that live in the sewers, and, worst of all, being put through a terrifying gangland initiation ceremony that includes eating pizza… WITH A FORK!

I have passed several of my completed chapters on to friends in the literary world and have already received quite a bit of good feedback. One person, however, did tell me that roving Irish gangs are no longer engaging in the wholesale slaughter of African Americans, but that was an easy enough fix, as Microsoft Word let me replace all instances of “Paddy O’Donnell’s notorious Potato Street Brutes” with “NYPD.”

I sincerely hope that this novel, when completed, will provide some New York publisher with as much delight as I have experienced reading the stories that have come from the Big Apple’s industrious writers. Though sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, and, eventually, a complete mental breakdown, all of us should feel a deep sense of gratitude to that city which slumbers not. I know that I do.

With all best wishes,

Guy Lancaster


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