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Author looks through veils of lies at ABR reading series

Sept. 19, 2011 at 4:19 a.m.


everything>WHAT: American Book Review presents Christina Millettieverything>WHERE: Alcorn Auditorium, UHV University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.everything>WHEN: Noon Thursdayeverything>COST: Free with light refreshments


everything>When my mother died, I ordered her tombstone from a man who claimed he was my mother's countryman and, because of their erstwhile relation, gave me a 10% discount. "You know," he told me as I wrote down my mother's name, her relevant dates, "you spell your surname wrong. It's not possible to say your name in our language. To say it the way it's spelled, understand? There are too many consonants. This way, your name sounds like a sheep skin stretched between posts." everything>He paused, crossed out two letters added three more. "You should correct it," he says. "Your mother should be buried with her own name, not the name someone else gave her as a girl when she first stepped off the boat."everything>I thought for a moment. My mother had never told me about the misspelling. Perhaps she never knew. She hadn't gone to school for long before her father sent her to live with the American cousin who fed me sweet rice when I was a child. After her cousin died when I was eight, however, it was just my mother and I, eventually Nööne. How were we to know of the error if my mother didn't herself?everything>"Do it," I told the engraver, and with a curt nod, he made the correction. everything> Later, I took the paper with her new, old name home, pinned it by the telephone next to Nööne's postcards. "It is never too late to be buried under another name," I'd told the engraver. "We should all be corrected after we die." The engraver had squinted at me. "I wouldn't have guessed," he said, "that you inherited a sense of humor from the country of your mother's birth."everything>He laughed. "You speak her language much better than you know."

Christina Milletti plans to bring something old and something new to the American Book Review reading series - and, as it goes in the author's writing style, something a little untrue, too.

Milletti said she anticipates reading from her 2006 collection of short stories, "The Religious and Other Fictions," as well as her just-finished novel, "Choke Box," at the University of Houston-Victoria on Thursday.

Both works make an effort at capturing Milletti's fascination for what she calls the everyday fibs people tell and "why we believe the stories we tell each other, why we believe the world is as it seems to be."

"The characters actually perceive things that should be normal, but they perceive them in a wholly anormal sort of way, and it's not often apparent at first," she said of some of her writings.

For example, in "The Religious and Other Fictions," Milletti takes readers on the journeys of a taxi driver who is convinced his wife is having an affair; of a woman whose sister has died in a foreign land; and of a young boy who sees his mother vanish at the kitchen sink.

"The stories ask the reader to be an active participant in doubting what they're hearing from the narrators of the stories instead of the realities." Milletti said it forces the reader to confront "the ways in which we, in fact, do the same thing."

"Choke Box," also begs its readers to sort through a perception presented as fact when a wife writes a "counter-memoir" to a memoir her husband is writing.

As the book progresses, Milletti said the reader grapples with the wife likely being a little crazy but also perhaps victimized.

"It's the complication of real and (unreal) that sets the book on its head," she said.

That's a theme Milletti said captivates her in her everyday life.

"In any encounter with anyone you know on a daily basis - at the grocery store, at the bank - we're all performing ... as someone who slept well the night before, as a mother who made sure the kids' homework was done ... as someone who's actually paid their bills," she said.

The little lies are spurred in no small part by society and its expectations, Milletti added.

"I'm interested in the ways that have spun out of control to a certain extent and what happens when those little fibs affect us," she said. "I'm interested in how we trip up and what we do when we pick ourselves up."

Milletti is an English professor at the University of Buffalo and her fiction has appeared in journals and anthologies, such as "The Alaska Review," "The Chicago Review," and "The Greensboro Review," "Harcourt's Best New American Voices" and "Scribner's Best of the Fiction Workshops."



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