Years later, I went to a professional astrologer to broaden what the daily horoscope in the newspaper told me. I learned I had five out of twelve planets in Scorpio, a very rare thing, and something I shared with both Ivan the Terrible and Charles Manson. I learned that the majority of serial killers and war lords have been Scorpios. I learned Scorpios were the darkest and most dangerous sign in the zodiac and like real scorpions they like to lurk in the shadows capable of deadly danger. Compared to Ivan the Terrible and Manson, I am a Scorpio pissant but I still like the vibe. I can now shrug and say, Blame my planet, if people think I’m a downer.
Inspired by this, I am considering renting my own storefront and calling it the Little Shoppe of Negativity. It took me all of ten minutes to come up with ideas for merchandise. It would have videotapes of Altamont but not Woodstock, as well as T-shirts and jacket patches that say, I COME, I FUCK SHIT UP, I LEAVE and MAKE AMERICAN VIOLENT AGAIN.
It helped that the hall was fully amplified, imitating a movie-theatre ambience. But the spectacle worked principally because a viewing of “Star Wars” is a public ritual like no other. Looking back on the film in middle age, I find it hard to believe that any adult coming to it fresh would take it seriously. First, there is the professional element. The first third of the movie is impossibly insubstantial; the power of Williams’s music, the exotic settings, and the space-opera gadgetry can’t obscure the stiltedness of George Lucas’s dialogue, the corniness of Carrie Fisher’s hair buns, or the severe limits to Mark Hamill’s thespian talents. But there is also the psychology. With its myth of self-creation through struggle, “Star Wars” is essentially a movie for tween boys who are trying to make the leap from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, seeking a bracing but vicarious vehicle through which to emerge from the shadow of Dad. In one instance in the film—the deaths of Luke Skywalker’s adoptive parents, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru—the clearing of the deck is violent in the extreme. But otherwise the ravages of war are sterile, safe, and romanticized, something that doesn’t sit well for someone who witnessed 9/11 in New York. By the middle of the film, I was getting just as swept up in it as the rest of the audience—some of whom, of course, arrived in Princess Leia or Obi-Wan Kenobi costumes. Yet, I just can’t whoop it up when the Death Star, cruel instrument that it is, gets blown to smithereens. There are people in there.
The place where history and cartography converge can be tricky to navigate. This is something I know from experience, looking back on both my family’s history and how I understood it growing up. As a child, the quickest answer to describing my paternal grandfather’s side of the family was they were Austrian. (My father’s parents moved here in the 1930s.) But in talking with other relatives, I’ve been told that some relatives, several generations back, considered themselves to be Polish. That the national borders of central and eastern Europe have shifted considerably over the last hundred-plus years isn’t necessarily news–especially when you’re talking about the post-World War I breakup of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
I was reminded of my own confusion in terms of how best to think of one part of familial history by Filip Stringer’s History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town. Though Stringer isn’t writing about the part of Poland from which my family members hailed, he touches on a number of the same questions: what makes a particular piece of land belong to one nation or another? What does it mean to multiple generations of people who think of a place in an entirely different fashion? And how do those of us on the outside of these discussions best process the issues at hand?
This contradictory desire — to use form to consider formlessness — is Forest Dark’s animating impulse. Split between alternating first- and third-person voices, the former characterized by the meandering intimacy of contemporary autofiction, the latter by close alignment with the perspective of Jules Epstein, a rich, aging lawyer — Krauss’s novel propels its protagonists toward somethings that also manage to be nothings.
From the time we’re young, women are taught to believe that our bodies should serve our clothes — and that if we can’t find anything that fits, it’s our fault for having bodies that are, in the words of designer and member of the Rational Dress Society Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, “noncompliant.” But, she notes, “it doesn’t have anything to do with body compliance. It’s really just a totally arbitrary sizing.”