When I was writing Blue Ticket, at various points I thought about the works that had shown me what speculative fiction was really capable of, beyond idea and into language, into feeling and beyond.
I thought too about all the alternate possible novels I could have written with its idea; some more important, some better, some worse. They are not the book I ended up writing. They are not the book I wanted to write. In the end the hypothesis of the central premise (a lottery that decides whether you will have children or not) was a tool that allowed me to get where I wanted—a woman reckoning with her body and with her mind—and distanced it from me, so that I could see it more clearly.
Since its formation around the 1870s, Chinatown has managed to preserve its working-class immigrant character, even as wealth transformed nearly every neighborhood around it.
But some of the very traditions that kept Chinatown rooted to its history have made it one of the neighborhoods most heavily scarred by the pandemic. Now, the economic suffering has intensified a long-simmering generational divide, between younger people who believe Chinatown must get with the times to survive, and older ones who worry about it becoming a theme park of Instagrammable desserts and $18 Asian-fusion cocktails.
“Blue Ticket” concerns itself more with its small cast of characters than with the world they occupy, but the novel is no less relevant or incisive for its intimacy. It is as much about the tension between independence and obligation, between desire and capability, as it is about contemporary womanhood: under constant threat just for having a body, and longing to decide your own fate.
Massini’s original text, a novel in verse, has now been issued in English for the first time, in a translation by Richard Dixon. It’s a monster, a 700-page landslide of language with no obvious speaking parts. But it’s apparent right from the start that Massini is the real thing. His writing is smart, electric, light on its feet.
At the same time, his book ominously circles the big questions: Were the original three Lehman brothers and their descendants heroes or villains? Did they inject spirit and muscle into the American experiment, or were they simply cowbirds, laying eggs in other bird’s nests? The answers are complicated.
Before “Philosophy,” I primarily thought of Warhol in terms of his productivity — the wildly prolific artist once told an interviewer that “everybody should be a machine.” Finding out that it was the truly mundane details of life that he savored the most — tending to his zits, vacuuming while watching daytime television — set me straight. Warhol didn’t appear to think time could be wasted. Instead, he argues, it’s “the little times you don’t think are anything while they’re happening,” and not the parties or adventures or art projects, that are the most significant.
Yesterday we hung the wind chime
we got as a wedding present–
Pachelbel’s Cannon in D trapped
inside a cardboard box
For decades it stared at me
from the top shelf of my garage,
This, what God feels like: laughing
alone in an empty room of tiny doors,
behind every door a metal box, inside each
a man’s red heart, lying. I don’t write