Attention Please Now
 by Matthew Pitt

Autumn House Press
2010
Paperback
First Collection

Awards: Winner, 2009 Autumn House Fiction Prize







"'What I want,' she said, 'is for you to send my son back home.'
'I don't follow,' I confessed.
'Course you don't, Mr Voice of the Stags. Listen, just announce this. Tell him I'm off the clock. and tell him I already inherited enough trouble with the child I got; I won't baby-sit his trouble, too. Either he picks up his kids from my house, or the state does.'
"


Reviewed by Diane Becker

The title of Matthew Pitt’s debut collection Attention Please Now is printed a striking yellow over a sheet of diagrammatic figures communicating in semaphore. It’s a code I’ve not used since I was a child. I remember it involved a lot of arm waving. What better way of grabbing someone’s attention …

This is an ambitious first collection.The stories are surreal, funny, and often disturbing. They are set in convincing and quirky micro-worlds where characters meander or boomerang through their inner and interpersonal conflicts in an attempt to be heard. They live in fictional spaces that are framed by characters’ reading or misreading of behavioural, social, moral or political codes and signals, which leads to conflict, an underlying theme that permeates the collection. Some characters appear almost neurotically charged (for example, Anne in Outpatient), while others’ unrealistic expectations and ambitions can only be destined to collide with reality.

Susie in Golden Retrievers:

She’d always presumed she would use dogs as her key to stardom. They would unlock the door for her, and then she’d give them up. Someday she’d groom the right terrier, nurse and ill greyhound back to health, which would lead to a producer or casting agent re-sculpting Susie’s life into the mold of instant fame. They would discover her. Conan O’Brien would marvel at how she got her start. The humble beginnings from which she’d phoenixed. After seeing your movie, he’d say, I find it hard to believe you were ever just a dog lady.

In Goes Without Saying, A&R "asshole" Stir’s expectations are dashed by his young son Philip’s deafness.

He feels the abrupt absence of words. Cheated. […] Before the birth, Stir had dreamed of Philip someday shadowing his career. But there won’t be any shadow, and so this job, and all the energy Stir has poured into it, seems now to have drained away. Imagine having a son, he’d imagined asking Azita, who can’t seize any of the sounds you rely on for pleasure and purpose.

His frustrations are clear:

Of course the boy is not perfect. It’s holy Hell getting Philip to bathe. He has a habit, beyond the boundaries of a "phase" of poking women who wear ruby lipstick. And - he is not perfect because he cannot hear the dishwasher hissing, and is liable to open its door during the drying cycle and get scalded by steam. And - he doesn’t hear the shrieks of hypersensitive car alarms he touches in parking lots; the neighbor’s kid yelling goodbye in the hallway. Or any of the beloved songs Stir knows note for note.

This was one of my favourite stories. While I had little patience with Stir, the resolution (when Philip finds a way of getting his father’s attention) is simple, surprising, imaginative and understated, a quality of Pitt’s writing that really impressed.

This is not pared down short fiction. Each paragraph is packed with life … From Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

Sick of his hotel room, Benny is drawn to bodies. Leaving the duck on his nightstand, he takes the EL to Finishers, a dance club near Wrigleyville he hits each time his work brings him to the Windy City. Inside the club a spinning disco ball whirls, producing an effect like a fish on a racetrack. The dancers make small, vibrating steps that seem to lack true motion. Benny chucks Kipper, the bartender, on his shoulder. Kipper has a crooked smile, a shaved head, earlobes fenced in with metal hoops and studs. His every fourth word is "fucking"; his every fifth, "cunt". Kate would not like him.

... and people - sometimes crowds of them. This works particularly well in Attention Please Now and Outpatient where they are an essential backdrop bringing wider conflicts into focus or act as counterpoint.

In Outpatient, a secret lesbian affair is carried out against the backdrop of TV news coverage of the "Pariah Parade":

Nefa took a last swallow of milk. "Freaks."

"I’ll change it, I’ll change it." Weren’t they two of the freaks?


"You want me to say I sympathize?’ Nefa asked, turning her face to Anne.


"I do. You want me to say what goes on mornings in this house has anything to do with that parade? I won’t."


"I want to hear that what goes on in this house means enough to you to protect. If it came to that."


Nefa’s face went standstill, a stationary front. "Lord. Tell me," she said, "is it always such a pain in the ass being with a woman?"


The stories veer from global to personal and often hint at something wider or less tangible:

From Golden Retrievers:

Clara complained to Susie - each chance she got - that she was misreading signs. "He lopes in and dashes your heart apart every weekend. You keep dressing for a first date; he shows up looking like he’s come to paint your house." […] In time, though Susie grew less sure. Grew sick of Michael’s sexless attention. She was tired of washing her sheets for his weekend visits, only to have him sleep on the couch. She was tired of him apologizing for bringing half-wilted flowers, apologizing for falling asleep in the middle of movies, apologizing for being the kindest man she knew at a time when she couldn’t recognise kindness; or worse, a time when she tried to stare kindness down, burn holes in it, ignite it into something else.

This collection is attention-grabbing. It’s got some great ideas, is packed with atmosphere, dialogue and sandwiched with some elegant prose. A lot to like, from an author who understands what’s going on out there. Hats off to Pitt for making us listen.


Read an extract from a story from this collection at Matthew-Pitt.com


Diane Becker is pretty flawed. Nevertheless, she has short stories/poetry in The Pygmy Giant, 6S, 6S Vol2, Metazen, flashquake and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She was longlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize 2010 and is deputy editor of The Short Review.
Diane's other Short Reviews: Cliff Garstang "In An Uncharted Country"

Susan Wicks "Roll Up for the Arabian Derby"

Andrew Hurley "The Unusual Death of Julie Christie"

Matt Bell "How They Were Found"

Patrick Cullen "What Came Between"
                     
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Matthew Pitt was born in St Louis. he is a graduate of Hampshire College and NYU, where he was a New York Times fellow. His work has appeared in Oxford American, The Southern Review, Colorado Review, New Letters, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere. Stories of his were cited in both the Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies, and have earned awards from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Bronx Council on the Arts, and the St Louis Post-Dispatch. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences, and has taught at NYU, Penn State-Altoona, and the Bronx Writers' Center. He lives with his wife Kimberley and their two young daughters.

Read an interview with Matthew Pitt