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Love in the Time of Xanax and Nokia

Fiction is less about what happens than how it’s told, and to me there’s no one else speaking quite like Tim Sanders.

I’ve always admired Timothy Willis Sanders’s ability to walk the line between the commonplace and the fantastic, within the frame of the everyday. So many authors either overwrite or dumb down their characters’ speech until you might as well be watching reality television. Timothy Willis Sanders bucks that trend, as you might have noticed when we published “You Have A Crush On Kells,” a story that somehow parses the bizarre persona of R. Kelly with that of a young man obsessing over a girl he meets while working the ticket window of a movie theater into something somehow unlike any story I’ve read before. How did he make the words: “You remind me of my jeep / I want to ride it” carry actual emotional weight?

Much of Sanders’s power comes from the way he wields unvarnished thought. His narration often meanders between non-sequitur observations that most writers would keep to themselves and clear, declarative impressions of people and places that don’t necessarily contribute to any concrete plot goal, but at the same time provide a unique ambient tone. By way of example, here’s a patently Sanders trio of sentences: ‘Matt parked the Isuzu Trooper. He thought, “My SUV,” and pictured George W. Bush saying, “Terrorism.” He stared at the Isuzu logo on the steering wheel and thought, “One term president. Or everything is over for humanity.”’ For once, I understand. There is something made apparent about existence simply through pairing cultural detritus with emotional tone, the redundancy of having to go on being a person every day surrounded by whatever you are surrounded by, looking for meaning.

Matt Meets Vik, coming out this month from Civil Coping Mechanisms, is Sanders’s first novel, and his fullest realization thus far of the modes of parsing such realities. Essentially the story of a blossoming relationship and the complications between humans inherent therein, again it works in a way no other realistic novel could, mashing up considerations of communication, food, existence, pornography, fast food, drugs, the internet, art, money, and countless other themes all in a voice by turns as even, honest, earnest, and hilarious as a reader could ask for. As always, it’s less about what happens as it is about how it’s told, and to me there’s no one else speaking quite like Tim Sanders.

An Excerpt from Matt Meets Vik

Matt stared at Lady and Lady blinked her eyes. He ran his finger over her nose. He watched Lady guide his finger over her mouth.

Lady said, “Murr,” and Matt smiled.

Matt watched Vik walk into the bedroom. He looked at her red skin.

Vik said, “Fuck that bitch.”

Matt said, “What did she say?”

Vik said, “She said some shit about being everyone’s maid.”

Matt said, “I told you.”

Vik said, “I don’t care. I help that bitch. We should move out. Fuck this place.”

Matt said, “I help too,” and thought, “On her period.”

Vik said, “All her fat man does is sit around and smoke weed. And make those dumb songs.”

Matt said, “He gives us lots of weed. Are we going to this movie?” and scratched behind Lady’s ears.

Vik said, “Yes, yes. What time does it start?”

Matt read 1:19 p.m. on his Nokia 5160. He looked at Vik and said, “3:30.”

Vik said, “Okay, I’m going to run to the post office. I’ll be back.”

Matt pointed to the Isuzu Trooper keys on the dresser. He thought, “Passion of the Christ. Hurry up so we don’t get shitty seats.” He turned on the TV. He imagined Chantelle throwing a plate at Vik. He thought, “Chantelle is right. No one does shit around here. I don’t do shit. Vik pretends like she does shit but she doesn’t do shit.” He remembered looking at Vik and saying, “You have to promise never to touch it. You have to promise. Never again.” He remembered her saying, “I almost died. Of course. I’m not stupid.” He thought, “I don’t think you’re stupid. Does your father think you’re stupid?” He remembered her saying her father had disappeared when she was young. He pictured a Czech man with a large mustache drinking vodka. He smiled and poked at Lady’s belly. He watched Lady turn over and put her paws in the air.

Matt listened to a woman on TV say, “She’s smart. She doesn’t have to dress all...with all her stuff all hanging out everywhere...” He watched the audience point at the woman’s friend and say, “OOOOO.”

He watched the woman’s friend stand up and make poses in the camera. He thought, “She’s just jealous her friend gets more dudes. No, maybe her friend is attracting the wrong kind of dude.” He listened to the woman’s friend say, “Girl, don’t hate what I got. You know you just want all this,” and watched her move her hands over her body. He sensed pain and saw Lady kneading her claws into him.

Matt said, “Ow. Ow. Ow.”

Lady said, “Mew,” and blinked her eyes.

Matt read 1:42 p.m. on his Nokia 5160. He thought, “She promised she wouldn’t. She said she knew how dangerous it was.”

Matt pictured George Bush and switched to MSNBC. He saw Chris Matthews and thought, “No way we can elect this guy again?” He heard Chris Matthews say, “Swift Boat,” and thought, “Man, just telling lies.” He looked at Lady and thought, “But how do we know those old guys are lying? Why would they just bullshit the whole country like that?” He thought, “Passion” and pictured Mel Gibson pointing to a cross.  He remembered sitting in church and drawing X-Men on the church program. He remembered the usher frowned and snatched the program from his hand. He sensed Lady nudging his hand. He looked at Lady and thought, “God, it was so much bullshit. Bullshit everywhere, in church, in government, on TV and in my life. Everywhere. The only thing real is you, Lady.” He ran his finger over Lady’s mouth. He watched her blink at him and fall on the pillow. He cupped his hand and rubbed her stomach. He listened to her purr. He looked at John Kerry on TV and thought, “What is wrong with this guy? What is his deal?” He pictured Droopy’s face and laughed. He thought, “Dean was the one with balls. I don’t know though. He’s too damn mad, I guess,” and pictured Hitler screaming and pumping his fist. He thought, “Folksy Hitler,” and heard the door open.

Vik looked around the room and said, “Okay, let’s go.”

Matt looked at Vik’s frown. He saw sweat on her forehead. He looked around the room and said, “Okay,” and kissed Lady’s head.

*

Matt walked across the parking lot. He looked at the Isuzu Trooper and thought, “Just watched a dude get beaten and murdered for two hours.” He looked at Vik and saw her walking and staring at the ground.

Matt said, “Did you like it?”

Vik said, “No.”

Matt said, “It was just a dude getting beat for two hours. And then he’s murdered.” He pictured Mel Gibson slamming his shoulder against a file cabinet in the movie Lethal Weapon. He remembered his mom laughing when Danny Glover said, “I’m too old for this shit.” He thought, “I’m too old to believe in God. He’s a myth…like us,” and looked at Vik. He walked closer to Vik and tripped on a rock.

Matt said, “Whoops,” and smiled at Vik. He saw her look away. He looked at the Isuzu Trooper and took out his keys. He unlocked her door and watched her get into the Isuzu Trooper. He walked to his door and thought, “She’s not saying anything.”

Matt said, “Should we eat?” and put the key in the ignition.

Vik said, “Not hungry.”

Matt thought, “Distant, okay” and looked at her jaw line. He turned the key and said, “You sure.”

Vik said, “Yes. I said I’m not. I’m not.”

Matt thought, “Damn, okay?” and saw rain on the windshield. He thought, “Jesus gets beat and murdered. Now she’s pissed off. The weather sucks. I didn’t do anything.”

Matt said, “Are you okay?” and remembered her saying, “Stop asking me if I’m ok.”

Vik said, “Yeah.”

Matt pictured the ocean and palm trees waving in Cozumel. He remembered the man with the yellow bucket and thought, “Okay. Well, I’m hungry.” He looked at Vik and saw sweat on her forehead.

*

Matt licked ice cream off his spoon and sensed pain in his tooth. He looked at three mannequins wearing shirts that read Dave’s Ice Cream.

Vik said, “I’m excited. I really like those apartments.”

Matt said, “Me too.” He looked at tiny holes on a vein running along Vik’s wrist. He thought, “Motherfucker. Motherfucker.”

Vik said, “I think Lady will like it. It’s not too small,” and put ice cream in her mouth.

Matt said, “Yeah,” and thought, “Motherfucker. What am I doing?” He looked at the tiny holes.

Matt looked out to the street. He saw a girl in running shorts walking a Corgi puppy. He watched the Corgi’s legs and tail. He looked at the Corgi’s face and saw the Corgi look back at the girl. He looked at the girl’s running shorts and thought, “She’s never had to deal with heroin ever.”

Matt pointed at Vik’s wrist and said, “What is that?” He saw Vik look at her wrist and sensed heat in his body.

Vik said, “From that night.”

Matt said, “Really?”

Vik said, “Yes, I swear. They’re from that night.”

Matt said, “I don’t want to get a place with you if you’re going to keep doing that shit. I don’t. I won’t,” and thought, “No.”

Vik said, “It’s not,” and smiled.

Matt said, “Okay,” and looked away. He thought, “I don’t know how long ago it was really. Maybe it takes long to heal. I don’t know.”

Matt whipped his ice cream with his spoon. He stared at the Oreo chunks in the ice cream. He sensed pain in his teeth and heard his stomach grumble. He put ice cream on his spoon and his spoon in his mouth.

Vik said, “You think Lady will like the place?”

Matt said, “I think so. I can build her a little post with carpet for scratching.” He looked at Vik’s eyes and thought, “I can’t build things.”

Matt said, “I can’t build things. But I’m going to try.”

Matt pictured Lucas and Eric coming over and helping him build. He pictured a cardboard tube and carpet. He pictured an orange Home Depot shopping cart.

Matt said, “I’m going to miss the weed.”

Vik said, “Me too,” and licked her spoon.

Matt said, “We need to think about bills.”

Vik said, “Already called. You have to set up the electricity. I can’t.”

Matt said, “Okay.”

Vik said, “My ex-husband fucked up my credit.”

Matt said, “Internet? I probably won’t have the money to buy a computer.”

Vik said, “You should email Steve. His friend sells laptops for cheap.”

Matt said, “Yeah? I can look at porn,” and laughed. He watched Vik look away and spoon ice cream into her mouth.

Matt said, “Just kidding.”

Vik said, “No you’re not,” and looked at the street.

Matt said, “No. We just need the internet.”

Matt heard a horn and saw the girl with the Corgi wave at a Honda Civic. He watched the Corgi sniff the air. He looked at his ice cream.

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