Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors shed light on their recently released books by comparing them to weird things. This week Elizabeth Gonzalez James writes about her debut novel, Mona at Sea, out now from Santa Fe Writers’ Project.
If Mona at Sea were a candy it would be a Green Apple Warhead: unbearably sour at the outset. And maybe you want to spit it out, maybe you think you can’t take it, that your lips will pucker into nonexistence, that they will invert until your mouth swallows itself like an ouroboros. But wait. Now comes the sweetness. It’s sugar. It’s honey. It’s a violin played behind silk curtains. The sourness recedes up into the roof of your mouth until it’s a memory, leaving only the crispness of a cool Granny Smith, hard and solid and unblemished in your hand on an overwarm May day. The sun is too much on your shoulders but you don’t move. The fruit tastes too good to get up.
If Mona at Sea were a sound it would be an alto saxophone. An alto saxophone will seduce you right out of your underthings like Candy Dulfer, weird you the hell out like Colin Stetson, slap you around a little like Maceo Parker, and then scream in your face like Clarence Clemons, just because you looked too comfortable. It’s a sound that’ll sneak up on you, hidden in between the folds of the other instruments, until they drop away and you realize it was always there, pulsing, waiting, glittering in the dark. It sounds like eyeliner, tears, chocolate, pavement under a blue light, cigarettes, best friends, spilled vodka, and dawn. It sounds like a memory you haven’t yet lived. It sounds like reaching.
If Mona at Sea were a color it would be green, because green is the opposite of desert, of heat, of perspiration, of sticky skin on pleather, of exhaled breath and white white sun and the dirty smell of tar gumming up the bottoms of your tennis shoes. Green is aspiration and direction. It is cardinal, it is mother, it is everything that is not and anything that can’t be seen. It is far, too far to walk, maybe too far to fly. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s a reflection on water and one fingertip can break apart the image. The leaves shatter and blur, but if you look long enough the picture comes back together. The trees upright, the leaves whole. Everything just waiting for you to break through the water, to one day get there.
If Mona at Sea were a sandwich it would be a smear of peanut butter inside a slice of hastily folded over soft wheat bread, eaten standing at your mom’s granite kitchen counter while you watch Anderson Cooper on the big screen in the den. There are M&Ms. They’re in your mouth before you even realized you’d taken them out of the cupboard. The red wine is unscrewed and poured into a white coffee mug with a stupid pithy saying like, Can’t touch this, over some cartoon cactuses. Oops. Poured too much. Oh well. Anderson Cooper says the unemployment rate doubled over the last quarter. A ponytail woman is crying over the steering wheel of her Navigator. Commercial for Circuit City. Commercial for Home Depot. The M&Ms are gone. The wine is gone. Circuit City is gone. You make another sandwich. Anderson Cooper is talking about the Oscars. You make another sandwich.
Before becoming a writer, Elizabeth Gonzalez James was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her short story, “Cosmic Blues,” was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and her stories and essays have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. She’s attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Tin House Writers Workshop, and Lit Camp. She lives with her family in Oakland, California. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @unefemmejames.