Fiction — From the February 2013 issue

The Bloodline of the Alkanas

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Cyrus Alkana was my father, and if you can recognize this name, you belong to an inconspicuous substratum of humanity — a coterie, if such things can still be said to exist. He had his little following, cranks and fanatics like himself, including an out-of-favor critic who once dubbed him the “American Keats.” If this was launched as a compliment, it landed as a disparagement. Keats was exactly the trouble, the reason for my father’s obscurity — and not only Keats, but Shelley and Wordsworth and Coleridge and Tennyson and Swinburne, all those denizens of a fading antiquity. It wasn’t that my father worshipped these old poets who had crowded the back pages of his grade-school spelling book. He regarded himself as one of their company, a colleague and companion.

It was presumed by his enemies (he had many more of these than readers) that his formal literary education had stopped with those spellers. At sixteen he left Thrace High School for a job as a copyboy at the Beacon-Herald, the local newspaper, snatching stories fresh from the typewriter to speed them to the big clattering Linotype machines. He wasn’t so much running away from school as he was running away from home — there was something at home he didn’t like, some influence or threat that repelled him. It couldn’t have been his parents, because my father always behaved like a man who had been lavishly nurtured, and in marrying my mother he had lucked into the same cushioned indulgence. Still, some element of family there was that he wanted never again to be close to: a raving sister in an attic, or a herd of brutish cousins who habitually beat him up? He never hinted at anything of the kind; I never heard him speak of family at all. The little that came drifting down to me was only that he lived by himself in a rooming house until he could stiffen his spine for the move to New York.

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is the author of six essay collections and thirteen works of fiction. Her most recent book is a novel, Foreign Bodies.


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  • Jenny L

    A fine parable for writers. Competition in aesthetics is the original sin of literature.

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