Authors: Yuvi Zalkow
E-published in 2012 by
M P Publishing Limited
12 Strathallan Crescent
Douglas, Isle of Man
IM2 4NR, British Isles
M P Publishing Limited 6 Petaluma Boulevard North Suite B6
Petaluma, CA 94952.
A brilliant novel in the works / by Yuvi Zalkow.
5 “books,” 44 chapters
book ISBN 978-1-84982-165-0
1. Jews— Fiction. 2. Israel— Fiction. 3. Portland (Or.)— Fiction.
A CPI Catalogue for this title is available from the British Library
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated
without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet
or via any other means without the permission of the publisher
is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized
electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic
piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is
“Mines the territory between heartbreak and hilarity… You
must read this.” — Cheryl Strayed, author of
Tiny Beautiful Things
“If you buy just one book this year, consider resting this
book on top of it. Yuvi Zalkow is a writer I’m going to watch from a safe
distance.” — Gary Shteyngart, author of
Super Sad True Love Story
This book was born at the Pinewood Table, where Stevan Allred
and Joanna Rose lead one hell of a workshop. I learned so much from you two.
Cheryl Strayed. You helped me get this book out into the world. Thank you
for your relentless support of me and my writing.
To my literary manager, Rayhané Sanders, for being a real champion of this
book and my writing. And to my editor, Guy Intoci, for his faith in this book
and for making it better.
Liz Prato, thank you for too many things, including our emergency check-ins.
Jackie Shannon Hollis, our gossipy literary dinners. Laura Stanfill, Sarah
Cypher, Shanna Germain in that Year of the Novel. Scott Sparling, your fabulous
insane writing. Kate Gray, I knew you were incredible from that first workshop.
Suzy Vitello, for great conversations and great advice and grappa. Christi
Krug, your grace. Tammy Stoner, those great cocktails and conversations. Ellen
Urbani, for truly bad ass feedback. To Tom Spanbauer, who has influenced many
who have influenced me. Steve Taylor, I ache for our post-workshop wine sessions.
To my Antioch mentors: Leonard Chang, your pointed feedback was viciously
valuable, and Alistair McCartney, you taught me a new way to see the particulars.
Rob Roberge, who doesn’t realize I’m still angry I didn’t score mentorship
time with him. Steve Heller, for allowing my ass into the MFA program.
Kate Maruyama, for all your kindness and damn fine insights. Jae Gordon,
Stephanie Westphal, your support and love and more. Telaina Eriksen, for those
fireside chats (I’m still resentful for the one that got interrupted). Stephanie
Glazier, your great fabulosity and brilliant glow. Kristen Forbes, I miss
our ‘writing’ sessions. To the fucking Sages.
Mom, Dad, hope my love shows even if I twisted many stories. Dan, I owe you
for all the mileage your intestines gave me, and much more.
Sheri Blue. For a million things, on paper and especially not on paper. Dashiell,
to you too. And of course to Savi, who does not yet realize how bald and worried
his father really is.
Yuvi Zalkow is the creator of the “I’m a Failed Writer” online
video series and has been rejected by reputable and disreputable journals
alike. He has an MFA from Antioch and his stories have been featured in
The Los Angeles Review
, and others. He lives in Portland, OR. Visit his website
When my wife comes into the room and sees me in my
underwear, with my $30 Lamy pen in my fist, and standing
on my desk, she isn’t terribly impressed with me and my work
My home office is the smallest room in the house, but it
still feels like a lot to take in from ten feet up. I thought my
angst would weaken at this altitude.
“Jesus, Yuvi,” Julia finally says, “you’re getting awfully
desperate.” My wife shakes her head in that way that she can
shake it and then reaches up to smack me on the ass in that
way she can smack it.
“Not only that,” she says, “but your underwear is torn in
the back. Why won’t you throw them away? They’ve been with
you three times as long as I have.”
“Hush!” I say. “I’m trying to work.”
My wife heads back to the kitchen.
She has never been supportive of my creative process.
She is also what my mom would call a real gentile.
When I look down at the room these are the first three
things that I notice:
There is a book called
Best Short Stories of 1997
my father bought me at a used bookstore, on the floor beside
my desk. He bought it as a gift for me upon announcing that
he had prostate cancer. What kind of person gives an “I have
There is a photograph of my wife’s younger brother. The
one with ulcerative colitis. The one we call Shmendrik. The
one who reads faster and holds a job worse than anyone I
know. It’s a picture of Shmendrik and his girlfriend’s eight-year-old daughter. They’re doing push-ups. Both their jeans
are pulled down so that his hairy butt and her munchkin butt
are showing. This photo is on my desk because I love it, and
also because I don’t quite know what to do with it. He gave us
And there is that blank piece of paper underneath my feet.
My words feel more profound when I’m standing on my desk.
Everything I say seems confident and proper. I wonder how
many things I could get done from up here: ask for a bank
loan, submit a book proposal, pray to my dead parents, write
a peace treaty for the Middle East, ask my wife to take off her
clothes and dance the way she did that one time.
From the kitchen, my wife asks me if I want a sandwich. I
say that I do, but I beg her not to use mayonnaise or bacon.
My wife claims that without those two ingredients a BLT is worth nothing.
I ask her if she’d use the word
instead of nothing. And when
I don’t hear a response from the kitchen, I threaten that she’s too gentile
She yells out, “
Kush meer in tuches
,” which is Yiddish for
“kiss my ass.” In the five years that we’ve been married, she has
somehow gotten better at Yiddish than me.
I explain to her that an LT isn’t so far away from a BLT. It’s
two-thirds complete, I say.
This is when she comes back into the room. Her hair is
gentile red and she has gentile freckles and she wrinkles her
gentile forehead when she’s annoyed with me. Or when she’s
worried about her brother’s health. Big issues and little issues
all do the same thing to her face.
“You’re wrong,” she tells me from down there where all the
mortals live. “You’ve destroyed the whole beauty of it.”
As if we’re talking about the Mona Lisa and not some
absurd Protestant excuse for a sandwich. Imagine calling
something beautiful that has neither pastrami nor rye bread.
I let her make me a BLT so that she’ll leave me alone.
My wife wasn’t as excited as I was about these photographs
of her brother’s ass. When she saw them, she closed her eyes
and shook her head as if to say, “I love him in spite of this.” But
I love him because of this.
I was the one who named her younger brother Shmendrik.
Why else would a thirty-five-year-old man from Iowa have a
name like that? In Yiddish, it means someone who is clueless.
If I didn’t care for him so much I would have never given him
I come down from the desk even though it means
confronting that blank piece of paper.
My editor is quick to remind me that I owe her a novel. By
quick, I mean that she doesn’t even say hello before telling me
about my overdue contractual obligation. And she’s quick to
remind me that my contract only allows for one collection of
fragile little stories and that I’ve already done that. Years ago.
She is quick to tell me that the world is different now than it
was before. As if terrorists had bombed the world’s demand
for fragile little stories.
Ever since I realized that I owe her a novel—a real novel,
not a pretend novel, but a thing full of the meat and bones and
feathers and foreskin that any good novel must possess—what
I’m writing these days is
I’ve decided that I’m willing to lose three fingers and six
toes for something to appear on the page. I’d take four toes
off one foot and two off the other. At least one foot would still
have a majority of toes intact.
When I told my wife what my editor said, my wife made
it sound simple. “So write a novel,” she said. And when I told
her that I can’t write a novel, she said, “So to hell with your
editor. Keep writing your fragile little stories and find another
way to make money.”
She’s always trying to solve my problems. My people don’t
tend to solve problems that easily. We don’t even want to solve
problems that easily. My people suffer. We’re professional
“Give it a rest with you and your people,” my wife keeps
telling me. “You’re no more Jewish than Soon-Yi.”
I thank my wife for the BLT and close the door to my office.
A minute later she slips a paper towel under the door and I
notice that she sneakily wrote “Luv u” on it. Which is sweet—
even with the incorrect spelling—except that it reminds me of
the note I found in her pants pocket.
My wife’s L’s are so loopy that I tilt my head to see if it says
something else in there.
I put the plate with the Protestant sandwich on my blank
page. The bacon sticks arrogantly out of my sandwich. While
my wife helps recovering alcoholics and listens to secrets that
have been bottled up for twenty-seven years, I scratch my ass
through torn underwear and whine.
I resent that my fragile stories no longer work. But I’m not
sure whom to resent.