Fiction on the Net

by Martha Conway

When I was a bureaucrat, I discovered the Web. The first thing I did was look for fiction I could read surreptitiously at my computer. My boss was writing a mystery novel at her computer, so hell, why not get in a few short stories each morning? Perhaps I was trying to recreate a job I once had answering a not-too-busy phoneline: I could read on the job. I read Fountainhead in a week, I read Dickens, I read Bright Lights Big City, I read stories by Woody Allen. Except for the fact that my brain was atrophying, it was the perfect job.

As a happy-go-lucky bureaucrat, I had time on my hands - time that could be well spent on the World Wide Web (its name sounded slightly bureacratic, too, or socialist at the very least). Luckily, I discovered the Web early enough, before all the articles came out claiming there was nothing worthy here. I found Levi Asher's Queensboro Ballads - a heavenly moment. That was a very satisfying week, reading Levi Asher in the morning. I also found Bad Subjects, but since that's not fiction, I'll leave it alone for now.

Today, of course, there are scads of articles warning us all away from the dredge of the Web, but for me it is too late. There are also scads of sites claiming to have found the "best of" whatever Web content (or Web anything) you'd like. Certainly, for fiction I can name several, whose choices I don't always agree with.

Well, Enterzone has graciously allowed me to air, each episode, my own "best of" choices. I'll give you my prejudices right off the bat, so you can decide whether my opinion means jack to you. I like subtle, I like some amount (but not too much) of narrative flow, I like good language (I should have put this first), and I hate epiphanies and morals. I am also a bit prejudiced against the big names. (Although everyone should go out and read more Bret Easton Ellis - a writer much maligned. He's friends with Joan Didion, how bad can he be?) Anyway, if you want to know my picks, read this column, cleverly (nauseatingly?) called Under the Hoop: Fiction on the Net in each episode of Enterzone. Or I'll show you what for.

This week, check out Girl Jesus, an epistolary novel about a young American backpack-tourist in Rome, with quite good graphics and a slightly overblown in-your-face attitude (who would guess?). The best line might be its opening one: "Despite my title, there was no one waiting at the airport." This falls into the American-abroad genre, albeit with a schizophrenic (or possibly simply jejeune) twist. There is lots of gratuitous gropings ("I learned why Italian men wear pleated pants"), along with amusing accounts of legends, festivals, and miracle statues.

The language of Girl Jesus, although not consistently good, is what saves it from lesser "Less Than Zero" wannabes. "Yes," writes Girl Jesus, "the women here are more feminie" - a typo? or vernacular Seattle-speak? I hope the latter. One can guess the flavor of Girl Jesus by it's title - it's irreverent, cheeky, angry in that way that is now cool for girls to be. I'd like to see how this hallowed lass matures.

And, briefly, you might want to also check out The Bathrooms of Madison County. Although this isn't technically fiction, it makes for a good story. The author and his girlfriend found themselves near Madison County at the time the famed movie was playing, so they decided to go there to see it. To kill time before the show, they did some stuff around town, and visited much of the plumbing. "It was bathroom time, again. Too much Diet Coke." They visited seven or eight bathrooms, and discussed them, and took pictures of them all. The Texaco gas station bathroom was my favorite. Apparently it was featured in the movie, too. And about the movie - "You could hear farmers in overalls saying, "Hey, there's Ben's dog!" I liked the author's simple narration, and his non-snidely remarks. This is not a clever, mean parody - it really is a tour of the bathrooms of Madison County. So okay, maybe it's a little sarcastic. But only a little.

Copyright © 1997
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