Emma Straub was recently at The Booksmith to read from her just-out first collection of stories, Other People We Married. She read the shortest story from the collection, “Orient Point,” and then an essay forthcoming in Tin House: “Teenage Dream.” A short but informative Q&A followed. Below are excerpts from each reading and the three videos. “The first one is really depressing,” Straub said, “but don’t worry because the second one is going to bring you right back up. You’ll leave smiling, I promise.”
“Even thinking about breastfeeding made my body spring into action; I could feel the internal valves open. She would eat soon enough whether or not she was hungry; John had made sure of it.”
“He’s a good man,” my father said, “a good man.”
“We’re very happy for you,” my mother said.
No one thought I would ever get married—not to somebody as clean as John, as fancy—that’s what they were really saying: that I’d waddled backward into it like a scuba diver plopping off the back of a boat. And they were right.
I pulled off my tank-top and shorts in less than a minute, peeling the damp cotton of my underwear off too, and dropped all my clothes into a pile on the sand. John stared at me as if I’d grown a third breast. Eve nestled into his chest like a barnacle. “OK,” I said, “I’m going in.” And then I walked into the water, the icy Atlantic lapping at my ankles. One by one I felt each of my blood vessels constrict until my body was half as big as it had been before.
I walked until the water came up to my belly button and then turned around. John and Eve hadn’t moved. They stood static: father and daughter, rock and barnacle, as separate from me as the Atlantic from the Pacific.
A few years ago, God gave me a birthday present: Joey McIntyre was coming to Madison, Wisconsin four days before my 27th birthday. My boyfriend and I bought tickets the day they went on sale, and when I looked at the stubs in my hand, I saw that we had just purchased numbers 1 and 2.
I was surrounded by women my own age, all of us more or less adults, all of us more or less pretending we were there out of some nostalgic curiosity. When the lights went out to signal that Joey was about to come onstage, I screamed, losing my voice in the chorus of screams around me. The sound was completely involuntary, and came from a part of my psyche so deep that I had genuinely forgotten that it was there.
It’s unusual for me as an adult who has zero interest in professional sports to be in a room surrounded by people who are deeply moved simultaneously, and I felt woozy with connection. Even after the New Kids on the Block song, our dearest and dirtiest wish come true, some of my fellow Blockheads were still not sated. Two women sitting at a table near the stage called out requests for more New Kids’ songs; Joey demured, first politely, then with more force.
“What do you want me to sing, fucking Popsickle? Fuck you!”
This was when Joey started to swear at the audience.