The Melancholy of Anatomy: Stories
Shelley Jackson
(Anchor Books) $12

Shelley Jackson's recently published collection of short stories, The Melancholy of Anatomy, gives a narrative structure to the wayward side of biology. Here, an egg grows larger than a cow, London menstruates, and we are instructed on how to properly cook sperm.

Jackson's prose reads like twisted testaments or hallucinatory case studies, interludes from a dimension where anatomy overcomes the person and where the matrix of the body is transformed into a landscape. In the chapter "Fœtus," Jackson observes, "The fœtus is made of something like our flesh, but not the same, it is a sort of über flesh, rife with potentialities (for the fœtus is, of course, incomplete--always; unfinished-- perpetually), it is malleable beyond our understanding, hence unutterably tender, yet also resilient." She advises, "A fœtus will adore a book of matches, and seek to become it; if you do not arrive in time your expensive companion will proudly shape itself into the cheapest disposable."

Jackson is also the author of a well-received hypertext novel Patchwork Girl. Also, until late last summer, Jackson called Ballard her home; she now resides in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, I could not make it to her recent reading in Seattle, but I did have the honor of preceding her at the Titlewave series a few years back. Days afterward, I noticed earwax- clogging satellite dishes in Queen Anne. Only minor side effects have been reported from Jackson's latest appearance. KREG HASEGAWA

Venue: Elliott Bay Book Company
Date: Sunday, May 19, 4:00 p.m.

Seating pattern: This audience displayed a magnificent full frontal phalanx, with confident open-knee carriage. The spotty middle row raised some doubts, but these were eased by the full row in the far back "wallflower" position. This conventional patterning was given a dash of style by rakish left and right "outrigger" postings.

This audience rated high in anatomical incidents. One audience member was actually bleeding from an open wound, a bad shaving accident that disfigured his upper lip but provided me with the satisfaction of knowing that I was reading in close proximity to an ungovernable physical enigma, much like those in my book.

It must be mentioned that this audience only falls short of a superlative rating on the anatomical category due to the extraordinarily high marks received by our San Francisco audience. In that stellar performance one member asked me to spit in her book, and another member displayed a rust-colored splotch in her copy of Kelly Link's (the writer I'm touring with) book, which she said had been incurred on the bus, through the kind offices of a "bum" who dropped blood into it.

The Seattle audience had musical, artistic, or other talents: Audience members included Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus Five, R.E.M.), Jim Sangster (YFF and the Picketts), John Wesley Harding, Kurt Bloch (Fastbacks and YFF), Britt Speakman (ooh!), and the silver-tongued Kurt B. Reighley. Ace admen Carol Hodge and Jack Hodge (Alarming Pictures) were there, as was film producer Larry Estes (Smoke Signals, The Business of Fancy-Dancing, etc.). I have watched all these people perform from the lowly position of an audience member, and I can say that their performance as audience members lent new depth to my understanding of their own work. All performed their parts with sensitivity to the demands of a team effort that belied their star qualities under the spotlight.

John Wesley Harding occupied his seat with a brooding intensity that commanded respect even as it shunned the spotlight. McCaughey was a particular surprise, given his bumptious stage persona; he unveiled a discreet chuckle and retained his seat for the duration (he also never took off his sunglasses to reveal his eyes, no, not even once). Filmmaker Larry Estes watched. Carol Hodge's costume was eye-catching, and she nearly stole the spotlight with a dangerous folding-chair gambit, but wisely chose to sit tight instead, while Britt Speakman saved her tap dancing for the curtain call, demonstrating that she possesses restraint as well as a nice set of gams.

This audience displayed verve and originality in the optional category of Q&A: John Wesley Harding started things off in a self-reflexive vein, asking what Q's we had been asked at other Q&As. Kurt Bloch asked knowingly, "How do you feel about giving a reading made up entirely of quotes from other people's books?" I said that I'm famous for plagiarism, actually, that my first major work, Patchwork Girl, borrows its main character from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and a large part of it is made up entirely of quotes from other people, that in my view originality is just plagiarism with style, that all words are second hand, and it's how you piece together the scraps that matters.

"So none of your book is original?" he persisted.

"Nope," I said. "But it's very intricately plagiarized. Every word is taken from a different primary source! In fact, every letter." Audience member Paul raised his hand and the spirit of Dada with this poser. "Have you ever considered writing a story using entirely new words?"

I offered to write one, if the audience would volunteer some new words. I got no response to this solicitation, but my initial disappointment was eased by Jack Hodge's wise summation: "The thing is, they get old so quickly."

Unasked, I blurted out that some of my stories DO have plots, and that I DO care about my characters, whatever people say.

"Did someone say you didn't?" someone asked. "Does that upset you?"

"Well, I know what they mean," I said. "They think I indulge my taste for fancy language at the expense of soul. But I actually think fancy language and soul go very well together."

The audience applauded generously.

This audience was quiet but confident: I informed them that I was reviewing their performance for The Stranger, and offered them a chance to display any qualities I might have missed or mention any circumstances that might extenuate whatever it is that extenuating circumstances extenuate; they declined.