"The Moon In Its Flight" by Gilbert Sorrentino, recommended by Jenny Offill

It is no wonder that lesbians like women.



Issue No. 115


It’s hard to write about “The Moon In Its Flight” because it means too much to me. I have read it more often than any other story and have taught it every year for twenty years.

The first time I came across it was in a library in New Orleans. I was killing time in the air-conditioned stacks before I went to my waitressing job that night. I worked in a Turkish restaurant where I was required to dress up like a genie and read fortunes out of coffee grounds. I was twenty. Twenty-one maybe. It doesn’t matter really. Impossibly young, let’s say.

When I finished it, I just sat there, thinking, Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. “The Moon in Its Flight” is a funny story and because of this I’d been skating across the top of it, but when I got to a certain point it was like falling through the ice into freezing water. I felt like I’d been given a glimpse of what it would be like to be twenty years older once life had hammered the hell out of me.

I had never read a story that contained so much emotion in so little space. It swings from the most stunningly cynical moments to the most unnervingly tender, often within the space of one paragraph. And like all geniuses, Sorrentino makes it look easy. I will never write something as good as this story, but I like rereading it, seeing again how high he set the bar. Believe me when I say I wanted to kiss his shoe.

I’m tempted to quote line after line from the story here, but I don’t need to because you can just read it for yourself. If you like it, you should go seek out the rest of his work.

If you don’t like it, wait twenty years and read it again.

Jenny Offill
Author of Dept. of Speculation


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The Moon In Its Flight

by Gilbert Sorrentino

Recommended by Jenny Offill

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This was in 1948. A group of young people sitting on the darkened porch of a New Jersey summer cottage in a lake resort community. The host some Bernie wearing an Upsala College sweatshirt. The late June night so soft one can, in retrospect, forgive America for everything. There were perhaps eight or nine people there, two of them the people that this story sketches.

Bernie was talking about Sonny Stitt’s alto on “That’s Earl, Brother.” As good as Bird, he said. Arnie said, bullshit: he was a very hip young man from Washington Heights, wore mirrored sunglasses. A bop drummer in his senior year at the High School of Performing Arts. Our young man, nineteen at this time, listened only to Rebecca, a girl of fifteen, remarkable in her New Look clothes. A long full skirt, black, snug tailored shirt of blue and white stripes with a high white collar and black velvet string tie, black kid Capezios. It is no wonder that lesbians like women.

At some point during the evening he walked Rebecca home. She lived on Lake Shore Drive, a wide road that skirted the beach and ran parallel to the small river that flowed into Lake Minnehaha. Lake Ramapo? Lake Tomahawk. Lake O-shi-wa-noh? Lake Sunburst. Leaning against her father’s powder-blue Buick convertible, lost, in the indigo night, the creamy stars, sound of crickets, they kissed. They fell in love.

One of the songs that summer was “For Heaven’s Sake.” Another, “It’s Magic.” Who remembers the clarity of Claude Thornhill and Sarah Vaughan, their exquisite irrelevance? They are gone where the useless chrome doughnuts on the Buick’s hood have gone. That Valhalla of Amos ’n’ Andy and guinea fruit peddlers with golden earrings. “Pleasa No Squeeza Da Banana.” In 1948, the whole world seemed beautiful to young people of a certain milieu, or let me say, possible. Yes, it seemed a possible world. This idea persisted until 1950, at which time it died, along with many of the young people who had held it. In Korea, the Chinese played “Scrapple from the Apple” over loudspeakers pointed at the American lines. That savage and virile alto blue-clear on the subzero night. This is, of course, old news.

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#Bloomsday bonus: dirty letter from James Joyce to Nora. Read by me. By personal request from @mstcambot.  Thanks, Chris!


8 December 1909


My sweet little whorish Nora I did as you told me, you dirty little girl, and pulled myself off twice when I read your letter. I am delighted to see that you do like being fucked arseways. Yes, now I can remember that night when I fucked you for so long backwards. It was the dirtiest fucking I ever gave you, darling. My prick was stuck in you for hours, fucking in and out under your upturned rump. I felt your fat sweaty buttocks under my belly and saw your flushed face and mad eyes. At every fuck I gave you your shameless tongue came bursting out through your lips and if a gave you a bigger stronger fuck than usual, fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to fuck a farting woman when every fuck drives one out of her. I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have. It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night. I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.

You say when I go back you will suck me off and you want me to lick your cunt, you little depraved blackguard. I hope you will surprise me some time when I am asleep dressed, steal over to me with a whore’s glow in your slumberous eyes, gently undo button after button in the fly of my trousers and gently take out your lover’s fat mickey, lap it up in your moist mouth and suck away at it till it gets fatter and stiffer and comes off in your mouth. Sometimes too I shall surprise you asleep, lift up your skirts and open your drawers gently, then lie down gently by you and begin to lick lazily round your bush. You will begin to stir uneasily then I will lick the lips of my darling’s cunt. You will begin to groan and grunt and sigh and fart with lust in your sleep. Then I will lick up faster and faster like a ravenous dog until your cunt is a mass of slime and your body wriggling wildly.

Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty little fuckbird! There is one lovely word, darling, you have underlined to make me pull myself off better. Write me more about that and yourself, sweetly, dirtier, dirtier.


Peter, believe in me. Trust me. I am not God, but I am Michelangelo Antonioni

“When you work with other directors you give them your performance and they film it. Not with me, Peter. You see I have chosen you for how you look. I have chosen all your clothes. If I move my camera six inches, I would ask you to do that line in a different way.”

Upon this, he put his arms around me and held me close to him and said, “Peter, believe in me. Trust me. I am not God, but I am Michelangelo Antonioni.”

The not-knowing is crucial to art

Art is a true account of the activity of mind. Because consciousness, in Husserl’s formulation, is always consciousness of something, art thinks ever of the world, cannot not think of the world, could not turn its back on the world even if it wished to. This does not mean that it’s going to be honest as a mailman; it’s more likely to appear as a drag queen. The problems I mentioned earlier, as well as others not taken up, enforce complexity. “We do not spend much time in front of a canvas whose intentions are plain,” writes Cioran. “Music of a specific character, unquestionable contours, exhausts our patience, the over-explicit poem seems incomprehensible.” Flannery O’Connor, an artist of the first rank, famously disliked anything that looked funny on the page, and her distaste has widely been taken as a tough-minded put-down of puerile experimentalism. But did she also dislike anything that looked funny on the wall? If so, a severe deprivation. Art cannot remain in one place. A certain amount of movement, up, down, across, even a gallop toward the past, is a necessary precondition.
From Barthelme’s Not-Knowing.


interesting article.  This is the most information I’ve seen about Rachel outside of Please Kill Me

Right in the Smacker (Yet Another Lou Reed Story)

It was 1998 and I had wrangled tickets to Lou Reed’s taping of Sessions at West 54th, this concert programme that was on PBS for a few years in those days.  If you’re on Tumblr, you’re probably too young to know much about it.  

I had a plus one and took my dearest friend of course, and when we arrived, the line to get in was all the way down the block— tapings like this give away an overage of tickets to ensure the seats are filled, and we were nearly the last admitted in (we were late for everything in those days because of the evils of marijuana), so when we finally entered the space we were sure we’d be stuck in the nosebleed seats and separated, but as it happens, everyone was desperate to fill the seats BEHIND the band, hoping to get on television, I guess.  The two front-row seats directly in front of Lou’s mic were empty and with this angelic halo glow surrounding them (this part I’m sure I hallucinated), and we sprung into them, climbing over seats and people to get there, and the concert itself, I thought, was magic, us barely out of adolescence and covered in sweat from so much seat-dancing, and Lou, admittedly phoning in half the songs and seriously belting the others, and similarly surly and charming in between songs, totally one hundred percent bipolar, from asshole to hero and back in minutes.   And then, during the bridge of I Wanna Boogie With You, in an arrangement that I recall as my least favourite Lou Reed song ever (and my god there are some really awful ones), he flung his guitar across his back and grabbed my hand and pulled me up with him, and for an unparalleled couple of seconds, there I was DANCING WITH LOU FUCKING REED, and needless to say that changed my mind about that specific arrangement of that specific song.  And then, when it was time, he planted one RIGHT ON MY SMACKER before dropping me back down to pick the song back up.   Just a quick one.  An innocent one.   One a rock star does to a cute young nubile thing.  I’m no pro at being kissed by rockstars in this particular fashion, but I guess that’s what it was.  It was a long time ago and the memory should not be trusted.

And I dashed home after to tell my boyfriend, who called his close friends because this was when you had to CALL, one by one, and let your people know something as fabulous as going to bed with lips that Lou Reed had that day touched.

Three months or so later, we sat around the television with our popcorn ready for the show to air at last, and we got closer and closer to the set as the song started, when finally, at the moment of my big jig and my big smooch, THE CAMERA CUT FROM LOU AND PANNED THE FUCKING BAND.  There was no evidence of it whatsoever.  

In the entire programme, of course, we were barely in any shots at all, given that the main camera had been right over my shoulder, and even when we were, you really had to squint and use a modicum of imagination to admit that it was us.

Since then, a lot of that performance made it to Youtube.  Since then also, my dearest friend, the one who was with me, and my sole witness to the kiss with Lou, died.  Somehow, it wouldn’t be a Lou Reed story without that element of despair.

One of the ways I coped with the unexpected loss of my friend was to watch and rewatch those Youtube videos of the Sessions taping, over and over in search of a glimpse of we two, but the lighting was all moody and the over-the-shoulder audience shot wasn’t used often, so any real sightings were wishful thinking at best.  But wishful thinking was enough, until a couple of days ago.

Friends dying is one thing.  But heroes dying is more than the human mind could bear. 

And that’s way more vein than I’m comfortable opening for you at the moment.



“Instead, he prays. Have mercy on me, O God. I am sinful in every corner of my being. The gifts thou has given me are not contemptible. My talent is a small one, and even that I have wasted. It is precisely when a work is about to mature, to fulfill its promise, that we mortals realize that we…