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The Albino Albumby Chavisa Woods
Synopses & Reviews
Eye of the Tiger
She was a large woman, not like birds. China Lynn, like fine; fine China, fine powder, and like leaving baby girls out on windowsills to die, she’d heard. She’d heard they did that there. She pictured the Chinese baby girls cooing on windowsills with the potted plants while the sun was shining on them till night when the cold took their breath.
She was a large woman, not like her birds, and she never would have left a baby girl out on the windowsill to die. Even if she only got one. Oh, if she were only allowed one baby, she would have been pleased if it was a girl.
“Eye of the Tiger.” That was the song that was playing and also that was what was reflecting in the mirror as she painted her blue shadow up to her brows: an eye of a tiger printed on the rug that hung on the wall behind her. That big, sparkling velvety tiger perpetually purred at her and her little birds; seven Cockatiels, three Parakeets, and five Lovebirds. One of the Lovebirds had died, leaving an odd number. Even birds mourn. The widow didn’t sing anymore, and China imagined it would go along too, soon enough, but she told it to be strong.
“Down a gin and tonic and take a look around you, lady,” she told the bird when it first stopped singing.
“Death’s gonna come fast enough as it is without you calling him on with your silence.” China figured Death must be drawn to silence.
Death is so silent, he must be drawn to silent people, silent places, silent things like widowed Lovebirds that have given up their song.
“Death ain’t coming in here, hump ump um,” China said, and tapped on the widow’s cage.
“Sing sumpin, pretty girl.” Then she took it upon herself to start the singing as she rubbed some gloss on her lips.
There was a tap on the door before it opened, but they didn’t really even need to knock. They coulda just walked in.
“Hey, baby sis. Oh, this motherfucker been after me for something. I need to settle here for a few hours.”
She wasn’t even through the door and she’d started hollering, a cigarette cascading smoke from one hand, her daughter holding tightly to her other. China replaced her makeup to the drawer and turned. Her sister smoked. “Well, you look all nice,” her sister told her.
And China did look nice. Today she had on a white and silver dress shirt that hung loosely from her buoyant frame, ornamented here and there with silver necklaces and pins. She was wearing thirteen rings. On some fingers she wore two or three piled on top of each other. There were two silver spoons, smashed and bent, an opal, some thin white gold bands tied together that made clinking noises, a wedding ring with diamonds, and a tough-looking silver cat head. Her blond hair was crimped and hung down past her shoulders, pulled back with a gold headband that highlighted her high blue eye shadow.
But she never felt she looked as nice as her sister, even though her sister seldom put any effort into her upkeep. Her sister was thin, and that’s all that she needed to be. She wore no makeup, let her long dishwater hair go naturally, hanging down around her face. She wore tight, tight jeans, a man’s work shirt, and somehow she was stunning. Endlessly. Simply. But the most stunning thing about her, to China, had nothing to do with her present body. The most stunning thing about her was a thing that had been extracted from her body and now held tightly to her hand.
Together, her sister and her sister’s little daughter looked more sensuous than China believed should be legal. The little girl was a thin thing as well, but serious, with long, straight red hair. They looked like they were naturally and permanently attached at the palm, the way they were now holding hands like they might still be one body, the eight-year-old girl walking in time with her mother, letting go a moment to hug China and then finding her mother’s hand and holding again without effort or communication. And something of the summer heat, the little sweat that collected on her daughter’s bare shoulders and her sister’s gold tan, gave them a lusty, juicy look, like maybe they were some tropical fruit plant, something tall and thin, all dewy and wet in the early morning light, waiting to be plucked.
“Panama, you in some kind of trouble?” China asked.
“No, nothing. Crazy ole boy wants me to pay up the seventy I owe him I aint got. It’s the last for Lotus.”
“She is a beautiful puppy. How much did he charge you all together?”
“That’s good for a pit.”
“I know, sis. An allllbiiiino.” The word came out long and dramatic like she was lusting over the thought. She was lusting over the thought. She had a new albino pit bull puppy named Lotus. She leaned over to put her cigarette out in the ashtray. “But I only paid him fifteen. I told him I’d have it in a few days, but I aint got the rest of the money,” she said, laughing and groaning about it while she reached her cigarette around her daughter for the tray. The hot cherry of the cigarette got her little daughter on her bare shoulder. The girl jumped and covered the burned place with the hand that wasn’t holding onto her mother. The other hand kept holding on. The girl pursed her face but didn’t cry. Such a serious, beautiful little girl, China thought.
Panama let out a shriek, “Hunny, you okay? I’m sorry. You got some ice, sissy? Ow, hunn, I’m sorry.” She put the cigarette in the tray and told it, “Bad cigarette.”
China went into the kitchen for some ice. “This guy’s on me for it. I told him not to get his britches in wad,” Panama hollered. “I’m good for it. I’m not going nowhere.” She made her way around to look at all the birdcages with her daughter. “God knows, I’m not goin no fuckin where,” she muttered to herself. “Although I gotta say though, it would be nice. It would be fuckin nice if I were goin somewhere. Gotta get the hell outta here someday, aint that right, hunny? Someplace tropical. Whatda you think?” The girl tilted her head to her mother. Her mother kept on. “Someday you and me gonna go, gonna get. Or how bout New York City? You like that one? Aint nothing beautiful and big and bright as that Empire State Building. I seen pictures folks took from on top of it. On top of that building, you can see everything. It’s so tall you can see the whole world, see all of civilization. You can see the ocean looking like it’s spilling off. You can see how the world is round from up there. If I was standing under that thing, I’d know I could do anything. I’d be free. Be that big. That bright. Big old sparkling building like a lighthouse showing us the way outta this storm. Up on top of that Empire State Building, we’d be free, baby. Free as a bird.” Panama was always going on like this. “New York City’s where dreams live. What do you say, baby? You gonna go be free with me in New York City someday?”
"Woods's picaresque novel-cum-LP follows Mya, the nickname of a girl with an unpronounceable name, as she romps across the landscape of sideshow America. Orphaned after accidentally feeding her mother to an albino tiger, Mya leaves on horseback to find shelter and eventually takes up with a counter-culture band of squatters who quote the French feminist cultural theorist Luce Irigaray and juggle at Bat-Mitzvahs. When Mya's lover Jules enmeshes her in a Weather Underground-inspired plot to blow up a Monsanto plant, Mya brings the book's Side A to a fiery conclusion. On Side B, the needle skips. Along with several digressions where the protagonist is nowhere to be found, Mya eventually flees to the house of a former flame before chasing her horse down to New Orleans. There, she bonds with an intersex West African named Idrissa who takes over the narration, giving a welcome new perspective on the bemusing Mya. Focus returns to Mya for the final chapters, where she escapes to The Fire House in New York, a peculiar church led by an eerily secretive preacher. While Woods creates a sympathetic character in the wise yet feral Mya, loose ends and an unsatisfying conclusion make this more of a mix-tape than an album. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Devoid of pretense or fear, Woods tells a not so “normal” coming-of-age story set in the stretched-out underbelly of rural America. Smart but unworldly, Woods creates a new world for the contemporary misfit where circus performers, Catholic workers, fire jugglers, and power wives sit at the same table. A “gooble gobble” successor, Woods’s edgy sensuality doesn’t second-guess. Her language is clear, her home somewhere and nowhere." — 2013 Library Journal Spring Pick
"This book will grab you by the throat and not let up for 550 pages and when you’re finished you’ll wish you were back in its jaws."—Lambda Literary
Emerging author Chavisa Woods has been noted for capturing a "strange, troubling vision of domestic life in the rural U.S." (Go Magazine). Here she presents a technicolored vision of rural adolescence, the story of a girl with an unpronounceable name—a fiery, unhinged, growling, big-hearted country girl in a dirty black tutu and combat boots who travels along all the bizarre yet familiar byways of human desire from the cornfields of Louisiana and the big brass sound of Mardi Gras to the heights of the Empire State Building. Turning the tradition of the southern gothic novel on its head, Woods presents a new land of contemporary misfits including fire-dancers, pseudo-Nazis who breed albino animals, Catholic workers, horse thieves, and the archangel Gabrielle.
A bold exploration of the intersections of race, class, and sexuality, The Albino Album contemplates the relationships between political action, art and romance, as our heroine tries on a series of bewitchingly fantastical families looking for the place to call home.
Emerging author Chavisa Woods, noted for capturing a "strange, troubling vision of domestic life in the rural U.S." (Go Magazine), here presents a technicolored vision of rural adolescence. The Albino Album breaks into a whirlwind tour of the underbelly of America spanning countryside to cityscape, from the cornfields of Indiana, to the big brass sound of Mardi Gras, and the heights of the Empire State Building. In the tradition of the southern gothic novel, Woods presents a new land of contemporary misfits including firedancers, pseudo Nazis who breed albino animals, circus performers, catholic workers, horse thieves, and the arch angel Gabrielle.
The Albino Album is a novel as songs that tells the epic story of a girl who rides the line between abandon and lunacy on a speeding albino horse. A lead character with an un-pronounceable name, our fiery, unhinged, growling, big-hearted country girl in a dirty black tutu and combat boots leaves ashen valentines in her wake along this unique exploration of the bizarre yet familiar aspects of human desire.
About the Author
CHAVISA WOODS is a Brooklyn-based writer and artist, and recipient of the 2009 Jerome Foundation Award for emerging writers. Her debut collection of short stories, Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Debut Fiction. Woods has read or performed at The Whitney Museum, Penn State, the New York Vision Festival, the NYC HOWL festival, and the New York Hot Festival. Her writing has appeared in the New York Quarterly, The Evergreen Review, Union Station, and The Brooklyn Rail.
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