Truth in Literature

Numbnuts (that's my roommate) is in his bedroom with a group of sickening coeds. He's a T.A. for a freshman English Comp course at the local college. He's explaining exactly what makes a good story—his theory of the short story. Plot, character development—all the way down to the sentence. Blah, blah, fucking blah. The girls listen and giggle between sips of cabernet.

He's reading them a story he published in Skunkwater Review (now defunct). Some sort of an analogy between an incestuous relationship and a Black Widow.

"Can you sense the tension in each word?" he brags.

One girl whines, "But I could never come up with such intriguing stories as yours, Mr. Berg. How do you do it?"

"I live and observe solemnly," he says.

Mr. Berg is one course and a thesis short of finishing his MFA. Says he'll finish this year. That's what he said last year and the year before that. Says he's real busy serving as Associate Editor for an e-zine called Explosion!. Reminds me every chance he gets that he's an editor.

Big whoop! That's what I say.

Everyone knows that his thesis advisor requires all of his MFA students to work on the zine.

One time I copied a Raymond Carver story verbatim and gave it to Numbnuts for consideration in Explosion!. He wrote a detailed critique, the gist of which was that the language was so simple as to be insulting to the reader, and the story was devoid of emotion. Eventually, I fessed up and showed him the volume of Best American Short Stories. He said he knew all along and was yanking my chain. That night I caught him conducting an internet search on Raymond Carver.

Next thing you know, Numbnuts is an expert on the movement of minimalism in 20th century literature. Starts offering his female students private tutoring sessions on the subject, specializing in Carver. So there he is drinking expensive wine and discussing the literary merits of Carver with pimple-faced freshmen. Carver's probably puking in his grave.

I write, too. I don't think very much about format or style, or plot. I've never even submitted any of my stories and don't plan to, either. I'm just an auto mechanic, a college dropout who enjoys writing in a journal, like I'm doing right now.

I've noticed similarities between my journal entries and the stories Numbnuts writes. Subject matter, story lines, character names even. His writing is more polished and flowery than mine, but the similarities are striking. He receives high praise from his advisor.

Numbnuts isn't aware that I know he sneaks into my room and reads my journal when I'm not around. Nor does he know that I go into his room and read his stories before he hands them to his advisor.

I figure all this sneaking can't be healthy.