Squishy by Arjun BasuSquishy by Arjun Basu


byArjun Basu

Paperback | May 1, 2008

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Arjun Basu’s fiction collection is a wry and consistently provocative book which exposes the realities beneath social conventions. Squishy asks: Do you still love me? Do you want fries with that? Do I look fat?

Life is full of small moments that define us, tangents that lead us to unexpected places, bad decisions and no decisions with repercussions you couldn’t possibly predict. This is the world of Squishy, where subtle truths emerge from just beneath our seeming contentment and happiness, our layered social obligations. An aspiring actress fast approaching her best before date, a world weary travel writer, a disgraced ballplayer suffering the lingering effects of a wardrobe malfunction – all characters aware of life’s promise and impossibility, all tempted by something just beyond, something surely delicious. Full of sharp urbane dialogue and characters that always manage to act in a way that celebrates their humanity, this is a confident, stunning debut collection from a powerful and original voice.

Arjun Basu was born and bred in Montreal. He was editor in chief of enRoute between 2001 and 2007. He continues to live in Montreal, with his wife and son, and his life is as squishy as anyone else’s.
Title:SquishyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:148 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.28 inPublished:May 1, 2008Publisher:DC BOOKSLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1897190360

ISBN - 13:9781897190364


From the Author

Q&A with Arjun BasuThis is your first foray into fiction. How did you come up with the idea for this work?An editor walks into a bar….Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, I know, but it's true. The editor in this case is Dave McGimpsey, poet, pop culture critic, guitarist, essayist and friend. He had called me and said "I need to ask you something. Wanna meet for a beer?" Sounds ominous - guys don't talk this way. So a few days later I go to the bar. And . . . an editor walks in. He asks me if I want to write a book. He says think about it. I say ok. And now, the book is out. Writing the stories (there were three that had already been written and published), I didn't set out to create an over arching theme. But as I thought about what I wanted to write, a theme developed, a loose theme about chance and choice and the collision between the two. Life isn't black and white. No matter how much control we want to or try to exert on our lives, we can't. Life is more gray. Or, using my word, squishy.What was the creative process like for you?I have a full time job. When I was writing the stories, I was editing a magazine (enRoute) and I was overseeing a dozen other editorial projects. I don't know how I managed to get this thing done to be honest. I wrote the first draft of the entire book in about four months. I used any spare time I had: mornings, evenings, weekends. Each story had me lost in a different world during its creation. After the first two stories were on paper, I had a very productive evening where I mapped out, in very basic form, another five or six. I had one line synopses or situations down on paper, four of which ended up in the book. I've never been one to plan out my fiction much - especially short stories. But the process worked. As an editor, I understand the importance of deadlines. At least I like to think so. Dave had given me a deadline and that date loomed over my head with a force that I found kind of surprising. I handed in my manuscript with a day to spare. And then the real work began.Who did you read as a kid, and how did these first forays into reading fiction affect your sensibilities as a writer?I wasn't a huge reader as a kid. I liked dinosaurs and whales and space (I still do). I had lots of books - I was a big Dr. Seuss fan. Charlie Brown. I got into the Hardy Boys. The latter aren't squishy at all, though Dr. Seuss and Charlie Brown both, come to think of it, celebrate squishiness, albeit in simple ways.What are you reading right now?I don't have much time to read. It's one of the ironies of my life. I just finished an advance review copy of Mark Abley's The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English. I'm in the middle of The Falling Man, by Don Dellilo. I have four or five books on my nightstand and another two in my office, waiting to be read.Do you write with a certain audience in mind? Who is your "ideal reader"?I write for myself. When I'm working on a magazine, I have an audience in mind. An ideal reader. But when I'm writing fiction, it's for me. If other people connect with my writing, that's a bonus.Name one person in your life who profoundly infuenced your work, and why did you choose this person?Raymond Carver. Does that age me? Reading Carver, I understood, finally, that art exists in every moment of every life. Art doesn't have to be "big." A real story, no matter how seemingly insignificant, exists everywhere. You just have to look for it. Carver influenced me profoundly. My son's middle name is Carver.Who is your favourite protagonist in a work of fiction or poetry, and why?Frank Bascombe. I think. The protagonist in Richard Ford's The Sportswriter is a world weary kind of guy, someone who has been punched more than once by life, though much of his weariness is self-inflicted. Though I'm not entirely sure about Bascombe: by the time Independence Day came around, I wasn't interested in him anywhere. He'd grown too melancholy - to me, at least, he was the same person as he was in The Sportswriter. I have to throw in Holden Caulfield in here as well. Maybe because he was the first character who voiced some of the same concerns I was feeling - of course, I read him when I was 15. And The Lorax. Yes, he's the first pop environmentalist but later I also saw him as the personification of William Buckley's definition of a conservative: who want to sit athwart history and yell "stop!" Ironic, then, that conservatives don't naturally embrace environmentalism. I'm not a conservative. But I can see The Lorax in that vein. In any case, The Lorax is a tremendous character - his defeat at the end is our collective loss.Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.I've always been interested by the tangents life takes. That Sliding Doors movie explored this theme and I wanted to like that movie but just couldn't. I'm not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, I guess - and all Hollywood movies set in London seem false to me. Back to tangents: we're like pinballs in a pinball machine. Minute moments or insignificant decisions change our lives without our knowing it. That's what the stories in Squishy are about mostly. An example: Elliott Spitzer. Getting caught wasn't the squishy moment. The first time he decided to call the escort service, or even the first time he thought about using an escort at all - which may have occurred years before he actually picked up the phone - that was the squishy moment. Everything that transpired started there. That's the moment I'm interested in.

Read from the Book

ThursdaySomeone says, "Maybe, but not now." Someone else says, "That means he owes you nothing." There are men here, deep under the city, but the audible voices are all of women. There's some kind of message in that, surely, a sociological truth, except that I have yet to eat breakfast and the symbolism is lost on me. The meaning of life only comes to those with sustenance. Didn't the Buddha figure this out? Isn't that why he's so palatable to the middle class? Between stations, the subway's lights flicker and in that split second half of us are thinking Al Qaeda and if that isn't a victory for them I don't know what is. The train pulls into the station and bodies are exchanged. Germs move around. Jump hosts. Different strands of DNA. Constant mitosis. The fashion changes. A pack of teenagers board, three black kids and a Latino, and you can sense everyone clutching their handbags, moving over, trying desperately to ignore them, the knowledge that their feelings are both unfair and possibly racist, but also a matter of survival. There's history in the flinch, the hesitation. Lessons learned during a long and systemic education. The kids are well behaved despite the fact their pants start half way down their asses. I have yet to figure out the physics of these things. Nothing makes me feel older than hip hop jeans. Not even the parade of starlets on the covers of the gossip magazines, or the fact that so many magazines like that exist, or that CNN now quotes those magazines to announce their own breaking news. I once heard a story about a kid running from the cops and tripping over his own pants. There was a lesson in there for everyone but mostly for the arbiters of fashion who I have figured out don't read the papers. Ever. The subway smells of fried foods, of a moldy type thing that in any other situation would offend as unhealthy. Body odors. Newsprint. French fries squished underfoot. The science of dirt must have a lot of interesting things to say about subway odors. The science of dirt. This morning, in my haste to get to the doctor quickly, I neglected the following: my morning coffee; brushing my teeth; reading the sports pages; taking in the days' forecast. My ignorance of everything I need to know, combined with the fuzzy feeling coating my teeth, has rendered me numb. My ignorance is an odd shame, like yourparents walking in on you and your girlfriend, naked on the floor, only because you once gave them the keys to the house, and no one ever discusses it again but it has happened and it becomes that unspoken thing that everyone remembers. Always. That's what all family conversations are: tip toeing around the unspoken. I picked up a coffee at the corner deli and it burned the roof of my mouth. I didn't dress warmly enough. The doctor thing is nothing serious, simply a regular check-up. The joys of employment. Of a good benefits package. When I was twelve, and still seeing a pediatrician, my mother watched as the doctor examined a stool sample, poking at my crap with a wooden stick. I can't even shit in my parents' house now for fear of my mother reliving that experience. And then telling everyone about it. There is nothing more humiliating than a stranger examining your stool. The intimacy is too much. Another stop and an unequal exchange of bodies means the teenagers find places to sit. Each of them bops their head about to the beat in their earbuds. The train moves forward and then stops suddenly and then starts up again. Heads bob and none of them are in synch with the teenage heads. Breakfast would feel good right now. A light breakfast. Granola with yogurt. Some juice. An unhurried coffee. My morning won't really start until I get some acceptable coffee inside of me. There is no excuse for bad coffee. Anywhere. Not in this century. A pregnant woman takes the seat next to me. She wears dark glasses, the kind that hides either abuse or some kind of visual impairment. How do you ask someone if they are blind or not? How do you ask a perfect stranger, "what's wrong?" Or, "how did you get this way?" I mean in the real world and not on the Internet. Would the world be more civil if we could jump-start conversations without dancing our way to the inevitable questions? Civility is just another way of getting in trouble. It's when we most say what we don't mean. Someone says, "I can't live like this anymore." Someone else says, "Where does it say he can be this way?" And then the train stops. It comes to a slow, gentle stop in the middle of the tunnel. I check my watch and realize something else I forgot to do this morning. I hear variations on expressions of exasperation. Now you can hear the male voices. "What the fuck?" I hear. "Fucking hell." "Oh, fuck." Complaints bring out the baritones. The train stays stopped. Shuffling. The futility of a cellphone inside a subway tunnel. The four teenagers debate the reasons for the stoppage in that loud, indifferent way teenagers have; everyone can hear their conversation. Would that teenagers were halfway eloquent. The lights go out. And now that Al Qaeda feeling becomes something profound and palpable. As much as we don't want to admit to this, as much as we want to show the lengths of our courage, we think these things. When the slightest thing goes wrong in a public space, one of the possibilities that races through the mind is a fresh attack, a new atrocity, another unspeakable act that adds something astonishing to our vocabulary. The collective mind. One can feel that everyone else feels it. Possibility as electricity. That thought is now also what makes us New Yorkers. I imagine there are other places in the world where similar thoughts occur, similar glimpses into a very specific kind of denouement. We are not so special in this sense. And then the lights flicker and then they are on again and then the train lurches forward and everyone loses their balance and then we pick up speed and those lurid thoughts of fires and people falling through the air and the smoke and flesh and computer parts and office stationary vanish and are replaced by smiles of relief to more than one face. Happy thoughts. We smile when we are embarrassed and when we are frightened and when we are happy. Does that mean there is not much difference between the three? Or does that just note the social taboo against punching? The train pulls into another station and the teenagers get off and two girls get on, each over six feet tall. They are so thin they hardly occupy the horizontal plane. They're all vertical these two. And one of them plays with her gum and says, "Can you believeit?" and the other one replies: "Assholes" to which the first one replies, "I hate them" and that's all they say. My doctor is a Persian woman with slender fingers and a mole above her lip and a deep voice and were I more confident I would profess my love for her. She is the sexiest woman alive. I doubt very much there are too many beauty pageants taking place deep in the Islamic Republic but she is here now and could be the subject of a best selling cheesecake poster, a thought that must show my age more than my bewilderment about hip hop jeans. What do kids put up on their walls these days? Calendars? God, I'm getting old. When my doctor is examining me I worry about my imagination wandering off down a corridor it shouldn't go. One day, she is going to tell me I have high blood pressure and I will have to tell her I don't, it's just her touch. Someone says, "The thing is, we don't know. We can't. That's the thing." Someone else says, "Infinity." Or maybe she says "infinitely." It's hard to make out. The pregnant woman is obviously not blind because she is reading a fat paperback called "Love Ever After." So now I'm thinking abuse. What kind of man would abuse a pregnant woman? Maybe her sunglasses are just the result of a change in eyeglass fashionthat I have yet to notice. Or a Botox injection gone wrong. Can pregnant women take Botox? What are the ethics of that? I want to interrupt her reading. I want to ask her so many things but all of them seem inappropriate. The thin girls are both playing with their gum. No one in the world looks dignified while playing with anything that comes out of their mouth. Girls playing with gum sport the same expression as men standing above urinals. My doctor left Iran when she was a child. She studied at Penn and then NYU. She is just slightly younger than me. I think. She lives in Brooklyn. She is single. My god, she's beautiful. The train pulls into a station and the pregnant woman leaves. A small man with a comb-over and the smell of exertion takes her place. The smell is on him, not his clothes, I can tell. One of the thin girls says, "And you know what else?" She says, "They have no clue. They suck." And her friend nods vigorously and that's the end of that. I think I should change my career. I am an accountant and it's just not fulfilling. This is my admission that I'm bored. What good is it living in New York if you're bored? It's expensive here. I should stop being an accountant. In certain circles, it's embarrassingto admit. In certain circles, I don't talk of my profession though this is a virtual impossibility in this city. Because the second question a stranger will pose is "what do you do?" And I have to reply, "I'm a CA," and just saying this also makes me feel old. Orolder than I have to be. Travel seems an impossibility but it's what I most want. I want to be a voyager. I want to name-drop hotels and restaurants and shoe stores in far-flung cities. Perhaps I can be an accountant in various countries around the world. My firm has offices in sevencountries on three continents. I should ask for a transfer. I should research the type of accountancy that will take me overseas. Perhaps to Asia. To Shanghai. I think we have an office there. To a place that is foreign enough to keep me off balance. I should do what ittakes to fulfill the prerequisites that would allow me the skills to travel the world. Counting numbers. The ledger is international. Someone says, "That's what she saw." Someone else says, "Wow." Next to the thin girls, an elderly man dozes off. His head falls slowly to that point where his reflexes pick it up again. I wonder what that reflex is called. What is it about the reflex that has helped us survive? How is it useful? Will he miss his stop? Beside the sleeping man, a boy reads a Sports Illustrated. He is engrossed. On the cover, a muscular black man, a football player no doubt - though one I am not familiar with - hoists a smaller, though still large, man up by his pants. Without the context, andeven the sub-context, the photo looks ridiculous. I only recognize a handful of players. Mostly the ones with endorsement deals. I do badly in the office fantasy pool every season. Next to the boy, a woman keeps herself busy with a crossword puzzle. It could be sudoku. It's a puzzle of some sort. Its level of difficulty is hard to tell from here. One of the girls pops a bubble. "He, like, touched you!" the other girl says. Her friend shrugs. The train comes to my stop and I get off. I join the ranks of the commuters, the disgorged contents of an unpleasant meal. Up the stairs and out into the sunshine. My doctor's office is two blocks away. I want to love her. I want to say so much to her, and knowing that I never will does not diminish my feelings or make them sadder. I think I'm healthy. She will tell me so. I feel good. We are lucky to be living in the kind of metropolis where one rarely has to look both ways before crossing the street.