The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, September 21, 1999 - 11
C t1Sngton Post
A f"& years ago, Julia Slavin devek
g c~tush on her teen-age lawn boy.
ar"ived, tan and buff, to cut her gran:
ouldwriggle into a miniskirt, blast
ddidn on the stereo and freshe
o s ink lipstick. She counted the
Th+s nrequited experience morphe
e fPmt story in her new collection.
on Who Cut Off Her Leg al
aicone Club." Except, in the boo
omanswallows the lawn boy. Whole.
ve1,few weeks of constant sex, ror
nners fights and making-up. And thei
y s wakes up on a bloody slipcov
W ttme to Slavin's skewed sub
= where the seemingly impo
t has a kernel of the possible.
Onstory, "Covered," explores the
a :nddle-aged man plagued by a
odcurity blanket that refuses to s
e a=, ruining a love affair and forci
nd4nto a botched sea burial. "Big
1Is ;; a divorced woman who has an
ith 4ber endangered oak tree and even
vecbrth to a crop of acorns. Withou
ng holly into science fiction or the
vin brings these inanimate obje
fe, geerating sympathy for the needy
it aradmiration for the oak tree's m
"ls lot to ask of someone to su
eirbdicf in that way." Slavin says.
"I ,d challenge people with some <
bj6Xmatter, but I do it in a non-thr
Her characters are humorously d
iblelled regular people struggling
e old issues of love, death, jeal
oeliness. It's just that some c
je of these emotions happen ti
nusua or taboo. The lawn boy
w4Uowed Whole," essentially deliv
s ated Press
Vi" "ers taking part in this week's
ati6o/a boycott of major broadcast
etworks, dubbed a "brownout," are
rotesting the new season's lack of
That means they'll miss tonight's
remiere of "Will & Grace" on
B( or which they might be grate-
ascene that plays with startling
a siivity, tart-tongued character
arW Walker notices that her
alvadoran maid has paused for a
" , you're on the clock, tamale.
et t~ work," snaps Karen (Megan
I tihe melting-pot Southern
ali nia neighborhood where I
rew p, epithets like "tamale" were
i g words. Turns out they still
"Qh no," Federico Subervi, a
ni'rsity of Texas media professor,
aid fter hearing the sitcom
xch1nge. "It's an ethnic slur. ... I
on'i know what it is with these
criptwriters. What's in their heads?
"The writers and the network
xemutives, the ones who have the
inal word, they don't get it. They
ealiy do not get it," Subervi said.
n Latinos and others are saying
ncrease our numbers, it does not
ealncrease our stereotypical rep-
The verbal sparring between
osario Salazar and her boss on
Will & Grace" isn't a fair fight, a
ase of tit for tat.
Rosario responds to Karen's very
ersotal barb with a weak "Listen,
a ,'ll squash you like a wormy
Asked about the use of the word
'tamale," which was included in a
preview tape of the episode distrib-
uted by NBC, series executive pro-
ducer David Kohan said a longer
version of the scenecalled Karen to
task for her ignorance. It was edited
Although no offense was intended,
he was not minimizing anyone's
o etions to the scene, Kohan said.
osario and Karen have a prickly
but caring relationship, one that is
"much more evenhanded" than
tonight's episode indicates and
which will be demonstrated in the
future, he added.
A more thoughtful approach
clearly is needed, said Lisa
Navarrete of the National Council of
La Raza, the group coordinating the
tA-week boycott of ABC, CBS, Fox
anj NBC that continues through
She said the sophomore series
about the friendship between homo-
sexual Will (Eric McCormack) and
heterosexual Grace (Debra Messing)
takes care to include a range of gay
velops fun, intimate characters in
. ; .
ual scenes, so Slavin says she didn't sleep
well the night she gave it to her parents to
"After my mother read 'Swallowed Whole'
she said, 'I guess I'm not going to send this
to your Uncle Sonny,"' says Slavin with a
"Many writers are paralyzed by the
thought of their parents in the room, looking
over their shoulder. You have to get through
that or you'll get nowhere."
Slavin, who with her long, dark-blond hair
and black tank top looks more a California
beach girl than a Washington mother of two,
planned to be a playwright when she moved
to New York after graduating with an art his-
"In three days I saw what it was like to be
poor," she says. "I didn't write a word for 10
She got a job at ABC, eventually working
her way up to producing "PrimeTime Live"
with Sam Donaldson. By 1992, Slavin felt
burned out by the long hours and was eager
to try writing again. She persuaded her hus-
band, a lawyer, to relocate to suburban Chevy
Chase, Md., near her childhood home in
Here she retreats to her study to write in
the mornings, a process she describes as
lonely and tedious, In the afternoons, she fer-
ries her children to the local park or play-
Not long after the move, she published her
first story. "Rare Is a Cold Red Center"
aches with loneliness and longing, themes
that thread through most of Slavin's works.
Narrator Corky voluntarily lives in a
halfway house, works at a downscale chain
restaurant and fantasizes about a slightly
cross-eyed girl who eats there twice a week:
"Thursday she comes in. I feel clumsy and
crazy, looking at her hair, watching her laugh
at something her friend said, imagining she's
laughing at something that I said."
The day his luck seems to turn he gets a
promotion and discovers the girl's name -
Corky can't handle the possibility of success.
ie busts out of town, leaving behind his job
and any possibilities with the girl.
"He's a very nice guy who means well but
who has all of the failings that we all have,"
says Slavin, who says Corky is the character
most like her.
'We're all flawed. There's only so much
you can do about that but try to do better."
A New York Times review of "Woman"
described Slavin as "alive to the beauty of
Indeed, she seems to sketch people who,
through human error and insecurity, sabotage
their own shot at happiness. But as told in
Slavin's sensitive, natural prose, their choic-
es make them human, not simply pathetic or
"I don't despise those characters at all,"
says Slavin, referring to two narcissists hav-
ing an affair (while one grossly disintegrates,
body part by body part) in her story "He
Readers and critics apparently don't
despise her characters, either. "Woman" is in
its second printing. "Red Cold Center" won
GQ magazine's Frederick Exley Fiction
Competition; another story snagged a
The Washington Post described her as "a
major discovery" whose "writing gets into
your bloodstream like a fever."
Although she spent a decade in Manhattan,
none of her stories take place there. Perhaps
they wouldn't seem as unusual in a place as
out-there as New York can be.
Instead, leafy, quiet suburbia calls to her
"It's a place I'm very familiar with," she
It's a place where the grass always grows
and'teenage boys usually mow it. It's a place
of the possible.
Julia Slavin has turned personal experiences into stories in her new collection.
tale of illicit lust by way of ingestion.
"For me, the best way to write about pas-
sion and its enormity is through that
metaphor," says Slavin.
Despite the story's grotesque theme,
Slavin has fun with her subjects. Light
moments crop up on nearly every page, such
as this scene at a French restaurant: "I felt his
hands slide down the back of my ribs as he
fell asleep. I ordered a plum tart so he would
have a treat waiting for him when he woke
up. I'd forgotten how much teen-agers need
When she reads this before an audience,
Slavin says, hardly anyone chuckles. "It's
funny," says Slavin. "But it's not really
The youngest child and only daughter
among five children, Slavin, 40, describes
herself as "a complete washout at school. I
had one of those diseases with initials that
when I was growing up just meant screwing
up" that would now be called attention
deficit disorder or something similar. She
credits her father, a psychologist, with help-
ing her "find a road to the unconscious that
one needs to find when one is writing," and
her mother, a Southerner, for showing her the
"gift of idiom" through stories she created
especially for her daughter starring a charac-
ter called Little Miss Nothing.
The stories in "Woman" feature many sex-
picts ethnic slur
us; people are not connecting the
dots, and this is an example," she
said. "Here's the network under
siege for not having enough diversi-
ty in its minority characters, and the
writers and producers aren't making
the connection that maybe they
shouldn't engage in this kind of
The sensitive nature of ethnic (or
racial or religious) differences, how-
ever, does not mean that they have to
be skirted or treated in a timid, polit-
ically correct fashion.
Consider scenes in two new
NBC's "The West Wing," debuting
Wednesday, shows presidential aide
Toby Ziegler trying to mend fences
with members of a Christian politi-
cal group at odds with the White
His diplomacy ends when a
woman in the group castigates
another White House aide for his
"New York sense of humor. ... They
think they're so much smarter."
A seething Ziegler snaps back:
"She meant Jewish. When she said,
'New York sense of humor,' she's
talking about you and me."
Last week's premiere of the risque
Hollywood satire "Action," used
religion to make a funny, telling
point about its unscrupulous main
character, producer Peter Dragon,
and the movie business.
Dragon is berating a Jewish
screenwriter for talking business at a
Christmas party when Drag~on is
abruptly summoned to confer with
his studio chief.
"Probably about the Baby Jesus or
the Maccabees," the producer sput-
Latino/as and other minorities are
calling for such well-considered
attention - and the sooner the bet-
"Not only have we been penal-
ized and offended by being exclud-
ed (from television), but we're
being insulted with the kinds of
roles we get," said Alex Nogales,
chair of the National Hispanic
"It's unbalanced, it is unfair, it is
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