Last night I went to Nicola's in Ann Arbor to catch Alexander Weinstein doing what sounds like his last reading on this tour for his debut story collection, Children of the New World. Knowing I'd be going to the reading, I read the opening story from the collection, "Saying Goodbye to Yang," the night before. It's a great story about a Caucasian couple having adopted a Chinese girl, and worrying about cultural differences, also taking on an "older brother" robot, Yang.
The story starts with Yang slamming his head into his bowl of cereal over and over, goes to the realization that Yang is malfunctioning to a level they cannot handle, and so on as the father tries to get Yang repaired. In the story we realize that this is at least slightly into the future--robots and discussions of cloning--but as the story progresses, it becomes more about how the family has gotten used to having Yang as a son, and as a big brother to the little girl they adopted. It hits them harder than they thought losing a robot would. It's an excellent opener to the collection.
There was a crowd of between 25 and 30 people to hear Weinstein read. I had a nice chance to talk to him a bit before the crowd really started to appear and would say that he is closer to being a soft spoken person than a boisterous one. Which made his reading and performance all the better. He noted to the crowd that with all of the low spirits due to recent political events, he felt that a story with some sex, drugs, and rock and roll would be necessary and chose to read an excerpt from the story "Migration."
The story hits all of those notes--it begins with a teacher being approached by an attractive young women after class and the promise of a sexual encounter when the teacher is pulled out of what initially seems like a daydream by his son, Max. However, it wasn't a daydream, but some form of virtual reality between the father, an actual professor, and a student of his. It turns out that virtual reality is how everybody is living at this time, again, somewhere down the line into the future. The only people going out into the world seem to be truck drivers, bringing groceries and such things out to the people in the houses. There is talk of a bicycle tire air pump by Max for the bikes in the garage his grandparents had given to the family years before but mom and dad laugh at that idea. There are drugs, but they're the result of dot patterns and movement on a computer screen, not something ingested physically.
Where I'll refer to Weinstein's reading as performance is during an actual virtual reality sex scene between the professor and Kira, his student, during which penises and vaginas appear damn near on every appendage each of them have, and not gender specific at all and Kira has a penis on her foot and his thrusting said penis into the vagina on the professor's knee and Weinstein is coming close to acting this out while reading intently and it was really pretty fantastic. Not long after this scene, Weinstein closed the book and noted he was stopping the story there.
In the Q&A after that, many questions and thoughts were about the ideas that seem to be prevalent in this collection--where we're going with our technology and inter and intra personal relationships we have these days and where things seem to be headed. But the stories come back beyond simply looking at what might come about in regard to technology and looks at, with great concern, how that tech. might affect us. There is great heart that is at the least, underneath the surface of these works.
Weinstein talked about where his work may go in future efforts (which I'd bet will be in the form of more short stories)--and wherever that direction takes him, I look forward to reading. And if he's anywhere in the area reading from his work, I'm going to my best to get there.