Follow Me Down

Follow Me Down

4.6 3
by Kio Stark
     
 

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It begins with an envelope. Twenty years old, maybe more, with the dust of the dead-letter office still clinging to the stained, fraying paper. It arrives in the mailbox of Lucy — a proofreader and sometimes-photographer haunted by the face of a brother she left behind — with the address of a vacant neighborhood lot barely legible on the front. Inside she

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Overview

It begins with an envelope. Twenty years old, maybe more, with the dust of the dead-letter office still clinging to the stained, fraying paper. It arrives in the mailbox of Lucy — a proofreader and sometimes-photographer haunted by the face of a brother she left behind — with the address of a vacant neighborhood lot barely legible on the front. Inside she finds only a photograph of a man she does not recognize, but whose face captivates her instantly. She hunts for him, feeling for blind answers in the boroughs of her soul and city. The details of her world — of a neighborhood decaying and maimed in daylight, yet pulsing with some hidden life in dark; the shaded, shifting menace of shadow on the night sidewalk — blur together through the fogged lens of her plastic camera, and the casual banter of summer afternoons evaporates into the hiss of something missing, something lost and formless that she must return.

The picture ultimately leads Lucy across the darkened city, from the canal slicing through her neighborhood over the rivers at the city limits, its mystery resolving into vivid, caustic focus in the book’s concluding scenes. Follow Me Down owns moments both wondrous in their sympathy and wild in their desolation, as Stark culls from the crumbling city setting characters mercurial and impassable, joyous and redemptive.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stark's imaginative debut tells the story of a melancholy young woman who draws herself into a mystery everyone else in her crumbling neighborhood would rather avoid. Haunted by the guilt of abandoning her drug-addicted brother, Lucy has fled to a vague but rough part of New York City where, the only white girl around, she wanders aimlessly with an old plastic camera, observing and sometimes documenting her neighbors' lives: a mother arguing on her cellphone at the playground, a drug dealer at work, corner boys "harmonizing on someone's stoop." But after several months as spectator, Lucy finally becomes an actor in an urban drama after she finds in her mailbox an anonymous letter addressed to "Hombre Cinco," along with an old photograph of a man she's never seen before. Filled with a sense of purpose, Lucy attempts to uncover his identity, but the more people Lucy connects with and the more she learns about the case, the more she confirms her status as an outsider. Lucy's story is dotted with quick urban-anthropological observations and marked by a wistful (if sometimes melodramatic) tone, and her decision to close the story in such an open-ended way will leave readers either illuminated or infuriated. (June)
From the Publisher

After reading Kio Stark’s Follow Me Down, a distant, half melancholic feeling lingers, a question unanswered that beats in the back of the head for days. Stark's evocative writing is terse, tough, poetic, and at times profound.—Shannon Burke, author of Black Flies

Kio Stark reads people and their streets the way an animal reads the forest. For her, precision and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin. And she spends language carefully, as if she kept it in a coffee can—she makes it last.—Luc Sante

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781935869061
Publisher:
Cursor
Publication date:
06/07/2011
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)

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Chapter Two

On Sundays the whole neighborhood sleeps late. There must have been a smattering rain at dawn, for now the streets and the trees have taken on the darker hue and a shimmer that the water leaves on their surfaces as it evaporates back into the sky. All the colors are rich and saturated, the peeling bark of the sycamore, the green weeds, the mangled red tricycle that sits on the curb awaiting the trashmen's visit. I spool a roll of film into one of my old plastic toy cameras. It's light and imprecise. My cameras are a good excuse to see the neighborhood, to stop and stare. The camera opens a space for that, and people always ask what I'm doing. They are puzzled, generally, by the antiquated equipment and the things they see me shooting: the buildings and the places where the buildings used to be. The surface of the canal, lambent with marbled oil. The trees and weeds overtaking the things man has left in his wake.
This morning I go first to the playground. There's a young woman there who I know a little, Carlina. She's tall and curvy and her clothes are always sculpted to set her roundness at best advantage. Even when she's in sweats, as she is now. She's watching her son, who is in constant motion, circling the playground and mounting its obstacles., He's around 6, I think. She waves. “You're taking pictures again? What's up with that?”
She asks me that every time she sees me with a camera. At first I tried to explain, I showed her some prints. But that's not really what her questions are really about. It's the meaningless but meaningful conversation of the street. She is acknowledging me as familiar, as a known quantity.I return the gesture. “You guys are out early.”
“He's hit a new surge of testosterone or something. If I don't take him out and run him in the morning he's hell all day long. Swings at everybody. Gets all pent up and sinks his teeth in another kid's arm. Jesus, men. You know?”
Take him out and run him. Like a dog or a horse. I want to comment on it but I don't. I just nod. Then I have an idea. I set the camera down on the flat edge of a bench and point it at the jungle gym, the speeding boy. I hold the shutter open for a long time, maybe a minute. The picture will be washed out with light, the physical structures barely visible. And the boy will be a blurred streak of motion, pure energy and light. I try it a few times, varying the time the shutter is open.
The boy's mother turns away to take a phone call. She seems uncomfortable, tries to hustle the caller off the phone. “I'm not in a good place to talk. We're outside. Hold on.”
She turns to me. “Can you watch him? I just have to deal with something.” She taps the phone. “Ten minutes. It's one of those kind of delicate matters, you know?”
No problem, I tell her. I load another roll of film and keep shooting the boy's flashing speed. When she comes back, he's hanging upside-down from the monkey bars, resting. She hollers him over, in the commanding tone of mothers and generals. It works. He drops down and trots to her side. She waves at me. “Thanks,” she says and turns quickly back into the tall housing project building she lives in. I wait a while, watching, hoping for a rustle at a window that will show me which apartment is hers. But nothing happens. Eventually I move on.
I loop through the neighborhood, down by the canal and back. When I get home, my lover Jimmy is sitting on the stoop. He doesn't like phones, he is undaunted by waiting. “I was in the neighborhood,” is what he says every time I find him like this. It's a joke that's always funny. He lives four blocks away.
He slides a hand around my calf as I climb the steps, and stands up to follow me into the house. I turn on the ceiling fans and a breeze picks up through the apartment, from the kitchen's wide back windows out to the narrower ones overlooking the street.
In my living room, a mosaic of photographs covers one long wall. I add a few new ones every week or so, and I shuffle them around, reworking the classification schemes, seeing which arbitrary rules make better compositions. Jimmy stands in front of the wall now, giving it his fullest scrutiny.
“You changed it. It's by dominant color,” he observes, pointing at the wall. “The greens of the plants. The gray of the fences and the empty buildings. The red of the bricks and the rust.”
“I think it's too much,” I say.
“Too much how?”
“Too obvious.” I step back and consider the wall a moment. It's not only that I don't like the workings of my mind to be so easy to guess, but that's part of my discomfort. “You don't see the pictures anymore, just a field of color. It blinds the eye to detail.”
“Never any people,” Jimmy says. It's not the first time he's observed this, and he’s pleased with himself.
“People are only interesting to me in motion,” I tell him. “But that's not really why. This is about a world without people at all. After people. That's what all these are,” I tell him. I'm pacing now in front of the wall, pointing, caught up in my own convictions. “These are the ruins we leave behind. The foolish pride of our skyscrapers and our factories, left empty and grown over with weeds.”
Jimmy sits down on the couch while I'm talking, and looks up at me, a little confused, a little smitten. “They’re pictures of impermanence,” he says, working it out. “You’re taking pictures of an idea.”
I chose Jimmy because I thought he was someone else. A nice guy who plays guitar and doesn’t think too hard about things. I had him all wrong, and that complicates my hours with him in a way that makes me shrink into myself. I suppress the uneasy feeling by kneeling down and unzipping his pants.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

After reading Kio Stark’s Follow Me Down, a distant, half melancholic feeling lingers, a question unanswered that beats in the back of the head for days. Stark's evocative writing is terse, tough, poetic, and at times profound.—Shannon Burke, author of Black Flies

Kio Stark reads people and their streets the way an animal reads the forest. For her, precision and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin. And she spends language carefully, as if she kept it in a coffee can—she makes it last.—Luc Sante

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