at Barnes & Noble Arboretum
"My writing will get better," said Natasha Waxman, "I swear!" It may have been intended as self-effacement, but coming from a woman of her literary accomplishments that's a statement of great ambition. During the five years she's lived in Austin, Ms. Waxman's short stories have earned her places in several anthologies and periodicals, most recently the second volume of the acclaimed Scribner's Best of the Fiction Workshops 1998. Almost every chair was full for her March 5th appearance at Barnes & Noble Arboretum, where she read aloud sections from her Scribner's short story, "Forager."
"Forager" follows a bohemian young man named Jason into an increasingly feral lifestyle, an obsession with carrion, and a gradual alienation from civilization that in the end render him unable to function or interact with other people. It's not a pleasant process, but Waxman's dark humor and eye for vivid description make it a fascinating and irresistible one. Extremism is not a new subject for Waxman; her story "The Emperors of Ice Cream," published in Francis Coppola's Zoetrope, chronicles a dieting couple on a similar spiral into madness, theirs culminating in starvation.
Many of the streets named in "Forager" exist in Austin, and the homeless community Jason encounters early in his reversion could certainly be ours, but that's not the case. Waxman says her story is set in "an imaginary Santa Fe," re-arranged and with landmarks added to suit her narrative. The passages she chose Thursday night highlighted two of her strengths as a writer - realistic dialogue and richly layered sensory detail. As Jason becomes estranged from his girlfriend, coworkers, and finally modern man altogether, his perceptions shift radically and Waxman's imagery and analogies reflect this.
After reading selections in a quiet voice, Waxman looked up at the audience and smiled. "If you want to know the ending, buy the book!" Although she appeared nervous during the reading and expressed relief when it ended, Ms. Waxman was friendly and engaging afterwards, greeting and thanking her many admirers while signing copies of the anthology. A number of her colleagues from the Texas Center for Writers were present, happy to support the success of one of their own, and Waxman spoke enthusiastically about her experience there as a Michener Fellow.
What's next for Waxman? She gnawed her lip when asked about her current project. "Maybe... a novel... maybe." Well, whatever form her writing takes, with such talent at such a young age her future is certainly brighter than those of her starving and scavenging protagonists. - Damien Weaver