Jen Craig: “Panthers and the Museum of Fire”

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Author, Jen Craig. Photo by Felicity Jenkins.

First, special guest Jim Gauer, editor of Zerogram Press, describes encountering “Panthers and the Museum of Fire,” and feeling the need to publish it. Second, author Jen Craig discusses writing a short and expansive book that feels immense, rich and complex. She says she wanted to write a literary world that opens and keeps opening, with all possibilities true. An Australian writer makes her way into global literature with “Panthers and the Museum of Fire,” in which an ordinary world yields an extraordinary world.

Excerpt from “Panthers and the Museum of Fire” by Jen Craig.

Pamela guessed that I probably hadn’t been in touch with Sarah for a while, I had told Raf when he came over to my place on the Sunday. As I walked past a series of shops that sold telephone plans, I recalled yet again what Pamela had said during the wake, and how much I had enjoyed relating to Raf this exchange we had had. Pamela had said I would hardly have recognised her sister these last few years before she died, it was so, so sad. Sarah had changed so much. She had become, did I know, quite a lot larger. She had never taken good care of herself, and this problem had only grown worse. Pamela had been worried about Sarah. She had worried constantly and for a number of reasons, but family can only do so much – no matter what she suggested, Sarah did her own thing – she could be amazingly stubborn, and so although the family were shocked at her passing, they weren’t that surprised. They had done what they could but Sarah hadn’t wanted to have a bar of any of their ideas, even when they had banded together and offered to pay for gym and swimming pool memberships, personal trainers, Weight Watchers programs, digital step counters, live-in-camps (in regenerating rural environments), Wii video games, even a spot on The Biggest Loser through a contact at work. And, of course, it was at this point that Pamela had looked at me, I told Raf as I shelled the prawns in front of him, involving him in the meal as soon as he arrived (Raf was rinsing the prawns after I’d gutted them and then patting them dry with piece after piece of paper towel) – this sister looking at me or if not quite at me, somewhere close to my head, even half a metre back, a change coming over her face as if only, at that moment, she had realised something that was vital – looking in my direction as she asked me whether I had changed my name – hinting at my name, my full although shortened name as she had known it once, and then saying it aloud with a sly show of innocence and an obvious smirk – she was sorry, she said, she had never realised it before – and it was the kind of smirk that I recognised from long years of hearing and seeing such smirks on account of my name. Every time someone smirks in this way, I told Raf, I can tell they are congratulating themselves for being on the ball and I hear these congratulations, these suppressed and so palpable self-congratulations. You have only known me since university, and so only since I had been robbed of my name by that weight loss company – a loss that I have never got over, as I’ve said before, on any number of occasions – because laughably – and this I have also said many times over – at the time of the launch of the company I had been anorexic, a bag of pathetic stick bones, as a neighbour of my parents had once called me to my mother in the garden. You first got to know me at university not long after I was anorexic – or in fact while I was still anorexic – and my name was a mockery, I reminded him yesterday, and so your getting to know me and having to accept the mockery of my name during those new, early days of the diet company, while I still walked the country as a bag of stick bones with a diet company’s name – or the diet company had named itself after me, the bag of stick bones – all this had occurred at the same time. I could have changed my name, of course, as I’ve said before, I had gone on to say. At the time so many people advised me to change my name, yourself included – do you remember? Very likely not. But I was anorexic at that time and so I refused to listen to what they and you were saying. No anorectic can bear advice, and particularly no advice that touches on or even seems to touch on our inviolate selves.

Excerpted from Panthers and the Museum of Fire© 2020 Jen Craig. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.