FAWNA MOON | Erika T. Wurth.
The following is a list of unforgivable textual crimes: plagiarism, oxford commas, semicolons (except when used ironically), triteness, cliches and received language as a substitute for original thought, interrobangs, emojis, and unintentional rhyme/alliteration.
In 2015, let’s add to the list of unforgivable textual crimes the following Twitter-ese: LOL, srsly, IMO, BRB, LMAO, #Hashtag, totes, hella, totes-magotes…
You get the idea.
Fawna Moon is the ‘Strong Navajo Woman’ and intercultural train wreck who soliloquizes our ears off in the story that bears her name, published this fall by Erika T. Wurth in Waxwing Literary Journal. Ms. Moon is without question a textual felon of the highest order. Her diction, juvenile verbal tics, and casual Twitter-ese render her personality, and this narrative, an absolute hellscape of semantic flotsam. The result is frightening and captivating and unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory.
Srsly. Like, LMFAO!!!
If you’re someone like me who loves the English language (or any rich language), and who dedicates a lot of time and energy to writing that respects the power and malleability of this language, you likely get a little queasy when hearing a term like LOL. As much as I like Twitter (it can be a very useful tool, if you use it that way), this medium and others like it have done much to flatten, dull, and reduce the written word to emotional/intellectual vapidness.
Serious writers know this, and must be careful how and why they appropriate from the digital world’s ever-growing sink of verbal detritus. Flarf and conceptualism are two examples of movements that borrow empty or corrupt word systems and use them to achieve literary and aesthetic effects. Which is to say (our readers know this, of course) no system of language, however insipid or flawed, is off limits. But some present challenges.
This is a long-winded lead-in to my discussion of Erika T. Wurth’s fantastic story “Fawna Moon,” in which the author borrows from the lexicon and syntax of America’s digital youth to create a story and character portrait that is rich with cultural implication and no shortage of satirical bite. By all accounts, this story takes a lot of risks, but the risks pay off.
The story is a monologue. Our protagonist (herself a Nabokovian mix of batshit narcissism and unreliability) speaks like a 13-year-old Twitter fiend. She uses all the juvenile buzzwords that make me cringe and I immediately form a (stereotypical) impression of the speaker. Over the course of the story, as she talks about her commitment to her Navajo culture, and her identity as a painter and Strong and Independent Woman, she undermines both her own self-image and our initial impression of her. The piece is dripping with Swiftian irony.
Here’s a great example of the jarring contrast between her diction and her identity:
I mean, and like all of these stupid wannabes, whatever!!! I’m like, LMAO. My dad was a medicine man and my mom is a weaver, OK??? And I’m TOTALLY fluent in Navajo.
She is a totally strong and independent Navajo woman (unlike all those posers and haters! LOL), but she’s not a kid ranting on Twitter. She’s, like, forty years old? She has a master’s degree? She’s obsessed with the guy who broke her heart and about whom she’s totally, like, over and moved on from?
I’m reminded of the classic McSweeney’s monologue “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers,” which also uses the strategy of combining low diction with high-level subject matter.
The story touches on all sorts of issues, including cross-cultural identity (and the instability thereof), tensions between heritage and contemporary identity, gender identity–identity politics in general, basically.
Although I don’t know many adults who speak this way, the improbability of this character in no way weakens the story. This is satire, obviously.
And what powerful satire it is.