April 13, 2020: “Cyberspace Soup” by Jules Archer

Back to Monday, Story366!

I have to admit, I’m abordinately proud of myself. So far, I’ve only eaten one piece of candy from the boys’ Easter baskets. I had a Snickers egg, probably a third or half the size of a regular Snickers bar, and oh boy, it was good. I’m so pleased with myself, though, as I’ve had a bad relationship with Easter candy, dating back to my childhood, plowing through ungodly amounts of sweets in a day or two. Even my adult life has led to some not-so-proud moments, especially those that ocurred … before I had kids. For me to have a single piece of candy in one day—with literally hundreds of pieces of candy in front of me—is a minor miracle.

In general, I’m hoping to come out of our quarantine/lockdown/stay-at-home time thinner than I was when we went in. I know, from social media, that a lot of people have complained about eating too much—combining that with a lack of physical activity. I don’t have a specific goal in mind, nor am I weighing myself every day, or even every week. I know what weight I went in with and want that number to be lower on my way out.

Now, this one day of will power doesn’t mean jack if I gobble down sixteen mini KitKats in pink foil wrappers tomorrow. But, like the quarantine, I just gotta take one day at a time. And, at the rate the younger boy is wolfing down candy—from his and his brother’s basket—I won’t have much to worry about. I seriously don’t know how he fits it all inside his body.

For today’s entry, I read from Jules Archer‘s brand-new collection, Little Feasts, fresh off the press from Thirty West Publishing House. I wasn’t overly familiar with Archer’s work going in, but had read her work for SmokeLong Quarterly and did participate in a group  Zoom chat with her last week. So, I was eager to dive in, see what this writer would do with a full-length format.

Little Feasts is a book of shorts, and a thin one at that, weighing in at seventy-eight pages (with a sizable font, to boot). So, I read the whole thing, front to back. With any book of shorts, it’s hard to pick any particular piece to write about, especially with the lack of a title story here. I’ve picked “Cyberspace Soup,” my favorite of the entire batch.

“Cyberspace Soup” is about a woman who’s been offered fifty bucks, by some random guy, to eat a bowl of soup. The trick here is she has to do it on her webcam, live, so he can watch. Without any hesitation—kids these days!—the woman sees the money go into her account, then starts slurping, slowly, methodically, teasingly. The man, who she can see on her screen, begins to touch himself, then he moans a lot, and finally finishes finishes himself off. End scene, screen goes black, transaction finished!

Archer is particularly good at not letting the main action of her stories be the only thing going on, tying her often weird twists and plots and notions to something else. In “Cyberspace Soup,” our hero is pulled from the fantasy/anti-fantasy of the man and her soup and the fifty dollars by her father, who’s suddenly standing in her doorway. Technically, she’s not done anything but eat a bowl of soup—but it’s still prositution, right?—but she reacts to her father as if she’s perhaps done something wrong. Maybe wrong is the wrong word here; unacceptable? She closes her laptop, pretends to not be doing what she’s just been doing, and tries to compose herself to talk to her dad.

Hey, we’ve all been there.

Archer invesitgates this scene for a bit, prompted by an innocent—I think—question from Dad: He wants to know when dinner is, if they’re having soup. This leads our hero down the path of considering her father, recently addled by some unnamed malady. She wishes she could do better by him, take better care of him (though not with soup; soup’s off the menu). It’s this touch, taking the story from the odd and intriguing to something more real, something more touching, that makes this story so successful, so memorable. Anyone can write about unusual fetishes. Anyone can pull heartstrings. To do both, in less than a thousand words, over and over over the course of an entire book? Yahtzee!

There’s a lot of hightlights in this book, stories I loved reading as much as “Cyberspace Soup.” “In-and-Out Doesn’t Have Bacon” is a tense combination of body image and sibling rivalry. “Hard to Carry and Fit in a Trunk” is about body image, too, with a slightly different tone, revealing a jealousy for the unlikeliest of movie characters. “Guerilla Drive-In” rivals “Cyberspace Soup” as a fetish story, this one with a much more satisfying quid pro quo. “Anne Bolyen Could Drink You Under the Table” places the titular character in our contemporary world, watches her rip. “Everlasting Full” is devious, again dealing with fetish, showing what can happen when fulfillment comes to an end. “Garbage Girl” sees its narrator’s period align with trash day, then other unusual events, morphing into an odd obsession and a creative solution. All these stories are clever, unique, and they make their main characters more than just two-dimensional weirdoes. These are people, people just doing their thing. Not once, I should mention, does anyone seem to be doing anything to which they’re not completely open.

Jules Archer explores her characters’ desires, fetishes, and fears in the stories in Little Feasts. The people are either out there exploring these pursuits, all gung-ho, or they’re longing, all lonely-like, for their opportunity. It’s a book that celebrates what people like, basically, the little feasts we allow ourselves, or hunger for. How we make ourselves happy, how we balance that with the people who surround us, whether they’re directly involved or on the outside. I loved reading these stories, loved engaging in Archer’s view of the people who make up our world.