in a low, warm tone, Simone Felice twists gently in the restaurant
booth, tracing figures in the air with his hands, as if stringing
the words on a line. In an Army-surplus shirt buttoned at
the neck and an incongruous knit hat—a loosely crocheted skull
cap, with vaguely floral nubs—he is a striking presence. He
could be a runaway or a rock star, rail-thin and unheeding
of standard dining-room decorum.
The singing—a mellow, soulful croon reminiscent of Cat Stevens—would
suggest the latter; but as Felice wraps up his impromptu performance
and as conversation renews, and touches on the young author-poet-lyricist’s
motivations and inspirations, an eavesdropper might draw a
more complicated conclusion.
would have liked to have seen the whole American system crumble,”
says Felice, who will perform and read from his new book,
Goodbye, Amelia, at Changing Spaces on Saturday. “That’s
how angry—how angry and sad—I was at the flag-waving and the
manipulation of the masses. I was disgusted.”
Recounting his reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11, Felice
talks in turn as a revolutionary and as a partisan. His admitted
disgust with what he perceived to be the blindly jingoistic
saber-rattling of the current administration is informed by
a personal, albeit thorny, attachment to the concept of America.
He speaks as a disillusioned lover.
was born in 1976, the bicentennial,” he says. “So I grew up
with the notion of America as a superpower, and I associated
the progress of America with technological progress, as so
many of us do. You know, I had a fascination with flight as
a symbol of American progress into the future. That idea of
progress—of flight and technology as progress—was intriguing,
and I was fooled by it.”
The Palenville native’s boyhood regard for the potentials
of flight changed on Sept. 11, but even before that, he says,
he had grown suspicious of the self-replicating mythology
of this country.
months before 9/11,” he recalls by way of example, “the ridiculous
movie Pearl Harbor came out—I just felt that there
was something wrong, that something had gone wrong and that
something was going to happen. And when I saw the planes hit
and I saw the buildings burn, I knew there was a change.”
That the world changed after Sept. 11 is an accepted platitude
now, but Felice’s statement is not intended as a eulogy to
a better time erased by violence or to the end of an imagined
innocence. Felice regards the event as the brutal iteration
of an ages-old truth, a painful lesson that must be taught
over and over.
have to learn how to embrace loss,” Felice says. “If we try
to hold on, we’re in some way enslaved. . . . I tried to let
it go, my own feelings about the government and the fact that
man burns men, but it’s been happening since the first fire.
I just had to stop letting it consume me.”
As a means of letting it go, Felice composed the novella Goodbye,
Amelia (the book of the same name contains that novella
as well as “Prayers of the Silver Propeller,” a collection
of poetry). The novella is a fluid, lyrical exploration of
brutality and loss as liberating forces; an ode to the beautiful
violence of the independent soul in a community of senseless
Though the characters of the novella—the titular Amelia, abandoned
by her mother at 4; her lover, the domestic terrorist, Payne,
and his comrade Elton; Amelia’s stoic father, Paul Fisher;
her mother, Rose Marie, who runs both from and to love; and
Rose Marie’s lover, John Sparrow, the Vietnam vet who returned
to America’s “mean plastic roar” to hold private conversations
with the Devil—are crisply delineated, they are unconventional.
Felice avoids the showy and self-conscious verbal dexterity
of a Jonathon Safron Foer, on the one hand, and the terse
and derivative neo-realist bleakness of workshopped Carver
acolytes, on the other. His characters are iconic and richly
symbolic. They are the competing and contentious voices within
the soul of an ambiguous America. After a murderous attack,
the terrorists Payne and Elton discuss their places—or their
they still rode horses I would go, said Elton. Bad paintings
and movies of such things rolled in his head. Payne shook
his head and drank.
think it must have been different then, said Elton. –The
world was different. Not so close. You could see what you
were fighting. It had a name.
still tore you up, name or no name. It might have taken
longer but you still saw your stomach and your own heart
beating in the dirt ten feet away. You still screamed like
an animal before you died.
there were things to hold on to. Ideas.
else’s ideas. Someone who wakes in a bed and puts on good
clothes and his body smells like fear and he talks in numbers
and he is very far away from the screaming.
The arc and intersection of the characters’ individual narratives
describe a process that is, by the logic of the novella, both
grand and inevitable: aspiration, aspiration as yearning (romantic
or spiritual), yearning as motion, motion as destruction,
destruction as the promise of rebirth. The work has the bitter
tang of fatalism, but not of pessimism. The lesson of loss,
Felice seems to believe, is not despair. Rather, it is that
through creative interaction with loss, and through openness
to experience, one can grow and live.
don’t have much hope,” Felice admits. “But I revel in beauty:
in the beauty of a mother with her child, of a flower garden
. . . ”
With a sweeping, inclusive gesture of his hands—for the moment,
free of song—Felice adds, “. . . the beauty of you and me
Felice will perform and read from his book, Goodbye, Ameila,
at Changing Spaces Gallery (306 Hudson Ave., Albany) on Saturday
(Dec. 6). Also performing will be Bryan Thomas and Tom Burre.
The 7 PM show is free. For more information, 433-1537.