NOTE: THE TRUTHFULNESS OF THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN DISPUTED BY ITS SUBJECT, WHO HAS RECENTLY FILED AN ANTI-DEFAMATION SUIT AGAINST THE PRESS STREET ORGANIZATION. FOR THIS REASON, WE HAVE STRUCK-THROUGH THE TEXT TO PARTIALLY OBSCURE ITS ALLEGEDLY FRAUDULENT CLAIMS.
Local author Michael J. Lee—whose debut collection of short stories, Something In My Eye, was recently released—reportedly became so disgusted while reading his stories prior to a scheduled appearance last night he canceled the event, citing acute stomach pain as the primary cause. Lee told Room 220 he had been attempting to refresh his memory before the event by going back through the stories in the collection when he began to feel uncomfortable and nauseous. “I wrote these stories over the span of several years,” Lee said, “and it’s been a while since I’d looked at them. Christ, I was a sick fuck back then. They just made me feel ill.” The event, which was to take place at Maple Street Books’ Uptown location, would have been the book’s official New Orleans launch. Lee has rescheduled the official launch to take place at 7 p.m. on March 15 as part of the Room 220 Live Prose at the Antenna Gallery reading series (3161 Burgundy St.). He will be accompanied by Dean Paschal, author of By the Light of the Jukebox. Lee’s debut collection has been met with mixed critical responses. Author Francine Prose selected the book for the 2010 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, and acclaimed poet and spiritualist Rikki Ducornet called the book “Relevant, startling, and irresistible … an extraordinary experience.” The trade periodical Publisher’s Weekly, however, had a different opinion. In a review last month, they said Lee’s “debut collection of short stories is grotesque and absurd: its atmosphere seems calculated to be noxious to human health–moral, spiritual, and psychological.” These days, Lee seems to agree. He said he found himself astounded at the behavior and mindsets of many of his characters, such as the two men in the story “Whoring,” who avoid confronting their desire for each other by purchasing prostitutes, or the narrator in “Warning Sign,” who extorts money from the media after his roommate and lover commits an unspeakable “atrocity.” After reading several pieces closely yesterday, and glancing through the rest, Lee realized there was not a single story in the book he could finish “without vomiting.” “I wasn’t just repulsed by the fictional characters,” he said. “I realized what an awful person I must have been to conjure them. I remember going through some dark days while writing this book, but I had blocked all these sickos out. I never want to return to that time in my life again.” Still, Lee said he will try to overcome the adverse effects the book had on him last night. His publisher, Kentucky-based Sarabande Books, issued a statement this morning regarding the incident, in which the company said it depends on book events such as the canceled reading last night to generate income. “While we value the physical and mental well-being of our authors above all else,” the statement said, “the dire state of the publishing industry necessitates that, if humanly possible, they must fulfill their obligations to appear at live book events.” Lee, who currently works as a teacher and a night club singer, plans to take one step at a time in reacquainting himself with the person and writer he used to be. He said he will begin by having his roommate read him passages from the book aloud before attempting to spend any more time alone with it. “I wrote the thing, so it’s my beast to deal with,” Lee said. “I don’t want to have to cancel another event. I feel like a disgrace.”