On Deck: A Novel Called Oily
Angus Woodward's follow-up to Americanisation: Lessons in American Culture and Language is Oily, a comical, unconventional novel about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Someone should publish it right away. Here's how it begins:
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I. ACCEPTANCE OF TERMS
Oily: A Novel (“Oily”) welcomes you. Oily provides you with the services described below and herein according to the terms of this agreement, which may be updated from time to time without notice to you. By accessing and using Oily’s services, you accept and agree to be bound by the terms and provisions of the TOU. In addition, when discussing the content of Oily with others (including but not limited to friends, acquaintances, co-workers, family members, and healthcare professionals), you agree to abide by certain articles of the agreement and to represent the contents of Oily with an acceptable degree of accuracy, fairness, and perspicacity, even if you do not know the meaning of “perspicacity.”
II. DESCRIPTION OF SERVICES
Oily provides users with an account of fictional events experienced and/or carried out by fictional characters. Any resemblance, factual or perceived, between past, present, or future persons or events is strictly coincidental or the result of author clairvoyance, for which the creator of Oily shall not be held responsible by any person, place, or thing. You understand that certain resemblances between characters and events within this product and persons and events in the real world (“reality”) are inevitable and by no means evidence of fraud, slander, or malice of any kind. As an example, consider the fact that Oily begins with a character named Warren, a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana (“NOLA”) unlocking the side door of a small house and pushing into the house “with such energy that the door didn’t stick and creak the way it always did on steamy spring days.” The fictional character Warren (“Warren”) subsequently shouts “Penny,” at the same time “betting that she is awake by now,” then further shouting, “You’ve got to see this.” The product further states that by the time Warren gets to the bedroom, Penny is raising herself up off the pillow, wincing a bit as she moves. “What’s wrong?” she asks, the sand in her voice telling Warren that she had still been asleep. Warren subsequently makes an effort to slow himself down, taking a deep breath as he sits on the end of the bed, facing her. “I found this thing. This weird thing,” he tells her, and she says, “Okay,” both of them knowing (after a decade of marriage) that “okay” in this context means okay that’s not the first time you’ve said “I found this thing” or its equivalent in the past year or so, ever since I got sick and you started taking almost daily walks along the canal at the edge of our neighborhood. I was sort of interested in the feathers and the desiccated crab shell, but I was repulsed by the long orange nutria teeth you pulled from a rotting skull. As your loving wife, I will listen with an open mind, even though I’m not feeling particularly good this morning and for once I was sleeping past eight, because if I did feel good I would be interested and I would be out there with you ogling birds and watching fish jump. So let’s take a minute and look at whatever it is, and then move on to my morning meds and some strong ginger tea. Whereupon Warren nods, slowed further by the weight of Penny’s “Okay.” The edges of his hair are sweaty. “I sat down in the grass by this one little willow that grows right by the water. I stop there a lot. Sometimes I see garfish hanging out in the shadows of the willow, and it’s just a fairly peaceful spot,” he begins, and Penny says, “Uh-huh,” meaning Just show me whatever you found and let’s move on. Warren grimaces apologetically (and Penny accepts his apology with a blink) and begins to describe a sound he heard, “kind of like the sound of a jet passing overhead, except quiet and only lasting a sec. Anyway, then I looked down and found this.” He holds out his hand. A matte black object lies across his palm. Penny shrugs. “Looks like a fat pen or something. Could you maybe--.”
“Feel it,” Warren says.
“Is it clean?”
“It was just lying in the grass next to me, after I heard that sound.” He extends his hand further, and Penny obliges, probably figuring doing so might get her closer to morning meds and ginger tea. The object feels warm and exceedingly smooth. Unlike a pen, it is seamless, pointless, and clipless. Its ends are blunt, one with a little nib. A faint textured circle covers the nibless end.
“Is it plastic or metal?” she asks.
“I can’t tell,” Warren says. “At first I thought it might be some kind of stylus, maybe from the latest video game or whatever. For about a minute I thought it came off a tree.”
“It looks exactly like an acorn.”
“Exactly! Like a long, black acorn with no cap.”
“Wow,” Penny says, and hands the object back to Warren. She does her best to smile, glancing at the grove of medicine bottles on the bedside table, her eyebrows raised helpfully.
Warren stands, pushing the black acorn into his jeans pocket. He starts opening bottles, shaking out pills, and lining them up beside Penny’s water glass. Two round white ones, a lavender one, a pink one, and an oblong white one. Penny hands him the near-empty glass, like always. He nods and stands up straight but hesitates before heading to the kitchen to refill the glass and start the ginger tea. Penny looks up at him and tilts her head. “One more thing,” he says quietly.
“The acorn thing? I saw it fly.”
Penny cocks her head, widens her eyes. “Warren?” she calls, but he is already halfway to the kitchen.