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Book Review: BEST BEHAVIOR by Noah Cicero


I (he) sprinkled cinnamon in the pot full of kidney beans submerged in water.

I (he) leaned into the powder drift of cinnamon. I (he) breathed inward into his wet lung sacs.

I (he) recalled something I (he) had read about how smelling cinnamon sharpened your memory. Or maybe it only made you able to recall things that happened just after smelling cinnamon. I (he) tried to think of the last time I (he) smelled cinnamon and couldn’t remember.

I (he) asked myself (himself ) if this was all bullshit.

That’s when I (he) flickered on my (his) little computer screen and started doing some real research. Words shined into my (his) eyes, and I (he) wondered about the row of little lights lined up in the bottom of my (his) little computer screen, shining upward. I (he) cut my (his) research short. I (he) got out of my (his) chair and sprinkled kosher salt above the cinnamon and a generous pour of vinegar above the kosher salt.

The vinegar was to keep the kidney beans from splitting. Yet another strange thing I (he) learned, this time from the radio, a cooking show, and a caller called in to ask “what’s the perfect meal to cook for guests?” The host kind of laughed. I (he) knew she laughed not to buy herself time to answer this stumping question, but because she felt an irrepressible urge to carry her happiness across the radio waves, straight into my (his) slightly large ears.

I (he) realized I (he) had just given myself (himself) an unflattering physical trait. This is what happens when you watch ‘Dumbo’ 6-9 times. What would I (he) think if I (he) were to watch ‘Dumbo’ this instant? Would I (he) stop what I (he) was doing in favor of the animated Disney classic? Probably.

I (he) have (has) plants hanging on my (his) balcony. I (he) know (knows) these plants haven’t been watered since Wednesday. I (he) consider (considers) watering these plants. It’s shameful to let a garden die. I (he) think (thinks) about Noah Cicero, how he said something to this effect in ‘Best Behavior,’ something like “What kind of person lets a garden die?” I (he) think (thinks) about the book review I (he) wrote for ‘Best Behavior’ in Barnes & Noble, waiting for the 5 o’clock hour, when I (he) would walk 0.333 miles to Sylvan and begin teaching people parts of math.

Should I (he) transcribe this book review right here, right now? Is this the time to put it on this little computer screen?

It’s not a great book review. By that, I (he) mean (means) I (he) didn’t write something that filled me (him) with something small and indestructible. I (he) even thought about scratching it all out with the red-inked pen I (he) wrote it in. Had I (he) done it, I (he) wouldn’t have felt any kind of loss. It would be more like a fresh new beginning to enjoy all over again.

Instead of transcribing that book review, why not make a new one, straight from the gut. Follow your gut. Isn’t that the only thing I (he) have (has) ever learned?

Book Review: BEST BEHAVIOR by Noah Cicero

Best Behavior
Noah Cicero {lives here}
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2011

I could go into Half Price Books.

I could take off my eyeglasses.

I could sit in a coffeehouse.

I could take off my shirt.

Why don’t I do any of these things?

Why, with so many options, do I choose to keep my windows rolled down and sit in my car?

I see my face in the steering wheel, and I think the Honda thing looks like it would make a super-nice belt buckle.

Branded around the waist.

Basking in the Austin sun is the ‘uncorrected galley’ for Noah Cicero’s latest in print, ‘Best Behavior.’

All those writers inside Half Price Books, and I can guarantee Noah Cicero isn’t in there. People don’t sell his books to secondhand places. People read his books in silence and then keep them.

(A blind man just scared the shit out of me. I thought he was going to reach inside and unlock the passenger door and sit down next to me and say something spooky.

He’s just walking around the parking lot. Here he comes again, this time straight to my door. Before he runs into me, I roll my window up. You can never be too safe.

What is he doing in this parking lot?

Now he’s standing on the sidewalk under the shade of a #3366ff Chase ATM. He squints and snarls and touches his pants. He looks at the Austin sun and smiles. I wonder if he can see the sun, if that’s the only thing that’s rad enough to register?

He uses his blind man’s stick to scan the asphalt. He steps off the sidewalk and walks in a straight line. His stick touches my car a little. Sounds like I imagine a bird’s talons might sound. I think he has a survey of the parking lot in his head. He knows where there are cars and where there aren’t. He could draw the prettiest picture.

He disappears. I will probably never see him again. Why didn’t I say hello? Why didn’t I ask where he wanted to go and show him the way? My intense paranoia keeps me from interacting like a neuro-typical, an NT. But, then again, he probably thinks all the cars are empty. Me speaking up could possibly scare the shit out of him.

I guess that would give us something in common.

[insert: canned laughter.mp3]

Suddenly I realize I don’t have to be sitting in the parking lot of Half Price Books.

I can drive closer to work.

I can take 183 west (or north) to Sylvan and park in the parking lot there.

I can walk across the street to Barnes & Noble and sit on a high table and drink ice water out of little plastic cups for free.

I do that thing.

On the drive there, I listen to a song on the radio that reminds me about my ball picking days in Ocean Beach. I would drive the truck around Mission Bay golf range picking up balls and listening to the radio. I heard a lot of songs. Almost every month I hear a song that reminds me of my job in San Diego. Once in a blue moon I might even wear the same green shirt that got sun-stained after wearing it so much while working under the west coast sun.

Barnes & Noble has the same mural in all its stores across the nation. The mural in this store was a little harder for me to find, but I eventually figured out I was sitting under it. Will this mural change with the passing of time? Will new writers replace the old writers?)

Noah Cicero is still with me in book form. At first I wasn’t drawn to the cover art. I didn’t really like it. After reading the novel though, I now see certain things in the cover art that I didn’t see before.

I see the DOW first.

Next I see the American flag.

Last I see a 1 dollar bill.

Is there anything else? Am I missing something?

The cover art makes me insecure. It also makes more sense after reading the book. I think this is hard to do. The cover art sums up salient themes in the novel. It works its magic like a Dalí. I begin to like it.

The thing about this review is that Noah Cicero is reading a book I wrote at more or less the same time as I’m reviewing his book.

There’s a lot of incentive to flatter Noah Cicero.

I feel like it would be in my best interest to gush compliments for Best Behavior. It’s true. In a way, my role as impartial reviewer is compromised. Having said that, I still want to write about ‘Best Behavior.’

The book yanked my face down and inward from the very first sentence because I could tell this was going to be a story about Noah Cicero.

The stories I like the most are the ones that are real. Fiction has its place, but I’m at a point in my life when the only writing I care about runs full of the writer’s blood plasma.

Why write fiction stories? Why waste time writing about something you may think you know, but you really don’t know the first shit about? Fuck putting imagination on a pedestal. Relegate imagination, banish it to the margins, only unbury it when you feel like getting off.

Reading fiction stories is great fun. It’s a great way to pass the time. But the bloody pages, the words strung together like a helix, that gives a beautiful rush, like running headlong into the ocean. Inimitable.

Although even this kind of writing is labeled fiction/literature, I know this kind of writing when I read it. I know it because it fucks around with my adrenal glands. I don’t like autobiography or biography as much as I like real-life fiction/literature.

In ‘Best Behavior’ Noah Cicero tells a story that works on the precise level I can relate to. Every page speaks to me in his own words. He doesn’t bother making shit up. He says what he thinks needs to be said and then he moves forward from there.

“I think the problem industrialization has caused is that it requires a very awesome species. A species that can care about shit on a large scale.”

The novel happens in Youngstown and New York. But it’s the Youngstown scenes that really jump off the page. Every one of my senses were engaged. I got a real feel for the place. Look no further, Youngstown, Ohio, you have your writer. Noah Cicero knows Youngstown because he ‘wants’ to ‘always’ know it. Youngstown is his cradle, his anchor, his fingernail dug in the soil. He will never turn his back on Youngstown, Ohio. Without Youngstown Noah Cicero stands for nothing. With Youngstown Noah Cicero stands for an entire generation.

I should mention that I rarely pick up on themes, but when I do I’m always proud of myself, like I just peed in the right place for the first time.

Absent Father Figures is a theme in ‘Best Behavior,’ maybe even the only theme. I look at the cover art again and now I see Absent Father Figures. That’s what I was missing. Now I think I see everything on this cover. Every character in Youngstown has an absent father figure, and almost all Noah Cicero’s characters in Youngstown have problems with growing relationships. I don’t know if these 2 are intertwined in some linear way, like cause & effect.

“Monopoly was a game with a little metal shoe.”

The last part of ‘Best Behavior’ is an epilogue and it’s very tasty. I will probably read it again when I feel like acclerating. At first it reminded me of the last chapter in Maggie Cassidy, especially the tragic description of Benny Baradat’s relations with Petra.

(Just noticed the initials of the protagonist, Benny Baradat, are BB, same as the initials of the title.)


I (he) just checked on the kidney beans. My (his) stovetop was making creaking noises that sounded like they may be of some interest to my (his) cat. I (he) haven’t (hasn’t) showered yet. I (he) will get in the shower now and try to wash away all this garbage. I (he) have (has) been trying to make it to the library since forever. I (he) feel (feels) like the library will do me (him) some good. After I (he) get (gets) out of the shower and watch (watches) at myself (himself) brush my (his) teeth, I (he) will turn off the stovetop, brew the beans around a little to keep them cooking under the influence of centripetal force, and walk to the library on quiet neighborhood streets. This is what is about to happen, I (he) promise (promises).

April 8, 2011 11:10 am

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