Books by People I Know: “Let Me Clear My Throat”

19178979.jpgThis is my favorite story about Elena Passarello:

We were in college, and the theater department threw a basement party. Someone had hired a DJ. The audio equipment stood on a flimsy foldout table. The music was loud and throbbing.

Elena had made friends with a small cohort from Manchester, England, and invited them to the party. The Brits were new in town and didn’t know most of the people there, but that didn’t seem to bother them. They started dancing to the music.

One of them leapt up and down. It was a wild, thrashing dance. Emboldened, he sprang in the air and landed in the middle of the flimsy, foldout table.

The table broke in half. Or maybe it fell over. Whatever the case, the audio equipment went flying. Piles of CDs clattered on the tile floor. The music stopped. The party stopped. Everyone stared in disbelief at the Brits, who were now huddled in the corner, shocked and uncertain what to do next.

Elena sprinted across the room, grabbed a microphone, and screamed into it: “NO WONDER YOU LOST THE WAR.”

Everybody laughed. The Brits laughed. The partiers laughed. It’s possible even the DJ laughed. Everyone shrugged their shoulders, the music started to play again, and the festivities resumed, exactly as before.

This memory summarizes Elena in my mind: a boisterous, fearless, high-octane superhuman. Her zest and good humor can make 30 angry people smile.

It’s always strange, when you’ve known people for years and years, to read their writing, because the voice of prose is so different from the voice of the person you see in real life. This book does Elena’s personality some justice, but it’s also refined, perfected. It’s like taking an already perfect wine and distilling it into cognac.

Much has been written about Let Me Clear My Throat, so I’ll just summarize some of those remarks: It’s rare for a book to be about sound. Books are silent. They are usually read in quiet isolation. You can’t literally hear a book, any more than you can literally see music. It seems so obvious, that sound would be used as a literary theme, since it’s one of our very limited number of senses. Alas, not often.

The essay about the “Wilhelm Scream” alone is worth the price of the book, but the first-person account of the Stella & Stanley Shouting Contest is by far the most Passarellian. Though it’s been years since I’ve been able to hang out with Elena, this essay made that time feel a lot shorter. I am biased and protective about the books my friends write, but let Me Clear My Throat is objectively brilliant. And my anticipation for her next book makes me want to scream.

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