The Incurable Habit: Jessamyn Smyth on Okla Elliott’s “The Boiling Glass”

These are people of “(ironically) tiger-striped couch,” of “knowing how people got to be the people they are & how much it cost them,” of coke snorted in bathrooms on immigrant parents’ dimes.
Into this milieu we recognize even if we wish we didn’t, in unpredictable and engaging syntax like something out of a Victorian Ikea, comes the narrator of Okla Elliott’s “The Boiling Glass.” He can still move in the tribe of the People of the Ironically Tiger-Striped Couch, if only with increasing effort: he’s seeing them—perhaps clearly, perhaps not—through his own dark glass. He’s the one snorting the coke. He has something he still wants to say, to prove, to show you, to make right—or in the early stages of the story he does anyway: here is his badly broken heart, beating, and even as he’s telling us how he is still good, or was good, or could have been good if The Attack hadn’t happened, if he hadn’t lost Nicole, his incurable habits—“of letting it be known what I want        & to what degree”—of pressing his tongue to the boiling glass while the world is incinerated: these determine what comes now, and what does not.
There is no effort to appear nice, when the addict is going down. There is always, somewhere in there, the real desire to be.
Voice is the driver of this story’s strength, but voice alone is not enough—unless, as here, the voice’s aloneness is the sharpened point: here is a character who was once the star, but is now wheeling through the wings crashing into things. Here is a character who craves Buber’s Thou, but has only capacity left for I: a man in a melting bell jar. Here is where these stories end. Here is also the full humanity of why, and how there was something else once, now seen through a waterfall of window while Chicago burns.
Okla Elliot’s The Boiling Glass