Days of Distraction, Alexandra Chang & Asarvos Alta Alella Xerello
by Kim Kent
A year ago
When I find myself in a particular state of uncertainty, more aptly a state of increased stress, fear, or anxiety—I read. It’s a ritual I crave: to spend time in other people’s lives, letting the weight of words transport me, or, at least, hold me in place. Sometimes, I fear I spend too much time in other people’s lives, but wading through the steady accumulation of a novel’s days, its real life, the narrator marching toward some not completely knowable place has always given me a sense of comfort. And though I feel comforted by the act of reading Alexandra Chang’s novel Days of Distraction, it is not a novel that aims to make you comfortable. If the book were a climate it would be September: the end of summer, the weather “turning, dropping fast,” a season between seasons, a microclimate. Reading it didn’t so much as remove me from my own life as it it dropped me squarely into the life of the narrator: slow, plodding “circles in the house and my mind,” turning the pages not always because I wanted to, but because I was riveted, albeit passively, to the novel’s voice: the narrators’ and my very own discomfort pushing, or perhaps nudging me forward. In times of transition we often want a distinct Before and After, a clarity Time rarely presents so neatly. There was a time Before I read Days of Distraction and a time After I read it, but what changed between? Did Anything? And is it even possible to say I liked it?
Drinking, like reading, is highly subjective. What you like is what is good. But the same can’t be said of the inverse: What you don’t like isn’t bad, you just don’t like it. And sometimes you can’t tell if you like something, but can’t be sure that you don’t like it either, which is how I feel about this month’s wine: 100% XerelLo skin-contact white from Alta Alella in Catalonia. While Alta Alella has been farming organically since the 90s, making natural wine (without commercial yeast) is a relatively new project for winemakers Joseph and Mireia Pujol-Busquets. Perhaps that’s why I can’t be sure how I feel about this wine: it’s as though I’m tasting something that’s still working itself out. At first, its sharp acidity and savory notes bounced wildly around my mouth, not quite settling into something I could recognize, but sip by sip I grew increasingly more interested, eager to see the wine to its conclusion. So I sipped on, conscious of my noticing: a feeling not dissimilar to the experience of consuming this month’s novel. And after all that uncertainty, did I like it? Even now, I can’t be sure, but it did leave me wanting another sip. Another sentence. Another moment to settle into all that uncertainty.
Alexandra Chang’s first novel is Days of Distraction, published in 2019 to high acclaim. Call this novel what you want: a novel, auto-fiction, a project, or a microclimate, but you should read it. Her forthcoming collection of short stories, Tomb Sweeping will be available from Ecco/HarperCollins press next year.
Alta Alella winery is the project of the Pujol-Busquet family in Catalonia, Spain. They aim to produce transparent wines that reflect the soil and grapes: “the enjoyment of tasting the moment as well as the landscape,” which is a sentiment that feels fitting for both novel and wine. The vineyard is just two kilometers away from the Mediterranean Sea on sandy granite soil. This 100% XarelLo is aged in clay amphora made from the same terroir where the grapes were grown, and receives no added sulfur at bottling.