"About the Work" with Carmen Petaccio
The seed of a story that became “VR” was given to me by the writer David Sanchez, my gambling buddy who happened to write the best novel published this year. I remember David telling me about a brief encounter with a group of animal rights activists, much like the ones in the story, who used virtual reality to illustrate the horrors of factory farming. He figured I’d get a kick out of hearing about them, as someone who believes that the consumption of meat should be illegal. (He was correct.) I’d been wanting to write about the slow death of the shopping mall for a while, how the disappearance of retail signaled the end of a commercial and social order that still left space, however minimal, for inefficiency, tacky beauty, and interpersonal connection. David supplied me with the ideal point of entry.
A few weeks ago, my hometown movie theater, the AMC Seacourt 10, closed after more than thirty years in business, and I suppose “VR” is partly about what I felt after hearing that news: actual grief for the loss of what was, at its core, a corporate profit-making enterprise. I was intrigued, in terms of character, by the idea of a narrator who sometimes finds stores easier to mourn than people, and how a random, fleeting interaction in a mall might move him closer to a place of truer emotion and a strange sense of purpose.
If I can be transparent, “VR” was originally written as a commission for another literary magazine, but the editor who solicited the piece, an admirer of another story of mine, politely passed soon after I sent them a draft. Jeez, I thought. Even my biggest fan thinks this one is too weird. That’s when I knew I was really onto something.
CARMEN PETACCIO is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Miami. His fiction, nonfiction, and criticism have previously appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, Gulf Coast, and The Baffler. He lives in Miami.