Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lipsyte, The Climber Room #10

Sam Lipsyte
The Climber Room
From the 11/21/11 New Yorker
#10  in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

Tovah is in her later-30s and like many other people, underemployed, drifting, lonely. There has been an annoying biological switch that has suddenly set to "baby," even though she is contented being alone. She works in a day care center and a parent who calls himself Randy Goat pays particular attention to her. Themes of economic breakdown, gender, and body image, and sexism; they are all here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Canty, Mayfly, #9

Kevin Canty
Mayfly, from the 1/28/13 New Yorker
#9
 in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series
James and Molly, Jenny and Sam. Two couples, no happiness. On the drive to Jenny and Sam's mountain mansion somewhere away from Denver, James and Molly collide with a swarm of butterflies. The story centers on James and his misery, and how he and Jenny wallow together in misery of their mates when those mates drive down to Denver for the night.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A&P, Updike #8

A&P by John Updike
From the New Yorker Fiction Podcast
#8  in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

When I realized that the reader, Allegra Goodman, chose Updike's serially anthologized story, one I've read in at least two and probably more English classes, I was surprised at the conventionality. But I listened anyway and it was a treat to hear the narrator's angsty and appreciative prose as he tells the story of girls who dare to come to the grocery store in their bathing suits. Sammy is inexperienced and arrogant; a common combination. His probably temporary rejection of the mores of the time, must, as Goodman said in her interview, have seemed very fresh.

Chaon, Fitting Ends #7

Fitting Ends
Dan Chaon
First published in Triquarterly
Best American Short Stories 1996
#7  in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

The story starts out with the ghost of the narrator's brother appearing on the train tracks a couple of years before he actually dies on those same tracks. But this isn't a supernatural story, but is rather a psychological haunt; the narrator is wracked and ruined with his lingering and unspoken guilt over a lie he told that pushed his brother over the line from rehabilitation to deep despair.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hadley, Experience, #6

Experience
Tessa Hadley, from the 1/21/13 New Yorker
#6  in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

The story of Laura, recently dumped by her husband, still young, housesitting for a more sophisticated older woman. There's an attic, a diary, pornography, and Laura reaching a space where she has almost none of her married possessions nor money. An encounter with one of her benefactor's lovers sends Laura on her way to independence and adulthood.

Other things I read: "Becoming Them" ; James Wood

The 1/21/13 issue of the New Yorker features a personal essay by James Wood about the universal experience of watching one's parents (and by extension, ourselves) shift, age, shrink, then die. He mentions a story by Lydia Davis. I haven't read any Davis fiction, only her translation of Madame Bovary a couple of years ago. The crux of the essay is, "It's just the river of time, and a waste of time, but there it is. And sometimes I murmur to myself, repetitively, partly to calm myself down,'How shall I mourn them?' How indeed?"

Monday, January 14, 2013

Horrocks, Sun City, #5

Caitlin Horrocks
"Sun City," from the New Yorker, 10/24/11
#5 in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

"Sun City" is the story of a girl who is helping settle her late grandmother's effects after she's died. The grandmother had a roommate, Bev, and it's fairly clear that Bev and the grandmother were lovers. The granddaughter, Rose, is also gay. There are lots of family complications, hurts, and a sweet scene at the end that is a moment of peace between Rose and Bev, while a guinea pig watches loyally from the edge of a pool.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012 Reading Delights

Books I enjoyed in 2012 (not necessarily published in 2012)

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Good storytelling, and I learned about a time which I'd held only brief and hazy beliefs.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Good lord. This is a smart, funny, and devastating story of love. I read it right after a young family member died suddenly. All I have to do is think about the last quarter of this book and I want to do things over again, and better.

Canada by Richard Ford
This is my favorite read of the year.

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes
1960s Arizona noir. Well-crafted and moody. It goes well with the stupidly hot summer we had.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I read this when I was a teenager and I remembered almost nothing about it. There's no way I could have understood everything it is about, especially the philosophy. I think you either like Steinbeck's layered and sometimes histrionic stories or you don't. I was sucked in then, and again this time around.

So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
You can tell that Richard Ford read a lot of William Maxwell; their narrators in Canada and this novel share a common ethos. I am attracted to the longings of children, the pangs of homesickness, the lure of the close-knit family. There's a lot of that in this book.

May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes
This is a story that fits like a glove to today's culture. It's satirical, but it's also full of love. Other Homes' books I've read before didn't have the love.

Long, Oubliette, #4

David Long
"Oubliette" from the New Yorker, 10/10/11
#4 in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

This is a story about a mother and daughter who are pulled apart by the mother's illness. Where the girl, Nathalie, can remember moments of closeness with her mother, there is a distinct break as the mother becomes especially ill, chronically ill, and erratic. There is a complication too where Nathalie has always felt very close to her father. The last line tells us that Nathalie's mother has been a chore and will continue to be so, "...the world would go on--not where it had left off but on the other side of this nothing time. And when it did, though she couldn't quite see it yet, Nathalie would begin the never-ending task of not forgetting her mother."

Galchen, The Lost Order, #2

Rivka Galchen
The Lost Order
From New Yorker, 1/7/2013
#2  in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

Story starts out, "I was at home, not making spaghetti." The story is told in a kind of frenetic stream of consciousness, where a woman talks about dieting, body image, gender dressing. It evokes a kind of nervous energy, feels real.Then her husband calls and asks her to look for his missing wedding ring. We see that maybe she's more unstable than we were let on because she says that her husband says, "I'm so sorry, my love...His voice has hairpin-turned to tender. Which is alarming." She calls herself a "daylight ghost." We find out she had once been an environmental lawyer. She quit in an impulsive move, and her husband supports her decision. She says to a UPS delivery woman, "It's like you knock on your own nightmare."

And maybe she is her own nightmare. In the final confrontation of the story, her husband questions her and reveals that he thinks she's hiding secrets. She is disconnected from him, from reality, and says at the end, "Maybe I'm the dreamer...Maybe I'm the man."




Colwin, Mr. Parker, #3

Laurie Colwin
"Mr. Parker"
Published 1973
From the New Yorker Short Story Podcast, airdate 8/1/12
Read by Maile Meloy
#3 Short Story Project, 300 in 2013

This is a coming-of-age story about a young girl who takes piano lessons from a teacher in the neighborhood. His wife dies, and that death marks a transformation in the girl, her relationship to her mother, and to her own understanding of what it means to perform well enough, through practice, to make real music.

It's a simple story really, but the language used carefully describes the fading process that life deals out to older people. There's also a running theme of innocence vs. knowing. It's not funny, like Colwin's novel Happy All the Time, but in a small number of words, the reader is let in on the girl's inner life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A note on the Parenthood abortion storyline

Just because the show let Drew have his own opinion and didn't spend much time on Amy's POV doesn't mean she looks like the "bad" person in the situation. Lots of stories are told from the woman's side, but this time, we get to see it through a (very important) secondary character. Values are not necessarily ascribed just because they didn't tell the story the way we've always seen it before. Just because Drew was mourning the loss of a baby doesn't mean NBC was throwing angry "values" viewers a bone. Amy is not wrong, and Drew is not wrong either. And damn, he does everything he can to support her. And yes she is distant, but she's sad and scared too.

Borges, Shakespeare's Memory, #1

Borges
Shakespeare's Memory
From the New Yorker Short Story podcast
First published in English, 1998. Airdate of podcast: 12/2012
#1  in the I will read and take brief notes on 300 short stories series

The character in Borges' story is bestowed with Shakespeare's memory. Palaces and caverns.  "Regions... of shadow, regions that he willfully shunned." The narrator tells us that we cannot experience all of our memories at once, that they come to us in parts, and likewise, his slow absorption of WS's memory is revealed to him in the same way. He says that "after some thirty days, the dead man's memory had come to animate me fully." He almost thought he was Shakespeare. He senses a deep guilt in WS's memory. "The offense had nothing in common with perversion...The three faculties of the human soul, memory, understanding, and will are not some mere scholastic fiction." WS was the artist, but the narrator sees his own life as more extraordinary. He eventually cannot bear to be the keeper of the memory, so much agony is he in. He gives the memory, per the ritual, to another keeper, and then must go about trying to erase the WS memory from his mind. "The only solution...strict, vast music, Bach." He concludes, "I am a man among men...Unsettled by small, fleeting memories that are perhaps authentic."

Impressions: feels European, without the dramatic crises we see in contemporary short fiction. But it has deep threads of history and permanence, another characteristic we miss in our internet-fueled consciousness.