"Never Marry a Mexican" is in this collection, which is an interesting story touching on such issues as cultural clashes, infidelities, and a complete"Never Marry a Mexican" is in this collection, which is an interesting story touching on such issues as cultural clashes, infidelities, and a completely-legal-but-disconcerting case of incest. I am curious as to whether her other stories are as bold....more
Although I didn't particularly enjoy this collection, it's not because Wendy Martin has cherrypicked stories that are too culturally varied for me toAlthough I didn't particularly enjoy this collection, it's not because Wendy Martin has cherrypicked stories that are too culturally varied for me to be able to relate to on some deeper level. In fact, that is the best thing going for this book. It really takes a gander at writing from a wide range of mitigated groups of women. Interesting.
It is unfortunate that the stories that move Martin are not ones that move me. I don't know why. I generally found them boring and somewhat flimsy. I can think of a number of stories (by many of the same authors) that would be better suited to being anthologized. Perhaps there were copyright issues.
Regardless, my favorites are Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson" and Sandra Cisneros' "Never Marry a Mexican." The former explores economic inequality and the early 70's burgeoning culture of windowshoppers through the lens of a child, and the latter portrays the life of an adulterer on an edge between cultures....more
I've read Richard Bausch's "Valor" elsewhere, and this seems like something I'd enjoy. I noticed he had a penchant for being able to communicate the dI've read Richard Bausch's "Valor" elsewhere, and this seems like something I'd enjoy. I noticed he had a penchant for being able to communicate the difficulty in communicating. That is, um, a hard road to hoe....more
As Pushcarts go, this year had some outstanding pieces. Ones presented here are mostly essays, though there were a few good poems and a number of wondAs Pushcarts go, this year had some outstanding pieces. Ones presented here are mostly essays, though there were a few good poems and a number of wonderful short stories. I found many of these stories were set up as vignettes of people looking back on a bygone era—from Joyce Carol Oates' Gothic portrayal of a family farm in the 1920s to Lucia Perillo's tragicomic overview of dating in the 1980s. Of course, there were some forgettable stories (some with cyberpunk/sci-fi esthetics, some too light-hearted to age well) and a good deal of complicated atonal poetry I couldn't wrap my head around. Potent notables include:
"As Kingfishers Catch Fire" by Colum McCann, "A Hemingway Story" by Andre Dubus, "The Turkey Stories" by Julie Showalter, "The Book of the Dead Man #87" by Marvin Bell, "There Goes the Nobel Prize . . ." by Carol Muske, "Abundance" by Carl Phillips, "Timeshare" by Jeffrey Eugenides, "Invisible Dreams" by Toi Derricotte, "Junk" by Gordon Cavenaile, "Zealous" by Joshua Clover, "The Most Responsible Girl" by Emily Fox Gordon, "Tea at the House" by Meg Wolitzer, "Once a Shoot of Heaven" by Beckian Fritz Goldberg, "Valor" by Richard Bausch, "Bad Boy Number Seventeen" by Lucia Perillo, "Faithless" by Joyce Carol Oates, "The Order of Things" by Nancy Richard, "Meditation on an Aphorism by Wallace Stevens" by Jeffrey Harrison, "Flower Children" by Maxine Swann, and "Ernie's Ark" by Monica Wood.
There is a story in here by the late Julie Showalter, which I believe you can hear her read on the December 1, 1995 program of This American Life (Your Radio Playhouse). It also can be found (in its manuscript form) at:
I am starting to find fault with this blasted rating system, but I'll give it a whirl...
First off, this collection is remarkably spotty. For twenty sI am starting to find fault with this blasted rating system, but I'll give it a whirl...
First off, this collection is remarkably spotty. For twenty stories, I only liked all of four or five of them. In fact, some I couldn't believe were even published--let alone worthy of being included in an O. Henry Prize compilation.
Still, Bradform Morrow's "Lush" is a uniquely arranged pairing of two stories intertwined by an automobile accident, though it cleverly skirts this all too obvious centerpiece and delves further into the surviving characters' struggles with acceptance, addiction, and love. It also avoids resolution--one of the best things a short story can have going for it. Similarly, Adam Desnoyers' "Bleed Blue in Indonesia" achieves this sort of befuddled mystery, reaching for an ever-widening expanse rather than closure. I should mention that this is Desnoyers' first published story, and as such, I give him a little leeway with his sometimes clumsy setting of a scene, knowing it will become taut with practice, God willing. Methinks there is something going on with Alice Munro's "Fathers" as well, but I have yet to metabolize it sufficiently...
Now then. The two stand-out hands-down amazing stories were Anthony Doerr's "The Shell Collector" and Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams." In Doerr's story, we find a wonderful lot of strongly-crafted sentences--all expressive, interesting, exotic and yet no-nonsense and necessary. What is more, this story is just plain gripping because the main character is an old blind man, a hermit turned unwilling miracle healer via his Ph.D. in malacology, living in a kibanda off of the Lamu Archipelago. As for Johnson's "Train Dreams," imagine an amalgamation of historical third-person narrative, some sleight magical realism, and a Native American animal-infused ghost story, and frame it smartly around the bygone logging days between the turn of the century and the end of the first World War. To that, Johnson loads the story with secondary tales that create a pleasing novel-like sense of things learned, while also complicating it, causing the reader to wonder what conclusions can be drawn--What would I want to happen?
If I could, I would give these last two stories five stars and the rest of the book two....more
Good grief. Seriously, this is the next "big thing?" After reading Civilwarland in Bad Decline, I thought, "It might be a hokey throwback to Vonnegut,Good grief. Seriously, this is the next "big thing?" After reading Civilwarland in Bad Decline, I thought, "It might be a hokey throwback to Vonnegut, but by Samuel Clemens' ghost, George has got something here..." Of course, after reading Pastoralia, I have become strangely skeptical of his growth as an author.
Sure, what Saunders has produced is worthy of some attention, but is this guy a one-trick pony? I'm almost convinced he doesn't read anything--at least not so much it would change his style between books. Even in In Persuasion Nation, Saunders sounds like a copy of himself--albeit one who has a penchant for a choice image or a biting satire every now and again--but no matter how much I want all modern-day misanthropic literature to go forth and be fruitful, I can't help but get tired of his shtick: (A) take one corporate and yet zany customer service job, (B) fill with one or more well-meaning but socially awkward archetypal loser characters, (C) mix equal parts poor grammar, teenage colloquialisms, humor and thinly-veiled cynicism, and (D) finish strong by peppering the story with a decorative but ultimately useless jumble of science-fiction and/or marketing excreta.
It was an interesting read but is probably his weakest collection of stories. Sorry for "crapping in everyone's oatmeal" as Saunders would say....more
First off, this isn't poetry. No matter how many times you inject inarticulate fluff into a piece of fiction—i.e. 'the sunlight dappled down over theFirst off, this isn't poetry. No matter how many times you inject inarticulate fluff into a piece of fiction—i.e. 'the sunlight dappled down over the golden boughs of sweetgum, glaring off golden waters in an impossible game of gold, like chorus-line girls on the outskirts of a golden town's driving range, glowering in mother moonlight, also gold'—it's not poetry. Poetry is not some meaningless smattering of glossolalia that one uses to sound thoughtful at social functions. It similarly is not a half-assed handful of jive that can cobble together a shoddily-written narrative.
It seems like Braverman is concerned with conveying a feeling rather than an idea, and this removes the emphasis on characters and places the brunt of it on a scene's depiction. She has a nasty habit of blindly grabbing onto images, whichever way the synapse firings go:
"Gwen envisioned the end of the universe as a sequence of blue, fragile and translucent like the skin of infants. It was the blue of a stamp fading on a passport. We are given documents at birth. Life is a visa. At the end, one final port of exit."
And the big epiphany at the end of this jettisoned detritus? That life is indeed fleeting. Which gives the reader no new knowledge, no additional emotional involvement.
*** What kills empathy faster than anything? A. joist-less flotsam, B. boisterous bagatelle, C. flippant frippery, or D. being full of shit.
Anyhow, I give this book two stars rather than one because I can tell Braverman is an intelligent person who can write but cannot quite pre-write or edit her stories to be much other than full of potential on good days and tiresome on others. However, I do recommend reading this, if only for a few wonderful moments ("Pagan Night" being the absolute best of these)....more
Though this collection only entails ten 'short' stories, its sheer number of pages (all 179 of them) make it seem like more. This coupled with the facThough this collection only entails ten 'short' stories, its sheer number of pages (all 179 of them) make it seem like more. This coupled with the fact that most of the stories here are filled to the gills with long—oftentimes painstakingly descriptive—depictions of nature leaves me exhausted and hungry for some semblance of civilization.
It's not that I do not enjoy nature, or that I particularly like being in these massive sanatoriums we call cities, but I find the sort of isolation that Bass has gone about creating in this collection extremely dismal. He is obsessed with places that are farflung from all human endeavors (save a lone woodsman or two) and so, Bass relies on his descriptions of these 'rugged pockets of wilderness' to stand as characters in their own right. Unfortunately, this becomes unclear if not monotonous, and Bass runs into trouble occasionally. Anywhere from Montana to Idaho to Mississippi to North Carolina to Virginia and West Virginia all begin to sound like the same place.
Exaggeration: 'There's a layer of red clay on the ground. The bulrushes line the river. We fish for speckled trout along the cutbanks. Here's how silt is formed. The dogwood, the birch, the hickory, the sweetgum, the beech, the oak. Killdeer, snipe, plover, swales, osprey. Doe, fawn, elk, moose.'
Of course, I'm being harsh on Bass, and this collection of stories is (for the most part) very well done, but it also bothers me when a piece of contemporary literature seems to disregard city/town/village/community life in favor of sprawling descriptions of wilderness. The Hermit's Story struggles with keeping any sense of modernity, and it goes without saying, it depressed the shit out of me. But to be honest, my blue mood probably comes from Bass' pitiable characters rather than the veritable smorgasbord of flora and fauna of which he writes so exhaustively.
See, Bass spends a great deal of time wrestling with the loss of love, which his characters are continually experiencing throughout the book—and the most dispiriting thing is that they can't stop the hemorrhaging. The relationships go south, turn cold, or worse, and it leaves these characters almost humorless, embittered, ravaged, and 'a little off.' I wouldn't want to have a beer with any of them. They worry me. Are they victims of their own machismo, or has the wilderness ruined them for anyone else? In short, I found these characters lonely. Yes: rugged, hard-nosed, replete with the knowledge of experience for sure... but lonely.
Heart of the matter: Bass' characters are trying to find a balance between nature and society, but are constantly coming up empty-handed. They are saddened by their inability to live among other humans half as well as they can live among the 'natural world.'
That it might be written beautifully doesn't really console me; it's a bummer....more
I liked that these stories are rich in perfectly telling details but surprisingly succinct as well. They cut to the quick. I was moved and/or saddenedI liked that these stories are rich in perfectly telling details but surprisingly succinct as well. They cut to the quick. I was moved and/or saddened by each story--so much so that I couldn't read any of them back to back. Maybe it has to do with how Meeks reminds me of Raymond Carver if Raymond Carver was funny and not so hung up on the sauce, but these stories require the same kind of lengthy refractory period as Carver's. I find that interesting. After reading one, I'm trapped somewhere between serious pontification and outright silent grieving, and it goes without saying, my cereal becomes soggy.
For example, the last four sentences of the four-page "Green River" illustrate Mr. Meeks' masterful conciseness while also showcasing an almost tragicomical range of emotions:
"At this point, Harry was extolling the virtues of Nutrageous over the Salted Nut Bar again, and he earnestly asked me if I thought my chocolate was really better. I realized in that moment, as I looked over at the van and saw a ghostly reflection of me inside my own windshield, that no matter how much hope you have, it cannot weave happiness. I touched Harry's shoulder and told him as far as candy bars were concerned, go with your own impressions. Do what you have to do."
Anywho, my only words of advice are addressed to the worrywarts, weak of heart, the anxious and the like. Heed ye this warning: This book is concerned with sickness and in great quantity. Characters are quite often dealing with disease, caught in the process of dying, or grappling with the threat of sudden and undeserved illness. Hypochondria is at least sharing the role of king in this collection. And what is the second theme on the throne? I think maybe the notion that bad things will happen--that love is a word whose meaning is unwritten....more