I was introduced to this book by a smooth-talking, cool, British professor, who mentioned it was his favorite . . . collection of short stories? Book?...moreI was introduced to this book by a smooth-talking, cool, British professor, who mentioned it was his favorite . . . collection of short stories? Book? It’s difficult to remember now. That was years ago. And it wasn’t the first time I had heard of the collection. I think in college I even recorded a friend reading Why I live at the P.O. in a funny voice for a theater class. Or maybe just selections from the story. So, anyway, I was on a short-story-reading kick, and after loving Cather’s and Hemingway’s and Katherine Mansfield’s, I thought I would give these a chance.
At first, we really hit it off. The stories in the first collection, A Curtain of Green, are really tight with surprise endings and good dialog. Then, as I got to know Welty better, it became obvious that maybe she was a friend who was fun to party with, but not someone with whom I’d want to talk about anything important. Because, I had to start to ask myself if she wasn’t kind of racist. I generally still liked The Wide Net, especially the title story. That was one of my favorites in the whole book. It wasn’t until The Golden Apples, though, that I realized Welty is boring. And then, by The Bride of the Innisfallen Welty had become just a crazy old bitty, calling to ramble nonsensically about some kids holding hands on a cruise ship. Then, there is a surprise uber-racist ending of a couple of unpublished stories.
The one story in The Golden Apples that is worth reading is Moon Lake. It starts out slow, like a lot of hers do, but it’s worth it for the way it ends. Otherwise, I would skip the last two collections entirely. The first two are still worth reading, though. Well, maybe just the first one and the title story of the second.
It took me about three years to read this collection of short stories, so I feel like I should be able to write something more profound about it. I have been reading this book since I first started my goodreads account, and finishing it is something of a milestone. Rather than feeling celebratory, though, I feel more like I just don’t ever want to think about it again. One reviewer wrote of The Golden Apples, “This book has been an albatross around my neck all freaking summer.” I’d like to echo that sentiment for the entire collection. I’ve been a lot better about it since I started this book reporting business, but usually I’m pretty stubborn about finishing books even if I don’t like them. This is a good example of that. I should have just quit when it started going bad because it did not ever get better. Stupid smooth-talking Brits. Stupid southern women writers.(less)
One summer in high school, I lived at this camp on the Oregon coast. It was kind of a run-down place that a family owned. They would let high-school k...moreOne summer in high school, I lived at this camp on the Oregon coast. It was kind of a run-down place that a family owned. They would let high-school kids come there and run the place as staff while different groups of campers from different types of churches and high-school groups would come through. The girl staffers slept in bunks in one house, and the guys slept in this apartment over the gym. It was all kind of Empire Records, if that movie is actually how I remember it from watching it in high school. Or, like, Hey Dude, but Oregon-coast style, not dude ranch. Anyway, for a week, we lived on the Rogue River, and it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. Just a bunch of high school kids camping out (with adult-ish supervision). I grew up in the San Juan Islands, and on and around the Rogue and Illinois rivers, but I don’t think of the Ocean and rivers or visit them like I should. They are like blood: I take them for granted, but when I remember to, I do appreciate their beauty, and I know I would shrivel without them.
I finished my second year of law school this week, so I took the opportunity to read River Teeth, drink three greyhounds, and get nostalgic about Oregon rivers. I love that DJD loves Oregon rivers because they deserve to be loved. He is maybe a little sentimental in that hippie, rain-stick kind of way that gets to me sometimes, but when he stays out of that territory, he is my favorite ever. Ever. This is kind of a strange collection of stories. He pulled them together with the idea that they are river teeth, he explains in the very beginning. When trees fall into rivers, the current quickly decomposes their trunks, except for the knots where a branch joined a trunk, or other knots where the wood is particularly dense. Those, he explains, stay in the river much longer, and they jut up from the ground like river teeth. In the same way, Duncan goes on, time washes over our lives, and the moments that don’t decompose in our memories are like river teeth. So, this collection of stories is made up of those startling moments, the memories seared into his identity. Or, stories he heard from other people of their river teeth. I like the concept.
Otherwise, there is not much to unify one story from another. Some are Duncan’s stories, others he invented or transcribed from friends. I liked all of them, but I lovedThe Garbage Man’s Daughter. I, like, love this story, you guys. I laughed so hard at one part that I couldn’t read the pages and had to get up and walk around for a while. Then, when I came back, I still couldn’t read the story. It needs to be read. It is an outstanding story. I looked for an online copy to post here for you to read, but I couldn’t find one. You should find it and read it.
There is some dangerous territory in this book, though. The Brothers K is a perfect book in my eyes, and there is a story at the end of this book that happens after The Brothers K, and I feel that it spoils a lot of that book. I don’t necessarily know if the information would be hanging over you when you read The Brothers K, but I think it would influence your read of that book and those characters. I would rather you read that book than this, but you should still read The Garbage Man’s Daugher. I love it ever so.
The stories at the very beginning of this book are really wonderful. They are of Duncan’s childhood, and they are truly horrifying and memorable. There is also a story interestingly dedicated to Katherine Dunn, for all those Geek Love lovers out there. At the end of the book, the stories get increasingly sentimental and tie-dyed, as Duncan gets increasingly that way. I can handle that to a point, but, I don’t know. I do think he is wise, and I don’t disagree with anything he’s saying. He just goes a little to sentimental/poetical for me ever so slightly and every once in a while. Not in The Brothers K. He goes just the right amount of far in that book, as I recall. In the others, though, I just hear didgeridoos and rain sticks in the background every once in a while. And, like, Yanni. For some, that is a compliment, and I can see where it would be just the right thing in some circumstances. For me, It goes just slightly too far, every once in awhile. Then, usually, he’ll say something with all kinds of perspective that is totally hilarious, and it will reel me back in (fishing metaphor, tres apropos!).
Duncan is wonderful on fishing and rivers and baseball and personal mythology. He’s great with a subtle pun, and he’s kind. This was a lovely book. Have I told you to go read The Garbage Man’s Daughter yet? Well, go. It is a hilarious story. He is so kind about families and the way family personalities destroy and invent each other. He does that so well. I had been thinking for weeks that I wanted to re-read The Brothers K, but then I remembered that I had this one and hadn’t gotten to it yet. In a lot of ways, I’m glad I read this instead. But, I still miss that book and can’t wait to get back to it someday. Anyway, Duncan talks about rivers and families, and explains things that he understands instinctively about those things that I love and don't understand. One of my heroes.(less)
Sometimes, I will wake up from a dream, and it will take a long time to shake off the emotion or realize it wasn't real. The second night I was in Tan...moreSometimes, I will wake up from a dream, and it will take a long time to shake off the emotion or realize it wasn't real. The second night I was in Tanzania, I suddenly woke up with a sobbing, shuddering gasp from a dream in which I was mourning the deaths of two of my favorite people. I remember lying in bed thinking that such an evil world, where those people didn't exist, couldn't be real, but I was still so inside of the dream that I couldn't escape it. It took a long time to come back to reality. It strikes me that writing these stories might have had something of that feel for the author. There is a lot of residue of feeling here, filtered through purposeful weirdness. The shadow of evil unreality crossing into something real.
I read this on the planes, and at the gates during layovers. Apparently, according to my notes, I finished it just after I arrived at the Mövenpick Hotel in Dar es Salaam. We had traveled for something like two days. The day before we left, the woman coordinating the winter study abroad program for which I was leaving contacted me saying that, according to the handlers in Tanzania, my flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, (weird thing: when you're there, they pronounce it "Addis Abiba." Why is it spelled differently?) didn't exist. Lufthansa, however, assured me that it did, so we continued with plans. Sure enough, when we got to Ethiopia, the flight didn't exist. This didn't seem to bother the Ethiopian Airlines people, though. They just hand-wrote us boarding passes for the next flight to Dar es Salaam. Hakuna matata, I guess. Even though they don't speak Swahili in Ethiopia. Whatever.
Anyway, it was a little surreal. Then, when we got to Dar es Salaam, we were, like, totally set up. Fancy hotel. Crazy good food. We slept for an entire day, which you might say was a waste of time, but I say was very necessary. The only thing we woke up for was breakfast. So, we went downstairs to this fancy breakfast, and we looked outside of the restaurant, and there was this huge bouncy house. It was so incongruous set against the pool and immaculately manicured lawn that you couldn't stop staring at it. The student assistants for the program were sitting at another table, and they were staring at it, too. One of them was this assholey Jersey dude, who I got along with, but who objectively is kind of an asshole. He is a cross-eyed, light-haired, man, and he climbed Kilimanjaro last week. So, this guy stood up, went outside, stood in front of the bouncy house for a minute, and then reached his hand straight out with his fingers flat and extended and poked the bouncy house. He stood there for a minute more and then came back inside. Later, this became more funny when we realized that this guy is a pretty serious, cynical dude.
Coming back yesterday and the day before (fifty hours of travel this time, if you want to know), I met a woman from Tanzania who now lives in Boston. She had gone to Tanzania to search for her father, who got her mom pregnant when she was fifteen and then took off. While searching for her father, this woman stayed at her uncle's palatial villa on the coast of Tanzania (fully furnished with antiques and stuffed animals and elephant tusks), attended two weddings, and had a miscarriage. She had recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend because it turned out he had a wife in Haiti, who he decided to bring to the US. Her new boyfriend is living in DC, but he's from the same village that her father's family comes from, so he helped her coordinate the trip. She has five kids, one of whom is autistic. She didn't find her dad. It was kind of exhausting to listen to her story.
The way I'm pretending to incorporate these stories into my review of this book, is that these people, these circumstances, are really weird to me. Life is weird; people are weird. I don't understand creating weirdness for the sake of itself, so I have to say that I don't think this here bizarro genre is really for me as a rule. For example, I think most people are weird in one way or another (unless they are extremely normal, which itself is weird), so it kind of bothers me when someone brags about being weird. I think very few people are notably weird or notably normal, and when people try to be one or another, it's awkward. Like middle-school kids going through fashion fads. I mean, usually when we self-evaluate, we just look silly. Maybe it just stands out to me when people self-evaluate as weird because I don't know whether they are intending to compliment or insult themselves. I prefer people to just say what they have to say without a lot of self-consciousness.
Generally, I think Jeremy Shipp walks the line on this. Sometimes, his message is forcefully clear; other times I'm totally lost. Probably, that was intentional within each story, but it created a sort of static feeling to me. With very few exceptions, the relationships in these stories did not develop. The characters, likewise, did not develop with much complexity. Mostly, these stories are a pageant of the carnivalesque with a background of worldbuilding. The weirdness is in the costuming and the set design, and the characters and events are less important. People decide to be evil or not in the stories, but plot and characters are secondary to situational shock. This doesn't really groove with me, but it might with you. Many of the stories are about characters working through some kind of psychological healing, and the weirdness is some kind of corporeal embodiment of their pain. You might like that, but for whatever reason it was a little alienating to me.
Ultimately, I feel indifferent about this collection. There are vivid images here, but even their vividness didn't resonate with me. They were very direct, but still managed to talk past me somehow. I have a feeling that if you care a great deal for the Lord of the Rings, this collection will be more meaningful to you than it was to me. There is something Gollum/Smeagol about many of the characters, and the static atmosphere here reminds me of how I feel about Tolkein. I can't find fault with either collection of stories, but I don't have the gene necessary to appreciate them.
I think usually when you find weirdness in life, there is some kind of functionality to it that informs the person or event that is being weird. Like how the student assistant is someone who mostly bitches about things, but sometimes he pokes a bouncy house. Like how so far my experience with Africa is that it is a place where things won't necessarily happen when you expect them, but where people will get you where you need to go and not be bureaucratic about it. Like how all of our family histories are unique and painful and weird. I don't get how the purposeful weirdness that I think is the bulk of the bizarro genre helps tell stories. There are obviously exceptions to this, but this collection of stories is not one of them. Again, though, I think there is probably a substantial audience for this book. Maybe you are part of it, even though I am not.(less)
Woody Allen has that way of writing awkward attractions and selfish motivations that is forgiving and neat. He ties up the loose ends, but then at the...moreWoody Allen has that way of writing awkward attractions and selfish motivations that is forgiving and neat. He ties up the loose ends, but then at the same time, there is always an absurdity to the tying up. The characters will probably never be content, but somehow I, as their audience, am left content through the catharsis of watching Allen’s characters self-destruct. Despite the dissonance in the character relationships, what was secret is now in the open, the bad guy is murdered or permanently tortured with guilt, the underdog had his day, the boy found a girl. It is a good combination of satisfying and dissatisfying.
This book is great. The Abraham Lincoln play cracked me up; the hospital romance was sad and smart; and the story with Madame Bovary came right while Kelly and I were having our epic battle, so that was perfect. Woody Allen is cool.
[obligatory part where I say how much I completely adore Mia Farrow until the end of time.]
I’m listing below my ranking of favorite to least favorite Woody Allen films. I only rank based on personal preference, not based on a weird guess at objective quality because I am a bad guesser. Also, admittedly, it’s been about six years since I’ve seen some of them, so it gets a little vague and messy in the middle.
1. Another Woman 2. Purple Rose of Cairo 3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona 4. Stardust Memories 5. Sweet and Lowdown 6. Broadway Danny Rose 7. Manhattan 8. Sleeper 9. Crimes and Misdemeanors 10. Husbands and Wives 11. Alice 12. Interiors 13. September 14. Bananas 15. Small Time Crooks 16. Bullets Over Broadway 17. Radio Days 18. Shadows and Fog 19. Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy 20. Annie Hall 21. Play It Again, Sam 22. New York Stories 23. Take the Money and Run 24. Love and Death 25. Zelig 26. Cassandra’s Dream 27. Match Point 28. Manhattan Murder Mystery 29. Hollywood Ending 30. Midnight in Paris 31. Scoop 32. What’s Up, Tiger Lily? 33. Hannah and Her Sisters 34. Curse of the Jade Scorpion 35. Mighty Aphrodite 36. Whatever Works 37. Anything Else 38. Melinda and Melinda 39. Celebrity 40. Deconstructing Harry
That’s how the films go for me, I think. It is a very unfair list because I basically love most of them. I think you hit the “Yeah, that was pretty good” place around Hollywood Ending, but psychosomatic blindness? Yes, please.
When I was in high school, my best friend’s family watched Woody Allen movies all the time, and I couldn’t stand him. He seemed so smug, saying, “Look, I write a couple of jokes and everyone forgives me screwing people over.” Gross.
Then, suddenly, I hit maybe age twenty-four, and I watched Purple Rose of Cairo and got hooked. I watched everything I could get my hands on. He was no longer smug voice of screwing people over, but somehow, instead, this voice of compassion – a voice saying, “Look at how shallow we all are, but that doesn’t mean we are unimportant.” And I still value that. He combines the daily, mundane dissatisfactions of life with the epic curiosities of time travel and murrrrder and true love. What a wonderful storyteller. Purple Rose of Cairo is a good place to start.(less)
This was one of those generous gifts that I’ve felt really bad about not reading immediately upon opening. Elizabeth sent this to me a year or two ago...moreThis was one of those generous gifts that I’ve felt really bad about not reading immediately upon opening. Elizabeth sent this to me a year or two ago, and I knew right away what a lovely present it was because it is one of those beautiful, old hardcovers with worn pages and soft binding, and it was a book by a woman author I had never read but always wanted to read. It definitely fulfilled all its promise.
The early stories in this collection are funnier and maybe more quippy, maybe just lighter, than the later stories, but all of them have something of a sad-clown melancholy to balance out the humor. The earlier stories are like episodes of Sex and the City turned cynical. The later stories are actually kind of sad and disturbing in a smart way.
This is a digression that is ultimately relevant to this book of stories, so bear with me. I was talking about Eudora Welty with a friend yesterday because of my feeling of ambivalence about the way she addresses race. It looks like last week, They (I forget who, but presumably The Powers that Be) released the original version of Welty’s story “Where is the Voice Coming From?”, the story she wrote after the shooting of Medgar Evers, in which she chose to write from the perspective of the shooter. This newly released version uses the actual names and places of the shooting, which were originally edited out so publishing the story wouldn’t interfere with prosecuting the shooter.
I think it is very difficult to write from the perspective of a monster very effectively, without merely providing a platform for the monster. Initially, the story just strikes me as racist in giving voice to the racist ideas of the man who shot Medgar Evers. I understand, though, that there are differing perspectives on that, and that all of the articles about it and interviews with Welty say that she wrote it because of her anger over the shooting.
So, then, I wonder if it is more that I think she was ineffective in vilifying the shooter than I am worried that it shows her perspective on race. While we were talking about the race issue, my friend asked me if I thought Nabokov is a pedophile because of Lolita. I don’t really have an opinion about that because I can’t get past the first sentence, I find it so vile. But, at the same time, Ceridwen wrote this lovely review about her appreciation of the voice of the monster in that book. And, then, I think Caris wrote the voice of a monster so perfectly, and so smartly, in The Egg Said Nothing. Perfectly. And Dostoyevsky nails it, too, in Notes from the Underground.
I don’t know. What do you people think about giving voice to monsters? When a person writes, as I see it, she could write anything she chooses, and so then to choose, of all things in the world, to give voice to a monster is kind of confusing to me. But maybe I have my own monsters that I find more interesting and would write.
All of the characters in Laments for the Living were monsters in one way or another, I think, but they were hilariously written, and I did enjoy them and understand why someone would write about them. Parker is biting enough in her writing of them that I never felt she was endorsing the shallowness or cruelty, but she also seemed to lend value to the humanity in the characters. Like, they are human, too, but please don’t do this. Please, don’t be these people.
The second-to-last story in this collection is almost completely a monologue of this woman who is embarrassingly self-conscious of her own attempt to not be racist. It was very perfect in its cringe-worthiness. She can’t stop talking about people’s race and congratulating herself on her own ability to disregard race. It was pretty funny. I was thinking about the Welty story anyway, before I read Parker’s “Arrangement in Black and White,” so the comparison was ready for me, whether or not it is fair. Parker and Welty were contemporaries, though Parker was a little bit older. And if both were attempting to vilify racism through satirizing its proponents, I just find Parker more successful. I think Parker caught its awkwardness and stupidity, where Welty’s story did more to give voice to racism. Overt racism is shocking, but only to people who don’t support racism. So, nationally publishing the voice of a racist seems only satirical or critical to the extent that people already don’t agree with it. For an audience who agrees with it, it seems less effective as a critique. And racism is not so rare, in my view, that most people don’t already know what it looks like, not to mention that we might all be better off ignorant of what it looks like.
Satire is probably just difficult because it can so often be mistaken for earnestness and have the opposite of its intended effect. And, Parker’s stories can become a little tinny in the obviousness of the satire, so I understand why authors like Welty would want to protect the beauty of their writing for its own sake and thereby risk sounding earnest. Anyone who is sarcastic on a regular basis has probably had the experience of having her sarcasm mistaken for seriousness, and I have been on the giving and receiving end of that mistake. It is clear from the scholarly articles and less-scholarly blog posts on the topic that I am mistaken in how I read “Where is the Voice Coming From?”, but for the life of me I can’t read the satire into it. I can’t read the non-racist purpose in it.
With Parker, the stories are less poetical, but I know what she is trying to say, and I like it.(less)