I have read Saunders's "Jon" before and wasn't too impressed by it for some reason, and so I didn't have too high an expectation goinVery, very good--
I have read Saunders's "Jon" before and wasn't too impressed by it for some reason, and so I didn't have too high an expectation going into this, but then the first story in this collection K.O.ed me with humor, storytelling, and voice. I had NO idea he was such a FUNNY writer. Then I kept reading, and reading, and reading. Typically, I like only a few stories in a short story collection, with the rest squarely falling in the grand category of "Meh." But not so with this collection. It's so strong that I was impressed by most of them—and this hasn't happened since Alice Munro's Open Secrets. The only pieces I didn't really care for were the really short ones: "Sticks" and "An Exhortation." One device he uses that I thought was neat was that of a futuristic medication that enhances a character's linguistic ability (in "Escape from Spiderhead" and "My Chivalric Fiasco"), allowing him to be as linguistically inventive (and funny) as he wants without compromising the characters' consistency. In almost all the stories, there's a theme of class—of poverty—that injects into them a sense of urgency and tension, and as a writer myself it was liberating to see that this kind of literary fiction (of obvious urgency as opposed to subtle tension or none at all) is still being written and acclaimed. But what I most appreciated was his humor. He is a humorist through and through, a comic writer in the true sense of the word, a writer who combines humor, social commentary, and linguistic inventiveness (among other things) in telling gripping stories with compelling characters you'll end up feeling really, really sad for. Here I might go into my thoughts on each of the stories, but forget about it—you should go ahead and read them yourself.
I didn't get him. When I read his As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Absalom! Absalom! a few years ago. I liked LIn love with Faulkner (4.5)—
I didn't get him. When I read his As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Absalom! Absalom! a few years ago. I liked Light in August, but I couldn't appreciate his style. And I guess for everything there is a season. Then I came back, and it happened to be in the right season, when my preoccupation was not storytelling but style and sentence rhythm. It has to do with my progress as a writer as I'm able to appreciate fiction for other than their plot.
I relished, no reveled in, Faulkner's meandering sentences. I loved his themes of blood and curse, race and history. After reading this excellent collection of interrelated stories, I'm tempted to go back and reread his classics, especially Absalom! Absalom! since I don't think I was *there* yet.
The stories included here are very accessible, though you probably need to look for the McCaslin family tree online and reference it (I copied into the book, and it helped tremendously).
Overall, unique prose with great cadence, and gripping stories. (it gets 4.5 only because the collection wasn't as novelistic as I hoped, and the climax was felt rather flat)....more
In Spoon River Anthology, numerous characters refer to one another and create a web of interrelationships. TheGood stuff, especially in the beginning.
In Spoon River Anthology, numerous characters refer to one another and create a web of interrelationships. The sheer number of interconnections in turn helps represent the fictional town of Spoon River, a difficult task to accomplish with standalone short stories or even novels focused on one protagonist. The successful representation of the community might be due to the strength of monologues, whose conciseness makes it easier to portray so many connections. Despite the difference in form, however, I think Spoon River Anthology presents an interesting array of techniques and devices that can be imported into fiction. The following are some of them I have identified.
1. Perspectives This is probably the most basic of the devices, where we see the same event from two different perspectives. For example, Roscoe Purkapile says he ran away from home and lied to his wife about what happened when he came home a year later and thinks her wife believed him and all was well. Then we get Mrs. Purakapile’s point of view on the event. She reveals that she pretended to believe Roscoe’s story and didn’t say anything though she knew he was seeing someone else after he came home. Like Akutagawa’s “In the Bamboo Grove” where he uses multiple perspectives to depict a murder, this device can reproduce the real-life experience of looking at the world from some perspective and remind the reader that there is no one objective truth but multiple subjective truths.
2. Dramatic juxtaposition This is where the characters don’t intersect, but the juxtaposition of their perspectives offers something that can’t be offered with only one perspective. For example, Albert Schirding tells of his struggle as a father of successful children and says Jonas Keene, whose children were failures, had an easier lot. The next monologues is picked up by Jonas Keene, who does two things. First, he reveals what happened to Albert Schirding (he killed himself), and second, he says he doesn’t understand why Albert Schirding killed himself with successful children, thereby providing a perspective that’s at odds with Albert Schirding’s. The effect of juxtaposing these two monologues is that the reader gets to see a commonality between them (their loneliness) that the characters themselves don’t see. Another, more poignant case of dramatic juxtaposition is Elisa Wertman and Hamilton Greene, where Elisa gives her illegitimate son to her mistress and later watches her son’s political success with pride. Then we get Hamilton Green’s monologue revealing his complete ignorance of his origin, thereby deepening and making more tragic, his mother’s situation. Again, the juxtaposition provides something that can’t be provided with just one perspective.
3. Sustained narratives These are made up of more than one person’s monologue and tell some kind of story in parts, by different individuals. The simplest example is the story of Tom Merritt, who finds out his wife’s affair and runs after her lover, only to get killed by him. His wife’s monologue then continues the story by revealing what happened after her husband’s death. She also tells the reader her lover’s name. Then in the following monologue, Elmer Karr, the lover, speaks, concluding the short narrative. Another is told by Minerva Jones, “Butch” Weldy, and Roy Butler. Minerva was beaten and possibly raped by Weldy, who, as his monologue shows, turned to religion and became blind as a result of an accident at work. Roy Butler, who was falsely accused and convicted of raping his neighbor’s wife then reveals, ironically, that Weldy was on the jury for the case. As this shows, in interrelated stories, the death of the protagonist seems more easily handled than conventional stories. It may also have the advantage of adding suspense when the protagonist of a story dies, and the story is carried on by another character.
4. Web of References Here, the monologues don’t necessarily form a coherent story, but they refer to other characters who in turn refer to more characters, or refer back to the first set of characters. This one in particular help illuminate interrelationships within the community. This is accomplished by three sets of characters: the Pantier family and Emily Sparks; A.D. Blood, Dora Williams, and Mrs. Williams; and Oscar Hummel and the Purkapiles. It starts off as a simple family portrait. Benjamin Pantier tells how he was kicked out of home and was stuck in a room behind his office with his dog. His wife then speaks, telling us her side of the story and her reasons for kicking him out of the house. Their son, Reuben follows their monologues and speaks fondly of the nurse, Emily Sparks who took care of him. Finally, Emily Spark talks, reciprocating Reuben’s fond feelings. Then later on in the collection, the triplet of A.D. Blood, Dora Williams, and Mrs. Williams refer to the Patntier family, throwing light on the interconnectedness. First, A.D. Blood complains that Dora and Reuben are making love on top of his grave. Then Dora talks, saying she was dumped by Reuben and how she went abroad. The triplet is completed by Mrs. Williams, who thinks Dora has disappeared and seems to cryptically argue in defense of extramarital affairs. This web of interrelationships doesn’t end here. Oscar Hummel further sheds light on A.D. Blood’s character by revealing that he’s a murderer. Then Mrs. Purkapile says she knew his husband, Roscoe Purkapile, was having an affair with Mrs. Williams. As this narrative shows, characters don’t necessarily have to appear as main characters to create a sense of community. Instead, having one set of characters refer to other characters, and having those characters refer to another set or refer back to the first set can show interconnectedness.
5. Minor but powerful character. The ubiquitous presence of a minor but influential character in the stories of many townspeople helps hold together the disparate monologues and illuminate the community. Thus, Thomas Rhodes, the powerful businessman, is mentioned by sixteen individuals, and though he doesn’t play a major role in any of the sustained narratives, his presence is established effectively precisely because so many people refer to him. This can definitely be a useful technique to implement in an interconnected short story collection: a minor yet influential character appearing in many of the stories could depict the community more realistically, for a community is often made up of many members, some more powerful and influential than others. To include a minor but influential character is to pay homage to this aspect of any community.
6. Other devices Other interesting aspects of Spoon River Anthology are the inclusion of historical figures (Anne Rutledge and William H. Herndon) and the appearance of a group as a character (Many soldiers). The former could add, like the minor influential character, reality to the fictional town, locating it in a specific time period. On the other hand, featuring a group as a character (something Faulkner does in Light in August) is a device I’m really interested in, and it may represent a top-down approach to depicting a community, as opposed to a bottom-up approach where the community is shown through the interconnectedness of individuals. The top-down approach can show the big picture of the community, as it can refer to the community itself (or a part of it) as a character. In keeping with this community-as-a-character aspect, many individuals directly address the community in the second person (e.g. Harry Carey Goodhue). Including both approaches may give the reader a more comprehensive sense of the community or group being depicted.
There may be other devices, but it’ll be interesting to see if these devices are used by later writers of interrelated story collections. ...more
With The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor invents a new type of short story collection: a novel in stories. The first question I had was: How isWith The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor invents a new type of short story collection: a novel in stories. The first question I had was: How is a novel in stories different from a mere collection of interrelated short stories? After examining the book’s similarities to the works we have already read, I will try to answer the question by identifying the necessary elements to make a collection of shorts “a novel in stories.”
Naylor uses some of the devices we have already seen in Winesburg, Ohio and Spoon River. Like George Willard in Winesburg Ohio, Mattie Michael acts as the “protagonist” of the collection, appearing in every story. Other characters reappear many times, too, such as Kiswana Browne, C.C. Baker, and Ben. Naylor also employs the device of the geography as she refers again and again to the hated wall that makes Brewster Place a literal and metaphorical dead-end. Like Main Street and stores in Winesburg, the presence of this wall and frequent mention of it throughout the collection help render the location of Brewster Place more realistic.
Though Naylor uses these familiar devices, she takes them a step further. Unlike the shadowy and blurry character of George Willard, Mattie Michael’s character is much more fleshed out. In fact, her story is the longest, taking up more than fifty pages and divided into five sections that take us through her life. The obvious effect of this is that because we get to know her well, every time we encounter her in someone else’s story, we find her presence both familiar and comforting, sort of in the same way the residents of Brewster Place feel. In contrast, whenever we see George Willard in Winesburg, Ohio, we feel distance toward him and even question his ubiquitous presence. That is, because we don’t get to know him well enough, he remains a stranger to us. A familiar face, yes, but not someone we can trust. Thus, with Mattie, the reader gets to vicariously experience what it’s like to be part of the Brewster Place community.
Another important device she builds on to her advantage is the device of the location. In Winesburg, Ohio, we have seen that certain places, such as Main Street and certain saloons, reappear, lending a physical reality to the fictional town. In The Women of Brewster Places, as we will see below, the location—or a specific feature of the place—serves a far greater purpose, giving legitimacy to the title of “a novel in stories.” Now, to answer the question I posed at the beginning, a novel in stories seems to require an overarching narrative of the place and the community as well as the bringing together of disparate narrative threads. Naylor achieves this by her emphasis on the location of Brewster Place. In fact, the novel begins and ends with an italicized section about the street of Brewster Place. The first section, titled “Dawn” briefly tells the history of Brewster Place, while the second titled “Dusk” tells the aftermath of the place. The first section also sets up expectations that the stories will be about Brewster Place, that the place, and not any individual, is the subject of the book.
If looked at it that way, one central narrative emerges out of the seven stories: Brewster Place undergoing a change, both physically and as a community. In the last story, “The Blcok Party,” three crucial things happen that contribute to its climactic, symphonic effect. First, there’s a kind of bringing-together of previous narrative threads as we see all the main characters in it, with the “protagonist” Mattie Michael’s narrative thread given a new ending as Ciel appears. Second, the community goes through a change by actually managing to organize a block party to raise money to hire a lawyer to sue the neglecting landlord. And finally and most importantly, Brewster Place goes through a physical change when the residents break the wall that makes it a dead-end. Though all this happens in Mattie Michael’s dream, the effect is not diluted, and given the epigraph of the book (“What happens to a dream deferred? … Or does it explode?”) and a reference to a line in Shakespeare’s Tempest in Cora Lee’s story (“We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”), Mattie’s dream has as much force as the reality the rest of the collection portrays.
In contrast, Winesburg, Ohio cannot be said to have this kind of climactic effect. Though the protagonist goes through some change over the course of the collection, both the place and the community of Winesburg remain unchanged. There is no physical alteration to the town or any change in the community’s behavior. Neither is there a bringing-together of separate narratives as we see in “The Block Party.” Thus, to reiterate and summarize, the following elements seem to be required for a collection of interrelated short stories to be called a novel in stories:
1) Some change to the place and/or the community; and
2) The bringing together of different narrative threads where the reader sees all the main characters and maybe see a new ending to one of the threads.
This conclusion is based on a single work that calls itself “a novel in stories,” and so it’s subject to change. For now, though, these things seem to be necessary for stories to have the effect of a novel.
The book, however, is not without its shortcomings. The two most prominent ones are the blatantness of some of the stories and one-dimensional characters. So for example, Kiswana Browne’s story, mostly made up of dialogue between mother and daughter, lacks subtlety in that they seem to speak what they think. Another example is Luciella Louise Turner’s story where the omniscient voice explains the significance of the bathing scene at the end.
Furthermore, many characters—especially men—are depicted as one-dimensional and stock. So the reader has no sympathy for Mattie Michael’s son who runs away, or for Eugene, Luciella Louise Turner’s husband. Or take the stock characters of C. C. Baker, the leader of the teenage gang and the bigoted Sophie who persecutes Lorraine and Theresa for being lesbians. Despite these shortcomings, The Women of Brewster Place stakes out a new form of the short story collection, and I look forward to how other writers develop this very interesting form....more
These twenty-two short tales reminded me of Dostoevsky in the intensity of the characters' suffering and their quest for love. My fInteresting tales--
These twenty-two short tales reminded me of Dostoevsky in the intensity of the characters' suffering and their quest for love. My favorites "A Man of Ideas," "Respectability," "Loneliness," and two actually linked stories, "The Strength of God" and "The Teacher."
Anderson has a knack for portraying eccentric characters with their strange and endearing obsessions (e.g., the son of a eccentric store wanting to prove one's not a "queer" in the old-fashioned meaning of the term, or a priest resisting the irresistible and sinful urge for voyeurism), as well as their struggle with loneliness and their attempts at connecting with others.
But the stories were too loosely linked for me, and I wanted more connection—which admittedly could be the point—or at least close links among the stories. In fact, only "The Strength of God" and "The Teacher" are really strongly linked stories in that they tell stories of the same event from different perspectives. There is some sense of connection, or rather a chain of causes and effects in the last three stories that lead up to the "protagonist" leaving the town, but that's about it. Some characters are mentioned briefly in more than one story and George Willard does appear in most of the stories, but they don't seem to form any coherent narrative arc. Do they portray the community of Winesburg as a whole? I'm not sure. Because a lot of characters don't reappear in other stories, I don't think reading each community member's story illuminated the community per se.
What is conveyed are the sense of loneliness and isolation everyone experiences in Winesburg and their yearning to connect with others. Winesburg is, to use an oxymoron, a very lonely community, or more accurately, a community of loners. Which is all the more poignant given how true it still is, or all the more so in not just Middle America but in big cities anywhere in the world. The more people there are, the lonelier each member gets. So this theme is definitely more relevant today, and it was interesting to see a book written in the early 1900s about a small town in Ohio comes to portray the modern malaise so well.
When I read Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" half a year ago in Burroway's Writing Fiction, I wasn't impressed. BuExcellent--
When I read Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge" half a year ago in Burroway's Writing Fiction, I wasn't impressed. But after reading her essays, I bought this collection and was engrossed.
Her early stories are not as impressive as her later ones (thus the 4 stars the collection gets), but boy, she gets better and better. The stories from her collections were superb and blew me away.
To get into her stories, you have to get used to a lot of expositions that fell mostly out of practice in contemporary fiction, but once you get the hang of it, you'll sense that a master is at work in each story (after "A Good Man is Hard to Find") and can't help but cling to every sentence. And floored by the experience by the end. Just wonderful.
In one of her essays, she says, "The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning," and she masterfully walks her talk in her later stories and simply floored me.
Great stuff. If you're bored and puzzled by her early shorts, don't be discouraged. Skip ahead to "A Good Man is Hard to Find" or plow through and see how the writer improves story after story. The hard slog might be necessary to experience O'Connor's arc as an artist.
Nietzsche would have loved Whitman's expansive, all-encompassing poetry that celebrates the human body, soul, and the world; WAn American Ubermensch--
Nietzsche would have loved Whitman's expansive, all-encompassing poetry that celebrates the human body, soul, and the world; Whitman's poems all say "yes" to life, an ideal Nietzsche found to be the philosophy of the future in contrast to the "nay-saying" philosophies and religions (most prominently, Christianity).
Whitman sings of democratic America, of the common people, of sexuality, and of unconditional love of everything about life. He finds voice, poetry, specifically for the new world power that was emerging in his lifetime, and it is full of energy, openness, and simplicity.
Not being in the habit of reading poetry, I've had some difficulties understanding some of them, but I enjoyed the overall experience, of having a glimpse into the poetic soul of the U.S. circa the late 19th century.
Though the jacket has Philip Roth's quote that John Cheever is "an enchanted realist," I'd have to disagree. He's more of a ChekhoviSolid collection--
Though the jacket has Philip Roth's quote that John Cheever is "an enchanted realist," I'd have to disagree. He's more of a Chekhovian Proteus who can pull off so many styles. He does Fitzgerald ("Goodbye, My Brother"), Kafka ("The Enormous Radio" and "Artemis the Honest Well Digger"), Hemingway ("Boy in Rome"), Carver ("Just Tell Me Who It Was"), even a bit of Borges ("The Geometry of Love"), folklore-cum-myth ("Metamorphoses"), and everything in between.
His most famous stories--"The Enormous Radio," "The Five-Forty-Eight," and "The Swimmer"--are definitely great reads, but there are so many more wonderful gems hidden in this literary lode: in "Torch Song," we meet a tirelessly caring woman who sniffs death; in "Clancy in the Tower of Babel," we come across a morally upright and nosey elevator operator who saves the life of a man he morally disproves of; in "The Bus to St. James's" we read a story of adultery very much reminiscent of Chekhov's "The Lady with the Dog"; in "Just Tell Me Who It Was" we have a rich, self-made man paranoid about his wife's fidelity; and in "The Country Husband" we read of a husband's disastrous eminence of a love affair with a young girl. And on and on, it goes with a cast of compelling characters plucked from the suburbs and all other walks of life.
My personal favorites tended to be the ones where Cheever blended surrealism and realism (as oxymoron as it sounds):"The Music Teacher" and "The Angel of the Bridge". In the former, we have a family in a crisis for unknown reasons and the husband turns things around with a piano exercise. In the latter, we have a man who develops a morbid and paralyzing fear of bridges.
Cheever's prose, however, felt slightly old-fashioned and stilted at times in comparison to his contemporaries such as Carver, and half of the stories were just okay or, even worse, confusing and/or pointless.
All in all, it was a solid collection and I enjoyed it....more