Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

"The Best American Short Stories 1996" by John Edgar Wideman (ed) (Houghton Mill, 1996)

The editor writes "the stories I've chosen tell you more about me than I could ever tell you about them" (p.xvi). There's quite a range of styles and subjects nonetheless. Repeated themes including estranged fathers, returning exs, drugs, and more ghosts than usual. As usual with this series, authors have a chance at the end to told about their work.

  • "Complicities" - A failed artist lives on a little farm with his 3rd wife. A niece with an eating disorder stays with them for a few weeks.
  • "Fires" - In a forest landscape, a man's employed to cycle after a female athlete training at attitude. The runner starts a forest fire, pulling the man into a pond where they survive the night.
  • "Driving the Heart" - A driver for the organ transplant service trains a youngster. Partly based on the author's experiences.
  • "Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot" - A woman buys a parrot, not knowing who the parrot was in a previous life. The story, told from the parrot's PoV, does a lot in relatively few words
  • "The Eve of the Spirit Festival" - A child of a Chinese academic living in States tries to cope with culture clashes after her mother dies. Does a ghost appear?
  • "Fitting Ends" - An elder, delinquent son is falsely accused once by his brother - the last straw. Rumours of a ghost. The author, Dan Chaon, wrote "I write hundreds of pages of fragments every year and put them in folders together, hoping they will mate ... I am always groping in the dark when it comes down to actually fitting pieces of these fragments together"
  • "The Silver Screen" - Malaysia and communism with elements of farce thrown in.
  • "Ysrael" - by Junot Diaz. I still have trouble with this author's work.
  • "Sleep" - A widower comes to terms with his situation.
  • "Paper Lantern" - It starts in one genre and ends in another. The author wrote that it "started out ... as a two-page prose poem about writing prose poems"
  • "The Incredible Appearing Man" - an ex repeatedly appears in disguise to a young mother. "I loved him because we could argue without making up in bed. I loved him because we could do our laundry on Friday night and call it a date" (p.144).
  • "Intertextuality" - Irish immigrants in the US
  • "Past My Future" - a Lolita story from the girl's PoV
  • "Bright Winter" - epistolary. A father's trying to communicate with his religious cult son in the 1800s
  • "In Roseau" - Set in Dominica. A girl sent to a couple becomes pregnant
  • "Shades" - a 14 y.o boy briefly meets his father for the first time
  • "A Stand of Fables" - The 1st part's rather slow. Overall I like it.
  • "Ghost Girls" - More ghosts. It's by Joyce Carol Oates. Here's a sample - "Brownlee spat out the rest of what was in his mouth and climbed into the cockpit behind us with a grunt. The plane creaked beneath his weight. Momma was holding me tight murmuring under her breath Oh God, oh Jesus, her quick warm breath, her beery-sour breath in my face. She'd been drinking beer in the car, her and the man who'd driven us to the airport whose name I didn't know, a six-pack she'd taken from the refrigerator on our way out the door. No time for Momma to throw together more than a few things of ours in her zebra-stripe tote bag. We'd only been living in the farmhouse off a dirt road outside Marsena for about two weeks, there were other people living there too and trouble of some kind and Daddy drove away in the night and next day men came by to ask ask him, yesterday morning two Eden County sheriff's deputies. The first thing you hear when a police car turns up the drive is radio voices, rachety and loud. Looking for Lucas Boone, they said. The German Shepherd was barking like crazy straining at the leash, neck hairs bristling and ears laid back and one of the deputies had his pistol drawn ready to fire but Happy was tied to a clothesline post and Mamma was screaming, Don't shoot him please! - he's no harm to you! and the deputy didn't shoot Happy" (p.228-9)
  • "Sculpture I" - a mature, married Pakistani male art student befriends a young US female life-model.
  • "Some Say the Word" - An arsonist step-daughter and her step-father spy on the mother having an affair with her ex.
  • "The Trip to Halawa Valley" - we gradually learn about the characters (a couple divorced a few years before) and their pasts - "But in the morning she was sorry. He was an adroit lover, always had been. After years apart they made love with the excitement of strangers, the tantalizing sense of discovery mellowed by trust. Strangers who knew their way around. Some frozen place in her, shockingly cold, had thawed a bit, and its tenderness was not welcomed or comfortable" (p.279)
  • "If You Sing Like That for Me" - Set in Delhi. Heavy foreshadowing in the first paragraph.
  • "All Shall Love Me and Despair" - A junkie, Scout, and his lover, Annie, go away together
    "Don't like all the rain. Being snail meat."
    "You like the bookstore."
    "I love selling cat cartoons to grandmas."
    "Sco-ut." Annie sighs, a cinematic, exasperated sigh. She wait for one of them to get serious. After a minute Scout says, "You want me to say I like being straight."
    They listen to the rain, its multitude of voices. "Well, do you?"
    The author wrote "I wanted the story to hinge or unify itself with a series of repetitions and interlocking images: water, birds, flight, God, sugar, junk, and so on. It's something of a contrivance to have Scout kill himself"
  • "Xmas, Jamaica Plain" - 2 prostitutes break into a house to spend the night, touching and using many things - "I'm your worst fear", begins the story

I didn't see much in "The Eve of the Spirit Festival", "In Roseau" (included although it broke the rule about excluding extracts from novels), "Shades", or "Sculpture I". "Bright Winter" delivered too little given its length, though it ends well.

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