Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day Thirty-One: "In the Night" by Jamaica Kincaid


This is as beautifully written as anything I've read lately and I read it out loud from start to finish. I get the feeling that this story MUST be read that way in order for the reader to experience this story about a young girl dreaming of what it will be like grow up and be loved by a woman , to escape from the "night" and its noises.

The opening sets the tone and definitely worth including here:

"In the night, way into the middle of the night, when the night isn't divided like a sweet drink into little sips, when there is no just before midnight, or just after midnight, when the night is round in some places, flat in some places, and in some places like a deep hole, blue at the edge, black inside, the night-soil men come."

I'm not sure I can wait to read the remainder of her short stories in this collection titled "At the Bottom of the River." I may have to devote a week to her during this 2012 reading project. What a powerful voice!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day Thirty: "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" by Carson McCullers


What a story!

A man tells a young paper boy about losing the great love of his life, a woman, and how the heartbreak of her loss helped him figure out the "science" of love. He tells the kid that the problem really begins when a man falls in love with a woman. He says of these foolish men:

"They start at the wrong end of love. They begin at the climax."

Then, the seemingly bitter old man asks the kid if he knows how a man should begin to love instead? This is where the hypothesis is made which gives the story it's title. He tells the kid a man should beginb by loving "a tree, a rock, a cloud." All objects that he can admire and love, steps if you will that lead up to the big event, the woman that he feels cannot be loved until all the rest has been exhausted.

Sadly, the story ends with the kid asking the man if he's found another woman to love after testing out this scientific theory of his. To this the man replies:

"That is the last step in my science...I go cautious."

And the reader knows then that this man is no genius. He's simply more foolish than he was the first go around.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I managed 499 new words tonight after a crazy day and after reading and blogging the short story I read today. I'm so proud of the new words and I can't wait to get up in the morning and write some more.

Balance, that's the key. Reading is bread and writing is butter. I gotta have both!

Day Twenty-Nine: "Other People's Dreams" by John Irving


A newly divorced man contemplates why he never had his own dreams while married to his wife for 10 years, particularly in light of the apparently active dream lives of those around him. What he finds is that in moving from bed to bed to couch to recliner, every time he falls asleep, he dreams the dreams of the person who'd previouly slept in a given spot. It's really fascinating the way Irving works this story and leaves the reader asking whether the man truly takes on these "old" dreams or if he is dreaming in the shoes of others.

From his ex-wife dreaming of old age and its effect on her body to his mother dreaming of making love with his father, now deceased, there are moments when this story breaks your heart.

The part that stands out to me is when the the narrator explains why perhaps the man isn't dreaming on his own or rather, why he isn't examining further why he's only dreaming through others. This quote sums it up:

"We are top-of-the-water adventurers who limit our opinions of the icebergs to what we can see."

What a perfect way to say "we are afraid to look for the meaning"...this is why I read John Irving!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Week Five Short Story Selections

Day Twenty-Nine: "Other People's Dreams" by John Irving
Day Thirty: "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" by Carson McCullers
Day Thirty-One: "In the Night" by Jamaica Kincaid
Day Thirty-Two: "American Desire" by Jedd McFatter
Day Thirthy-Three: "Maybe You Can, Too" by Garrison Keillor
Day Thirty-Four: "The Other Two" by Edith Wharton
Day Thirty-Five: "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster

As planned, mixing the old with the new and throwing in a family member of mine! It's only getting better!

Day Twenty-Eight: "The Chinese Lobster" by A.S. Byatt


This story is near perfect in my opinion. A.S. Byatt layers this story of a Dean of Women's Studies at a college with that of an art professor in her care and also with that of a struggling art student in her department, and she does it in an interesting and easy to follow way.

The Dean and the Professor sit at a Chinese restaurant to discuss the complaints lodged against him by this "mad" art student and the discussion itself is worth the reading of this story. Notions of faithfulness to one's art, of the true understanding of one's passions and how to relate those passions to others, notions of loyalty and honor to a larger cause. ART.

This story was brilliant and the metaphor of the lobster, a lobster between two crabs, really made this work for me. So many layers of meaning in a story that is intentionally layered. What a way to end week four of my reading!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day Twenty-Seven: "A Poetics for Bullies" by Stanley Elkin


What a wonderful story rich in details with a clear voice, the voice of a kid who prides himself in being a bully and who calls himself "Push." The best part of this story though is how the reader senses his vulnerabilities every time he engages in the bullying, particularly in the way he interacts with his buddy Eugene. Eugene is as close to a friend as Push allows but even then, he's Push's punching bag more than anything else.

This could have easily wound up as a story about a mean kid. Instead, the author shows us in a subtle way that "mean" is just a word and it signifies nothing without a consideration of the personality traits that exist on a "mean" person's edges. For Push, there is insecurity, of course there is. But there's also some compassion, just beneath the surface and there's a breaking point and we keep reading because we desperately want to see it.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day Twenty-Six: "The Ballroom of Romance" by William Trevor


Irish writer William Trevor tells a story about Bridie, a young but approaching middle age woman, who spends her weekends at a dance hall called "The Ballroom of Romance" which we come to find out is a place where not much romance occurs, at least not for Bridie. Mostly, she sits back and watches men enter and exit her life while she struggles to keep it together.

One scene in the story where she's in her bed on her back, weeping and the tears sliding down her cheeks and onto her pillow around her ears, is so vivid and feels so real that it's a testament to the author's writing. It's that good and he got it right, the woman's emotions over this sort of loss, this sense of profound loneliness in a world where, every weekend, there are opportunities, opportunities for everyone but Bridie. Instead, by story's end, she resigns herself to staying on the farm, with her disabled father, to spend her days at least having someone to take care of. It's not what she wants but, she decides, she chooses, that it's good enough. At least he needs her. What a statement!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day Twenty-Five: "Blueprints" by Barbara Kingsolver


A spot on depiction of a marriage in decline, this story by Kingsolver started off a little slow for me. Upon further consideration though, it wasn't the writing that put me off. I think it took me a little bit to fully absorb what I was reading and honestly, I didn't want to keep reading, to continue experiencing this sad and realistic look at the struggle, the grind, not knowing if or how it would get better.

We see Lydia, a young middle school science teacher contemplating where her relationship with Whitman, a carpenter, went wrong. They were lovers, friends, cheerleaders for each other and throughout the story there are flashes of that shared history but only moments and that is what creates the tension that moves the story along.

Midstory, when Lydia observes Whitman from a distance planing a piece of wood while making a coffee table, the third person narrator notes:

"Every time he shoves the plane forward, a slice of wood curls out and drops to the floor, and she wonders if he's going to plane the board right down to nothing."

THIS, this sentence and its placement and subtle purpose in this story IS WHY we read fiction.

Marriage in a nutshell, the shaving away of each other until you're hollow and empty but somehow still salvageable. Kingsolver ends this one on a happy note where there's hope and understanding. Is it realistic? Will the change last? We don't know but we are left suspecting yet not fearing the worst.

the search

These days, looking at the world with fresh eyes, well, at least less tired eyes, I can't help but come back to this great Philip Roth gem taken from his novel "The Human Stain"

“The pleasure isn't in owning the person. The pleasure is this. Having another contender in the room with you.”

I hope and now I wait...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day Twenty-Four: "The Little Bouilloux Girl" by Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette


Told from the point of view of a young French girl, this story tracks the rise to womanhood of the narrator's companion, another young French girl whose beauty is taking her places and helping her move up in the world in a way that the narrator isn't. There's a sense, not of jealousy, but of curiosity over this strange phenomenon.

Pretty girl. Pretty clothes. Pretty life. Pretty people around her. Pretty future.

Why? This question is never actually asked by the narrator but it's the overarching theme that is never really answered by the story's end. Instead, there seems to be some sort of justice or satisfaction in ultimately NOT being the pretty girl and this is shown perfectly when the narrator spots her companion on the street as an adult, aged and still looking for a man special enough to sweep her away.

This is a story where one girl's patience is another girl's poison. Very nicely done by a French writer I'd not yet read.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Week Four Short Story Selections

So, I've read and blogged two stories already this week but I figured I should post my reading list now before I get too far into the week. Here it is:

Day Twenty-Two: "The Scheme of Things" by Charles D'Ambrosio
Day Twenty-Three: "Work" by Spencer Wise
Day Twenty-Four: "The Little Bouilloux Girl" by Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette
Day Twenty-Five: "Blueprints" by Barbara Kingsolver
Day Twenty-Six: "The Ballrooom of Romance" by William Trevor
Day Twenty-Seven: "A Poetics for Bullies" by Stanley Elkin
Day Twenty-Eight: "The Chinese Lobster" by A.S. Byatt

Day Twenty-Three: "Work" by Spencer Wise


On the verge of unforeseen Nazi terror, a Jewish kid wants to make his mark: on his boss, on a woman, on a life that seems to be moving at a pace that doesn't make sense to him. When, toward the end of the story, his boss chides, "You're going to have a very difficult life if you can't figure out where the hell to stand," the reader sees that this kid is actually the lucky one. As his coworkers march off in the shoes he's helped make, this kid is standing still, in the rain and he's safe.

There's a final suggestion that he take another shot at it, try again at all of the things he wanted to make his mark on, but I was left knowing that this kid would never do it. The words would indeed "burn" in him but he'd be spared the devastation of the boss and the woman and the war he didn't see coming. This was a story about an unexpected blessing in diguise from a clever writer who knows how to leave the disguises elsewhere. The words on the page here resonate. There are no disappointments in failure. There is only the need to look on the bright side.

I'm glad I found this one...will be on the lookout for more from this writer for sure.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day Twenty-Two: "The Scheme of Things" by Charles D'Ambrosio


This story, as recommended by my brother, had me on the edge of my seat, knowing with every new paragraph that I was on the verge of something either dreadful or utterly beautiful. That this look into the life of runaway druggies was heart wrenching is expected...but that it's strangely appealing is not.

What a vivid image: a Halloween night where there is so much at stake and yet so much to hope for as these youths do their own sort of trick or treating, searching for food, for shelter, for kindness and finding it in an old and lonely couple living in an Iowa cornfield.

This is a beautiful story about having dignity even in the worst of situations, dignity in the midst of the desperation of drug addiction, in the midst of gnawing hunger. As someone recently said to me of D'ambrosio, this guy doesn't get enough press.

I could not agree more.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day Twenty-One: "The Shawl" by Cynthia Ozick


A tragic holocaust story of a toddler being thrown to the wolves. Literally. With images that are both disturbing and soft-hearted, Cynthia Ozick creates a sense of uneasiness that defines this short story. For some, I think this story would be too gruesome or difficult to read, particularly because it pairs the loving relationship between a child and mother with the relationship between the German Nazis and the Jews in a way that leaves the reader shocked and cold and without hope.

The shawl itself is used as a symbol of what protects the child from harm. The actual shawl shields the child from recognition and her ultimate execution and the symbolic shawl is what feeds her, nourishes her while she waits for a certain death. This is one of those stories I'll need to read a second and third time to fully see what Ozick was doing.

This was a lovely read!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Day Twenty: "Death of Distant Friends" by John Updike


This was a wonderful story told by a middle aged man dealing with the deaths of three important friends in his life: his golfing buddy, an older woman friend of his wife, and his Golden Retriever. Each brief recollection of these characters lets the reader into the mind of the narrator and we see him as a man who is truly "between" his life. He's not in it.

Despite their lives and how they enriched his, the narrator remarks that their deaths have given him a sense of relief, a relief that surprises him. This is where the story went beyond plot and became Updike:

"Witnesses to my disgrace are being removed. The world is growing lighter. Eventually there will be none to remember me as I was I those embarrassing, disarrayed year while I scuttled without a shell, between houses and wives, a snake between skins, a monster of selfishness, my grotesque needs naked and pink, my social presence beggarly and vulnerable. The deaths of others carry us off bit by bit, until there will be nothing left; and this till will be, in a way, mercy."


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day Nineteen: "Clerical Error" by James Gould Cozzens


Written in 1935, this story touches on the embarassment associated with pornography and it is cleverly written with a twist at the end so that the reader is drawn in and help captivated until the last word. A bookstore owner sends a collections note to a prominent man's estate after his death expecting to blackmail the family into paying for the "purchase" in order to avoid the unfixable image of impropriety.

What the bookstore owner doesn't realize is that on this particular occasion, his plan will backfire as the deceased man was a blind man. Love it!!

The Real Deal

I attended a reading on Tuesday night where two wonderful writers obliged this adoring reader and allowed their photos to be snapped with me. National Book Award Finalist Patricia Henley and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler...two very kind and generous people who've enriched the literary world with beautiful writing. I'm happy to call both my friend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day Eighteen: "The Grave by the Handpost" by Thomas Hardy


It's Christmas Eve and a group of carolers make their way through the city as usual but on this Christmas, they find themselves drawn to a strange light illuminating the town's seminal intersection, the literal crossroads of this 18th century Engligh country town. When the carolers reach the light, they see, beneath the handpost at the intersection, a grave that had been dug and a corpse lying therein. The gravediggers then tell the carolers the story of the man they'd just buried.

There's tragedy and then music and as expected, the Victorian notion of the inevitability and cruelty of fate shapes the story as Hardy questions whether there is in fact forgiveness after suicide or whether it even matters to ask the question.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day Seventeen: "Docent" by RT Smith


Told in the first person, the narrator is a docent, a volunteer, giving a tour of a chapel associated with General Robert E. Lee. The story reads as one long guided move through the chapel but there are places in the tour that the reader is guided into the docent's mind which appears to be on the verge of senility.

I'm not sure I particularly liked the voice in this story and it was a more difficult read for me than usual but, I did find myself laughing when the old woman volunteer would make "connections" between General Lee and Edgar Allen Poe...imagining that Poe's "Annabel Lee" was in fact a relation of her beloved General. She also points out that General Lee and Poe share a birthday. My favorite line is where the docent, after pointing out the value of General Lee to her great southern state, she says that Poe on the other hands reprsents "the dark side of our Virginia psyche."

In the end, I'm not sure whether the volunteer is actually supposed to be giving tours as she is being asked to leave by a security guard. But that is the author's point I suppose. We are left with mixed feelings of sympathy and awe for this aged volunteer whose ardor for her General Lee is strangely contagious.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Finally...new words. I've gotten so caught up with my reading that I've been neglecting my writing. That changed tonight and will change tomorrow as I have several hours set aside to write in the afternoon. 218 words...I'll take it.

Day Sixteen: "Red Lily" by Patricia Henley


Patricia Henley breaks my heart with this story. A young girl caught up in a fantasy of a man who doesn't deserve her but on whom she bestows her attention, her longing, her devotion nonetheless. There are religious undertones to this story that only serve to magnify the overtone of martyrdom. Jenny openly and knowingly accepts the punishment that is loving Eddie Fox. She does this and it's hard to watch but for a woman, it's easy to understand.

I loved the image of the red lily, the special flower that she offered up to Eddie as a sign of all of her emotions. That he didn't want to find a vase to put it in was the perfect depiction of this sort of man, this stereotypical sort of man who doesn't understand what he is doing to the women he manipulates and baits.

This story is a look into how even the shredding of a woman's heart can result in a whole again. There's repentance. There's forgiveness. There's hope.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day Fifteen: "No Jury Would Convict" by Irwin Shaw


This short story by Irwin Shaw reminds me a little of the Raymond Carver story from a few days ago except this one, instead of being about a group of guys in a barber shop, is about a group of guys bull-shitting about baseball while watching their team come "close" to a win. You sense the excitement...you feel the characters holding their breaths despite their nonstop chatter as they hope against reason, despite the stats stacked against the possibility of a win but it's there...and sports fans know that feeling and it's packed perfectly into this 5 page story.

Again, this was a nice snapshot sort of story that still makes one think about what Shaw was saying. One of the fans, as the story concludes, switches sides, changes teams, deciding it's time he root for a winning team. Shaw captured in a concise and clever way the notion that no one likes to lose...and sometimes, reputation or history be damned.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Week Three Short Story Selections

This is where I'm headed with my reading beginning tomorrow:

Day Fifteen: "No Jury Would Convict" by Irwin Shaw
Day Sixteen: "Red Lily" by Patricia Henley
Day Seventeen: "Docent" by R.T. Smith
Day Eighteen: "The Grave by the Handpost" by Thomas Hardy
Day Nineteen: "Clerical Error" by James Gould Cozzens
Day Twenty: "Deaths of Distant Friends" by John Updike
Day Twenty-One: "The Shawl" by Cynthia Ozick

This week I'm keeping to my plan of mixing some contemporary writers with some classics...it's only getting more exciting as I go!!

Day Fourteen: "The Cures for Love" by Charles Baxter


This story is about a young woman who is getting over a breakup and using her study of Ovid's "The Remedies for Love" to do that. Baxter, as always, uses vivid details to bring this story to life. From the young woman's thought provoking bath to her ride along a city bus and her people-watching in an airport, this story is, start to finish, classic Charles Baxter and it includes quotable phrase after quotable phrase which makes the piece more than simply memorable.

"You should witness the high visibility of joy. You should believe."

"Funny how books put themselves into your hands when they wanted you to read them."

"I can remember you. I just can't do it in front of you."

I could go on and on...and I may read this story a time or two more just to absorb it all. As expected, this story delivered a touching look at the state of love on the proverbial rocks. This is one of those stories that put itself into my hands. I needed to read this!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day Thirteen: "The Burning" by Eudora Welty


Delilah is the slave of two white sisters living in Jackson Missisippi. When the story opens, soldiers have arrived with the intent on burning the house and we soon learn that one of the sisters knew what was coming but had stayed, certain that they would not be subject to the wrath of the indifference and cruelty of the war. But, when the house is burned and the sisters along with Delilah are left to make their way through the burned city, the city that others had already abandonded before the burning occurred, the story really begins.

In the midst of the devastation, Delilah is the one who persists, who continues toward some hopeful end even when the sisters hang themselves and leave her alone. As the story approaches its end and Delilah is face down in the high grass of a river bank, Welty creates paragraph after paragraph that took my breath. Delilah finds a piece of glass and after wiping it clean, she sees it is a mirror.

The imagery used of butterflies and dragonflies and bats and insects, buzzing life circling as if she were dying and they were all there to witness it rather than feed off of it was genius. There weren't any buzzards, only the buzzing, the steady hum of a life that she hadn't given up on yet. Her reflection in the mirror revealed what she could be and not what she was. Then she stands up and makes her legs take her away from the death the others had given themselves too. She walks into the river, determined to cross it and on her head are the treasures she keeps safe and dry and in her head she knows she's going to be okay.

Friday the 13th...feeling lucky

So, I woke up this morning and was determined to wear a smile and not focus on the possibility or perhaps in my case, the probability of some mishap befalling me...I really do have what some might call "bad luck". Instead, I choose to define what I have as "ironic misfortune on the verge of laughable fortune" but even that might be a stretch.

American writer Elbert Hubbard said "Luck is the tenacity of purpose" and I think that's a great way to look at it. Today, I'm all smiles still...nothing is going to get me down. I'm making my own luck today. Ironies be damned.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day Twelve: "The Calm" by Raymond Carver


This short story by Raymond Carver is a good example of what he does best: slice of life. Barber Shop. Bullshitting in a barber shop. A character heavy bullshitting session in a barber shop over a foiled hunting trip between the patrons. It's as if Carver gives us a tiny scene but layers it this way and it feels like there's more to it than there is when you finish reading it. But in reality, it's exactly what Carver wants the reader to see. It's a snapshot and there's more to the story that we don't see but that's okay. For Carver, in this story, that is preferable.

This was a nice piece to read after Day Eleven's reading. The diversity is already making my head spin but my heart thrum. Finally, I feel alive!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day Eleven: "Isis in Darkness" by Margaret Atwood

Longing. Resignation.

This story is worth the read for the last four paragraphs alone, paragraphs that are beatiful and painful and bittersweet and real. It's at the story's end, when the main character, Richard, realizes that he still has a role to play in the life of the woman he loved, a woman who was the great mystery and possibly the great love of his seemingly unfulfilled life, but a woman who never quite let him in. He decides to write about her poetry when she dies, to memorialize her in his own way. And he doesn't choose to do this for notoriety or to save his own writing career that never blossomed as hers did...no, he embarks on this story and study of the woman to as the story says, "exist for her at last."

When Atwood begins the next to last paragraph, the reader knows that Richard had found his calling, to write about this woman he loved.

"He will have a place in her mythology after all. It will not be what he once wanted...his are humbler metaphors. He will only be the archaelogist, not part of the main story, but the one who stumbles upon it aferwards, making his way for his own obscure and battered reasons through the jungle, over the mountains, across the desert until he discovers at last the pillaged and abandoned temple...He is the one who will sift through the rubble, groping for the shape of the past. He is the one who will say it has meaning. That too is a calling, that also can be a fate."

I'm blown away by this paragraph, the fullness and frankness of it. We all have our own obscure and battered reasons to put our feelings into words. Atwood shows though that the history one gives is often an offshoot of yearning...a hope to be a part of the main story and a resolve to accept it when not.

Overlooked...a conclusion

Why is it that certain images or sounds or words or references to a particular film or book or place trigger the memory so cruelly?

Rarely does a combination of these things bring up from the depths of one's soul, from one's unconscious longing self, a happy thought or a fondness for something from days gone by. At least that's not the case for me.

Most recently, it's been names with me. Names, the same names, popping up in ironic circumstances that trigger a memory and then I'm hurt all over again. The worst part is that I can't stop it and I've thought a lot about this lately, about what it can mean if anything and I've reached the conclusion that:

my unconscious self is perhaps more awake than I am and that's why I don't recognize the moments that will matter until after they've settled into my unconscious and then worked their way back up

Then, after dwelling on this point for the past few weeks, I was struck and my greatest fears about my waking self were confirmed when I stumbled this morning upon this quote by Graham Greene from "The Heart of the Matter" :

"He couldn't tell that this was one of those occasions a man never forgets: a small cicatrice had been made on the memory, a wound that would ache whenever certain things combined - the taste of gin at mid-day, the smell of flowers under a balcony, the clang of corrugated iron, an ugly bird flopping from perch to perch."

It is possible that I've simply failed to observe what is important in my waking life, that I've spent my time focusing on work and people that don't really matter to the exclusion of any meaningful reflection on the present. But, it is also possible that I've simply been overlooked by life with no reason to observe those things in the first place. After all, what are all of those memories for, what is it about their interconnectedness that amounts to more than a blogger's rambling if there is no one there to share it all with?

Thank you Graham Greene for being just one more name from which I can't escape.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day Ten: "Generous Wine" by Italo Svevo


This was a fantastic story by a writer I'd not heard of when I chose the story. A man attends his neice's wedding and gets drunk on wine. That's the story in a nutshell but it's the watching of him getting to that point, the why behind his drinking on this particular occasion that really tells the story. It's a look at how the choices people make shape perception and then how perceptions fail to change when those same people make an alternate choice.

Here, the niece had vowed celibacy, wanted to be a nun, but then...at her family's urging, decides to "do the right thing" and get married. The uncle/narrator is appalled by this and as he drinks more and more throughout the story, the reader sees not only what he feels about a world view that would put such pressure on his niece but also what he feels about his own situation in a marriage that would have been better avoided in the first place as well.

I wouldn't say this story is a challenge to the institution of marriage per se. Rather, it challenges the notion that choosing one's fate is possible. Fate chooses you and you get married because it's the thing to do. The choice is gone and so the narrator drinks. With a wonderfully vivid cast of characters and spot on dialogue, this story was worth the read.

I'm very glad I found this one. It was for me "generous wine" indeed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Day Nine: "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros


This short short story is part of the greater story which has the same title. Already, I can see the larger story being shaped by this snippet where the narrator shows the reader what it feels like to live in the slums but to pretend like you live in the suburbs. When the main character shows her schoolmaster her home, a third floor flat whose outer walls have peeling paint and makeshift wooden bars on the windows, the reader feels the shame of it with the narrator.

With crisp and vivid writing, this short story makes me want to read the remainder of the collection right now. I may just do that.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Week Two Short Story Selections

So, I already posted my review of the story I read for Day Eight...but, here's the remainder of my official Week Two reading list:

Day Nine: "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros
Day Ten: "Generous Wine" by Italo Svevo
Day Eleven: "Isis in Darkness" by Margaret Atwood
Day Twelve: "The Calm" by Raymond Carver
Day Thirteen: "The Burning" by Eudora Welty
Day Fourteen: "The Cures for Love" by Charles Baxter

Week Two is shaping up to be very interesting!

Day Eight: "The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue" by Poe Ballantine


Some kids have it, some don't. Some are born with it. Some will die without it.

In this short story, the reader experiences first hand what an 8th grade boy does when confronted with the "devils" of his neighborhood. Drugs, sex, pornography, stealing, all of it is tempting and you see this kid getting deeper and deeper until his mother does what many of the other moms don't do. She reins her son in, restricts him to the house, removes him from his so-called friends and we see that she does it just in time. Around him, the other teenagers are teetering on becoming criminals or worse, criminal-makers. They want this kid to be part of their world, to have their dismal lack of luck, so show him what's it's like to draw the short straw every day, every day. But, he survives, he makes a new friend and his luck changes and by the story's end we see him clinging to that fact..that luck CAN change. He clings to that belief even though as the reader, you see that it's not true. His luck simply...is.

This story is moving and heart breaking and it is written with an eye toward detail that keeps the piece humorous despite heavy undertones of hopelessness. With lines like "They had a clock in their house that said, "No Drinking Till After Five," and all the numbers on the clock were fives" and "We drank lemonade or root beer, and ate kumquats and stuffed the seeds up our noses" the reader gets a sense of voice that is brilliantly portrayed and very difficult to create in the first place.

For anyone looking for some fiction to get lost in, this story is it. I'll have to re-read it several more times to fully absorb its richness and depth.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Day Seven: "Epstein" by Philip Roth


In this short story, Lou Epstein asking the question "when did the trouble begin?" and in classic Roth style, the answer is offered with humor and with the irony that accompanies any man's journey into self-reflection. Caught up in an affair with his neighbor, Epstein longs to return to the life he sees in his houseguest, his 22 year old nephew who is on military leave and having the time of his life. This story reads like a man searching for the time of his life only to realize his wife has already given it to him.

This story was part of Roth's award-winning collection of short stories titled "Goodbye, Columbus" and I'm glad I read it and can add it to my Roth reading history. It was a fitting way to end week one of my daily short story reading.


So, after not writing yesterday, I got in 961 words today and I created a scene in the novel that will be crucial to the rest of the story, at least I think so. I really don't know what will happen or what my character is capable of at this point but she's coming into her own...FINALLY!

A word I used today is "decimals" and yeah, that's random but I figured a random word is worth sharing as much as a meaningful one. After all, the random words are part of the whole and are what give vivacity to a story. I'll take random over predictable any ole day of the week.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Day Six: "The Golden Apple of Eternal Desire" by Milan Kundera


This short story was a fun read first and foremost. Written in short labelled sections, the story is interesting and it keeps the reader wanting to find out if the main character will end up with a woman or remain alone. That is the center of this story, this search for what makes the character feel like a man. Does he play wingman to his philandering friend? Does he continue to lie about having a woman in his life to avoid actually getting out into the world and dating one? Does he have courage to confront his friend about his carefree lifestyle? Or will he continue to be the man who is a MAN with a capital "m", the guy who sees these women as the golden apples of eternal desire, women who are plentiful and hanging just low enough for him to pluck despite being unripe.

What Milan Kundera does in this story is make the reader laugh at what is truly a sad state of affairs. It is not love. It is not life. It is always just pretend.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Day Five: "The Angel is My Watermark" by Henry Miller


This short story is actually more of a nonfiction-esque look at the author's fixation on painting that occurred later his in literary career. And while autobiographical, parts of the piece read like fiction, a work on fire with the kind of voice that Miller is known for. It's boisterous with an undertone of accusation of his fellow artists and their abandonment of the idea of art for art's sake.

Miller describes his love of painting, watercolor painting specifically, and when he says "We don't have to turn out a masterpiece every day. To paint is the thing, not to make masterpieces" the reader is to accept this without further consideration. Miller's approach is matter of fact and ultimately very convincing.

Like painting, the point is to create art, to experience the process and to learn to love it, learn to LIVE it. This was a nice read for me at this point in my writing life. If I can do what Miller says and realize that "no one can be paid to give of his joy, it's always freely given," I can continue to write and for the sheer overwheling desire inside of me to share.

I share, therefore I am.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


222 words tonight but I'm tired and can't do more...tomorrow...there's always tomorrow

Day Four: "Mortals" by Tobias Wolff


In this short story, Tobias Wolff gives the reader an obituary writer who loses his job after a "dead" man shows up at his newspaper with questions as to why the paper has declared him deceased. Turns out, the narrator hasn't checked his facts, done the research, and his willful blindness cost him a job that while not what he wanted, was better than nothing.

Couple the narrator's lack of concern with the undead man who is mysteriously curious about the way his obituary was worded and there is an irony to this story that is refreshing and that is not being pushed onto the reader. At its conclusion, the narrator passes a mime and throws some money at him, hoping to not be imitated. It's a poignant ending to a thoughtful story about the insecurities that plague us all in life and in the face of death.

I'll read more Wolff for sure.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day Three: "A Find" by Nadine Gordimer


This story is quite brilliant. A man, following his second divorce takes off for a few days at a nude beach in search of his purpose, to find the child inside of him. That's what he tells himself and the reader believes it too as he skips stones across the ocean, as he sits and sifts sand through his fingers, as he swims and cleanses himself of the way he's been with women, always attracted to frauds and dishonest women who'd been unfaithful to him.

But then, he finds a diamond/sapphire ring buried in the sand and he places an ad in the resort newsletter and he waits in his room and interviews woman after woman who may have "lost" this ring. All of the women are dishonest, frauds, the very sort of women he'd drawn too and it's as if he is interviewing them all for his own means irrespective of this ring.

Then,he makes a choice and he chooses to give the ring to a woman who can't describe the ring in detail. It's not hers but she tells the best lie and she is the most physically intriguing with a sultry voice. He chooses her because she made herself so beleivable and though he knew it was not the truth, he was drawn to her gall.

The story concludes and we're told he marries the woman and they never speak of the ring again. What a great statement by Gordimer on the state of how relationships often begin.

One sees what he wants to see. One chooses to accept willful blindness because it's better than being alone. One doesn't bring it up again until it's all over when pointing fingers is to be expected. This story reads as Gordimer's subtle indictment of the nature of man's attraction and ultimate disloyalty to the whole of women.

Given the choice, men choose to be stupid. They simply can't help it.

Monday, January 2, 2012


I got in 511 words tonight. Not much to report other than to report that I'm still getting my daily words in. I'm hoping for a big night of writing tomorrow as I approach 40,000 words.

Day Two: "What Ernest Says" by Sue Miller

Identity. Influence.

For me, in reading this short story, I'm interested more in the characters who are not present than I am by Barbara, the 8th grade white girl in a predominately black school. The story reads as if it takes place in the 50's because of the way the classroom is divided by race but then again, it could just as easily describe the divisions often made by students of various cultures in an effort to disassimilate or to reclaim their cultural and socilogical identities in a society that has been pushing them to "blend" in in order to succeed.

Barbara's parents, the ones who send her to this particular school in lieu of the private school that their peers send their children to, inhabit the story only to demonstrate why Barbara is faced with a series of disturbing sexual encounters. In an effort to "expose" Barbara to many things, her parents left her exposed and vulnerable to the unexpected pressures that come from being white in a black world, in a world her parents clearly were never part of.

The pressure Miller subtly and perfectly portrays through Barbara is this: Don't let them see you flinch. Don't let them know you doesn't understand what they're saying. Don't let them know about the all white church you go to or about the confirmation you're planning for. Don't let them know you want to be somewhere else, with your own kind too just like they want to be with theirs. Don't let them know that you know you are an outsider, will always be one. Don't let Ernest know you are a good girl and that you don't understand what he means when he tells you what he wants to do with you, with your body. The pressure is to assimilate while the others all struggle to do the opposite. Barbara can't reclaim her unique identity in this setting. Her parents have made sure of that. Barbara didn't have a chance to develop hers. You can't reclaim what you never laid claim to.

Sue Miller is a new read for me. Aside from "Inventing the Abbots," I was unfamiliar in general with her writing but I'll definitely be reading more. To be able to do so much with a short story of only 5 pages is amazing. Talk about a story with layers and layers and layers.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Okay, so 101 words is not much but I did read and write today otherwise, this is just my word count toward my daily goal of writing FICTION. So, I'm happy with it nonetheless. Today felt very productive regardless.

Word for the day from my fiction: Dante

Yes....my character is headed to his own hell...

Day One: "Moving Day" by Robert Olen Butler

Inadequacy. Missed Opportunities. Silence.

The narrator in Robert Olen Butler's first published short story is a man existing in his present life when he learns that a war buddy of his was killed in combat. The narrator is existing and not living his life for the very reasons that he always envied his buddy Duncan Pratt. Duncan Pratt was educated, cultured, and he had the inside track when it came to their assignments and the expectations of what was waiting for them in Vietnam. The narrator played basketball in a small midwestern college but he didn't like it. He doesn't seem to enjoy or embrace his adult life either with his wife, Marta. He lacks the perception to make impulsive decisions like Duncan Pratt and he mourns that in his own way at the end of the story when he decides to call Duncan's widow and share a quote with her about living life and cheating death only to find out that he can't reach her. The phone in his hand is dead. So is the heart in his chest.

A paragraph from the story that explores this fully is as follows:

“Sounds pretty dull. I like the action, the movement,” I lied, and realized it was my last lie for now because we were nearing the pain of the half mile; and I knew this lie was woefully inadequate because Duncan recognized it for what it was. But I knew he wasn't so sure about his own work and I wanted to run faster, run away from him, but it was no good because for some damn reason I needed to convince him I'd live.

Duncan Pratt lived, and though he died, he didn't die in vain because he'd lived. The narrator, as the story concludes, realizes that his silence and his missed opportunities have left him in a state of existence that the reader senses Marta is aware of as well. What he plans to do now, we don't know. I get the feeling that he doesn't know either.

This is a great first story by Robert Olen Butler and it paved the way for much of his fiction that lives and breathes inside of Vietnam without being ABOUT Vietnam. I'm glad I found it and that I chose it for the first story of 2012. It's time to start living, to break the silence. Words have weight and carry a heavy burden when unspoken.