Saturday, March 10, 2018

Separation – Mary Gordon

This is my first encounter with Mary Gordon. Separation was first published in Ant├Žus sometime in 1990. We will encounter Mary again as her stories are featured in BASS 1993, 1996 and 2007.

There have been a couple of stories that I’ve read in these anthologies that have caused me to get that “lump in the throat”. I can’t recall them immediately, but we can add this story to the list.

This story is a great example of how a person’s life situation at the time they read a story impacts them.

My reaction to this story today, I doubt would have been the same 4 years ago and surely, different 9 years ago.

And if I read this story 10 years from now or even 20 – perhaps the passage of time would have softened the emotions that this story stirred.

The memories of my first son’s first day of school are all too fresh. The memories of my second son’s first day of school exist even stronger.

Two very different experiences with two very different boys and two very different parents.
I think a lot about our sons moving through the various milestones in their lives.

I know that the feelings we had on that first day of school will come back time and again – and in some cases may even be stronger.

----For the past few nights, the boys have found their way into our bed. This is nothing new. It usually starts with a stormy or windy night that scares them and one will wake the other and I’ll discover a knee in my rib at 3:45 in the morning.

M and I wake and complain about them and scold them for leaving their beds but I think she and I both know that we don’t really mind it.

We know that their time with us is limited. Our time with them could be limited.

All we have is each other and if some comfort comes by to them… and we are just a bit uncomfortable, it isn’t much of a sacrifice in my book.

My oldest son is approaching the age that I was when my father left us. I remember things from that age. I think that his memories at that age will be far better than my memories at that age.   

The Custodian – Deborah Eisenberg

The Custodian first appeared in The New Yorker in the May 12th 1990 edition. We’ll encounter another story by Eisenberg in the 2004 BASS first published in The Yale Review.

I enjoyed this story. It came in on the long side – again, I’m worried about my attention span – as so many of us are these days – and I need to get that under control. I’m sure if I look back on some of my previous readings, the story probably fits into the “normal” length category.

This story does what a short story is supposed to do and I can see why it was first chosen for publication in The New Yorker and then selected by Adams for inclusion in this BASS edition.

I think that there might be a surprising number of men and women out there (and in particular – in The New Yorker reader category) that can directly relate to the characters in this story. Either of the teenage girls, the wife of the young college professor or finally, the college professor. They can read the story laying down their own experiences next to their relatable character and feel comfort or a bit of uneasiness.

For me, I couldn’t relate to any of the characters but the story gave me the chance to be transported to this “world” and that’s another duty of a good short story.

It pulled me out of my day-to-day for ½ an hour.

I can’t recall exactly when I read this story over the past 3 months but I did need to skim over it for a few minutes to remember it before writing here.

It looks like I haven’t posted since December.

I know that I made the decision to revisit this page as I sat watching TV with the boys this morning.

Some stupid commercial came on and it caused me to think about my authentic self.

I fell that this space allows me to be in a “real” state – vs. where I have been for maybe the past 5 years.

I have changed so much over the past 10 years of reading and writing about these stories.

I want to exist more here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Another Short Day in La Luz – Harriet Doerr

This was a very nice story to welcome me back to this collection of shorts. The struggle to read these stories continues.


This is our second encounter with Doerr. We first met her back in 2013 when I read and briefly wrote about Edie: A Life.
It looks like we’ll run into her writing again when her story appeared in the Best American Short Stories 2003.

This story appeared in the December 24,, 1990, edition of The New Yorker. Quickly flipping through the pages of that issue, nothing really stands out to draw any sort of reflection on those times. Typical adverts for cars, booze, books, and travel. Nothing newsworthy stands out. 
In December 1990, I was home from Norwich – my first time back since leaving for school in the summer. I was a shell-shocked, shaved head, boy.

To the story. Reading this, there is a portion of the story where the main character reflects back to a tender moment between her and her husband who died three years ago.
I wonder sometimes what position I will be in (hopefully) many years from now. Will I be missed or will I do the missing? I wonder how M will reflect back on our times together.

At this stage of our lives, our days are taken up with raising the boys.

She wakes up in the mornings, tired, and finishes off making their lunches and breakfasts that I have already started preparing. She dresses them and runs them off to school as I head out the door to the paper. She has a few hours alone before the youngest returns home and lunch prep begins. An hour or so for cuddles and a light nap on the couch after lunch and it’s off to pick up big brother. Returning home, dinner prep begins and homework completion struggles rise. I return home and there is dinner followed by the bedtime routine which usually involves repeated visits from the boys back downstairs until we have to threaten them with “time out” around 9:00 on school nights. By this time, I’m wiped out and dozing in my chair hoping to get into bed by 10 so that I can wake at 5:25 and get a 10K in. 
So with this simplified overview of our daily lives, I have to wonder – if I died tomorrow, would there be tender moments that she would reflect back on? So much of the last many years have been taken up with just the day-to-day mundane tasks of living life.

This journal/blog space reflects that too and I point that out quite often. Of course, my fear is that when the time comes for us to have time together, with the boys grown and out of the house, we won’t know each other anymore. I only have this fear generated by my own insecurities.

And this is where this little short story brought me today.

Oil and Water · Millicent Dillon

Millicent Dillon gives hope to those that have stories in them but wait until their later years to let them out. She started down the path of becoming a writer at the age of 40 (in 1965) and didn’t become a full-time writer until 1983. Oil and Water was included in BASS when she was 66. So – it’s never too late!
I do not have the disciple to get my stories down on paper…yet. Who knows if that will ever happen.
Turning to the story.
Reading Oil and Water, I think back to college when I was dropped into a room with two other 18-year-olds.
I’m not sure how the university determined who should live with each other but my first two roommates were very interesting.  One just finished a summer at Parris Island Marine Corps Boot-Camp and he was going through some serious PTSD shit leaving that environment and getting dropped into the freshman experience at Norwich. Not to mention that the Iraq war (1990) was ramping up and his reserve unit was being activated…so he didn’t last long as a roommate. When he left, another guy was brought in to fill his position. I have a hard time dealing with writing about him because he died in 2009. Just a couple of minutes ago I went back and read his obituary and the University death notice that was sent to his classmates. What he did after graduation doesn’t seem to fit the person I lived with for 6 months and knew for a total of 4 years. He wasn’t my favorite person – but I can’t seem to write ill of him. The third roommate, the one that I lived with from the beginning to the end of freshman year was a strange guy but not one that I can find anything too disturbing about that would motivate me to go on a lengthy few sentences about.
With all three of these guys, our relationships were a bit like oil and water. We existed together – forced together but never combined.
I’ll wrap up this post with that. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Point - Charles D'Ambrosio

Is started reading this story about a month ago – got about 1/3 of the way through and set it aside. I can’t remember why – life, I suppose. In any case, I’m glad I did. I picked it back up on July 5th and started it from the beginning realizing at once that my head was in the right place for this story – now.

This is a really good story. This is a story that will stay with me for a long – long time. Perhaps because there is a father/son relationship line that I found very touching that really pulled me into the story.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my sons and how it will grow and develop over the years and how they will look back on these times when they are older. I think often at length about how they will remember me when I’m gone and these thoughts often leave a lump on my throat, not because I regret anything that I have done – but because I just want to be the best for them – and I hope that someday they will see that I tried.

Kenison pulled the story for consideration by Adams and she pulled it from the couple of hundred that she read to be included with the other 19 in this edition. I’m grateful for its inclusion in the BASS 1991.

It’s a New Yorker story. Before I figured out where exactly “The Point” was, I figured it was on the east coast – solidifying my thoughts that New Yorker stories could be spotted miles away. I was wrong.

It’s still a New Yorker story – but I feel like it’s pulling a bit away from the typical New Yorker story.

You know what I mean- if you know what I mean.

This is the first appearance of Charles D'Ambrosio in both The New Yorker and in The Best American Anthology. If my calculations are correct, he was 32 when it was published in the magazine. This story appeared in the October 1, 1990 edition of the magazine and he disappears from future inclusion in the magazine until we see him pop back up in 2002. Additional stories by Charles appear in The New Yorker in ’03 (two stories), ‘04, ‘05 and finally in ‘06. Two of those stories appeared in future collection of BASS – so we will encounter Charles again in the 2004 and 2005 edition of the BASS. At my rate of reading, that means I’ll read him again in a few years. Unfortunate.
 Thinking about this story a bit more, I feel that I am attracted to it because there are aspects of the style and plot that remind me of Updike. Perhaps I’m not literary enough and I’m too “basic” but I feel something there.
As mentioned above, this story gained a wider audience when it was published in the The New Yorker. It appeared there 26 years and 9 months ago. The story still holds up. The main character, wise beyond his years could still be walking drunk party-goers home to their summer houses, he could still be reading a letter from a father, broken not from the Vietnam War but from the Endless War we are in now.

“He wasn’t even a person then, just a blown-up thing, just crushed-up garbage. Part of his head was blasted away, and there was blood and hair and bone splattered on the windshield. It looked like he’d just driven the car through something awful, like he needed to use the windshield wipers, needed to switch the blades on high and clear the way, except that the wipers wouldn’t do him any good, because the mess was all on the inside.”

I looked back at the October 1st edition. Over 25 years ago. In the age we live in, that seems so long ago. Flipping through the pages I’m taken back to when I was a newly minted 18 year old – far from home and starting a new life. I was beginning my second life. I was a freshman at Norwich and in the middle of hell. My life was controlled by a bunch of 20 year olds and I was struggling with freshman academics. I was pretty much cut off from the outside world – except for two newspapers I read daily. The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal. I heard no music and saw no TV.

Looking through the pages of the Oct. 1 NY’er, I see that by October 1990 the US had amassed 150,000 troops in the Middle East and we were about to enter into Gulf War I. The Gap and The Banana Republic held key advertising spots in the magazine – inside the front cover and opposite the table of contents page. Advertisements for cigarettes were nowhere to be seen while there was a single advert for Dewer’s Scotch on the back cover. Advertisements for cars dominated while small spots for fruit, almonds and mixed nuts appeared. Also on more than one page were adverts for travel packages to Europe. TWA was still around. Nordic Track has a small spot. There were no .com’s yet and if you wanted additional information from a particular company advertised, you could call them toll-free or write to them for a catalog.

26 years ago and a different world.

Sometimes I miss that world.

This story takes me back there but makes sure I have one foot firmly planted in the present.     

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Trip Back – Robert Olen Butler

I don’t think I’ve yet encountered in this project a story with such a focus on a character and the character’s family dealing with the issue of memory loss.

I’ve written about memory loss on many occasions here as there are several stories that have driven me to reflect on my father’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s struggle with her health that has contributed to her memory loss and my future of some sort of memory problems.

This story did not pull on my heart strings as some of the others have – perhaps because the story addresses the disease directly. Also, as I’ve written about before in relation to me reading “In Search of Lost Time” (yes the entire thing – still reading it), the time in your life that you read a story or novel greatly colors your relationship to it.

I’m in a strange space with my parent’s illnesses. I think there is some acceptance of my father’s existence in this world – but I believe I am avoiding placing too much of my own emotions into my mother’s fate. I feel that these feelings colored my relationship to this story.

This was a rather short, short story, and I wanted a little more character development and maybe a thicker development of the relationship, and the struggle of dealing with a loved one with memory loss in the characters of the husband and wife. 

Happy Anniversary to this project!

It’s been 9 years.
My first entry on this blog was on May 29, 2008. It was a simple introduction outlining my goals.

As is my habit of leisurely reading and posting, my first post covering a story didn’t happen until April of 2009.  At the time of the introductory post, my goal was to read the BASS anthologies from 1978-2008…a nice round 30 years.

I’m still very far away from that goal and pushing the “goal posts” back a little – to extend my reading to the most recent edition of the anthology (at this time being the 2016 edition) would require me to read an additional 522 stories. Even if I were to read and post an entry for a story a day, that would take me about 1 ½ years to reach the end of 2016 and by that time another edition would be published adding another 20  or so stories. If I read and post a story every weekday - that would be 260 stories a year, and that works out to just about 2 years exactly – a year beyond the 10th anniversary of the blog.

Seeing that it has taken me 9 years to read 273 stories, another 522 (plus additional stories published in future editions) would take me at least 18 more years. At that point I’d be 63 years old. Holy shit. I guess I better get reading!

Some additional stats.

I’ve read 273 short stories and made 341 posts on this blog.
Lawns-by Mona Simpson, posted on Aug. 22, 2001 has the most page views with a total of 1255.

According to Google, the blog has received 94,004 all-time page views. And I can only assume that about 90% of those were by other computers.

I’ve received 78 comments on these 341 posts which in all honesty is just fine with me.

The comments have been generally good so that leaves me satisfied given the fact that reading comments can be dangerous because when people comment on posts, they are usually not very nice.

Those that have left comments…thank you – you have been very kind to me. 

The project goes on!