Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Contents of The Best American Short Stories 1991

The Best American Short Stories 1991 ed. Alice Adams & Katrina Kennison (Houghton Mifflin, 1991, $9.95, xx+426pp, hc)

·         The Legend of Pig Eye · Rick Bass · The Paris Review, 1990
·          The Disappeared · Charles Baxter ·  Michigan Quarterly Review, 1990
·          Love Is Not a Pie · Amy Bloom ·  Room of One’s Own, 1990
·         Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta · Kate Braverman ·  Story Aut ’90
·         The Trip Back · Robert Olen Butler ·  The Southern Review, 1990
·         The Point · Charles D’Ambrosio, Jr. ·  New Yorker Oct 1 ’90
·         Oil and Water · Millicent Dillon · The Southwest Review Spr ’90
·         Another Short Day in La Luz · Harriet Doerr ·  New Yorker Dec 24 ’90
·         The Custodian · Deborah Eisenberg ·  New Yorker Mar 12 ’90
·         Separation · Mary Gordon · Antæus, 1990
·         The Body Shop · Elizabeth Graver ·  The Southern Review, 1990
·         Houdini · Siri Hustvedt ·  Fiction v9 #3 ’90
·         Bologoye · Mikhail Iossel ·  Boulevard, 1990
·         Glossolalia · David Jauss ·  Shenandoah, 1990
·         Viva la Tropicana · Leonard Michaels ·  Zyzzyva, 1990
·         Willing · Lorrie Moore · New Yorker May 14 ’90
·         Friend of My Youth · Alice Munro · New Yorker Jan 22 ’90
·         American, Abroad · Joyce Carol Oates ·  North American Review Mar ’90
·         Dog Stories · Francine Prose ·  Special Report: Fiction, 1990
·         A Sandstone Farmhouse · John Updike · New Yorker Jun 11 ’90

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Passage of Time - The Best American Short Stories 1990 - Completed

3 years 5 months and 10 days.

That’s how long I’ve carried this book around and struggled to write about the stories.

41 months and 10 days


179 weeks and 6 days


1259 days

That is a long-ass time to carry around a book.

Take a look at it.

Survived nicely I think.

When I started this book son #2 wasn’t even a thought.

Now…he’s a walking talking 2 ½ year old.


I wasn’t fair to this collection. I didn’t give it my heart.

The completion of this book also marks another point of evolution.

Shannon Ravenel passes the baton to a new series editor for BASS 1991.

I’m excited to see what the new series editor brings to the anthology.

Here’s the first entry on the BASS 1990 from September 2013. It has a copy of the letter Shannon wrote me. I’ll always hold that letter dear to my heart.

Off to 1991!

The Little Winter - Joy Williams

Reg Innell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Joy Williams, 1990

This will be the fifth of a total of seven encounters (as of now) that I will have with Joy Williams.

Previous stories by Joy appearing in BASS can be found here :

Bromeliadsfrom BASS 1978
TheSkater from BASS 1985
Health from BASS 1986
TheBlue Men from BASS 1987
And I will encounter her again in 1995 and 2005.

Because Richard Ford (the editor of BASS 1990) decided to place the storied in the collection alphabetically by the author’s last name, Joy appears last in this collection.

The story is a fitting end to this group of stories – I really enjoyed it. Perhaps some of the enjoyment came from the knowing that I had reached the end of this book (more about this in the next post).
But – not to take away from this story, it deserved to be in this collection.

Dan Kois in his September 2015 piece for the New York Times on Williams writes - “The typical Williams protagonist is a wayward girl or young woman whose bad decisions, or bad attitude, or both, make her difficult to admire…”

In this story, there’s a little bit of that with Gloria. I don’t particularly admire her…but I like her –

As I read this story and details were revealed, I started to wonder if I’d behave the way Gloria does knowing what she knows. Perhaps at another stage in my life, when I was younger, I would – and it’s fun to think about it and run through various scenes, but now, my life, those who depend on me, look up to me, pretty much place boundaries on the extremes of my behavior.

But who knows?
I might have that opportunity.
How will I behave?

I’m looking down the road now and I’m facing a big ‘ol nasty monster. One that could start eating up my memories – and if this monster appears when it did in my father, I’ve got about 15 years – give or take. And if that doesn’t get me, there’s another one that could gobble me up in 23 years if it appears as it has in my mother.
Knowing what may be coming for me, has my behavior changed?

I believe that it has.

I’m not Gloria – not stealing a dog from monks or (basically) kidnapping a little girl.

No, I’ve made some lifestyle changes that I hope will keep that monster away – and give me, and my family a little more time.  
I wear this ROAD ID dog tag on my runs. It has emergency numbers on it just in case I get run over and they have to peel me off the road. As you can see, there is also a key on the chain. That key came from my father’s attaché case – a leather one that he made and the key was used as a clasp. I engraved M and the boys initial’s into the key as a reminder as to why I am running. As I push myself down the road, the key bounces against my body reminding me, motivating me.

I get home, drink chia and make a kale smoothie, ginger, beet, turmeric, peanut butter, hemp.

I eat lentils for lunch and save meat for dinner.

I read and try to get some sleep – which is a real challenge.

I write in a journal about my fears – my hopes for my family if the monster gets me.

The monsters hang over me and my life and I think of when I might encountering them on a daily basis.

Sometimes those thoughts weigh heavily – like when I hear my father’s voice on the phone – as he struggles to form a single word…that emerges from his mouth as “helfujakf”. I think back to the last time I was able to have an actual conversation with him and am astounded at how much he has changed. And I wonder if one day my son’s will hear me struggle to get words out.

And the hugs I give my boys at bedtime last a little longer.

Will there be a trigger? Will there be a point where I can feel the slip? How will I deal with it then?

Looking back through these entries it looks like I first touched on this subject back in 2009. This was before the boys were born. I was wrestling with my future then, and I continue to do so today 8 years later.

Commuter Marriage – Joan Wickersham

Poking around the net it’s nice to see that Joan is still writing and reading and writing!

I enjoyed this story. It moved along at a nice pace, the characters had depth, vivid honest human settings, and I feel that it had that late 1980s feel moving towards the writing of the early 90s – glad that Ravenel and Ford decided to include it.

I never had a commuter marriage –fortunately -  in fact, I think the longest M and I have been apart during our marriage was just under a week during training I had back in the early 2000s.

When I hear about commuter marriages I wonder how they survive – but many do. I know that some couples can’t survive if they are too close – and I wonder what they thought they were getting into.
I feel that our arrangement is the right one. You see, I think that if it were any other way, I would not be the person that I am today. M reins me in. She keeps me on a pretty tight leash and actually, for my own sanity and health, that’s a very good thing.

It’s said that men who are married live longer and that can partially be attributed to the fact that they have a spouse that forces them to take care of themselves…go to the Dr. – eat right maybe get some exercise.

Sometime back in 2003---M was in the bathroom, getting ready for work and I walked in to pee. I can’t remember what I had been doing right before that but halfway through peeing, I became light headed and basically dropped to the floor. Close to passing out but not quite.

Of course this freaks her out. A doctor’s appointment is made and I’m in the exam room within the week. Guess who had high cholesterol – and not-so-good blood pressure and had to get a liver biopsy – that indicated that he had a fatty liver?

I was overweight, had a poor diet, drank too much and didn’t exercise.

Enter the concerned motivated wife with a bullwhip.

Stopped drinking cold turkey, began eating like an adult, (no more Doritos, Mountain Dew and Oreos for lunch) and started morning walks.

As the months passed the focus on nutrition became a passion, the walks turned into runs, and as the months and years passed, the run developed into marathons and an ultra – and now have become a priority in my life.

I can say that because of her – and our marriage, my life is one that is much more liveable.
I, we, could never have a commuter marriage. I could never live in Maine at a French fry factory sitting at my father’s old desk with M in NYC living with some friends. I understand Maisie and her concerns about her marriage – I don’t image it lasted.

Head over to Joan’s webpage. Check her out on Facebook – she does readings quite often – and look at that – she was up at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) in Montpelier last year – I knew it as Vermont College when I was at Norwich and took a couple classes there.

Monday, February 20, 2017

In a Father’s Place - Christopher Tilghman

Once again this anthology delivers a surprise that I can only interpret as a sign from the universe towards motivating me to write.

For the last 20 minutes or so I feel that I have been transported back to the relationship I had with this project around 2009.
Honestly, I had a difficult time with this story but I felt that if I was going to get back into this project earnestly, that I needed to establish some of the practices that I would follow for each entry.
Many of the previous entries of BASS 1990 were not composed with my full head and heart.

I’m tired.

I’m tired most of the time (who isn’t?) and I made a decision that my energies would be aligned towards other directions. I am working on finding a way to skillfully divide these energies without slacking on any one thing or person. I referenced 2009 …I was in a different world then.

I had a wife, work and myself to deal with – that’s about it.
I would wake up in the mornings, run, go to work, come home relax, take a nice evening stroll, read, watch TV and then sleep…repeat.

Things are much more complicated now. I have two jobs – sometimes putting in 18 hour days between them…I have two boys…and I struggle but do OK at fitting time in to run (still married!).

It’s not that I don’t have time to read these stories and write about them and the thoughts that they stir – it’s just that I haven’t made this project a priority in my life.

I hope to change that – and this story is driving me faster towards picking up where I left off in 2009.

I had trouble with “In a Father’s Place”.

I have lost the ability to focus and hold my attention towards the completion of a story. I make excuses to set it aside and read it in periods.

I wasn’t fair to this story. – But it didn’t care – it delivered something much more.

As many of these stories have and as I have outlined many times before in previous posts, sometimes these ramblings will not be at all about these stories but about what arises within me after reading these stories. This story falls within that category.

This is my first encounter with Christopher Tilghman.

I will meet up with him again in BASS 1992 and BASS 1994. (He got his New Yorker story published and included in a BASS!).

I typed Tilghman’s name into the search box and visited his wiki page. A mention that he served in the Navy caught my attention and down under the stories heading a link to his short story -  "Norfolk, 1969", Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1986.

That caused me to sit a bit straighter. – And look at that – it’s linked to the VQR page – and you KNOW what I did next.

So this entry about “In a Father’s Place” will actually be more about “Norfolk, 1969”. 
I live in Norfolk. In my work as a researcher at a newspaper in the archives, I deal with Norfolk in ... 1969 quite regularly.

I’ve digitized photo negatives and prints shot by our photographers on 35mm film of Navy homecomings and deployments…in 1969.

 I’ve seen the faces of the women and children pier side – images of the sailors passing binoculars down the line to see their loved ones on shore. The light summer dresses of the young wives and the heavy winter coats protecting children from the winds whipping down the Elizabeth River.

 I read clipped yellowed archived stories told by sailors about their deployments to exotic foreign ports. I’ve written about the restaurants, bars and taverns frequented by these servicemen. I live in the oppressive summer heat and I was on Military Highway (not Blvd.) just this past weekend.

I lived in Ghent – ran through West Ghent yesterday – my old running route took my down Mowbray Arch daily and I’ve worked and still work at the newspaper with reporters working on novels.
It’s incredible…this story hit about as close to home as possible.

Combine that with the atmosphere Christopher lays out along the Chesapeake Bay (In “In a Father’s Place) and my countless summers spent on the Susquehanna – the mother of the Bay – with family dynamics in play (although nothing like in this short story…but still there were some “interesting moments”) – and I cannot think of a clearer sign from the universe that the time is NOW to get along with this project.

A sign across time.

So thank you universe - for introducing me to professor Tilghman.

Pasted below is what Mike D’Orso, former staff writer here at the Pilot, wrote about “Norfolk, 1969” back in 1990.


Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA) - May 15, 1990
·         Author/Byline: Mike D'Orso, Staff writer
·         Edition: FINAL
·         Section: DAILY BREAK
·         Page: B1
IF ONE THING is clear both in the voice and the veracity of Christopher Tilghman's newly-published and critically-hailed collection of short stories, ``In a Father's Place,'' it is that the writer has been there.

And he has.

He spent his boyhood summers on the Eastern Shore, where three of his book's seven stories are set. Two others take place in Montana and South Dakota, where Tilghman worked as a young ranch hand. A sixth is set in New Hampshire, where he began his writing career.

But it is the story titled ``Norfolk, 1969'' that should hit closest to home in Hampton Roads. Especially for anyone connected to the Navy, as Tilghman was when he arrived here that year as a newly commissioned ensign with a newlywed wife.

Tilghman is 43 now, no longer in the Navy. He is no longer married to his first wife. But the memories of the three years he spent stationed in Norfolk remain, and they are the seeds of a story that begins as harshly as the oppressive August heat in which it is set:

. . . he remembers the day they arrived, young, frightened, as if the possibility of going to war was nothing compared to the certainty of calling this place home. They were lost on those miracle miles and plastic strips, returning helplessly again and again to an immense Pontiac dealership floating on a sea of asphalt. They drove past shopping centers, garden-apartment complexes, bungalows with brown lawns, all of them locked tight against the hot air. They did not need to ask each other, How will we survive here? They were sure they would not. Each time they completed a fruitless circle he could feel the accusation rise: This, out of all the alternatives, this is the choice you made. This is Norfolk.

It is not a pretty picture - not of the city, nor of the strains put on a young marriage by the demands of a man sent to sea, nor of the ultimate disintegration of the particular marriage described in this story.

It is not a pretty picture, but it may well be a familiar one to many readers in a Navy town - painfully familiar, admits the writer.

``If people feel pain when they read through this,'' says Tilghman, speaking by phone from his home outside Boston, ``well, it's probably good for us all to take a look at what hurts us. And that's what a story does. Stories begin with trouble - they don't necessarily end there, but that's where they begin.''

Tilghman is remarried and the father of two young sons. His short stories have been steadily published since ``Norfolk, 1969'' first appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review in 1986. ``In a Father's Place'' is his first book, and since its release late last month, it has brought rave reviews, including a front-page piece in the New York Times Book Review written by Charlottesville novelist John Casey, who praised Tilghman for, among other things, his ``precise evocation of place.''

Place. The word peppers Tilghman's sentences as he talks about his boyhood in Boston, the summers spent on his family's Eastern Shore farm, his years as an undergraduate student at Yale in the late 1960s and the letter he received from his draft board upon graduation. That sent him to Officer's Candidate School and on to Norfolk as a gunnery and deck officer in 1969. He was 21. His wife was 20.

In reality, Tilghman talks of that time like this:

``It was a very difficult time to be a woman, married as young as we were and having so many other things happening around us. That year was the first time I heard the phrase women's liberation. I mean, it was all hitting, it was pretty confusing, it was a tough time to be a brand new wife, and it was an especially tough time to be a brand new Navy wife.''

In his story, in fiction, Tilghman talks of that time like this:

Six, seven months apart - the thought had been catching them both at odd moments for weeks, a slow suffocation. Soon they were making plans for weekends and then realizing the date fell into a dark hole.

And this:

In small miserable groups, Charlie Martin and his friends tried to ridicule the spluttering excitement the lifers could not conceal. Did you see the captain when we cast off the last line? said one. He had an orgasm.

There is the cruise's beginning:

As perfect as his memory was for these details, they were not enough to keep her whole in his mind. Two months, three months, she began to break up under the swells; she became foreign, a vision no longer completely believable.

And its end:

So perhaps it wasn't so curious that this same Navy that had seemed to be the cause of such pain to Charlie also gave him the most sustained period of joy he had ever experienced. For it was during those ten days that a bursting lump of ecstasy settled in his chest and kept him breathless. It was Julie, he told himself again and again, the return to Julie, so loved and missed, that was now opening his heart to spirits he'd never imagined. But he was not telling himself the truth, just as he did not tell her the truth when finally they were together again. Because Charlie had fallen in love, given an unfamiliar pledge, an unspoken vow to this voyage almost done, and - how he would have resisted this eight months ago - to this ship.

There is the homecoming:

. . . he wished, for this one moment, that she could forget how she hated the Navy, that she could welcome him back as the Sailor's Wife, that strange and precious creature he had created and had been living with throughout the cruise.

The awkwardness:

They were nervous when they met.. . . There was a strange echo in their voices as they drove home, a hollowness to the mundane chatter that, after so long, seemed outdone by the waiting. . . And their first lovemaking was tentative, as if they were afraid of finding changes or the fingerprints of others.

The adjustment:

One by one - a chance meeting on Mowbray Arch, beers after an opening at the museum - a whole new group came into his life, and by degrees Charlie began to understand his Julie and the time she had spent alone.. . . There had been no lack of people in her life. They were artists and Old Dominion University faculty members, newspaper reporters working on novels, hippies planning disruptions at the Navy base, black sheep from old Virginia families, a few pleasant but confused souls who didn't know what they were.. . . Julie denied it angrily, but his return from the Mediterranean was an irritation to them and his presence was tolerated only because of her.

And, finally, the truth:

They sat on their bed, beside a large silver-framed wedding portrait, and she said she had wanted to die during the first months of separation. She said she had hated him for abandoning her in Norfolk. She said each time she addressed letters to the ship, and each time she received his from the ship, the word Jupiter made her retch. And then, she said, she had decided to survive, and she had found these friends far away from the Navy and they were good to her. She said that when it was all said and done, his ship had come back too soon, that she was just beginning to find herself, the self that had been buried by him, by their young marriage, by the Navy.

Tilghman was living that story when he had his first thoughts of becoming a writer.

``Basically I was sitting on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, standing watch and wondering what I wanted to do, what would make me happy. And I began to think I'd be happy trying to write about what was going on in my head.''

Unlike the couple in his story, Tilghman and his wife stayed together. He left the Navy in 1971, moved to New Hampshire and set about writing a book: ``I worked on it for years, a wild sort of novel about writing a novel. You can picture it. It never went anywhere, but I sure as hell worked on it.''

At the same time, he was working on what he now recalls as ``a hippie sort of life.''

``Back to the land stuff, you know, building a house alone out of trees I cut down myself. The whole thing. We just took on all sorts of hardships, and after a while everything got pretty rotten. That was what really ended my marriage.''

That was in 1976. A year later he moved to Boston, still groping to find himself as a writer: ``I had plenty of chances to sort of quit with honor and just never did. You know, they say the first thousand pages is just clearing your throat for a fiction writer, and I certainly did my thousand pages before I started to write something good.''

In 1985 he decided to put the novels aside and try a short story. ``That's when this strong image of this place, of Norfolk, came to me. So that was the first story I wrote.''

He had never been back to Norfolk - ``Still haven't, although I've often been within 100 miles or so and thought I'd run over just to take a look.'' But when he sat down to write, the place came back to him more vividly than he imagined.

``That's part of being a fiction writer, I guess. You get used to probing as you go along, and details end up coming back to you that you didn't know you remembered. After all, the truth of the matter, I guess, is you don't really forget a thing. It's all back there, stored in the neurons.''

And now it is out here, rendered on the printed page - seven stories packed with what John Casey calls ``details that are not only immediately vivid but that also imply a character's accumulated life.''

As well as the writer's.

And, in the case of ``Norfolk, 1969,'' every man and woman who have ever said goodbye on a pier.

``There is such an ancient quality to this,'' says Tilghman. ``This is marvelously primordial stuff, the wives at home and the men at sea. It's very exciting to me. It's chilling.

``Those of us who have experienced it know what that separation and that reunion, home from the deployment, involves and how deep it runs. I mean, the Vikings went through it.

``It can hurt, but in some ways these conflicts and hurts are a way of knowing just how human we all are, and understanding that none of it's new.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Prowler – Elizabeth Tallent

I was happy that another story by Tallent appeared in BASS. I encountered her work twice before in BASS 1981 and BASS 1987 and I look forward to reading her again in BASS 2013.

I don’t do well with stories about divorce – predictably because my parents divorced when I was 8 and I have very vivid memories of the separation.

I’ve written several times about the divorce and I can’t help but feel that it shaped how I deal with separation to this day.

I’ve had many good colleagues leave the paper over the past several years and I have purposely avoided attending their farewell gatherings. I recognize that this is selfish of me but I also wonder if my absence is really noted. I usually justify to myself my lack of attendance with self-assurances that I won’t be missed at these functions. I’ve only been called out on this a couple of times and only once did it end in an uncomfortable conversation.

This story serves again as one that takes me down a road of memories – many of them uncomfortable – and allows me to look at my life today and ponder the direction my life might have taken if the divorce never happened.

I am here now – happy in this world. And that matters.

The Reverse Bug – Lore Segal

This was a difficult story for me. I know when I am not capable of justly writing about a story – a story that is too complex for me to truly understand and appreciate. So many others have paid the proper respect this story deserves and I encourage you to seek out their opinion of the story.

I enjoyed reading Lore’s notes at the end of the BASS concerning the creation of the story and how various bits and pieces of the story were in her head for decades. In one online interview Lore states that the idea for the “Reverse Bug” was something she carried around with her for fifty years.

Fifty years.

I think that’s wonderful. A writer that was finally able to get that idea down on paper – and communicate it through such a deep and fascinating story.

It gives one hope that there are conclusions to quests – sometimes weeks, months or years later.