Monday, April 27, 2009

In the Miro District : Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor AKA - Peter Matthew Hillsman Taylor

January 8, 1917 – November 2, 1994

Finally, Solotaroff brings us back to America! In America...but in a Southern State!

Those intellectual New York types...Tennessee and Europe, some sort of far away exotic land. –Right-?

Must an author create a story that is a completely foreign land for the reader to be fully engrossed in it? Is it a cheap trick to pull us in with the unknown? Surely, many readers of BASS in the late 70’s knew of the South, knew of Europe.

Taylor does a wonderful job of bringing the South to the page. It was a long slow read. Beautiful, rich descriptions, southern atmosphere dripping from each page. At times though, I found that certain emphasis on repeating certain points was a bit much.

“A bit much” ...then again the South is just that sometimes.

The story-

A battle between the generations. It’s the easy theme in this short story ( not that is a New Yorker piece).

Testing limits, coming of age, understanding, failure to understand, conflict, tradition, ignorance, hypocrisy, love, morality, strength and weakness.

Finally, and what should be taken as the most important theme, shock and struggle, the transformation of a person that once was something we never knew into something that we knew was always there.

We have all been in the position where we are hiding a girl in the wardrobe. I loved this scene. The discovery of that girl and the transformation of the individual doing the hiding, as well as the change which takes place in the person who makes the discovery.

Sometimes, hiding that girl is the right thing to do. It protects loved ones. And then, when you feel the time is right, you invite them into the room to open the wardrobe and make the discovery themselves...for both of you.

With my own father in the state that he is in and what he is turning into, I often wonder if there will be a point where I don’t recognize him. He doesn’t have the ability to control the girl in the wardrobe.

I am finding that one of the most interesting aspects of writing in this journal is the research that I am doing on the authors of each of these stories. Because I am starting in ’78, some of the authors that I am learning of are either just beginning their career as a writer or have a bit of a background. It’s wonderful.

Props again to Solotaroff for including Taylor in this volume.

Peter Taylor considered on of the finest American Short Story writers. Pulitzer prize winner for fiction in 1987. Long relationship with the New Yorker. In 1979, he received the Gold Medal for the short story genre given by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Nine of his short stories were published in BASS. I can’t wait to discover the others.

Score 8 out of 10

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Schreuderspitze : Mark Helprin

Such a wonderful story. Stories such as this are what make the BASS so great. I remember reading this the first time several months ago and finding it captivating, but after the second reading, so much more. Loss, love, introspection, heartache, longing, memories, and rebirth. Perfect ingredients leading to a wonderful dish.

Solotaroff takes us to Europe once again. I need to let this obsession with Solotaroff go. I have given this guy way too much influence over my thoughts.

There are so many aspects of this story that I can connect with.

First, and the most powerful, being the death of Wallich’s family(wife and son).

I tend to think a lot about the death of my loved ones. I think hard and long on how I would deal with my wife’s sudden death. It brings me near, if not to tears, sometimes when I play out various scenarios.

I don’t know why I do this...have these thoughts. I just don’t know what I’d do without her. I have often thought about how I would live my life if she was suddenly taken from me. How would I behave? Would I retreat? Explode? Go insane?

Running away to the mountains such as the Wallich did, is something that I could easily see myself doing. My family would make every effort to keep me close, but I think that I would need this time alone. Helprin taps into a strong emotional vein and I am drawn into the story.

Second, life in a small village at the base of the mountain. Man, I’ve been there. I know how it feels to have the entire village know what you ate for dinner. I know.

Finally, the intense physical preparation that is made for Wallich’s climb up the Schreuderspitze. The past 2 years, I have spent pushing my body harder further and faster. I’ve felt the muscle soreness, the pain in my lungs. I feel that I am at the peak of my physical condition. I only plan to go further.

Beautiful quote:

“The small things, the gentle things, the good things he loved, and the flow of love itself were dead for him and would always be, unless he could liberate them in a crucible of high drama.”

Dealing with death. I am afraid...I know I will have to face it and I respect it.

In closing, I think that I have settled down into reading and writing for these reports. I am not trying to burn through the years. I’m taking the stories as they come.

Score...10 out of 10. Mr. Helprin, you produced a wonderful story. Thank you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Verona: A Young Woman Speaks : Harold Brodkey

Harold Brodkey


Yet another piece presented that takes place in a country other than America.

This was a rather small selection. Filled with detail and the observations of a 7 or 8 year old girl.

I enjoyed this story, and I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it had to do with the authors ability to give me the chance to experience life as this little girl for a few minutes.

She is remarkably observant but those observations are realized by her at a late age.

Honestly, I am having trouble with this review.

I can’t seem to get much out. I also want to take the time to reassure myself, and you, whoever you are reading this that like any other piece of artwork, these writings about the stories I read are just my interpretations of the piece of art I am experiencing. I could be way off on what the author is attempting to relate. Sometimes I may not read correctly, and other times I may read too much into a story, paragraph or sentence. I think though that this is the beauty of the story. It can be read as something that is to be taken very lightly or one can look deeper into the story for meaning.

Score : 7 out of 10.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Intermission posting
 I really enjoy my work.  

Other books that I am reading which prevent me from making more regular postings.
War and Peace - Yup that one.
Infinite Jest - Think I've given up on that one.
Shroom - Just reading the chapters about Terence Mckenna.

A Good Loser : Elizabeth Cullinan

I found that I remembered more about this story than the previous two after my reread. I enjoyed it. I am also

picking up on a theme here by Solotaroff. This is the third story the collection and the third to take place in a country other than America. Not quite sure if it really has any underlying meaning but it is strange nonetheless.

I’ve been to Ireland once, and the “visit” could hardly be called that. I was there long enough to scramble off an Aeroflot flight and grab a quick Guinness at an airport bar. The bar seemed to be situated at the end of the concourse for the very purpose of dispensing beer to passengers in a manner that would allow the passengers to scramble back onto their flight in a few seconds. It was my first Guinness, and I wouldn’t know if it tasted any different in Ireland vs. the US. As a matter of fact, I think I was drunk at the time - or my sense of taste and smell had been obliterated by all the smokers on the flight.

I can’t nail down exactly what it was that appealed to me about this story, but I think that it was just “written well”. It flowed nicely, good tension in the spots that needed it, and the characters were appealing enough.

I related to the fronts put up by the characters and the acting that took place between the threesome. The courtesies and niceties exchanged all under the knowledge that each knew what was really being said. Happens too often in life and it’s too bad so many people fail to see this.

Best line in the story is the last.

–For, with all the resources it has to command, happiness remains a shaky fortress. Sorrow is the stronghold.

So true.

Score: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Translation : Joyce Carol Oates

It’s great that the second story I read in this project came from Joyce Carol Oates. Oates and her writing are what solidified my love for the short story. Of course, Glimmer Train came first, started the fire, but JCO can be credited with dousing the fire with plenty of gasoline. I have been fortunate enough to read countless stories by Oates from various collections and in numerous magazines. It seems that no matter the literary magazine/journal I come across, I seem to look for a piece by her. I like the thought that there should always be an artistic anchor one hitches himself/herself to.

This story is another from the 1978 collection that I read several months ago and reread today. As I mentioned in the previous post, I first read this during a visit to my car dealership last year. I found today’s reread much more to my liking. I suppose that I am quite susceptible to environmental conditions while I read.

JCO does a fine job with “The Translation”, and it is of course worthy of this collection in BASS. Good selection by Solotaroff. Then again, I wonder what sort of pressures he felt to include her. She had made quite a name for herself by the time of this selection, and if she was left out...

This story hit me with another interesting draw. I was expecting the typical JCO plot, theme and rich details...but she was surprising in her “normalcy”. At least that is what I thought 7/8ths of the way into the story. I think she does a nice job of causing the reader to question the relationships in the story; Oliver with himself, as well as his relationship with his translator and the object of Oliver’s desire, Alisa.

The setting of the story is also special to me. I too smelled the Linden (lime) trees on a spring day. I too saw the poured concrete buildings. I also felt some of the same pressures and awkward social situations Oliver found himself in. I cast curses on my native country, vowing never to return. I spoke ill of my country to shine a brighter light, or a more hopeful light on my host country.

There is a scene that Oates describes in the story that takes place in a crowded café. I can honestly say that I was in the same position as Oliver on more than one occasion. I felt the pains of not knowing a language that was being spoken around me.

People entering and exiting my life under suspicious circumstances while I lived in Romania. Constant feelings of being under surveillance. Money lent never to be repaid.

I also found myself in a conversation where this quote would have fit perfectly.

“the nature of freedom is not so simple. But it is always political.”

I’ll give this a 7 out of 10 a bump up from the 6 I had on my first read.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Skaters on Wood : Leslie Epstein

Having read about ¾ of the stories in this collection without posting one review, I suppose that I need to reassess how I go about “doing” this. I need to have the discipline to read one story and then post my thoughts. –RIGHT –

I first encountered this story shortly after receiving the BASS 1978, so you can do the math by looking at previous entries to see when it arrived. I started reading it one morning at my car dealership, and it not holding my attention at the time, I decided to skip ahead and read the JCO story positioned right behind it.

The second encounter came sometime between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m. this morning. I think you will see that my stories are going to be read mostly during this time block. Either I will be reading or doing my morning exercise routines.

The review and other thoughts.

It held my attention. I enjoyed the description of the “Macbeth” production by the Polish Jews. The description of the audience and their reactions to the play was another hook that held my interest. Being that these were Jews in Poland, most readers could deduce what would ultimately happen to them and that this would be factored into the story.

How may readers of this collection actually read each story? How many read the first few...with the editor knowing this, positioning certain authors up front. Joyce Carol Oats in the second slot...Solotaroff recognized talent. Dribble a few other “well-knowns” towards the end, keeping the reader’s interest.

Was Epstein a friend of Solotaroff? Was this story purposely placed in the first position? I can only think it was...given Solotaroff’s editorial skills...if he paid attention to every word...every sentence...the position of an entire story in a collection would certainly fall under his decision.

I wonder what the frequency of “Holocaust” stories were back in 1978. This piece appeared in Esquire, and must have been read by hundreds of thousands.

Was the short story market in recent years saturated with Holocaust stories? Surely there was an explosion of interest after ‘Schindler’s List”. I wonder though, are the masses a bit tired of these stories today? Do the number of these stories cause me to really struggle to give this story all the attention it deserves?

Overall, the story was fine. Just that – fine. I was happy to find that Leslie Epstein is still alive and according to online sources, is the director of the Creative Writing program at Boston University. He joined the BU faculty in 1978. It also appears that he has produced quite a collection of writings. I’m glad that Epstein continued to write. Will I read any more of his writing? Not unless any of his other stories appear in future collections. I would imagine that they might. I have no desire to seek out his other writings.

Points – 5 out of 10. Initially a 6 but changed after thinking about it a little more.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Introduction

I’m on my third reading of the introduction.  I have started reading the stories, and am about ½ way through the collection, but as you can see, I have yet to comment on any of them. 

I suppose some of this is to a desire to comment on the introduction. 

I intended to completely trash the introduction -  really lay into the guy and pronounce him full of himself.  Once again, delaying writing anything about the actual book, I decided to see what I could find about Ted.

 Much to my surprise, the first entry that pops up on Google is his obit in the NYT. 

So, there we are.  The NYT did a nice job in summing up his life (as they usually do), and with that they also created the need in me to discover a bit more about my search subject. 

Printed out 3 articles, made it through two and started on the 3rd reading of the introduction feeling that I should give Ted one more shot...since he is dead now.  I owe that to him at least. 

Looking over the notes along the margins of the book that I have scribbled, I can see that I am not being too harsh.  I still hold fast to the thought that I think he is a bit long. Perhaps I am not accustomed to the writing of 1977-78.  These were lazy days.  People read.  There was no competition for our attention- TV-radio-movies-drugs, maybe.

It seems that there was some money spent on this book though.  Nice thick paper, sewn pages and Ted writing for pages and pages.



So, here we go. 


The introduction



BASS 1978 is the first year that a guest editor was brought in to edit the volume.  Knowing now, what this has done to the series, one can only praise the individual who had this idea stumble into their head. 


In 1978, there is a short introduction by the publisher (H M Co,) explaining the shift to this guest editor format.  There is also the revelation that the guest editor will be guided, in a way, by a series editor Shannon Ravenel (series editor 1978-1990).  It will be Shannon’s job to read hundreds...many hundreds of short stories (the luck and the discipline of this woman is astounding!), and whittle those down to a manageable pile to present to Ted who in turn will make his selection form those to include in the BASS.  Ted also is able to make selections from stories he happens upon himself.  He is not totally restricted to Shannon’s filter.  I found it wonderfully interesting, and perhaps a little slight was made at Shannon, for the position he was in, that he had to select from what she provided. 


Ted opens his introduction with a report on the state of the American (North American) short story.  Ted informs us that he intends to present to us what he defines to be a short story strictly in that sense.  No deviation of what most would consider a typical “short story” no “experimental or really innovative presentations of prose. 

I think this is fine. 

He states the he wants to present to us “the waif of the magazine and publishing industry”.


Ted then, in what seems an effort to fill pages, starts to list off several stories that he decided not to include in the collection. 


Dude, stop wasting my time.


 It is not until the 5th page of writing that  we get to the real meat of the introduction.  Previous pages were taken up by Ted writing looooong about his process and how many stories he had to read and how he was bummed that he didn’t include certain stories. 


Ted introduces the stories he chose, and gives reason to why he chose those particular stories.  I feel that this is a bit unnecessary because he can just let the stories speak for themselves without him lending his voice to them.  I think it is difficult to read the stories once you get to them without hearing Ted in the background whispering into your ear

 “See, wasn’t I a smart guy for picking this?”


“Remember I told you exactly why I choose it?” 


Pages 13-30 make up the introduction. it really necessary?  You are the editor you are not one of the authors.  Let them have their place, and let the reader admire you for the fact that you chose this story. 


I think that I wrote at the beginning of this entry that I would be a bit more forgiving to Ted since he is dead.  Well, after slogging through the introduction...struggling through the introduction, and actually getting pissed off every page that I turned finding that there was more introduction to be read, I could no longer help myself from lashing out at the guy. 

He wrote to hear his voice. 

He killed the intro.

It’s like eating a crappy appetizer at a wonderful restaurant that ruins your entire meal.


I want a collection with stories, not pages from an editor grinding me down attempting to prove his intellect.