Monday, July 13, 2009

Bromeliads - Joy Williams

Joy Williams - February 11, 1944

Henry Rollins has a piece in one of his spoken word performances where he discusses the themes of movies. It is a digression from his discussion of least I think I am remembering all of this correctly. Anyway, he talks about how a majority movies need to be it makes them more appealing to people. He gives an example of two of which is super happy, and everything goes right for the main character. The second takes place in a world of hell, it is dark and the world is ending for the main character. He jokes that the ticket line for the latter movie would be around the block while almost no one would g and see the “happy” movie.

What is our attraction to theses dark disturbing movies?

Joy Williams seems to have figured out that writing “downer” pieces works for her voice and she has developed fans. She has been nominated for a Pulitzer in Fiction, as well as a National Book Award.

So, Bromeliads is very much a downer.

In bios about the author, she is described as creating fiction where her “Characters are usually divorced, children are abandoned, and their lives are consumed with fear, often irrational...”

About hits the nail on the head for this little piece.

I find it interesting to read about the mental breakdown of people. Again the mind fascinates’s sad to see a persons own chemical makeup turn against them and cause their mind to lose its bearings and cause such pain to family members.

It happens all too often though.

And finally this quote from an online interview with Joy Williams-

“The conundrum of literature is that it is not supposed to say anything. Often a reader can enjoy a story or novel simply because he can admire the writer’s skill in getting out of it.”

7 out of 10

Telling the Bees - L. Hluchan Sintetos

Telling the Bees - L. Hluchan Sintetos

Before doing my research on this author, the actual reading of this story was very enjoyable. I enjoyed the title and learning what it meant. I love superstitions. It was an upfront, strong, and bold story. Honest, sexual and colorful.

Golden honey, gleaming white teeth, white shirt, heat and sweat.

Now to the author. Who is L. Hluchan Sintetos?

Was this story written by a woman? I only assumed it was by the biographical notes in the back. Upon going through my normal steps in researching the author, I found very little about Sintetos. I did though find this interesting letter to the editor from the New York Times.


January 29, 1984

To the Editor:

Frederick Busch, in his article on fiction, mentions ''Hollywood Starlet Tells All'' by a probably anagrammatic L. Hluchan Sintetos.

Indeed, sintetos approximates sintetico (synthetic), and L. Hluchan Sintetos works out nicely as Stella Hutchinson. Hiding her starlet under a bushel?

A Freudian touch. An a was available for the feminine form (pun serendipitous and paradoxical) sintetas (without teats). In a mystery story, this would have made a good clue -cherchez la sex change.

Vive la difference. EDWARD WELLEN New Rochelle, N.Y.

AWESOME!!! Man, that’s too cool. A great little story written by a mystery author. And as far as I can tell the author has yet to be discovered.

I love mysteries like this and am so happy that this little story found its way into the collection.

9 out of 10

The Windmill Man – Tim McCarthy

Tim McCarthy - ??- ??

This is a classic example of an author that seems to just have dropped out. I was unable to locate anything about him outside of the notes about the authors in the back of the BASS. The notes mention that McCarthy grew up in Vermont and also attended Goddard College (among others). It also mentions that he lives/ed in a Christian Community out in the West. Perhaps this explains his disappearance.

I enjoyed “The Windmill Man”. Classic struggle against forces story.

There has always been something that has intrigued me about windmills. I think some of it has to do with my father always pointing them out along the road during our road trips. I have found myself doing the same on my adult trips with family and friends. The machines are amazing. So simple yet able to do so much. Pulling water from the ground, generating electricity...

The men who assembled and maintained these great machines in the past as well as the people who tackle the monsters out there today are real ballsy. I think it would be fun to be a Windmill Man.

7 out of 10

Rough Strife – Lynne Sharon Schwartz

Lynne Sharon Schwartz, 1939 -

I think that most of the stories that appeal to me are stories that present a glimpse into someone’s life. Just a slice of an everyday affair, a few years of an interesting character, a relationship examined closely.

I enjoyed “Rough Strife” because it was simply a slice of what could be a real life story. Granted the characters in the story have it rough...but overall, an entertaining relationship story.

Time peg in the story was right on with a pregnant character drinking and taking NoDoz but afraid of “drugs”. I suppose that explains what happened to my generation!

7 out of 10

Redemption – John Gardner

John Gardner July 21, 1933 - September 14, 1982

As mentioned in the previous post, I had to make it far into the volume before I found my favorite.

Now I can say that I had to make it just as far to find my least favorite.

Part of doing these reviews gives me a chance to do research on the authors. It’s nice to find wiki pages for some of the authors. I do check behind the pages to make sure that everything I see there is accurate. I’m glad to see that there are people out there that still respect their work and take time to create the pages for the authors. Sometimes I have to do a bit more digging but I rather enjoy it. I’ve really enjoyed discovering what has become of these authors. A far number of them were pretty established within the American literary community when their story was selection for inclusion in these collections. A good number also went along to write some pretty impressive works.

John Gardner wrote Grendel. I never had the chance to read it but it was on my list of “must reads”. I remember sitting at a bar in Waterside with a copy of “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!” and some guy, a think it must have been a sailor, told me to read “Grendel” and “Still Life with Woodpecker”. I suppose they fall into a genre. Never read “Woodpecker” but I think I will be adopting the wearing of red socks like Robbins who got it from Leary.

Notice that I am not writing much about the actual story?

If you don’t have anything nice to say then...

Here is what I will say about the story -

Redemption is a fictionalized account of the accident that Gardner was involved in when he was a young boy. Gardner was driving a tractor when he accidentally ran over and killed his brother. As anyone would expect, Gardner carried the guilt around for a lifetime and it should be noted that it shaped his style of could it not.

I can’t imagine how Gardner sat down at his desk and wrote out that scene. I have trouble just standing in the shower and thinking about the death of a loved one. I choke up, tears well...

His bio states that he was a favorite at The Breadloaf Writers Conference. Well, it’s in Vermont so it’s gotta be good! He also wrote a novel won the National Book Critics' Circle Award in 1976 which was set in Vermont. Niiiice. And in a final, strange sort of weird coincidence with my life...Gardner died in a motorcycle accident in Susquehanna Pennsylvania.

3 out of 10

The Conventional Wisdom – Stanley Elkin

Stanley Elkin May 11, 1930 – May 31, 1995

Half way through the Best American Short Stories 1978, I find my favorite.

A story that will remain with me forever.


A task that an author strives to fulfill is to take the reader to places they have never been. Both in this physical and pushing further, they take us into our own soul and force us to explore it. If our soul is in our heart, it is torn from it, if it is in our mind, it is wrapped further into it.

Furthermore, one job may be to uncover what frightens us.

What frightens many of us? Hell. Why? Because we- do -not -want –to- go- there.

Of course if we believe that Hell exists.

But what if we don’t believe. Can the author still provide a story that will frighten us in such a way that we question ourselves to our very core?

An author that can do all of this and more is nothing short of incredible.

I am going through a period in my life where I am struggling with my beliefs. Religion, society etc. I’m questioning it all.

Then again, shouldn’t we all...all the time? This is due largely to what I read and listen to through lectures. Where am I in this world? Where will I be in a year, 10 years, 20 years...tomorrow? Will I live to see tomorrow? What will happen to me if I fail to live past tomorrow? What will my life have been? Where will it go?

So, Elkin in this story, presents me with visions of Hell, descriptions that are painted so well through words that I think they are some of the most frightening I have read. I think it is the classic way he paints Hell that makes it the most frightening. I think he has found my secret definition of Hell, and illustrated it for me. It’s quite unsettling.

Elkin draws me into the story by giving his characters a humanity that we can relate to. That we can see in our bathroom mirror.

The main character is then forced into situations that we can find ourselves in, and, based on my above sentences, one of those situations is Hell.

I told my wife about reading this story and as I usually do, I failed to convey the strength of what was written.

“-it was to go mad, but there was no madness in Hell- the terrific vocabulary of the damned, their poet’s knack for rightly naming everything which was the fail-safe of reason – and he could find peace nowhere.”

Shit, bowels, spit, blisters, fire, blood, pus’s all there and in the right order.

Online bonus content can be found on the Paris Review website. A full PDF of an interview with the author. –It’s wonderful.

Look forward to hearing more about Elkin as he is the volume editor for BASS 1980.

10 out of 10

Friday, July 10, 2009

By The Yellow Lake – Peter Marsh

Peter Marsh (maybe??? MARCHAND, FIRMIN PIERRE)

I struggled to find real meaning in this story.

It just seemed to be just that...a story.

The only relation I could make to it was an attempt by the author to develop a character and have a connection with the reader by drawing them into what can only be seen as an impossible undertaking. –huh? Yeah right.

The main charater excavates sand from beneath the house of a neighbor preventing a room from sinking before an annual lakeside celebration. The scenes are painted nicely by the author...yes, just nicely. Not much more than that. I didn’t get any real meat out of this story. Characters are presented, a plot moves along, but there is no juice. Bit of a struggle to get through this one.

5 out of 10 points.

Psychopolis - Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan - June 21, 1948

A new city, strange inhabitants, friends, lovers, experiences.

The name of this story caught my attention because I could directly apply it to a town where I once lived.

Uncomfortable scenes, characters and conversations. I think we’ve all experienced those.

Finding our place in the world. We’ve all been there before.

I really felt that I was in the late 1970’s when I read this short. Words illustrated the feelings I remember as a young child observing the voices colors and shapes of that time. I really didn’t have any sort of “life experience” at that age...but I think that I had the ability to feel the atmosphere, and McEwan did a wonderful job of taking me there.

The west coast of America has always fascinated me. I don’t really have a desire to go there – even for a visit. I view it as a foreign country. I know that McEwan’s characters still live there...and with that certainty, I think I will delay my vist even more.

7 out of 10.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Murphy Jones : Pearblossom , California – Max Schott

Max Schott Feb. 12 1935

As humans we need other humans at times to buffer us from our past when it makes its way into our present.

Sometimes the past we wish to buffer has a person within it.

As that past returns to our present and just wanting to dip or toe into the tub, we call on our buffers...just so that we can feel the temperature of the water.

It’s important to have these people in our lives. At one time, in my life I actually lived with the thought that I could get by without others operating in the buffer capacity. I lived under the illusion that I could act independently when it came to dealing with life and all that it has to present...the problems.

Simply, we cannot, I cannot, and we should not.

On the surface, there is no reason why this story " Murphy Jones : Pearblossom , California" should appeal to me. That it does, is what makes it good. There wasn’t much of a struggle on first reading, and a second really brought out the highlights.

We may struggle with our pasts, but with the help of those we hold close, that struggle can be made a bit easier.

score 8 out of 10.

Main Street Morning – Natalie L.M. Petesch

Natalie L.M. Petesch

Natalie L(evin) M(aines) Petesch

Born1924 currently - 85 years old

Education: Attended Wayne State University; Boston University, B.S., 1955; Brandeis University, M.A., 1956; University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D., 1962. Avocational Interests: Residence in Spain and Mexico, Latin American literature.

A young woman (31) seeks to discover a mother.

A mother who at one time attempted to take her own life as well as that of her unborn child – the narrator.

An internal question and answer dialog. Causes of her abandonment, reasons...questions. Probing for her existence. Is she a ghost following her mother? Was she killed (aborted – hot topic in the late 1970s)?

Questions about her father.

Who was he?

A forbidden relationship, a shameful product of love. Who is he?

Feminist literature. – sigh- Sometimes I need to remind myself that these stories were written in the 1970’s. It’s just that it seems that the whole “woman/girl struggling with a child out of wedlock” theme is played out. I can’t imagine that this was something new in 1977/78 either.

Petesch presents the struggle in an interesting way but it seems like I saw the whole thing on an after school special.

I think this was the story that initially caused me to set aside this collection for awhile and move to something a bit more engaging.

Quote from Petesch:

“In nearly all my work, even in my (surreal) dystopian novel of the twenty-first century, The Leprosarium, I have tried to present characters whom I love and respect, who are wrestling with `the griefs of the ages' with love, death, and--now more than ever--Survival."

6 out of 10.