Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Into the Wind – Robert Henderson


Robert Henderson March 19, 1906 - December 3, 1998

Before I enter into writing about this story, just a quick observation.

I’ve often wondered about the placement of the stories within these volumes. I naturally (at least natural to me) thought that the volume editor would place the stories in a specific order. It would seem that perhaps they would like to set some sort of theme...family, deaths, depression, stages of life – etc.

Maybe they felt that placing the stories into the volume with their most favorite at the beginning would ensure that a particular story would be read – thinking that a potential reader of the volume would purchase the book, make it through several shorts and then move along to something else.

A funny set of recent coincidences took place that prompted me to think about this...but I have a strange feeling that I have written about the story placement before.

Since I read these stories in order, after each story, I look back at the brief biographical information about the author. I noticed that with the current volume, all the authors were listed in alphabetical order and at the moment, I questioned this because my memory (which may have been incorrect) told me that the author bio’s appeared in the order that the stories appeared in the book. I checked the table of contents, and Elkin had the stories lined up in the book alphabetically by the author’s last name. Hum –...did Oates or Solotaroff?

Nope – their picks were not listed in alphabetic order.

Now since I have a bitter taste in my mouth concerning the picks by Elkin, I have created a little dialog between him and Ravenel.

“Hi Stanley – this is Shanon”

“Yeah whadda ya want”

“ Well Stanley, there’s just one last thing concerning your selections for this year’s Best American Short Stories volume”.

“Yeah what”

“Well, is there are particular order that you would like the stories to appear?”

“I don’t give a shit”. click.

Simple. –

Now, I imagined this little dialogue before I heard 2 interviews with Tobias Wolff.

The first was on the edrants.com site under the Bat Segundo interviews. Bat – who is an absolutely incredible reader just steamrolls over Wolff concerning his writing, and some similarities that appear in several of his stories. Wolff reacts pretty defensively...which is what I would expect of him – but it honestly makes him look like a jerk. I think he could have relaxed a bit more...but then again, this is Wolff.

Anyway, I’m off track –

Bat asks him about the placement of his stories in his collection “ Our Story Begins” and Wolff gives his reasons why he had the stories placed in no particular order. Wolff feels that the average reader of a collection does not read the collection from front to back. They pick it up and look for a story that might suit them for the moment, a story that fits into a desired length (shorter for bedtime) or if it is a volume with a variety of authors, one might be looking for a work by a specific writer.

I then listened to the Writers on Writing podcast which featured an interview with Wolff and I made it into about minute 3 when he responded to a question with an answer almost word for word from the Bat interview citing authors, books and even the same little anecdote within the answer. –Ugh – man, he was on the circuit promoting his book. Bummer.

So, I suppose that I shouldn’t look to deep into the placement of these stories because I really have no idea behind the decision making process...or if one even exists concerning this. It is my opinion that the individual who compilies the stories should consciously decide where the stories go based on a message he/she wishes to impart. – But that’s me.

“Into the Wind”

Henderson told Contemporary author: "I have always moved toward writing, even in childhood. Though making a living has sometimes intervened (along with indolence), writing has been a basic preoccupation and still is. It is a very slow process, and the results have been fairly small. Aside from some early efforts, I have published chiefly in the New Yorker--essays, paragraphs for the `Notes and Comments' section, and a number of short stories."

Here is a pleasant story. It held my attention and once again, when there is a male character that is mourning or reflecting on the life he once had with his now deceased wife, I seem to really be drawn into the story.

I love my wife deeply. We have been married for 9 years and 3 months. We have known each other since October of 1998. I remember the first time I laid eyes on her.

The exact moment, the level of light, the temperature in the hallway and room.

It is a memory that I reflect on enough in an attempt to permanently sear it into my mind.

Part of the motivation outside of love that provoked me to ask her to marry me was the feeling that I couldn’t live without her. I couldn’t possibly move forward in my life without her. At the time in which I wanted her to become my wife, there were some pretty well defined paths before me. Well, actually 2 paths. I know that if I had chosen the path that I am not on now, my life would have been miserable. I now that she is responsible for many of the good things that have happened in my recent past. Her ability to correct my course “on the fly” is incredible.

I can actually feel an ache in my chest when I imagine my life without her and when I encounter stories like “Into the Wind” the ache returns.

I often think about our final days, and I selfishly wish that when our time comes, I would be the one to go first.

But then I think further into that thought and I hurt because I know the pain that she would feel, and I couldn’t possibly imagine her living with that heartache.

Her – staring out of a dusty window at empty tree branches- mind empty, long grey wisps of hair falling across her thin face. A soft audible whimper escaping between breaths – legs weak and knees trembling from lack of nourishment.

Me- a stooped grey man, dressed in a faded flannel shirt, worn at the elbows. Cloudy eyes behind smudged glasses, mouth agape, leaking scotch fumes.

-Alone.

The wind that I would be facing as I paddled my boat alone would just be too much. I haven’t the wisdom or strength yet in life to propel my boat to its destination alone.

Crying.

Score – 9 out of 10.

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