Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Quail - Rolf Yngve

Rolf Yngve born around 1951???

There are times, and those times come in lengthy intervals, when I run across a really good short story. I do hold hope that those times will come with greater frequency as I progress through the years of BASS but for now, finding little treasures like “The Quail” will do just fine.

There was a special feeling that the writing imparted from the first few paragraphs of this story. It had real substance – meat. It was thick and full of flavor, but at the same time easy for the mind to flow over the words and sink into the story.

I found connections with the couple in the story...as I feel that most young couples would. Hope, devotion, longing, wonder, love, warmth and the knowledge underlying it all that all of those feelings is a certain fragility and that at any time one or more of those feelings could be extinguished by a force unseen – or seen. You could say that your life together sometimes would be similar to walking across a frozen lake in spring.

I read the final two paragraphs twice. I wanted to derive from the words their full strength.

Upon reading the biographical notes at the back of the volume, I came across a pleasant surprise.

I’ll reproduce it below.

- Rolf Yngve is a native of Minnesota, has lived in Utah, and is now home-ported in Norfolk, Va. He has been in the Navy for eight years. He holds a B.S. in Meteorology from the University of Utah, obtained through the Navy Enlisted Scientific Education Program. While at Utah, he bootlegged English courses and wrote. ‘The Quail” is his second published story. At sea, he stands watch on the ships bridge, tries very hard to be good to the people who work so hard for him, and writes as well as he can to make himself feel better. He is twenty-eight and married to Gail Flowers.

The first thought that I had when I read this was that it sounded an awful lot like a fragment from the bio’s of authors in the back of “Glimmer Train”. I should also say that that occurred simultaneously with the “Holy crap” moment I experience with the Norfolk connection.

I had to know more about this guy. I fired up the Google machine and “pop” there you go. I see a Rolf Yngve with a Facebook page. I see that some of his interests include those of a literary genre. Hummm...I’d bet this is him. I wrote to him asking if he was in fact the author of “The Quail”. Figured that I’d start there. Early this morning, I discover a nice message from Rolf in my inbox. In short, yes he did write it. Looks like he is writing once again. – Great! - I decided to do some more digging. I find the below on the NewPages Blog

Third place: Rolf Yngve, of Coronado, CA, wins $300 for “Going Back for His Brother”. His story will also be published in an upcoming issue of Glimmer Train Stories, increasing his prize to $700.

Rolf also has a Blogger profile and 2 reviews on Amazon.

I like his “In My Own Words” passage on Amazon.

“It occurred to me that I somehow find things to read not widely known or appreciated. I like a fine turn of phrase, a skilled account, and a humanist's view (humanist in the modern, non-atheistic sense.)”

And appropriately, under interests:

"Reader of non-mainstream literary fiction. I actually subscribe to literary magazines."

Google books returned him in the table of contents of the Quarterly West with a story entitled “Clean Fires”.

I suppose that the above mentioned story is the other published work considering it was contained in an early issue of QW.

“The Quail” was wonderful and I enjoyed my little brush with Rolf. I wish him success in his future writing!

Finally in closing, I should mention that I only include these briefs about the authors as a way to cement them deeper in my memory. Researching them gives me insight to their skills and where they could be operating from. Everything I find about them is freely available on the web or drawn from the bio pages of BASS. I am only mentioning this as to not freak out any of the authors who may stumble across these little postings.

Score 10 out of 10.

A Party in Miami Beach - Isaac Bashevis Singer

Isaac Bashevis Singer – 1902 – 1991

C’mon now...is there any way I could bash something written by Singer? The guy won a Nobel Prize in 1978!

I do have to say that this story didn’t do anything for me.

How about that.

Let’s just leave it there.

I suppose that if I was more familiar with the works of Singer...I may have picked up on his style and perhaps I would have enjoyed this selection.

Researching Singer, I discovered that he usually wrote about exactly what was contained in this story. Polish Jews, Yiddish language and culture and morality.

I don’t know, there just wasn’t anything special in this story for me.

Sure, I’m impressed by the man, but not the story. Perhaps Oates included it in the collection knowing that it would draw some eyes. I don’t know if the stories were read blind back then but I am pretty confident that she was able to recognize his writing. There probably weren’t many Yiddish authors in translation who were widely read here in the States back in the late 70’s...or published in Playboy.

The Paris Review does a wonderful job by making his 1968 interview with the journal available online. I couldn’t be happier that the PR makes these interviews available. It really allows me to know the authors beyond their work, and with a case like Singer, it gives me a perspective that I would not have had with out reading the interview. I will include several quotes from the interview below...as I find them special. I may not like the story, but I like the man.

“I say that we too in each generation see such sparks which we ignore just because they don’t fit into our picture of science or knowledge. And I think that it is the writer’s duty and also the pleasure and function, to bring out these sparks.”

“You cannot take life and suddenly turn it into one great delight, one ocean of pleasure. I never believed in it, and whenever people speak about a better world, while I admit that conditions can be made batter and I hope that we can do away with wars, still there will be enough sickness and enough tragedy so that humanity will keep on suffering more or less in the same way it always has. Being a pessimist to me means being a realist.”

Towards the end of the interview, Singer is asked about what seems to be the sudden rise in popularity of Jewish authors. I have noticed this trend with the last BASS and with the mention of several Jewish authors in JCO’s circle. I was starting to wonder if I had started to develop some sort of complex and that I was picking out these authors from some sort of weird filter that my mind constructed.

Singer gives an interesting reason...one that may or may or not be correct but one that puts my mind at ease nonetheless.

Score – 6 out of 10.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Wedding Week – Rosellen Brown

Rosellen Brown - born May 12, 1939

I think, and I hope I am correct in the reading of this, that Oates has placed a nice piece of experimental literature into this portion of the volume.

This was a difficult read for me. I couldn’t find my way and had a feeling of slowing sinking after treading water with this story. My arms were tired, my legs couldn’t kick and my will – the most important part of the equation was failing.

Looking back, I think I am correct in this observation.

So, what did I get out of or learn from this story...because, of course there is something to learn from each one of these stories.

Well, there is the father/son---son/father relationship here. Again, I think I am reading this correctly.

So, if there is any parallel, anything that I can take out of this story, it is the story triggering the movement of me reflecting on my relationship with my father and what he and we went through, and what he and we are going through now.

The last line of this story brings it together nicely, and is probably what saved it from a savaging.

“I want him to promise me, promise me like a man, not like a shivering rabbit, that he is not going to die.”

So, Brown caused me to sit back for a bit and reflect on the old man...and then to write about it here. I suppose that’s good enough.

Again, it was a rough reading...but we can’t always find treasure.

Score – 6 out of 10.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shadrach – William Styron

William Styron - June 11, 1925 – November 1, 2006

What an absolutely wonderful story. As I read this story, all I could think about was how I could include passages from it in the blog. Passages that stood out...passages, even sentences that were, are so rich with flavor. The perfect structure, feelings, emotions, life, and death – it’s all there. I absolutely loved this story.

Knowing what I know now about Styron, it almost seems like I’ll be adding my little spoonful of praise on the mountain that I’m sure has grown for this man.

The wonderful thing about this post too is my ability to include this link to the Charlie Rose interview with Styron, and his discussion of the story.


I will not give a synopsis of this story. It deserves to be read in whole, pondered and respected..

Learning about Styron, and what the wrote and how he wrote and what he fought against in his mind, has taught me so much in such a brief amount of time. Packed in knowledge...stuffed my brain. The courage he had to write what he did- brave.

In this day and age, is there anything left to write that could still stir the controversy that Styron or others did?

Make me wonder. I’m left wishing once again that I could be the one to do this...perhaps with the help of authors like Styron, I will be.

The quote above his studio door is one that I will now seal into my memory and hope to bring forth in my mind with frequency.

From Gustave Flaubert:

“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Shadrach was filmed in 1998, under the same title, and was co-directed by his daughter Susanna. I think that someday I will stumble across this film, and my life and time of reading this story will come rushing back at me. I wait for this moment and the memories of this time that I am sure it will bring back to me.

I would also like to direct the reader to the interview made available by the Paris Review for download at this address. And you know it has to contain some good stuff if Plimpton is involved. – Damn- just the introduction to this interview is tasty.

The interview was conducted in 1954 – Paris.


From the introduction:

William Styron was interviewed in Paris, in early autumn, at

Patrick’s, a café on the boulevard Montparnasse, which has little

to distinguish it from its neighbors—the Dome, the Rotonde, Le

Chapelain—except a faintly better brand of coffee. Across the

boulevard from the café and its sidewalk tables, a red poster

portrays a skeletal family. They are behind bars, and the caption

reads: Take your vacation in happy Russia! The lower part of the

poster has been ripped and scarred and plastered with stickers

shouting: Les Américans en Amérique! U. S. go home! An adjoining

poster advertises carbonated water: Perrier! It sings: L’Eau qui fait

pschitt! The sun reflects strongly off their vivid colors, and Styron,

shading his eyes, peers down into his coffee. He is a young man of

good appearance, though not this afternoon; he is a little paler

than is healthy in this quiet hour when the denizens of the quarter

lie hiding, their weak night eyes insulted by the light.

—George Plimpton & Peter Matthiessen, 1954

Finally, to round out this posting, I am really starting to feel the effects of this little task I have set out for myself. The authors I am meeting, through their works, the lessons being learned through their little stories, the development of the craft of the short story in our country – it’s everything I wished would happen with this effort – and, I’m a few stories into the second volume. Wonderful, what a wonderful ride this will be.

Score 10 out of 10

A Short Walk into Afternoon - Kaatje Hurlbut

Kaatje Hurlbut born - 1921

A fair story – nothing spectacular. It passed through it and will probably forget it in a matter of months.

A young girl is forced to spend time with a wealthy New York aunt. Summertime, boredom, time to reflect.

This is one of those stories that you read, and wonder why you just spent your valuable time flipping the pages. I mean, I’m not upset that I read it...I just can’t at the moment find the lessons that I was taught in this story (with the thought that all of these stories will instruct...I do believe this). I do think that this is a story similar to some in the previous volume that hampered my progress in this reading and writing project. I suppose though that I should consider that I will not always have “lovely” stories to read. Some will be just as this one...a bit of a chore.

Although...as I sit and write this and reflect on the story, I feel the lessons starting to rise to the surface. I am starting to recall the summers that my sister and I would spend with my father in Chestnut Hill, Upper Darby and then Cinnaminson. We would love to be there but at the same time, there were elements of us doing time in a prison. We hadn’t any friends and most of our waking hours were spent at day camps or attempting to entertain ourselves...either together or by our selves, I mean, how much can two pre teen and teen siblings “hang” with each other.

Just as the character in Hurlbut’s story, we would at times conceive of plans, or directly act in a way as to move events forward, or at least in a direction that suited us. I also suppose that we played a bit on the guilt of divorced parents.

Hummm- looks like the story did something after all. Good for it.

Score 7 out of 10.

Fighting Books

I set a pretty high bar for myself with the reading schedule for BASS that I calculated which would last me well into my old age. I have the problem of having so many books that I want to, and need to, read. Here are the books that are currently fighting for and winning my attention over the BASS that I should be reading.

The Portable Atheist - Christopher Hitchens

Joker One - Donovan Campbell

Censoring an Iranian Love Story - Shahriar Mandanipour

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

The Devil We Know - Robert Baer

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Home and Native Land – Sean Virgo

Sean Virgo (1940 - )

I think that the picture I found of Virgo is one of the coolest I have discovered of an author to include in this blog. There is something about him in this photo that I find very interesting. Perhaps he is fitting nicely into the mold that I have created of a 70’s poet. The long hair, spacey look in the eyes, disheveled clothing...and I have studied the photo...but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what he is holding up to the photographer. In his left hand he seems to have a small cup of something that he has pulled something he is holding in his right hand.

My mind went directly to a drug. It’s almost as if he is offering it to me...just can’t figure out what he is doing.

I tell you what though...if I was in that room with him, and it was a drug, I would probably take what he offered.

I agree with the great minds of our species that feel that poets, singers artists authors...what ever you want to label them as....are the true educators of our kind. We should with question and wisdom of our own learning, absorb what they have to offer...song, painting, photo, stories etc.

So, if Sean Virgo offered me an interesting drug...I would consider it. By reading what he has written, and researching his life and what he has given to this world, I think it would be a nice decision to accept what he would offer.

Concerning the story, I think Virgo’s background as a poet shined through giving a sort of easiness to the reading. The Pacific North West and having Native Americans as characters also gave something fresh to my mind. It’s a nice short little piece with the substance needed to pull you and as well as disturb you. In this case, you can see Oates chose the story for the disturbing nature of the plot.

Score 8 out of 10

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Exile in the East – Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor – March 25 1925 – August 3 1964

What a writer. Of everything she accomplished and of all the prais she earned during her life and after her death, the one accomplishment, and merit that stands out to me is this.

In 1946 she was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop.

I enjoyed reading the brief bio of Flannery I found on the net. I could find longer and more revealing reports on her but I really don’t think it’s necessary for my purposes. It comes as no surprise that O’Connor occupies the second slot in this edition. JCO was a huge fan of hers and you can find countless articles/reviews that will mention both authors together.

I enjoyed the blunt raw language O’Connor uses in this short story. It’s just this language and subject matter that made her who she was. The idea of being an exile is something that I think most of us have dealt with in some form sometime in our lives. It could be in a relationship, a place, a language, even a philosophy. Flannery does a wonderful job of allowing the reader to feel a parallel with the lead character of this story through the rich use of language as well as the jolting use of the “N” word.

Yes, it’s just a word...but I feel the strangest feelings when I hear it or read it.

One is forced to wonder what she could have produced if she lived longer.

I cannot recall if I’ve ever read O’Connor before this. This brief story though will cause me to pause a bit longer when I run past her work on a bookshelf the next time I see it.

Score – 8 out of 10

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Silver Dish – Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow - June 10, 1915 – April 5, 2005

In JCO’s Journal, for the period of time that she was selecting the BASS, mentions both Bellow and O’Connor.

It comes then without surprise that Bellow occupies the first slot in the book, and O’Connor the second. It would also seem that Oates probably had some say in this positioning knowing that a reader would get through a few of these stories before laying the volume aside, and Oates would want the reader to experience two of her favorite authors.

Bellow won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1976. During his acceptance speech he called on writers to be “beacons for civilization and awaken it from intellectual torpor.”

I find this to be an absolutely wonderful quotation.

Even so, I’m having trouble knowing what to think about Bellow. I am reading too much about what a wonderful writer he was, and JCO even set me up to discover a masterpiece when I opened BASS. I’ll admit that this is the first reading of Bellow that I can recall.

I must have read some other works by him...certainly. Problem is though; his stuff just didn’t stick with me.

A masterpiece I did not find in his work “A Silver Dish”. I struggled through this story. I was ready to have it leap off the page and welcome me into this volume of stories.

Well, I honestly believe that this story is the cause for me to once again fall waaaay behind in my writing and reading. I just didn’t feel the drive to pick up the book. I felt...in a way...betrayed.

I don’t even feel the need to go through the process of making comments about the story. I’ll just leave it and say that I was disappointed.

I’ll close with what Nabakov said about Bellow because I share the feeling:

Simply : "miserable mediocrity."

Score : 4 out of 10.