Monday, December 11, 2017

Another Short Day in La Luz – Harriet Doerr

This was a very nice story to welcome me back to this collection of shorts. The struggle to read these stories continues.


This is our second encounter with Doerr. We first met her back in 2013 when I read and briefly wrote about Edie: A Life.
It looks like we’ll run into her writing again when her story appeared in the Best American Short Stories 2003.

This story appeared in the December 24,, 1990, edition of The New Yorker. Quickly flipping through the pages of that issue, nothing really stands out to draw any sort of reflection on those times. Typical adverts for cars, booze, books, and travel. Nothing newsworthy stands out. 
In December 1990, I was home from Norwich – my first time back since leaving for school in the summer. I was a shell-shocked, shaved head, boy.

To the story. Reading this, there is a portion of the story where the main character reflects back to a tender moment between her and her husband who died three years ago.
I wonder sometimes what position I will be in (hopefully) many years from now. Will I be missed or will I do the missing? I wonder how M will reflect back on our times together.

At this stage of our lives, our days are taken up with raising the boys.

She wakes up in the mornings, tired, and finishes off making their lunches and breakfasts that I have already started preparing. She dresses them and runs them off to school as I head out the door to the paper. She has a few hours alone before the youngest returns home and lunch prep begins. An hour or so for cuddles and a light nap on the couch after lunch and it’s off to pick up big brother. Returning home, dinner prep begins and homework completion struggles rise. I return home and there is dinner followed by the bedtime routine which usually involves repeated visits from the boys back downstairs until we have to threaten them with “time out” around 9:00 on school nights. By this time, I’m wiped out and dozing in my chair hoping to get into bed by 10 so that I can wake at 5:25 and get a 10K in. 
So with this simplified overview of our daily lives, I have to wonder – if I died tomorrow, would there be tender moments that she would reflect back on? So much of the last many years have been taken up with just the day-to-day mundane tasks of living life.

This journal/blog space reflects that too and I point that out quite often. Of course, my fear is that when the time comes for us to have time together, with the boys grown and out of the house, we won’t know each other anymore. I only have this fear generated by my own insecurities.

And this is where this little short story brought me today.

Oil and Water · Millicent Dillon

Millicent Dillon gives hope to those that have stories in them but wait until their later years to let them out. She started down the path of becoming a writer at the age of 40 (in 1965) and didn’t become a full-time writer until 1983. Oil and Water was included in BASS when she was 66. So – it’s never too late!
I do not have the disciple to get my stories down on paper…yet. Who knows if that will ever happen.
Turning to the story.
Reading Oil and Water, I think back to college when I was dropped into a room with two other 18-year-olds.
I’m not sure how the university determined who should live with each other but my first two roommates were very interesting.  One just finished a summer at Parris Island Marine Corps Boot-Camp and he was going through some serious PTSD shit leaving that environment and getting dropped into the freshman experience at Norwich. Not to mention that the Iraq war (1990) was ramping up and his reserve unit was being activated…so he didn’t last long as a roommate. When he left, another guy was brought in to fill his position. I have a hard time dealing with writing about him because he died in 2009. Just a couple of minutes ago I went back and read his obituary and the University death notice that was sent to his classmates. What he did after graduation doesn’t seem to fit the person I lived with for 6 months and knew for a total of 4 years. He wasn’t my favorite person – but I can’t seem to write ill of him. The third roommate, the one that I lived with from the beginning to the end of freshman year was a strange guy but not one that I can find anything too disturbing about that would motivate me to go on a lengthy few sentences about.
With all three of these guys, our relationships were a bit like oil and water. We existed together – forced together but never combined.
I’ll wrap up this post with that. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Point - Charles D'Ambrosio

Is started reading this story about a month ago – got about 1/3 of the way through and set it aside. I can’t remember why – life, I suppose. In any case, I’m glad I did. I picked it back up on July 5th and started it from the beginning realizing at once that my head was in the right place for this story – now.

This is a really good story. This is a story that will stay with me for a long – long time. Perhaps because there is a father/son relationship line that I found very touching that really pulled me into the story.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with my sons and how it will grow and develop over the years and how they will look back on these times when they are older. I think often at length about how they will remember me when I’m gone and these thoughts often leave a lump on my throat, not because I regret anything that I have done – but because I just want to be the best for them – and I hope that someday they will see that I tried.

Kenison pulled the story for consideration by Adams and she pulled it from the couple of hundred that she read to be included with the other 19 in this edition. I’m grateful for its inclusion in the BASS 1991.

It’s a New Yorker story. Before I figured out where exactly “The Point” was, I figured it was on the east coast – solidifying my thoughts that New Yorker stories could be spotted miles away. I was wrong.

It’s still a New Yorker story – but I feel like it’s pulling a bit away from the typical New Yorker story.

You know what I mean- if you know what I mean.

This is the first appearance of Charles D'Ambrosio in both The New Yorker and in The Best American Anthology. If my calculations are correct, he was 32 when it was published in the magazine. This story appeared in the October 1, 1990 edition of the magazine and he disappears from future inclusion in the magazine until we see him pop back up in 2002. Additional stories by Charles appear in The New Yorker in ’03 (two stories), ‘04, ‘05 and finally in ‘06. Two of those stories appeared in future collection of BASS – so we will encounter Charles again in the 2004 and 2005 edition of the BASS. At my rate of reading, that means I’ll read him again in a few years. Unfortunate.
 Thinking about this story a bit more, I feel that I am attracted to it because there are aspects of the style and plot that remind me of Updike. Perhaps I’m not literary enough and I’m too “basic” but I feel something there.
As mentioned above, this story gained a wider audience when it was published in the The New Yorker. It appeared there 26 years and 9 months ago. The story still holds up. The main character, wise beyond his years could still be walking drunk party-goers home to their summer houses, he could still be reading a letter from a father, broken not from the Vietnam War but from the Endless War we are in now.

“He wasn’t even a person then, just a blown-up thing, just crushed-up garbage. Part of his head was blasted away, and there was blood and hair and bone splattered on the windshield. It looked like he’d just driven the car through something awful, like he needed to use the windshield wipers, needed to switch the blades on high and clear the way, except that the wipers wouldn’t do him any good, because the mess was all on the inside.”

I looked back at the October 1st edition. Over 25 years ago. In the age we live in, that seems so long ago. Flipping through the pages I’m taken back to when I was a newly minted 18 year old – far from home and starting a new life. I was beginning my second life. I was a freshman at Norwich and in the middle of hell. My life was controlled by a bunch of 20 year olds and I was struggling with freshman academics. I was pretty much cut off from the outside world – except for two newspapers I read daily. The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal. I heard no music and saw no TV.

Looking through the pages of the Oct. 1 NY’er, I see that by October 1990 the US had amassed 150,000 troops in the Middle East and we were about to enter into Gulf War I. The Gap and The Banana Republic held key advertising spots in the magazine – inside the front cover and opposite the table of contents page. Advertisements for cigarettes were nowhere to be seen while there was a single advert for Dewer’s Scotch on the back cover. Advertisements for cars dominated while small spots for fruit, almonds and mixed nuts appeared. Also on more than one page were adverts for travel packages to Europe. TWA was still around. Nordic Track has a small spot. There were no .com’s yet and if you wanted additional information from a particular company advertised, you could call them toll-free or write to them for a catalog.

26 years ago and a different world.

Sometimes I miss that world.

This story takes me back there but makes sure I have one foot firmly planted in the present.     

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Trip Back – Robert Olen Butler

I don’t think I’ve yet encountered in this project a story with such a focus on a character and the character’s family dealing with the issue of memory loss.

I’ve written about memory loss on many occasions here as there are several stories that have driven me to reflect on my father’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s struggle with her health that has contributed to her memory loss and my future of some sort of memory problems.

This story did not pull on my heart strings as some of the others have – perhaps because the story addresses the disease directly. Also, as I’ve written about before in relation to me reading “In Search of Lost Time” (yes the entire thing – still reading it), the time in your life that you read a story or novel greatly colors your relationship to it.

I’m in a strange space with my parent’s illnesses. I think there is some acceptance of my father’s existence in this world – but I believe I am avoiding placing too much of my own emotions into my mother’s fate. I feel that these feelings colored my relationship to this story.

This was a rather short, short story, and I wanted a little more character development and maybe a thicker development of the relationship, and the struggle of dealing with a loved one with memory loss in the characters of the husband and wife. 

Happy Anniversary to this project!

It’s been 9 years.
My first entry on this blog was on May 29, 2008. It was a simple introduction outlining my goals.

As is my habit of leisurely reading and posting, my first post covering a story didn’t happen until April of 2009.  At the time of the introductory post, my goal was to read the BASS anthologies from 1978-2008…a nice round 30 years.

I’m still very far away from that goal and pushing the “goal posts” back a little – to extend my reading to the most recent edition of the anthology (at this time being the 2016 edition) would require me to read an additional 522 stories. Even if I were to read and post an entry for a story a day, that would take me about 1 ½ years to reach the end of 2016 and by that time another edition would be published adding another 20  or so stories. If I read and post a story every weekday - that would be 260 stories a year, and that works out to just about 2 years exactly – a year beyond the 10th anniversary of the blog.

Seeing that it has taken me 9 years to read 273 stories, another 522 (plus additional stories published in future editions) would take me at least 18 more years. At that point I’d be 63 years old. Holy shit. I guess I better get reading!

Some additional stats.

I’ve read 273 short stories and made 341 posts on this blog.
Lawns-by Mona Simpson, posted on Aug. 22, 2001 has the most page views with a total of 1255.

According to Google, the blog has received 94,004 all-time page views. And I can only assume that about 90% of those were by other computers.

I’ve received 78 comments on these 341 posts which in all honesty is just fine with me.

The comments have been generally good so that leaves me satisfied given the fact that reading comments can be dangerous because when people comment on posts, they are usually not very nice.

Those that have left comments…thank you – you have been very kind to me. 

The project goes on!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta – Kate Braverman

I need help from the author to jump-start my thoughts.
From her contributor’s notes:

“Tall Tales is about the legacy of Vietnam, which continues to infect the American conscience, often in unexpected configurations. It’s about tarnished consciousness and some unspeakably sordid pulse at the core of the American Dream. On one level, it’s about the irresistible lure of evil, its strange sheen. It’s about relationships between men and women and some overwhelming darkness that may be intrinsic to this planet itself. It was here before us and it will remain when we are gone. It has something to do with sexual obsession and the glamour of danger and the fragility of ordinary life. It’s about power and survival in a landscape where the boundaries between dream and reality have dissolved, probably to a rock-and-roll beat.”

Thank god Kate wrote the above.

Just when I thought I would be able to get back into writing here, I encounter this challenge.

As I sit here and write this, I re-read it over and over attempting to relate.

Is there anything in the story that I can really draw a line to a point in my life?

The male/female relationship?
-No…I don’t see it there.

-The sexual obsession, glamour of danger and fragility of ordinary life?


I recognize the fragility of ordinary life – I’ve come to the very edge of absolute heartbreak – but through an incredible series of practiced medical hands – I was spared that awful experience.

Power and survival?

-Sure, I see it daily in my line of work.

I think though that at my age – perhaps it’s the irresistible lure of evil. 

It may be silly but I think that we can all apply evil to different “things” in our lives. The obvious – drugs, infidelity…you know the rest. But I think the “evil” that lures me and that is the most dangerous to me is complacency in my life.

Sometimes I feel that I’m treading water – and that can be dangerous and evil not just for me but for those who rely on my support.

Does that “evil” have an attraction, a lure?

Sure it does. It’s the easy way out of life.

I struggle against the complacency and Lenny (from the story) keeps showing up along the paths of my life. He and I share great stories – and I follow him more times than I should. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Love is Not a Pie - Amy Bloom

This is the first appearance of Amy Bloom in the BASS anthology. We’ll catch up with her again in 1992 and 2000.

I really enjoyed this story. It’s one of those that takes you someplace comfortable – not necessarily through the story itself – the characters or plot – but Amy paints a few scenes that are very familiar to me and by doing so creates a special relationship between the created “environment” and me.
I’ll warn you now – this post is not at all about the story – or Amy – so if you’d like to hit that X and make this all disappear…DO IT NOW.

I believe that I am part of a fortunate group of people that grew up being able to spend summers away from home along or next to a body of water.
In this story, a majority of the action takes place during summer vacations at a cabin next to a lake.
I spent many weeks of my summer with my father, sister on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River in Maryland. Here’s a Bing maps picture of it.

From what I recall, we made our first trip there in the summer of 1982.

It was a warm extra-dark damp evening and we went to the island for a graduation party thrown by a student of my father’s. The hosts of the party owned the island and the wife of the couple was the new holder of a master’s degree in art therapy.

A flat bottom rowboat piloted by the daughter in the family came to pick us up on the mainland. My dad was pretty excited – ready to get his drink on.

It was already dark and right around the time for us to get to bed once we made it to the other side and prepared our bunks. I remember falling asleep and waking up a short time later pretty disoriented and asking for my father. Apparently, he had gone over to a liquor store on the mainland to buy some booze.

I remember crying and being consoled by strangers. Eventually, he returned and we hugged it out and I calmed down.

The cabin was built around 1901 as a hunting and fishing lodge. It survived floods and hurricanes. There was another bunkhouse on the island but it washed away after the Conowingo Dam opened its floodgates during hurricane Camille
The cabin was furnished with old sofas, weird easy chairs and makeshift bunks. It was damp, moldy and musty. If you had to pee during the night, you could go off the side porch – or walk around the exterior porch to the bathroom. For a 10-year-old kid – it was spooky and you were better off risking a burst bladder than walking out there with the snakes and other wildlife that would surely kill you.
The insects were roared at night and the birds made sure you woke with the sun.

That visit in 1982 was the first of many – spanning through my school years, through college, after college, my return from Europe and later enjoyed – for a period of time - by my new wife.  
The mornings were cool under the shade of the tall trees but by noon, the mid-Atlantic humidity settled in and relief could be found in the river. The river was freshwater and had plenty of bass, catfish and sunfish to be caught.

Extended stays during summer vacations found us spending up to 2 weeks on the island with my father leaving my sister and me alone there when he had to drive up to Philadelphia to teach a class.
She and I would fight over control of the cassette player as I’d be tortured by WHAM! and the New Kids on the Block only to gain revenge with The Cure and The Doors.

I learned to snorkel and spearfish there and my sister learned how to swim.

We both learned how to shoot a .22 and then moved up to an M-1, .45, 9mm and an AR-15.

We would visit auctions in nearby towns and my father would buy box-lots of toys that we’d take back to the island spending hours throwing lead downrange at teddy bears and Hot Wheels.

We’d watch old “Leave it to Beaver” and “Gilligan’s Island” episodes on a tiny black and white TV. We learned how to appreciate the humor of late Night with David Letterman as we fought off sleep.
The original crew of the host family was soon joined by my step mother and then a half-sister.

The years passed.

I turned 21 in Russia and upon returning back to the States, on my first weekend back we headed to the island.

Dad offered to buy me my first bottle of booze for my birthday and even though I had been drinking up at school for a year and just pickled my liver in Russia – I really didn’t know what to buy…a bottle of George Dickel was cracked open and a few shots were chased down with a couple of Coors Light…that I remember saying tasted like flowers.

A few years passed.

My sister married and her husband and later children were able to join us on the island.

Then I left that refuge again for what seemed to be too long.

A couple years passed.

I received pictures of good times on the island during my time away and I couldn’t wait to take M there when we returned home. 
We introduced M to the finer points of drinking on the river as well as the atmosphere that made conversations easier about the difficulties life that we all seem to encounter.

A beer cooler filled with ice, Stroh’s beer, Diet Coke for Dad, Woodchuck Cider for Sis and snacks would be rounded out by the prized possession of the trip – a bottle of Rebel Yell Bourbon. We’d stash it down at the bottom of the cooler and usually crack into it about an hour after floating. Time then progressed at a crawl. We’d bake on the hot river rocks passing the bottle around, drinking the Stroh’s like water and barely keeping our heads above the water. The tube trip from the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam down to the island could take anywhere from three to six hours.

Summers from 2000 through 2007 were spent on the island with the whole clan but tensions began to surface in relationships as time started to beat the old cabin and island down.

Problems with providing electricity to the island (we had to run wires across the river) became more frequent and this, of course, prohibited us from pumping water to the cabin to flush the toilet, run the refrigerators and wash dishes --- health issues.

The humid air started to get into the wood and areas of the porch could no longer support a person walking around to the bathroom in the middle of the night (bad times).

And finally, my father started to show early signs of Alzheimer’s which caused quite a bit of concern as he would set off on early morning walks (as was a ritual in the past) but not return for hours causing us to send out search parties.

And then Nor’easters hit the mid-Atlantic. Along with Super-Storms. And Hurricanes.

And the clan got smaller as old age claimed a good friend.

And then the Alzheimer’s set in HARD.

And the trips to that special place stopped.

And now all I have are pictures and…

Memories stirred by special stories found in these anthologies.

This is why I love these short stories and authors like Amy Bloom. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Disappeared - Charles Baxter

This is my fifth encounter with Charles Baxter and we will meet up with him another three times - unless of course a story appears in another volume after 2016.

Year           Story Publication
Harmony Of The World
Charles Baxter
The Michigan Quarterly Review
Charles Baxter
How I Found My Brother
Charles Baxter
Indiana Review
Fenstad's Mother
Charles Baxter
The Atlantic
The Disappeared
Charles Baxter
Michigan Quarterly Review
The Cousins
Charles Baxter
Tin House
Charles Baxter
Tin House
Charles Baxter

I enjoyed The Disappeared as much as I enjoyed the other selections in previous BASS collections.

Another author that has the skill that pulls me through their story.

We meet people in our lives that completely shake us from our reality.  Perhaps as we grow older we develop “defenses” against these people and their “eccentric” attractions. Anders (the main character) may have these defenses but they are useless in America - he isn’t equipped to fight off Lauren’s eccentricities outside of his native environment. He falls and fails. He’s human though.

I was in the 9th grade when I encountered my first  “Lauren”.

I was taking a math class that was made up of students from all four high school grades. My “Lauren” was a senior. She was also one of those artist types. She didn’t dress like the others., act like the others and I could sense this and it intrigued me.

I was out of my environment I suppose - I was drowning in the floodwaters of algebra and this drowning sensation shifted my atmosphere.

I tried flirting with her the best that I knew and she clearly saw what I was trying to do and played along with my silliness.

She was sweet to me but was careful not to pull me in too far.

I appreciate that.

Flash forward to 2014 - through the powers of the mighty Facebook friend suggestion algorithms, my “Lauren” reappears almost 30 years after I first met her.

She left her Facebook albums open - and there she is.

Amazingly, she still looks the same - perhaps my 14-year-old mind cemented that 19-year-old woman and I am unconsciously overlaying her high school appearance 28 years later. Could that happen?

She is a successful artist - has worked for several large studios in California as a set artist.

She attends Burningman...should that surprise me?  And there she is topless at Burningman (how did that pass the Facebook censors?)  - should that surprise me?

Charles Baxter dedicates this story to Alvin Greenberg. Baxter was a friend and former student of Greenberg's. Both Charles Baxter and Alvin Greenberg were in BASS 1982 - I’m sure they got a kick outta that!  

I wrote about Greenberg and his story - The Power of Language is Such That Even a Single Word Taken Truly to Heart Can Change Everything - that was included in the 1982 BASS.

That was in 2010. I started off that entry stating that he was alive and still writing.

I can’t remember why I wrote that.

Alvin Greenberg died in October of 2015.

Time marches on.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Legend of Pig Eye - Rick Bass

This is my second meeting with Rick Bass. The last time I read him was in 2012 and as I recall, I really enjoyed the story - as I enjoyed this one.

Looking through the BASS database, I’ll have 4 more meetings with him in the coming years and I look forward to reading his stories .

This is a tight, clean story.  

Sitting back thinking about a period in my life where I was angry, just as the main character, trying to “hold onto a thing you loved, and letting go of other things to do it” and realizing that as I grow older I find myself doing this with greater frequency. The things I “let go of” though do not carry the weight that they once did and I see my priorities shifting and I become lighter in a sense.

Rick treats us with a lengthy Contributor’s Note that really gives us some great details surrounding the development of this story.

Rick writes about the selling of this story eventually to be published in The Paris Review but before landing there, Rick gives some pretty obvious clues that it was first accepted by Playboy with an offer of $2,500 for publication rights. Rick tells the story of a meeting with a Madame A. at this glossy magazine to discuss the story, a meeting  which goes horribly bad, with the outcome being obviously no publication rights of the story and no payment.

I can only conclude that this Madame A. is Alice K. Turner - who was the fiction editor at Playboy from 1980-2000. 

One wonders if the story would have been included in the BASS if it had landed in the pages of Playboy rather than the Paris Review. Looking through my database, Playboy has had 13 authors that they published included in BASS and the Paris Review has had 30. I don’t know if these numbers answer my question.


After Rick’s meeting with Turner at Playboy he walks to the office of The Paris Review, has a very interesting meeting with George Plimpton which almost includes Rick getting punched in the nose by Plimpton. Rick discusses the story with Plimpton and tells him of his meeting with Turner. Following the meeting, there must have been a renewed drive in Bass to really shape his story - not that he wouldn’t have after another meeting with an editor - but perhaps the energy from the meeting with Plimpton lit a spark.

Bass writes further in his notes that he and his editor at Norton, Carol Houck Smith, worked through a dozen drafts or more with only one original paragraph remaining  - the last one. The revisions were done with anger as the driving force - it worked and Plimpton published the story, Katrina pulls it from the couple of thousand she reads passes it along to Adams who recognizes its beauty and selects it as one of the 20 to be included in this volume.