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.