Deep-Holes by Alice Munroe

18 09 2008

So I read an interesting story today, Deep-Holes by Alice Munroe.  It’s a story about family and an event that changes their lives.  While it was very well written and it started with some promise, the story ultimately fell apart for me.  I’m not sure why this mother and son are acting the way they do by the end of the story.  I don’t understand their lives’ journeys and how they end up where they did.  

It’s worth a read and I’d appreciate any other thoughts on it.  The story has stayed with me, but I’m not 100% sure why.


Two Brilliant Stories

20 08 2008

I’ve read two fantastically brilliant short stories recently and wanted to share them with the world.  They are, however, about as different from each other as two stories could possibly be.  The first one is titled English Cousin and is by Patrick Sommerville.  The story focuses on a teenage boy who has his English cousin thrust upon him.  The uneasy relationship between the two and the main character’s inability to get out of his rut drive this story along.  It was as if the entire world ignored what he had to say every second of everyday – and he decides to take it out on his somewhat smarmy cousin.

It’s part of his debut collection of stories Trouble. So far the entire collection has been great. It’s funny and quirky, but the collection uncovers some real truths about the human condition and how ridiculous we are as animals. How our worries and insecurities make us crazy like a dog that won’t stop scratching itself.

The other story, I found in the May 5th New Yorker.  It’s by Annie Proulx and titled Them Old Cowboy Songs. Surprisingly it has not been released online. This means you’ll have to read the May 5th issue OR other people’s thoughts on the story. The other choice is to wait for her new collection to come out in September. This story was powerful and again showed how our choices and weird decisions can leave a permanent mark on our lives.

It involves a young couple who buy some land in Wyoming in the 1800s and the struggles they’ve escaped and still face in trying to scratch out a living and a family.

Both of these stories come at the human condition from different perspectives but still manage to point out the absurdity of everyday life.

Richard Ford: Leaving for Kenosha

1 07 2008

In my never-ending quest to catch up on my backlog of New Yorker magazines, I’m finding that the fiction is standing out. Today on my flight I read a Richard Ford story: Leaving For Kenosha. I’ve tried to read Richard Ford in the past with mixed results. It’s surprised me because I like a number of his contemporaries and friends with similar tastes have liked him. This story, however, was great.

It’s the story of a father and his young daughter, strained by a divorce he figures is somehow his fault. He drives his daughter to the dentist and then to visit a school friend who is moving from New Orleans to Wisconsin because her father has been transferred. At first I wondered if the backdrop of New Orleans was slightly forced, but then I realized it fits in well with the main character’s life. What was once there is gone and the rebuilding is slow and confusing. His marriage, his relationship with his daughter, where he wanted to be at this point in his life all seem to be beyond his control.

The opening line hit me and it just kept on going for me.  Despite upheaval, life goes on. 

It was the anniversary of the disaster.  Walter Hobbes was on his way uptown to pick up his daughter, Louise, at Trinity.  She had the dentist at four.

Quiet Week

22 06 2008

Once I finished the The Corrections it’s been a pretty quiet week. I tried to plow through a bit of my pile of old New Yorkers and basically picked over articles and stories. Nothing too exciting. So here goes nothing:

In short-fiction, I did read a few things. Like I said, I’m chipping away at a pile of New Yorkers and a few One-Story issues. I also started The Boat by Nam Le (so far it’s fantastic).

In not-so-short fiction, Shannon tells you to go read The Hobbit.

In music, Guns ‘N Roses’ long awaited album was leaked for like 13 minutes this week on the interwebs. I write a little about it over here.

  • Also, I keep meaning to link over to Plain or Pan? a really great music website from a Scot with a huge collection of stuff.

In television, the AVClub interviews Billy West of Futurama and Ren & Stimpy fame. I, however, was introduced to him via the Howard Stern show where he did such imitations as Marge Schott and The Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley.

In links, the following sub-finds…

  • I found Wordspy a site that introduces you to newly coined phrases.
  • In art, I found a site this week that gives you cheap options for art. It’s called 20×200 and gives you the option of buying a $20, $200, or $2,000 version of the same piece. My problem is that I think some of the pictures from my vacation are better and I can’t figure out how to sell them here!
  • Not so much art as photography, I did try a very cool site affiliated with Flickr this week. It’s called MOO and enables you to make postcards, notecards, mini-cards, etc. from your own pics stored on Flickr. I’ll let you know what I think when I get the first pics back.

I’m behind on comics and don’t have anything to report this week. Hopefully I’ll attack the pile this week and have something to report back on.  Hope all are having a good summer.

Raymond Carver

20 01 2008

As with most of my reading I’m catching up on issues of The New Yorker. In the Christmas/New Year’s issue (aka the Winter Fiction Issue) there is an interesting collection of pieces about the short fiction author Raymond Carver.

I read some of his work in the short fiction classes I took as an undergraduate. Bob Olmstead (the Writer in Residence at the time) told us a few stories about his first classes with Carver at Syracuse University. The encouragement to keep writing, but never really seeing him that semester. Those stories along with his writing stick with me now, nearly 15 years later.

The New Yorker articles discuss the role of Carver’s editor Gordon Lish in helping him craft his stories and collections, cutting down nearly 40% in some cases. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the workings of how fiction ends up on your plate so to speak. Even better, they include a number of letter from Carver discussing the edits. What comes out of it gives the reader a glimpse of who the author was and the discipline he poured into his work. Writing, writing, writing until every bit of him was tied into it.

Read the full article here
Read the letters here

Most interesting read the story Beginners here. What’s very cool about this is that the New Yorker has put the original up against the edits in the same document. One thing I took away from those fiction workshops was that a good editor could do more than clean up your mistakes, they could add punch. They had distance that the author doesn’t have and can see things in a new light.

When I read the original and the edits on the same page I find myself drawn to the newer version, the collaboration. Why? It brings us from being told to being shown. It leaves less said and more to my imagination. Through omission, we get so much more about the characters. The empty spaces in our own lives fill in the empty spaces in theirs. The tension that Carver writes into his last section of the story is punched home in two or three sentences by the editor.

Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher is pushing to have some of the stories re-released as Carver had originally written. I think it would be more interesting to see the original and the edit side-by-side. Let’s see how they endure.

New Yorker Short Fiction

7 01 2008

A few conversations of late, plus an article sent to me by Shannon has made me think a bit about The New Yorker’sshort fiction as of late. To be honest, I’ve found it to be rather flat and boring. Occasionally the magazine will feature an author I like or a new, interesting story, but I’ve found more often than not I am bored. I am bored with the stories by the end of the first paragraph. For a while I thought this was a bad thing, a sign of decreasing quality. Now I’m not so sure.

Shannon and I have a theory on books. If I like them a lot, she usually dislikes them (and vice versa). She posited a theory this weekend in that we both have very strong styles of fiction that we prefer. That being said, I suspect that my problems with the New Yorker stem from their efforts to expose their readers to a wide variety of fiction and styles. While that might not be a great “a ha!” moment, I suspect that there is a method to their so-called madness.

Shannon sent me an article today that briefly discusses the fiction in the New Yorker. What is really interesting is that someone out there has taken the time to actually catalog a bit about the stories and their authors. You can read about it and find the link here. One person commented that they think the New Yorker is going after more foreign writers or those discussing immigrant stories.

For more short fiction, check out One Story Magazine. I’m terribly behind in my reading of them, but the magazine is what it says. The stories more often than not are excellent.