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These texts are available in the Sweet Briar Bookshop.
Click on the images to order the the texts from Amazon.

Seeking

 

Seeking

 

I’m at my kitchen table. I can hear the shower running, pouring hot water. I’m so in love.  Humming drifts out of the bathroom on the steam and I’ve got to wonder if he knows how apathetic I am. Sitting here in his t-shirt, with the cold feeling of vinyl fused to my legs. The cold feelings of discontent fused to my heart, whatever that is.

I twist and fold today’s newspaper to expose the wanted section. With a big red, felt-tip marker I cross out some lines and draw arrows to connect others. Sometimes I leave ads alone, the ones that are too boring, but sometimes you can just hear these two people crying out to be together. This SWF is seeking a BHM, and, of course, she means big and handsome, but she’ll be crawling with bald-headed men in no time. That Southern girl is looking for someone to eat her fried chicken. There are men in their 60s looking to be a sugar daddy for some “VGL 20YO.” An “X SWM” is just dying for a diving partner in case of a cage malfunction, and you can’t go wrong with that kind of logic. How can these people believe in this mess?

I’ve never been able to understand dating ads. The abbreviations annoy me. If you can’t pay for the two extra letters to spell out “you”, then you can’t pay for a date. I’ve never liked the diction either. They always use the word “seeking”, like they’ve reached a level of desperation where they’re seeking, inquiring, begging for information on someone, anyone who will love them. Why would you want to end up like that? 160 characters pressed in black and white; a caricature of words that really add up to nothing, if you ask me. I’ve circled ads for wanted jobs, ads for selling cars, ads for deals on canned food, but never have I ever circled an ad seeking love. Continue Reading »

Naomi

“One of the craters of Venus is named for her.”- Marie-Aimée Lullin

“Strangely, Venus shows no record of the heavy bombardment period. Either it didn’t get struck, which is unlikely, or some process resurfaced the planet, removing all traces of the impact craters.”- Fraser Cain, Craters on Venus

All of Venus’ craters are named for women. There are about a thousand of them, and sometimes when I watch the golden planet’s surface from the telescope in my lab, I imagine their namesakes surveying the terrain. Aurelia, mother of Julius Caesar, lounges on a settee in the center of her allotted portion of desert sand, the hems of her toga trailing in the dirt beside her. To the west, Ruth and Naomi stare over the lips of their impact sites hoping to find each other across kilometers of barren rock. Ruth jumps atop the crater’s edge and waves her arms until her hair flies around her head in the warm wind. She shouts Hebrew words I cannot decipher. Naomi does not see her. She circles the edge of her crater then bitterly slumps down against the rocks.

Venus’ surface temperature is about 464°C, more than enough to boil your eyeballs and leave your heart a crispy mess. I wonder how Naomi and Ruth can stand to walk through that truly scorching sand. These are not the deserts of Moab. Their sandals should be seared to their feet. Ruth, though, still dances on the edge of her pristine crater.

*

My mother calls most nights and leaves a message on my phone. I never pick up and I never listen to her messages. I don’t know what she says. Driving between work and home I sometimes hear her voice float to me from the radio DJ, scattered among the news and weather reports. Sometimes I just think I hear her breathing, hoping that this time I have answered the phone, that this time she will hear my voice at last. Once, I could find my way to her in the dark just by listening for her gentle inhalations. She soothed away the red man who lurked in my dreams and encircled me with blankets. If I searched for her now, would she snore? Would her breath rasp?

Continue Reading »

 Trails of Sweet Purple Haze

              If you sit long enough in the dark, you can see your past begin to paint itself in vibrant colors against the once peaceful backdrop of your reflective solitude. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It doesn’t matter how far away the dream has been allowed to drift or how high your watchtower is. There is no way out once you’ve been caught in that tower of stagnant reminiscence, watching the world outside your keep slowly drain of its once present, imaginative verve. There is no way to erase the stain of a spell of endless waking reverie cast by some bewitching barefooted woman onto the insides of your now heavily creased eyelids.

And if you try to explain this to the man across the table who is demanding his rent for the dingy, dank apartment he owns because he inherited it when his father passed, he would sneer at the sentiment. He only speaks in cold silver clinks and shuffling lifeless president greens. I know he looks at my withered, frail, beaten limbs and the greasy, grimy, ochre dishpan apron still hanging around my neck and he knows I’m going nowhere. He knows I am no longer anyone’s prince. He knows this because all I have is that empty watch tower apartment and a stale grass joint long burnt out and no money to give him just my subtle silence as my records play soothingly in the background.

Then, this young man, this dangerously efficient businessman, this wolfish landlord, would see in my eyes something he doesn’t understand. He would contemplate for a long moment, taking in my time abused gnarled knot of a body slumped over and notice the stains of faded youthful hope now seeped in kitchen boy grease. He’d see the past glimmering through my eyelids as I blinked at him. Some odd mixture of somber, confused happiness he couldn’t quite fathom. He’d play the role of the joker and smile a shallow, predatory grin and ask me what it was, seared into my eyes. And I, I were to play his thief, would not to speak falsely of the searing sweetness whose utter mark he could see still glowing in my eyes even after half a century. But that smile warned my lips to remain silent. Continue Reading »

Freaks and Flowers

That morning, I tried to avoid Frank as much as possible while tiptoeing through my morning rituals. I had nearly made it to noon before he heard me putting away dishes, even with my attempt to place them quietly.

“Mary, is that you?” He asked, while grazing the granite countertop with his hand, the one with the tattoo.

***

Mary was in black ink leading up his left thumb. The font was small but large enough to notice; he probably forgets it’s even there. He got it when what feels like a lifetime ago, though it had only been ten years and admitting to have only known each other for two weeks. Considering Frank was a handsome, trust-fund hippie and five years my senior with his own lake house just outside of my College town; I didn’t argue against the tattoo.  Besides,  his subtle-blue eyes had a way of  making time seem trivial; two weeks was all it took.

Sometimes we would stay at the lake house for weeks on end, isolating ourselves from everyone, while playing house in the four story adirondack mansion, passed down from his late Mother.  Frank had recently dropped out of medical school and didn’t have a job, so he spent most of his days exploring different subjects by reading old encyclopedias, managing his mother’s greenhouse, and painting canvases of–me.  He loved painting me, and how could I have not loved it too as he would praise every part of my body and feature of my face. I had always known I was beautiful, but I never felt it until I met Frank. Continue Reading »

“Saved”

As the vet leaves, I stumble up to the small two-story house, slipping up the steep hill still covered in last week’s snow. Grey’s Anatomy comes on in twenty minutes, and there is nothing that could possibly keep me from finding out if Derek and Meredith end up keeping their adopted African baby, Zola.  It’s not like I am proud of the fact I am addicted to a cheesy hospital show, but we all have our faults.  When it began airing several years ago, I swore I would never watch something so dramatic and corny– we both swore.  “That’s the stupidest shit of a commercial I’ve ever seen. Who in their right mind would watch something like that?” is what my sister, Adriane, had said.

Even after two years with her gone, I still tune in every Thursday night.

Tonight wasn’t ordinary, though.  After being in the barn for six hours holding a tube down Puff’s small throat, I couldn’t lift my elbows above ninety degrees without my shoulders screaming.  Puff was an 11-hand white pony. If you don’t know anything about horses, 11 hands is like a yorkie compared to a great dane– it’s small.  He was a shetland, and had a pocket the size of Santa’s present sack full of evil tricks.  One second he’d be walking with a six year old on his back like he was falling asleep, and the next he’d be bolting down and out the ring like he was on the front lines, leaving the kid by the gate with a buck.  Even at 35, ancient for a horse, you could see him thundering down the pasture fence, racing with a filly born the year before, his legs as fresh as hers. Petting his thick white coat around his soft brown eyes tonight, I pretended I could keep him alive with a prayer.  With his head in my lap, I looked up at the vet who was staring at me with a look that said okay…I have other clients to get to. Other horses to put down.

“I’ve known this fella since he was born 35 years ago,” she said, slowly moving closer to me, “and I couldn’t be more sorry that I am the one passing him into another world, Nohl.”

“I know,” I answered, wiping a tear away from my cold cheek, “I wasn’t even alive and I feel like I’ve known him all his life.” Continue Reading »

“Unshocked”

            I felt the smooth powder glaze over my skin. My body felt refreshingly cool as I looked over at Gilbert. His face was already half covered in the metallic powder; the shiny paint danced across his face as he gave me a smile. I allowed myself to be taken back to the moment that I had first seen that smile. September 25, 1967. The Saint Martin’s School of Art was showing a sculpture exhibit. I stared at the pristine curves of the clean, white figure of a man that made up the first sculpture in the exhibit. I was lost in attempting to understand why the artist chose to be somewhat safe with the sculpture. I crinkled my face while looking at the curve of the statues chest, chiseled and stiff. I was lost in the sculpture until I heard a loud sigh coming from beside me. When I looked everything became silent and I focused on the man standing beside me, knowing that I would never find art as beautiful as the man standing beside me. The curve of his face contrasted too perfectly with the intensity of his eyes. I was struck mostly by those eyes; they looked as if someone had taken a pin and made the quickest dot on his face. I took in the way he stared at the sculpture, as if I wasn’t there studying his presence. He jumped when I commented on the hard, milky appearance of the sculpture. However, he pretended not to be mad and gave into the curve of his mouth. My body became warm when his smooth hand drifted into mine; I think it began as a handshake. It wasn’t that, handshakes are reserved for a pleasantry when you first meet someone and need to seem official. That barrier had been with the intensity of his eyes, which burned right into my soul, so there was no handshaking. His hand drifted into mine, holding it steady and conveying more through that single touch than would have made sense with a handshake. My body became warm and I felt my stomach tighten as he gave my hand a gentle squeeze.

There was a time, shortly after we got together, in which I was showing Gilbert the tourist-y sights in London. I was born in Plymouth, but London always felt like home. Perhaps because Plymouth was never a real home, because when I was a young boy, we were bombed out of there in 1942 and moved quickly to Tunis. London was new, exciting and feasted off art. Gilbert was embracing being a tourist and we went to various shops and gazed in the windows at all of the bright colors: deep blues outside of Givenchy, bright yellows on the sign outside of Chanel, and poppy reds that dripped from the windows of Prada. The reflection of dark hair jolted out and swallowed the bright colors, leaving them a swirl of muted remains. I remember looking at Gilbert’s dark locks and fair complexion and knowing that this was far more beautiful than window display of great artistic direction. There was never a question as to whether or not I should be with this man, it just fit, it just was and I knew I never thought about it because in that moment I realized that this was us forming a single relationship, and perhaps a single artist. Continue Reading »

Relief

    “Shit man, I never thought about it that way,” Patrick says in a voice that would probably seem to a stranger or unobservant acquaintance to be genuinely interested but I know better. “So like, are y’all in love?” His southern accent is out of place when you look at him. His dark hair is long and wraps around the bottom of his thick neck in a perfect curl. Three tattoos peer out over the edge of his collar. His cheekbones wrap around his entire face, holding up his sunken eyes. I say they are sunken but they are not exhausted, they are alive in a way that only Patrick’s eyes can be.

The master of manipulation, Patrick always looks alive, no matter what. “If you show weakness,” he advised me once, “They’ll walk all over you.” The son of an alcoholic salesman and a verbally abusive mother, Patrick had a tough go of it really. He is always pretending via false confidence that he isn’t a carbon copy of his father; aggressive, and irrational. It convinces nearly everyone, including himself on most occasions. Right now, Patrick is practicing his confidence. He flew off the handle earlier this afternoon and everyone saw. What girl wouldn’t forgive a little aggression from a guy as complex and damaged as he is?

    By now Patrick is purely humoring her, leading her on to think she is the most interesting girl in the world, a manipulative charismatic mind game that I couldn’t stand to watch but did any way. I think how cruel it is to have to watch my best friend Kate be shamelessly flirted with by my boyfriend, just so he can get her to drive him to the gas station for more beer. She played along, quasi-unaware. Continue Reading »

The Story of Us

The Story of Us

Ricky was the type of guy who didn’t need much. He had his parents, his two best buds from grade school, and his grandfather’s vintage 1960 Stafford electric. It was cliché to admit that Isla had changed everything, but she had. The first day he saw her in the cafeteria of North Miami High, was the day she landed on his radar. He had made it his mission to step out of his shell and introduce himself, and she welcomed him immediately.

Isla Kelly had always been a bad influence on him, but she claimed her Irish roots programmed her to be naturally destructive. He noticed that her ability to have her way no matter the circumstances seemed to grow each and every day. Among their shared friends he was the tall strong-silent type, while she was the rare beauty of mind and body. In her presence alone was when he shined the most, he became goofy and more comfortable in his own skin, “Your true self.” she would say as if it were the simplest thing in the whole world.

She was brave or maybe she was foolish, but he admired that about her. Months before he had found the courage to finally ask her out, she had called him. “I’m bored.” She had whined immediately that her problem would call for three objects before she would ever reach happiness.

“What are they?” he had asked, weary of her answers.

“A car, a key, and you.” Continue Reading »

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What Love is

Here’s the thing. When I first enrolled in a love story class I thought, maybe this will teach me all I need to know about love. I thought, since I’m taking a Death and Sex English class and a Love Story creative writing class, I’d be an expert by the end of the semester. So I read a lot. Thousands of pages, really. But it wasn’t until we discussed Kawabata’s “One Arm” in class that I came to understand that love wasn’t something you need to be taught. It turns out love isn’t something that’s all that rational, anyway. Love is scary. Love is freedom. Love is passion, warmth, and courage. Love is uncomfortable and it makes you feel like you’re delivering your oral presentation with nothing but your underwear on. Love is lies and hope. Love doesn’t make sense. We can’t always help what we love, and I say what because sometimes we fall in loving with airships. And sometimes those airships don’t love us back. Sometimes relationships work and sometimes they don’t and love doesn’t have to be just between a couple. Parents love too. Animals love us, or at least we love them. The story of “One Arm” doesn’t beg to be figured out. It’s love. Love is love. It’s confusing and conflicting and challenging. But love is love. And so we love.

Papier Mâché

Papier Mâché

“What is this?” I asked, sitting at the wobbly-legged breakfast table huddled in the corner of our kitchen. I had the mail from yesterday and this morning’s paper lying across the table. The red painted nail of my middle finger was pointing to a fine print section in the Wednesday Half Moon Bay Review. I’d stopped flipping through the pages when my freshly licked thumb stuck to a section of words. The personal ad was followed by a familiar phone number.

Continue Reading »

I am happy to report that I have had a grammatical epiphany: there is a reason why I have been so inept at using the words lie and lay correctly..

In editing the final draft of my story, I  found that I explore the idea of lying around… a lot. This makes sense as lying down in bed chilling is most definitely a primary theme in my life. So, on account of  having been publicly humiliated in class on multiple occasions for my inability to recognize the difference between these two terms, and considering I often wish to use these concepts in my writing, I decided to dedicate some time to teaching myself the difference.

I was particularly upset about my having been so confused about something so easy and ridiculous that should have probably been taught to me in the third grade, or at the very least, the constant grammatical corrections from my mother. I always thought I had a pretty solid grasp on grammar. I consulted google of course and was sent to grammar girl, who has helped me on many other occasions. I am happy to report that I am not a fool for having misremembered the correct way to use these words, as I have been educated by Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan to do the exact opposite of what is correct.

Eric Clapton ponders the implications of his shameless misuse of the word "lay". There's no taking it back now, sir.

Eric Clapton ponders the implications of his shameless misuse of the word “lay”. There’s no taking it back now, sir!

Grammar Girl enlists many different solutions to remembering the difference between lie and lay. One of which is to remember these artists are wrong. What is a girl to do when she has been listening to “Lay Down Sally” for as long as she remembers! Grammar girl explains:

To say “lay down Sally” would imply that someone should grab Sally and lay her down. If he wanted Sally to rest in his arms on her own, the correct line would be “lie down Sally.”

Oh, how glad I was to hear that I have not simply been imagining the term “lay” being used incorrectly under the pretense that it was correct! In fact, whenever I hear the word ‘lay’ I automatically begin singing this song, which is absolutely the reason I struggled with the concept so much. “Lay Lady Lay” even sounds more beautiful, and I don’t blame Bob one bit for having forgone any grammatical conventions. What a terrible example Clapton is setting as he has influenced my schoolwork to make me look foolish and sent me into a fury of confusion on multiple occasions! I am glad to have done this research and now I am better able to understand that people lie down, and objects lay down.

But, how disappointed I was to learn that it simply gets more complicated, and less culturally cool, as you move into the present tense of lie and lay. The past tense of lie is lay, and the past tense of lay is laid. Who decided this ridiculously confusing conjugation?! The past participle of lie is lain; Sally has lain across my big brass bed for days, and the past participle of lay is no different from that simple past; Sally has laid the guitar on the big brass bed.

If you want to be able to sing Eric Clapton in order to remember that you’re using the incorrect words in your story, listen here.

But if you’d rather listen to Bob Dylan, click here.  

Now may we all have happy vacations full of lying in bed watching the ‘flix!

 

Who Knows Best?

Saturday night, I shuffle down the hall toward the nurses’ station to pick up the chart for my last case before the end of my shift. The nurse at the desk gives me the rundown: “Room three, bed two, looks like his arm’s broken.” I nod and head down the hall.

“Doug?” I ask crossing the threshold without even bothering to look up from the chart. “My name is Dr. Kelley, I’m your attending physician. Let’s take a look at these X-rays.” I approach the foot of the bed and the smell of rubbing alcohol and pine sol is replaced by a wave of booze and cigarettes. It rips my attention away from the chart and I finally look at my patient. His eyelids are drooping; he smells like a fraternity house; he has mud smeared all down the front of his t-shirt and jeans. I sigh as I walk to the light box and clip the X-ray photos into place. “Want to explain how this happened?” I ask as I point to the visible fracture of his ulna and another small crack on his carpus.

He slurs through his story of trying to slide down the handrail of the porch staircase. He made it down, he said, but when it came time for his dismount, he stumbled and landed on his arm. “Yeah it, was pretty badass until I biffed it into that mud puddle.” He almost seems proud of himself until he sees the judgmental look I’m giving him. Between 10 p.m. and midnight, a lot of my cases are injuries suffered by drunken college kids from Purdue, kids trying to show off. This kid is no exception. “I don’t do dumb shit like this often,” he says as he tries to redeem himself. “I was just celebrating because I got into grad school.” He lifts his eyebrows, as if to ask me if I’m impressed. I shake my head and get to work setting the bone and putting on the cast.

After about ten minutes, I clean up the extra gauze and start walking toward the door. “Wait, aren’t you gonna sign it?” he asks. I turn back around and pull a Sharpie out of my lab coat and scrawl Dr. Kelley on the light blue fiberglass. “You forgot your phone number,” he says when he looks at the messy black scribble then back up at me. This isn’t the first time I’ve been hit on by a patient. I’ve gotten a marriage proposal from a middle-aged man hopped up on painkillers after being in a car accident. We just humor them when it happens. I bend down again and write “911.” Continue Reading »

Duane and Holly’s relationship is doomed from the moment it began. Carver uses Duane’s affair to display the deterioration of their marriage, but reveals a past that indicates their inevitable unhappiness.

Drinking’s funny. When I look back on it, all of our important decisions have been figured out when we were drinking. Even when we talked about having to cut back on our drinking, we’d be sitting at the kitchen table or out at the picnic table with a six-pack or whiskey . When we made up our minds to move down here and take this job as managers, we sat up a couple of nights drinking while we weighed the pros and the cons.”

Duane begs Holly to forgive his indiscretion, but he reveals that every decision in which they made together was the result of alcohol.  He’s doubting their marriage just as Holly is, and can’t help but to think of the maid while begging for forgiveness. Their relationship is dysfunctional, unfixable even, and they are aware of this, but stay in the shitty hotel in which they refuse to work at anymore.

And the woman said that years before, I mean a real long time ago, men used to come around and play music out there on a Sunday, and the people would sit and listen. I thought we’d be like that too when we got old enough. Dignified. And in a place. And people would come to our door.”

Holly has this idea of what their life should be in holding onto this memory, but she knows it is over.  She has become obsessed with Duane’s affair, all the while neglecting the hotel completely, but their relationship is still deteriorating. They are holding on to something that isn’t there and hasn’t been there in a while, all the time blaming Duane’s infidelity, but it isn’t the root of the problem.  Carver illustrates their marriage, their decay in an isolated world in which reveals a complete understanding of how they both feel, while making it subtle.  Carver doesn’t have to say how distant they have become, it is clear through the language he uses, it’s desperate.

By the end of that summer, I knew Alexandra could never fold a shirt without some part of it wrinkling. I knew how fast she could dice an onion: three minutes, forty-one seconds tops, and then she’d go to stand at the window and dig the heels of her hands into her weeping eyes. I knew how the light fell across her face, across her sharp Roman nose, as she sat at the kitchen table at 5:45 on a Monday evening, and I knew why her parents still called her Mushu. I knew she never wrote to them, rarely called them back, and if she wasn’t going to make the effort with them, then she certainly wouldn’t with me. I knew none of it mattered.

I knew her weakness for almond croissants and for tattoos hidden by her clothes: an infinity symbol on her left hip, a fern curling on her spine, the Deathly Hallows halfway up the inside of her right thigh. I knew she snorted when she laughed. She borrowed my apple-green dress at least once every other week, and I knew I was never going to ask for it back.

I knew she sometimes locked herself in the bathroom and drew a bath and played cassettes—Blind Willie Johnson, Billy Holiday, Julie London, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole. She’d come out later, wrapped in a floral towel, still singing “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” the fragments of lyrics breathed out so softly I could barely hear them, and we’d edge around each other for hours, not talking, not even looking at one another. I knew that outside of work, I was the only person she knew, had bothered to get to know, in Brooklyn. Continue Reading »

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A Reflection

     I imagine it would be suitable to spend a post reflecting upon what I have learned and how my writing has progressed over the course of this semester as I feel this has been a particularly positive semester for me. I questioned, in my post on the Leslie Jamison reading, what exactly a writer has to do in order to be considered good enough to write experimental nonfiction, etc. I think that my development as writer over the course of this semester is due in part to asking questions of that nature. Now that I have asked these questions out of jealous confusion, I am able to move past them and focus on my own writing. I was afraid that I was not qualified to even be a writer, as I felt writing something weird and out of place would not be well received. This was certainly an unhealthy way to think.

 We learn so quickly to compare our writing to others, and learn only through the imitation of other writers. Why do you think we are asked to read and discuss not the literary components of the stories we read but the decisions we notice the authors make in order to make the story successful? Because we must ask these same questions of our own writing. Before even attempting to understand what is going on in our stories we must first understand what sort of implications or decisions have upon our writing. If I write in second person will the reader immediately toss the story aside out of irritation? If my main character is blonde and lives in Miami, what assumptions will be made of her by the reader? These are important things that we must pay attention to as we write and I believe that my awareness of these questions has helped me develop as a writer.

 There is such a large difference between writing for praise and writing for oneself. If the only thing we wish from our writing is to please and amaze the reader, than we will most definitely fall short of doing just that. If we understand first that we wish to accomplish more with a piece than simply an A and extensive accolades, we will actually have an opportunity to discover the true reason you wanted to write about your subject. If you set your sights too high you’ll get discouraged that much more easily. I have learned that in order to write something that is worth reading to an audience, I must remove myself from the story and create something that instead mirrors I end goal.

   I had never enjoyed or succeeded at writing fiction as I had the habit of trying to develop events in my own life into fictional narratives with meaning to some who literally could not give a single shit about my personal life. This is absolutely ridiculous. I am not Beyonce, and nobody cares what I did last weekend, even if I think it was awesome. I have found that fiction is not about, as it is creative nonfiction, wrestling with the consequences and significance of personal moments, but more about already knowing the consequences and significances of versatile personal moments. In order to write stories that matter to other people, we must remove ourselves from personal moments and instead first understand why these moments were significant to us and create a story that mimics this “why” rather than a gossip-rag recap of some crazy party. If instead we know that the crazy party was important to us because it made us feel more alive (a cliche example I know, but cliches are what they are because they’re the truth!) than we should not write about the party itself but about a character who is in search of feeling alive. If we can develop our emotions rather than our experiences into stories, we will all be more successful. While we should not neglect details in our story, I have come to realize that it is not the details that are important, but how these details develop the character into who they are. In that way…the story is almost able to write itself.

 

Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance” is essentially a mystery.  It seems to be more about what is omitted from the story, rather than the actual events that take place.

In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard. The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier. Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom–nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side.

His side, her side.

He considered this as he sipped the whiskey.”

Carver suggest that this man’s wife has left him, and so he has placed all of their belongings in his front yard. Yes, a yard sell, but why everything, and why is everything set up exactly the way it was inside? Carter gives us little to no insight into this characters life, only the events occurring within the story.  One’s bedroom is an extremely intimate place, so for him to put it on his front yard displays his willingness to reveal himself.

Arms about each other, their bodies pressed together, the boy and the girl moved up and down the driveway. They were dancing. And when the record was over, they did it again, and when that one ended, the boy said, “I’m drunk.”

Carver illustrates extremely uncomfortable scenes with Jack, Jack’s girlfriend, and the owner of the home..  Their age is not clear, but it is strange when the owner of the house offers them alcohol and asks them to dance for him.

He felt her breath on his neck.

“I hope you like your bed,” he said.

The girl closed and then opened her eyes. She pushed her face into the man’s shoulder. She pulled the man closer.

“You must be desperate or something,” she said.”

This scene is oddly sexual and the girl seems to be the desperate one, considering she pulls him closer to her.

She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.”

After the yard sale, Jack’s girlfriend mocks the old man by telling everyone how pathetic he was, but in reality she is trying to make sense of the events herself.  She knows there is something that makes it important, but can’t quite figure it out. Pushing aside the strange, sexual content of the story, I believe Carver is trying to uncover the connection between people and their items.  The events at the yard sale are extremely intimate, but Jack and his girlfriend dance for a stranger, a stranger whose personal items they are willing to take.  They share an intimate moment with a man they don’t know, in an intimate setting on display for the world to see.  The obscurity of the story is not effective, because I still have no true concept of it.

    My absolute favorite part about this beautifully written story is without a doubt the point of view and voice. How outstanding for Butler to have been able to so convincingly capture the voice of a main character with whom, theoretically, he has almost absolutely nothing in common with. By this I mean, it is not often that we characterize thirty year old vietnamese women to be anything like fifty year old white men from the midwest. This is what makes the story interesting.
We discussed a lot in class about how we must make an effort to provide the readers with details that will convince them the character is more real. For example, if I were writing a story about a middle-aged lady pining after her glorious days at Sweet Briar College, I better include intimate details as to why Sweet Briar is worth missing, and not just let the reader try to piece those details together on their own. I think that this is accomplished so flawlessly in this story.
Even though at times the narrators voice seems to be a bit to undereducated and naive sounding to me, there are points in which intelligence and a sort of quirky sarcasm shine through, and this overrides our fear that the narrator is just stereotypically foreign. This is seen specifically at the end of the story when she mentions that “as it turns out, New Year’s ever seems to be a Jewish holiday.” I quick and quirky understanding of the world and culture around her allows us understand and trust our narrator throughout the story

Another thing that I love about this story is the time span in which it takes place. I think that it is a struggle, trying to decide where and for how long a story will take place. How long should we stay in one scene? What parts would be important to the development of the story? Should they flashback to this time or actually experience it in the line of the narrative? I am sure Butler pondered on a few of these questions as he wrote this story, but the fantastic thing is that he didn’t need to embellish with other moments in the character’s relationship. He did not need to move them to another location, or spend time having them discuss something unnatural and irrelevant in order to quench some sort of dramatic thirst sometimes found in writing. This story is simply a snapshot of the beginning of an  adorable and touching romance. It is a piece in time, almost like a story one would tell their friends during a round of heartfelt conversation. You do not have to explain your entire life story to your friends when you fill them in on events and experiences, because they already know those things and they are irrelevant to the consequences of story as a whole.

    I certainly believe that I struggle with providing unnecessary details in my stories, and next time I am facing this struggle  this is a story I will look to for advice.

 

 

heroin

Denis Johnson’s “Work” is a dense, yet disturbingly beautiful story about a drug addict and his friend.  Although Johnson forces us into a nightmarish world, the compelling characters drive us to read on.  He creates a distance between the narrator and reader based on his life-style, while allowing sympathy regardless of his behavior.

I’d been staying at the Holiday Inn with my girlfriend, honestly the most beautiful woman I’d ever known, for three days under a phony name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the john, puked, cried, accused one another, begged of one another, forgave, promised, and carried one another to heaven.”

Johnson’s first paragraph is quite honestly the best introduction to any story I have read.  He isn’t subtle in revealing the narrator as a drug addict, and although his descriptions are shocking and horrible, it is also beautifully desperate.  The contrast of suffering and heaven is skillfully depicted and honest, despite the hardship in relating to this life.

The boat was pulling behind itself a tremendous triangular kite on a rope. From the kite, up in the air a hundred feet or so, a woman was suspended, belted in somehow, I would have guessed.  She had long red hair. She was delicate and white, and naked except for her beautiful hair. I don’t know what she was thinking as she floated past these ruins.”

Johnson continuously surprises as the narrator falls into some sort of psychosis in his friend’s dream.  It’s uncomfortable and strange but wildly rich with language and imagery.  The story is entirely dark and filled with suffering caused by drugs, and at times almost too distant to grasp the ideas building in this drug addict’s head.

Your husband will beat you with an extension cord and the bus will pull away leaving you standing there in tears, but you were my mother.”

The last sentence of the story is unexpected, yet heart wrenching by the revelation of his childhood. Although Johnson creates a character that is difficult to relate to, he gives explanations for his horrifying actions.  The narrator’s thoughts are detached from reality, but Johnson’s language allows you to be apart of the experience, despite your hesitations.

“Carnival”

I have read “Carnival” by Mercè Rodoreda twice now. I read it mid semester and became lost and a bit depressed, but I really wanted to give it another try. I am still depressed. Rodoreda has two main characters who are nameless throughout the entire story and perhaps it is a direct reflection into how disconnected the two of them are. These characters are disconnected from each other and from their personal lives. I believe the choice of not giving them names was a strong one, it allowed us to realize this disconnect in a more prominent way. My feeling of depression is a result of their inability to be happy within their personal lives and the male character’s persistence on this girl being the end all be all to happiness for him. The switch of perspectives between the two of them is also uneasy because you think one thing and suddenly its what the other character is thinking.

I did enjoy how Rodoreda ended the short story.” Both of the characters are overwhelmed from an unfortunate journey of murky and depressing description. I liked that the ending was left almost just where it began, the two of them not solving anything in their lives but having an adventurous evening (however pathetic) for the male character to think about from time to time.

He had nothing left, only that touch on his fingertips, perhaps a bit of golden dust, the kind butterflies leave

Rodoreda is using beautiful description to describe how the male character is feeling. Since it is such a beautifully descriptive ending, it makes it much more sad to see him so hung up on a girl who wouldn’t even remember the evening.

mask

old dude

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within three pages, Mary Robison develops the life of a married couple, Allison and Clark .  Although she limits the narrative to one day, she manages to reveal a remarkable amount of insight into their lives. It wasn’t until I finished the story in which I recognized the importance of Robison’s first sentence.

Allison STRUGGLED away from her white Renault, limping with the weight of the last of the pumpkins.”

She introduces the season and a character who is struggling, limping with weight. Her exhaustion is amplified and depressing, though Robison reveals this in a subtle manner that can easily be overlooked.

Clark was much older–seventy-eight to Allison’s thirty-five. They were married. They were both quite tall and looked something alike in their facial features. Allison wore a natural- hair wig. It was a thick blond hood around her face.”

The indication that Allison wears a wig is effortlessly dismissed considering the focus being held on the large age difference between the couple.  Instead of questioning the reason she needs a wig, they are being stereotyped because of the gap in age.

Allison went quickly through the day’s mail..and the worst thing, the funniest, an already opened, extremely unkind letter from Clark’s relations up North. “You’re an old fool,” Allison read, and, “You’re being cruelly deceived.” There was a gift check for Clark enclosed, but it was uncashable. signed, as it was, “Jesus H. Christ.”

Skillfully, Robison seems to be unfolding the complications of the story in which Clark’s family does not approve of his marriage, but this isn’t the true issue.

 

   Your jack-o’-lanterns are much, much better than mine,” Clark said to her.

“Like hell,” Allison said.

“Look at me,” Clark said, and Allison did.

She was holding a squishy bundle of newspapers. The papers reeked sweetly with the smell of pumpkin guts.

“Yours are far better,” he said.

“You’re wrong. You’ll see when they’re lit,” Allison said.”

Through this typical tradition of pumpkin carving, Robison exposes the authentically gentle and loving relationship they share. Robison’s artful diction makes the simple task feel romantic and important.

He wanted to get drunk with his wife once more. He wanted to tell her, from the greater perspective he had, that to own only a little talent, like his, was an awful, plaguing thing; that being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time, and like yourself too little. He wanted to assure her that she had missed nothing.”

Robison avoids explicitly discussing Allison’s death, but reveals the painful anticipation of it.  In the last scene, Clark considers his regrets, his suffering and self doubt.  Robison elegantly manages to create a deeply sad and complicated world of this marriage, while enticing sympathy from the reader.  The plot surprises and devastates, but does so subtly in the mundane task of one’s day.

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