Playing catch up, as usual. The last four issues contained drastically different stories, each one difficult to digest and process for different reasons. Each one highlights, in its own way, the simple fact that life is difficult, and complicated, and challenging, and confusing. And perhaps that is why I’ve avoiding really thinking about them. It’s easier to read it, like or dislike it, and put it away. And sometimes that’s okay. These blurbs fall somewhere in between that all or nothing reaction.
4/12 – “The TV“, by Ben Loory. Simply put: a short story about a man watching himself on TV. He jumps back and forth from his real life to his TV life, and even encounters his TV self, eventually (seemingly) going insane. Plenty of critical routes to take; I liked the style, and the concept (especially the concept introduced towards the end of one’s mind as a fist, constantly wrapping and unwrapping itself around ideas). But I walked away confused, and a little disappointed. I wanted this to be more about the control that television has on our lives, its ability to suck us in and control us and potentially drive us mad. I was also curious as to why and how The New Yorker chose to publish this particular story, or any story for that matter – I wonder what makes a story “good” and worthy of publication, in their eyes. Also: an interview with the author made for an interesting read. I particularly liked his thoughts on writing short stories, rather than novels: “What I prize is intensity. Clarity and truth. I don’t want to live in a book. I want stories that bring me back to life and make me treasure it and live it well.”
4/19 – “Prefiguration of Lalo Cura“, by Roberto Bolaño. An uncomfortable, unsettling, disturbing story. Bolaño succeeds in transporting his readers to another world, with incredible detail and language that create a setting and a place like few others can. But that place is terrifying, in a matter-of-fact sort of way…life is ugly and dirty and full of fear, and it’s happening right next door, right around the corner, all around us, all the time. While it sounds dramatic, trying to analyze and summarize this story is what’s delayed this post. Not giving up, but also allowing myself to set it aside and simply warn anyone interested in picking it up that it’s not a light and breezy spring read.
4/26 – “Edgemont Drive“, by E.L. Doctorow. “It means life is heartbreaking.” Loved this story. All dialogue; no quotation marks, no narrative, no character names. A wife tells her husband about an older man in a car who parks outside their house during the day…the husband confronts the man, who turns out to be a previous owner of their home. The wife invites him in, and has a series of conversations with him. The reader gets to know the older man well, as he is quick to divulge personal details and powerful thoughts on life and its purpose, its stages, its realities. And while the story is brief, the reader also gets a wonderful sense of the many layers forming the husband and wife’s relationship. Absolutely worth a read, if for nothing else but to ponder the older man’s attempts at explaining his belief that “life seems for most of our lives an intense occupation – keeping busy, competing intellectually, physically, nationally, seeking justice, demanding love, perfecting our institutions. All the fashions of survival. Everything we do to make history, the archive of our inventiveness. As if there were no context…”
5/3 – “La Vita Nuova“, by Allegra Goodman. My favorite, out of the four. A very simple, matter-of-fact, this-then-that narrative. Amanda’s fiancé leaves her, she loses her job as an art teacher, and gets a summer job babysitting one of her students. The static progression of events, the minute details the author chooses to share about Amanda’s days, the flashbacks about her failed relationship…they come together to create a picture of a strange combination of coping and denial, of moving forward while feeling numb, of going through the motions just to get from day to day. Amanda re-discovers her passion for art as the summer progresses, after seeing sets of Russian dolls and dreaming that she was one: “inside her was a smaller version of herself, and inside that an even smaller version“. She begins painting sets of dolls to look like herself, like other figures in her life that she did and did not know. And Dante’s La Vita Nuova (The New Life) weaves in and out of the story…she learns that “love weeps“. And it does, in the end. A quirky, unique, entertaining read, with just enough humor mixed into an otherwise depressing snapshot of a character fumbling her way through life.