January 25: “The Bones of Garbo” by Trudy Lewis

Embarking on the massive project that is this blog, I’m revealing some things about myself that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Originally, when envisioning my daily writing, I was more or less going to discuss a bit about the story’s plot, establish the protagonist/narrator person, and then stop before I gave away too much, as I wanted readers to be able to experience the story and find something new, still find out for themselves what happens. I was shooting for five hundred words per entry.

As I began writing the responses to the stories, I soon started doing what I’m doing right now, including little lead-ins, something to connect me to the story, be it an anecdote from my past (like Saturday’s swimming revelation) or how I came across the book, story, or author. That’s made these into a sort of hybrid personal essay/review, which I enjoy. The thing is, they’re a bit longer than I thought they would be—twice as long, actually—and they take me considerably longer to construct—I have to actually spend time thinking about what I’m going to write. If I was merely setting up a plot and a character, I could knock that out as soon as I finished reading, sort of like those captions in old TV Guides (wait, does TV Guide still exist?): “Babarino (John Travolta) faces a tough decision.” “Blanche’s (Rue McClanahan) date is canceled.” “Ann (Bonnie Franklin) makes a confession at the office.” I could read a story, shoot out a blog post, 366 up, 366 down.

What else I’ve realized is that I have to be more honest than I ever thought. Mainly, since I’ve agreed to read a new story every day, whatever story I’m reading, I’m admitting I haven’t read it before. That’s all fine and good with the new books I keep picking up, like Helen Ellis’ yesterday, but what about books I’ve had sitting around for a long time, books I should have read, books that my friends and colleagues may have assumed that I’ve read? In other words, when I review someone’s story, they’re going to see the posting (I always tag the authors on FB) and know I haven’t read that story before. Maybe they’re a close friend and I bought their book in 1999. Maybe I told them I read it. So maybe this whole project is a confessional, me telling everyone how I’ve never read their books (at least not all the way through). This blog, then, becomes the great rectifier, me admitting my wrongdoing, but also making amends to those I’ve wronged. Suddenly, it sounds like a 12-step program.

This leads me to today’s author, Trudy Lewis, who is one of my favorite people in this whole writing world. I published Trudy’s novel The Empire Rolls in November of 2014, my first solo book project for Moon City Press, my first solo book ever, and since then, we’ve become friends. I adore and admire Trudy, but have to confess here: I’d never read her story collection, The Bones of Garbo (winner of the Ohio State University Prize in 2007), before today. I ordered it when Empire Rolls came out, but like so many books and stories I’ve talked about so far, it came in the mail, I was busy, and well, here I am. So, sorry, Trudy, but like with everyone else, I hope it’s better late than never.

For today’s post, I’ve chosen the title story, “The Bones of Garbo,” as I haven’t done a title story in a while and I really like it, too. “The Bones of Garbo” features Sandy, a high schooler who’s won a role in a school play, hoping this leads to more acting, maybe acting for a living. Sandy, however, is just a semi-central character, as we meet Sandy’s mom (a teacher at her school), her mom’s current beau (another teacher and the director of the play), her not-quite-boyfriend Kerry, and a new, strange girl named Kimber, who moves in with her and her mom for a variety of reasons. It’s this new relationship with Kimber, whom everyone thinks is a narc because of how she dresses and her sauerkraut odor, that becomes the focus of the story. It also introduces the obsession with long-dead actor Greta Garbo. Kimber’s a big fan, plus, she even looks a bit like Garbo (though it’s noted that Garbo never looked like the same person in any shot, so Garbo looked like a lot of people). Sandy and Kimber spend a lot of time together and the story takes on an almost duel-protagonist feel, Sandy on the periphery of Kimber’s schemes more often than not.

What happens in the rest of the story might not be as important as how the story is written. Lewis uses a variety of perspectives, narrative styles, and foci to tell her tale. Composed of vignettes—some a paragraph long, some a couple of pages—varying from one-sentence facts about Garbo, to third-person narratives about Sandy, to scene descriptions of the Garbo movies Sandy and Kimber watch. At times, the story is third limited from Sandy’s perspective; at others, we slip into Mr. Morris’ point of view (he’s the drama teacher/mom boyfriend). Lewis comes at us from all directions, giving us a lot of different views, ensuring that we’re unsure of what to think, of whose story this is, of who’s telling the truth. I really love stories that include encyclopedic factoids the way Lewis uses them here, the story of Garbo paralleling Sandy’s. Or is it Kimber’s? Or maybe Garbo’s life represents their friendship. Or maybe it doesn’t represent anything. The real point here is the accumulation of details, of characters, of writing styles. Holistically, it’s a wondrous maze of scenes that add up to a really awesome way to tell this complicated tale. 

Before today, I’d only read The Empire Rolls and a few stories by Trudy Lewis, but after investigating The Bones of Garbo, I have a much rounder picture of this author, whom I admire for so many reasons. “The Bones of Garbo” the story couldn’t be more different than The Empire Rolls, at least in terms of characters, setting, and style, but then again, that novel also employs an alternating point of view, a back-and-forth pattern between two characters. I like that I’ve gotten to this book, relieved, even, as I enjoyed each of the stories I read. Plus, the truth is out there (yes, X-Files restarted tonight), how I hadn’t before. I can breathe easy, until it happens again, probably tomorrow, with the next friend’s book I’ve been putting off.

Trudy Lewis

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One thought on “January 25: “The Bones of Garbo” by Trudy Lewis

  1. Pingback: July 7: “Bugout” by Jon Trobaugh – Story366

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