Welcome to Mondy, Story366! It’s finals week here, meaning I have a lot of grading to do in the next couple of days, then summer. I’ve noted this countdown a few times in the last week, and if you’re in academia, you know what I’m talking about, that last stretch before summer arrives. Summer means the freedom to get to a lot of projects, both academic and practical: I’m looking forward to writing and reading more, but also to tending to my garden and fixing some things around my house. Oh, and my family. Yeah, them, too.
And if you’re not in academia, then maybe none of this makes any sense. Or, there’s not a lot of sympathy pouring out of you for teacher-types like me. Sure, we have a lot of work to do at this time of the year, at the end of every semester, but then there’s over three months off, right? Nobody else gets three months off unless they’re professional athletes. I’ve made the mistake of moaning a bit about busy weeks to family members, only to have them, understandably, point out that I get a long break, a break unlike any they’ll ever get. I’m then supposed to counter with “But we have to do research during that time, because if we don’t, we could lose our jobs.” If you are in academia, you know how fruitless that can be, explaining research and such thing to family. My mom, bless her, still asks me when I visit over why I’m reading, writing, even checking email because she thought I was on break. I’ll bet many of you have had that same reaction. This used to frustrate me, but at this point, it’s just adorable.
In short, summer in three days. Yay!
For today’s post, I read from Jody Paloni’s brand-new collection They Could Live with Themselves, out less than a week ago from Press 53. It’s a collection of linked stories, and while I’ve only read a few so far, they indeed have connections. From what I can tell, it’s more of a Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio-type, different stories set in a town with characters crossing over, rather than a novel-in-stories, or a collection following one character, like the recent books I’ve covered Ask for a Convertible by Danit Brown or The Alice Stories by Jesse Lee Kercheval. And that’s cool. Winesburg, Ohio is an American classic. Either way. It’s all good.
I could have written about any of the stories I’ve read so far—the first three—but have chosen“Wonder Woman,” firstly because it’s my favorite of the three, and secondly because of Karen, who drinks coffee from a Wonder Woman mug every morning, who is a true Wonder Woman herself. So, “Wonder Woman.”
“Wonder Woman” is about this kid, Rory Tree, who works in a hardware store (owned by an earlier story’s protagonist’s husband, the aforementioned link). He’s a freshman in high school and he works with a couple of real dillrods, Davey and Jeremy, who kind of torture him, when they feel like it. One day, in walks Melissa Wiley, the prettiest and most perfect sophomore in town, and because she’s popular and spoiled and guys will do anything for her, she’s not friendly and aids in the theft of Rory’s new bike with Davey and Jeremy. Rory, in the meantime, can’t take his eyes off her breasts—she’s a sophomore in high school with breasts—though she thinks he’s been staring at her necklace, given to her by her brother before a recent deployment; when the necklace goes missing, Melissa blames Rory, which is why she takes part in the bike scheme.
Okay, so that’s the set-up. Geeky freshman kid, gorgeous older ideal. Is Melissa the Wonder Woman in the story? Yeah, of course, but only as a parallel to a Wonder Woman sculpture Rory’s building in his barn, a chicken-wire-and-scrap-metal-type thing that sounds pretty cool—young Rory seems legit, thinking of ways to represent Wonder Woman’s different parts, visiting the junkyard, letting it possess him (until Melissa enters his life), a true artist.
Eventually, Melissa shows up at the Tree family farm, seeking redemption: She gets Rory his bike back. And they hang out. It even seems, at a couple of points, like Melissa—whom Rory thinks is way out of his league—actually likes Rory in that way and they might kiss, be boyfriend and girlfriend. That would be a perfect and happy story, but there’s complications—it’s a short story, and a good one, so of course there are! Not even in fiction can artistic types make themselves happy, give themselves the girl. They gotta muck it up somehow, and in ways I won’t go into, Rory—via Paloni—muck it up.
“Wonder Woman” is a really cool story about growing up, about cliques, about pain, about desire, about frustration. It’s painful to read at times, but redeeming and hopeful at others—you know, like being an actual teenager. Paloni nails this voice as well as she nails the momaholic Molly in “Molly Sings the Blues,” a completely different character, yet similar in how both Molly and Rory are drawn to a person in need of a friend. I like They Could Live with Themselves quite a bit, and definitely plan on seeing what else Paloni does in this impressive debut, where else the links take us, how this all ends. I’ll have time—summer’s almost here.