Hello there, Story366! Hope you’re having a good weekend. As I write this, I’m en route from today’s Cub game, my brother maneuvering through traffic and road construction while I sit in the passenger seat. I’m heading to a barbecue to hang out with some of my friends from high school as soon as I get home and showered (see yesterday’s post on that topic), so I’m taking this non-driving opportunity to get my post done today.
I read a few stories from J. California Cooper’s collection Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, out from Anchor Books. I had not read anything by Cooper before, so you can throw her in that group of writers with a ton of books—at least a dozen—whom I hadn’t read before, a group that for Story366 purposes, included William H. Gass and Lee Smith. I knew I had to fit Cooper into the project, so here we are.
The few stories I read from Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime all feature a first-person narrator who seems to know the characters in the stories, but isn’t directly involved with the plot, almost like an automatic quarterback on a playground football team. This voice may or may not get her own story (or stories)—I only read a few pieces—and the book may or may not culminate in some consensus of characters, or serve as some arc for this storyteller. Her role is as peripheral narrator, if we’re looking for the Fiction 101 term for her perspective, giving the pieces in the book the feel of yarns as much as stories.
To note, to understand the feel of Cooper’s work, this narrator also employs colloquialisms and other hallmarks of a particular African Amerian dialect, e.g., using “chile” for “child” and “sho” for “sure.” She uses exclamation points a lot. The stories also seem set a bit back in time, somewhere in the early or mid-twentieth century, giving them a feel of an era gone by.
The piece that really stands out is “Somebody for Everybody,” a story, like all those I read in the collection, about relationships. This pieces stands out, however, because of its blatant sexual themes, Cooper unabashedly and directly writing about adult topics. The narrator explains that the story—there’s definitely a meta feel to her as well—is shaped like a V, two points converging into one (and that V takes on more significance soon enough). One point of the V is Kissy, a smalltown girl who moved to Chicago, but after years of not finding love, moves back home. The other point of the V is Bud, a cab driver in that same small town, a guy who’s had problems finding a mate in his own right.
So what’s the obvious sexual content that I’m talking about? Why can’t either of these people find love? It’s pretty simple. Kissy has an enormously spacious vagina and can’t find a man to satisfy her, while Bud’s penis is so gargantuan, not only do the women in his town fear him, but they even mock him. Of course, anyone reading the story, read this setup, is going to immediately think, Kissy and Bud should have sex and fall in love! And neither Cooper nor her narrator deny that at any point; it’s not really a matter of if these two characters will find each other, solve each other’s unique problems. “Somebody for Everybody” is more about the dance that Cooper makes them go through to find each other, and after that, realize how corresponding their puzzles pieces are.
Cooper gives each character’s backstory, description of their issues, and then the circumstances in which they meet: Kissy returns home, giving up on love (not to mention sexual satisfaction, considering herself a virgin despite many lover), and Bud picks her up at the airport. Again, Cooper doesn’t allow these two to find each other right away—it’s not like the topic of their huge genitalia would come up on the ride into town—but Bud falls for Kissy, anyway, not knowing how destined they truly were for each other. The courtship moves slowly, Cooper teasing the inevitable.
“Somebody for Everybody” is a fun story about a preposterous topic, two grotesque characters, and how they find each other. J. California Cooper passed away in 2014, but I’ve heard that she was a lively, funny performer and I would have loved to have seen her read, especially this story. I’m glad that I finally got a taste of what she wrote, and am sorry I never did when she was alive, publishing her books, so I could anticipate what came next.