Can you believe it, Story366? The Cubs are in Game 7 of the World Series right now! And they’re winning, in the fourth inning, 3-1! And can you believe I’m actually writing this blog now, during the game?! Like during previous playoff games, I find the tension unbearable, and while I’d love to be sitting on my couch, calmly watching this game, enjoying it for what it is, I simply cannot. I’ve gone into this already, so I’m not going to go into it any more, but yeah, the biggest sports day of my life, by far, and I’m writing about a short story.
When choosing a book today, I thought about finding a baseball-related story, though that would have taken some serious investigation through tables of contents, which I didn’t have time for. Still, I wanted to do something special today, as it’s a special day … Cubs up 4-1 now … so I picked my friend, Roy Kesey. Roy was the original Dzanc Books author, the guy who started it all with his collection All Over, plus a reprint of his chapbook Nothing in the World. My book Elephants in Our Bedroom was the third or fourth book taken, so Roy and I did some readings together, had our promo photos on the same fliers, and ran some guns from Nicaragua to … oh, wait, that wasn’t Roy. But he was the first Dzanc author and he’s cool and talented as … Cubs up 5-1 in the fifth … shit.
Today I read from Kesey’s most recent collection, Any Deadly Thing, out from Dzanc as well. I got through the first three stories, remembering immediately that Kesey’s stories are often set in South America, where he often lives, his wife some sort of dignitary or ambassador, someone who does something important, I’m sure. This gives Roy a window into places I don’t know anything about, including Belén, Iquitos, Peru, where “Bloodwood” is set.
“Bloodwood” is about this unnamed American guy who’s living in this tiny village, supposedly the largest city in the world not accessible by a highway. In fact, in the rainy season, people have to take canoes from their stilted houses to the market. Our guy is a carpenter, with fair but not great skills and equipment, and also does a weekly radio show called The English Hour, the only hour during the week that’s in English. He occasionally beds a local woman and more than occasionally gets taken by some mini-scam by this kid, Lorenzo, who has been nickel-and-diming him for years. One of his more lucrative gifts to Lorenzo was a pair of leather sneakers, which Lorenzo’s older brother adopts, sneakers that this brother are eventually murdered for. In other words, our guy and Lorenzo have history.
Stuff has happened: Cubs now up 6-3 in the bottom of the sixth.
The plot of “Bloodwood” really gets going when a stranger approaches our carpenter for a fancy credenza, one made of a rich South American wood called bloodwood (hence the title, in all it’s metaphoric-sounding glory), complete with a detail called French dovetail joints on the drawers. Our guy isn’t sure he has the materials, workspace, or skill to pull this off, but this stranger is willing to pay through the nose and our guy figures he can figure it out. He just needs to find this nice, expensive wood, on credit, and ask about these fancy joints. Things for our guy look to be on the upswing.
This doesn’t change when he goes to his weekly radio show one day to find he has a special unnanounced guest, a local woman who goes by “The Poetess.” The Poetess reads bad poems, and not even in English, but our protagonist doesn’t care as she’s perhaps the most attractive woman he’s ever seen. Of course, he asks her out, but is denied. That’s okay, as he has a credenza to construct, so he gets on that.
A week or so passes and the credenza’s almost done, wood acquired, joints mastered. Of course, since this is a short story, so this is the perfect time for things to start going wrong, and they do. Our carpenter hears a knock on his door and opens it to find the Poetess standing there. Wait, did I mention that our guy has a pet capuchin monkey named Assface? Well, to get out of his hut and away from an annoying and scene-stealing Assface, the two humans go for a walk. Upon their return, our carpenter notices that the nearly finished credenza is missing. Our guy figures it is Lorenzo, who’s scams have been edging closer and closer to crimes. A chase ensues, the guy knowing he’s already gotten an advance for the piece, which he can’t refund, and that he won’t be able to get any more bloodwood on credit. His life might depend on him running down his ware.
I won’t go any further into the plot of “Bloodwood,” as I want to leave you something to read for yourself. It’s an exciting story—remember, chase—and it features an interesting protagonist in a setting that’s unique to me, to most stories I read. I really liked following this guy as he lived his life, the twists and turns that it took, nothing ever easy, though a lot of that’s due to the choices he makes. Plus, I kept wondering how this guy ended up in Peru, anyway, in this life situation. It’s not like he’s on a mission or researching a book or anything; something from his past has him hiding out here, likely the same kind of something that’s got him into this credenza jam.
Cubs still up 6-3, bottom of seventh.
Roy Kesey is one of my favorite contemporary short story writers, someone who always challenges me as a reader and as a writer … Cubs up 6-3 still, bottom of eighth.
Okay, the game has taken some turns since I typed that last sentence, as it’s now 6-6 in the tenth inning. There was a rain delay. The Cubs have a couple of guys on with one out in the top of the ninth.
Back to Roy Kesey and how much I think of his writing, this collection, and the story “Bloodwood.” Kesey has a way with tense situations, and “Bloodwood,” and the other stories I’ve read from Any Deadly Thing are consistent with this skill, his characters often …
So sorry, Roy. I should end here? Or should I talk more about characters and properly instituted conflict? I think I should go watch the end of the World Series. I think you get the picture.