Saturday: Story366 is looking at you!
Today I took part in a live Zoom reading series called SpoFest, run out of Sedalia, Missouri, by a really cool guy named James Brynt. It started as a local reading series that focuses on Missouri authors, but is branching out as it gains popularity. The Karen, as Poet Laureate of Missouri, has been a guest several times, and hooked me up with the gig. It was fun as I got to read a couple of my new stories, hear some other people read with me—Walter Bargen, Aliki Barnstone, my colleague at MSU, Jen Murvin—and also go to chat with the other authors after the reading was over. I had a tremendous time and got to meet some interesting people, which nowadays, is all I can ask for when I log onto my computer. I highly recommend that you check out SpoFest, as they do a weekly live reading and it seems like it’s a blast, each and every time.
Today I read from Barbara Kingsolver‘s 1990 collection, Homeland, brought to us by HarperCollins. Before today, I’ve not read any of Kingsolver’s writing, and until I picked up this collection yesterday, didn’t know she wrote stories. She is known for her novels, particularly The Poisonwood Bible, and recently, some interesting nonfiction projects. I remember her serving as guest editor for Best American Short Stories one year and kind of wondering how they chose her, as she wasn’t known for stories. But hey, I don’t think that’s necessarily one of the criteria they look for, if the writers are known for stories. In any case, I was happy to have this book, to jump in and see what Kingsolver does.
The first story is the title story, “Homeland,” and is about a young girl, Glorie, who lives in Kentucky with her mom, dad, brothers, and grandmother, Ruth, whom she calls Great Mam. Great Mam is the very definition of a matriarch, the last link to past generations, but also containing this stateliness and regality that makes her seem like a living icon. Great Mam is at the end of her life and the family decides she needs to see her home in Tennessee, a Cherokee reservation, one more time before she dies. They make the trip, only to find out her home isn’t exactly what anyone thinks it is.
“Covered Bridges” is about a couple thinking of having a kid after a lot of years of thinking they weren’t going to have a kid. When they babysit for a friend of theirs and things go awry, they begin to rethink, but not in the way you’d expect.
Today I’m focusing on “Blueprints,” instead of the title story like I usually would, as I just really enjoyed this story. This one’s about Lydia, who just moved to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with her husband, Whitman. The couple used to live in Sacramento and were kind of a power couple, lots of friends, a big house, and cemented identities. For this reason and that, they decide to Green Acres it out to the sticks, where they don’t have friends, identities, or even all that much space.
That third one’s the trick, as before long, the two are on top of each other (and not in the sexy way). Their old house had closets they didn’t use, but now, the cabin is one big room, save the bathroom, where both of them run off for alone time. They think about solutions like drawing a line across the middle of the room neither can cross, à la It Happened One Night, just to stake out their space. What was supposed to be a new start, a second, happier life, instead leads them down a path toward divorce.
Lydia has one new friend, Verna, an old local who is her lone confidant, always full of advice and reassurance and rural treasures. Verna on one hand exemplifies how Lydia could be happy in this place, and on the other hand, offers all kind of suggestions on how to make life more palatable. Unfortunately for Whitman, sometimes that goes against what he thinks, or for that matter, his own good.
Kingsolver ends “Blueprints” with an exciting twist (which she also does in “Covered Bridges”), raising the stakes of her story and leaving the ending somewhat mysterious. It’s a good story, for the plot and characters I’ve described, but Kingsolver has a knack for making her readers like her characters, to root for them through the dilemmas, as they’re easy to empathize with.They’re good people who find themselves in interesting predicaments. It’s a good formula, a skill she no doubt employs to even greater success in her novels.
So, I’ve now read Barbara Kingsolver, via her lone story collection, Homeland, which is one of the beauties of Story366: Me reading writers I should have read a long time ago. I should find time to read The Poisonwood Bible, too, at the very least, as it’s a notable book from my lifetime by a writer I now admire, a writer who’s worked I’ve enjoyed. Why wouldn’t I?