June 29, 2020: “The Odditorium” by Melissa Pritchard

Monday again, Story366!

Today I continue with my week of posting on an author for a second time, meaning I already covered them once, but have a different/new book by them and am doing that book now instead. That doesn’t really roll off the tongue, not like Sweeps Week or Taco Tuesday. Two-Timers Week? Sure. Let’s call this Two-Timers Week.

Dave Housley yesterday started us off and Melissa Pritchard is second today with The Odditorium, out in 2012 from Bellevue Literary Press. I originally covered Pritchard in June of 2016, reading from her Disappearing Ingenue: The Misadventures of Eleanor Stoddard (and a story about the Brach heiress murder, if I’m not mistaken). I remember writing that entry in a Drury Inn in Collinsville, Illinois, on the way to a trip to Chicago, my family down at the pool as I pecked away at the desk. I loved that book and love The Odditorium as much, maybe even more.

The Odditorium, as the title might indicate, is filled with stories about the unconventional, misfits who have a place in this world, even if that place is not having a place. The lead story, “Pelagia, Old Fool,” is a romp about this mid-nineteenth-century Russian woman who goes from unwilling bride to outcast to nunnery convict to saint over the course of various circumstantial and incredible adventures. It’s a riot, really, one that includes some tragedy, too. Bonus points to Pritchard for following Pelagia throughout her whole life, and beyond, through Russian history, all the way to Gorbachev. There’s even an epilogue, of sorts, at the end, called “Three Morals,” three random anecdotes/vignettes that I liked, too.

I next read “Ecorché: Flayed Man,” which is switching-POV story, told from three different perpsectives, thethree links on the chain of what happens to a body, in Florence, Italy, in 1798. First there’s the Collector, who finds the bodies, then the Director, who does the dissection and research on the body, and finally, the Anatomist, who prepared the body for display and final rest. The story starts by following this chain as it deals with the corpse of a beautiful young woman, incidents that lead us to see our three protagonists display some rather lewd and disgusting behavior. The story moves beyond the girl, eventually, focusing on these three sad little men more as individuals. Again, after, Pritchard adds a three-part epilogue made of vignettes. Makes me think she likes doing that, adding trios of little stories onto the main story.

I’m focusing on the title story today, “The Odditorium,” which is basically a first-person, primary-resource account of Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe It … or Not! fame. Part of it seems like literary biography, which I liked. I used to read those Ripley books when I was a kid and liked the TV show with creepy, pre-Oscar Jack Palance as the host. So, I liked the facts of Ripley’s life, like how he was funded by William Randolph Hearth. That he was a womanizer, but only married once, for less than nine months. Or that he traveled around the world, himself, decked out in a pith helmet and safari gear, looking for his treasures. Best of all? His swimsuit also included a pith helmet. Now I kind of want to read a full-length biography about this guy.

The story also focuses on a character that’s often referred to as The Appendage, one Norbert Pearlroth, who served as Ripley’s researcher. As dedicated and anal as Ripley was about finding artifacts, Pearlroth proved just as thorough, spending thousands upon thousands of hours in the New York Public Library, making sure every stunning fact was accurate, every unreal claim true, every preposterous boast legitimate. This went on for over forty years. And the weird thing? He and Ripley never met.

That’s really most of the story, except there’s a semi-revelation at the end, that the narrator of this story is Pearlroth himself, and I say “semi” because I kind of knew that the whole time. But I think that’s part of the narrator’s voice, his character, to end the story with that flourish—I think Pritchard knows we know, but is letting poor Norbert have a moment.

As this is a first-peripheral story, with an out-of-body add-on thrown in, I get a Nick/Gatsby vibe here, that Pearlroth admires Ripley, especially at the story, but there’s also some underlying frustration, even some jealousy. Ripley got to be the face of the venture, the celebrity, while Pearlroth had his books. Maybe I’m misreading that, but maybe not.

Before I conclude, I have to note that Prithcard is an absolute master at sentences. I don’t quote texts here very often, but check out this line from “Pelagia, Old Fool”:

Father Seraphim, many years dead and a venerated saint, arrived to administer the sacraments, and Anna claimed to have seen with her own eyes an angelic being descend through the roof, whisk Pelagi off in its alien arms, and return her, babbling incoherent, at dawn.

And that’s just one example: Most of the story is made up of sentences of that complexity and structure, adding to the absolute joy of reading this piece.

Again, I can’t believe I put off reading this book for so long simply because I’d already read one of Melissa Pritchard’s books. The Odditorium is a beautifully weird collection, chock full of Pritchard’s master over the English language and uncanny ability to spot and peg an oddball. This is a book I want to eat up, reading it so fast, so hard, that it’s like I never avoided it for so long, so stupidly. What a fantastic writer Pritchard is, and what a book she’s given us.


June 28, 2020: “Goliath” by Dave Housley

Sunday Sunday Sunday, Story366!

So today’s the day that starts a significant change to Story366 policy: Today I’m covering an author I’ve already covered here. I mentioned I was going to have to start doing this earlier this week, as I’m fresh out of new books by new authors. It’s by far the easiest of my original Story366 rules to relax, as writers write more than one book, and furthermore, why the heck not? For the most part, I’ll also be covering authors I covered four years ago, when all this started; four years is plenty big a buffer, I think, between entries. So, no big deal—it’s not like these authors are giving me payola to keep them on the airwaives.

Technically, I’ve already double-dipped on authors once, as I covered Dana Diehl and Melissa Goodrich’s co-authored collection back in January, after writing on each of their own collections earlier in the project. They are sort of the beta test to this venture.

As I restock my new-author pile—books are on their way—today will kick off a week of previously covered authors, as I have a bunch of those, books I’ve been saving up for the inevitability of today. I will probably at least link up my first entry on the author (which I do, below), though I probably won’t spend too much time revisiting that original post, no compare and contrast, as I simply don’t want to see myself up for a harder, longer-to-complete task.

I know all of this matters to me much more than it matters to anyone else, but I’m glad I’ve stuck to my rules. It’s allowed me to reach nearly six hundred different authors and collection so far, which is something I’m extremely proud of here. Good for the authors, good for me, good for my readers.

But it’s time to change things up.

Without further ado, here’s the lucky first candidate for a second (solo) entry: Dave Housley, founder and editor of Barrelhouse, and author of Commercial Fiction, which I covered here in March of 2016, focusing on his story, “Cialis.” That books is literally a parody/tribute/send-up of famous TV commercials, and I enjoyed it a lot. Today I read from If I Knew The Way, I Would Take You Home, from Dzanc in 2015. This means I could have covered this book back in 2016 instead, and that it’s been on my shelf for over four years. Ugh. But that’s the great part of Story366—especially now, that I’m doubling up on authors—that I’m finally reading books like this one by Housley, cast aside simply because I’d read his other book. Why did I have that rule again?

To know Housley’s work is to know that he writes about pop culture extensively, as he was not born of humans, but is the offspring of a TV and and a record player; I’ve heard tell he is one-sixteenth film projector on his TV’s side. As I mentioned, his first book is all about commercials, and this one seems to be about music, though that’s not entirely true. The first story is called “Be Gene” and is about a guy named Eddie who has to stoke himself up for his forthcoming gig as Gene Simmons in a KISS cover band. He gets ready—the costume and makeup are easy—but he must become The Demon if he’s doing his job. It’s fun to watch him prep, though it doesn’t help his confidence that he has a short tongue.

“Behind the Music: A Christmas Wish” is told from the perspective of the singer of a one-hit-wonder band, a guy starting every paragraph-long vignette with the line “All I Want for Christmas is …,” and then moving on to things like one more hit, a second chance, and for his bad to actually be able to play, for him to be able to sing. It’s kind of sad; actually, no, it’s really sad. And I love it.

Housley slips a few essays in at the end of the book. I read “How to Listen to Your Old Hair Metal Tapes,” which is one of those second-person imperative stories like “How to Be a Writer” that tells its tale in the form of commands. This one features Dave Housley himself, aka Däve Höusley, who finds his old mix tapes in the basement, gets pumped to listen to them, realizes he doesn’t have a cassette player, but when he finds one, rocks out with his cock out, for days on end.

Today I’m focusing on one of those non-rock stories I warned you about, “Goliath.” Housley starts off inside his protagonist’s nightmare, one in which he, David, is self-aware. David, we find out, is a former child star, and has dreams where he relives old episodes of his TV show, canceled years and years ago, often jolting him awake when he can’t remember a line. So, cool, an ex-child-star story.

When he wakes up, he gets a call from his parents, who want him to watch the family dog while they’re on vacation. David doesn’t really want to, but his parents insist. This will give David the chance to tell his parents about Sandy, his girlfriend, with whom he lives. This is a big no-no, as David grew up super-Christian and living with Sandy is, you know, living in sin. Sandy wants David to take this step, so David agrees, though it seems like there’s more to it, to why he doesn’t want to dogsit Goliath.

There’s a good chance you know where this is going, but I have to admit, I did not, not until Housley reveals it all-out. When David’s parents arrive with Goliath, there’s a short scene where the big Sandy revelation comes out, but that’s understated. The big scene, really, is the first time David is alone with Goliath, soon after, and Goliath starts talking to David. Yep, this is a fractured fictionalization of Davey and Goliath, that kids’ Christian claymation series from the sixties. Boom! Mic drop.

I feel a little dumb that I didn’t catch on to what’s going on here sooner. Maybe it’s because I was thinking this was still going to be a rock ‘n’ roll story somehow. Maybe I’ve had too much fried rice for dinner. Maybe I’ve tried to block the memories of that creepy show out of my head. But Housley got me, so he can punch my arm next time he sees me.

Anyway, David has been trying to leave the TV show behind, move on, especially in terms of faith: David’s not Christian anymore. Goliath is having none of it, though, and every time they’re alone, he preaches to David, to Daaaaavey, about his lapse. David just wants the week to be over, but when he doesn’t listen, Goliath starts to bring the justice of the lord down upon him. Things get knocked over. Sandy’s birth control goes missing. By the end of the story … I won’t reveal the end of the story.

Mind you, in case you forgot, David is made of clay. So is Goliath. Everyone is: It’s a clay world. Housley, however, made me forget all that as I read.

I will sit down and read the rest of If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home, as I love Housley’s stories. They’re well crafted, beyond clever, and easier to gobble up than a bowl of popcorn. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I’ve reached this point, that I’m going to be reading more collections by some of my favorite writers, writers I’ve avoided because of some self-induced clause that made no real sense. And to note, I have a third collection by Housley, Massive Cleansing Fire, on my shelf as well. Dare I go for the Housley trifecta? Even more insane? He has a fourth collection, another from Dzanc, Ryan Seacrest Is Famous, and I bet I could get my pals at Dzanc to send me a copy of that one, too. Maybe I should have a Dave Housley week? I guess I’d need like three or four more books for that. But Holy Housley, Batman, what a week it would be.



June 27, 2020: “Hungry” by David Bergen

Happy Saturday, Story366!

Today, unexpectedly,  became the day we look forward to all year: Today I got paid.

I get paid every month, by the way, usually on the thirtieth, so this is a few days early—that’s the unexpectedly part of that previous statement. The reason we look forward to this pay day in particular is because the July paycheck is the one where my summer school  pay shows up, the month we have extra money.

In some years, years without COVID-19, we’d be using some of this surplus for a vacation. If things don’t get out of hand, we might still try to camp somewhere at the end of July, get out of the Ozarks for a few days. This isn’t the year to go to Disneyland, though, or anywhere there’s a lot of people. There’s some talk of Mount Rushmore, but that might be a stretch, as it’ll either be too crowded or flat-out closed. Anywhere that’s not here might do. We’ve done here a lot.

What’s really so great about this month’s pay is we can get everything fixed. We used the stimulus money to do some of that, yeah, but every year, some of the things that break down, things that need a professional, get put off until this month. The thirtieth is Tuesday and I was planning to have a plumber in this house, first thing Tuesday, to fix three different sinks, both our toilets, and one of our showers, all of which are semi- to nonfunctional. Could we have had someone out earlier? Probably, though we’re thinking this is going to be a big job, with a big bill, so we put it off, knowing this day was coming. Now, with the early deposit, I get to do this on Monday.

We need an electrician out, too, but that’s less urgent. We need to paint our bathroom. I’ve wanted a weed wacker for a while and our sidewalks look like crap. I’d like to eat beef again. All of that is going to happen this week. I’m pretty excited.

Of course, we’re not really waiting for July 1 every year, chomping at the bit to have this extra money. Yeah, our plumbing situation has been bad, and it’ll be nice to have that taken care of. But I realized something several years ago, right around the time I turned 40: Stop wishing for time to pass . Time is going to disappear quickly enough without me crossing days off a calendar, all in the name of a little bit of money. Money will come and go. We’ve not had money. We’ve had money. In the end, it’s not what makes us happy.

The one thing we always lose, though, is time. We’re getting older. Our kids are getting older. People we know are getting older. To want time to pass more quickly is a privilege of the young.

.Today is that day that problems get solved. But it’s just a day. We took a nice hike, Zoomed with my family, and had dinner together. That, more than money, is what I look forward to. That’s something we can do every day. No need to look ahead.

Today I read from Canadian author David Bergen‘s 2020 collection, Here the Dark, out from Biblioasis. This is a book that got some press upon its release this year, so I was happy to track down a copy, to spend some time with it today, reading the first three stories . Usually, I read the title story, but in this case, that’s a lengthy novella, and I just didn’t put the time aside for that. But I do like what I’ve read here, so I’d like to revisit, see what Bergen does with a slightly longer form (to note, he’s also published nine novels, so he’s probably pretty good at longer).

The first story, “April in Snow Lake,” is about this young man whose girlfriend goes to Italy one summer to help with disaster relief. His pining for her is offset by the fact he works constantly, first driving a truck for an abbatoir and then pouring basements fourteen hours a day. On Sundays, he runs a Christian youth group and falls for one of the 17-year-old attendees, whose father puts him through a near-death experience to earn his daughter’s hand—or perhaps simply kill him.

Next up is “How Can n Men Share a Bottle of Vodka?” a story about a math teacher whose actor wife leaves him for another actor, leading him to fall in with a woman who has five kids. He works through his marital problems by running weird classroom sessions with his students, realizing what really makes him happy.

The story I’m writing about today is “Hungry,” which is my favorite of the three. This one’s about Sandy, whose life is pretty random and unfocused. He’s dating Tiff, who seems to like him, though their sex together makes her sad. He lives with his older brother, James, who’s a psycho dick. He skips high school a lot to work at the car wash, where he’s had to beat the shit out of his boss because his boss was harrassing him. There’s also a little boy named Wanda, a latchkey kid who hangs around their house and watches TV because his mom’s never home.

In the grand scheme of this story and its inhabitants, Sandy is the moral center. As random and unfocused everything above might seem, I’ve described it in a generally positive light. It’s actually much worse, bordering on sad. For one, people seem to pick on Sandy, in general, even though Sandy is good at fighting back. Already in the first paragraph, there’s just some random guy fucking with him, but he deals with it. Like he deals with his boss. At the end of the story, he deals with someone else, quite effectively. So for whatever reason, people screw with him, but he’s up to the challenge. It’s a weird and interesting character trait.

His relationship with Tiff is even more complex. At the start of the story, he finds Tiff leaving someone’s house, this someone having painted words all over Tiff’s body, in bathing-suit-type areas. Sandy blows it off—this someone was a woman—and they go back to his house. Wanda’s there—he’s always there, letting himself in—and after Sandy feeds Wanda (who utters the titular line, “Hungry,” whenever he wants food), they try to have sex but stop short of all-the-way, as remember, this makes Tiff sad.

The real complication in this story, which I’ll reveal somewhat, is when Sandy comes home from a particular errand—involving Wanda—only to find Tiff naked and bouncing up and down on naked James on the living room couch. The story ends, but not before Sandy, once again, avails himself and his sense of honor.

“Hungry” doesn’t have so much of a plot as it has a character acting and reacting in certain situations. I wouldn’t say Sandy changes here, though the situations he has to deal with do escalate, representing some rising action. I like all that about this story, that there isn’t some grand resolution or big shift for Sandy. His world is terrifying, but Bergen makes it interesting, makes me root like hell for this kid, who solves the shit out of his problems. I think I’d follow Sandy anywhere, into the depths of hell and back.

I feel like I should know David Bergen’s work, as Here the Dark is his tenth book. I guess that since this is his first collection, that amply explains why I don’t know him, as I don’t read that many novels. He’s also had more success in Canada than here in the States. But yet again, Story366 does its job and helps me find good stories by a new author. Another day, another victory.



June 26, 2020: “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination” by Vandana Singh

Friday’s here, Story366!

Tonight is movie night at the Czyzniago household. We were supposed to watch Aquaman, but something’s up with the on-demand thing on our Firestick and it didn’t work. So, we’ve decided on Back to the Future instead, a movie neither one of our boys has ever seen. I have an anecdote about Back to the Future I could share now, but I don’t think I will. Firstly, I’m pretty sure I’ve shared that anecdote before on Story366 (I’ll track that down); secondly, I think I’d like to get to movie night, so I’ll end this part of the post with haste. Summary: Back to the Future.

Today I read from Vandana Singh‘s 2018 collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories, published by Small Beer Press. This has been my first experience with Singh’s work, which I alway enjoy, never knowing what to expect.

Singh’s stories are long, not to mention filled with sciencey references and laden with sci-fi concepts, so I only go through two selections today. Both of them, however, are top-notch speculative stories, stories I really got into, for their complexity and Singh’s brilliant imagination.

“Lifepod” is about a woman—or an entity, really, as it’s not sure if it’s a woman or ever was one—that finds itself on a Lifepod, heading to another planet from what we assume is Earth. Two humans are in stasis on the ship, sleeping away the long journey, and as far as the protagonist can tell, its function is to monitor these beings during the trip. As it scans their minds—it can do that, it realizes—we learn about an invasion that has ravaged the planet, anhilation-style. We’re left to wonder if these two beings—perhaps not coincidentally a young man and woman—aren’t the only two humans left. The protagonist also struggles with her/its own identity as a mother, longing for a son that might also be real or might be a dream. All in all, it’s a fascinating cross of old-fashioned alien invasion lore and existential self-examination.

The title story, “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination,” is set up as a lecture, which leads into an actual exam, given by the Ministry of Abstract Engineering, to candidates who want to achieve the rank of Junior Navigator. They are given three accounts—these accounts make up the bulk of this story—testimonies of the topographers of Conceptual Machine-Space who had been sent out exploring, tracing reports of conceptual, i.e., non-traditional, machines.

See? I told you this was stuff you had to work a bit to absorb.

Anyway, the three acounts are all pretty great stories within themselves. The first machine is one constructed by a Mongolian engineer while he is held prisoner, for years, by a foreign government in a cave. He is supposed to be making a machine of war for his captors, or else he’ll be put to death—and yes, this sounds a lot like Iron Man so far. But instead of escape or revenge, or whatever else Tony Stark wanted, all this engineer wants to do is build a machine that will show him an image of his beautiful wife, extracting memories and images from his head. There’s a twist at the end of this account I won’t reveal here, but like the story of the monkey’s paw, this machine offers more than its inventor had bargained for.

The second machine seems more like a phenomenon, as lightning strikes the courtyard of a church and causes some weird stuff to happen. A mathematician and her artist wife go to explore, and suddenly, the mathematician disappears. Years later, when the artist is an old woman, the mathematician reappears, still young: This ambiguous machine is a time machine, but not only that: The mathematician has lived several lifetimes, in different eras, searching out the same anomaly that caused her trip through time, hoping to randomly replicate the process and find her way home. The hitch? Well, I’ve already said too much.

The third account is about an archaeologist who takes her team into a distant, strange land, a land in which they must wear veils and helmets because there’s something not quite right about the air. After a while in the village as guests, the archaeologist decides to take her protective facegear off—she’d fair well in 2020, it seems—only to find that she has a mental rapport with the villagers, that this loom theyve been using to weave an elaborate tapestry seems to be some kind of psionic device that links everyone together. Again, as you may be guessing at this point, this discovery offers an unfortunate side effect to those involved.

Oh, by the way, each account mentions contact with a small gray stone, one with a vein of pink running through its surface. So, that.

At the end of the story, the Junior Navigator candidates are given their exam, where they’re supposed to use what they learned from these accounts to show how they would … navigate something? It doesn’t really matter,  though, as this frame isn’t really all that critical. The meat of the story, the discovery of these three “ambiguous machines,” is what makes this piece so special.

I enjoyed reading these stories from Vandana Singh’s collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories, stories that felt like ingenius mini-novels, so full of concept and idea. Singh has a massive imagination, along with the writing chops to see it all come to fruition. Glad I came across this book and writer, who echoes her hero and mentor, Ursula K. Leguin, quite a bit here. And that’s the best compliment I can offer her, I’d bet.




June 25, 2020: “Fresh Complaint” by Jeffrey Eugenides

Thursday comes to us, Story366.

I’m going to plagiarize myself today for the opening of my post. I thought these following thoughts when I happened to be on FB this morning, not writing this blog, and I think they’ll probably be my best thoughts of the day on a random topic:

In non-essential news, I wonder if Major League Baseball is ready to have a team be in first place most of this 60-game season, then have several of their guys come down with the virus right before the playoffs. Do they delay the playoffs? Do they send that team forward with minor-league replacements?

Now imagine if a team is up two or three games in the World Series and a bunch of guys come down with it. Or if it’s tied. Or whatever. Do they delay the Series until everyone’s healthy, or does the sick team forfeit and the title goes to the other team by default?

I’m actually asking here: Are there plans for these types of scenarios? I want baseball back as much as anybody, probably more, but am worried that this will all become a test of who’s the healthiest. Or an exercise in the absurd.”

Got a lot of reasonable responses to this, a lot of smart people I know adding on to the fool’s errand MLB might be setting itself up for. Like every worst-case, overcautious scenario I’ve posited since early March, I hope I’m wrong: I hope this MLB season goes off without a hitch, nobody gets sick, be it player, supporting staff, or fan, and we all find some solace in America’s pastime, are entertained, and the time between now and when we have a vaccine seems shorter. Plus, maybe more people will just stay the hell home and watch games on TV instead of going out, as they’ve been doing. Who knows.

And yeah, the start of my note says, “In non-essential news …,” which is mostly apparent, right? I mean, there’s a lot of stuff going on the in the world. Sure, what I say above about baseball serving as a welcome distraction is true. I personally know a lot of people whose lively are adversely affected by no MLB. And people sure liked talking baseball over on FB—instead of, you know, the deadly virus and unconscionable acts against minorities—at least for a change of pace.

But still: the deadly virus and unconscionable acts against minorities ….

Today I read from Jeffrey Eugenides‘ 2017 collection, Fresh Complaint, brought to us by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I’m pretty sure I haven’t read a short story by Eugenides since I read “The Virgin Suicides,” pre-The Virgin Suicides novel, like twenty years ago. But it’s easy to categorize Eugenides as a major American writer—he won that Pulitzer for Middlesex—so when I saw he had a story collection out, I definitely made sure to track a copy down.

I ended up reading the bookend stories of the collection, the first and last, both of which have titles that involve complaining. That first story is called “Complaining,” actually, and is a lovely tale about two elderly women—Cathy and Della—who see Della through the early stages of her dementia diagnosis and plans for her care. Along the way, we get the backstory of their friendship, how they met, why they’re such good friends, etc., as well as growing implication as to why Cathy takes over Della’s care from her somewhat incompetent sons. It’s a rare story that focuses on women of this age and how their relationship is formed over many years. The perspective also shifts between the two women, a back-and-forth kind of thing, bring unique insight—and some unreliability—to Della’s state.

The title piece, “Fresh Complaint,” is another split-perspective story, this time shared by Matthew and Prakrti. This one starts out with Matthew, in England, finding out that “the charges against him” have been dropped, that it’s okay for him to return to America, to see his children again (not before he spins a top to make sure he’s not dreaming, of course …).

So Eugenides works backward here, which is a neat trick, drawing us in and building some tension. He effectively skips around in time throughout, between the past and present, between both characters, making for a complex and even mysterious read. I, from start to finish, genuinely wanted to know what was going to happen to Matthew, why he was in that predicament, and after I knew all that, what was going to happen to him. It’s kind of like an uncommonly great Law & Order episode, a comparision that Eugenides diffuses a bit by bringing it up himself.

In any case, back in the backstory, we find out that Matthew is a well published and somewhat famous physicist, the kind of guy who writes books and is able to tour with lectures because he’s interesting and real-people enough to pull that off. Early on, he’s in a coffee shop in Dover before such a lecture when he’s approached by a young woman, a student at the university who wants to meet him, says she’s a fan, and wants to hang out, there at the coffee shop and maybe again later, after the lecture. Matthew plays it cool, seems like he’s going to steer sharply away from this entanglement. At the end of the scene, however, Eugenides drops a subtle detail, Matthew looking up, albeit briefly, to check the woman out as she walks away.

From there we skip to Prakrti, who is forced to take a trip with her family to India. Eugenides doesn’t tell us this, but Prakrti is probably the girl who approached Matthew at the coffee shop, as she’s Indian and that’s how Matthew describes the girl there (spoiler: it’s her). In any case, Prakrti doesn’t want to be in India and doesn’t understand why she was taken out of school for this trip. That is until the end of the trip, when her mother reveals that the family they had lunch with the last day has a son: Prakrti’s family is trying to set up an arranged marriage.

Back to the physics lecture, the woman from the coffee shop—Prakrti, it’s soon revealed—shows up and gets Matthew to give her his phone number. They flirt a lot, so it’s no surprise that she’s able to text herself into his hotel room, and soon after, into his bed, but not before sending him out to a kiosk for a condom.

At this point, nothing’s all that surprising, just another story of a creepy middle-aged married dad using his scholastic prowess and influence to take advantage an undergrad (which is what happened, even if Prakrti approached him); in my world, we call that “academia.”

Except Eugenides makes it a lot better, a lot more complex. Soon the two threads, which just seemed like good backstory, start to come together.

Firstly, Prakrti ends the sexual encounter as soon as Matthew enters her—they literally have sex for one second before she removes herself from his embrace and then leaves his room. So, weird, but that’s her right and Matthew obliges (kind of like an anti-“Cat Person” scenario).

Things only get more complex, as the charges are filed, months later. Matthew is touring Europe and it takes the Dover police and the prosecutor weeks to even figure out who he is and track him down (information that Prakrti probably could have provided for them, but didn’t for some reason?).

The real “bombshell” is that Prakrti isn’t a college student at the university where Matthew was lecturing—she’s a high school junior, 16, well under the age of consent, making her the victim of statuatory rape. This is a law, by the way, Prakrti, researches extensively.

So, what’s going on here? Matthew is a bad guy, no doubt. He cheats on his wife, lets down his kids, gives into sordid temptation. He’s committed a crime and should be prosecuted. But Prakrti is playing at something here, too—this run-in with Matthew and case against him is in no way an accident.

I want to fully reveal what’s going on here, pretty badly, too, but just won’t here at Story366, especially not in a mystery-type story like this. I think I gave you all the clues you’d need to solve the case, though. So go to it.

There’s some commonality between the two stories I read from Fresh Complaint, like the root complain in the titles, but also Jeffrey Eugenides’ use of shifting perspective within the two stories. Do all the stories in-between do that, too? It makes me recall the fact that I cite Eugenides a lot in my classes, as he is the author who wrote a communal narrator novel, The Virgin Suicides, something I mention when I teach that POV, kind of the standard companion to “A Rose for Emily.”

But there’s so much more here, too, Eugenides’ patience, his ability to construct complex structures and reveal info at the proper rate. For years, I’ve sworn by the advice in my intro classes, to stay in one person’s perspective in a short story, no matter what (“The Babysitter” the exception that perhaps proves the rule). I’ve been reading more and more stories this year and that bend and break that rule, jumpt from character to character, and reading Eugenides may have put a nail in that coffin. I think I need to rethink how I teach point of view.

Oh, and I liked this book.


June 24, 2020: “State of Motion” by Laura Hulthen Thomas

Good day to you, Story366!

As June winds down, I want to let you know that there will be some changes coming to Story366. July 1 also brings the halfway point of the year, 183 entries of 366, and coincidentally, I’m also just about out of books. I have enough to get through this next week, but from there, a couple of different things can happen:

  1. I could start reading the pdfs of new books that I’ve been sen by authors and publishers.
  2. I could break my rule about not doing an author twice, as I have a decent stack of books by authors whom I’ve covered already, reading different collections.
  3. I could revisit some classic collections, or just books I’ve read in the past, breaking another original rule of not covering authors and books I’d already read.
  4. I could write more review copy request letters and hope for some ARC copies.
  5. I could invest a small personal fortune in purchasing more books.
  6. I could stop doing Story366 every day, shifting to a less-intense schedule.
  7. I could suspend the project at six months, stop writing new posts altogether.

Oddly, the one item from this list I’m least likely to do is #1. I simply don’t like reading pdfs and would also rather get the actual book—if I’m going to read a book, I like to have that book in my collection, on the shelf. Can’t put a pdf on a shelf. So, I’m not doing that. Too bad, too, as I have some good things in pdf form; still, I’d rather track down a copy than read something on my computer screen than not have that book on the shelf. It’s my problem, I know, but it’s also my project.

However, 2 and 3 are almost certainly going to happen. I don’t know if I’m going to be covering “Cathedral” from Cathedral any time soon, but there’s a lot of books I’ve read, once, years ago, that I could certainly revisit. Even more obviously, I will start covering authors a second time. That’s a no-brainer.

I’ve written a lot of presses and many have been generous. With COVID-19 out there, several have told me they’re simply not sending out hard copies. I completely understand that. Others haven’t answered, for various reasons. I can keep at it.

I will buy books, especially those I need to cover, major collections that have recently been released that I haven’t read. I will look for bargains.

In terms of stopping, or not doing this every day? Without doing any of the seven things I list above, I could get exactly one more week done, halfway through the year. Would anyone blame me if I stopped then, six months in? I’ve covered a lot of books already, discovered a lot of new authors, and have literally emptied my to-read shelf. If I wasn’t spending two to three hours doing this every day, I could use that time to do a lot of things, but mostly, to work on my own writing. Even if I covered a book a week, that would still allow me to cover new releases, read anything new that showed up in my mailbox, and be a good literary citizen. Halting, or maybe shifting to once a week, makes a lot of sense.

Will I, though? I talked this over with the Karen and she pointed out that I was just talking, that I wasn’t going to quit. She knows me, knows how stubborn I am once I put my mind to something.

Of course, she’s right. I’m going to soldier on as long as I can. The realization is, I have to come up with 183 more story collections in the next 190 days. I can certainly combine some of my options above, and will do so, to see how far I can get. If I have to resort to options #6 & 7, then I can do that later on. For now, I read. I write. I add books to my shelf.

Today I read from Laura Hulthen Thomas‘ 2017 collection, States of Motion, out from Wayne State University Press as part of their Made in Michigan Writers Series. This is my first contact with Thomas’ work, so yet another new author engaged.

The title story, or close to it, “State of Motion,” is about Moor, a woman with a lot on her plate. She’s a mom to Conner, and has volunteered to be a parent/coach for his model airplane-making team, something called an Olympiad, where he and a partner build a remote-control plane and compete against other teams to see how far they can get them to fly. Conner is teamed up with Terrence, who is dominant and kind of picks on Conner. Terrence’s mom, Kate, is an engineering PhD who oversees the whole competition. Early on, during a test run, Conner—who’s not good at piloting the plane—crashes it into the gymnasium lights, causing it to burst into flames, just a couple of days before the big competition.

Good thing Will is there. He’s the school janitor, but also the man Moor is having an affair with. They sneak off and fuck in the janitor’s closet whenever Moor can think of an excuse to be at the school—like coaching her son’s airplane-crafting team, for instance. Will is the one who comes and pulls the burning plane out of the light and there’s a lot of knowing glances between Will and Moor—they’d screwed about an hour before this—and Kate, whom Moor regrettably told about the affair, when drunk, one night after a practice.

Moor is married to Ivan, an actual aeronautical engineer, but a distant one. He doesn’t help Conner with his plane, ironically, as he’s always working, which, symbolically, is how he’s also lost Moor to Will. Basically, Ivan isn’t giving her what she needs, physically or emotionally, and Will is. It’s pretty simple.

All of Thomas’ stories are long, so every backstory, flashback, and anecdote gets a couple of pages, played out in full, so all of these scenes are pretty clear and detailed: Moor and Kate at the bar. Ivan not helping Conner. Will and Moor in the closet. Thomas puts it all on the page and her stories are lushly rememberable because of it.

Like with any big-game-as-finale story, this one ends with a flourish. Thomas concludes it at the model plane competition, all of the characters gathered together in the gym: Moor, Conner, Ivan, Will, Kate, Terrence, Terrence’s Dad, and this MacGuffin of a reason for them to interact. Thomas pays it all off with a grand fireworks display, all the parts coming together, but by no means forming any kind of workable machine.

Moor is a woman who’s trying to keep it altogether when it’s obvious that things are slipping further and further out of her control—all her own doing. Perry in “Sole Suspect” is kind of the opposite of that, as everything that possibly could have gone wrong for him has, none of it his own doing. His wife left him and his daughter abruptly, then died of breast cancer. That was just the precursor to his tragedy, though, as his daughter, Eliza, disappeared with her friend twenty years ago. Since, pretty much everybody has believed that Perry is the one responsible, including the other girl’s parents. He’s somewhat vindicated at the outset of the story when the car Eliza disappeared in, along with two bodies, are pulled from a nearby river, no sign of foul play. It might be too late, however, twenty years later, for Perry to salvage any semblance of a real life.

Lauren Hulthen Thomas spins long tales, spending a lot of time growing the characters in States of Motion, her debut collection. I’ve read a lot of shorts lately, and lots of books with nuanced syntax and prose. It’s good to find a book with long stories that really take the time to write out that backstory, to explore each and every one of the character’s thoughts, to tie all of it to the frontstory as effectively as Thomas does. These are solid, compelling stories, and I’m glad I spent time with them today.



June 23, 2020: “The Chicane” by Amy Hempel

Tuesday is Newsday, Story366!

Actually, every day is newsday. Or no day is. I don’t know why I wrote that. Rhyme?

Next topic: Is it dark out yet? Have I ever relayed my feelings about the summer solstice here? No? Yes? In any case, I’m a big fan of the longer days, of sunlight lasting well into the night, to almost nine o’clock in these parts, at the height of summer. Two days ago was June 21, the longest day of the year, sunlightwise, and I spent it on hiking trails with my son. That certainly maximized my outdoor time, my sunlight time (which, at times, was brutal and unforgiving).

The thing with me is, now that the days are technically growing shorter, I feel every so slightly glum. Sunlight will continue to disappear, some stupid time change (why do we still do that?) looms, and before I know it, my kid will be walking to the bus stop in the dark and we’ll be eating dinner in the dark, too. I hate short days, that feeling that night is lasting forever, that if you don’t get out at noon you’re not going to see any sun. Between December 21 and June 21? I have a miniscule feeling of glee, somewhere in the back of my mind the notion that things are getting better, that the world is getting brighter. June 22 until December 20? The opposite, a minor solemnity caused the the ever-shrinking daytime.

It’s not something I need counseling or medication for, and I’ve never been diagnosed with associative mood disorder, nothing like that. I just like a bright, sunny day, and for there to be some day left after I finish work. Today we have a minute or so less of that than we did yesterday, a minute or so less than the day before. See what I mean?

While I still had some light to work with, I read from Amy Hempel‘s 2019 collection, Sing to It, out from Scribner. I love, love, love Hempel and read through her collected-stories collection, The Collected Stories, a couple of times. I’m so glad to have this her latest book and to be able to finally cover her here at the ol’ 3-6-6.

Hempel writes a lot of flash fiction, which is perhaps how I see her, though the book includes just as many regular-sized stories as there are flash. The first two pieces are half a page long, for instance, including the title piece, “Sing to It,” exploring the semantics of metaphor, and commitment, between a woman and her husband. “The Orphan’s Lamb,” next up, is a love story, mostly, how a rancher seduces the protagonist, her particular way of swooning hit like a bullseye. Two stories in, I was already adjusted to this slight form, how great Hempel is with a stunted word count.

Hempel then jolted me with her third story, “A Full-Service Shelter,” a longer piece about a person who works at a dog shelter; Hempel, by the way, is notoriously into dogs, which serve as characters and themes throughout her work. This story all the things this person, the speaker, does for these animals. Hempel uses repetition as a device her, too, as each new paragraph, each new task, begins with “They know me as the person who …,” and continues on with mini-anecdotes of spraying down cages, taking the dogs for walks, and holding them as they’re euthanized; euthanization is where the story always seems to circle back.

Today I’ll focus on “The Chicane.” This is one of the longer stories and sports a pretty interesting perspective. The story starts in first person, but that first person disappears for quite a long time, making me more or less forget it was a first-person story (making it first peripheral, if we’re counting). In any case, this narrator tells the story of her aunt, Lauryn, a young Chicago woman studying abroad in Spain. As a student, Lauryn is seduced by a famous Spanish movie star, who sleeps with her and ends up getting her pregnant. When Lauryn reaches out to him, he does not answer, not even when she miscarries.

We jump a head a bit and Lauryn falls for Macario, a Formula 1 racer who notices her standing at the finish line, applauding him. Soon, Lauryn and Macario fall in love and get married in Portugal, Macario’s home. The two have a private ceremony in Lisbon and experience a lovely honeymoon stage, Macario’s wealth making it possible for them to simply reside in some European resort all summer and be leisurely.

This phase more or less ends when Lauryn takes Macario to Chicago to meet her mother, Hillis. Both Lauryn and Macario fall prey to slovenly Midwestern ways (I hear you …), while Lauryn has stopped taking her anti-depressants. The couple returns to Lisbon, they have a baby, James, but Lauryn is never the same person as that young woman on her honeymoon, living carefree.

Midway through the story, Lauryn requests a break from mothering and wifing, checks herself into a hotel, and overdoses on pills.  She calls Hillis in Chicago as her last gesture, asking her mother to comfort her without revealing what she’s done, what the inevitable result will be.

This is about the time when that first-person narrator, Lauryn’s younger cousin, reintroduces herself as a character, as I. This narrator takes steps to remember Lauryn, visiting Hollis, comforting Macario. There’s some notion of a tape—that conversation between Lauryn and her mom was recorded—and Macario has that conversation, even sticks it in a safety deposit box. Eventually, she also runs into that movie star from the first act, the one who spent a night with Lauryn, then refused to acknowledge her at a time of need. She makes a recording of her own, which she believes puts her in control.

That’s as far into the plot as I’ll go, though that’s most of it. I should mention that plot might not be the exact thing you associate with Hempel’s stories. Sheknown for her precision language, her effortlessly complicated sentences, how she uses language to tell a story that’s parallel or perhaps even ancillary to the story. Hempel’s tales always feel even to me, her focus on language perhaps flattening Freytag, as rising action doesn’t rise all that much, climaxes are understated and implied, and falling action doesn’t feel all that steep, let alone resolute. It’s good to enjoy Hempel’s stories for what they offer in terms of craft and imagery and syntax, fictive elements outside the realm of actual narrative.

Note: A chicane is one of those sharp, hairpin turns, like on a road race course, put there to make keep speeds down. I had to look it up. Do with that what you will.

I’ve always enjoyed reading Amy Hempel quite a bit. She’s one of earliest author that redefined story for me, as she exploits every possible interpretation of genre. Sing to It is no exception, her latest work among her best, exhibiting a master at the top of her craft, a writer I will never tire of exploring, of learning from, of seeing what she’ll do next.


June 22, 2020: “The All Saints’ Day Lovers” by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Translated by Anne McLean

Hey there, Story366!

Ok, so yesterday, I was hurting pretty badly from the twenty-mile hike, and in general, all weekend, avoided some pretty obvious topics here. Last night, I wrote the shortest post of the year, though I hope that’s not a relection on what I think of Daniel Oz’s book, which is really excellent. Sometimes, a blogger just has to sit on a couch and pray that death comes for him, and quickly.

In any case, yesterday was Father’s Day, and until about nine p.m. on Saturday, I did not think we were doing the twenty-mile hike my oldest son needed for his Hiking merit badge. I thought it was Father’s Day and we’d have a leisurely day about the house, people making breakfast for me, me getting presents, me generally just lazing about. But the Karen prodded me into going, to get it over with, saying it would be a nice way to spend Father’s Day, with my boy, on the trails.

And it was: Don’t get me wrong. At the same time, it did suck up the whole day. Twenty miles of hiking, at a generous three miles an hour, is nearly seven hours. That doesn’t include breaks, that doesn’t include the drive to and from the trailhead (thirty miles from our house), and it doesn’t include the dinner we had after fifteen miles—which is allowed—which took about ninety minutes (we milked it for all it was worth). All in all, we started walking at 7:50 a.m. and finished the last step at 7:50 p.m. From there, it was peeling ove disgusting clothes, showering, taking painkillers, applying ointments, and sitting down to read, write a post, and go to bed. That was an entire waking day. Today, the only residual badness I have is a massive blister on my left foot, which has me limping around. Otherwise, I feel damn good.

To repeat: It was great to be out there with my son. We decided to start this process when the quarantine started back in March. We randomly did a three-mile hike in like fifty-five minutes, which was a commendable time, especially after not hiking/timing ourselves all winter. We then did a five-miler, and again, we were able to stay well under twenty minutes a mile. At that point, we decided to shoot for that Hiking badge, which we knew would be hard, but hey, what else did we have to do? A week later, we did ten miles, which was rough, the furthest either of us had ever gone. Then we did eleven. Then twelve. We were still pretty golden at that point. We were also hiking mini-keep-warm  treks in between, two, three, four miles, just to keep our legs going. When we did the fifteen-miler three weeks ago, we thought we’d be ready. Piece of cake. What’s three more miles? That one hurt both of us, especially me—I just wasn’t hydrated enough, I think, at the end.

Yesterday, we decided to dive in, just get it over with, and honestly, that’s what it ended up being. We enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed each other’s company, but there’s a certain point where you walk, and walk, and walk, you start to wonder What’s the point of all this again? Part of the problem is, we didn’t really have a destination. We were just going from point A to point B, on a flat, straight trail, across the Ozarks plateau, shooting for a number. Finishing was our only goal, and in the end, that’s probably why we enjoyed it a bit less. In the future, now that he doesn’t need any more hikes like this, we might top off at ten or so. That’s an enjoyable length, challenging but not all-consuming. Ten is manageable. Ten is ten.

All in all, I wouldn’t trade this experience, this time with my son, for anything. He and I will have this thing we did forever. That made this the best Father’s Day of my life, I think, the culmination of this project, this thing we did, this thing we did together.

Tonight, I read from Juan Gabriel Vásquez‘s collection, Lovers on All-Saints’ Day, Translated by Anne McLean and published in English by Penguin in 2015, though out before that in Spanish on an international presses. Vásquez is a Columbian writer of note, the author of award-winning novels on top of this collection. I’d never read any of his before today, so it was another raw reading. And I like that fine.

The title of the title story is a little transformed from the book title, as it’s “The All Saints’ Day Lovers.” This story focuses on this unnamed guy, who’s living in the Belgium countryside with his wife, Michelle. One day he decides to go hunting, with his tracker Pierre and a couple of his dogs, and wants Michelle to go with (hunting is different there than in America, I guess …). He and Michelle argue about it for a while, giving a strong impression that this is a marriage on the rocks—that and Michelle constantly asking if they’re breaking up. Eventually, she agrees to go and the three people and two dogs head out to shoot some game.

On the hunt, Michelle and our hero argue some more, about their relationship, about the hunt, about the weather, you name it. Pierre runs off to scare some game in their direction, leaving them alone to fight more, what they’re good at. Eventually, Pierre returns, no game to speak of, but just as they’re about to leave, some pheasants fly from the brush and our guy nips one in the wing. There’s a long search by both man and dog for this wounded bird, but they come up with nothing. This leaves Michelle perturbed: She wants them to find the bird so they can put it out of its misery. They conclude the bird is gone and go home.

At home, our guy and Michelle argue some more about the bird’s suffering, and in a huff, late in the night, our protagonist storms off, claiming to be going to look for the bird, which is ridiculous. The bird is dead and it’s dark out. He’s not going to find the bird. But he heads out, anyway, and Michelle asks if he’s coming back, as if he’s going to leave her, and all his earthly belongings, right there and then, over a spat.

Instead of looking for the bird, our guy ends up at a local pub, one being endorsed by non-locals. The bartender, Zoe, seems nervous that these men, out-of-towners, may mean her harm, and our guy agrees to stay until close, to keep an eye on her. Zoe wisely asks him why she should trust him: Maybe he’s going to be the one to hurt her. Our guy does end up staying and does give Zoe a ride home.

At this point, sexual tension is rising, as Zoe is young and attractive, our guy has just saved her from possible nogoodniks, and she’s accepted a ride home. She invites him in, for a drink, just to keep warm, but we all know that no woman invites a man, her rescuer, in for a drink just to keep warm.

This is the point Zoe spills her story, that she’s a widow, her late husband, Graham, having died three years prior when his plane crashed into the freezing sea. Zoe is lonely and wants our guy to stay, which he does, even after taking a call from Michelle and telling her he’s on his way. Zoe ensures him that she only wants him to stay for safety and for company, and that’s pretty much what happens. Our guy puts on a pair of Graham’s pajamas, crawls into bed, and the two sleep all night, no funny business whatsoever.

The next day, he goes home to an inconsolable Michelle, who stayed up all night, sobbing and waiting for him out on the porch to come home. The two strangely reconcile, make passionate love, and rededicate themselves to each other. All will be well: This has been a wake-up call, this all-night excursion, and now they know they want to get together,stay that way forever.

Then Michelle takes a long shower, where she does some thinking, and comes out with the declaration that she’s leaving. The shower gave her clarity and she’s ending their marriage immediately. Turns out she’d been moving her things to her parents’ for some time, so all she has to do is go: All her worry that he was going to leave her was just a cover, or plain craziness, or a likely mixing of the two. Our guy drives her to the station and that’s that.

Of course, our guy heads straight to Zoe’s—why wouldn’t he?—for some serious rebound action, only to find … I won’t reveal that. “The All Saints’ Day Lovers” is a long but mastefully crafted story, tracking one man’s topsy-turvy day of emotional extremes. Vásquez paints a pretty good character along the way, his hero a complex man who wants so much, but in the end, doesn’t do anything—everything happens to him instead of because of him. I’m sure the pheasant is a metaphor here, too, this wounded bird having escaped, a paradigm you could easily apply to Michelle, Zoe, or even the narrator. Best of all, Vásquez never does what’s expected, which kept me in this story for thirty-plus pages, the ending satisfying, existential, and sentimental all at the same time.

Oh, and this story takes place on Halloween—the hunt, the bar, and Zoe’s house—and All Saints’ Day—the return home, the reconciliation, the separation, etc.—so make of that what you will

I also read and liked “The Return,” written in the voice and style of another age—1800s?—reminding me mostly of Poe for the diction and narration, a grand, flowery, authoritative voice. The story’s about Madame Michaud, heir to a large country estate, who just happens to poison her sister’s fiancé and spends over forty years in prison for her crime. The story jumps around in time, profiling Madame Michaud, before, during, and after the murder and sentence, culminating in her return to her ancestral estate as an old woman, unable to recognize her home or the world.

Lovers on All Saints by Juan Gabriel Vásquez is an intriguing collection, the second I’ve read by a South American writer, translated by a North American translator, and mostly taking place in Belgium in four days: Alejandro Zambra‘s book is uncannily similar in those regards. Each book is unique, though, especially in voice and perspective, and I enjoyed both of them. I’m very much digging my sudden and unplanned run of translated collections—three in four days—as these writers brandish distinct styles. It’s all good when you’re reading short stories, I say, especially when the stories are so good.


June 21, 2020: “Untitled” by Daniel Oz, Translated by Jessica Cohen

Happy Father’s Day, Story366!

Today’s pre-story musings are going to be short. The older boy and I completed a twenty-mile hike today, the last hike he needed for his Hiking merit badge, and we’re toast. I’d love to chat with you about that hike, Father’s Day, and my dad, not to mention all the stuff going on in the world, including Juneteenth, the splendidly disastrous rally in Tulsa, and today’s solstice. But, as noted, I’m toast, and I’m just happy to be getting this up today before I pass out.

I was saving today’s book for Father’s Day, as it’s by Daniel Oz and he’s dedicated it to his father, the late Amos Oz, and I’m as big a sucker as anyone for a dad story. The book is entitled Further Up the Path and is translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, a noted Hebrew-to-English translator. In fact, the book gives us both versions of the stories, English on the left, facing the Hebrew on the right—just like Mid-American Review does with its Translation Chapbook Series! All of it’s brought to us by the people at BOA Editions, Ltd., who pretty much always do a spectacular job.

The subtitle for this collection is “Flash Fables,” which is an apt description of what Oz does with these pieces, none of them longer than a page, some of them a single impactful sentence. The stories are sometimes fables, for sure, as they seem to be teaching us something. “The Cat’s Dream” is an early piece that fits this description, about a cat that dreams of a fishbone that keeps regrowing its delicious meaty flesh. Some stories just feel playful, like “The Bureau of Cartography,” which is kind of silly and ironic and reads a bit like a joke. Which is what “The Bureau of Quiet” is, a two-line yuck. There’s a lot of different kinds of stories here, and I read and enjoyed all of them. It’s almost impossible not to read this entire book, to say, “Just one more …” over and over again until you’re through the entire collection. I could try to list more favorites, but I think I’d just be typing out most of the story titles here

The story I’m focusing on today? “Untitled.” Why? Because it’s a good story, but also about fathers and sons, apt for today. In this piece, a man refuses to name his son, who goes through his entire life as “Son.” The son points out that this is okay, because the dad went through his whole life as “Father.”

It goes on a bit from there (spiritually), but in short (literally), it’s a sweet notion, one tha made me think of my dad and both my sons today.

I did not think I’d be coming home from a twenty-miler today and reading an entire book, but that’s what happened with Daniel Oz’s Further Up the Path. Oz is a master at brevity, at getting the most out of each word in his stories, some of the magical, some of them funny, and most of them a combination of the two. He’s also pretty insightful about the world, too. This is a tremendous collection of flash, such an incredible tribute from a son to his father.



June 20, 2020: “Fever Dogs” by Kim O’Neil

And then there was Saturday, Story366.

So, what’re you watching? A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my TV binging during our quarantine, which has included a lot of sitcoms, recent classics like Community and New Girl, shows I didn’t catch when they were out, but have now completely absorbed. This is something I do with the Karen, nightly, an episode or two before bed, our decompression. It’s the time we sit next to each on the couch, eat snacks, cuddle up, not think, etc.

During the day, as I do work on my classes—so, so much Blackboard—and even write up these posts, I catch different programming on YouTube. I’ve been a huge fan and follower of Emergency Awesome and Mr. Sunday Movies for  years now, never missing any of their broadcasts. I’ve also gotten into New Rockstars. Oh, by the way, all three of these channels review comic book-themed movies and TV shows, present fan theories,  offer predictions, and deconstruct these creations way past the point of need or logic. It’s me getting my geek on. I offer no apologies.

Now, with no new content coming out, even these three channels have been limited. So I’ve sought out new and exciting broadcasts to subscribe to. I think I’m all caught up on Last Week Tonight, by far the best news parody/talk show/political whatever out there. I just picked up on Josh Gad’s Reunited Apart series, and can’t believe who he’s gotten together for these specials. It’s super-fun to see these casts—GhostbustersThe GooniesBack to the Future, and especially Lord of the Rings—together, talking about their movies, seeing each other for the first time, often in decades.

Guilty pleasure? Lately, I’ve been watching chiropractors crack people’s backs. A lot of them are kind of creepy—most seem to feature sexy, sexy ladies, often in sports bras and bike shorts, getting manhandled. Since I have some serious back issues and love to crack or be cracked, sometimes I need that fix, a vicarious one. The other day I spent twenty-three minutes watching a chiropractor crack the crap out of a guy with a hunchback. I guess I wasn’t really expecting him to completely straighten the guy out, but still, there was some noticeable difference from before to after. You could really see it on the guy’s face, too, as his spine was being decompressed, how much of a relief it was. I swear, I felt that crack, like a thunderclap, right along with him.

In any case, today I read from Kim O’Neil‘s 2017 collection, Fever Dogs, out from TriQuarterly Books. This is my first exposure to O’Neil’s work, so it was a raw read, which I always welcome.

Fever Dogs is a collection of interconnected stories, following three generations of women, spanning from the early part of the twentieth century up until 2000. Each story has a title, but also a city—always in the general Massachusetts/Boston area—where the story takes place and a year when the story happens. There’s even a little family tree at the beginning,  which was helpfu, allowing me to keep track of who’s who and also see how these women were connected.

That first story, “How to Draw From Life,” the one that takes place in 2000, is about Jean, the youngest member of this family. Jean is an animator living in Boston, during one of that city’s worst winters. The animation company that Jean works for is producing a show that’s been picked up for a third season, but the company is on the brink of being sold and the show canceled. So, there’s a dread hanging over everything, setting a particular tone. Jean runs every day at lunch with Wade, a coworker, who shares intimate thoughts of his life, including how he doesn’t want to go through with his wedding—there’s a lot of sexual tension. There’s also a guy names Dragos, a Transylvanian who works in the office upstairs and comes down every Friday so the artists can do nude sketches of him in the break room. Jean is 30, and basically, at a major crossroads in her life, and that’s what this story seems to be depicting.

I next looked for a story that would include the middle generation and settled on “Dickey Lacy.” This one’s about Jane, Jean’s mom, about how she met her dad, Ray. Jane was 19 in the sixties when she got hired to look after another nineteen-year-old, Dickey Lucy, who broke his top vertabrate in an accident and is paralyzed from the neck down. Dickey’s mom pays Jane, thin and volutuous, to play games with him, read to him, and make sure the straws stay in his mouth when he eat, plus a little bit extra to wear tight tops and dye her hair blond. She’s that type of mom. Ray, who knew Dickey from high school, is a broad-shouldered guy who studies physics at the university. He’s also the one who is paid to pick Dickey up and carry him out to the car whenever Dickey has to travel. Dickey arranges a picnic date for himself and Jane, so he needs Ray to carry him around, and, well, as I’ve said, Jane and Ray are Jean’s parents, so you can guess how that date goes for Dickey.

I ended with the final story, “Fever Dogs,” which is the oldest story in the collection by date and about the oldest generation of the three. Doris is Jane’s mom (and Jean’s grandma), but this one’s more from her sister Esther’s perspective, though Doris lurks. At the outset of the story, Esther, 17, packs up twelve-year-old Doris and moves to Boston from Holyoke when their mother dies. This one takes place from 1923 to 1924, but at times, O’Neil slips into backstory (using italics), where we meet the girls’ mother and see some of their backstories.

Esther works as kitchen help during the day, cleaning up after Harvard law students, filling their coffee, serving eggs, that sort of thing. Doris has no place to go and tags along, causing trouble. Esther dreams of living her own life, of being rid of Doris, of a reality that’s different than the one with which she’s burdened.

At night, Esther dresses like a gypsy and reads palms. She doesn’t have any real power, but can read people, knowing which men will stop at her booth, knowing their whole stories from the looks on their faces, the way they’re dressed, where they’re headed. It’s here she meets Eddy, who she connects with, a man from a different world who is curious and intrigued. He’s her only return customer. And, from reading that family tree, we see that Esther and Eddy end up together.

There is a mystical element to this story, one that takes place in the past. Most of this comes from Doris. She remembers her mother, but also the green pond where she and Esther were baptized. She calls this pond Shrike, and prays to it like an idol, giving it offerings, mostly the hardware she’s stolen from doors and cabinets of the town buildings, throwing them to the bottom and watching them sink. It’s a holy place (in Holyoke) to Doris, her tie to it perhaps her most notable characterization.

“Fever Dogs” serves as an introduction, at the end of the book, to how this family’s tale gets started. We seemed what formed Esther, and more importantly, Doris, who went on to form Jane, who went on to form Jean. Do I see Doris’ interactions with Shrike have an apparent impact on Jean, the jogging animator of 2000? No, but there’s a half dozen more stories in the book that might fill in some of those blanks, connect the dots in a more concrete way.

I love the type of story collection project that Kim O’Neil pulls off in Fever Dogs, her debut book. I liked reading about these women, but just as much about these eras, what each had to do to survive, to make their way, given their circumstances and surroundings.