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.

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

  1. Pingback: June 28, 2020: “Goliath” by David Housley – Story366

  2. Pingback: June 28, 2020: “Goliath” by Dave Housley – Story366

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