Sunday is here, Story366!
When I’m not writing, reading, teaching, or editing, or spending time with my family in a domestic capacity, I spend a lot of time following the world of comic books movies. Not only do I watch these movies, but I watch YouTube programming about these movies. YouTubers break down trailers, fill me in on Easter eggs, and offer predictions on future castings, plots, and films. It’s how I turn my brain off, how I don’t think.
Chadwick Boseman’s passing on Friday has hit me and the world pretty hard. This has been a shitty year, for sure, and losing people has been a part of this. But no celebrity loss this year—not Carl Reiner, not Fred Willard, not Terry Jones—has surprised or shocked or saddened me as much as Chadwick Boseman. Not only was Boseman in more of the things I currently watch (though Fred Willard seemed to be in everything), the fact he was a young man and I didn’t know he was sick really made my jaw drop, made me tear up. All those other guys? Older, not in great health. Boseman? He was 43 and looked 25, in excellent physical health … aside from the colon cancer.
Boseman had cancer since early 2016 means he had cancer through most of his role as Black Panther, if not all of it. I look back now and wonder if there would have been more action sequences featuring him, without his panther helmet, had he been healthier. I’ll guess yes. He fought in a waterfall a couple of times, but I wonder how much of that was him, how much was doubling, and how much of his in-costume scenes were him at all. I wonder if he might have been one of the Avengers who survived the snap had he been healthier, if they didn’t dust him just to limit his role—a character coming off a $1.2 billion-dollar box office could have been feature more prominently, right? Marvel knew what was going on, but never tried to replace him, never violated his privacy, and posted a nice tribute to him yesterday.
I commend Boseman for sticking it out, for keeping his public persona upbeat, and for getting the most out his life and his gifts, all the way to the end. A lot of people looked up to him, including so many kids, and he lived bravely and honorably to the end.
Rest In Peace. Wakanda forever.
Today’s book is The Emerald Light in Air by Donald Antrim, out in 2014 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Antrim is a rather distinguished author, having written several novels, publishing in the slicks, earning himself a MacArthur Grant, and tons of other accolades. Yet, this is the first time I’ve read any of his work. Story366 bails me again, so here we go, some Donald Antrim.
Turns out, Antrim is pretty hilarious. Or at least darkly funny, which is how I would describe the three stories I read today. “An Actor Prepares,” the lead story, is about Reg Barry, a college dean and theater professor at a small liberal arts college named after his family. Reg plans a production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, only we soon find out that Reg is a bit of a loose cannon. He’s had several questionable productions, like a nude interpretations of plays that don’t call for nudity, and is planning to go all out for his new project. Most noteworthy, he’s put himself in the role of Lysander, one of the young lovers, who will, not so coincidentally, be nude again, this time with some young undergrads he finds attractive. The story is of the doomed-production ilk, e.g., the first show occurs right after a flood kills several members of the campus community, as the college president wants Reg to stage the show, on the quad after the funeral, the entire audience made up of mourners. Hedonistic interactive Shakespeare is good for what ails, them, only it’s really not.
“Pond, With Mud,” is about Patrick, who’s trying to woo the affections of a special lady, Caroline. He also writes in his journal a lot, which he names “Pond, With Mud,” everything from philosophy to verse to screenplay ideas. He’s the kind of guy that carries it with him everywhere, taking notes when it strikes him, even if it means halting the world to scribble something down—you know, like every new writer ever, including moi. Anyway, Patrick buys Caroline some new lingerie, and it’s implied he’s trying to make good after an incident—two pages in he goes into that flashback and never comes out. There we find out that Patrick takes Caroline’s young son to the zoo, only to run into the kid’s real dad, buskering on his violin in the park. For some reason, Patrick thinks it’s a good idea to flag the dad down, then ask him to go for a beer. Before long, the two men and Gregory are in a bar, getting blitzed, making it easy to see why he’s buying expensive lingerie.
The last and title story, “The Emerald Light in Green Air,” is about Billy French. Early on, we find out that he’s recently lost each of his parents, as well as the love of his life—though for the latter, it was leaving him for another man, not death. Billy is a depressed guy, an art teacher/artist with a drinking problem, and receives electroshock therapy three times a week. So, Billy’s got a lot going on, a lot to be sad about, but it’s all part of his idiom—which is easier to see after you’ve read the whole story.
One afternoon in a bar, Billy randomly runs into the girl he lost his virginity to in high school and gets to talking. He’s able to score a date, dinner at his place, for that night. On the way home, however, he’s driving his Mercedes—which was his grandfather and father’s before him—and slides off the road in a rainstorm. He’s banged up, but more important, the car teeters on an embankment—if he leans the wrong way, it might tip and topple down the hill (you’ve seen this scene in movies, I’ll bet). He makes his way out and starts walking around the woods—or, the hollow, as he dubs it—trying to find someone to help him.
Help comes in the form of a young boy, who’s not there to help him, but who thinks he’s the doctor they’ve called, some time ago, to tend to his sick mother. Billy isn’t a doctor, but does need help, so he agrees to go with the boy to a remote cabin. When he gets there, he realizes that he’s not going to get any help—it’s a primitive cabin without water or electricity or phone service—and everyone there expects him to save the dying mother.
Or, mostly. The family is very kind and understands their mother is very sick, with cancer, and that even a real doctor probably can’t do anything at this point. They even concede that they know Billy’s not a physician after a while. Still, these people, holed up in this cabin in the holler, don’t care. They are just glad to see him and this point, more appreciative of him than he is of them.
Strangely, Billy can kind of help this woman and does. When exiting his car, he thought it wise to retrieve his stash of pharmaceuticals from the glove box—none of them particularly legal—just in case a law-enforcement official happens along; he’s actually got some pretty high-dosage pills He gives the mom one, which helps her sleep, which is all that any hospice facility would do in her case, anyway.
Billy heads off, but I won’t reveal his fate, where he goes from the cabin. That’s for you to discover on your own.
Donald Antrim writes stories that are darkly comic—I’ll use that exact term again—tales about men who find themselves in interesting predicaments, usually of their own middle-age-life-crisis making. The Emerald Light in the Air was a sweet introduction to this writer, a skilled storyteller who is not afraid to have a little fun with his characters, even when they’re not in on the joke. Solid collection, time well spent today.