December 2, 2020: “That Screaming Silence” by Susan E. Lloy

Hey, there, Story366!

Today’s pre-post writing is about yesterday’s pre-post writing, which I have to admit: I scrambled to put it together just before midnight. I had this and that going on, and like I often do, I wrote my story/book breakdown before the what’s-going-on-in-Mike’s-life part that comes before it. This happened and that happened, and the next thing I knew, it was a quarter till twelve and I didn’t have anything yet. I started something about the blog, about it being December, how there’s only a month to go, then scrapped it, as no one really wants to hear about how many more blog entries I’m going to write (or this current discussion, for that matter). I started in about coronavirus instead—because it’s so much more engaging—and before I knew it, it was 11:58 and I didn’t really have much. I was also falling asleep as I was typing, a long day and just a tiny bit of a cold kicking my ass. I rounded out some go-get-’em-type response about tackling the rest of the year, posted at 11:59, and there we go.

After avoiding a talk about Story366 on Story366, here I am today, talking about it as if anyone’s asking for updates. I think there’s a steady following of people who like to read about the books, and when I have a good anecdote, I’m guessing people like that. But hearing about coronavirus, how tired I am, and the trials and tribulations of blogging? Not sure why I force these sometimes.

Looking back to 2016, I didn’t always do this. Sometimes my first sentence introduces the collection and author and press, as I’ll do here in a bit, and I’d just rip into the book. Somewhere along the way, I started adding personal stories, making this more than a story discussion, but my own personal diary. I’m not sure when that was, but it took me a few months to start doing it. The Karen has often pointed out that I could go back to that—just the book rundowns—that no one’s going to arrest me if I stop with these preambles. For some reason, though, I feel like those are steps backward, that I’d be doing less. Since I’m so close to the end here, why regress?

Roy Kesey, after I covered one of his books the day the Cubs won the World Series, noted that he didn’t realize his book was about baseball or the Cubs. He was kidding, but really, I wonder what some authors think of these little diary entries that lead into their book discussion. Sometimes it’s goofy shit—I kind of regret my fake spring break debauchery week back in March of 2016—and sometimes it’s more serious. Earlier this year, I led into a review with news of my mother-in-law’s death, and then a week later, her funeral. I think every author likes reviews, but I can also picture them reading about sadness and demise and wondering, “What the fuck?”

In the end, I’ll always say, “It is what it is,” and that’s true: I can make Story366 into whatever I want. I could attach videos of me doing Jack-Ass-like stunts, go that route. I could do straight reviews. I could perform magic tricks. I could _______. But nearly eight hundred entries in, it is what it is, including today. Thanks for enduring. Now let’s talk about a book.

For today’s post, I read from Canadian author Susan E. Lloy‘s second collection, Vita, out in 2019 from Now or Never Publishing. This has been my first experience with LLoy’s writing, as I didn’t catch her first book, But When We Look Closer, and her work seems to have appeared exclusively in Candadian and European journals. What I love about Story366 is how it leads me to this kind of author, one I never would have encountered otherwise.

This is a rare occasion where I’m not covering the title story. “Vita” is the opener and is about Arthur, an older, infirmed guy who looks forward to visits from his sexy young nurse/caretaker, Hazel. She—and his morphine-type pain shot—inspires him to revisit his life as a photojournalist, as well as some surreal planes where he can assess his life, and his imminent death.

“Mama” is a flash piece, just a short paragraph, about a woman who sees her babies grow up, grow apart from her—rather maliciously—then find their way home.

I really like “The Little Bang,” about a middle-woman named Rose who begins the story thinking about the universe, the Big Bang, and various metaphysical consistencies within the universe. This leads into a meet-up with an ex, decades later, a man who broke her heart and happens to be in Canada (he’s Danish). She readies a dinner for him, and when he arrives, they get right down to it: Evaluating each other, catching each other up, and making some light accusations. Soon Rose is realizing that Gregor has grown soft and that she has only gotten better. When they inevitably hit the sack, Rose makes the titular analysis of Gregor’s prowess, bringing the story, and their reunion, to its end.

“Oh …” is about a former stripper and still-sometime escort named Annie who realizes that she’s aged out of that line of work, that she’s not going to be able to make enough money to live on very much longer. She visits a friend and former colleague, Vivian, who takes her to an adult movie set, where she’s evolved into someone behind the cameras, a more intellectual version of her former self, inspiring Annie to enter the next phase of her life.

Today I’m focusing on the longest story I read, “That Screaming Silence.” This one features Edie, a semi-successful poet who’s recently retired and moved out of the inner-city of Montreal to an isolated country house. She mostly buys the house online, but does make one visit before signing, finding the place to be charming and quiet. Since quiet is what she’s looking for, it’s perfect and she packs up for the last phase of her life.

Only when she gets there, she discovers that her neighbors, the Brodys, are a nightmare. The realtor who sold her the house did a sneaky job of covering up the fact that the Brodys are loud and obnoxious people, bent on making Edie’s life hell; it even comes out later that the realtor is a Brody cousin. They dump garbage on their property, garbage that spills onto Edie’s land, garbage like old furniture and a bag full of drowned puppies (!) that she has to pay someone to haul away. The adult sons constantly play loud music on a their “ghetto blaster,” and are revving the engines of loud machinery at all hours of the night. Worst of all, they have a flea-bitten dog tied up, a dog that barks and whimpers all day, which is both annoying and sad to Edie.

Edie starts her protest by complaining to friends and neighbors. Colleen, a local who walks her dog, agrees that it’s a shame, wondering why Edie ever bought the house, which had been on the market forever. Edie’s friend back in Toronto—who remembers Edie’s problems with her neighbors there, a hillbilly family who caused similar chaos (note: Montreal Hillbillies is the name of my next band). Eventually, Colleen just asks her why she doesn’t go over and talk to Maggi, the Brody matriarch, and reason with her. Edie agrees and heads over, bringing with her a coq au vin for good will.

I don’t want to reveal what happens when Edie visits the Brodys, as that would be revealing too much. But Edie is such a well drawn character, and very subtly, Lloy implies that maybe it’s not these noisy people who have the problem, who are the antagonists of this story.

Susan E. Lloy is particularly skilled at drawing characters in her stories in Vita. The plots are somewhat of a slow burn, not a lot of murders or car chases or the like, but certainly perpetrated by distinct, well rounded, and evolving characters. I liked meeting these people, seeing how they grew into their worlds. I enjoyed these stories today and am glad to have discovered this author.