Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thanks for Recommendations for my List

Thanks to several folks who responded to my list of the 100 short story collections I most enjoyed in the first ten years of the 21st century. I am happy to respond to your suggestions.

One of the books recommended was Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, which I have read and liked. However, it was published first in 1998, and I was focusing only on those published 2001 to the present. The same goes for Gina Berriault’s Women in Their Beds, published in 1997, but which I still plan to read.

Another reader asked me what I thought about Andre Dubus’s Dancing After Hours. Although that one was also published in the last century (1996), it is one of my favorites. I once wrote a tribute to Dubus for a special collection honoring him. Here is what I think:
The most interesting stories in Dancing After Hours focus on the character of LuAnn, introduced in "Falling in Love," when she meets Ted Briggs, a wounded Viet Nam vet and the two dance delicately around beginning a relationship. In "The Timing of Sin," LuAnn, now married to Ted, discovers just how tenuous marital commitment is when she "almost commits adultery," but is saved because of a mundane, or perhaps spiritual, impediment. Finally, in "Out of the Snow," LuAnn fights off rape by two strangers with such rage that she is astonished at her ferocity. The two longest stories in the collection--"Blessings" and "Dancing in the Dark"--are the two most communal; both are about what gives people character and what holds them together in face of adversity. In this latest collection, his seventh, Andre Dubus' stories are, as always, about hope and faith and union; that is, they are romantic and religious. But only the most callous would call them corny.

I was also asked what I thought about Carol Shields’ Collected Stories. It is on my 100 list as a “favorite.” Here is what I thought about some of the stories:

That many of the central characters in Shields’ stories are artists should alert the reader to the fact that she is using the form to play little literary games about the nature of the imagination. For example, “Invention” begins with typical little Shields’ examinations of seemingly trivial inventions such as the steering wheel muff, but becomes a story about the invention of invention itself, that is, the discovery of how art itself comes into being, when a Greek shepherd boy makes the startling discovery that he can dream by day as well as by night. In “Windows,” a window tax is imposed on the citizenry, making the economy minded board up their sources of light. However, in a classic example of art triumphing over reality, a couple of painters paint a window over their boarded-up one, providing themselves not with real light but with the idea of light, which is even more alluring than light itself, the art window becoming ever better than a real window in its presentation of all that is ideal and desirable in the sensuous world. The only previously unpublished story in the collection is “Segue,” the first chapter of a novel Shields was working on when she died, which her daughter prepared for publication. About a 67-year-old woman who writes a sonnet every fourteen days, the piece stands alone as an independent story about Carol Shield’s fascination with frozen moments of transcendence created within the seeming restrictions of literary form.

Someone asked me what I thought about Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I liked it and posted a blog entry on it July 8, 2009

Someone also mentioned Jean Thompson’s 1979 collection Gasoline Wars. I am currently finishing her most recent collection Do Not Deny Me, which I like so far, and which is on my list of 100 Favorites. I will try to comment on it when I get the time (so much to read and write!).

Also, I have not forgotten two readers who asked me to comment on Claire Keegan’s Walk the Blue Fields, which I recently read and liked very much and will post on as soon as I can, and James Lasdun’s It’s Beginning to Hurt, which I also just finished reading and liked very much indeed. I will post on it as soon as I have time.

I am working on a couple of publishing projects right now and am unable to post as often as I would like. But hang in there. I appreciate your responding to my list and I am happy to share my reactions to short stories with you.

I will buy it and read it; thanks.
Karma and Other Stories, Rishi Reddi,
Talking to the Enemy, Avner Mandelman
Kate Walbert, Our Kind

(oops! I forgot that one.
Dan Chaon, Among the Missing
I like Dan Chaon’s stories and have read both Fitting Ends and Among the Missing. I just somehow skipped over him.

And thanks to Hannah Tinti for the courtesy of saying she was “honored” to be on my list. If you haven’t read her Animal Crackers, you might enjoy it. Here’s why I did:

This collection appears to have a marketing gimmick—i.e. elephants, snakes, rabbits, giraffes, and bears, oh my!0—but don’t let that put you off. In the title story, the central character works at a zoo and sometimes puts his head under an elephant’s foot. However, the story is really about a man struggling with his wife’s infidelity and his brutal reaction to it. In “Slim’s Last Ride,” a pet rabbit is cruelly beaten and dismembered. But the story is really about a young boy’s trying to cope with his parents’ divorce. In “How to Revitalize the Snake in Your Life,” a pet boa constrictor is secretly served for dinner. The story, however, is really about a woman’s revenge for being dumped by a cheating man. There are lots of animals in Tinti’s stories, but they are not the whole story; they simply serve as a clever and sardonic spin on a number of age-old themes. In fact, the most interesting story—“Home Sweet Home”—hardly features animals at all; it’s a coldly comic tale of infidelity and murder with a number of grotesque images—dead bodies sprinkled with cornflakes, a papier-mâché head of a child’s dead mother. Whereas the silliest story—“Reasonable Terms”—about a bunch of giraffes who go on strike to demand better living conditions--is almost exclusively about animals. Also interesting and less dependent on animals are “Hit Man of the Year,” about the rise and fall of a professional killer; and “Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus”--about a globe-trotting young woman whose wealthy father has her followed by a couple of ineffective detectives. It is Tinti’s slightly tilted slant at reality and her deadpan tongue-in-cheek tone that makes the stories hard to resist—that and all those fascinating animals, of course.

I read it, didn’t care for it;
Valentines. By Olaf Olafsson.
The Whore’s Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo.
A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies. By John Murray
Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
The Boat, Nam Lee

It is this category that is most dicey, but since I admit I did not care for these books, I guess I owe it to my readers to make a brief comment why.

So my next post will be a few comments justifying their exclusion from my List of 100 Favorites

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