Monthly Archives: January 2005

George Panetta, "Suit"

Joe’s snazzy new suit is white, an important fact he doesn’t realize until it’s too late.

(from The Italian American Reader)

Using sharp details and funny scenes, this story gets into the heads of people who think certain ways about certain things. Joe and the narrator are not dumb guys, but they live by these inane, mutating rules because they feel like outsiders, Italians in a WASpy world. A cool, atypical story.

Made me think about my dad, who grew up in ’50s Camden, in an Italian neighborhood. Whenever the family gets together, stories of the old neighborhood are told loudly and with much laughter by the Italians. Tales of strange arrangements, minor crimes, kids raised by aunts, old cars, funny dogs, weird sayings, what street, what was that drug store called, whose recipe?

The Irish side, my mom’s side, also grew up in Camden but those memories are never brought up, probably because the Italian side is so much louder.

Tonight is Project Christmas, wherein my family and my brother exchange gifts. He was in Australia over the holidays. It’s also when we’ll celebrate my dad’s birthday. Old tales of Camden will surely be told tonight. Besides his actual gifts, I think I’ll give him this Italian American Reader book. And also this excellent Doo-Wop collection I got at work, too. Course I’ll be burning that first. And please, no wop jokes.

Sherman Alexie, "Class"

A Native American man married to a white woman struggles with everyday marriage problems and wonders where he belongs.

(from The Toughest Indian In The World)

Another sometimes-funny, sometimes-sad story of confused people. Edgar Eagle Runner, a lawyer, feels like he lives in a white world. When he makes a brief foray into a Native American bar, it’s disastrous. There are all kinds of awkward symbols in this story, like one really funny thing in the prostitute scene, which add a sort of allegorical feel to the human drama. Fun and uncomfortable.

Sherman Alexie, "The Toughest Indian In The World"

A Native American newspaper reporter picks up a tough guy hitchhiker who reminds him of the Indian warriors of old.

(from The Toughest Indian In The World)

Just when you think things are going one way, things go another. The ending is one possibile culmination of the tension built up in the story. Surprising, yes, but it never comes off like some cheap artsy literary device.

Some of the best scenes are the smaller moments. Things so sneakily poignant, you have to smile despite yourself. Like this one:

Inside the room, in a generic watercolor hanging above the bed, the U.S. Cavalry was kicking the crap out of a band of renegade Indians.

“What tribe you think they are?” I asked the fighter.

“All of them,” he said.

I found the story here, if you’re interested.

Hope nobody minds me going on a Sherman Alexie kick. I know I said I’d shoot for a new author each day. I’m doing research, here (for a tiny, tiny article). Also, I simply had to read this story because I had the book with me when I found myself with a lot of time to kill between bands at the Bright Eyes concert this evening. I was already feeling old, so just reading at a rock show (albeit one at the Academy of Music) seemed like a logical leap.

Sherman Alexie, "Assimilation"

She’s Native American, her husband’s white. Seems like the reasons they hate each other are the same reasons they love each other.

(from The Toughest Indian In The World)

A refreshingly blunt and hilarious examination of interracial marriage. No matter how much these two love or loved each other, they can’t deny the politics of it. Sometimes the snarky commentaries on whiteness are a bit simplified, but that doesn’t make it incorrect or unfunny.

I’ll be reading quite a bit of Sherman Alexie this weekend. He’s reading at the Academy of Natural Sciences. I just bought this collection so I could study up. I saw him read once before and it was something.

Silvia DiPierdomenico, "That Which I Am"

A woman diagnosed with lymphoma details exactly what she is going through.

(from McSweeney’s, Early Fall, 2004)

This isn’t a story with an arc, or, at least, it doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion.The sentences are mostly simple, declarative statements: which drugs, which products, who is wearing what, what color are their eyes. It’s relentless and clinical in creating shopping lists. Is the woman upset about the chemo, about the uncertainty, about her dreams dashed? Probably, but those are not the concerns dealt with here. Which makes this a unique and interesting reading experience.

Angela Patrinos,"Sculpture I"

Martha is adrift in the world. Maybe that’s why she’s hanging out with one of the older art students who sculpts her nude body.

(from The Best American Short Stories 1996)

As I started this story I took note of the sometimes clunky storytelling, but as it went on, I was less bothered by it. Why? Because that’s totally the way this character who never cared much for learnin’ or anything would tell the story. So it’s quite cool. I’m not completely sold on this story, parts of it seemed a little eager for awkwardness, but it’s certainly a worthwhile, thoughtful read.

Check this out: I’m not 100% sure about the title this story. The back cover calls it “Sculpture I” while the inside of the book, including the table of contents, calls it “Sculpture I” (with a miniature version of a capital I). In the story itself, the class Martha models for is called “Sculpture 1” — so that’s a mystery for you.

As I am wont to do, I tried to find this story online. I Googled the phrase “Ray and I went out a few times” and found only this Livejournal belonging to one “Jenandtonics.” The current entry begins: “I could never become a vegan if for no other reason than my inability to survive without Ben and Jerry’s.” Oh, Jen.

Ben Ehrenreich, "What You Eat"

If you kill something you have to eat it, dad says. Why can’t this kid stop killing?

(from The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2004)

What a crazy, sicko little story. Fun in a way. I mean, this is really just a long extension of a joke, taking an inane saying to a nearly-logical conclusion. It’s funny seeing this kid’s whole life edited down to just the parts where he’s killing animals and bugs (accidentally only sometimes) and then being forced to eat them. The dad is also a puzzling, intriguing character, always digging and looming.

Makes me think of a joke which can be traced back to funnyman Bob McCormick, about Ted Nugent taking on Predator. And when ol’ Ted wins, as per his oath, he’s got to eat his alien foe. It would probably take awhile.

Sometimes I Google phrases from the short stories I read, in an attempt to find you, my two loyal readers, a free copy of the story to read. I just looked for “My eyes closed to slits” but Google only came up with porn. Sorry, readers.

Steve Erickson, "Zeroville"

Some, like, filmmaker guy is obsessed with a door he either sees or thinks he sees in the backgrounds of old films.

(from McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories)

I wasn’t astonished. I was confused and bored. This was more like a series of interesting things stapled together to create something sorta moody and pretentious. Maybe that was the point. Still doesn’t make it a good read.

Ayelet Waldman, "Minnow"

A woman who loses her baby during pregnancy is haunted by the mysterious cries coming through her baby monitor.

(from McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories)

At times, this story was difficult to read. Partly because I found the writing a little predictable, at least a couple times. Mostly though, the repeated mentions of blood and milk and aches and loss made me squirm a little. Like any good horror story, this one kept me uneasy and worried about what came next. Toward the final pages, I guessed the twist ending. But that doesn’t make it any less clever. Or scary.

You know, I’m still holding out hope for a happy short story. It’s tough to keep reading about the messed up lives of all these characters, day after day, when you feel like your own life isn’t going so well. I don’t believe in commiseration. At least not with fictional beings.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Half of a Yellow Sun"

A Biafran family loses almost everything in the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War.

(from The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2004)

Told from the perspective of a young woman whose well-to-do family is uprooted by the war and whose lover is a soldier, this story’s plot line isn’t a roller coaster. It’s a descending line. Things keep getting worse, and you keep reading because you hope against common sense that this will end well. Most compelling are the daily struggles of the “extras” in the war and their non-historical plights. They long for fresh food and salt and medicine, for stability.

Some sections of the story begin with Igbo sayings. They don’t seem to parallel the action of the story, but they do help transport the reader to another way of thinking. Excellent story.

Want to know more about the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War? Read this.

It’s snowing in Philadelphia.