Monthly Archives: March 2008

Donald Ray Pollock, "Real Life"

Drunk dad starts a fight in the bathroom at the drive-in. Son also gets in a fight. Dad is proud.

(from Knockemstiff)

Poor kid. Good story though. This is the first of the 18 connected stories in this collection. For the purposes of a site like this, an island is better than an archipelago, but this is a promising start.

Alexi Zentner, "Touch"

The dangerous lives of logging families.

(from O. Henry Prize Stories 2008)

The men floated the logs early, in September, a chain of headless trees jamming the river as far as I and the other children could see. My father, the foreman, stood at the top of the chute hollering at the men and shaking his mangled hand, urging them on. “That’s money in the water, boys,” he yelled, “push on, push on.” I was ten that summer, and I remember him as a giant, though my mother tells me that he was not so tall that he had to duck his head to cross the threshold of our house, the small foreman’s cottage with the covered porch that stood behind the mill.

I love a story like this, one with this complete world where you know the rules, you know all the ways things can go wrong, know the likely scope of the action. It’s not that it’s simple, not exactly, but that it’s well-defined. So, we know the father is going to die at some point, it’s said outright by our narrator, and we know all the things that can kill you in these harsh Canadian hinterlands, but it’s still a surprise and heartbreak when it happens. Very powerful stuff.
Here‘s Alexi Zentner’s site.

Edward P. Jones, "Bad Neighbors"

The good neighbors don’t like the new people who move in on the block.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008)

Grace Bennington appeared to be the matriarch; she might have been fifty, but, with her broad weight and her gray hair, it was difficult for anyone to be certain. On a good day, her Eighth Street neighbors might have said forty or forty-five, but on a bad day seventy-five would not have seemed unfair. Only one thing was certain–she had known hard work, and it showed in face and body.

This is as interesting and complicated a study of race and class as you will find in fiction that isn’t boring. That Jones is slow to introduce race is very telling; it’s a sort of psych experiment on the reader. Well, what race did you think these people were? What about the other people? Why did you think that? It’s complicated, as it should be. Beautiful, too.
For some reason you can read this story on a blog.