Monthly Archives: February 2009

Wells Tower, "Down Through The Valley"

A guy has to pick up his ex-wife’s new boyfriend — the one she cheated on him with — and drive him a long way.

(from Everything Ravage, Everything Burned)

This weird situation would be implausible if it weren’t also the kind of life’s-a-bitch reverse miracles that totally seem to happen once in a while. This trip, with the angry ex and the calm boy scout do-gooder has to end in disaster. And it’s so good that it does.
Does this link work for you? I clicked and clicked, but nothing.

Wells Tower, "Retreat (redux)"

Two estranged, combative brothers hang out in the mountains.

(from Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned)

I’ve read this story before. In a way. I really dug it when I read it in May of 2007, but the author has since had a change of heart about the thing. In a little promotional pamphlet preceding the release of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower tells how he was never quite happy with the way “Retreat” came out. “Horrified” is the way he puts it. So here’s the story again, told from the perspective of Matthew the rich-ish smug angry jerk, instead of Stephen the young, angry frustrated jerk. I still like em both, and still like Bob, the workaday mountain man who gets to observe the brother’s jerkiness from a (nearly) safe distance. So, fine. Good story again for the first time.

Wells Tower, "The Brown Coast"

A guy moves into a shore house he’s renovating and begins collecting weird sea creatures that get stranded in the tidepool.

(from Everything Ravaged Everything Burned)

This one kind of teeters on the edge. I don’t trust this protagonist, which is different than calling him unreliable. I believe the world is something like the way he sees it, but his morals and disposition make him a tough guy to wanna hang with.

Robert Boswell, "The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards"

Mushroom-popping philosophical drifter-types take up residence in a house in the mountains.

(from The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards)

Wonderful and strange. I loved this story. I dug these wastrel characters even though in real life — which is not to say they didn’t feel real here — I would have taken them for what they were besides lost: Insensitive bastards. Really good authors can make heroes out of the jerks just by popping their foreheads open and showing us that they’re people too. Keen reminds me, a little bit, of Fuckhead, except he’s even further off the deep-end. His story is his parole board plea, and he reveals himself to be more than a little stupid and hopeless but most sympathetic.
More than anything, this put the resilient tune of “Palmcorder Yajna” in my head. That’s a Mountain goats song about tweakers doing drugs and letting their minds kinda spiral around. They’re no bad people, it’s just that most who wander are lost.
More on Robert Boswell here.

Owen Egerton, "Of All Places"

A guy goes to Texas because he reads on a dollar bill stapled to the ceiling of a diner that he should.

(from How Best To Avoid Dying)

Top of the ridge, twisting along. Look. You can see for years from here.

Along the way his car breaks down, he pees in the desert and thinks about the religious girl he never had sex with. This was fine. Appreciated it, but never got hooked.

Mary Miller, "Animal Bite"

A woman goes to the ER with her husband after getting bit by their dog.

(from Big World)

My husband put a hand on my forehead. He wasn’t a bad guy; we just weren’t right for each other.

Here’s another thing Mary Miller does really well: Putting you in the head of characters who only mention their sadness in passing and yet still making you feel the sadness.

Carrie Brown, "A Splendid Life"

A psychiatrist retires and returns to his childhood home.

(from One Story 116)

Petey’s a funny old guy. I mean, he’s dealing with some guilt and regret and all, but he’s a charming and spry drunk coot. There was something slick about the way he pounded some vodka and took a spin on the lake in a rowboat. His sudden drunkenness is as much a surprise to the reader as it is to him. I haven’t read much John Updike, but this story gave me some of that vibe, a sort of amber-tinted glow around a bygone ugliness. Good stuff.
Read an interview with the author here.

George Saunders, "Al Roosten"

A schlub and a dudley do right find themselves in a small-town celebrity auction.

(from The New Yorker, Feb. 2, 2009)

“So that’s why we’re here raising money for LaffKidsOffCrack and their antidrug clowns!” the blonde shouted. “Such as Mr. BugOut, who, in his classroom work, with a balloon, makes this thing that starts out as a crack pipe and ends up as a coffin, which I think is so true!”

This was part funny and part cringeworthy — but in a different way than I’m used to from George Saunders. “Al Roosten” was as much about characters as situation. I dug it. Read it here.