Monthly Archives: July 2014

Jim Gavin, “The Copy Chief”

69After a decade spent surfing and working at a gas station, Eddie becomes a newspaperman.

(from Zoetrope: All-Story, Summer 2014)

I had a sublet in Mar Vista. My roommate, Brett, was creepy and docile and generally representative of the kind of people who come into your life via Craigslist. I think he was in grad school. He ate incredible amounts of soup and played WWII video games with a silent, frothing passion. Due to my schedule, I rarely saw him, and I was creepy in my own ways. Every night after work I got Del Taco and stayed up late watching TV. I got hooked on The Rockford Files.

I always have such a hard time summarizing these stories. This story isn’t really about Eddie working at a newspaper, or it’s kind of about that, but it’s also about his struggle to live after both of his parents die at a young age; it’s about his friendship with his boss, Gus, who fakes his own death; it’s about living in poverty even after you get a “real” job.” It’s about having a roommate you call “Brett” for six months before you find out his name is actually Brent. I can’t find the quote, but Flannery O’Connor said something along the lines of, ‘if someone asks what your story is about, tell him to read the story,’ which is exactly right. If you can actually tell me what a story is about then I don’t want to read it. I don’t need to read it.

Anyhow, I love the voice and really enjoyed this story. I could spend a lot more time with Eddie. Read some of “The Copy Chief” here and then buy the current issue of Zoetrope.

Joy Williams, “The Little Winter”

Screen-Shot-2012-02-13-at-8.39.04-PMGloria, a thirty-five-year-old woman dying of cancer, goes to visit her friend, Jean, and Jean’s strange daughter, and then sort-of kidnaps the girl.

(from Escapes)

There was something truly terrifying about girls on the verge of puberty, Gloria thought.

There is so much brilliance here, so many lines I would have marked if my copy weren’t hardcover and in such good condition. As I was reading this story, I kept checking to see how many pages I had left, wanting more and more. Anyhow, I loved this story so much until Gloria awakes in the middle of the night and then drives over to Jean’s house and actually takes off with her friend’s daughter, for no reason that I can discern. She doesn’t like this child, thinks she’s odd, and has spent the earlier part of the story wanting to be alone. At this point, the narrative zooms out, not letting us into Gloria’s head where we might see what she’s thinking, where we might get a feel for why she decides to do this and then keep doing it.

I want to rewrite “The Little Winter.” I don’t want Gloria to kidnap the kid or get a dog. I feel like a workshop class got ahold of it and kept asking the author, “But what makes this day different?” I would like to punch them all.

Despite these things, damn can Joy Williams write a sentence.

Kenneth Calhoun, “Primal Scenes”

M-TH60-SKA twelve-year-old boy moves with his family to Guadalajara after his father is caught having an affair with a student; sexy stuff and trouble ensues. 

(from Tin House 60, Summer 2014)

In America we weren’t allowed to roam the streets after the streetlights came on. But in Mexico, we discovered that our parents had relaxed their policies, for reasons we did not understand. There were streetlights in Mexico, too. Julian and I realized, after only a week in the neighborhood, that we could slip out of the apartment after dinner without being questioned or given a return time. We would rejoin the ongoing antics of the kids on the street–setting things alight, hunting rats in the ravine with slingshots.

I’ve never heard of Kenneth Calhoun before, though his bio tells me he has recently published a novel, Black Moon, which I will now have to read. I liked this story a lot. The voice of our twelve-year-old narrator is so certain and charming, and the details about living in Mexico feel very real. I love this: ”The apartment was new and looked very much how a Mexican-themed apartment in California would look. It had extremely hard wooden furniture that was painted bright colors. All the chair backs went up at exactly ninety-degree angles, making for a stiff sit.”

The story is basically about a boy exploring his sexuality at the same time that his philandering father is trying to right past wrongs, and not doing a terribly good job of it. The characters here are all very well drawn with the exception, perhaps, of the narrator’s younger brother Julian, who is presented rather one-dimensionally (“He was three years younger and liked to pretend he was a religious superhero called the Altar Boy.”) Nine-year-olds can be rather one-dimensional, though, and it didn’t bother me much.

Here’s an excerpt from Calhoun’s novel, which sounds really interesting, about a world overtaken by insomnia (I can relate as I’ve been waking up at three am for the past two weeks and can’t seem to break the cycle).

Tin House is damn good. I love their Lost & Found section and always find treasures to add to the list of books I have to read. Pick up the issue. Read Meg Freitag’s poems first and then begin at the beginning.