Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Raymond

Raymond Chronos Darcy, the 1996 Saturn Wagon Green Nookie Monster*, turned 150,000 yesterday near Flagler, Colorado. Readers with exceptional memories might recall the big guessing game of December 2002: where would Nazareth* turn 200,000?
Readers with super-exceptional memories will recall that Nazareth turned 200,000 at the Burlington, Colorado exit on I-70, between the state line (Molly's guess?) and the first place one sees the mountains (Irene's guess?). Raymond's big moment was 36 miles and 7 years from Naz's and also between the state line and the first view of Pike's Peak.
Readers must be alerted to the fact that I only drive this stretch of I-70 in this direction once or twice a year and the turning point was 415 miles from where I lived with Naz and about 1425 miles from where Raymond lives. It's an odd coincidence.
So, what can we learn from this oddity? a) I keep my cars for a long time b) my cars have unusual names c) I'm not sure-- what lesson do you think that one can draw from strikingly similar mileage birthdays?

*Raymond Chronos Darcy is named after the Nebraska wine region, the Titan (Chronos= Saturn = father of the gods), and Austen's Fitzwilliam.
** Nazareth was named by my college boyfriend after we broke up and he was driving my car while I lived in Scotland. I always wondered if he intended Lazarus, but have never known.
Naz was sold in May 2003 for $400 to a friend who coaxed two more years out of him before he was donated and refurbished and given to a woman leaving a shelter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dianthus has toes

Recent posts about beans and books (and I have several more such to write) haven't generated much attention, so I'll pander to the crowd and post cute kid pictures.
Yes, Dianthus has toes and likes to play with them. He also smiles, sticks stuff in him mouth and shrieks in a joyful (?) way. He's visited the capitol building in Richmond (in the sling below), making him one up (and about forty down) on his grandma in the competition.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Orangutan Did It and Other Stories

I don't know how to read short stories. Should one pick one up every now and again? Read through an entire collection? Read them as a tasty morsel unto themselves or bites that make up a larger meal? It hardly seems fair to compare them to novels, but not right to say that they aren't comparable. Sometimes I think that I just don't like short stories, but that's absurd. It would be like saying I don't like novels or I don't like dessert and I think that a few of the stories of O Henry and Shirley Jackson* are some of most masterful things I have read. Still, I rarely feel fully satisfied reading short stories, although I think the fault is my method, not with the stories, but I really don't know.
This is all background for my lack of good review for the bunches of short stories I have recently been reading: Pushkin's The Captain's Daughter, a good smattering of Edgar Allen Poe, all of The Time is Not Yet Ripe: Contemporary China's Best Writers and Their Stories, that were stand alone stories, and all of Daniel A. Hoyt's Then We Saw The Flames.

In reverse order then, I'll start with Then We Saw The Flames. The stories are good, very good; some great, but Dan is a friend of mine. I had a hard time reconciling my created implied author of these stories with the person I know and like. The stories are all over the place, literally. They are set in the swamp, in Dresden, in Nebraska. The characters are teenagers, single dads, terrorists, drunks, emigrants and immigrants. I kept wondering where Dan was in these stories. Most stories involve past or present tragedy, or at least dramatic bad times. I couldn't discern whether the overall message is negative: that dramatic misfortune is the norm, or positive: that bad things happen and people are resilient. The wonder of fiction is that writers of it can lead multiple lives without directly experiencing the losses. Still, it was horribly distracting constantly wondering about my laid back graduate student buddy (here in his author photo taken by Sarah Hoyt) and how his autobiography could overlap with the narrators of his stories. Highly recommended, but I'm biased.

I felt out of my element reading the stories of The Time is Not Yet Ripe because not only were they short stories, but they were short stories in translation and they were Chinese. Many of the stories had a pervasive dour, disappointed and direct feeling. I really didn't know if that somehow stems from the language as it is translated, from the Chinese story culture, or from the subjects. The stories were all written in the 1980s and most focused on life post-cultural revolution, pre-Tianamen square. Guilt, relief, apology and apprehension about the future are central to most of the stories. I'd recommend the collection for anyone visiting China; the stories are 25 years out of date, but capture a moment well, and my favorite stories: "Ten Years Deducted", "The Tall Woman and Her Short Husband" and "The Time Is Not Yet Ripe" more generally.
I don't like being scared and I think I don't like short stories, so it surprised me when I picked up an Edgar Allen Poe collection. I was even more surprised to find many of the stories were not creepy scary (although, as a reader of Wuthering Expectations, I shouldn't have been). The analytical mysteries ("Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Gold-Bug") may or may not be nearly as good as the creepy stories ("Masque of Red Death" "The Cask of Amontillado") but I found them great fun after having read two buried alive stories in a row (and I skipped Tell-Tale Heart). I'm excited to have read "The Gold-Bug" because yesterday, out of the blue, I was given The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers. Now I'll have some idea to what it refers.
Pushkin's "The Captain's Daughter" didn't excite me much. The Mister remembers really liking it and I remember really liking "The Queen of Spades" in my college Russian lit. class**. If I were of a more analytical bent, there's tons that could be said about the form of The Captain's Daughter; Pushkin is playing with reader sympathies, an unreliable narrator and multiple endings. If one knew more about Russian lit and Russian history, one could expound at length about the place of "The Captain's Daughter", both as a pivotal piece of fiction and as commentary on a historical event I knew nothing about. I'll leave such exposition to others and give The Captains Daughter an unenthusiastic recommendation and Pushkin overall a more vigorous nod.

Oh, in one of the above stories, an orangutan committed a crime. Seriously. It made me laugh very hard. It was not intended to be funny. Photo of Dianthus and a giant radish (a garden escapee) purely to interest my readers who are not short story readers.

*I read a review once which commented that, "Ms. Jackson seems incapable of writing a bad sentence." Since then I have regularly reminded myself, "I may not be a great writer, but I have one skill that Shirley Jackson doesn't. I am completely capable of writing a bad sentence and demonstrate that skill often."

**All of the short stories I read in my 19th Century Russian Literature class were fabulous, especially Gogol's. Why do I think that I don't like the form?