Sunday, August 30, 2009

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

I read a lot of fiction and I often chastise myself for not reading more non-fiction. Recently I decided to pick up a copy of Dave Eggers’ book that documents one family who survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 2005. Eggers references Washington’s fear of terrorists possibly overcoming the city in the aftermath of the hurricane. But what surprisingly comes out of this story is less about social profiling of Islamic terrorists, and a whole lot about ‘the enemy is us.’ Abdulrahaman Zeitoun was born in Syria, a Muslim and a U.S. citizen, a well-respected contractor, and a rental property owner in New Orleans with a family. His journey of heroism to stay in the city during the hurricane in order to oversee his property and to help those left behind, people as well as animals, is counterbalanced by the absurd, mindless, heartless bureaucrats we usually associate with monolithic governments. Zeitoun’s wife Kathy and children leave the city. Sections of the book alternate her perspective with Zeitoun’s and deepen our empathy with the personal tragedy that this family experiences. Always keeping the reader immersed in the urgency of the hurricane and its aftermath, Eggers’ writing straddles the larger history of the Zeitoun family, across time and countries. It is a fascinating piece of writing. And it is journalism at its best, a cautionary tale about our democracy committed to protecting the rights of citizens, which in fact turns out to be a government more in tune with incarcerating prisoners than helping decent citizens trapped in the flood of New Orleans without food, water, medical help, and decent shelter. Thanks to the Zeitoun family’s survival, Zeitoun’s passion for building and generosity, and Dave Eggers’ journalism, we have a clear picture of how our government can fail its people. The strength of one large family can overcome adversity but not without a lot of pain and indignity. If one message of this book is clear it is that it is incumbent on all citizens to be vigilant and hold those in authority to be accountable.

"Touch Me," by Ronder Thomas Young

I like the way this story spools out the threads of a young man’s life. It’s all here in about 4,000 words; family, friends, brother-sister relationship, sexual exploits, death and marriage. There’s a chronology here that underlies the structure but the surface level of story closely resembles the way we experience our lives. The writing illuminates fluidity of past, present and future. Through the masterly use of dialogue, we are invited into a story that defies the factual march of time. Enjoy the story here at storySouth.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Senseless Acts," by Ethel Rohan

Loneliness coupled with imagination can motivate what may seem like odd behavior but speaks truth to our inner ear. Fear of being seen for who we are can paralyze an attempt to connect with others. Or, we may feel unnoticed. We may find ourselves walking toward another person wearing the same sweater we are which was once hanging in the J Crew catalog. One of the age-old existential dilemmas is that it takes someone else to ‘see’ us, to validate our existence. But rarely do we commit acts to connect and be connected is such a meaningful way. Try this brief sad story on for size. The language leaves the reader pondering the meaning of senseless acts. Read it here in kill author.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Renters," by David Manning

It’s not easy capturing the compassionate observant voice of the child one used to be. But in Manning's story, the narrator does just that with perfect pitch and lyricism. It’s a story about foreclosure and might ring true with some of today’s readers. The details are exact, the narrative distance between boy and man is in balance, and what comes together by story’s end is the knitting of experience with insight tinged with irony. I like this particular image: “… the roof, which I remember was dun-colored with speckles of mica in the shingles that glittered like polished dimes when the sun was high.” Enjoy the read here at Anderbo.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Bearings," by Margo McCall

The title for this story is just right. Landscape and setting work to highlight character. “Bearings” in any marriage can mean two different things to partners drawn to each other. Joe and Maricella come from very different backgrounds. She is drawn to Joe, a man very unlike her ‘saintly’ father, and is intent on a domestic life. Joe admits to being afraid of fatherhood and finds his soul by leaving and exploring the back roads, mountains, and desert landscape doted with juniper. This story lends credibility to the old truism of opposites attract. Can they be part of the same living structure, roots and branches? Read it here at Wazee.

Friday, August 21, 2009

"First to Go," by Constance Squires

This November 9 will be the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I had been in Berlin before and after the fall. Americans, including myself, have complicated myths about Germans and Nazis. This story taps into our mutual and complex history and values. The culture of Nazis and punk rockers delivered by Constance Squires is captured with graphic plot and characters. It is a good read begging for more. In fact, this reader wonders if there might be a novel in the making given the sweep of character history alluded to in the story. The topic is timely, readers will be prompted to ask questions regarding social ethics, and the story is available here at Identity Theory.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Playground Story," by Kevin Spaide

This narrator delivers a great sense of menace from the beginning, “I get vertigo if I stray near the window.” He doesn’t speak the native language where he lives which heightens his fear of speaking with others in the presence of his toddler son. A girl wearing “outer-space insectoid quality” sunglasses blocks his son from the playground slide. There are many funny moments that lighten this narrator’s frustrations. By the end, a tender moment with his wife lifts this story to the uniquely complex tangle of life. Read it here in FRIGG.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Washed Away," by Michael Croley

Last December 2008, the news was filled with a story from Kingston, Tennessee when a dike burst from a holding pond of a coal fired power plant. The result was a devastating release of 3 million cubic yards of coal ash containing arsenic and lead. In this story a similar devastation of land and life occurs with the added fuel of a young marriage entering the territory of relationship erosion. What I like about the young wife, a Korean woman straddling two cultures as well as her relationship with her husband and his parents, is the insecurity and regrets she expresses. She has a prescient awareness of the discord ahead of her. There are many wonderful lines in this story that suggest the emotional toxicity this couple is treading, for example, “In the distance the sludge was moving with the creeks. Two ingredients not meant to make anything.” Read the story here in Narrative Magazine and look for the novel in progress After the Sun Fell from which this story is taken.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Swanbit," by Teresa Svoboda

From the opening line, I was pulled into the mystery delivered by the rhythm of the language: “Solely and thus sorely did he row off the disk of the sun that the lake reflected and into the dark of the piling-held dock where many-legged water- and not just water life lived, where he lived, when he could.” It’s a wonderful, terrible tale. We’ve all heard of the power of swans, their bulk, their hissing, and the many myths they give rise to. Once while living in Holland where the canals were populated by graceful white and black swans, I was cautioned to keep my distance and to be wary of their merciless beaks and wings. For a tale with beauty and horror, you’ll find this more than a satisfactory yarn. Read it here in failbetter.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"The Conquistadors of Los Angeles" by Kim Ponders

Deep emotion is just that. It’s there and it won’t go away no matter how long ago. In this story by Kim Ponders about a woman’s longing after a lost love affair, beautiful language and imagery evoke the true work of emotion. The voice is mesmerizing because it seamlessly straddles the practical, and the longing; the professional woman on travel with colleagues, and feeling the immediacy of her former lover. After all these years, she admits what she wants: “I wanted him only the way he was before he’d fled to Los Angeles, in that particular way he had of clinging to me and pushing me back, with all of us suspended inside the possibility of what would come next.” There is a dark compulsive nature to this voice that recalls a similar one in Lydia Davis’ novel, The End of the Story. Both are masters of language. Keying in just under 4,000 words, read Ponders’ short story here in the Mississippi Review.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Zeal," by Stefanie Freele

At some point in early motherhood, the urge to refrain from “no” gives way to deep feelings that seek quick resolve through physical force. Today most mothers refrain from spanking their children and find more socially acceptable forms of reprimand. In this scene between mother and young child, the writer explores creative interactions involving love, tenderness, violence and pain. The continuum is not exclusive to mother and child. Read it here in Night Train and enjoy the magnification of the story that comes at the end.

Monday, August 3, 2009

“Sea Change” and “Blood” by Paul Silverman

Two shorts, two hypochondriacs; one story by the sea, and the other references a landfill. Silverman has a knack for pulling together character and vivid setting. In “Sea Change,” the writer weaves a wonderful tale of Buddhist monks, the inevitable power of the sea, and a woman who must endure her husband’s hypochondria. In “Blood,” it’s funny to see how this hypochondriac cannot accept a generous gift of a hot shave, and gives it to the landfill watchman whose fur face returns by midnight. Two power packed stories are delivered with rhythm, imagery, and conflict all less than 1,400 words. A definite bang for your reader buck at Eclectica here.