Friday, November 27, 2009

"Office at Night," by Pamela Painter

Pamela Painter has turned to another painter, Edward Hopper, for narrative inspiration. The well-known illustration from which she takes her story’s title, conveniently thumb-nailed on the site, serves as the source of imagination for her story world. Hopper’s super realist style coupled with Painter’s equally masterful locus of details enriches the reader’s visual experience layered with the verbal. Hopper’s painting seems so long ago and yet we are curious still about the people and how they connect. Painter takes us along with her: “What word, in 1940, would have been used to describe those rounded globes beneath the stretch, from rounded hip to hip, of her blue dress?” Think of this story as a virtual visit to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis where this painting resides. Read it here in Smokelong Quarterly.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Atlantic Retreat," by Stephen Busby

This is a mythic story. After Joseph Campbell there was a flourish of these and many failed to offer more than the old tales. But here I find the veiled references to the River Styx, the ferry transports, the coins, and the marshy bog deepen the character’s plunge toward testing and self-evaluation. Also, as part of my enjoyment of the story, I have weathered a storm on the Atlantic island of Ocracoke during the off-tourist season in November, and this character’s experience rings with truth. Enduring one of his challenges, lyricism buoys his spirit and moves the story with rhythm: “I’m slipping more on the steep rubble-ground but won’t stop now—what are you equipped for—what are you going to do—I go on hauling myself upwards: this is what I do, there is only this, as I slip and slide and grip onto rocks and pull and pant to go on climbing; … .” To feel the existential experience of grief and loneliness that straddle realism and mythology turn here in R.KV.R.Y.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Two Years," by Tim Johnston

The back-story here centers on a child kidnapping, a context that taps into contemporary fears in this country, and the mountain setting suggests the West. This is a dark tale whose gift is the portrait of a character experiencing loss and feeling powerless against an indifferent landscape. The style evokes harsh realism reminiscent of a Cormac McCarthy story. Here’s an example of the lyrical tone and the prevailing motif of ‘watching’: “He checked again with the road, and again looked out over the gorge . . . all the way down the pass like this, looking, looking, until at last he reached the small resort town that lay in the narrow mountain valley like a tongue in the mouth of a wolf.” The novelistic scope succeeds through scenes that are exquisitely chosen to develop the reader’s empathy for the main character. Read it here in Narrative Magazine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Summit," by Ravi Mangla

Here’s an unusual way to meet in a bookstore if you’re not afraid of heights. Mangla leaves this reader feeling almost giddy and airborne, wishing only the best for this couple and what they give to each other. Read it here in Pank.

Friday, November 13, 2009

At the Jim Bridger, by Ron Carlson

This is my first reading of a collection of stories by Carlson. He brings the reader right into the room with clean details and an invitation to listen to the characters. In the first story, “Towel Season,” Carlson renders with compassion a mathematician who wanders through the maze of suburban families and pool parties while at the same time noodling his latest equations in his mind: “The chasm between his pencil figurings and the figures of the real world was that, a chasm, and there was no bridge.” But the way he finds himself to a bridge is surprising and satisfying to the reader. In fact, most of these stories find us looking deep into the lives of regular people who when they are cast into a moment of disorientation must find a way out. None of these stories are predictable in their characters or endings and their precise realism lulls us into safe territory where this writer mines the riches of life.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"The Night That Gail Left Early," Jeff Clinkenbeard

In this age of smart phones, we are instantly and almost continuously in communication with one another. Except for that moment in the hot zone when you hear the person on the other end whine, ‘oh, I think I’m losing you.’ And you know the rest. But in this story there is another twist to the unreliable cell phone connection, the mobility it affords you and the freedom to roam where you please, undetected. Read it here at Anderbo.