Sunday, January 25, 2015

On "Waiting for the Americans" by Debra Di Blasi (5390 words) ***

After finishing graduate school, I returned to California and to my old university. Everyone seemed so much younger than I remembered. It was a commuter school, older students--but still, they were young. A few years after a job of mine in Fort Worth ended, I came back to visit. Most of the buildings downtown were still there, but of course, my company was gone, moved out, and so were so many of the people I'd known. Without my old company downtown, the place seemed, well, somehow incomplete. The trip itself proved a bit less than satisfying, the old haunts not so grand. Di Blasi's story is about the same kind of thing, a return to a past, an attempt to recapture those fondly remembered moments--and not so fondly (for me living in Forth Worth was not my favorite time in life either, but I still find a certain joy in thinking about that tough time). And it's about how we can't recapture that past. Here, it's a French man, come to see a place he'd ventured with his former wife--and a place where some American friends promise to return to visit him. He'll wait a long time. Read the story here at the Center for Fiction.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On "Flicker" by Kim Chinquee (246 words) ***

This little doozy is about a kind of creepy obsession. It's one that we can have sometimes, in work situations--or be the victim of--as taking advantage of the context is just too easy and too hard not to indulge. Here it's a building super. Read the story here at Center for Fiction.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

On "Three Parables from Fun Camp" by Gabe Durham (979 words) ***

I don't generally blog about excerpts from novels, but these three parables sort of stand on their own and together and were so marvelously fun, I couldn't help it. Durham here places a Jesus figure at summer camp. And I'm not talking about a religious kid; I'm talking about a kid who speaks with authority and changes the camp around him. Read the parables here at the Good Men Project.

On "The Keys of the Kingdom" by A. J. Cronin ***

The best-selling work of fiction in 1941, according to Publishers Weekly, was this religious text. I'm taking a bit of liberty in calling the work "religious," however, for the main character (with whom the author's sympathies seem to lie) is one who espouses a kind of echumenicalism.

The subject of the work is one Francis Chisholm, a British Catholic priest, who at the start of the novel is being forcefully retired for having various oddities. There also appears to have perhaps been something that happened in the past that might, in fact, be the reason for his dismissal. This is the frame into which we are placed when the story takes an abrupt turn back to his childhood and recounts Chisholm's life and what brought him to this point.

As it turns out, Chisholm is an orphan, having lost his parents at an early age. Taken in by a family who puts him to personal use (making money off him), Chisholm is abused child--until his Aunt Polly and Uncle Ned rescue him. He's also one who loves a girl named Nora, but having a religious bent, he is torn between love and his Catholic faith. His uncle sends him packing to a Catholic school, as the family hopes he'll become a priest. At school, he's a bit of an oddball, once taking a four-day walk without permission, all the way to a prostitute's house. The belief is that he's gone to see the woman, when in fact he simply spends the night at her abode, having nowhere to sleep, and nearly succeeds in converting her. On his return to his hometown, he finds Nora has had a child out of wedlock and is about to be married to a less-than-pleasant companion, who is mostly after her for her family's business. Nora commits suicide before the wedding can take place, and this renders Chisholm's decision about his life's course final: he will take the priesthood.

In Britain, at the various parishes at which he serves, he does not get along very well with his fellow clergymen, who often seem more interested in accumulating power for themselves than in actually helping people. Chisholm starts a youth club (that includes dancing, which another priest finds akin to sex out of marriage) in one place in which he assists; in another, Chisholm exposes a supposed miracle (a girl who lives without eating) as a fraud, and meanwhile finds a true miracle (a dying cripple who is given back his life and mobility), to the consternation of the priests who hoped to put their parish on the map of important places.

For these things, Chisholm is sent packing--to China. Here, he won't have other priests to bother. On arriving, he finds his mission is much less than promised--the buildings have been torn down and the many followers turn out to be two people who are only lying around because the previous priest paid them. Francis sets about creating a clinic to help the sick and an orphanage. He builds a new church from scratch, on land he'd hoped to purchase but is given for free, when the landowner sees that Chisholm isn't going to try to convert him--that is, that Chisholm's acts of kindness are genuine.

In time, Chisholm finds another mission, established long ago, up in the mountains, and he befriends the local believers there, helping them to become more standard in their practices. He gains a few sisters who come to assist him with his work. Disliking him at first, the sisters come to view him favorably, when they see how sincere he is, even if his views are not mainstream.

One of these particular views is that there are many roads to heaven. Hence, Francis doesn't feel a need to convert people to Catholicism as he is supposed to. When a Methodist mission sets up in the same town, he befriends the missionary couple rather than try to intimidate them into leaving.

At some point along the way, a civil war erupts in his area of China, and two warlords battle over the land on which Chisholm's mission rests. Chisholm helps the wounded from both camps, and he shelters men who don't want to fight. For this, he is threatened--if he continues to do such things, his mission will be destroyed. Meanwhile, in Europe, World War I has erupted, and the church is going to bat for one side or the other. Even in his own parish, Chisholm sees the disagreement split his three sister assistants, as they are from warring nations. If the church would just tell people not to fight, he thinks, we could have peace. It is wrong for Christians to fight one another.

And yet, after the threat to his mission, Chisholm finds himself the instigator of a military action. He gets a friend to help bomb a great gun. Thirty men are killed in the process, but the gun is destroyed and the mission is saved.

When Black Plague erupts, Chisholm enlists the help of an atheist doctor. And when Francis's old friend Anselm arrives to inspect his charge's mission, Anselm criticizes it for its wayward state (the mission is in bad repair because of a recent weather incident). Anselm stands in for the old church authorities that Francis often had run-ins with--he is pompous and egocentric, concerned with furthering his own church career.

At the end of Chisholm's stay in China, he is taken captive along with the Methodist missionaries, by the warlord who lost the civil war and who is now mostly just a renegade who kidnaps people for ransome. No money is forthcoming, however, and the missionaries have to flee for their lives. One dies, and Francis himself is severely injured, which brings him back to England.

There, his oddities once again become chatter for his fellow church folk, and he is asked to retire. But generally, Francis always turns the other cheek, and as a result, his enemies feel compelled to forgive him.

This brings me to the question of why this particular book might have had special appeal to Americans at a time when troubles were heating up around the globe. The United States would not enter World War II until the end of the year, but it was already a major supplier of arms to the Allies. And while the United States suffered few attacks on its shores and thus arguably never felt the sting of total war, its economy eventually would be engaged in a kind of total war that would effect social change (feminist, racial) during and after the conflict.

Cronin's book, it seems, points to a way of peace--one of treating one's brother with love no matter how one is treated and of showing great tolerance. These may well have been the wishes of Americans on the eve of war, that such actions could keep the nation out of the conflict. But as the section on the civil war in China shows, conflict, it seems, is inevitable when parties make you part of it. Another thing to note: this is one, I believe, of three novels that hit the top of the best-seller list during World War II that had to do with religion; that too is a fact of interest to me that I hope to explore as I read more of these books.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On "Viewing Medusa" by Mary Akers (5328 words) ***

I like a story that incorporates elements of research. It's obvious here that Akers is herself a huge fan of jellyfish or spent quite a bit of time reading about them. The tale involves people at a Dominican resort--scientists and locals--and how the mix of the two cultures can lead to tragedy. Josie may be a jellyfish of a sort, but she's also a scientist in her cold and uncaring manner. Read the story here at the Good Men Project.

Monday, January 5, 2015

On "The Glass Blower's Bones" by Fei Wu (2450 words) ***

Years ago I assigned a Yukio Mishima story to a introduction to literature class I was teaching. They were not impressed. The tale "made no sense." Our western minds want to read things linearly; but tales from the East are often cyclical or, well, simply strange. Fei Wu's tale is about people living in a city of glass, one that eventually shatters. It's also about the glassmaker himself, how he keeps a woman under glass as his own. Despite its strangeness, one gets the sense that this is a tale about a man whose treatment of his wife eventually catches up to him--yep, it's a relatively ordinary world underneath. But thing is, when viewed from generations later, the glassblower--indeed, the one-time city--is the stuff of legend. Legends die hard. Read the tale here at Far Enough East.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On "The Things I Did and Did" by Mel Bosworth (511 words) ***

Bosworth captures the odd and unlikable world of the bus. A couple is traveling across country; so is another couple. One is a couple in the "romantic" sense; one is simply two kids. They spend the trip staring at one another awkwardly, trying to sneak in time for music, bathroom, sex. Read the story here at Bull.

Friday, December 26, 2014

On "Seven Points for Love" by Alexander Luft (4569 words) ****

"Seven Points for Love" uses the motif of a game of Scrabble to rehearse the events of a marriage and eventual divorce. Indeed, dating may be a game, but so is life. The point scoring comes at the end. Read the piece here at Coachella Review.

On "Total War and Social Change" edited by Arthur Marwick ***

I wanted to read a book that went into theories of total war as part of the preparation for reading best-sellers from the World War II era, and this is the one that I ended up choosing--rather haphazardly. As such, it was not perhaps as theoretical as I was hoping. Marwick uses his edited collection to try to prove points that he's made in other books of his own: that total war doesn't change social structures but rather speeds up or intensifies changes in social structures that are already in process. For the most part, each of the essays help to support Marwick's point in some manner.

None of the essays focus on the United States, the focus of my reading list, but then arguably the United States did not engage in total war, at least if one is to consider the destruction rendered on the society at home. But I tend to think of total war not only in those terms but in terms that involve the community's entirety of resources. In that sense, the image that has often been presented to me of World War II in the United States is that the country was entirely mobilized, even if actual fighting on its shores was close to nill--whole industries were still turned over to the war effort. In this book, the focus is rather World War I France, Britain, and Germany and World War II USSR, Germany, France, and Britain.

The very first essay in this book, however, ironically, seems mostly to try to debunk Marwick's general thesis. There, the author argues that contrary to popular belief, World War I did not greatly change women's roles in France; if anything, it re-emphasized women's domestic roles, and any work pushed on women outside the home was a temporal abnormality of the war. (If any changes came about, he notes, it was simply in morality, as women, free to move about, became less prone to stay faithful to their husbands and families.)

Alistair Reid, writing of World War I Britain, does quite the opposite, restating essentially in his thesis what Marwick has denoted as the social consequence of total war--that World War I sped up social changes in Britain that were already in the process of becoming. That said, he too sees little permanent change to women's roles in the workforce. Rather, he states that the war increased the power of the lower classes and helped to equalize wages. However, in a seeming contrast to his overall point, the Great Depression following the war reversed all these gains.

The article on Germany in World War I shows how heavy industry became much more important at the cost of small business owners. In addition, farmers became better off because of food shortages. Changes in economic structure (including the loss of farming income following the war) contributed to the rise of the Nazis.

For the USSR, World War II helped to solidify Stalin's and the communists' grip on power while failing to transform the society in real terms. In other words, the USSR became more totalitarian. (Interestingly, there was an increase in the number of party members but the politically powerful members remained those who had come to age during the revolutionary times rather than later.)

In perhaps the most interesting essay to me, Mark Roseman shows how the Nazis in World War II Germany did their utmost to keep the civilian population from feeling the effects of war--and largely succeeded until fairly late in the war. This was in large respect because the Nazis did not feel that they had a sufficient grip on power to ask for greater sacrifice from the German people. (It kind of reminded me of how the United States fought its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--borrowing the money rather than raising taxes and generally paying little comparative attention to these events in the popular culture. Our lives go on as normal.) Many of the social changes wrought by the Nazis--namely the weakening of class identities--actually lived into and set up the democratic government that was to follow (and in fact many of the powerbrokers were former Weimar Republic and Nazi officials).

World War II in France ultimately merely accentuated changes already taking place, placing the state more centrally in individuals' lives (even if different factions during the war, because of France's defeat, might well have torn it apart). And for British women, World War II did not significantly change their roles at home, but what it did do was lead more older married women into the workforce permanently as part-time lower-paid workers.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

On "How to Talk to Children About Death" by Andrew Roe (1060 words) ***

The title pretty much says everything here. Roe explores the difficulties of explaining what death is and what happens after it to someone just coming onto the scene in terms of life. I remember, as a four- or five-year-old, one time in the bathroom telling my mom I didn't want to die. I obviously was thinking about it too. It scared me. Now, older, I think I'm more scared about how I die and what I leave behind--not that I still don't want to die. Read the story here at Fwriction.

On “The Civilian in War” edited by Jeremy Noakes ***

This edited collection discusses the civilian during World War II in eight countries--Britain, Germany, the USSR, the United States, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and France. As is typical of collections by different writers, the quality and scope is a bit uneven, and the whole doesn’t quite hang together. Still, there’s a lot to think about here.

In the introduction to the volume, the editor discusses some key differences between World Wars I and II. The former reaped havoc on some nations, sparking revolution (most notably in the USSR), while strangely, the latter in fact seemed mostly to inspire national unity. Why the difference? The editor makes a point that it had to do with morale, and each nation, conscious of problems created in the First World War did its utmost to keep the morale of the citizenry high. And strangely, though the Second World War involved more civilian casualties (it was, in fact, even more of a “total war”), citizens didn’t by and large react against their governments. Rather, they worked for their governments.

This focus on morale is sustained throughout the earlier essays in the collection and then seems to fall away as one proceeds through the book. Britain, the first nation covered, kept morale high through fuller employment, increased wages, maintaining food supply, providing entertainment, and keeping hope alive. The same could be said for the United States to a large extent, though its experience was markedly different, since its citizens bore so little of the war’s violence directly. That essay instead focuses on how, despite this, the war changed social circumstances in America, leading to the changes in civil rights and women’s rights that would rock the country in the years after the war.

Germany’s citizenry felt the war very directly. There, the government maintained conditions that were relatively good for Germans but poor for most others. Basing its laws on the idea that the Germans were the supreme race, all other ethnic groups suffered from poorer working conditions and smaller rations, in descending order depending on how inferior a given race was. Labor shortages throughout the war meant that Germany was constantly have to import or enslave foreignors.

Views of Russian citizenry are somewhat hard to come by, but in general the USSR too suffered from various shortages of food and material, as it lost land to the Germans and as the government attempted to take more from its farmers, whose yields actually decreased during the conflict (especially as men were drafted into the army). Regulations regarding the church and other pre-Soviet national traditions were relaxed in part to help instill more desire to fight for the nation (whereas before the communist regime would have put the kabash on such things). Stalin was elevated to heroic status and consolidated power via the war.

Japan’s citizenry was largely kept in the dark about the war by the state media. While young men were trained from school age in a national militaristic agenda and people were told that all was well abroad, the common person felt the effects of the war through various shortages and eventually bombing.

Italy’s position is unique in that its citizens ended up split between the Allies and the Axis. Having never really united as a country, it sort of fell apart into regions and civil war. In this sense, Italy’s experience of World War II would seem to me to be more like many national experiences of World War I.

The Netherlands fell quickly and early, surprised to be attacked, having stayed out of the First World War as neutral and intending to do so throughout the Second. As one of Hitler’s “superior” races, the Dutch were treated better than many other conquered nations--but as shortages began to manifest themselves later in the war, the Dutch suffered first, since resources were held for German needs. Many Dutch, drafted into the German labor pool, opted to go into hiding or find other ways to avoid laboring for Germany. They turned out not to be so compliant as Hitler had expected.

The Poles were the exact opposite on Hitler’s scale of ethnicities, and Hitler essentially desired to wipe them off the map. In addition, Polish citizens experienced three different types of war--as part of a formally adopted portion of Germany, as a remnant of Poland controlled by Germany, and as a formally adopted part of the USSR. In all cases, though to differing extents, the Poles had to maintain their culture in secret, as they found their language and so on banned.

The article on France was a strange fit for this book, as it focused mostly on women during war--and the fact that women were encouraged to do their part for the war domestically but not much in terms of taking an active military role.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On "So Then Pam Wakes Up and Bobby's in the Shower, Acting Like Nothing Happened" by Emily Koon (442 words) ***

One has to like this story if only for the title. I love how it spools out to a story of its own, one that one recognizes once one's into the narrative itself if one is of a certain age. The tale here is one of laziness and expectation and desire, the way that we can fall into a rut and how that can wear away at the people around us. I'm reminded a bit of Raymond Carver's work, only here the scale is even much smaller--but similar characters. You can read the story here at Fwriction.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On "A Negative Number" by Rochelle Germond (1282 words) ****

Here's a clever story about obsession, in this case about weight and food. The goodness here is in the telling, which isn't much unlike the title. Read it here at Coachella Review.

On “Human Smoke” by Nicholson Baker *****

There are so many ways to approach this book that I’m not sure where to begin. Maddening, discouraging, intriguing--Baker’s book is a history of World War II, a collection of historical vignettes, and a careful selection of facts such that the war is viewed in ways that Americans are not used to seeing it in.

On one level, and this is really, I think, Baker’s main task, it is a history of passivism in the face of war. In this sense, it is a unique take on the Good War, since our usual view is on that of the supposed heroes. Here, the heroes are those who refused to go to war in the first place, and those who pushed for negotiation and compromise come off looking much more intelligent and kind than those who put up defenses and forced military action. As such, Britain’s prime minister Chamberlain, who famously signed away parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler seems somehow more heroic than Winston Churchill, who stood up to Hitler. And indeed, placed in chronological order, with a focus on avoiding war, Chamberlain does seem the more reasonable character. Churchill comes off perhaps worse than Hitler himself in Baker’s text--belligerent, petty, desirous of killing as many civilians (particularly Germans) as possible. As Baker brings out, it was Churchill who started the aerial bombing of Germany before Germany started bombing England. (That said, Germany's earlier bombing of Poland is virtually ignored. An interesting side note: bombing campaigns, thought to lower civilian morale, appear to have done just the opposite--the more people were bombed, the more citizens wanted revenge and thus for their own armies to bomb the other nation. Bombing of others actually "raised" morale. Vengeance begets more vengeance.)

Likewise here also, Roosevelt comes off as someone not quite so wonderful either. While milder than Churchill, Baker shows that Roosevelt wanted the war and was doing very much what he could to stir up the embers of hate with Germany and Japan: supplying war materials to Britain and Russia, building up a larger and larger peacetime army as 1941 neared, placing ships in Hawaii to keep them closer to Japan, exploring the possibility of bombing Japanese cities (even though the United States was not at war with Japan yet) from China and elsewhere, cutting off gasoline and other necessities to the Japanese. Several times, Roosevelt is noted as saying that he can’t fire the first shot (due to election pledges) but that he can try to force the other’s hand.

I suspect Germany and Russia come off in a slightly lighter light than usual because the main sources of material were in the English language (especially the New York Times). Russia’s treatment seems scant, given how many died there and how it treated its own people in addition to the Germans. Germany, because of its treatment of the Jewish people, obviously still looks like a horrible belligerent. And yet, over and over, the idea of moving Jews out of Germany (rather than killing them) is posited, but no one wants them (save for the Dominican Republic, looking to whiten its population)--not England, not the United States. Britain does its best to keep more Jews from moving to Israel, and Madagascar is proposed as a good locale, save that the British blockade keeps many a ship from getting out of European waters.

And while Baker’s point, that if everyone refused to fight, there would not be--could not be--a war, is clear, the kind of short shift that some of the causes of Britain’s belligerence get seems a bit unfair. Yes, history is written by the victors, and so we rarely see some of the causes of German and Japanese irritation in such detail as we see here, but the fact that Hitler repeatedly broke promises (to take over only part of Czechoslovakia, to not attack Russia, etc.), rather undermined the repeated efforts, once the war started, toward various peace accords, for peace in part depends on trust.

Still, one comes away from the whole with a sick feeling, knowing the utter devastation and the number of lives taken, many in utterly cruel forms, in the name of various national honors, of money, of politics. There is, one could posit, never enough reason to kill another human being.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

On "Dinner Conversation" by Christian Aguiar (233 words) ***

This is one of those stories where you only see the top of the iceberg until the end, one of those stories with the fighting couple, and the mystery. So much depends on what we don't know until the end. You can read it here at Boston Literary Magazine.

Monday, December 1, 2014

On "The Uninvited" by Kristine Ong Muslim (411 words) ***

Muslim's four-hundred-word descent into madness and revenge might demand a second or third reading--it did so from me. But it's compelling enough that you might well be up for such. Let's just say that this is a horror story I wouldn't want to be part of--and it's something I'd generally avoid seeing on film. Read the piece here at Flywheel.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On "The Second Four" by Mel Bosworth (237 words) ***

Bosworth's tale combines elements of a popular joke beginning with the not-so-familiar experience of being witness to something shameful and not knowing what to do about, not even being able to talk about it. It's this odd juxtaposition that makes the piece captivating. Read it here at Flywheel.

On "The Second World War" by John Keegan ****

I'm starting of a list of best sellers of the World War II era with several books of history about the war, before I launch into the actual best sellers. The idea is to look at how a "total war" might impact the kinds of books that sell and that people read during it. It seems to me like here in the United States, during my life, even when we are at war, the entertainment industry goes along as always and whatever war we're fighting is almost just background. Could the same be said of World War II, one of the most all-out wars that this nation has fought, where every resource, it seemed, was devoted to victory in Europe and Japan?

Keegan's book is a useful and largely traditionalist account of and introduction to World War II (he tends to discount revisionists who might claim that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened or that Truman wanted so badly to test the nuclear bomb that he ignored any possibility that the Japanese might surrender before it was dropped, etc., and discounting such claims seems a wise thing to do in a book that aims to tell a basic but thorough history).

Keegan starts by discussing the causes of the war, going back to the days before the first world war, showing how industrialization, conscription, and even democracy changed the way in which war was waged. Healthier people meant there were more young men to fight--and to die--as population in Europe exploded. Industrialization meant that the means and capacity to make weapons was greatly enhanced (indeed, many weapons, prior to the atomic bomb, were thought to be the weapon that would, in a sense, end war-making ability of nations, since there seemed no good defense against it, be it a gun or a tank--but each time, defensive weapons and strategies have been found, and war has continued, with even more bloody results). More-productive economies meant there was more surplus to spend on war and on weapons. Conscription meant that populations could demand a greater voice in governance; and, to reverse the idea, the vote meant that populations shared the blame for government war-making decisions and took part in them, and the general idea of the equality of men meant that armies too became equalizing forces (no longer was the army the realm of nobles alone). Indeed, the mechanization of war also replaced the strong man as the greatest fighter with the smart man as the greatest--the one who could come up with the best new weapons systems.

What also emerges from the book is the incredible toll that the war took on various nations, particularly Russia, Poland, Germany, and Japan. The reasons for the war are also explored. Hitler, it seems, was in large part out for revenge, which seems a terrible way to run a nation. He was also after greater resources (one reason to invade the USSR). Japan, too, was after resources. There, the Japanese felt hamstrung by the United States because of its various economic policies, which aimed to aid China and which punished Japan for its takeover of Chinese land and other parts of the Asian Pacific. It was the removal of the United States from this sphere that was Japan's goal--and the economic profits it would reap.

In both the cases of Japan and the Germany, it seems to me as if the steps toward war were ill thought out, seeing as they had far fewer resources on which to draw. Hitler thought Britain could be worn down to side with him; he thought the USSR could be crippled by his swift action. Japan thought the United States could be pushed off as well. But the USSR and the United States both had resources far beyond the Axis powers. The USSR moved its factories out of Germany's way and thus continued to build tanks and bombs even after Germany had marched nearly to Moscow. The United States, although having a paltry navy at the start of the war that was fairly well damaged at Pearl Harbor, had great capacity to catch up quickly.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union had points where the war could have taken a turn for the significantly worse, but I tend to think that such would have merely prolonged the war rather than shifted the winning side. One great fortuitous happening for the United States happened at Midway Island. Had Japan successfully managed to sink the U.S. fleet there, the United States would have had significant difficult mounting a counterattack, as its foothold in the Pacific would have been compromised. Likewise, had Hitler not insisted on holding on to Stalingrad so long, the German army might not have taken on so many losses in Russia. But really, it seems to me that had Germany not attacked Russia and had Japan not attacked the United States, Britain would have fallen (indeed, Britain likely would have fallen had the United States not entered the war), and the world would be much different today.

Interesting chapters in this book deal with strategic dilemmas of individual leaders. What also emerges is a view of each leader, three of whom were very invested in military matters. Roosevelt, by contrast, let his military men do most of the work and make most of the decisions--and even seemed to have a kind of distaste for war (an irony, since Hitler thought Roosevelt the reason the United States had gone to war--that is, that the people themselves had little stomach for it).

In the end, Keegan denotes that the war's terrible consequences may have discouraged large-scale war from ever happening again. I tend to think that is highly optimistic.

Friday, November 21, 2014

On "Mix Tape" by Elisha Wagman (ca. 7300 words) ***

When I was in high school, at dances, I would tell the gal I was dancing with what a particular song reminded me of--even at that time, even when the songs were current. This one reminds me of Star Search, because that's where I first heard it. Wagman's music and memory connection is a bit more meaningful than my own. The story is a collection of memories attached to songs, but what makes it such a heartfelt read is knowing exactly why these songs are being chosen for this mix tape. Jasmine is a girl dying of a disease, who knows she's dying, and whose final act--or close to final--is creating a mix tape for the single mother she's leaving behind. Read the story here on page 30 of Fiction Fix.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On "Dante and the Lobster" by Samuel Beckett (4325 words) ***

I've only read a couple of plays by Samuel Beckett. It is said that of his dramas, the real joy is in watching the performance. Unfortunately, the portion of one performance of Waiting for Godot that I saw took a more somber view of the play, and the whole was rendered incredibly tiresome. Indeed, such could easily be the case with much of Beckett's work, for so much of it is about the tiresomeness of existence, the struggle to find meaning in a life that wanders by us. Here a man goes out to buy lobster for a meal. In the course he has a bit of toast, discoursing for a long while in his mind on the proper way to have bread of the warmed sort. It's stream of consciousness in Beckett's own fashion (it seems that such practitioners each have their own style, be they Joyce, Faulkner, or other). Still, I have read elsewhere that this short piece is a good introduction to Beckett's prose, and if so, it's worth a read if one is curious. Read the story here at Evergreen Review.