Monday, May 26, 2008

On "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta" by Kate Braverman (6570 words) *****

This story is pretty widely anthologized and for good reason--it's one of Kate Braverman's best. I first came across Braverman while working in a bookstore. Her novel Palm Latitudes was a perennial presence on our sale table; I didn't like the cover and thus wasn't all that intrigued by the book. A short while after that book disappeared from our store, however, Braverman ended up being the teacher of a writing class I took. Then I'd have to buy the paperback at full price, so I could read what it was my teacher was writing. She was a different sort of author than I typically liked at that time--extremely lyrical. And her class was also seemingly difficult.

She taught--in class--with an intensity matched by few others. We'd have to bring in three-page exercises for review, and generally after she was done talking about them in class, we might have a sentence or two left. I wasn't used to that. But her mantra was that if we would learn what not to do, what not to write, we'd be 100 percent better as writers. Basically, it came down to writing what was not expected. I took this as lyricism given her own work and would for awhile adopt a similar voice. It would take many years to learn what she really meant and how to implement it without necessarily using some overly inflated language. And I would have those years, as I would take her class two more times.

As I took her class, I began also to appreciate her own lyrical voice. However, my real appreciation for that voice began with her story collection Squandering the Blue, in which this story is featured. The title story and this story especially managed to situate the lyricism within the simpler language I preferred and into a more quickly graspable conflict and plot. While the former story is one that resonates as very sad, personal, and realistic, the latter story, "Tall Tales," is essentially a tall tale, a story that manages to merge realism and fantasy to create something truly harrowing--a drug addiction, a man addiction, a fall into horror. Read the story here.


Terry Finley said...

I like your blog.
Thanks for sharing.

Terry Finley

Short Story Reader said...

Thanks. I like yours too--a lot of interesting information on writing stories and the state of publishing.