Sunday, June 1, 2008

On "Live Cargo" by Paul Toutonghi ***

I read this collection because a review described it as a collection of "cubist" stories. I was curious about the description, and it seems applicable. Each story is broken into fragments, mostly tiny, and the first story is even about Picasso. I used to do quite a bit of the fragmented writing myself about ten years ago. I liked the intellectual exercise of putting a story together. But as I've gotten older, I've become more and more a fan of straight stories. I prefer the heartfelt to the intellectual. Both put together, of course, is best of all. The unfortunate thing about this collection--and with fragmented stories in general--is that it's hard to build up emotional resonance when stories are clipped into such abbreviated sections. Toutonghi achieves his best work when he somehow manages to connect to the reader. This happened, suprisingly, best in some of the stories that had not been previously published. My favorite was "A Letter from the Margins of the Year," about an alcoholic professor trying to woo his wife back using baseball and an injured bird. Other strong stories included the unlikely "The Liars" (at least, I hope such a situation is unlikely) and "The Lives of the Saints" and "A Map of the Air," both about lonely people. I wish the other stories could have stuck with me as much as that favorite one, however.


TheAnxiousLife said...


Thanks for the kind words about some of these stories... I agree that the fragmented thing doesn't work as well, at times. I started out writing that way, in part because I was so influenced by modernism and some of the more experimental work on the 1910s and 1920s.

I do love Virginia Woolf's maxim about life (and writing about life) being like a series of gig-lamps shining through fog...

Great blog, though! And thanks for reading the book!


Short Story Reader said...

Thanks for checking out my blog. As noted, I too used to do a lot of the fragmented writing, but have been moving away from it. I saw on Amazon that you have a novel. I'll have to check it out at some point. Some of the stories in your collection were great, and I particularly loved that one I wrote about in the blog entry. Loved it!