Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On "Lake Celeste or The Joy of Sex" by Emily Meg Weinstein (2808 words) ***

This reads more like a family reminiscence than a story, but it's a finally crafted piece of writing about, of all things, time travel. As Weinstein notes, "If you want to travel through time just make sure one place, one house, stays unchanged your whole life. It turns out you don’t need math to build a time machine, only time itself." And that's Weinstein does, focuses on a summer lake house that, while generations of family have passed away, continues to exist, with its rotting books and old scrawl of phone messages. Read the tale here at Volume 1 Brooklyn.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

On "Dirt in the Blood" by Joshua Canipe (4585 words) ***

Canipe's tale is one of violence and love and the way that the two can transform one another and inform one another. The narrator comes from a military family, a set of men who are used to killing foreigners and who also are used to playing hero. If a woman has trouble, the men will protect her, even if it means going to jail. The narrator is not this sort. He's a medical student. There's no fight in him. So when his girlfriend gets beaten up, questions of love arise. What does protecting a loved one mean? And what are the excusable forms of violence? Read the story here at Trigger.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On "5 Tiny Things" by Brandi Wells (539 words) ****

Is Brandi Wells real? I see her name splattered across the Internet, assigned to certain stories and even at one time a journal. Well, now, via Knee-Jerk, I have confirmation, the craziness belongs to a person who has an actual photographic identity (unless it's a fake one). Here, Wells brings her latest wacky ideas to form in five very short pieces, wherein bears make flashlights and dinosaurs wear dog suits. I put her in the class with writers like Amelia Gray and, to a lesser extent, Tao Lin, writers who you never know quite what you're going to get, but you know it's going to be interesting, linguistically, mentally, if not narratively. Read the weird here at Knee-Jerk Magazine.

Friday, February 14, 2014

On "Tactics" by Matthew Brennan (199 words) ***

Here's a short tale on loneliness and longing. It reminds me a bit of a Richard Brautigan poem about a widow hoping it's cold enough to bother the neighbors about wood (my summary is probably longer than the poem). Here, we have a wife making coffee for her husband--or not. Read the story here at Trigger.

Monday, February 10, 2014

On "Bird Sanctuary" by Gabriel Welsch (5002 words) ****

Janet has some issues with life. They involve men. They involve friends. They involve work. Or really, the involve being a single with no life outside of work, outside of the stress that comes with a failure in one's work. I remember once in high school sort of befriending a guy who tended not to have any friends--by that I mean, not that I sought him out but that I was perfectly okay with him hanging out with me if he wished to. My small clique of friends weren't okay with him, and they did some not so nice things to discourage his presence. Still, there were other opportunities for him and me alone. And it was in those times that I discovered not some nice guy just wanting someone to accept him; rather, I discovered a not-so-nice guy who was not only not much of a pleasure to be around but, at times, a genuine jerk. As we get to know Janet, unfortunately, we discover much the same. Perhaps, used to rejection as she is, she makes it easy for people to reject her by treating them like scum. Read the story here at Ascent.

On "The Truth about Love" by Pat Love ***

Like so many self-help books, this one has its highs and lows and is full of simple, practical advice as well as pleasant anecdotes, enough that what is in some ways a difficult thing to actually live is made to seem simple. Love also packs the book with couple and self-quizzes that are supposed in some way to help you assess your relationship.

Love's practical advice is what redeems what was, for me, in many ways a disappointing text. The gist of her thesis is that our feelings about people change over time and that just because feelings might relax for a while, we shouldn't give up on love--that with work, they can return and build to something deeper. To demonstrate this, she breaks the book into four stages of love: infatuation, post-rapture, discovery, and connection. It is the post-rapture stage where "love" often falls apart, and it is sticking with things through that period that can allow us to harness a deeper love for one another. (Love is as much about acting like we are in love as feeling we are. Hence, when we seem low, a key to continuing on is to "act" loving even if we don't "feel" loving.)

Means by which we can do this include figuring out how we define love for ourselves, what rocks our boat, so to speak. For some, love is chiefly romantic, for others companionate, and for still others commitment. It is, of course, all three, but relationships are often built more on one than the other two--and what's important to a given person may be more one than the other two. Recognizing this allows us to better take into the account the needs of our partner.

Also of importance is trust--which can only be built over time, and which is not the same thing as honesty. Some things are better left unsaid, Love says. Finally, there's commitment, which is more than just "staying together." Commitment is commitment to the relationship itself, to making the relationship a happy and effective one.

The chapter on support goes into how loving relationships consist of people who support one another. She spends a good deal of time discussing how we can take someone else's personal problems personally, assuming we did something wrong when the problem is really one that has nothing to do with us. How exactly we are to navigate being supportive in such situations is difficult. Recognizing the signs of distress and how our partner wants to be treated in those cases can help. But Love does not provide concrete solutions, since they'll differ from couple to couple.

The main drawback to the book, as I see it, comes in the quizes themselves. Many of them are sets of questions with evaluative answers, but Love doesn't really clarify what those evaluative responses mean or what we are to do with them. They just sit on the page taking up space. Perhaps, they are to serve as a source for discussion with one's partner, but even here, some of the questions seem potentially more harmful than helpful. That the quizzes make up such a large chunk of the book seems unfortunate.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

On "Nothing Says Home Like Boredom" by Molly Gaudry (168 words) ***

You'll probably have to read this piece through a couple of times to figure out what's going on. Such is the way with language used so densely. But also, what that leads to are some great turns of phrase, like the title . . . or the last sentence. There's lust here--and love. Read the story here at Wrong Tree Review.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On "Dick" by Rebecca Kanner (3080 words) ***

What was it Wordsworth said? That poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility"? Well, that's what we have in Kanner's piece, but I don't think that this is the kind of thing Wordsworth had in mind when he was writing his definition. The tale is about junkies, a runaway, a twelve-year-old doing things that even someone twice her age has no business doing. There's a kind of innocence here, and it's recollected from an older age, recollected with a kind of love, even though the reality of the moment is anything but. Read the story here at Wrong Tree Review.