Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On “Sunshine Cleaners” by Daphne Kalotay (5498 words) ***

"Sunshine Cleaners" involves Russian immigrants who work in (but not for) a laundry facility, sewing up old clothes. Sergei wonders when he'll score big, whether he'll meet a woman, whether he'll make some real money. Each day a gal comes in and blames him for not fixing a machine that steals her money--"not my machine," he says. Read the story here at Fifty-Two Stories or listen to it here at the Drum.

On "Pop. 1280" by Jim Thompson ****

What works so well in this novel is Thompson's corn-pone southern folksy voice. One would think that Thompson came from the South, was born there, but he's a Los Angelino, though he bumped around a bit, I'm sure. And he probably got good at mimicking ideas about the South, cliches and such. And this novel plays into that well.

The text revolves around the small-county sheriff of Potts, population 1,280. He's a goof, an idiot, or so it seems at the start of the book. One wonders, How is it that this guy is carrying on not one but two affairs? But then, something becomes clear: He's no goof. He's very clever, and he plays the goof for full benefits. And he's also incredibly sinister and evil and corrupt.

But so is just about everyone in town. In fact, in some scenes, Nick, the sheriff, comes out looking like an advocate for civil rights compared with those around him--but mostly when it benefits himself. Meanwhile, he manipulates those in town by playing to their worst instincts. If someone catches you in a lie, accuse the person of adultery or arson. If that doesn't work, just denote that you won't accuse ever the person, which is sure to get the rumor mill spiraling with questions and innuendos.

One has to wonder how happy the sheriff can be. He's in a constant fix, playing one crime against another to stay ahead of his pursuers. It seems like a stressful life.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

On "Contractions" by Gary Lutz (3139 words) ****

"Contractions" starts promising enough, with an account of a kid who decides to reveal all of her parents' secrets from before marriage. In a sense, the story then revolves around marriage and relationships, the various ones this girl grows up to have, all of them full of their own secrets and sadnesses and smells. Read the story here at Web del Sol.

On "After Dark, My Sweet" by Jim Thompson ****

This is the novel that started my interest in Thompson--but mostly because of the movie, or rather, the movie review. Siskel and Ebert loved it; I have yet to see it, some two decades later. But I've wanted to read the book and/or see the movie ever since, and now I have.

Alas, with most things built up so much in one's head for so long, I was a bit disappointed. The characters in this novel seemed half-drawn, and while we might forgive that because the main character is supposedly insane, I still didn't quite understand how the lead was so drawn to the woman who is his potential undoing.

She's sort of pretty, I guess, after the main character thinks on her a while, but she's a drunkard and mostly cruel. She in turn introduces the lead to Bud, a friend, who wants him to take part in a kidnapping and ransom. As in other novels, there is a chance at redemption, in this case via a doctor who tries to help the main character. But he is drawn too much to the woman.

But what exactly is the woman's game? Is she with Bud or against him, with the lead or against him? The main character's paranoia leaves us uncertain until the end whether she is taking advantage of him or truly in love. But then, much isn't as it seems in this book, as the last chapters demonstrate.

Monday, October 16, 2017

On "The Ore Miner's Wife" by Karl Iagnemma (7006 words) ***

"The Ore Miner's Wife" deals with a woman whose miner husband takes an interest in science. This interest leads her to believe that perhaps he is cheating on her. Perhaps because the story is told from two points of view, thus removing much of the mystery of what's happening, I found this piece less compelling than many of Iagnemma's other stories. Still, the two viewpoints fit with an overall theme of Iagnemma's fiction--the cross-section between love and science. Read the the story here at Virginia Quarterly Review.

On "The Grifters" by Jim Thompson *****

I've wanted to read more of Thompson for quite some time, but our local libraries have only one book of his. Going on vacation recently, I figured I needed some light reading that I could take with me, so I purchased a selection of Thompson's work, this one among them.

I was familiar with this book because of the movie, and admittedly, it was a bit hard for me not to see John Cusack, Annette Benning, and Angelica Huston in the characters of this work. But I'd forgotten much of the plot of the movie luckily, so the book remained largely fresh to me--and it was the kind of read I was hoping it would be.

The story follows Roy Dillon, raised by a young mom who doesn't really want to be a mom and who is a small-time hood. Dillon grows up to be a con artist in his own right, and saves up a good deal of money in the process, clearing his way for an early retirement.

An accident brings him back in contact with his estranged mom, who hires a nurse to care for him (or spy on him). He falls for the nurse, but he's also carrying on with another woman, another con artist as it turns out. These two loves, in essence, represent two sides of Dillon--one that wants to go straight (and has the opportunity to do so) and one that remains tied to the underworld. The novel hinges on which path he will choose. Or should--there seems something of an element of fate in the events that befall him.