Saturday, 23 January 2016

New American Stories ed. Ben Marcus

But the writing is good. New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus is a fat volume. Marcus does himself justice with an introduction and a photo in the backfold over his several works unlike the David Marcus that we knew in Ireland who was self effacing. He wrote me a nice letter once which I still have and though it’s going at the folds... Where was I, yes, good stories with the best of bad news and outbreaks of Jewish humour, a low murmurous whine - don’t mind me, carry on with your interesting life. I haven’t read them all but sufficient unto the day to get the general picture. Write about what you know, an adage that is reflected in subjunct (adjunct with enhanced humiliation package) themes. As my rich brother says, ‘if you’re prepared to work for nothing you’ll never be idle’. Those writing courses are everywhere now and the good they do is to keep writers in gainful employment of a kind that has an ingrown toenail effect inhibiting the gait when they move out into the world. They are clever enough to avoid, ‘gender’, ‘race’, ‘weight’ except for

Rivka Gatchen ((The Lost Order who is clever enough to subvert those themes with the wan knowingness of a character whose marriage is dissolving, Her husband’s ring has fallen from his chill finger. She wanders about in a raincoat and xl tee shirt and is too confused to say ‘sorry, wrong number’ and wonders whether it was lemon chicken or garlic chicken that was ordered.

Charles Yu has a great futuristic story which most neuroscientists could regard as predictive. ((Standard Loneliness Package)). By virtue of a chip implanted in the brain individuals can take on for others the bad aspects of life such as bereavement, surgery, anguish, and impediments to happiness. Lightly and with surprising delicacy in a gadget ridden genre, Yu expands into dystopic anomie and all encompassing misery. A masterpiece.

Rebecca Curtis ((The Toast)) has a younger sister character who is a ‘subjunct’ a condition which is not improved by Lyme’s Disease and generalised fluoride and precipitates fear. It opens with an invitation to her older sister’s wedding. She has to refuse being broke buying expensive medication and exotic rescue remedies. The early family life is superbly evoked with the mother’s insistence on violently combing their hair as a type of malign nurturing. The older sister takes the role of mediator and healer and even when driven from the house continues to try from afar.

Mary Gaitskill ((The Arms and Legs of the Lake)) has a story about a damaged returnee from Iraq, flashbacks and all that but a little bitty and distracted by multiple viewpoints. You go long for that.

George Saunders, Don DeLillo, and Denis Johnson come out to play. Johnson and Saunders I must read more of.

Deb Olin Unferth ((Wait till you see me Dance)) features a remedial English subjunct who is generally too busy to care until she encounters a real talent that must pass a competence exam to be allowed to continue with his musical studies and avoid his fate as a conscript back home in some sandy hell, not specified but blessed by imperial war. Good clear writing with a measure of magic realism - she knows who is due to die soon and who might live a long life. Quite good and purged of cliche as are all stories by authors whose biographical notes indicate M.F.A. training.

There are 32 stories altogether. A very short one by Robert Coover ((Going for a Beer)) is a life that is as long as a thirst. A very good value volume of generally high quality.
Take it on the bus.

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