ROLEPLAY: You are a big New York publisher and three hot new manuscripts are dropped on your desk. Which would you publish and WHY?
Annie Proulx, Them Old Cowboy Songs. I really know nothing about Westerns. In fact, I think I just saw my first, The Searchers, this week for a class. I’ve got to say, since I now know what John Wayne actually sounds like all of those already hilarious–not to mention spot-on!–impersonations in Full Metal Jacket have just gotten a whole lot funnier. Even though my point of reference here is skewed to say the least, I must admit that certain aspects of Proulx’s Western “didn’t seem believable to me,” despite the fact that the characters were pretty well-developed (to quote one Royal Tenenbaum). At first I couldn’t understand why this pregnant teenager’s husband and family would just abandon her in some shack in the wilderness for months, only to miscarry and eventually die alone. However, now that I’ve seen this 100% authentic 1950s John Wayne masterpiece, I understand that Manifest Destiny was brutal basically any way you want to look at it, with families apparently just pushing their adolescent daughters out the door to fend for themselves–in the case of The Searchers, even at the chance of an Indian attack. See? That’s kind of messed up, too. PUBLISH? Yes.
Daniel Alarcón, The Bridge. I have to admit, I found myself skimming over The Bridge instead of just diving in. Even though I know there is a considerable audience for this kind of thing, it is simply not my cup of tea. I myself haven’t read a lot of Raymond Carver, but I’m pretty sure Alarcón would need to cite him as his literary influence. Needless to say, I’m not a huge Carver fan… I like how the protagonist’s childhood home is located in “Gaza,” a nickname used to refer to this predominantly Hispanic inner-city neighborhood, or the so-called other side of the tracks. (Got it. Very catchy.) OK, that provides a promising international/political outlet for this story, leaving me only to wonder why it was never explored. A lot of the backstory and personal information described at length here lacked any kind of real emotional pull for me, and afterward I felt pretty lackadaisical about what I’d just read, mainly because everything was left so open-ended. For instance, after the blind aunt and uncle died in a traffic accident their peers not only felt it necessary to question the authenticity of their blindness, but were also so bold as to dispute even their cause of death. Despite the fact that they were both hit by a truck, one curiously expresses the belief that the man killed his wife, while another claims that she killed him. An absurd twist, but like the Gaza reference this side-story simply fails to shape up for me. Too much like real life. PUBLISH? –That’ll be the day!
Ted Sanders, Obit. This short story is admittedly kind of pointless, too, but I think I enjoyed reading Obit just because it provides several clear opportunities for me to engage in a critical commentary. Instead of just choosing a standard POV and running with it, this short story comes at you from a lot of different angles. Obit is kind of like a funhouse mirror in that way, with its foundational image continuing to reflect and replicate itself on into infinity, ultimately leaving the reader feeling not only downright disoriented, but also anxious to find the nearest EXIT–that is, if it even exists! Sanders also comments almost self-referentially about the discursive nature of his short story: “Truth reveals itself near the story’s end, but the mother will never reveal it to her son, his father, the dog in the hall. She will have no cause to reveal it because the story, in the mother’s telling, fails to end,” Sanders concludes (so to speak). Obit also contains hints of magical realism, particularly noticeable in the fabulous passage describing the tame bear who “licks peppermints” from the palm of the old woman. In its short length, lack of extraneous detail and universal quality, Obit reminded me a lot of another “magically real” short story we’ve read this semester, The Woman Who Slept with a Tortoise.
As I mentioned previously in relation to Elizabeth McBride’s short story Final Exam: History of Art 321, I appreciate it when authors experiment with layout. Although it can just come across as pretentious, sometimes a gimmicky format can make an otherwise forgettable story really stand out. I feel this is particularly true in the case of Obit and its occasionally irksome two-column page layout. While this style makes it all the more easy to lose track of the already elusive “story,” you might argue that that is precisely the author’s intention. There are indeed a lot of different factors at play here, but everything seems to chiefly revolve around the relationship of the husband and wife. Mirroring this, the page is divided into a couple of columns that truly belong side by side: one tells his side, the other hers. The page layout thus paradoxically visualizes the couple’s unity, as well as their inability to understand each other and resulting polarization. PUBLISH? Yes!