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Monthly Archives: April 2016

GOOD FICTION WRITING: TIM GAUTREAUX

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

SAMPLES OF GOOD FICTION WRITING: TIM GAUTREAUX

by Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

Just read a story by Tim Gautreaux, in his collection Same Place, Same Things. The story titled “The Courtship of Merlin LeBlanc” features three generations of Cajun gentlemen, aged 54, 75, and 93, and their interactions with a baby girl, Susie/Susan, who is to them, respectively, granddaughter, great granddaughter and great-great granddaughter.

Sounds like a silly, sentimental Hollywood film, featuring, say, Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it’s not like that at all. The grandfather Merlin, whose attempts to bring up his own three children, all now deceased, were utterly without merit, is now faced with bringing up still another child. Having no toys for Susie, he gives her shotgun shells to play with. Meanwhile, his father Etienne and grandfather Octave berate him for his fecklessness, and for giving a baby shotgun shells.

Here’s how the story ends, immediately after Octave has nearly died of old age on the porch and Etienne has fallen off it:

Merlin got up and went down the two steps to help his father. Making a face, Etienne reached under his bottom and pulled out the shotgun shell. He banged it upright on the edge of the porch. Octave’s head wavered above the baby’s bright face as he swung a foot off the wheelchair stirrup and kicked the shell back down to the ground. Merlin hugged his father under the arms and hoisted him up, keeping his hold after they were standing, trying for balance. The two of them stood there in the sunshine, chastened but determined, amazed by the smiles on the porch, where Octave and Susan whispered and sang.

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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in LITERARY FICTION

 

LITERARY SPARKS

Thursday, February 11, 2016

LITERARY SPARKS THAT FLARE UP INTO FLAMES: DEIRDRE MCNAMER

by Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

You read something, the words flash at you; they spark creativity in your brain. Deirdre McNamer’s writings often do this to me.

Here are some examples from her novel My Russian. The ones in direct quotations are (I think) totally Ms. McNamer’s. The ones not in quotations are what my creative mind came up with when reading her creativity.

  1. [the main character, Francesca, having disguised herself to look older, is chagrined at people’s new take on her] “Had I been a dog, I think he would have glanced at me. It’s a revelation—the invisibility of old age.”
  2. You’re outside a house looking in. The family room, flashes of blue television light, the faint drone of an announcer at the football game, some tiny cheers from a tiny crowd.
  3. That horrific lunch when Laura broke all the rules of social etiquette was wiped out, off the map, never discussed again, but it still sits there at the edges of our days , the mute residue of the thing, lethal and irremediable.
  4. The feeling I always get when watching standup comedians on TV. “I feel desperate to usher the performer offstage, desperate to wipe the leer off his face and keep the next joke unsaid, because even the best of all jokes won’t be enough to compensate for such stark public vulnerability.”
  5.   She was one of those intensely ebullient people who are great at the right kind of party but wear mightily on the nerves in a small tight space.
  6.  Lies get installed. They skitter into place like a panting child late for the first day of class, unsure she has the right room. Heads turn. Where did she come from in all her blonde-haired dishevelment? A half-hour later, yellow head bent, tongue protruding, scribbling away, she’s always been there, she’s never been absent—she’s not a lie anymore.

Really nice stuff here. Don’t you agree?

(Read Bowie’s Book Review: Vladimir Nabokov’s Letters to Véra)

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in LITERARY FICTION

 

Bits and Pieces

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: Bits and Pieces of Good Writing: George Saunders

by Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

George Saunders’“Mother’s Day” in The New Yorker is a funny story, lots of great humor, but—as with all quality humorous writing—the fiction is anchored in the serious.

Sweeping like a banshee in front of that same tiny former carriage house she’d lived in since she was a girl. With her oddball parents. Mandy and Randy. Both had limps. Different limps. When they walked down the street it was like a freaking dance party.

Note what some might consider offensive writing here. Let them. If you want to write good fiction do not concern yourself with political correctness. Good fiction describes Life, and Life has no truck with political correctness. Is it sin to laugh at a descriptions of limping people? No. Go ahead and laugh. God will absolve you of your sins.

[appearing at the pearly gates]: she didn’t exactly love the idea of showing up at the pearly gates or whatnot and having St. Whoever look her up in his book and go, Whoa, hey, I was just sitting here tabulating the number of guys you had in your life, and, yikes, can you wait here a second while I go check with God on what the limit is?

[caught in a hailstorm]: The hail-thingies bouncing off Debi’s black umbrella looked like sweat flying off a cartoon-guy’s head when he was supposed to be worried. Paul, Sr., had once shown her a porn like that. A cartoon porn. The one Paulie later found. Guy so worried, watching his wife have at it with a big sailor…

[heart attack]: Alma got hold of a fence slat. To pull—pull herself out. Of this. Pain. Something new was happening now. The tightness in her chest was worse. Jesus. Like labor with Paulie. Then it went past that, to labor with Pammy, and she was giving birth to something bigger than Pammy, out her chest.

Funny, the best story I ever read by George Saunders was also in The New Yorker, years ago. It was about a man caught up in a bank robbery. Don’t remember the title. As I recall it, the man in the bank kept making jokes, and the bank robbers did not take kindly to that. Can’t recall what else happened, but it sure was a dang good story!

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in LITERARY FICTION

 

On A GOOD DAY

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bacopa Literary Review: On a Good Day

by Bacopa Literary Review Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

“You on a Good Day,” by Alethea Black, was published in One Story, Issue #163, April 23, 2012, written totally in second person, about all the things you do, don’t, on a good day.

Excerpt
You don’t give the finger to the black pickup truck that tailgates and passes you aggressively, then let go of the wheel to give it two fingers when you see a rainbow-tinted peace sticker on the bumper. You do not call the friend–the one who was in the hospital a few weeks ago, and whom you did not visit or call–you do not call her today because today you need something from her. You do not consider dousing your refrigerator with gasoline and setting it on fire because of the sound its motor makes while you’re trying to work. You do not wish the earth would just ignite and everyone would die in a ball of flame simply because it has been hot for a few days. You do not conjure up, in as vivid detail as possible, every time anyone has ever wronged you in any way. You do not think: We’re a ruined, useless lot, and we deserve everything we get. You do not say under your breath, while forgoing a pack of cigarettes: It’s either pain in the body or pain in the mind, take your pick.
This strikes me as the best story I’ve read since I’ve been subscribing to One Story–that covers about twenty stories.
I find myself marking up passages, even writing things down (my best commitment to a writer). So many wonderful passages, so much despair, but leavened with hope and optimism. “Hurt people hurt people.” I suppose this expression has been around for awhile, but I never had heard it: wonderful.
I laugh all the way through this story, although the humor is dark.
About the end: in the Q and A section, the ending is described as “unabashedly happy, hopeful.” I wouldn’t describe it that way. I think the ending is happy/sad, like the rest of the story, like life.
The ending moves me.
 
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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in LITERARY FICTION

 

From Bacopa – Literary Fiction

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bits and Pieces of Good Writing: Donald Ray Pollock, Knockemstiff

by Fiction Editor U.R. Bowie

 

With his first publication, a collection of short stories calledKnockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock, native of Knockemstiff, Ohio, has perfected the genre known as “hillbilly sleaze.”

The first story in the collection, “Real Life,” is typical in that it features the kind of characters who populate all the stories. The description of a friend Vernon encounters in the rest room is typical of Knockemstiff denizens in general: “a porky guy with sawdust combed through his greasy black hair. A purple stain shaped like a wedge of pie covered the belly of his dirty shirt.”

The first line: “My father showed me how to hurt a man one August night at the Torch Drive-in when I was seven years old.”

Full of hard-scrabble rednecks, the stories, as this one, sometimes feature a narrator of sensibility. In “Real Life” this is the boy narrator, nervous Bobby, whose life with his alcoholic father has him in the habit of “chewing the skin off my fingers.”

A typical male representative of the metropolis of Knockemstiff, the father, Vernon, is tough as nails, a man who hates movies and make-believe. As he puts it, “What the hell’s wrong with real life?”

The story describes a scene that Vernon creates in “real life,” when, drunk in the restroom of the drive-in and mouthing obscenities, he is accosted by another man. A big irony is that the men in the rest room enjoy the ensuing fight much more than Godzilla on the big screen outside.

Both men have their sons with them in the rest room. The other man, as large as a giant, doesn’t like Vern swearing in front of his son. After appearing to back down from a confrontation, Vern sucker punches the giant in the head. Then, after the giant is on the floor, he kicks his ribs and punches his face “until a tooth popped through one meaty cheek.” Other men have to pull him off the fallen giant before he kills him.

At this point the giant’s son attacks Bobby, and the old man forces him to fight: “You back down I’ll blister your ass.” As it turns out, Bobby bloodies the nose of the bigger boy and wins the fight.

While others call for an ambulance, Vernon and Bobby jump back in their car with Bobby’s mother and flee the drive-in. For the old man, who constantly complains about his son’s lack of toughness, “This is the best night of my fucking life.” When his wife objects to his drunken shenanigans the old man cracks her in the face with a forearm.

The story ends up being about a way of coming of age in the trailer-trash world of Knockemstiff. The meek Bobby has something of an epiphany in blood. “Real Life” ends with him in bed, contemplating his victory in the fight, which, apparently for the first time ever, has earned him the approval of his father. Interesting developments for Bobby’s future are suggested by the final lines:

“…I lapped the [other boy’s] blood off my knuckles. The dried flakes dissolved in my mouth, turning my spit to syrup. Even after I’d swallowed all the blood, I kept licking my hands. I tore at the skin with my teeth. I wanted more. I would always want more.”
This tale of a gentle character’s baptism in violence reminds me of a story by the great Russian short-story writer, Isaac Babel: “My First Goose.”

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in LITERARY FICTION