Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review of Don Waters

I've been catching up on some friends' (and potential friends' blog posts) and I feel inspired to recommit to blogging.

Zach and I are feeling a mixture of discombobulation and piqued interest as we adjust to living in Canada during all of the excitement and uproar that is the winter Olympics. Tonight we went downtown to see a flick and accidentally walked into a laser light show -complete with ziplines.

I am ashamed to say that for the first time in memory, I haven't read a novel in one month. Instead, I've been savoring a collection of short stories by Don Waters called Desert Gothic. As the title suggests, these are physically gritty and mentally twisted tales that share American west desert settings. They're almost exclusively masculine, several of them gay. Many (if not all) of the characters are deeply, consciously isolated. They're laconic, but not stereotypical. There are chance encounters and sadly deficient relationships between generations and between cultures (mostly immigrant and citizen). "These were men with muscled cables dancing inside thick necks". Communication seems to be the ultimate goal. That and survival since a lot of the characters are terminally ill, have recently lost mothers or partners, or work in societal (and international) margins where violence, drugs, and illness seem common.

There are only two female characters with any lines at all; both of them are one-dimensional, one of them is stock. I consider my admiration for these stories to be signs of personal growth; for about two years I only read female writers.

Perhaps I'm drawn to these stories because their settings are such evocative portrayals of those desert cities and landscapes that are lodged in nostalgic memories. Waters has set out to study and capture the very atmosphere of the desert- that dehydrating, searing sensation of sun on skin- in prose that is both muscular and exact. I would read these stories just for the prose, but fortunately the characters are complex, unique, conflicted and likable.

My favorite three stories are "The Bulls at San Luis," "Little Sins," and "Mineral and Steel." "Bulls" is a border story that hasn't been told before. The desert setting moved me, partly because I have been on those southern Arizona drives and been to border towns like Nogales, but partly because this story retells the border-crossing myth. The end is in danger of being sentimental, but the impact is minimized by the masterful juxtaposition of narrative and back story.

"Little Sins" is such a clever story, although it wanders ever so slightly in the middle. It is the book's only depiction of marriage. The main character's passive aggressive behaviors are amusing and they function in the narrative as an innovative way to develop the contemporary emasculated male character.

"Mineral and Steel" seems pasted together at times, but the relationship between step-father and son is funny. The step-father's character is endearing: a massive man who (sometimes lovingly) makes door handles and only listens to Elton John. The prose carries an otherwise disjointed narrative to a satisfying end.

I have a new found respect for the Iowa Short Fiction Award and plan to read more of their winners.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unexpected Places

Zach and I are officially moving to Vancouver, B.C. in January. I'm desperately missing hot weather. Meantime I'm still working at my beloved community center where I'm learning patience, faith, and wonder. That last statement was trite, but I don't know how to put it so I'll just leave it at that.

I'm also substituting at the Bellevue school district, where I fill in for the Head Start and preschool programs, and where Dr. Seus books enable four-year-olds to exhibit their best fish faces and to bellow animal noises. During free-play preschool girls carry paper flowers and ask preschool boy(friends) to marry them. Preschool boys build train tracks and draw two-legged elephants, wanting nothing to do with marriage, except one timid boy with big expressive eyes, who tries on straw hats until the brides come to claim the hats, not the boy. He walks to the train station, tries to run his train on the another boys' track (at my urging) and causes a tantrum. He sits back, unbearably wide eyed and quiet. I can't stop worrying about him.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I'm learning the Library of Congress cataloging system this week. I need a full-time job I think. 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Over the top?

The perfect state of being is when you are on the verge of three paths and you are equally excited and perfectly content with all of them. This is where I am. Only it's better because I am also extremely happy with my current (for the next 8 weeks) job. Fridays are swimming days and I'm learning how to take several of the autistic kids into the water with very rewarding responses. I just may have found an alternative calling. Next week I'm rereading the bone people.

Zach and I met our friends Susan and Chris in Ballard tonight for live jazz with the Vampirates. It doesn't make sense, but I'm sublimely happy.

Oh, one more thing- I am very satisfied with my dissertation mark. That helps quite a lot.

Friday, September 18, 2009

This is me sans acorn squash

On Monday I start work at the Bellevue community center. For 10 weeks, and more if it goes well, I'll be assisting various classes for children and adults with disabilities.  I'm rather excited about it and a little nervous. I haven't worked in a year. Updates to come no doubt.

Meantime, I've given a lot of thought to my aspirations and direction- recession time interviews can throw you into that loop. I feel as if I've just left undergrad. I was only an undergraduate for 2.5 years. I took a year off and then completed a one year MA. No comps and a short dissertation- my MA is like my final year of undergrad. 

I had been planning to move to Vancouver, BC in January to start an MLS program. But now all I want to do is move into a little community and wait for opportunities to come my way. This is a major reversal from the last few years, which have involved chasing opportunities and ideas all over- Denver, the North Cascades, Leeds, Vancouver. If I stay in one place, what will I find? How long will that take? Can you promise I won't end up a full-time circulation clerk? 

Meantime I've had to cancel my travel plans to Denver since I start work on Monday. My dad is 'disappointed', a word that dampens my day. He says, "What will I do with all the acorn squash we harvested for you?" This sadness can only be cured by a foray into monster books. On this bright blue-sky morning I'm settling in to The Little Stranger. Heres hoping for hauntings and MA-worthy jobs in the suburban wilderness.   

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yet another sleepy sunday

Currently my reading tastes have turned to:

Sarah Waters The Little Stranger- The story of a haunted manor in the 1940s. It's a delicious little bridge between manor fiction- such as Austin, Bronte etc... and British war fiction. Waters has a Phd in Victorian literature and has put her research to marvelous use. 

Don DeLillo Underworld- A wide ranging and ambitious novel of Americana.

Eudora Welty The Optimist's Daughter- A 1972 Pulitzer; A southern family novel, inspiration for the works of Anne Tyler. 

Naomi Novik His Majesty's Dragon- A fascinating blend of military history and fantasy; the Napoleonic wars plus a dragon. Recommended to me by my friend Amber.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I had the best time in Portland and am considering running away to join the Portland Hipster Circus. 

Wish me luck.