head lice. no really.

Rosenfeld

When I was fiction editor at the Bellingham Review (short stay; long story), I got a submission called “How I Went: (A Recipe for Lime Curd)”. I did something very unusual: I called the author immediately to accept it, for fear that somebody else would take it first. The author is Stephanie Rosenfeld, and she was struggling to get started at that point.

That was 1999. Now she’s got a collection of short stories out there and a new novel (Massachusetts, California, Timbuktu), both of which are on the top of one of my to-be-read piles. The one closest to the bed.
Stephanie’s stories are very good, but one of them has always stayed with me. It’s called “Grasp Special Comb” and it’s about a mother’s reaction to her daughter’s head lice.
Continue reading “head lice. no really.”

The Magician's Assistant, Ann Patchett

[asaleft]0156006219[/asa] There’s a book I wanted to say something about when I first started this blog, but I didn’t. I think because I was afraid of somehow trivializing it. But I’m going to try now.

Somebody handed me The Magician’s Assistant, or I probably would never have read it. It was one of those fateful, off hand gestures. She mentioned the book, and left it on my doorstep. I had nothing else to read just then (or nothing I wanted to read, more to the point) so I started it right away.

This novel is a work of art. Like any work of art, not everyone will appreciate it, but to me it is as close to perfect as a novel gets, in its own particular way. It’s about a woman who has lost her husband, and in the process of grieving learns more about him and herself than she ever imagined. Now, if somebody told me that about a novel, I wouldn’t be in a rush to read it. Doesn’t sound like my kind of story. But it is. Might be yours, too.

One word of caution: it probably won’t appeal to people who feel most comfortable defining ‘family’ in traditional terms.

In this short excerpt Kitty, Sabine’s sister-in-law, takes her to Wal-Mart. Sabine is a dyed in the wool Los Angelina, and this is a new experience for her. In this short scene (you only get a little of it here), you come to understand almost everything about Kitty’s life and world.

On the curb was a soda machine, all drinks a quarter. Kitty leaned in towards Sabine as they pushed open the glass-and-metal doors. The warm air smelled like popcorn and Coke. It smelled like a carnival wearing new clothes. An older woman in a blue tunic who seemed to be patterned on Dot, the same plastic glasses and gray curls, the same roundness, pushed out a shopping cart for them to take. She greeted Kitty by name.

“I buy books here,” Kitty said. “I buy my shampoo and underwear and cassette tapes and potato chips, sheeets and towels and motor oil.” There was something in her tone, so low and conspiratorial, that Sabine put her gloved hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

“Why?” Sabine said. “Why?”

heroes & their problems

Robyn, clever woman that she is, has pointed me to Doris Egan‘s essays. Doris writes science fiction, which of course I must now read because anybody who would write this particular essay: Why I Like Heroes With Unsolvable Problems is someone whose fiction I suspect I will like. Here’s a paragraph:

“Dramatic structure most often asks the question, “How will they solve this problem?” Character asks, “How will they adapt to this problem?” And it’s watching them attempt B while having to do A that evokes the flash of empathy in the audience — that in fact makes “A” worthwhile. Because, after all, a mere court case or a murder is not enough — we want to know how Sherlock Holmes will deal with this. Or Peter Wimsey or Fox Mulder or our boy Miles or Ally McBeal. We want the specifics, the style of this particular dance, the scent of the rose and not merely the dried petals.
We want a little bit of mess in the perfection of structure, and the hint that we have here a life that will go on after we close the book or turn off the television.

And that’s why I like heroes with unsolvable problems. “