Posts Tagged ‘short story’

Monstress by Lysley Tenorio – review

August 3, 2012

as always, there is the chance for spoilers ahead. In this instance, it’s a certainty. So, if you haven’t read this collection, I’ll just say that, yes, it’s a really good read and worth the time.  the collection definitely follows a theme of people who are monsters in some way, from the obvious of an actress who always dons the monster suits in her husband’s movies to a little girl who reaps vengeance upon a sister to people physically disfigured by leprosy. Tenorio’s stories are about people either overcoming the monsters they live with, or how their lives are shaped (and occasionally destroyed) by them. Also, the monster theme isn’t just a one off in each story. You can often find monsters in various forms rearing their heads, giving you a variety to pick from.

In the title story, “Monstress,” there is the leading lady, Reva, who often plays the monster in her husband, Checker’s, movies. There’s also the monster of Hollywood and all of the allure of its lights and fame. Also, there is the monster of Checkers having never made it big as a director himself, even being pushed aside in Manilla because his films are not “Hollywood” enough.

We see the same thing in the story “Brothers.” One brother is seen as a monster because of his decision to become a woman. Throughout the story, Tenorio also shows the mother to be a bit of a monster with her initial treatment of her transgendered son, “friends” from their childhood have moments of monstrousness with how they react to the transgendered brother, and the central character, the other brother, has moments where he seems to be fighting his “inner monster.”

This could also be a collection centered around a meditation on love. All to often, the people who come across as the most monstrous have done something horrible for the sake of love. The love of a sister. The love of another man. The love of a son. Love is bent, corrupted to give its permission to a myriad unloving actions.  In this way it could be placed among many American stories, where love corrupts or is corrupted. For whatever reasons, Bastard out of Carolina comes to mind the quickest. Nearly everyone in the novel loves someone but also uses that love as an excuse to do something horrible. Perhaps this is the most natural direction to take love, at least in art. Love by itself is probably somewhat mundane, outside of the Hallmark Channel. Meanwhile, all of us probably remember doing something stupid for the sake of love, so the idea of a mother using an ace bandage to tightly wrap her son’s fake breasts flat to his chest because she loves him probably shouldn’t be a grimace inducing scene, though it is.  Maybe this is the true definition of monster, though. The corruption of love.
Alright, below this I have brief (very brief) rundowns of each story. They probably aren’t very helpful for you, but they helped me remember plenty. Since I wrote them down, I figure I should just leave them up. So, if you really don’t want any (more) spoilers, don’t keep reading. The rest of you have been warned.

1. Monstress – Manila husband/wfe [checkers/reva] make horror movies, brought to California, by Gaz to finish horror movie using Checker’s monsters. Checker ends up going home, Reva stays and makes a few more movies -all crap. Cutting room floor with Checkers reaching to help Reva up

2. The Brothers = two brothers, one is a transsexual. Dies of asthma attack. family has to come to grips with his life. brother ends up going to other TS’s house at the end, to mourn?
3.Felix Starro – family passes down job of being a faith healer, using Chicken livers/blood to sell their performance. Starro and grandson come to US, Felix makes small fortune that grandkid steals to buy fake documents to move to US.

4.The view from culion – Culion, a leper colony. An American girl is there, sent by her family, one day american GI shows up. He wants to escape, she wants companionship. He gets her to draw again. She tells Peace Corp that he is there against what her superiors tell her. PEace corp takes him away, and she sees that he has leprosy.

5. Superassasin – high school kid lives in dreamworld of being a super hero, enacts “vengeance” on people he feels has wronged him, such as concocting an aerosol spray to horribly burn someone who mistakes it for deoderant.

6. Help – boy and his cousins help their uncle willie attack the Beatles at an airport because they made a remark about Imelda Marcos. When the time comes, not everyone attacks, but then it begins awkwardly until Willie enters the fray. No one ends up getting hurt, Beatles remember it later and the kid feels a bit vindicated by it? proud of it?
7. Save the I Hotel – Fortunado and Vicente are old men living in the I Hotel. Both immigrants, Fortunado is gay and has always had a thing for Vicente. story is of their past, how thye came to live together and how Fortunado betrayed Vicente out of jealousy, getting him and his girlfriend fired (g/f flees back to WIsconsin?). Now, Vicente is kinda out of it, and Fortunado takes care of him and prepares him to be taken from the hotel because the city is tearing it down.

8. L’Amour – family moves to military base in California. One daughter uses younger sister for cover for running off with her boyfriend who knocks her up and then wants nothing to do iwth her. moves back home. family is fucked up. Her sister then starts bleeding, and the younger daughter locks her in and runs off. She gets a street away before turning and going back and seeming to start over.

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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto – review

July 30, 2012

For whatever reasons, I have long been reluctant to pick up and read anything by Banana Yoshimoto. This didn’t stop me from buying one of her books, of course. I continually buy books of authors I know I should be reading when I see them at a price I feel comfortable paying for an author I know I won’t be reading any time soon.  I think I have four of Bret Easton Ellis’s books on my shelf, despite reading just American Psycho and getting a quarter of the way through Glamorama before deciding he wasn’t my cup of tea. I’ll likely never get to the other two at all. the same with John Updike and Don Delillo. I know they are authors I should read, and I have came across their books in various bargain bins and clearances, so I’ve been sure to pick them up on occasion, but I also know that I don’t really give a damn about either of them right now – though I did thoroughly enjoy Delillo’s Underworld, which only set me up for disappointment when I followed it up with White Noise, The Body Artist, Cosmopolis, and Falling Man. Knowing how my general trepidation usually leads to, at best, antipathy for these writers clogging my shelves, I was hesitant to begin on Yoshimoto.

But I got pleasantly surprised. She embraces a general oddity in of the world that I also find (and enjoy) in Murakami.  H er two stories in Kitchen are populated with believably bizarre people that doesn’t turn you off to read about. Eriko doesn’t turn out to be a smoking hot transsexual just for shock purpose, to throw a wrench into the story to grab you, that’s just who that person happens to be. And Yoshimoto allows that person to play a pivotal role in the story, without becoming the story.  She’s a side act without being a sideshow.

Which is a delicate balance Yoshimoto maintains through Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow (the second story in this book). The side characters are always more than just “there,” but they never become dominant forces, giving rise to a power struggle between them and the characters we are meant to focus on.  What makes this balance all the more impressive is how complete Yoshimoto makes their story arcs. She does it simply and easily, giving a sense of closure and purpose to the side narratives while leaving a bit of an opening in the main story. It seems it is a way that Yoshimoto hints at future growth for the main characters of each of these stories. While we know what becomes or Eriko, we are given a glimpse of the effect the entire experience has on Mikage but not where this character eventually ends up. These are clearly moments  that are part of the larger string of moments that make up the lives of the main characters, and this knowledge imparts a strange sort of importance in hindsight to everything that happens.

So, is Kitchen worth checking out? Most definitely.  For being published in the 1980s, it still has a very contemporary feel to it, and it doesn’t have any urge to be Americanized. In a way, Yoshimoto reminds me much of Murakami in this respect, also. The stories are distinctly foreign for an American audience, they are not shy about this at all. However, Yoshimoto also finds areas of interest that are universal.  I think this goes hand in hand with her ability to have a transgendered bar owner be a solid side character without allowing that side character to steal the entire story. Instead, Yoshimoto creates a credible human instead of a credible character.
There is something more to be said about food in both stories. InKitchen,” it’s just blatant.  Food is, literally, at the center of the majority of interactions and even acts as a central plot device in giving Mikage an obstacle to overcome to bring a decent meal to her friend who is still mourning the death of his father/mother. the idea of nourishment, physically, psychologically and spiritually is just there. You couldn’t throw a dead cat without it smacking into a bowl of noodles or a sizzling hot pan of stir fry.  With “Moonlight Shadow” is it a bit more subdued. Again, though, nourishment (or the lack of it) plays a central part of the story. The central character keeps getting thinner and thinner as she wastes away, longing for the person she loved who has died.

Okay, kid calls so I’ve got to cut this short. He’s eating pretzels and I simply MUST be told about every twist and turn in his pretzel consumption journey.  As always, here’s the B&N link to Yoshimoto’s Kitchen.  I think it’s worth the buy, an enjoyable read that can hold up to being plucked off the shelf now and then to re-read. And when you do, keep an eye on food and nourishment, and how all of the characters revolve around this idea. I think there’s even something to be said about Eriko having to become a woman and having breasts that could be bent to this theme.

Djinn by Russell Banks – short story review

April 1, 2011

Recap: a man is sent to Gbandeh by his company. The first time everything goes well, he gets into a routine of hanging out at a particular cafe, until one of the locals, one of the many “mad men” who live there, comes up to him one day and acts as if he knows him. And the narrator can’t shake the feeling that maybe he does. Soon, the owner of the bar comes over, chases the mad man (whose name is Djinn) away. The narrator quickly leaves and doesn’t return for the rest of his stay in that country.  15 months later, his company sends him back and he quickly falls back into his previous routine. Of course, Djinn shows up again. This time, however, Djinn scales the side of a building and is shot and killed by a plain clothes policeman. This greatly upsets the narrator who later ends up scaling the same building. Another plainclothes policeman is there, draws his gun and tells the narrator to come down, though the policeman now calls the narrator Djinn. The narrator successfully scrambles up the rest of the side of the building and onto the roof, the cop puts away his gun, and everything returns to normal. The story ends with the Narrator/Djinn on the roof of the building, watching the night sky move towards the morning, and the stars disappear. At the end the Narrator/Djinn tells he is “alone.”

A djinn is “In Muslim legend, a spirit often capable of assuming human or animal form and exercising supernatural influence over people.” Going with this definition, we can make a fair assumption of why the crazy man was called this. We also get an idea of why the narrator was referred to as this out of the blue. Also, it fits the strange compulsion that overtook him to climb the building and put himself at risk of being shot – his description of what propelled him could fit very well with the idea of being influenced by a spirit.

At the same time, this is also the closest the narrator comes to truly bridging the gap between himself and locals. While he moves about on their streets, he has a solid working relationship with the people his company employs and who he is training, he doesn’t truly belong to the community until he makes himself one of the mad men.

By becoming one of the madmen, or one of the djinn (as it appears this might be the common term the locals use for all crazy people), the narrator also attains a certain anonymity. Until one of the djinn goes out of their way to draw attention to themselves, such as climbing buildings, the locals don’t notice them. The narrator does, and he often seems perturbed throughout the story when the original Djinn wanders into the cafe and, literally, isn’t noticed by the locals.. So while he becomes closer to the locals on one hand, he also makes himself less visible to them. And the narrator realizes this at the end of the story, realizing that, sitting on the roof, he is “alone,” and may have been alone the entire time. By becoming a djinn, he is pulled away from the curtains he allows to shade him from the reality of his foreignness. While he can go to the cafe every day, while the bartender remembers his name and what he drinks, while the locals don’t pay any special attention to him, he still doesn’t fit there, he doesn’t belong. This only becomes apparent after his transformation.

What is a short story?

January 19, 2010

I recently started work on something temporarily titled “The 40,000th Day Event.” It’s going to be a short story centering around a visit and old man gets in his nursing home. The idea is just one of those cute little things I occasionally have and decide to run with. Unfortunately, I’m running into a problem that I think I have ran into in the past, and that’s  the boundary between a “short story” and a “prose” piece. This is something that came up in the last writing work shop that I had, where a little piece about an interaction between a man and a woman in a bedroom after sex was well liked by everyone but the professor asked the question: is it a short story or is it a prose?

And I didn’t know. I didn’t really care. And, in all honesty, I’m not sure I care much now beyond the fact that I’d like to submit this stuff and get it published. And I wonder if other readers will have a similar problem with it. Is it a short story or is it prose?

Does it matter?

Bending Sinister at 1230am

October 2, 2008

There are nights where I can’t sleep despite how desperately I want to. Everyone probably has these nights. Maybe something happened during the day that has keyed you up to the point where sleep is veritably impossible or maybe there are too many ugly whispers inside your head to shut out and relax.

And then there are nights, like tonight, where you just don’t care to sleep and you find yourself pouring a cup of coffee at thirty after midnight. The caffeine’s not good for you. you’re too old to not be affected by it, it’s not like you’re twenty any more and can shrug the stuff off and collapse into sleep regardless. It’s also not as if you can stay up til four or five, sleep for two hours, and be fine. You won’t be fine at all. you’ll feel like shit. You might even feel physically ill from it.

So why do I do it? Why does the old man not learn? I don’t know. But it was just one of those nights for midnight coffee. It makes me think of the episode of West Wing where they are flying back to Washington at 3 in the morning, having meetings and what not on the plane and someone asks why they couldn’t just go back in the morning. Martin Sheen replies along the line that there’s just something about meeting at 3am that allows you to speak your dreams. Then admits that it’s simply because there isa meeting in the morning that he can’t postpone or something.

While I don’t have a meeting in the morning, maybe tonight is the night to speak dreams.

I hope so. The writing is going slowly. If anyone looks they will see a massive gap between posts here. I sit down and start writing something here or anywhere and it just dies. I have stuff in my head but it just doesn’t want to budge right now, I guess. This isn’t to say that I haven’t pushed a few things across the finish line. A few short stories or prose pieces have gotten done but the larger projects have just gone to pot. I almost feel like putting them aside and working on something else entirely. Nothing like spreading yourself too thin that gives you the illusion of work and progress while actually standing still.

Even with these longer projects I have the ideas in my head, I know what I want to say but I can’t bridge the gap to knowing how to say it. It’s like we’re on opposing sides of a canyon and I keep trying to shout them across but they’re not making it. They just reveberate off the walls of the canyon below, crashing into itself and creating a garbled mess.

Everytime I sit down to work on Green, it feels like a garbled mess. I might be worrying too much about the fact of the history rather than creating a history of facts. It’s largely biographical and I think that’s hanging me up. That and I’m not trusting the narrative that I am establishing. it’s very loose and roaming. It just sort of meanders from connection to connection, time to time. It’s fun in a way but it’s also…odd. It’s almost like walking down a street and every time you bump into someone you follow them for a bit until you bump into someone else. Except after awhile I’ll just be bumping into the same people over and over again and wandering around a clustered group of interrelated stories.

Which could be really cool, if I can get it moving and pull it off. I’ve considered doing an outline. Nothing too exact but just a loose listing of points to hit and places to go. The problem is that every time I have done an outline I haven’t followed it and for a brief moment I end up filled with anxiety over not following it. I feel like I am deviating too much and that I am destined to crash but I always right the ship and keep moving and the worries prove unwarranted.

On a late night side note, I share a birthday not only with Earth Day but with Vladimir Nabokov as well. Go Vladdy Go