Saturday, June 30, 2012


After seeing Richard Ford at the Portland Public Library last week, I couldn't wait to settle down with Canada. Besides, I've been on a short-story kick, not that there's anything wrong with that, but I was eager to emerse myself in a novel. Then I came down with an awful cold on Thursday, which I see as the Universe's way of telling me to sit down and read a book. So I did.

Canada is a first-person account of fifteen-year-old Dell Parson's, starting with the robbery his parents commit, and delving into the events which occur as a direct or indirect result of that. It's told by Dell, fifty years after teh evets occur, which is an interesting choice, and gives the novel a quietness versus the racous immediacy it might have had otherwise. Still, even though you know things turn out okay for young Dell (he's alive and literate, after all), as a reader, you want to know how it all came to be. This is no small task, but Richard Ford is a master, even though, as someone at the reading in Portland said to me afterward, he seems like he could be anyone's friend, the kind of guy you'd like to get a beer with.

Canada, like The Art of Fielding, has the feel of an old-fashioned novel. And, done well, there's nothing like an old-fashioned novel. Like a plain donut, some things are what they are because they're good. Canada is done better than most. 

I'm still sick, and my couch is calling me. Next, John Irving's new novel. In some ways, I'm grateful for this cold. (I'd be staining my deck otherwise)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

God Bless America

I didn't pick Steve Almond's God Bless America because we're nearing the 4th of July (although that is something I would do, if I were more organized). Rather, I saw it recommended somewhere by another author I like, and I've read some of his stories here and there.

I loved this collection. I read it in about three days, and that was with forcing myself to slow down and savor it. I just kept wanting to turn the pages, to be surprised and intrigued by his lovely, misguided characters. And oh, they are so misguided. Honest and human and funny and sad....these are the kind of stories that remind me of people I know, doing stupid things, but trying, really trying. These are the kind of stories I strive to write.

Speaking of much-loved authors, today I had the privilege of seeing Richard Ford read from his new novel Canada. Although I arrived at the Portland Public Library dripping with sweat and with huge-frizzed hair, I sat, sipped my (ridiculously) hot coffee, and listened to this master, this absolute pro, read and answer questions. I loved Ford's Independence Day--but I love his stories even more. Maybe because I mostly write stories and the way he shapes his narrative just takes my breath away. It was interesting to hear him talk about the control he maintains over his work, and how he sometimes wonders if the work suffers because he doesn't let it get away from him. I sometimes wonder the same. And even though I came back to find a parking ticket on my car (I paid the stupid meter..but I didn't read the instructions and I didn't leave the little receipt on my dashboard...blasted technology....), I will never forget what he said: If you aren't doing this because it's important, why are you doing it? You only get one life.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Angel Esmeralda

I really liked the title of Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda. I went to high school with a very exotic-looking girl named Esmeralda (at least, I think I did...sometimes I make things up and then I get confused) and the name makes me think of bold, jump-off-the-roof risk-taking. So, maybe I was a little disappointed because of my high expectations. I didn't not like these stories, but I didn't love most of them. No one jumped off a roof (although someone was thrown). They were a little too quiet, which is funny for me to say because, as a writer, that's the criticism usually bestowed on me. But, maybe I can see the point better in work that is not mine Some of DeLillo's stories just felt too far away from the characters, too circumspect. Maybe I'm a victim of the modern sensibility of virtually attacking a reader's senses--not that I prefer those stories, either. I like more of a balance--a character you can get to know but with some of his mysteries left undiscovered, a story where you can fill in some of the blanks, and you feel compelled to do so. DeLillo's stories brought me in, but, for the most part, I found it easy to leave the characters behind when I was done. That said, there were a couple of stories in this collection that will stay with me--the title story being one (it reminded me of Dave Guterson's Our Lady of the Forest, which I loved and have, many times, tried to re-write) and the last story The Starveling which is an appropriately distant voice for the hauntingly lonely and movie-obsessed protagonist.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Walk the Blue Fields

Sometimes, and I believe this is in part due to my overly-high expectations, I'm disappointed when I read the second book by an author I have loved. (Also, I tend to read things out of order, reader a later work after a newer work). So it was with a bit of trepidation that I picked up Claire Keegan's Walk the Blue Fields. I am thrilled to report that I was not disappointed in the least (except that the collection is a slim 168 pages and I just wanted more). Unlike Antarctica, all of these stories are set in Ireland and all of them have that misty, foggy, damp, fairy-tale feeling I associate with Ireland. Maybe that's just me--I've never been. The stories are deeply evocative, brightly emotional, and complete in a way that is satisfying but doesn't feel over-worked. I'm so glad I discovered Keegan and I'm keeping my eyes open for more by her.

A trip to the library is on the agenda for today or tomorrow. Maybe I'll pick up one of the classics I've missed, or maybe I'll re-read something beloved.