1. Grace Paley, "The Immigrant Story" and "An Irrevocable Diameter"
Layered, bitter stories, with well-pronounced stylistic features, evocative and eloquent; very precise and succint at that. For some reason made me think of Chagall rather than other American-Jewish story-tellers. The publisher (FSG), however, predictably thought of Roth, who in his turn describes Paley on the cover as 'splendidly [...] unladylike' which is meant to be a praise. I understand that he wrote that to comment on her first collection "The Little Disturbances of Man", so this is appropriate. Although I would be interested to know whether Roth's own writing qualifies as unladylike. Roth aside, Grace Paley's stories are impeccable and they crawl in and hurt.
2. Joan Wickersham, "* * * * The News from Spain" from the collection "The News from Spain"
It seems that reviews are generally much more random than my reading. One of the worst stories I read in a long time, definitely. But what can you do with such characters and topics as a paralysed ballerina, a black male nurse and a cheating husband on tour? You make the husband a foreigner who writes letters in funny English, you make the nurse gay and in love with the husband, you make the unknowing ballerina write a biography of her cat. The scene where the nurse has a hard-on in a bath underneath the paralysed ballerina (she had an accident in bed after drinking scotch, nevermind), but the ballerina cannot feel the hard-on is touching. This story is an accident. No more news from Spain.
UPD: Computer said I should read this again, and I read #5. It was as bad as #4, but the theme was somewhat less bawdy. I don't remember details, but it's definitely a bad imitation of Munro and I searched for explanations why certain things work well in Munro and don't work at all in Wickersham, and couldn't find any. The latter just grabs Munro's linguistic tools and cuts her finger off.
3. Janet Desaulniers, "Where We All Should Have Been" from "What You've Been Missing"
A gritty, truthful, well-made story about three women in Kansas City that doesn't explain. I love stories about three women and about places I'll never go, and it's lucky Desaulniers never published anything but this collection, because it makes me want to read everything she wrote and I can read it all in one sitting.
4. Julie Hayden, "A Touch of Nature" from "The Lists of the Past"
This is a story about children burying animals in the forest, and it is a gripping story written masterfully. I have never read fiction with so many animal and plant names including botanical taxonomy. (Maybe Steinbeck, but it made me wanna hurt the guy while here I am absolutely at piece). She did not manage much fiction either, and if I did not have this book, I'd walk through the forest for hours to get it.
Later, I read "Eighteen Down" and "Walking with Charlie"; they are at the same level, a marvel (though, regrettably, less botany and animal names).
5. Alexander Kluge, a selection from "Tür an Tür mit einem anderen Leben"
These are very small round pellets of documentary prose that want to be essays but haven't gathered enough chi when they passed through the author's system. Or, these are exquisite pieces of experimental non-fiction, I haven't been able to decide. There are pictures, also, like in W. G. Sebald. And also there is a jacket on the book which makes it metaprosaically beautiful. It is extremely boring, which, for me, is a result of the author showing his mastery of subject a tad too conspicuously. So I managed about 15 pages here and there and my inner scales don't budge.
6. Marcel Schwob, "La psychologie du bonneteau" from "Dialogues d'utopie" and "Cecco Angiolieri" from "Vies imaginaires"
The first one is a short piece with engaging argotic arguments about the three-card-trick, which is fine, and it's feuilletonic and cute a bit like Daudet's letters but from dirty Paris instead of the idyllic Mon Moulin. The imaginary life of Cecco Angiolieri is much richer and entertaining; if you are into Oulipo, this is like interviewing its beloved grandfather. (I have read Fleur Jaeggy before, and am grateful to her for keeping up with this admirable enterprise).
7. Richard Ford, "Puppy" from "A Multitude of Sins"
I imagine I will not be able to read Richard Ford anymore at a certain point the way I cannot read John Irving: he is too recognizable. But for now, I enjoy every word and I know what to look for in his style and content, and he provides all that. Marital trouble, contingencies, the life and opinions of middle-aged men, and zesty, visceral women. In this he sadly reminds me of DeLillo. Sadly, because who needs DeLillo when Ford is around.
8. Margaret Atwood, "Weight" from "Wilderness Tips"
I hadn't read Atwood before and I did not expect that she'd hurl her reputation as an acerbic feminist writer at me with such force and from the first random page. A woman activist for women's rights is killed with an axe by her abusive husband, and her friend avenges her death by seducing men into donations for a shelter for abused wives. I am not in a position to analyse the story; it is well written; I am not sure about going on.
9. Carson McCullers, "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland" and "A Domestic Dilemma"
I shouldn't write anything about these. They are an epitome of a certain kind of writing.
10. Garrison Keillor,
- WLT (The Edgar Era)
- Around the Horne
- The New Baseball
- How Are the Legs, Sam?
- How It Was in America a Week Ago Tuesday
- Nana Hami ba Reba
- The Lowliest Bush a Purple Sage Would Be
Some of these are about baseball and that is pretty much everything I can say about them. Then there is the kind of ephemeral humor to be consumed with the morning paper: stories written to be dead and gone come winter; it is all the more astonishing that some are still fresh and made me laugh like an idiot in the subway. They are written in a wide variety of vicarious styles. I'll not be unamused if I pick up this book again.
11. George Saunders, Victory Lap from "Tenth of December"
A wild and shocking story that made my heart race. I am not mentioning that a middle-aged man gets into the heads of teenage girls and boys, because he is a writer and that what he's supposed to do. He does it touchingly.
12. Cynthia Ozick, Dictation from "Collected Stories"
A bit on the heavy side (34 closely-knit pages) for the intellectually inclined about the historical friendship between Henry James and Joseph Conrad and the meeting betwixt their amanuenses that never happened, which is an explicit mystification and the author knows everything better than you anyway. Very well written, sometimes too cute as one may imagine. Henry James and Joseph Conrad are impossibly, comically cute to write about, especially when it's about women.
13. Jamie Quatro, 1.7 to Tennessee from "I Want to Show You More"
In hindsight, I don't know why I was surprised that it was so good. Had I expected her to write badly for some reason? It's a kind of an anthology story, or a wannabe textbook story, and I am not saying this out of disregard. The ending is longish with stretches of gooey potato mash, but it's still good. I want more.
14. William Trevor, Rose Wept
I cannot decide whether Trevor is staggeringly traditional or blithely, surreptitiously disruptive. His stories (I read more than just the one) seem crafted out of the same shiny metal as, say, Maugham's (whom I despise), but here even epiphanies (which Maugham thought he needed not) seem subverted. It hurts that words can be put together in such a way, that's how good he is.
15. Lorrie Moore, Referential from "Bark"
This is somekind of reworking a story by Vladimir Nabokov (or, as Lorrie Moore put it, V.N.). It is referential. That is all.
16. Vandana Singh, Ambiguity Machines from "Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories"
My forays into sci-fi always end badly. I don't understand why Borges must be put into sci-fi form. The story is gentle, but its length and shape anti-thetical to... well, whatever, just antithetical. And I am back, and cannot see the point of reading sci-fi. I even tried Ted Chiang, and he was better than the movie. Still, why?
17. Shirley Hazzard, The Picnic from "Cliffs of Fall and Other Stories"
An inciting narrative, which in hindsight seems better than when first read. Two people meet again for the first time after an affair that took place many years before. The wife is a looming presence in the background. She allowed this meeting to happen. Not a word is spoken, just two perspectives laid out. This is a very fine piece, one of those stories you mention to someone, describe the device, recommend but can't remember the author, then that person stumbles upon it, remembers your recommendation and is disappointed.