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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kelman's Joyceans stories and others

James Kelman is not for all literary tastes and a little goes a long way as his stories are relentlessly bleak and sorrowful, albeit with plenty of wit and sharp observations, but I'd recommend to anyone to at least look at a couple of his stories in teh 1980s collection Greyhound for Breakfast; they range from what now has become "flash fiction"- only a single paragraph, often in first person, much like a prose poem or the "found" poetry popular in the 1970s such as Michael Casey's Obscenities (Vietnam War poems from a combatant) - to very short fiction, 3 or 4 pages, with a few standard-length stories in the collection as well. Would recommend the title story, last in the book, as a place to start - a story about a man who obviously foolishly buys a greyhound racing dog w/ dreams of making some money at the track yet has no idea how to care for the dog - spends the entire day, and story, walking around Glasgow with his dog, worrying about how he'll explain this odd purchase to his wife, who's "always right" and children - weans, in Glaswegian dialect. the story will obviously evoke in micro form Leopold Bloom's journey across the streets of Dublin, and many of Kelman's stories are Joycean, not just because of the stream of consciousness and use of dialect but also thematically: lots of drinkers and "punters" (bettors), lots bumming of cigarettes and drinks, and also several stories about children: a very good one about a boy bullied at school who tries to stand up for himself (The Wee One Who Died, is the title I think) and another, Sunday Papers, about 12-year-old subbing for his older brother delivering newspapers: both stories are particularly poignant for the glimpses they give us of the difficult family lives of these children, parents too caught up in their own poverty to offer much support if any for the children. Few of these stories are about women, unfortunately, and in those that are the women come off poorly (to be fair, so do the men) - in one amusing short piece, Dear O Dear, a man notes seeing an attractive woman in a store, has brief fantasy about her, than sometime later sees her on the street arguing with a john about money he owes her for "last time" - the typography itself is worth looking at in this story, as Kelman arranges the line breaks to literally draw a sketch of a woman.

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