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

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Monday, July 13, 2015

2 more stories in the realist-natrualist tradition

Two more stories in the realist-naturalist mode in Best American Short Stories 2014 - these being Peter Cameron's After the Flood and Nicole Cullen's Long Tom Lookout. What's striking about these two is that they present prototypical American characters, easily recognized, but not often given voice in fiction: Cameron's story about a Midwest churchgoing 50 something, whose suffered through a tragedy we understand only in outline (possibly daughter and grand-daughter victims of husband's murder-suicide) and therefore more powerful: story told very credibly in the first person, in a voice that in an odd way recalls the narrative voice that Richard Ford uses so effectively, with many parenthetical qualifiers and asides. The story involves the woman and her dour husband taking in for temporary shelter a family whose house was destroyed in a flood. These polite but unwanted guests have the unexpected effect of drawing woman and her husband closer together and, in an odd twist at end of story that I don't entirely understand, making woman challenge her faith, or at least her church-going: she feels put upon by her boisterous pastor to take on this act of charity, and the latent resentment seems to push her away from the church rather than bolster her piety. Cullen's story is a little more conventional - young woman in dire straits on road trip back home to Idaho with child (not hers) in tow. Where it picks up is when she gets a summer job as a fire lookout - just learning about that job and the loneliness and even terror of living alone (or in this instance w/ young and seemingly learning disabled child) make the story worth reading. I thought it was kind of a stretch that they'd even allow a lookout to bring a child - and that the lookout could keep the child entertained and engaged over a these long stretches of empty time - but Cullen's author's note indicates that she had an account of a mother who did the job w/ 2 of her children. Despite an abrupt ending, a story worth reading by an author new to the scene.

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