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

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Baxter, Beattie, Boyle: What stories by these 3 have in common

My taste in short fiction seems to align w/ that of Jennifer Egan, as I applaud at least the first three selections (arranged alphabetically by author like the credits in a Woody Allen movie) in Best American Short Stories 2014: she seems to be drawn to realistic stories that don't draw undue attention to their style, that focus on characters in a time or moment of crisis, that come to some kind of resolution, that have an arc to the narrative, that include precise but not overdrawn description, that pulse with sharp and witty dialogue that often contains erudite if whimsical literary references. Yes, at least from the first three stories, we aren't pulled very far afield, and in fact two of the stories are narrated by characters who are writers, one a grad student in writing an an Iowa-like U and the other probably mid-career visiting a one-time faculty mentor. The three: Charity by old friend Charles Baxter, The Indian Uprising by Ann Beattie whom I don't really know but who did me a favor, and The Night of the Satellite, by T C Boyle (I believe I posted on this story when it first appeared in the New Yorker). All 3 are fine: Baxter's is a brave foray into writing about a relationship between two gay men, one of whom is becoming addicted to painkillers after return from volunteer service in Ethiopia. His intro note to the story tells that it began w/ another one of his stories in which a character was mugged in a park - and he wondered: Who would have done that, and why? - and this story answers. Beattie's is the wittiest and maybe most subtle of the 3: One example: The first line of the story is something like: "You can't copyright titles; you could write a play and call it Death of a Salesman." True, and funny, but even more so for those who note that the title of the story is also the title of a famous Barthelme story, one of Beattie's cohort and perhaps a one-time rival? Boyle's story will ring familiar to anyone who went to grad school in lit or writing, and it will make you both yearn for those days and be so glad you're beyond them as well: quite a bit of time spent, or perhaps wasted, in bars and clubs or just "hanging out" with friends, but all this nearly upended by an encounter with two in a lovers' spat on a lonely strand of country road: Should the passers-by get involved? Man and woman have pretty different views on that question.

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