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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Two stories about: bowls

Can't be a coincidence that two of the stories fellow blogger Charles May posted on during Short Story Month concerned: bowls! And one of the stories is a truly excellent work, Ann Beattie's subtle and surprising story Janus. Most of the story focuses on a realtor who has a favorite bowl that she finds very simple, elegant, and attractive, which she uses to "stage" rooms in houses she is trying to sell. Over time, she becomes almost obsessed with this object - believing it's something like a talisman that brings her luck and success, to the point where it almost becomes crippling - she can't really do her work w/out this bowl. What would happen if it were to break? She describes herself as organized and determined, and she seems that way - and not particularly likable, either - one of those "pushy" realtors most of us have come across. Her husband is a big-deal stockbroker; she can't talk to him about her obsession. About half-way through I began to wonder where and how she acquired this bowl - and Beattie slips that in, like a knife in the back (I won't give it away) at the end of the story, surprising us (or me at least) and making me re-think the whole story in a different light. The other - a much more conventional, writing-seminar-type short story by David Leavitt, Gravity (w/ multiple meanings in the title), quite beautifully written - he was always a fine stylist - but a little simple and obvious in structure (it was one of his early stories): a young man dying of AIDS (apparently) moves back to NJ to live w/ his mother, who cares for him beautifully. She takes him out to a gift shop to look at a bowl she's picked out for a wedding present - with the idea of sending something both pricey and unattractive (due to past family issues). She literally tosses the bowl to him; he barely can handle it, drops his cane, almost drops the bowl that weighs him down (one meaning of the title), and mother decides bowl is the perfect (hideous) gift. So what's that about? Some kind of hidden aggression, displaced, mother hoping son will drop the bowl (it may be significant that the shop owners, who watch in horror, appear to be a homosexual couple)? Mother showing the son he still has strength and coordination? I'm not sure, but it does feel very writerly and not like something likely to happen, or at least not to these characters.

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