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

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Surprising and moving story from Sherman Alexie in New Yorker fiction issue

Sherman Alexie has (according to the bio note in the New Yorker fiction issue) published 26 books; I had no idea he was so prolific, but I do know that his books cover a range of genres. I'm also pretty sure most of his books concern his culture and heritage, Native American culture in the NW, and in particular in the cities of the North West. I can't vouch for his novels, but he's written some really excellent stories about the Native American pride, struggle, and despair. His story in the current New Yorker - Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest - is somewhat of a surprise or departure, in that it centers on a middle-aged white woman, devout if sometimes lapsing Catholic; there are no native Americans in this story - but it does strike the same mood as do many or most of his stories: the working-class NW setting, the anxiety, the struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in what others would see as an "ordinary" life, the kind of life rarely captured in contemporary fiction. In short, the narrator/protagonist, Marie, works as a maid in a low-budget motel. The story begins w/ some drama, as she describes the unpleasantness of her work, then enters a locked room, not sure if anyone is in the room - perhaps hiding in the bathroom? - and she begins to clean. We expect the hammer to drop, and to see a violent, perhaps sexual, assault - but, no, as it happens, she just cleans the room and picks up the dollar tip left for her. The story then becomes her tale of her life in the same place, the some job - seeing dozens, maybe hundreds, of other motel workers come and go, including a woman she considered her best friend, who takes off and leaves behind only a post card from the road. She has a brief affair with the son of one of the managers, feels guilty about that (it's the first we learn in the story that she's married), and the story ends w/ her retirement and finds her at home with her husband, reminiscing - the story of a life, in fact. It's a quiet story that avoids drama, conflict, climax - and movies us in its quietness and simplicity - a story that seems credible and true to life.

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