“Like Fireflies,” London Literature Project, August 2012
- London Literary Project champions poetry and flash fiction inspired by our namesake city.
- For 2012 London Literary Project is launching the London Clock. Through poetry and flash fiction, the London Clock will be constructed, minute by wonderful minute, through the work of London writers and those inspired by our city. Writing will focus on a particular time of day anywhere in London, and once brought together each individual piece will help to create a picture of the city’s many faces, and the faces of the city’s many people, in a 24 hour period. See londonlitproject.com
Audio of “The Other Mrs. Pfeiffer,” Word Play Sound, (Forthcoming September 2012)
- Through a monthly podcast of thought-provoking literature, WordPlaySound gives accents and dialects, language and cadence an opportunity to flourish in ways they couldn’t on a written page. Available on iTunes. See WordPlaySound.com
“McKenna’s Black Range Tales: Chronicling Sixty Years of Life and Adventure in the Southwest,” Thresholds: Home of the International Short Story Forum, (Forthcoming September 2012)
I really enjoyed Regina Barreca’s analysis of approaches to literature in They used to call me Snow White… But I drifted. In the piece, Barreca points out that many women writers are considered secondhand because their subject matter has limited appeal. The same can probably be said about writers who write about the experiences of particular races. As a result, their work is put into categories of African-American, Chicano writing, etc. If we assume that these categories are not simply created by publishers to sell more books then we have to address why these categories exist. These categories remind me of the various types of genre fiction: western, mystery, romance, science fiction, horror writing etc. There are writers who work within these genres but their work is not necessarily considered genre. For example, Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian, can be easily classified as a Western but the work is so good that it transcends the genre and is actually a work of literary fiction. Similarly, Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Everything that rises must converge, can easily be classified as women’s writing because the author is a woman but it’s so good that it transcends the category and is actually work of literary fiction. Finally, Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man can also easily be considered African-American writing but again the work is so good it transcends the category and becomes a work of literary fiction. Therefore, I would argue that it’s not that women or ethnic writers are considered second hand but rather that some of these writers are just not as good (the way that some genre writing is not as good). And the ones that are become literary fiction.
While Garrison Keillor’s Marooned is not ha-ha funny story, it is funny because it’s a serious story that uses humor to enlighten the reader’s experience. The stories focus on the narrator’s brother-in-law, Dave Grebe, an unremarkable and narcissistic stationery store clerk who tries on religions like socks. In the beginning, he renounces materialism, becomes a Tuan, the kind of Buddhist, and wanders around airport terminals holding up signs “your life is a lie.” His ego doesn’t allow him to keep his philosophy to himself (as someone with a real philosophy would) and he switches to a different religion called capitalism. Here he becomes one with Milo from Catch-22. Dave takes over the stationery store, makes it a huge success and then writes a book that turned “Tuanism inside out and restated it in capitalist terms, and made low cash flow seems like a denial of God’s love.” Naturally, the book sells millions. The narrator, a person entrenched in the American capitalist system as an advertiser, becomes its victim. Capitalism and the American dream are about boom and busts, not people who want a steady job and a good retirement. As a result, the brother-in-law is a success even though he’s a hack while the narrator is a failure even though he’s a hard worker who means well. Thankfully, things get turned around by end of the story.
In “Mr. Big,” a girl who pretends to be a nude model comes into the private investigator’s office. The girl is actually a philosophy major at Vassar, studying the history of Western thought. What is interesting about this and Woody Allen’s other stories is that they tend to set up or create a predicament in order to reveal the actual absurdity of everyday existence. For example, in this story, Heather wants the private investigator’s help in finding God so that she can turn in a non-speculative paper, pass the course, and get the Mercedes that her father promised her. The situation that the private investigator finds himself in is the artificial absurdity that is created in order to illustrate and reveal the actual absurdity of finding God. Once the setting is created, Woody Allen allows the natural absurdity to reveal itself. For example, the private investigator takes Heather to his first lead, Rabbi Wiseman who owes him the favor for rubbing pork off his hat. Rabbi Wiseman admits that though he’s never seen God (not unusual because he’s lucky to even see his grandchildren), he believes in him because his existence makes the Rabbi’s lifestyle possible. “Could I get a suit like this for $14 if there was no one up there?” Besides making the reader laugh, the Rabbi’s well-supported argument uncovers the already existing absurdity that is everyday life.
The narrator of “The Whore of Mensa” is a private investigator who is approached by a man in distress who doesn’t want his secret revealed his wife. Apparently, he’s been paying a young girl to come over and discuss intellectual subjects with him. This story satirizes married men who get prostitutes for sexual gratification. Just like men with wives who are either unwilling or unable to fulfill them sexually, the husband in this story is married to a woman who is unwilling or unable to fulfill him intellectually. The man’s wife isn’t intellectually experienced enough to discuss Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot so he makes up for it with a whore with “quick intellectual experience” who leaves after the discussion is over. Besides ridiculing contemporary society for its lack of intellectual vitality, the story also draws comparisons between two types of stagnant marriages, those with little or no sexual activity and those with little or no intellectual activity. As a result, Woody Allen’s story is absurd and hilarious because it is an inversion of the typical reason why unfulfilled married men seek companionship with prostitutes.
Social satire in Langston Hughes’ “Laughing to Keep from Crying” is both funny and poignant. The excerpt plays with the idea of race in order to satirize the social convention that says that whites are more educated, better behaved, and just more upper class then Negroes. Upon meeting fellow deceivers, an African-American couple who is “passing for white” to make more money, the African-American narrators drop their “professionally self-conscious Negro manners” and “became natural… kidded around like colored folks do when there are no white folks around.” The narrators feel free to be themselves because they’ve met people who are like them. However the joke is actually on them. The couple gets into the cab and the woman reveals that they’re white, not “really colored at all. We just thought we’d kid you by passing for colored a little while-just as you said Negroes sometimes pass for white.” The surprising ending satirizes the idea, and the absurdity that race is a defining characteristic of an individual. The story is also an interesting approach to the familiar story of a rich person who disguises himself as a poor person or a poor person who pretends that he is rich. Stories that use these disguises all satirize society by poking fun at the idea of character being defined by external characteristics like clothing or color.
The stranger in Mark Twain’s “The Man who Corrupted Hadleyburg” is motivated by the desire to expose supposedly honest people for who they truly are. The stranger appears to be someone who hates hypocrisy and no longer wants to tolerate the lie that Hadleyburg perpetuates. It has to be a lie because the citizens of Hadleyburg are human beings and like human beings everywhere they are capable of lies, deceit, and greed. While the stranger sets out and succeeds in corrupting the town, he does not do anything more than expose the citizens for who they secretly are and were all along. After all, the town’s solution to their reputation problem in the end of the story is not to address the underlying acts but rather to change their name and pretend nothing happened.