Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Roberto Bolano's Mauricio "The Eye" Silva and The Savage Detectives

Mauricio "The Eye" Silva is a strange short story that is not at all like I expected it to be from the title. When I hear the title, I envision a story about a boxer or something, although I realized before I even read it that that was unlikely. This story is about the relationship between himself and "The Eye", which leads into a weird story about one of "The Eye's" odd life experiences. I don't think it ever says why they call him "The Eye". The narrator and Mauricio meet in Mexico City and become friends. Mauricio is a homosexual. Eventually Mauricio leaves Mexico without telling the narrator. The narrator left a few years later and headed to Paris, which happened to be the last place "The Eye" was supposed to have been. The narrator looks for him there, but doesn't find him. Instead he finds him when he wasn't expecting to find him. Some years later he goes to Berlin for work, and while returning to his hotel one night he finds none other than Mauricio "The Eye" Silva waiting for him. They stayed up all night and went to bars and drank and talked. Mauricio feels bad about something and wants to tell the narrator a story that he had never told anybody else. They returned back to the hotel and he began to tell his story.

Apparently "The Eye" had gone to India for his work some time ago. He was supposed to photograph the prostitutes district in some city. He was offered the chance to sleep with a prostitute, which he refused. Apparently the pimp realized he was gay because he brought him to a brothel for males. The story gets weird when he starts talking about how some young Indian boys are offered to a deity as a sacrifice. The sacrifice is the young boys male parts. They castrate the boy for the sake of a ceremony, and then he is disowned afterwards. Most of them end up in a brothel. Long story short, Mauricio comes into contact with a young boy who had already been castrated and another young boy who was going to be castrated the next morning. He doesn't like this idea very much so he steals both of the children away and runs off with them to another town. He lives with them for a while and raises them, telling everyone in the community that they are his children. Sadly, "the disease" as it is called on page 119, hits the village and kills both children. Heartbroken, Mauricio returns back to the city where he originally steals the children from. He calls up an old friend and asks for a plane ticket, and the story ends with "The Eye" weeping uncontrollably.

The Savage Detectives is a longer story, so we only read an excerpt of the whole thing, but it was an interesting part. The narrator again meets a random person named Arturo Belano, this time in Africa. They were both photographers there for work. The narrator, Jacobo Urenda, sees Belano as someone who doesn't care about living and is looking to get himself killed. Urenda went back to Paris for a while, and meanwhile Belano heads for the interior of Luanda which is thick with gang wars. They don't meet up again until a couple of years later. Belano seems to have started caring about his life more now, though he is still working for the same newspaper he was working for. They part ways again, and Urenda heads back to Paris to visit his wife for a short time and then heads to Monrovia, Liberia. This is where the majority of the story takes place. He stays in a hotel with a bunch of other journalists. The nearby area is full of civil war and open rebellion, and rebels attack anything that moves in the area. Urenda looks for Belano in the area but does not find him. He tries to leave the country but is unable to go. He and a few other journalists decide they want to make an expedition into the surrounding area. As they are riding towards a few small towns called Brownsville and Black Creek, they start to think maybe they made a mistake in coming to that area. Urenda is talking to an Italian journalist the entire ride until they come under fire from the side of the road near a village called Black Creek. The Italian man is shot in the temple, and the guide is wounded. The Chevy they are riding in takes multiple gunshots to the hood, which cripples the engine. They sit around with the dead Italian man and wait for the guide to return. He eventually comes back with his family. They move the Italian man's body into a nearby house so the dogs don't eat the body after everyone leaves. They try to make it back to Monrovia, but the truck only makes it to the next town, Brownsville. They pull up into town and get confronted by a pair of armed men coming out of a house. The guide talks to them and arranges for all of the travelers to stay in their house. There are other armed soldiers in the house as well as a very famous photographer and none other than Belano.

They find out that they are basically surrounded by hostile forces in the area and come up with a plan to get back to Monrovia. Belano and the other photographer decide that they want to go with the soldiers, which is seen as a death wish by everyone else. Belano seems to have slipped back into his old 'wanting to get himself killed' stage and has apparently found a kindred spirit in the other photographer because Belano wants to go with him so he doesn't die alone. The narrator makes it back to Monrovia, and leaves Liberia for good. Just before leaving he tries to find out what happened to Belano and the other photographer and the soldiers, but he is unable to figure it out. The excerpt of the story ends without ever saying whether or not Belano survived his trip.

Some random thoughts I had while reading: both of these stories started out the same. The author randomly meets a guy from Chile somewhere else in the world and they hit it off and become friends. His style of writing is so conversational. I like it. It flows well. The narrator has a knack for running into people. Thats how he met the characters from each story and he randomly ran into each one again later on in each story and has a reunion with them. In the excerpt he randomly runs into Belano more than once. The people he meets never know how to say goodbye either. They all just leave without notice. Lastly, the stories both ended so abruptly. They left me wanting more, but more because they felt unfinished rather than an actual desire to continue reading these stories. All in all, they were very strange. One was about a homosexual who kidnaps little castrated Indian boys in order to save them from an even more pitiful existence. The other story was about a journalist who ventures into a war torn area of Africa in search of a long lost acquaintance and has a bit of an adventure there, while managing somehow to find the person he was looking for only to lose him again to an unknown fate. Interesting stories, but not my favorite content.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Love and Honor and Pity...

Nam Le's Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice has a long title. The title comes from a Nobel Prize acceptance speech by William Faulkner in 1950, in which Faulkner describes these virtues of man as the reasons man will prevail in the end rather than just endure. Faulkner says it is a writer's duty to write about these virtues to not only keep a record for man, but to "lift their hearts" and remind them of the glory of their past.

Anyway, this story is about a man named Nam who was born in Vietnam, but raised in Australia. His background is that of a "Vietnamese boat people", which he occasionally writes about. While living in Melbourne, Australia he had been a lawyer but he hated his job and hated that he was good at it so he quit, much to the disgrace of his father, and headed to the Illinois Writer's Workshop to become a writer. The story takes place here as a deadline is pressing on Nam. He has to have his final story written and turned in in a few short days, but he is struggling with writer's block and can't figure out what to write about. His father comes to visit him then. It was the first time Nam had seen him in 3 years. He finally decides to write about his father's past in a story he calls "Ethnic Story", which is ironic because he typically didn't write about ethnic topics. I think he sort of thought of himself as a sell-out if he wrote and ethnic story, but with his father reappearing in his life that's what he decided to write about. He and his father do not have a great relationship, made sometimes painfully obvious by the awkwardness and tension in their conversations. The father was hard on Nam. When he was a kid Nam's father made him develop a ten hour a day study plan in the summer. That's just ridiculous. I can't even force myself to do that every day while school is in, let alone the summer. I think it is just the asian culture. I have a few friends from the south pacific and their parents all ride them hard about school. It seems to be excessive to me, but I think they are just brought up that way. My parents don't get too involved in that kind of stuff. They ask about my grades because they want to know how I'm doing. But they don't get on my back about it because they know I am motivated on my own and don't need motivation from them. In my experience, asian parents seem to think they are the main source of motivation, and so they are pretty hard on their kids when it comes to that stuff.

Nam tells his girlfriend, Linda, that his father abused him as a child, but he defended him in his writing. On page 18 Linda says she thinks Nam is trying to make excuses for his father. I agree with her, but why would he do that? Perhaps he feels that if he excuses his father, then he can also be excused. Because his father had abused him, and because his father was excused, perhaps he can feel excused from the things he had done as a result of that abuse. Nam ran away from home when he was 16, and got wrapped up in a life of sex and drugs before coming back home over a year later. His mother was providing for him while he was gone, which his father didn't like and they separated because of it. When Nam returned home, his mother did too but they never spoke another word of it and so Nam points to that as the point where their relationships with each other were never the same. I guess he is struggling with some guilt about that. He probably feels like he is responsible for ruining his parents marriage. So if he can excuse his father, then somehow he can be excused.

Nam knows little about his father's past. The only details he has come from one drunken night when his father talked about it all to his friends and allowed Nam to sit there and listen. His father was involved in the My Lai massacre. His family and lots of people from their village were lined up along a muddy ditch and shot by a bunch of GI's. War is disgusting. It makes people do terrible things. Anyway, his father survives because his mother throws her body on top of him and shields him from the bullets. He eventually crawls out from underneath his slaughtered family, up out of the muddy ditch and walks away probably one of the few survivors. Nam writes about this and other experiences in his story, but his father tells him "There are mistakes in it" on page 22. Nam tells his father he wants to sit down with him and talk about all the mistakes. His father agrees and they do it the next day, with Nam taking 45 pages worth of notes on it. His father tells him "it's not something you'll be able to write" on page 24. Nam responds "I'll write it anyway." Apparently his father was thinking, 'no you won't' because Nam finishes the story with a day to spare on his deadline and goes to sleep. His father wakes up while Nam is sleeping and takes the story with him to read on a walk. He is gone for a long time after Nam wakes up, so he goes to find him. He ends up seeing him down by the river with the homeless man at the burning trash can again. He had burned the story. Why would he do that? Nam had written it on a typewriter. There were no other copies. He said some terrible things to his father at that moment. But he said at the very end of the story that he found out some things later that had he known them then he never would have said those things. I wonder what he found out? He mentions at the bottom of page 16 that he is writing a eulogy. Maybe that's what he is talking about.

This was a good story. While searching for the origin of the title online, I saw a lot about another one of his stories called "The Boat" which seems to be more popular than this one. I had heard of this before, but I thought it was because we were going to read it in this class. That is not true, so I guess I'll just have to check it out for myself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lazarus Project (241-292)

This last section of the book confirmed what I thought to be slowly building within the story and in my mind. The upsetting and inevitable reality set in, although not necessarily in the way I had expected.

This section began with a recollection of the attack on Lazarus and Olga's family that could be described in many ways. It was very chilling and suspenseful and scary. I thought about what it would be like, witnessing the horrific death of Mr. Mandelbaum as Lazarus had, and barely escaping the attackers himself. I imagined what it would be like to sit there, waiting and knowing that they were coming my way and would probably do something similar to me. After the attack, the politsyant claimed that they were all dead and it was time to move on. He had to have known that some of them were alive. He was reluctant to take their lives, just like he was reluctant to let his fellow attackers beat Lazarus to death or rape Olga. When she snaps out of her daydream, she is talking to Taube, and she asks him to do something for him. I suppose she was asking him to pick up Isador and help him escape.

Next we join Brik and Rora trying to make their way to Sarajevo. They plan on taking a cab to Bucharest so they can hop on a train to a city that will let them take a bus to Sarajevo. This section had a lot of foreshadowing in it. The first example I noticed came on page 253. Brik says "All we had left to do together, Rora and I, was get back to Sarajevo." He said it then as if they would part ways once they got there and never be around each other again. Anyway, they stayed up most of the night and talked before catching the cab the next morning. Their cab driver was a shady looking sex trafficker named Seryozha who basically used them to transport a young lady across international borders without getting caught. At first Rora said he thought Seryozha was planning on killing them. But he was just acting weird because he had to go pick up a sex slave. Seryozha speeds the whole time and drives haphazardly probably because there aren't too many cars on the road. After a while, he starts to fall asleep at the wheel. Brik doesn't know what to do because a part of him wants to say something but another part of him wants to continue to flirt with danger. On page 261 he says "Perhaps, I thought, a quick death would resolve this uncomfortable situation." Its like he doesn't even care whether or not he dies. I think his life is beginning to lose focus. He no longer knows what to do about anything. His marriage is struggling, he isn't having much success with writing as of then. He is struggling with morality issues. And he's not too sure if he wants to live through it anymore. The girl does not do anything either. Perhaps she is wishing that they do crash so she can somehow escape the life she is about to be forced into. But Rora saves the day when he wakes Seryozha up and talks to him until they can stop at a gas station.

Once they reach Bucharest Seryozha drops them off at the train station, but not before he tries to hustle them for more money. They blow him off and lurk behind a pillar until Seryozha goes to the bathroom. They follow him at a distance and wait just long enough for him to get into a stall and get his pants down. They then proceed to barge in on him and beat him senseless. Brik breaks his hand in the process. They leave, set the girl free, and send her off with a handful of cash.

The next chapter begins with Isador who is taken by Taube's men. They knocked him out and he woke up in a coffin with a dead body pressing against his chest. They take him to a basement and hide him for a while. Later Olga is told that they will try to get him to Canada so nothing will happen to him. It flashes over to Lazarus' funeral with Olga and Taube. Olga can barely handle the grief. Schuettler and Miller stay behind to try and pretend like they care about the situation. Of course the newspaper article portrays Schuettler as the good guy. It even says that Olga says things that she didn't say.

In the final chapter of the book, Brik and Rora arrive at Sarajevo. Brik is worried about the situation with Rora and Rambo. He keeps asking if Rora is worried about what is going to happen. This is some more foreshadowing. They go to the hospital where Rora's sister Azra is a surgeon. She checks Brik's hand and tells him it is broken. He goes down to get it X-rayed, and finds the room after a bit of a struggle. I thought it was funny that so many people smoked in the hospital. You are not allowed anywhere near a hospital with a cigarette in the U.S., and here the patients and workers were all smoking it up. Brik talks to the nurse about America. He neglects to tell her about his wife. She tries to convince him to stay in Sarajevo, saying that there is nothing in America for him. She says he needs to marry one of their women. He is always looking for attention from somewhere. If he talks to another woman, he doesn't tell them about his wife. He constantly talks about how Mary never wants to talk to him and likes being away from him, but he admits to being relieved when he tries to call her and can't get a hold of her on page 283. He likes touring around his homeland without Mary and realizes he really doesn't want to go back. He always acts like Mary doesn't want him, but its he that doesn't really want her. Brik leaves the hospital and tells Rora and Azra that he needs to take some time alone in his hometown. So for the next few days he reminisces about his childhood as he walks around the city, bumping into people he used to know and greeting everyone he passed. He seemed genuinely happy to be back.

After a few days he and Rora agreed to meet over a cup of coffee. Rora was sitting at the coffee shop doing what he did best: taking pictures and flirting. Suddenly a muscle-bound, tattooed individual walks up, pulls out a gun and shoots Rora seven times without saying a word. He picks up Rora's camera and walks off. You later find out that the guy is just a random druggie who wanted Rora's camera so he could sell it for drugs. The gun accidentally went off the first time and he just kept on shooting, or so he said. Brik arrives to see Rora's bloody corpse lying there in the coffee shop. Nobody claims to have seen anything. The cops don't act like they care that much. He says nobody seemed particularly upset by the murder on page 286. Brik spends the next few days trying to figure how to console Azra. At the same time, he expresses the will to write a letter to Mary explaining all his thoughts and feelings. He is scared to have children. He doesn't want to come back to America. He says he will never know her and that he is elsewhere now. And yet he can not bring himself to write the letter. He visits the hospital again to get his hand checked, which is worse than it was. Azra treats him and they begin to talk about Rora and Rambo. Come to find out that Rambo never killed Miller. Miller was still alive and well. Rora had been lying about the whole story the entire time. His death was completely unrelated to Rambo. He was killed by "a boy with a gun" (page 291). I didn't see that one coming. Rora was, however, telling the truth about Azra's husband. So that makes me wonder what else he was lying about. He lied about Rambo, so why not other things? Certainly all those stories weren't real now.

The book ends with Brik deciding to stay in Sarajevo for a while, at least until his hand heals. It doesn't say whether he ever goes back. Or whether he and Mary stay together. The only thing it assures is that he will be writing. After all, that is what he needed his hand to heal for. So in the end the story about Brik and Rora had been somewhat happy-go-lucky until it came crashing down at the end. Lazarus' and Olga's story had been the depressing, grief filled story, and yet things sort of turned out for the best at the end. Lazarus was dead, and Olga still had to deal with that, but the city laid Lazarus' soul to rest. There was no civil unrest and everything worked out in the end. Basically, the stories pulled a bit of a role reversal at the end. Maybe the moral of this story is that nobody gets to be happy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Lazarus Project (123-164)

The first chapter of this section of the novel starts out once more with Brik and Rora continuing their journey through Lazarus's past via eastern Europe. The cab driver, Andriy, had dropped them off at a rundown, nasty hotel in a city called Chernivtsi. After a detailed description of the disgusting place, including the whores who stay there to tempt the travelers, he again goes into a series of stories relating to things he and Rora did while staying at the hotel. He talks about his dreams and the trouble he has sleeping sometimes. He imagines what Lazarus was doing while in the city of Chernivtsi. He wakes up from a nap and he and Rora go for a stroll and find another Viennese Cafe. He talks about Rora's grandfather, or dedo, who was a Viennese Cafe regular and why he is a regular, and his love for the empire. Brik reminisces about a trip to Vienna for his second anniversary with his wife, Mary. Soon, a man pulls up in a Mercedes SUV and makes a big show of coming into the cafe and ordering. Apparently he is a gangster of sorts, which inspires another story about a gangster in Sarajevo named Pseto. They return to the room, and Rora naps while Brik becomes aroused by watching TV. Soon, a prostitute comes to the door and tries to entice Brik to have sex with her by exposing herself to him. He considers it for a moment, but then refuses her and closes the door in her face. This begins what seems to be a sort of confession by Brik. He explains that a part of him wants to be the person who has no commitments, no cares, and just does whatever they want on a whim. But another part of him could not allow himself to do that. He says, "I was still too weak to pursue my pleasures at the expense of others...And I was not unselfish enough not to be tempted by pursuing pleasure with abandon. Forever stuck in moral mediocrity, I could afford myself neither self-righteousness nor orgasmic existence." from page 133. I think this sort of behavior is alive in all of us, or at least it is for me. Who wouldn't be tempted by a beautiful girl who is willing to give herself to you right then and there? Though personally, I wouldn't even consider letting a prostitute near me with those sort of intentions. I doubt I'd even think twice before slamming the door in her face. But what person doesn't have at least a small part of them that only wants to live for their self and do things for them and only them? Its selfish, yes, but in my opinion it is simple human nature. Everybody wants to get theirs. What makes you morally superior, rather than morally mediocre as Hemon chooses to call it on page 133, is how you choose to deal with those temptations. So I disagree with him there. But anyway, he begins to talk about how he is not a good husband to Mary. He loves her, her cares about her, and he apparently can refuse temptation for the sake of being with her, but he remains tempted by that other side of himself which prevents him from being fully committed. Unfortunately, I can identify with that. But I've learned that the self gratification way is probably not the best way to go.

The next chapter begins with Olga approaching the police station. She is trying to speak with Assistant Chief Schuettler. The journalist, Miller, is happy to show her to Schuettler's office in case he can get a good story out of it. When Olga comes face to face with Schuettler, she demands Lazarus' body back so she can have him buried properly. He refuses, and they clash leaving Olga to become very angry and leave. As she leaves the station she meets a man named Hermann Taube who is a lawyer, who tells her he wants to help her. He leads her to his office so they can talk without having to worry about the police detective who is following them. As they arrive in his office, the racism of the time is clearly shown on page 143. There is a photo of Lazarus on the front page of the newspaper. Then it highlights several parts of his facial features with a heading that says "The anarchist type". Clearly they are labeling anyone that is of Lazarus' lineage to be an anarchist. This is racial discrimination at its finest, and if something like this had been printed in this day and age it would be a big deal. Then Taube reads the article to go along with it, which describes an approaching "housecleaning" of all the anarchists. It says "undesirable foreigners will be deported". Isn't this the type of behavior we fought against in World War 2? I guess a big difference is that we probably wouldn't deport them to concentration camps and kill six million people because of their race, but its still pretty hypocritical. But at the time this takes place, none of that had happened yet. I guess that's irony. Anyway, Taube asks about Isador's location, and Olga lies to him and says she doesn't know anything about Isador because she doesn't trust Taube. In the end he explains to her that he represents several people who want to help her, but she is unwilling to go through with any of it for the time being. She leaves and is afraid that her life is slipping away from her.

In the final chapter for this section, we return to Brik and Rora who are starting a new day. They eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant(judging by the state of the rest of the hotel I wouldn't eat there if you paid me), and then spent a while in a brothel called Duran Duran, why not? Brik talks about how Rora couldn't do anything with the whores in the brothel. I guess the whole thing disgusted him. Brik never said what he did while at the brothel. Maybe he wasn't there at all and Rora just told him about it later on. They head for the Jewish Center in Chernivtsi, though apparently they really only want to go hang out in the cafe some more and drink coffee. They drink way too much coffee. They meet a man named Chaim Gruzenberg at the Jewish Center. Brik talks to him for a bit, while Rora takes pictures of the center and the old man writing at the desk in the corner. The discussion ends up leading to nowhere for Brik because Chaim says nobody is around who remembers the events he is looking for, and the only Jews who hadn't left the area were too old, sick, and/or crazy to answer any of his questions. On page 158 Brik talks about Lazarus' arrival on Ellis Island. Did all the immigrants that came through there get treated like he says Lazarus did? It didn't seem like it would be a good experience. Is Lazarus' name on the wall at Ellis Island? My great grandmother was German and she came through Ellis Island only a few years after Lazarus would have. Her name is on the wall. I hope she wasn't treated like that. Anyway, after the Jewish Center, they took a walk down the road to the Museum of Regional History and toured it for a while. It's interesting to think about history on the other side of a war. You walk into an American museum and see an American perspective. But for every war we fight in, our enemies have museums dedicated to that same war. They had heroes too. And stories of their own. And it was our soldiers whom they killed to have their names remembered amongst the history of their countries. It all seems somehow more real when you think about it like that, and more barbaric. After the museum they go to an internet cafe called Chicago to write to people. Brik writes to Mary, and asks about her father, which he calls her "dead". He describes her father as a mean old man totally down on life who hates the fact that his daughter chose to marry a foreigner. He is probably going to be in trouble with his wife after his message to her. This section ends with another one of Rora's tasteless jokes. Most of Rora's jokes, while tasteless, succeed in getting a laugh out of me.

I realize now that I could probably tie anarchism from this time period in to my capitalism research and use this book instead of Cowboy Chicken to talk about some of the historical events that happened around this time. But I hadn't read enough about it until now, and I am way too far in to start over. Oh well. I'm looking forward to the second half.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Lazarus Project (87-121)

This section of the book was not as enjoyable to me as the first two. Perhaps it is my lack of sleep that causes me to say that, but I had a hard time making it through this section. This section of the story begins with a description of Lazarus's autopsy report. I knew it had said that he was shot several times, but the full reality was just ridiculous. His body was mutilated. The assistant chief just stands nearby talking about how "They are creatures of a different world". This is in reference to Lazarus's different facial features and things. I think this quote just shows the depth of the discrimination of the Jews. Its like not only do they think they aren't like them, but they don't even consider them to be human. The next section of the story involved Olga and Isador. Olga is trying to write to her mother to explain that Lazarus is dead, but she cannot find the words. She keeps starting a letter over in a different way. This part really seemed real to me. Hemon caught the mood just right. Parts seemed to be randomly thrown together to simulate the rambling thoughts of Olga's distraught mind. Other parts gave off a frustrated or angry or even a little scared kind of vibe. She would be doing something, then randomly start thinking about something from the past involving Lazarus. It just all seemed like the line of thought of someone who had just experienced a serious loss. It was very real to me.

Olga goes out to the outhouse and finds that Isador is hiding down in the feces because the police are looking for him all over the city. They suspect he too is an anarchist. Olga wants to blame him for Lazarus's death. As an aside, I just want to mention that parts of this book that are heavy with dialogue can be hard to follow because Hemon does not use quotations a lot of times. Anyway, she eventually brings Isador a blanket and some bread to get him through the night. I don't know if I could hide out in all that for a night. That would be about as disgusting as it gets. Olga starts to think that "waking up dead" would be the best way to deal with the grief of losing her brother. She hears a knock at the door towards the end of this chapter and finds Lazarus standing there. I took it to be a dream based on the fact that he's supposed to be dead and he begins to speak gibberish at the very bottom of page 96, and it is all "L" words from the section of the dictionary they were studying together.

The next chapter picks back up with the narrator and Rora, this time on their journey toward Krotkiy where the narrator's grandfather is born. The infamous Ford Feces is introduced in this chapter, owned and operated by Andriy, who seems to be personally offended when someone tries to where a seatbelt in his car. To pass the time on their long car ride, the narrator describes some of the stories Rora was telling along the way. The narrator talks about how he sometimes tried to tell stories to his wife which were not entirely true, but that she would call him on it. He says reality is the fastest American commodity. He describes a time when they were at a wedding, and everyone is sharing stories about how they met or ended up together, but he tried to talk about a story about some Cold War rabbits. Mary, in front of everyone, said she didn't believe him. That was rough. They get to Krotkiy, and they enter this graveyard across from an abandoned school. They are looking for particular gravestones. They find a gravestone for a man named Mykola Brik, who Rora says looks a lot like the narrator. He is an old relative,distantly related. He talks about how Rora descends from a long line of famous or important people who all did important things.

Anyway, he wakes up in the car because he is hot and Andriy is smoking with the windows up. He begins to talk about America and his American wife, and he seems pretty proud of everything. This contrasts the first part of this book when he is talking about denouncing his American ties for a day during the independence day celebration with fellow Bosnians. But now he almost seems like he is trying to convince Andriy to come to America himself. Rora is a muslim, and Andriy doesn't believe it at first. He thinks it is funny.

The last chapter starts off with a meeting between Guzik, Miller and a little fat man. Miller is paying off Guzik for information and trying to use him to track down anarchists. He asks Guzik to take a look into Olga. Miller goes with the little fat man and attends what is supposed to be a secret anarchist meeting. At this meeting, they are calling Lazarus a martyr, and a man named Ben Reitman speaks and urges people to "respond armed with our righteous wrath." Miller gets Reitman's name from the little fat man and refers to him as the high priest of anarchy. He basicly labels him as an enemy, and the chapter ends.

I don't know if it was just because I was doing this really late and I was really tired and not quite following it clearly, but this section of the book seemed to be a lot of story-telling and reminiscing, but not much movement as far as the plot is concerned. Maybe I completely missed the point.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Lazarus Project (1-27)

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon starts out with a story about a young foreign man walking about through the rich side of Chicago in 1908. He does not belong there. You aren't sure until the end of the first chapter, but he is a young Jewish man from the Jewish ghetto on the south side. He is on the other side of town because he wants to speak with the Chicago Chief of Police, Chief Shippy. He comes early in the morning, but the maid says Chief Shippy does not take visitors until 9. So the young man takes a walk down the streets to take in the sights and the sounds. He wanders into a store called Ludwig's Supplies, which he describes as the most abundant store he has been in since he was back home in Kishinev. Everything he sees reminds him of his family or something that happened to him back home. He remembers his mother, and Olga with her swollen veins. Later he remembers a time when he played hide and seek with his friends. They played a cruel joke on him and left without him knowing so that he sought them until late into the night. But for now, he is in Ludwig's Supplies. The store owner's do not trust him. Apparently nobody on this side of town does. He proves them wrong by buying a bag of lozenges for a dime. This allowed him to linger in the store for a little longer to look at a leaflet board. He departs, and sees something in the newspaper about a man named Pat Garrett who was killed in a gunfight. Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid. Upon hearing the names, he immediately thinks about what kind of dog the names would suit. That's strange.

Anyway, the young Jewish man goes back to Chief Shippy's house to speak with him. Upon arriving Shippy instantly does not trust him. The young Jewish man hands the Chief a letter with his name and address on it. The Chief immediately thinks that this poor Jew has come to kill him, so he wraps him up and holds him and tells his wife to come in and search him. She does so and thinks he may have a pistol, so the Chief draws his revolver. Drawn by all the commotion the Chief's driver, Foley, and the Chief's son, Henry, come to see whats going on with weapons in hand. The Jewish man suddenly lunges at the Chief, or at least that's what they say. The chief shoots the Jewish man, then gets startled and shoots at Foley, then gets startled again and turns around and shoots at his own son. As a result, both Foley and Shippy shoot some more. As a consequence, Foley gets a broken wrist and Henry gets shot through the lung. Of course they tell the newspaper reporter that the young Jewish man shot at everyone before he was killed by the Chief. This is why the article, which is being read in conjunction with the real story, is such a twisted version of the true events. It never really said what the Jewish man's true intentions were. It was sad though, because I had begun to grow attached to this character in the nine pages that his life in the novel lasted. He seemed like he had real potential until his life was snuffed out.

After the crazy events of the first chapter, the second chapter made everything seem much more real. The narrator describes that he is a Bosnian-American living in Chicago. He describes a Bosnian Independence Day celebration that he attends with other Bosnian-Americans, and how he basically flirts with a seventy year old woman in order to get a grant to fund his writing projects. I think one of the writing projects he is talking about working on is this book about him/his research into the events of the murder in Chicago. He describes their conversations and says that for this one day every year he is a true blue Bosnian. After dancing with the old woman, Susie as she had come to be called, he goes to find the photographer who had taken his picture and finds out that it is one of his good friends from high school named Rora. He talks to Rora, but he is sad because he sees that it is all just small talk and will never amount to anything real just like every other conversation he had with old friends. At the top of page 18 he says, "The old film of the common past disintegrates when exposed to the light of a new life." I have found this to be true in almost all respects. Some people are worth holding on to, and for them, I hope that quote never becomes true. But for the most part, yes, that sentence says it all. Rora is a unique individual. Some people thought Rora was a spy. Some people just thought he was protected by his late father's friends in military intelligence. Either way, Rora missed a lot of school and traveled pretty much wherever he wanted to go whenever he wanted to go there. He always had some crazy story to tell. Eventually, the conversation ended just like all the other conversations with Rora: they just said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

The third chapter is short. It describes the assistant chief of police arriving at the scene of the investigation of the murdered Jewish man. The only thing of consequence he found may have been a small piece of paper with 5 different sentences written on it. I'm not too sure what they mean. Maybe it will become clear later. They also determined whether he was Jewish or not by pulling down the pants of the corpse and looking at his genitals. Not much respect to the dead there. They said he was a Jew after that. I suppose he wasn't circumcised. The interesting part was that the assistant chief of police was named Schuettler, which was the name of the elderly couple at the Bosnian Independense Day celebration. I don't suppose there are too many Mr. Schuettlers in the world, so this must be the same guy. This makes me wonder how it is all connected now. I think I am going to enjoy reading this book.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

After Cowboy Chicken Came To Town

After reading the title of this story, I was expecting some really strange fictional story. I envisioned a fully functioning chicken coup out west, complete with problems with gangs and crime. Until one day a mysterious stranger, cowboy chicken, arrived to clean up the coup. Silly and corny, I know. But instead I got an entertaining story that turned into a brutal lessen about capitalist America for a few Chinese workers.

The story follows the narrator, Hongwen, along his path of enlightenment within a brand new fast food restaurant called Cowboy Chicken in a Chinese city. The story describes the grand opening of the fast food restaurant and the hustlings and bustlings of a booming business until it all starts to go sour for the employees. They tried an all you can eat buffet, but apparently Chinese locals aren't accustomed to this practice because Cowboy Chicken's profits were soon eaten away, literally. I thought it was funny that these Chinese people didn't know what a buffet was, considering that around here most of the restaurants owned and operated by Chinese people are, in fact, all you can eat Chinese food buffets. Cowboy Chicken soon becomes the talk of the town, and local businesses begin to have business lunches there. Pretty soon, wedding parties are organized within Cowboy Chicken because of it's "exotic" food. I laughed at the thought of someone wanting their wedding party to be catered by a fast food restaurant. Anyway, some guy shows up talking about how he is going to sue the company because he found a fly in his food. He is sent away, and then Hongwen and Jinglin made sure he wouldn't come back by taking him down an alley and threatening him with a pocketknife. Everything is going fine until the full-time employees decide to pay their manager, Peter, a visit at his new home that is still being built off in the surrounding countryside. They are astounded and disheartened by the amount of money that he makes. Of course, this makes them suspicious of him and so they start to follow his every move to see what other perks his job gets him. They follow him one night after work to see what he does with all the food that he takes home and discover that he burns it (and pees on it apparently). Of course they are furious because they live in socialist China and many people they know are starving, and here is Peter wasting all this meat. After threatening to go public with the information leads them nowhere, the workers decide to try to get Peter fired by the owner Mr. Shapiro. That does not work, so they inform their boss that they are going on strike from the restaurant. Due to some incorrect wording because none of them speak good English, they end up threatening to strike at Cowboy Chicken rather than go on strike. So Mr. Shapiro calls in the cops for security. When the workers return from their half a day strike, they are promptly told that they are completely replaceable and "Terminated!" all at the same time. Hence the brutal lesson on capitalist America.

For the most part I thought this story was pretty entertaining and I laughed out loud at several spots. I'm not sure a lot of parts were even meant to be funny, but the honesty of some parts made it funny to me. For instance, when they were discussing how they all got diarrhea from the wedding party, I thought that was hilarious. The one worker said he thought he would crap his guts out. An old woman unfolded a common paper napkin with a flower pattern on it while eating at Cowboy Chicken, and apparently deemed it too beautiful to wipe her hands with. Most of the Chinese people could not manage to eat with a fork, so they all ate their cheesecake with chopsticks as if that would be easier to do. Stuff like that was all amusing to me. Most of it was just simple truth, but none of it would ever happen in this country. There were a few other parts that amused me for different reasons. On page 190, Hongwen describes Mr. Shapiro as hardly ever coming out of his office because he was too busy reading newspapers and dicking around in there to put in any real work. Shapiro also tried to date his female employees. This reminded me of some of the bosses I have worked for over the years.

Some of the other things that came to mind while reading this were cultural differences. I guess they don't put bathrooms in restaurants in China (page 189). And I thought it was interesting to see the other side of things having to do with our food. Also, Americans complain about our jobs being sent oversees more and more because of cheap labor and things like that. On page 187, the Chinese people complained that the American company was moving in on them, using their labor, and then shipping all the profits back to the U.S. I guess nobody wins in that situation. It's pretty crazy that a lot of the Chinese companies simply can't pay their employees the the wages that were promised to them because the money just isn't there. Hongwen made half again as much money in his first month working for Cowboy Chicken as his father did from the military after almost forty years. That's just sad. Their socialist government doesn't provide enough food or wages so they are hungry all the time, and yet they curse capitalism for having leftovers. They see the problems with their government but choose to focus their ill will on capitalism instead. On page 200, when they saw the woman with tons of rings and diamonds and gold on her fingers, they thought it was a bad thing. They said she was probably lazy because she undoubtedly did no housework with jewelry like that. Our society would think something far different about those rings.

One random thing I noticed was that there was yet another reference to the University of Iowa towards the beginning of the story. It seems like everything we read lately has something to do with that school. Lastly, I thought I would look up the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan, just to get an idea of the amounts they were talking about throughout the entire story. One U.S. dollar is worth about 6.83 yuan right now. This means the all you can eat buffet was less than three dollars, and Peter's giant 3 story victorian house complete with garage and sitting on 2 acres of land only cost around $40,000. Obviously that is extremely cheap, and still none of them could believe how wealthy Peter was. I could get used to stuff like that. Its not only a good exchange rate, but everything is cheaper there anyway. I need to make a trip to China. Anyway, this story lived up to it's name. It's a good read.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Orbiting by Bharati Mukherjee

This short story was strange to me simply because it wasn't really about much anything in particular. It was sort of like a description of a day in the narrator's life, and all the little tangents and added trains of thought that come along with different circumstances. Its about a rather awkward Thanksgiving Day and dinner with the narrator's family, and her Afghanistani boyfriend named Ro. Everything that happens makes her go off on a tangent where she reveals some sort of background information about her Italian heritage, or her relationship with an ex-boyfriend, or experiences with her family growing up, or Ro's past. The story had a lot of dialogue in it and a nice amount of humor, as well as some deeper parts, particularly in the last few pages. Some of the most interesting parts to me were when the narrator mentioned things that had not happened yet when the story was written. Comparing those things to what I know has already happened was fun and ironic in some cases. Bharati Mukherjee seems to be a bit of a profit in her own right with all the things she writes about before they come true, starting with the Twin Towers quote from the other story.

Ro is very proper, and seems to be very intelligent. He reminded me of a foreign friend of mine who grew up overseas and moved here a few years ago. My friend is fluent in English, but he says things in a very proper way sometimes just as Ro did in the story. It's pretty funny to hear someone talk like that in everyday conversation. The best example of this dialogue that I saw was at the bottom of page 71 when they are talking about basketball, and Ro says, "You are undoubtedly correct Brent. I am deferring to your judgement because currently I have not familiarized myself with these practices." Who talks like that? It catches you off guard to hear it in normal conversation.

Anyway, she talks a lot about her ex-boyfriend Vic. She doesn't really seem to want him back, and even acknowledges some of his shortcomings, but she still seems to miss him. So she doesn't seem to want him back, or think it would work between them, but she thinks about him all the time. She mentions that she would marry Ro a few times too, which makes me think she has passed up on Vic forever. I thought it was funny that there were a ton of references to places in Afghanistan and the country itself, but nobody ever knew what they were. This was ironic to me because I recognized most or all of them immediately because of the whole war on terrorism. That's a bit of the profit in Mukherjee coming out, as I was referring to earlier. I also thought the part about Abdul was funny because the narrator was thinking the same thing I was when I read it. I had a picture in my head of Karim Abdul Jabhar in his goggles playing basketball. The references to Patrick Ewing, Larry Byrd, and Bill Russell (I assume) were entertaining too, since all those player's legendary careers in the NBA have come and gone.

On a more serious note, its funny how we assume that because we have never experienced foreign things, or because it is not the same type of experience, the foreigner is never immediately accepted. It's like we don't give those experiences much thought or credit when it's convenient for us, and yet they are some of the biggest reasons the foreigners remain foreign to us. I am referring to the top of page 72 here. The narrator too is guilty of similar stereotypes, albeit they are reversed in the middle of page 74 and page 75. She says Ro has real scars in his life, and acts as if we Americans don't have real scars. We only like to think they are real because we haven't experienced any real hardship in our lives like someone like Ro has. While this could very well be true, like most stereotypes I don't believe they apply to much of the population they are aimed at. These assumptions lead her to say Ro is the only man in the room because of his experiences. He had some bad experiences, no doubt, that left him physically scarred. But there are worse things.

Anyway, this was an interesting and somewhat entertaining story, but I didn't like it because nothing really happened. The story was long and there was a lot to it, but the only thing that really happened was the Thanksgiving dinner, and a little bit of the day leading up to it. The rest was just background and somewhat random interjections. I thought a little about the title of the story, but I couldn't quite figure out what she was going for there. It obviously has deeper meaning because it normally wouldn't have much of anything to do with this story. I remember reading the word somewhere in the middle of the story, but I could not find it when I went looking for it. I did, however, like Mukherjee's writing style for this story. She made everything seem so real. The dialogue was just right. It was somewhat abundant as I was saying before, but it was simple enough and very believable. The random interjections of thought were well placed, and reminded me of exactly the types of things your brain would stray to given the situations. The believable perception of reality made the story flow really well. It was like I was reading a documentary on Mukherjee's Thanksgiving day from Mukherjee's point of view, although the story was not about her at all, and seemed to be fiction. Overall not too bad.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

American Dreamer and A Wife's Story

American Dreamer is about a woman named Bharati Mukherjee who moved from India to Iowa City to study writing for 2 years. She was supposed to return home to an arranged marriage, but she chose instead to marry a guy from her classes in a lawyer's office above a coffee shop during a lunch break. She talks briefly about her home life growing up and her social status in India, which is defined mostly by the family name, heritage, and geographical area, rather than being defined by the individual. As I go on reading this, I can't help but feel like I may be missing her point. She compares and contrasts the three countries she has lived in: India, Canada and the U.S. She is basically declaring her reasons for choosing to become a U.S. citizen. She describes India as being too reliant on the past and basically says developing yourself as an individual is tough. That reminds me of an Indian grad student I used to talk to here at Clemson. He said Clemson was way tougher than anything he did in India. I asked him why and he said you actually had to do your work here. Everyone in India just copied off each other and their professors, and other sources. None of his work was his own, and nobody ever cared. Anyway, she says Canada resists cultural fusion, and her years spent there were particularly harsh. She goes on to say that she has grown to love the idea of "America", and takes her citizenship very seriously, but admits that a lot of times living in the U.S. falls short of the perception that is "America". In the end, she begins to question all Americans, both immigrants and natural born citizens, and challenges everyone to show that they can change America just as America has changed them.

Its an interesting perspective on things, one that I can easily see her side of. I agree with a lot she had to say, although some of it I have yet to experience and therefore have a hard time knowing exactly what she means.

In A Wife's Story, it is more of the same. American stereotypes towards foreigners. It starts off in a theater. They are watching a play, Glengarry Glen Ross, I think. It's during the scene where they are talking about the Patels and it is offending the author. Afterwards she walks through the streets with her friend Imre. She gets home and has to talk to her roommate about her trouble with her husband. Then, the author's husband from India calls. He misses her and wants to come to visit her in America for a sort of honeymoon. They hang out, shop, and then they go on a guided tour of New York City. She mentions that they have more privacy than they ever did in India. She talks about how she doesn't really love her husband because it was an arranged marriage, she just learned to do what he likes. On page 39, her husband says, "Quick, take a picture of me! Before the Twin Towers disappear." I thought that was pretty strange, particularly if this was written before 2001. She mentions wanting to see some white muslims before she dies on page 39, and that made me want to see some too. I never really thought about it like that. It didn't really occur to me that any of those even existed in the world until I read it in this story. Anyway, his last day there the husband asks the author to come back to India with him because he misses her and can't live without her, and he is worried about how she gets hit on so much in America. She refuses to come back, talking about how she still has time left on her degree.

Going into these stories I assumed that these were real experiences of the author, Bharati Mukherjee, but there were some inconsistencies between the stories. In American Dreamer, she was studying writing for two years in Iowa City. In A Wife's Story, she was getting her doctorate in Special Ed. in New York City. In American Dreamer, she married a Canadian and remained married for several years, but in A Wife's Story she went through with the arranged Indian marriage. If I had to guess, I would say that American Dreamer was the true story, and A Wife's Story was more fiction. Possibly how she thinks things might have gone if she were to stay with the arranged marriage. It just kind of messed with my head because I was automatically assuming that both of the stories were true stories about the author. This reading had a lot of references to other stories that we have already read.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stone Reader Movie (Day 2)

In this installment of the movie, Moskowitz isn't much closer to finding Mossman than he was until the very end of Part 2. Moskowitz talks to a guy who had something to do with the University of Iowa's writing program the same time Mossman was there. I didn't catch whether he was a classmate of Mossman, or whether he was a professor or something at the time Mossman was there. This person said he didn't remember Mossman. After talking to this guy for a while, he came up pretty empty in his search. That seemed to be the trend. So he then went and had a meeting with the original book jacket designer, and that guy didn't even remember doing it, or the book itself at all. He said it seemed familiar to him, but he didn't remember anything about it. So once again he was back to square one. He returned home empty handed. He resorted to searching the internet again. One day he had a breakthrough. He found two copies of 'The Stones of Summer' but decided he didn't want to buy them because he had already bought most of them already. A few days later he changed his mind and went to buy them, but discovered that two different publishers had already bought them up. He was excited that something happened, but I don't really think anything came from this bit of information. He eventually talked to one of the publishers who bought a copy. The publisher explained that he loved it when he read it at the age of 17, but realized there wasn't as much to it as he used to think, and so he dropped it after 100 pages. Moskowitz began to fear that he was the only one to like the book, which was funny to me because thats what I was talking about in my last blog.

Anyway, naturally he decides to head for the source. So he takes a trip to Iowa to visit the University of Iowa's writing department. He finds tons of manuscripts written by Mossman, and even his master's thesis there. Moskowitz and his friend keep searching for a while and end up finding an old picture of one of Dow's teachers. He asks about the man in the photo and is told that he lives nearby. Its the person Mossman dedicated 'The Stones of Summer' to. So he goes and talks to the guy and finds out the guy knows exactly what happened to Mossman. He thinks he pushed Mossman so hard while he was writing his book that he pushed him straight to the insane asylum, but only for a few months. He says Mossman put too much of himself into 'The Stones of Summer'. He said after he finished writing it, he had nothing left to himself. That's why he was institutionalized, and thats probably why he never wrote again. He tells Moskowitz that Mossman now lives in Cedar Rapids, only a short drive away. Moskowitz leaves and talks to the guy who took the book jacket photo. Moskowitz is getting really close to finding Mossman now. The book jacket photographer talks about when he knew Mossman, said that Mossman supported him for a while when he was struggling to make ends meet. Moskowitz shows the photographer the original book review written by Seelye, and the guy reads it aloud. It really was a great review. He reads a part at the end that compares Mossman to a river of thought and emotion or something like that, and says that such a source is unlikely to go dry soon. Thats ironic, considering that Mossman stopped writing altogether after that.

Towards the end he finally gets a couple of phone numbers that he could use to reach Mossman. He calls his mom to let her know that he finally found him, but then he asked her to make the phone call for him. After all that work and all that time he finally found Mossman, and he was too scared to even talk to him. But I guess he worked up the courage and made the call. Mossman actually seemed pretty normal when he talked to Moskowitz on the phone. After all this build up, and hearing about the guy, and all that everyone was saying about how wonderful his book was and how great of a writer he was, I kind of expected something different on the phone. I'm not really sure what i expected, but it wasn't what ended up happening. Mossman just kept mentioning how he had become introverted. After a little conversation, they set up a meeting for the next morning. Moskowitz had finally found Mossman. Now I guess he gets to go make all his dreams come true by talking to him. But that is for the next blog.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stone Reader Movie (Day 1)

Well, the first thing I have discovered is that blogging on movies you have never seen before is more difficult than blogging on a story or book because there isn't anything for you to refer back to. I did take notes in class, but those can only get me so far because I was still paying attention to the movie when I wrote them and most are pretty vague. But here it goes.

The narrator, Mark Moskowitz, is making a film about the search for the author of a book called 'The Stones of Summer' that he read when he was younger. The author's name is Dow Mossman. Apparently Mossman wrote the book, then pretty much disappeared off of the face of the earth. He stopped writing altogether, and nobody knows what happened to him.

Moskowitz himself reads all the time. His mother said he was never very sociable. She said some people talked, Moskowitz just read. At one point she is describing him as a teenager and said he would never wear jackets, only the jacket linings. I thought that was kind of strange. Anyway, Moskowitz is looking for this author, Mossman, with the ultimate goal of meeting him. He keeps reaching out to all these people that might give him leads: old friends, book reviewers, the publishing company, Mossman's old agent, people online, anyone who might give him something that will eventually help him find Mossman. Meanwhile he is convincing his friends to read the novel in an attempt to revamp interest in it. He eventually arranges a meeting in Maine with a man named John Seelye (I looked him up, which is why I knew how to spell his name), who is the writer of the original and only book review for 'The Stones of Summer' for the New York Times years ago. Seelye thought the book was great and gave it a great review, but apparently it didn't peak much interest in it. Moskowitz stays in Maine with Seelye for a while just to talk about Mossman and some of his other favorite books. He says he felt like he had a connection with Seelye through the books, and he felt like he had known him for his whole life. However, when it came to Mossman, Moskowitz concluded that Seelye didn't know any more about the subject than he did. So it was a pleasurable meeting, but unfortunately yielded another dead end.

During the visit Seelye is talking about how he did his dissertation on Moby Dick, but never once read it straight through. He said, "Because it's a great book, doesn't mean you have to like it." I liked this quote, because I think it describes my attitude towards pretty much all required reading for my English classes through the years. I can understand the appeal of a lot of the books. And indeed most seem to be full of deeper, more subtle meanings and may be regarded as literary masterpieces, but I don't usually like them. I've probably only liked about 20% of the books I have been required to read over the years. And most of those I would not want to read again. I suppose the inverse is also true though. Just because you like something, doesn't make it great. Maybe that's why 'The Stones of Summer' hasn't received much attention through the years. I have nothing against the book. I have never even heard of it. But perhaps Moskowitz and Seelye are two peas in a pod like Moskowitz suggested; two kin spirits who love the book maybe because they can relate to it somehow or because it has meaning for them. But maybe its not that great. Maybe that's why nobody knew about the book. Maybe thats why Mossman stopped writing...because it was bad. I don't know, I guess we'll find out.

Anyway, along the way Moskowitz finds out that one book writers are actually very common in the literary world, and Mossman didn't invent the trend or anything. Thats probably another reason why nobody really noticed Mossman's disappearance. It is a fairly common thing, no big deal when a writer disappears. Towards the end of the part we watched, Moskowitz talks to the publisher of (I think) newer printings of the book. I don't think it was the original publisher. Unfortunately, again, that doesn't provide any real breakthroughs. So he did what he always seemed to do with lack of information: he talked to that person about other books that he liked. Moskowitz apparently really liked 'Catch 22' when he was younger, and cared as much about the author's voice as the story itself. It's funny, I had never heard that saying before (Catch 22) until about 2 months ago and now I have heard it about 10 times since then. Maybe I was just never paying attention to it before.

So basically, his search for the missing Mossman has come up relatively empty so far. I doubt it will stay that way though, or else this movie probably wouldn't have come full circle. I'm looking forward to finding out.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Same River Twice (153-188)

I was a little confused when I started reading this, because I realized that you started talking about parts of this section of reading in class on Friday. I was under the impression that we were a day behind with this book. I certainly hope this blog still counts, because it would suck to spend all that time on reading like I did and get nothing for it, but here goes.

In this installment of the story, Chris has made his way to Florida, the last region in the country that he hasn't yet explored. As he finds himself stranded on the side of I-95, he realizes that he feels too old to be a drifter for the first time in his life. After backtracking to Georgia, he finds a ride with a couple of college students down to Miami, and from there he makes his way to his job as a naturalist that is waiting for him in the Everglades. When he arrives, he describes Flamingo as basically Hell on Earth. It's hot, humid, and bugs are everywhere. Everyone literally had to run from building to building to avoid getting eaten up by bugs. He didn't spend long here, I guess because it was such a horrible place to stay. I used to want to visit the Everglades until I read this part. Now I think I would rather not be eaten alive by insects. His coworkers were as colorful a bunch of people as he usually hung out with. His first day there, he dropped the motor from the tour boat into the water. The only thing of consequence that happened while he was there was when he dove into the swamp to save the French boy. The French boy didn't appreciate it though, and kicked him in the face as he was hauled out of the water. Chris was later told by Captain Jack that he dove into shark infested water. Shortly before he decided to leave, a hurricane hits. All the workers in Flamingo waited too long to get out, so they all got trapped there because the roads got flooded. I think they all thought they were going to die. They all got drunk and naked and acted like a bunch of fools. Chris was perhaps the worst one, although he didn't handle it like that. Instead, he went up to the highest part of Flamingo and dared the hurricane to show him what it had in a lackluster suicide attempt. He describes the hurricane as just what I always pictured it to be: beautiful and powerful. Hurricane Jacob moved through the area relatively without incident. It tore everything up and cleaned everything out. Chris didn't want to be a part of the clean-up effort, so he quits and leaves after collecting his six days worth of pay. He takes the bus back up to Boston, avoiding even looking at a drifter as they passed him on the side of the road. I think he really was ready to put his drifting days behind him.

Finally, the two stories started connecting when he describes meeting Rita. He marries her and moves around a little bit while they look for work. They are unsuccessful so he starts looking to apply to a grad school, when he is told to apply to the University of Iowa, which accepts him. They move to Iowa to the house by the river where the other story about him starts out. On page 177 he says "I had my goddess. I had my temple. The prairie spread in every direction." He was saying that he was finally at peace, finally home, and everything lay in front of him. I was happy to see that he made it.

The next chapter is a creative way of describing his wait. The baby is 2 weeks overdue and the doctors will induce labor the next day if Rita does not go into labor. I would never think to describe things the way he does. He is very observant of nature, and describes it well. The last chapter is devoted to a vivid and unsettling description of his son's birth, from the wait in the hospital to the birth itself, including all it's not so appealing details. The epilogue is a brief glimpse into life after birth, a preview of the life that is to come. He takes his son into the woods for the first time while Rita rests at home. He sits in the middle of the woods with his son and is content.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Class Writing Exercise

I know you said we could reproduce this in a blog if we wanted to, so here it goes, if for nothing else but to prove that I was participating in class. This may not be as personal or juicy as you were looking for, but it was what happened to be on my mind before class, so its what I wrote about.

I went to the Clemson basketball game last night against Georgia Tech. It was a real stress reliever to be doing something different and enjoyable that is still related to school besides homework and studying. The last three weeks have been rough with all the tests and projects and homework I've had to turn in, so to get away from it all was nice.

The game was the final home game of the year, and I'm ashamed to admit that it was my first this season. Normally I go to several, but this year has been different for some reason. It was senior night, and so we bid farewell to the beast that is Trevor Booker and his sidekick David Potter, the winningest duo/senior class in Clemson University history. OP has done a great job rebuilding our program, but I am ready for us to hit that next level. That level would be to win some NCAA tournament games, maybe challenge for an ACC championship. Regular season crowns are tough, and it'll probably be a few years before we get there, but we have to been to the ACC championship game before. I think we could do it again. As far as the NCAA tournament goes, I don't think an opening round victory is too much to ask for. All it would mean is that we did what we were supposed to do. We've had that opportunity the past two years but we've been upset both times. We'll get that opportunity again in a few weeks. I hope we get it right this time...

It doesn't seem like much once it has all been typed out, but I was writing pretty much nonstop. If you can't tell from this, I'm a big time Clemson sports fan and I think about it a lot.

The Same River Twice (54-109)

In this part of the story involving the grown up version of the author, he and Rita are afraid that their child might have some sort of birth defect, so they go to the doctor to get some amniotic fluid drawn so they can get it tested. The tests show the baby to be perfectly healthy. He also describes a bad experience with a lamaze class that they enrolled in and his experience with a one year old that they babysat as a test run for their own child. Lastly he talks about a hollow maple tree in the woods that he uses as a place to get away and write. The grown up version of the author is always so reflective and peaceful in a way. Its like he has kinda figured it all out. In the story with the young version of the author, you learn a little bit about his past and his father, and the night he decided he was going to save up his money and get out of Kentucky. He describes making his way south for the winter, like a migrating bird. He ends up in west Texas working for a Vietnam veteran name Bill, painting houses. He describes Texan's large feather hats and how much they hated when someone bumped into their feather. He starts becoming friends with Bill, and they even go skydiving together. But eventually Bill kills himself in a pretty gruesome way, in which he drinks a bunch of kerosene and lights his mouth on fire. So the author having nothing left in Texas heads up to Nebraska, and then to Colorado. He never stayed long in either place because he got a few odd jobs, one at a slaughterhouse and the other chipping mortar from bricks, but he didn't like them so he left. He moved south to the grand canyon, where he got a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He really enjoyed this job until a guy named Jackie Jr. took over and treated him badly. He left one night after spraying soapy water all over his boss and walking out on his job. He decides then that he would like to settle in the west one day, but he wasn't ready to give up his life as a drifter yet.

He tries to make his way through the desert, but he is having a hard time. Its a demanding environment and his canteen he bought was too small. He eventually gets picked up by a religious man named Al, and then later a big, strange guy he called Winner who talked about commies and mutants and beat him on the chest a lot. He eventually gets to California, where he spends his time laying around on the beach and watching women. He lives with the rest of the bums near Los Angeles. He undergoes a change when a stranger finds one of his sketches and tells him to stop leaving his trash lying around. He decides to give up on his dream of becoming an artist. He decides he wants to be a playwrite. He gets on a bus then, and leaves California behind. The story doesn't pick up again until one summer sometime later in Alabama. He joins a traveling circus and has some interesting experiences through a series of odd jobs he holds with the circus. He seems to become a little obsessed with a woman called the parrot lady. She is called this because she has parrots and tattooed all over her body, and her circus act is to strip in a room full of people and show off her tattoos. He talks about a group of men in the circus who always argue about the gorilla's balls. Yet again, another group of guys are obsessed with some form of male genitalia. Thats just strange to me. Anyway, the gorilla gets mad at them because his handler shows everyone the gorilla's balls and they all have to spend time making up with the gorilla. Later, the author gets a job in one of the circus acts where he has to dress up in a walrus costume and pretend to be a real, intelligent walrus in front of crowds. But he ruins that when he gets drunk one day off of martinis with the Parrot Lady, and ends up ripping off the walrus suit's head in the middle of the act and puking everywhere. This part was hilarious to me. He fled the circus after that and headed north. And thats where this part of the story ended.

This part of the story had several occurrences in it that surprised me, and I just kind of said "really?" when I read them. Like the foreign tourists who didn't know what a skunk was in the grand canyon, so they chased them and always came back sprayed. That's pretty funny, but I wasn't aware that there were no skunks in other parts of the world. I guess I never thought about it. I also couldn't believe that someone committed suicide by jumping into the grand canyon once a month. Both of these events are talked about on page 69. The other thing I couldn't believe was on page 62 when the mother was talking about shoving half a Tylenol up her baby's butt to keep it from crying so much. That just seems wrong to me. I thought it was funny that the author had a greater fear of being "cornholed on the road" than he did of being murdered on the road. Maybe the "cornholing" happens a lot more often, which is pretty gross. His skydiving experience was much different than my own. He only had a 4 second freefall from 3000 feet. I had a 45 second freefall from 12000. His first time going, he went alone. That could never happen these days. I'm pretty sure you have to jump tandem until you get certified. And when I went, if you boarded the plane, that was it. You had to jump. It was in a contract that you couldn't back out once you got in the plane. His restaurant experience in the grand canyon on page 68 was much like my own experience working in a restaurant. Everything he described was very close to how everyone acted at my workplace, with maybe a few minor differences. It reminds me of the movie Waiting with Ryan Reynolds. It just reaffirms my thoughts on the subject that I've had for years: once you've worked in one restaurant, you've worked in them all. Anyway, the story was pretty enjoyable just like the first part we read, and I am looking forward to finishing it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Same River Twice (9-53)

This story so far is pretty entertaining. It has a lot of serious parts, some disturbing parts, but its also got some comedy mixed in. The prologue just seems to be some descriptive imagery, or maybe just some of the author's thoughts and outlook on life. I'm not too sure about what it has to do with the story, but maybe it will become clearer later on. The first and third chapters are about a man living in Iowa who is trying to marry a woman named Rita. He eventually "tricks" her into marrying him as he calls it, asking her at a moment when she is weak. She agrees and they get married and life goes on. Eventually she wants to start having children, but he is scared for some reason. He doesn't want to have them yet and denies her for a while. Later he finally sees that if he is not willing to have children with her, he will have to let her go. Apparently he doesn't want to do that so he agrees to start trying to have a kid with her. Then he describes several ways he tried to become familiar with conception, and I thought it was pretty funny that a grown man could be so clueless to how it all worked. I guess he didn't have sex ed in school. Eventually Rita does get pregnant, and so the story skips ahead to a few months into the pregnancy. The part that we read ends with him struggling with this enormous fear of fatherhood, and fighting the urge to run from it all.

The second story is the more entertaining of the two, in my opinion. It is about a teenager who grew up in a tiny town in the mountains of Kentucky. He drops out of high school, I think, and tries to join the army. But the army rejects him because he has too much albumin in his urine. I wasn't sure what albumin was so I looked it up. Albumin is a type of water soluble protein. When they test for albumin levels, they are testing for liver disease among other things, but albumin in his urine meant he had a kidney disease because his kidneys could not stop the albumin from leaking into his urine from his blood. So he couldn't get into any branch of the military and he was later rejected from the peace corps, the park rangers, and he couldn't be a fireman or a policeman. So his last resort was college. I thought this was funny because it is the exact opposite of what would happen today. Most of the people I know that went into the military were using it as a last resort after they had already failed at college. I would think college would be the first choice these days, and the rest of the stuff he tried would come after. He couldn't stomach college either though, and quit after 2 years. So he decided to run off to New York to become an actor, where long story short, he struggled to adapt and fit in until he met this girl named Jahi from Brooklyn who was basically crazy and did pretty much whatever she wanted. They had some adventures together, both sexual and not, and through her he realized that he wanted more to be a writer or a painter instead of an actor. Then there was this incident when they went horseback riding. He was so happy that he was finally doing something he was used to that he coerced his horse into a full run. Apparently a kid tried to do the same thing, or maybe the kid's horse got spooked and the kid ended up falling off and smacking his head against a streetlight. It didn't say whether or not he died, but I get the feeling he did. Apparently the guy couldn't handle that so he left Jahi and never saw her again. He left New York shortly after because he broke his leg playing football with some random guys, and just like that the New York adventure was over as quickly as it began.

He went back home and as soon as his leg healed he was off again, moving from place to place until he eventually settled for a while in Minneapolis. He lived with a chippewa named Marduk and two twin brothers from Ecuador named Luis and Javier. With the twins, he became involved in a life of organized crime, though it was mostly small time stuff. He lives this life out for a while until Javier and Luis try to get him to marry their cousin. So naturally he fixes the two twins up with some hookers, fixes Marduk up with the twin's aunt who was an Ecuadorian hooker, goes and has sex with the cousin and then leaves town forever. And that's where the story ends.

The guy from Kentucky seems to have a thing for Daniel Boone. He constantly compares himself to him throughout the Minneapolis part of his story. My thoughts about this story were pretty simple really. The life of a nomad would suck. And I would never want it like the guy from Kentucky had it. There were several parts that I found slightly disturbing, yet awkwardly funny from this story, such as the seductive transvestite on page 26 and his first night with Jahi on pages 28 and 29. The funniest part was all the guy's obsessions with Marduk's "lingam" as they called it from page 46 to 48. That's pretty sad that the only woman he could get with was a old Ecuadorian hooker because she was the only woman who wasn't scared of the thing. That's a curse more than it is a gift I think. I am a little confused because I know this book is supposed to be a memoir, so I figured it would all be one continuous story. Instead there are two different stories going on about two seemingly different people. I suppose they could be the same person in the end, but it doesn't really seem like they are. But the guy from the first story doesn't talk about his past too much, so maybe they are the same guy. I'm looking forward to finding out. This seems like a decent read.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stop-Go Analysis

First things first: taking out The Music of Chance helps lighten the load a bit and I admit I'm glad that you decided to do it.

GO (I like this):

I like the syllabus structure for this course. Its different than anything I have had before. I like the idea of the blog, because it is a good way to put time and effort into the course, but on our own time and schedule. It makes it more flexible, while still requiring us to keep up with the work and readings. I also like the amount of extra credit we can get out of the blog, because it gives us a chance to exempt the final and I hate finals. I may be singing a different tune when that research paper comes around, but for right now I am enjoying the course structure. The quantity of work is good, mostly because you can choose how much of it you want to do, and I feel like the quality is the same way. If you want to write a one point blog, you just spend less time on it. But if you want full credit for a blog, you need to take your time and cover all the bases. That's how I like it. I can go at my own pace. My favorite readings so far have pretty much all been short stories I think. I liked "River of Names" because it was just so jaw-dropping. "Emergency" was enjoyable, and I liked Alice Walker's "The Flowers" and Tennessee William's "The Catastrophe of Success", but my favorite was probably "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities". Glengarry Glen Ross isn't bad either. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I am also very appreciative that there are no tests. I like the group discussions too. They help get me into the right frame of mind. They make the wheels start to turn. I would normally enjoy the open forum based discussion, but it is admittedly awkward in our class for some reason. I for one don't feel particularly comfortable speaking in this class, and I'm not usually like that. I guess it would be better if more people talked, but its hard to get that to happen if people feel uncomfortable. I'm not really sure why its awkward, but it is.

YIELD (things we should do more often):

The first thing I think we should do more of is movies in class. I've enjoyed it the few times you've done it because I never get to watch movies in my classes, so its an enjoyable and somewhat rare experience for me. I also like reading something and picturing it in my head, and then comparing what I saw in my head to the movie version the next day. A lot of times a movie version will allow me to look at something differently than I did, or call something else to my attention that I wouldn't necessarily have seen before. I also like the short stories that we read. I think they are a lot easier to handle. A lot of times I cannot commit to reading/blogging in the middle of the week because I have so much work to do for my major. I end up having to catch up later either before I blog the second time, or on the weekend. Sometimes I have to resort to skipping a section and reading it after blogging on the third section, so I have to spend a good bit of time figuring out what is going on. It ends up being choppy and I think it ruins my experience for the books. The short stories are so good though because they can be concluded in a single reading. They also hold my attention much more easily. So I am a fan of the short stories.

STOP (please, no more!):

I could go my entire life without having to read another book like Lolita. There is a lot to the book, no doubt, but it is not the easiest read. And the content within it is just disturbing and disgusting. I don't enjoy reading a story chronicling several years out of the life of a kidnapping, murdering, repulsive, child rapist. Call me crazy but it is not the kind of story content I enjoy. I didn't like reading it, I didn't really want to know what was going to happen next, and I had to force myself to pick it up and read it in small doses. It just wasn't an enjoyable experience, and that disappoints me because I generally like to read. I'm also not a fan of poetry, though I can understand not eliminating them altogether because some poems are good. I just haven't liked any of the ones we've read. But the reason I don't like them is because I usually have a hard time reading between the lines. Poems are probably some of the last pieces of reading to take literally and a lot of times I can't seem to get much out of them but that. I mentioned it a little earlier too, but I don't like research papers, and it is my understanding that we have to do one later. I'm sure nobody really likes research papers, but again I can understand making us do one.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Glengarry Glen Ross (9-78)

This play is interesting, it kind of reminds me of the type of movie Tarantino would direct: a lot of dialogue and back and forth banter. Some of it is kind of hard to understand because they interrupt each other so much, its hard to get the gist of what they are saying. I also feel like there isn't much to talk about because nothing really happens in the scenes. They just sit around and talk for a while about the same thing.

In Act one, scene one Williamson and Levene are having a heated discussion over dinner. Levene is begging Williamson to give him a shot at some leads, because Levene isn't selling much right now and is in danger of losing his job. At first I thought Williamson was just being a jerk and flaunting the fact that he is doing well and Levene isn't. But as the scene goes on, I started to think maybe Levene is a smooth talking swindler and a freeloader. Because he starts saying he'll give him the money later, when I get the feeling Williamson knew he didn't have it all along. He may have just told him he'd give him the leads for a steep price to get Levene off his back about it. Levene also went to dinner with Williamson after conveniently leaving his wallet back at the hotel. Thats a little underhanded and sneaky as well. I don't trust Levene, he seems a little desperate to me.

In act one, scene two Moss and Aaronow are eating in a restaurant and trash talking the people that I suppose are their bosses. They are talking about similar things as the two gentleman in scene one. I guess the whole awards incentive thing at their workplace has gotten everyone in an uproar. Then Moss starts trying to convince Aaronow to break into the office and steal the leads that night. He says he has found a buyer for the leads and plans to make some money off of them and then go work with that guy. He promises Aaronow the same cut, but then tells him he has to do the dirty work. Then he lets it slip that he is actually going to be making a bigger cut without much of the risk. I don't trust this Moss character either. He seems like he would do anything to get his piece of the pie. And Aaronow better be careful or Moss is going to throw him under the bus and take all the reward for himself. As a side note, when Moss starts talking about indians on page 29 and he says they've got a grapevine, it reminds me of where I live here in Clemson. Every year without fail a ton of indians live in my apartment complex. A bunch move out and then a bunch more move in. They definitely have a network or something because I feel like most of the indian population in Clemson leaves in my apartment complex. I just thought that was funny.

Scene three is really short and it is basically Roma's outlook on life rolled up into a couple of pages. I thought it was interesting how each scene in Act one has two people in it, and it was always the same: one is an aggressor and the other is reluctantly submissive. So far the only aggressor i haven't completely disliked is Roma, but we'll see how long that lasts.

Act two is back at the real estate office after it has been robbed by Aaronow, although it does not specifically say that Aaronow did it. A detective named Baylen is snooping around looking for clues and interviews. This part is weird because I'm not entirely sure of what is going on. Aaronow is acting oddly because he seems to only be worried about whether the leads were insured. If he stole them I'm not really sure why he would care so much, maybe he feels bad for the people he has screwed over if he stole the leads. Roma is freaking out about his contracts being stolen because he thinks he is supposed to win the Cadillac after his last sell. And the whole while Baylen is snooping around. Then Levene comes in and starts telling them he sold 8 units with the lead Williamson gave him and made a ton of money off of it. Moss is there too, but I don't really know what he is talking about, but he does start telling everyone off and says he is leaving for Wisconsin. Then Williamson, Levene and Roma start talking back and forth for a while, and our reading ended in the middle of the Act. I don't care much for the fact that there aren't any stopping points in act two. And I don't understand how they could make a full length movie out of this play, because I feel like it would take no time at all to play through all this dialogue.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dorothy Allison's "River of Names" and Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"

"River of Names" by Dorothy Allison is just about the most awful story I have ever read. You always hear the stories and jokes about the backwoods rednecks in the south, but I've always thought that those stories were more made up than real. Reading this just shows that its not all made up, and its definitely not very funny. That one family could be so large blows my mind. She claims at one point that there are over 100 children and cousins at one time. That is just ridiculous. No wonder their family had so many problems, they were just breeding like cockroaches under a rock. None of the kids ever really had an identity of their own from the rest of the family. They never had any attention to themselves, because there was probably just another one of them coming along every few months it seemed. Some of the parts almost made me angry to think about. Some of it made me think "how stupid could they be". Its like they just did whatever the first thought in their heads told them to do without even bothering to think of the consequences. And unfortunately for them and the rest of the family, the first thought in most of their heads was usually violent. What kind of inbred idiot would think to light a match and throw it at Butch after he had been huffing gasoline? "I'll teach you" they thought. That's all it took in their family to kill someone. One idiot with a careless thought. And what kind of a father would pick up their young child and use them as a weapon to fend off their other children? Little Bo was brain damaged for the rest of his life because his father was willing to do anything to get away from his other two sons. She talk's about the one time her cousin wanted to wrestle with her and Lucille. And they wouldn't fight back because they knew if they did that one of them would get killed. They would be the product of one more stupid relative that acted without thinking. Equally as sad was that the only alone time they ever seemed to get with an adult from their family was when they were being raped by them.

It was sad and disgusting and tragic and pathetic that it could get that bad. To live in that family would be to constantly live in fear. There are so many of them around, but there were hardly any people you could trust. She mentions toward the beginning of the story that she was born in an age gap in the family. That she was either younger or older than most of her cousins and therefore an outcast. I think this is the key reason she survived. She wasn't as involved as the rest of them. She watched most of it happen rather than being directly involved. Her dark hair is symbolic of the fact that she is different from everyone else. It makes me wonder though whether she would be a lesbian if she had grown up in a different setting. She is obviously afraid to have children for fear that she will ruin their lives like hers were ruined, or for fear that they will somehow turn out like several of her cousins. And I think she just doesn't like men because every time she told a bad story about her family, it always seemed to be a male in the family at the root of the problem. The girls of the family would go suicide, or get hurt, but it was always the males that killed somebody or raped somebody or hurt someone in some way. I think she was just afraid of men and couldn't trust them. That's why she turned lesbian.

Anyway, its unreal to me that so many bad things could happen to one person or one family. That so many rapists, murderers, drug addicts, criminals and genuinely insane or idiotic people could all come from the same family just blows my mind. And of course they came from Greenville.

Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" was a big change from "River of Names". It was about a visit from a blind man. The man had been a long time friend of the narrator's wife, ever since she had worked for him years ago. His wife had just died and he was coming to visit his old friend, the wife of the narrator. The narrator didn't seem to trust the blind man or approve of him most of the story. But before long they were drinking, smoking and watching TV together on the sofa. Then towards the end of the story, the blind man convinces the narrator to draw a cathedral for him while he rested his hand on the narrator's hand. It was so the blind man could know what a cathedral looked like. I thought it was funny how the narrator had this idea in his mind the whole time about blind people. I don't know where he got the idea, but it was funny how he was surprised whenever the blind man did something he didn't think blind people did. And that was quite often. But he didn't like the idea of the blind man that his wife was so close to coming to stay in his house. He didn't like the fact that the blind man knew a lot about him even though they had never met. And I got the feeling that he was jealous of the blind man for some reason, maybe even a little intimidated. I feel like he thought blind people weren't supposed to accomplish much, but here this guy was getting close to his wife and doing things he wasn't supposed to do. After all, you would think that the man who could see was supposed to be the one showing the blind man things, opening the blind man's eyes so to speak. But instead it was the blind man who was changing their lives. He created some kind of unique experience with the wife years earlier when he touched her face, and I got the feeling that the narrator was undergoing some sort of life changing, eye-opening experience when he was drawing the cathedral. Its ironic that the blind man was the one who could create those experiences for them. This was a much better story to read than the first one, though I don't really think I can identify with either of them. Though for better or for worse, both stories were definitely thought provoking and I'm glad I read them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Denis Johnson's "Emergency" and Jayne Anne Philips' "Home"

Denis Johnson's "Emergency" was a strange, albeit entertaining story about a guy and his friend who work together in a hospital. The story transitions from a scene in a hospital where his friend Georgie is cleaning up a big mess to a scene where a man comes in with a knife sticking out of his eye, to a scene where the narrator and Georgie are driving around randomly and it turns into a small adventure so to speak. This story was strange because it seemed to be a collection of random thoughts, or memories the author had struggled to put together. He even mentions one time towards the top of page 283 that he is not sure whether the events he is describing really happened that way. The events transition suddenly, almost as if the story skipped forward randomly in time. Sometimes I wasn't really sure how much time had passed, or how each part of the story fit in with the last. After finishing the story, I've concluded that a lot of the parts didn't go together and I should stop trying to make the connections. I thought the title of the story was ironic. "Emergency" implies urgency and awareness and worry. This story contained none of those things. Time seemed to just roll onward in the story. Nobody seemed to care much about anything, or act with a sense of urgency. Even when Terrence Weber showed up with a hunting knife buried to the hilt in his left eye no one acted like it was an emergency. And I still don't understand how Georgie, high as a kite, pulled the knife out of Terrence's eye without killing him, or at least causing him to bleed out. My favorite part though had to be the random excursion into the woods in the snow where they stumbled upon the drive in theater. I thought it was pretty funny when the narrator thought he was seeing angels descending from on high and it made such a huge impact on him, until Georgie told him he was looking at a movie screen. The bunny part was sad and pretty disgusting. This whole story makes me wonder whether you can believe any of it happened the way it did. The narrator was obviously on an acid trip or something while riding in the car and wandering through the woods, and their conversations definitely reminded me of the kind of stuff a couple of overbaked stoners would talk about. So this story was strange and hard to make sense of, but very entertaining.

"Home" by Jayne Anne Phillips was a bit harder for me to get through. There doesn't seem to be as much to say about it as the first story. It's about a young woman who comes back home to live with her mother after college because she ran out of money. The mother and daughter do not get along. They bicker about little things and they don't agree with each others life style. The daughter doesn't like how her mother just sits on the couch all night watching TV and knitting. The daughter says she doesn't like how the mother never does anything. And she questions her mother's marriage to her father. The mother doesn't like that her daughter is somewhat promiscuous, proven at the end of the story when she hears her daughter having sex with Daniel in the morning before he left. This story had a few disturbing parts, like the dream that the daughter had about her father coming to her and trying to do dirty things to her in the night. Or when they were in the bar called the Rainbow, and she was recalling a time that she was pinched by a senior when she was twelve, and he then proceeded to rub up her thigh. On an unrelated note, the father obviously had problems because he sat in the dark all day and night in that blue chair and just smoked. He apparently didn't sleep much either because he was always climbing up and down the stairs in the middle of the night. I thought it was funny how the mother and daughter were so comfortable around each other physically and emotionally, yet they often did not get along. They could stand around each other naked all the time and talk about their naked bodies and talk about orgasms, but they couldn't talk out their problems without it turning into a fight like on page 417. My last thought was that it showed a bit of a never-ending cycle in this story. The mother only gave herself to her eventual husband, but got trapped in an awful marriage for 20 years. The daughter didn't want to end up like that, so she compensated by sleeping with several different guys. In the end they both had relationship problems and ended up alone and sex starved. The only difference was the mother continued to not have sex for fear that she would want it all the time, and the daughter handled it by calling up an old boyfriend and having a one night stand for "old times' sake". I also thought it was ironic that the mother had spent a long time taking care of her mother before she died, doing all the nasty things that had to be done. Now the narrator has come home and is sort of taking care of her mother, or at least keeping her company through what are apparently some rough times. Some more of the never-ending cycle stuff. Anyway this story wasn't bad either, although it made me feel a little uncomfortable at times. But at least it was easy to read.