Friday, February 26, 2010

Fiction Corner

After my long monologue about my short story criteria, I thought I should at least include a quick mention of a short story collection that I read recently and thoroughly enjoyed: Wild Child by T.C. Boyle. I'm most familiar with Boyle's novels, all well written, all fascinating, about a wide range of topics (the love life of Frank Lloyd Wright, The Women; the issues raised by identity theft, Talk Talk; the commune idea of the sixties, Drop City; the story behind The Kinsey Report, The Inner Circle).

But he is also a master of the short story. All of the stories in this collection were good, but one in particular was outstanding in my opinion. It's a story called "La Conchita," about a cynical delivery guy who's taking a fresh organ transplant up the highway spine of California when a mudslide occurs. It's funny, it's suspenseful and harrowing, it's sad and true, and it's totally uplifting as it culminates in the healing redemption of discovering one's own humanity. It made me cry and convinced me to read it out loud to my two best friends.

I just finished a wonderful novel by British writer Clare Morrall called Natural Flights of the Human Mind. Her previous (and first) novel, Astonishing Splashes of Colour, was so good that I looked for this one as soon as it came out but just got around to reading it last week. Maybe I am a sucker for stories of redemption. (If you are too, also read Elizabeth's Rosner's The Speed of Light and Joan Barfoot's Critical Injuries.) In this one, a man's life has been totally controlled by traumatic guilt for 25 years; he lives alone in a remote uncommissioned lighthouse on the coast of Devon, England, tormented constantly by the thoughts of 78 people killed in an accident for which he was responsible but has no real memory of the details. He meets a woman whose life has also been derailed by a dysfunctional childhood, a sibling suicide, and an early marriage ended by an unexplained abandonment. How they meet and come together is an amazing story, full of humor, compassion, coincidence, and tragedy, not to mention fascinating details about World War I aviation.

I'm about half way through Norman LeBrecht's The Game of Opposites and finding it amazingly intelligent, engaging, and complex. The protagonist is a survivor of a concentration camp who, during the postwar occupation, becomes mayor of the village in which the camp was situated. The book treats diverse themes such as identity, love, death, evil, hypocrisy, cruelty, corruption, and others in a completely nonsimplistic fashion. And the prose is wonderfully written, by this author of books about music and BBC commentator.

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