Stay Awake: stories

I haven’t written anything in awhile.  I had planned to write about my new job, working in an office that is an interesting mix of Gen X and Millennials, with a few Boomers thrown for good (or not…) measure, but that hasn’t really happened, now has it.

Yesterday, though, on my way home from work, I had to stop at the bookstore — Barnes and Noble because there are no more Borders (B-o-o H-o-o) — to by a copy of “Stay Awake,” a new collection of short stories by Dan Chaon.

I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I first learned of it’s existence, which was some time ago, although how long exactly I can’t quite recall. No matter. It is here.

I have been following Mr. Chaon since his very first collection of short stories, “Fitting Ends,” was published in 1995 by Triquarterly Books.

I  was still a graduated student in the MFA program at Western Michigan University, hoping to be a writer of short stories myself some day. I must have come across this book at John Rollins bookstore in Portage, MI, right up Westnedge from Kalamazoo, where WMU is located. That was a great independent bookstore. But I’m not sure it exists anymore. A google search does not turn it up. <sigh>

Anyhoo…. I recall being so taken by the stories in “Fitting Ends” that I wrote to the publisher in hopes of contacting the author, Mr. Chaon. This was before it was so easy to track someone down via the internet. To my surprise, the publisher passed on my letter to Dan and he eventually wrote to me. For a time we exchanged letters and emails, which was a fresh technology at the time. Eventually, though, the correspondences ended and life moved on.

I remember I was in the Borders on Woodward in Birmingham, I’m pretty sure, when, scanning the shelves for something to read, I came across Dan’s second collection of short stories, “Among the Missing.”

I remember sitting and reading it but ultimately not buying, perhaps because it was in hardcover and I was a new father and concerned about money and therefore didn’t feel right about dropping that kind of cash on a book (huh, if only my ex had felt the same sense of fiscal responsibility when it came to her hair or clothes). But later I did buy it in paperback.

A few years later, not long after I started my job at the Baldwin Public Library, one of the hot fiction books at the time was Dan Chaon’s first novel, “You Remind Me of Me.”

I spent my early lunch hours absorbed in this exceptional novel.

And of course I was super duper excited when, years later, still working at the library, I saw that Dan’s new novel, “Await You Reply,” was to be released. I counted down the days until the book was available. And immediately devoured it once it was. Of course, because I was the main copy cataloger at the library I was the first one to get my hot little hands on this novel. I had the first hold.

In fact, I believe I wrote a blog spot about it.  Ah, yes. Here it is. In it I identify Dan Chaon as a GenX write, a label he agreed with, you’ll see in his reply to my post. Of course, I was tickled that he’d managed to find my meager little post on my meager little blog.

I remember being exceptionally fascinated with the premise of this novel, at least in part because it was about characters who “just walk away” from their life. I made a comparison to the movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” because it deals with the same sort of thing with John Cusack’s character, who had walked away from his life abruptly one day. I can’t help wondering now if that interested me so much because at the time I secretly wanted to walk away from the life I was living — the oppressively soul-crushing marriage to a narcissist part NOT the being the father to the sweetest little girl in the world part.

Anyhoo…. this brings us back to Mr. Chaon’s new collection of short stories, “Stay Awake,” which, after reading the first two stories, I am sure is going to be exceptional from beginning to end, and which is going to be on of my favored collections for years to come, if not eternity. Well, my eternity anyway. I wonder. What will my daughter do with all my books when I am gone? Will she just donate them? Toss them? Keep perhaps a few? I should probably discuss this matter with her at some point. But probably I should concentrate on getting her through middle school and adolescence and all of that first, hug.

These stories, so far, are hard stories. Harsh. In fact, there almost seem like horror stories in a way. Very grim. Unsettling. But I love them for that very quality. Unlike the  reviewer on amazon who didn’t like the collection because people suffer in it, because it troubled him. This is an attitude, frankly, that I don’t get. What do people want? Short stories are not TV shows; they are not meant to make you feel good so that you’ll be in a receptive mood for whatever advertising comes between portions of the show. But…everyone is entitled to his/her opinion….for good or ill.

What really struck me about the first two stories in the collection  — The Bees and Patrick Lane, Flabbergasted — was how for each main character there is this confusion between what is really happening and what is just a trick of the mind or perhaps a dream or even something else, something unexplainable, and how these worlds, real and imagined and otherwise, mash and mix together. It’s the kind of thing that I like to experiment with in my own writing from time to time, particularly in a longer piece (novella length) that I have been working on.

Having said all that, perhaps far too much at this point, I am eager to get back to the book now.

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New Featured Blog

It’s been awhile since I last updated my Featured Blog. Partly because I’m slacker extrodinaire. And partly because fuck if I knew what to change it to. So a couple of blogs got an extended ride on the jundrawer67 Featured Blog spotlight, which must have brought them so many hits their hard drives started smoking. Oh yeah…….. I’m big baby!

Anyhoo… my NFB belongs to author Bonnie Jo Campbell, whose latest collection of short stories, American Salvage, was recently nominaged for the National Book Award.  I was totally blown away when I read about it the NY Times Sunday paper, which I’d put on hold some time back and it just started up again this Sunday. Of course, I probably would have learned this news eventually.

I was an MFA student at Western Michigan University at the same time as BJC. So it was particuarly exciting news. Although not all that surprising. BJC was, as I recall, one of what we lesser scribblers in the program called the Big Gun writers. You just knew she was writing great stuff, and that she was going places, writing-wise.

So a big congrats to Bonnie Jo Campbell. And here’s hoping you bring home the prize. And if not, fuck it, have damn good time while you there!

And just to add a small self-egrandizing kudos for myself. Of the five works of fiction nominated for the NBA I’ve read three. The novel Far North by Marcel Theroux, which I recommend; most of BJC collection, American Salvage, as well as Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips, who has long been a favored author of mine. Column McCann’s novel Let the Great World Spin was on my reading list as soon as it passed through my grimy  little paws at the library — no seriously, i’m not bsing. And, as for the story collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin I did pick it up and start it but filly admit to never finishing it and never getting around to returning to it.

I’m just saying that after picking three Pulitzer winner: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, and years back The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon,  plus some other, I’ve got a pretty good nose for prize-winners when I read them.

Impressive, eh. Yeah. I know. Not so much. But can’t you just let me have my little dillusion for a little while. It ain’t hurtin nobody.

Mary Gaitskill’s new short story collection

According to Amazon.com, Mary Gaitskill’s new collection of short stories is titled Don’t Cry. A good title, I think.

Release date: March 24, 2009

 

Product Description
Following the extraordinary success of her novel Veronica, Mary Gaitskill returns with a luminous new collection of stories–her first in more than ten years.
In “College Town l980,” young people adrift in Ann Arbor debate the meaning of personal strength at the start of the Reagan era; in the urban fairy tale “Mirrorball,” a young man steals a girl’s soul during a one-night stand; in “The Little Boy,” a woman haunted by the death of her former husband is finally able to grieve through a mysterious encounter with a needy child; and in “The Arms and Legs of the Lake,” the fallout of the Iraq war becomes disturbingly real for the disparate passengers on a train going up the Hudson–three veterans, a liberal editor, a soldier’s uncle, and honeymooners on their way to Niagara Falls.
Each story delivers the powerful, original language, and the dramatic engagement of the intelligent mind with the craving body–or of the intelligent body with the craving mind–that is characteristic of Gaitskill’s fiction. As intense as Bad Behavior, her first collection of stories, Don’t Cry reflects the profound enrichment of life experience. As the stories unfold against the backdrop of American life over the last thirty years, they describe how our social conscience has evolved while basic human truths–“the crude cinder blocks of male and female down in the basement, holding up the house,” as one character puts it–remain unchanged.

Jay McInerney’s “new” short story collection

Jay McInerney has a review of Andre Dubus III’s new novel, The Garden of Last Days, in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. Dubus’ new novel has not been getting very good reviews, and McInerney’s was no exception really. It must be difficult to follow a novel as good as The House of Sand and Fog, which was a National Book Award finalist as well as an Oprah book. It was also made into a movie, staring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley. I really dug the movie, but I confess that I never read the book. What can I say? It simply slipped so far off my radar that it I lost sight of it. And it was an Oprah book, which, for some reason, makes me even less inclined to read a book. Anyhoo… that wasn’t really my point for this blog. I noted in the little bio blurb of the reviewer that accompanies every review that McInerney has a new short story collection coming out in January of 2009. It’s called How It Ended, which is, oddly enough, the title of a previously published collection of short stories by JM. At last, I think it is or was. It’s kind of confusing.

As near as I can figure, back in like 1998 McInerney pub’d a hardcover book that was a short novel and 7 stories entitled Model Behavior. One of the stories in that book is titled “How It Ended.” Later, the novel was published in paperback without the short stories. But in 2001 a collection of JM’s stories was published under the title — wait for it — How it Ended. I’ve never physically handled a copy of this book but I’m guessing it was the 7 stories from original hardcover edition of Model Behavoir. I’m assuming they were split up under the assumption that more money could be made from two books than one. Or perhaps Vintage decided for some reason that they only wanted the novel from Model Behavior to pub in paperback format. Because the short story collectiong, How it Ended, is pub’d by Bloomsbury. I don’t think that is unusual.

But here’s my wonder. Is this supposedly new collection of short stories really a new collection. Or is it simply the original 7 with a few more added in. Jay McInerney isn’t really known for his short stories. If you read any of them, you’d understand why. They don’t suck, but they’re no great shakes. Not like say the stories of Tobias Wolff who had a new collection of collected and new stories pubbed this past year, or Mary Gaitskil, who supposedly has a new collection coming out soon.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not one of those inveterate Jay McInerney bashers. I loved Bright Lights, Big City instantly and I still admire it and reread it regularly. But I remember being pretty disappointed with Ransom, his second novel, a quick follow up that seems to have been rushed to press to capitalize on his sudden fame. Of course, Story of My Life made up for that. And while I agree that his next novel, Brightness Falls, was a more mature work, it simply did not click with me in the same way that Bright Lights and Story did. Those shorter,  hipper, riff-like novels really seem to be McInerney’s strenght, furhter proof of which can be found by reading Model Behavoir,  but of course he wants to be taken more seriously than that. I don’t know. Just my persons conjecture. Also, I’ve always suspected that the title of Brightness Falls was a calculate move on McInerney and his publisher’s part to connect it back to Bright Lights, Big City. But what do I know.

So I guess I’m just wondering if McInerney is putting out this “new” collection just to have something to put out, just because he has enough stories to make a collection, and perhaps his ego needs it. In any case, it might be disingenuous to call it a new collection when it might be more of a collected and new edition or perhaps simply an updated edition. I don’t know.

I’ve always had a rather strange relationship with Jay McInerney and his work. On the one hand, I really dig his writing, and admire much of his work, so much so that when I was younger I was determined to model him, to write my version of Bright Lights, Big City set in Metro Detroit. Lame, I know, but there it is. I’ve followed his career pretty closely, eager for each new book he puts out, and enjoying his nonfiction writing as well, book reviews and wine columns and such. But I have to say when I was in grad school I didn’t talk much about my fetish for writers like McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis, for fear of being looked down on by high brow literary types who’s high standards refused to even aknowledge such poppy writers much less discuss them seriously. But I’ve been out of grad school some 12 years now and I’m still returning to McInereny’s work as well as being interested in his new stuff, but perhaps with a more mature sensibility.

His most recent novel, The Good Life, was okay. I was excited when I discovered it was coming out and I enjoyed it well enough but it seemed like a book that he struggled to write, a book that her perhaps felt he had to write, just to get through it and be done with it so that he could move on, otherwise he might be stopped up indefinitely. He’d gone some eight years without having produced a substantial work of fiction. My hope was that his next book would be a major work for him. But with the news of this “new” story collection, I can’t help but wonder if that was just wishful thinking.

Of course, there is the possibility that this story collection was simply a way to keep his name in the ether while he completes his next novel. But if he wanted to do that one wonders why he simply didn’t issue some kind of 25th anniversary edition of Bright Lights, Big City. It was pubbed in 1984. The 25th anniversary comes up next year. Of course, he may not want that to overshadow his new work, his real new work, not some bullshit story collection.

Having said that, I’ll be keeping an eye out for it and will buy me a copy when it hits the bookstores.