Sunday, June 13, 2004

Short Readings

The New Yorker cover art
I've been catching up on my short story reading--Yikes! Six months of The New Yorker have accumulated! So far my top recommendations are for "Bohemians" by George Saunders, a tricky little story about a kid, turning on a kid's (unreliable) pov, concerning some interesting characters on the block and what he learns as the truth about them. I could say lots more, but I don't want to be a spoiler. Also was intrigued by Hanif Kureishi's "Long Ago Yesterday," the story of a middle-aged gay man who walks into a pub and meets his middle-aged father. Thing is, his father's long dead. But what would it be like to meet your parents when they were your age? Marty McFly's story was one answer, this is quite another. (Though, actually, there *are* similarities, come to think of it. Ha!) But my favorite so far has been "Cat 'n' Mouse" by Steven Milhauser, a hilarious homage to cat and mouse cartoons like Tom & Jerry. Not only does he perfectly create funny, unique shenanigans in the style of Tom & Jerry and the Roadrunner cartoons, but his translation of them into language is a hoot. What's more, he draws out the underlying metaphysics of the genre with a brilliant deadpan style. So refreshingly unlike anything else I've seen in The New Yorker. In contrast, Mr. New Yorker's recent short story "Delicate Wives" masterfully and economically sketches a memorable cad who seems to be more attracted to women as they become more vulnerable due to illness. Not exactly misogynistic, it's more of a disturbing look at a particular male sexual pathology.

Since I'm being so literary today, may as well include a gem of a poem I've been meaning to share. Poet Rae Armantrout read it in town recently, and it's from her new book Up To Speed. I've been reading a few poems a night, and I have to admit most of these poems are kicking my ass--I'm finding it tough going, but their smarts and originality keep me going. I'm hoping that by the end of the collection they'll start to crack, or that I'll be able to find an interview or review that'll help. Anyway, a few of the poems are written in a more straightforward, prosaic style, and this one is plainly accessible. I like the way it engages pop culture head-on. It's a strong, topsy-turvy reading. Enjoy.

"Next Generations" by Rae Armantrout


But, on "Star Trek," we aren't the Borg,

the aggressive conglomerate,

each member part humanoid, part

machine, bent on assimilating

foreign cultures. In fact,

we destroy their ship,

night after night,

in preparation for sleep.


We sense something's wrong

when our ideal selves

look like contract players.

The captain plays what's left

of believable authority

as a Shakespearean actor.

The rest are there to show surprise

each time

the invading cube appears--

until any response seems stupid.

But we forgive them.

We've made camp

in the glitch



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