A welcome interruption in routineAt least one of my e-friends wonders how we made out during the great Northeast Blackout of 2003. As you know, whether you live in New York or just watch it on TV, after what we'd been through less than two years ago, we New Yorkers saw this as no big deal. For me, the impossibility of continuing work on my big nonfiction book (which was all on the computer) became an opportunity to do other things. For one, I got out my guitar and resumed practicing. Playing classical guitar has been one of my aspirations since boyhood, and finally, just about three years ago, I decided to try to learn. I don't yet do it easily enough, or have enough of a repertoire, to play without embarrassment before others, but the practicing is itself very soothing -- what I do instead of meditation. The other thing I did, as long as we had daylight (and the blackout days were very sunny), was to catch up on some reading. I finally finished a long novel, Gore Vidal's Creation, that had been on my shelves for years, and enjoyed these short stories:
Margo Rabb, "Ghost Story." One Story #24. A 12-year old in Queens learns from another girl how to cope when, not long after, she too becomes an orphan. Shifts in time perspective, from the night the 12 year olds spend in a supposedly haunted house, to some months later, to many years later, produce a dreamlike effect that works.
Robert Olen Butler, "The Ironworkers' Hayride." Zoetrope All-Story (ZAS) v. 7, no. 3 (Fall 2003) is little more than a long joke, but well told.
Russell Working, "The Irish Martyr." ZAS, same issue, is much more than a joke. It is a truly powerful evocation of real-life horror as two fanaticisms -- Irish "Republican" and Islamic extremism -- converge, to blow away Israeli mothers and children and, the central point of the story, to imprison perpetually the soul of a young Egyptian girl.
Edgardo Vega Yunqué, "Name That Girl." ZAS, same issue, can't decide whether it's a joke (how Vidamía Farrell got her name), a denunciation of the brutalities of war (especially Vietnam), or a sneering critique of Puerto Rican social climbing. There are stunning and sharp observations of events and character, but the impact of the story is weakened by its dispersion of energies. Still, this is a very capable writer who maybe can help teach us to see through the walls of ethnicity and class.
Click here for my notes on Gore Vidal, Creation