The courtroom is a place where events recur. In the court, we are presented with recollections, archives, and evidence. In 1995, Americans watched the O.J. Simpson trial; ten years later the miniseries American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson appears in our living rooms. Crimes that were witnessed by many people are particularly suited to this type of recurrence. And the logic of the courtroom privileges the general over the specific, making “points” and “examples” that are cobbled together from crumbs.
A good short story collection maintains a common thread, compiling stories as one would compile an album, so that reading it from beginning to end offers a sustained exercise in meaning. It’s satisfying to turn the last page and feel it intertwine with all those that came before it. Sean Beaudoin’s Welcome Thieves is one of the best examples I’ve come across. While the stories range in focus from small town athletes to struggling musicians, from youthful hedonists to back-alley boxers, each one is ready to jump ship.
An album is a good comparison for Welcome Thieves because Beaudoin knows music—he knows what it’s like to want to become (and fail at becoming) a rock visionary. The opening story, “Nick in Nine (9) Movements,” is a hilariously tragic play-by-play of a foolishly spent youth. From the onset, Beaudoin’s prose moves with sharp purpose, refusing to get lost in sentimentality. Beaudoin is a master of emotional economy. Continue reading
The characters in Amina Gautier’s third collection accumulate a lifetime of losses; it’s what unifies the stories. And while thematically linked collections are a staple of literary fiction, what Gautier does with the theme of loss is refreshing. None of her characters improve as a result of their misfortune. Instead, they continue to be selfish or engage in questionable behavior.
In “As I Wander” a recent widow takes to wandering the streets and sleeping with a stranger. In “Intersections” a character stalks his estranged lover, critiquing the women who pass by: “He cannot watch the women… They unnerve him. When they pass in front of his white ’91 Volvo SE Station Wagon they seem to him a potential threat… He cannot believe Jasmine lives here.”
But Gautier isn’t out to construct simple anti-heroes. She grants all of her characters moments of dignity and grace. Take this passage from the title story about parents whose son has been kidnapped: Continue reading
The characters in Greg Jackson’s prismatic debut collection, Prodigals, are searchers. Most want more than they have: money, fame, artistic and/or spiritual contentment. They all yearn for the “standard” tenets of adult life: structure, comfort, purpose, an end to the enervating restlessness of youth, a home to come back to. But as the years add up, those benchmarks get complicated, muddled. Does anyone ever truly grow up?
“It was an odd moment in my life,” confesses Daniel, the rut-stuck journalist who narrates the uncanny and ambiguous “Serve-and-Volley, Near Vichy.” Daniel is on his way to stay at the home of former tennis legend, Lèon Descoteaux—a man who, as we soon learn, may be more Patrick Bateman than Pete Sampras. Continue reading
In a 2007 essay in Tricycle, Hannah Tennant-Moore wrote about the Buddha’s “Reflections on Repulsiveness.” In the “Reflections,” the Buddha advises his followers to ruminate on the very corporeality of our bodies, down to the “swollen, blue, and festering” bodies in a cemetery. This, Tennant-Moore points out, makes us “aware of all the intricate processes and parts that make up our bodies” so that “we are less likely to identify the overall image as ‘me.’ Disdain for our bodies is, in fact, born out of detachment, not identification.”
That unforgiving process of examining intimately the bare self—dismembered, grotesque, and alien—is dramatized in Tennant-Moore’s strong first novel, Wreck and Order. What, the title asks, is being wrecked and ordered? The contradictory, messy self of a young high-school dropout in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. Continue reading
The first time someone told me the premise of Sudden Death by the Mexican novelist Álvaro Enrigue (translated by Natasha Wimmer), she followed it up by saying, “but it’s not really about that. It’s about everything.”
She was right, of course.
Sudden Death is about a tennis match between the famous Italian painter Caravaggio and the famous Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo in Piazza Navonna in Rome on October 4, 1599. This tennis match is not exactly a historical fact, but you can’t exactly prove it didn’t happen, either. Tennis, in those days, was an almost unimaginably rough sport, a contest for drunken ruffians and rowdy young aristocrats. Dueling at tennis was an acceptable alternative to dueling to the death. In this duel, Quevedo is “seconded” by Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna, while Caravaggio’s second is the estimable Galileo Galilei. Each point of the tennis match is narrated in rapturous detail, as if Enrigue were reporting from the sideline at Wimbledon. Continue reading