A 1960s novel, today it reads fresh and powerful. Parts of it describe material that was likely shocking fifty years ago, but now is folded well into our huge complicated mix of what is socially and/or morally acceptable – or more cynically, what isn’t?
Cheever’s narrative about domestic America is like Updike on weed. It’s wild and often sad and then entertaining and always visionary. The glowing introduction by Dave Eggers describes Cheever’s fictional skills and mentions how much humor can be found in his scenes. Any randomly picked Cheever sentence can be a trove of insight, clever turn of phrase, or vivid imagery.
The book calls for a second reading in the future, a writer’s examination of technique. First time around, the read was for story, which seemed like a chain of episodes filled with human error, sexual misdirection, alcoholism, and misery. The events involve characters from the Boston-like suburb of “St. Botolphs.”
The centerline of the narrative is often without clear direction, and what begins as a focused report about this small community later breaks apart and rambles into tangential sub-stories occurring in distant cities and countries. In Chapter 31, the loop comes back to start when a train again arrives. It’s Christmas time and people begin to return home. A central figure is dying. Circles are closing. The sentences are sublime; someone is showing us how to end a novel. Angels come to the gates.
As an aside, I haven’t read (nor plan to) the prequel “Wapshot Chronicle,” which covers the St. Botolphs folks in their earlier years.
This is a collection of short stories I was led to by a comment from Thomas McGuane on NewYorker.com, who names her as his favorite short story writer. I’d never heard of her (she is gone now, 1936- 2004). I wonder again, as with Joy Williams, how I ever missed her stories.
She was writing back in the Sixties and is a child of the Sixties and the Seventies and Eighties as well. She was a visionary, writing into the early 21st century, who never compromised her simple and realistic phrasing and eye for character detail.
Her picaresque life took her all over the world, though most of her sensibilities are primarily Southwest USA with a tablespoon of Mexico and Chile. She flew under the radar until finally getting published in national magazines. She was a sensation and a confirmation of what could be called honest art. In her lifetime, her reputation soared only among those in the know. So it’s good to see her books re-released so all readers can enjoy, as I have, the amazement of discovering terrific, unsung writers of our time.
In the state of Florida, it’s the official end date of hurricane season.
In the Republic of South Florida, it’s an occasion to celebrate.
by W. S. Merwin, 1927
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
Legacy Systems…………Old Material that’s Hard to Convert and Harder to Delete
Take Offline……….Cooling period
It is What It Is……….Crap
Drill Down……….Add detail
Scalable……….Not much ripple effect
Get Buy-In……….Land an Agent
Kudos……….Your piece has been accepted
Hats Off……….Honorable Mention
Stay the Course……….Keep writing where you left off
Core Values……….(too preposterous a phrase even for writers)
Lots of Moving Parts……….Too many stories in one
Bleeding Edge……….Experimental fiction
Move the Needle……….Surprise Twist
Define Target Audience…………Know your Reader
Roles & Responsibilities…………Character traits & motives
Value-Add…………Meaningful or Resonant Content
Levels 1, 2 and 3…………Dramatic Arcs, Action Scenes, Detailed Imagery
Reset…………Stop and Fix
Roughly Right…………Second Draft
NOTE: …………Author Intrusion
Published in 2015, the novel is a prescient look at how things can be here in South FL when the Big One comes to town.
Oceanaire is about a small community of neighbors and friends in Miami over the course of a summer. The story’s hurricane sections portray the major phases the characters undergo when experiencing a storm: Apprehension, Survival, and Coping. (South Florida style with a tilt toward comedy and pathos rather than tragedy).
Copyright ©2015 by William P. Moore
I’m Bill Moore and I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia. I studied for two years at University of Richmond then moved to Columbia, SC and received a BA in English Literature at University of South Carolina.
For over 35 years I worked as a salaried technical writer and instructional designer for various corporations in NC, TX, and FL.
Under the name William P. Moore, I’ve written eight books (Amazon author page) and have another novel in progress. My writing has appeared in print and online in various literary journals. I’m on LinkedIn and G+.
wpmfla at gmail
I recall going to Houston’s Alley Theatre in the early 1980s to see their production of “True West,” a Sam Shepard play. There was free champagne served before the show in the foyer. The slinky girl who I took to the show liked that part.
The low rectangular stage was surrounded by ascending rows of seats. Between acts, the room went pitch dark while the crew changed the set. The slinky girl let loose a small coyote howl, and I firmly elbowed her in the ribs.
The story was about sibling rivalry in suburbia. The bad boy son was perpetrating some neighborhood robberies. He stole everyone’s toaster, it seems.
During one set change in the dark, a dozen or more toasters were fired up. In the audience we could smell toast cooking before the lights came up and action resumed.
The brothers fought and things came to a climax. That’s about all I remember. I liked the uniqueness of the play and admire its author for his many talents and the free-spirited way he lived.
Earned by “Colorful Whateverisms,” the lead piece of short fiction in “Parts Department.”
El Viejo, somewhere on a precipitous ledge.
Nine short fiction pieces – a mix of dark humor with a dash of surrealism. Souls adrift, the blues, and the underlying quest for home and happiness.
NOTES ABOUT THE 9 STORIES … by the author
The collection begins with a story about home and location with the protagonist wondering “where to go or what to do next?” It ends with a story of the same type. This led me to the Faulkner quote as the epigraph.
Story 1- Bayberry is a wayward character long-held in a dusty trunk, a figment on faded typing paper. Here he’s cut to size and freed to the public page, surrounded by haunts and strange visions…and thereby buried for good (along with any other attempts to describe Key West).
2 – Written in appreciation of Hemingway’s “After the Storm.” I had an idea of layering and humans living in husks. I wanted to use a squabbled-over domestic treasure as opposed to a sunken ocean liner.
3- “Advanced Level of Play” could have been more about Masked Man but the road led to video games and to Stan Birchard, a reclusive resident from Oceanaire, who crosses over (as do others in later stories).
4 – “Along the Fall Line” is adapted from a fragment left on Oceanaire’s cutting room floor…a scene with a pretty girl on rollerblades. Having it take place in Columbia, SC was the biggest leap. The theme of “fall from grace” fit the river geography and set up the storyline.
5 – “Orange Bowl Days” is an attempt is to make memorable characters in captured moments…odd moments maybe, like Ulyanna in the tub studying a pharmacology book, or the South Beach scene with Harry and writer Ralph Z. Dupree. At one time I wanted to write a novel using the line (which I like) about Harry being choppered off a fishing boat, but this was all it was.
6 – The next two stories are tied via Teri and her mother Anna and crazy father John. They seemed an inevitable part of the collection, gloomy as they are. Maybe some will see humor. The niece character Shannon is a reimagined representation of a girl I knew when a teenager in Sandbridge, VA. She lived in her aunt’s house that summer, but in real life didn’t disappear from there…she disappeared from me.
7 – Is mercifully short. A shot, so to speak, at Southern Grotesque. I liked the name of Soso as a town. Visions of a place like Soso (plus a real-life 2015 drive to Aiken on a bleak country highway) started the whole setting. The ruined scenery evoked an atmosphere of mediocrity and nihilism.
8 – “Blue Chile” steals again from Oceanaire, using the character Beto the flight attendant. I appointed his sister as narrator and opposite personality type. It is a morality play of sorts, involving faith, situational ethics, religion, and even a bit of sibling rivalry. The lawyer /wheeler-dealer character Eligio Carnación crosses over from Oceanaire.
9 – Some familiar names pop up in the last piece. It’s a New Orleans vignette, a slice from an abandoned sequel to Houston Chemical. This story also has character intersections with other stories and novels. Those sort of ties matter to me in my fabulist world. I don’t expect others to realize the connections; at best they raise curiosity.
So says the tee shirt of the funky mannequin welcoming customers at entrance to New River Groves, an old-style Florida roadside attraction (with citrus, juices, gator meat and some pretty good key lime pie.)
The second novel in the series of seven has plenty of slog areas – tedious sections of rumination and digression. In automotive terms, the dwell angle – the delay between firing points – is immense at times. We pause and deliberate, feeling the delay and the opposing expectation of our own reader habit to keep moving on with the story. I felt a sense of repetition, of being caught in a day-after-day loop. Meanwhile Marcel dishes on the aristocrats and has muted experiences at a beachside hotel in Balbec. The effect, likely intentional, is almost as if I too were staying there, alienated and unhappy over the duration of my visit.
I am not sure we can say this lengthy book is all about seeking young girls in flower or budding romance. It’s more about Marcel’s previous big romantic flop in Paris with his first love Gilberte and his subsequent train & beach trip with grandmama to the Normandy coast. There’s a lot of description about isolation, discomfort, and other complaints. As is the tendency with Proust, we are given golden gifts of insight and wisdom amidst the unhappiness, as if that is the prime circumstance for producing such reflections.
Best early section is the actual train trip to Balbec. Best late section is the last block of a hundred pages that include Marcel’s encounters with Albertine and the “gang.” The last fifty pages are thematically strong (pastries, memory, love, hawthorn leaves). The writing is genius.
At the seaside hotel (which takes up the middle book) the narrative is largely about society – see and be seen. The In-Crowd is often on display at dress-up time in the dining room, a room the narrator depicts as a giant fish tank. Inside they act out their privileged games while everyday folk pass by outside, pause and look in blank wonder through the glass.
Things are not always so stuffy. In the peak of summer, the hotel opens its windows and the guests step in and out on way to the terrace or beach. Marcel does not do the beach. His grandma places him on an upper floor VIP suite lined with glass bookcases that reflect the sunny sea. Marcel dislikes it. He is sickly and cautious.
Eventually some friends (Bloch, Robert, and Charlus) stir him loose. Marcel’s instinctive yearning for romance and sex gets him on the prowl. The object of his affection turns out to be Albertine, who he spots on the boardwalk. We only see her in the last hundred pages or so.
Proust ups the tempo. Things get interesting when our narrator befriends painter Elistir and finally hooks up with the girl he’s been obsessed with, the one from the cadre of girls cruising the beach boulevard. Albertine proves to be outspoken, charming and frank. Her middle-class dialog is a long-awaited breath of fresh air to an otherwise stultifying cast of aristocrats. We get a detailed examination of the games young lovers play, and the turn of Marcel from naive admirer (in the past with Gilberte) to male predator (of Albertine), still holding to childish love fantasies but acting (often not so subtly) with cunning and manipulation. As it develops, she is not that different, just more honest.
I switched midbook from the newer Penguin translation to the older 1982 Vintage Press volume (the silver and black set by Moncrief and Kilmartin). Larry McMurtry’s use of this older set led me to it. It reads more majestically and to me sounds better tonally. It is not plagued by 21st century colloquials and clipped phrases. The print and typesetting is far easier on the eyes.
The McMurtry formula for reading Proust: ten pages a day for a year equals over 3500 pages, the approximate total length of all seven novels. I read at a slower pace.
Number three is next: the Guermantes novel. Meanwhile, I got a copy of the movie “Time Regained,” which is summary-like and weird, but a nice visual accompaniment. It’s based on the book of the same name, the last novel in the series. Not all parts are understandable at this point. There is a powerful scene of Marcel recalling his memories of Swann’s wife Odette when a certain piano concerto is performed.
*My modest report on the first novel “Swann’s Way” is here.
On sale as Amazon Kindle and Apple iBook $7.99.
2/25/17: Saw her last night in concert at the Parker Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale, where she and her band Buick 6 rocked the joint with 21 songs. Her lyrics are memorable and vivid. She brings a dash of politics along and is no fan of “liars and fear-mongers,” directed currently to you-know-who. Standing ovations by a largely sixty-ish crowd of 1200, a great show.
She has her own label now and can be more like Dylan, producing records without limitations, like making long double albums in the spirit of Blonde on Blonde.
below from post on 11/16/2012
Folks in my immediate circle thought it odd that I liked Lucinda Williams so much.
She’s so…country, they said.
This was in 1998 when the “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” album caught my attention.
She is country, I’d answer, but much more.
The “Car Wheels “album is a poetry chapbook. Each piece tries to outdo the other, though they all are cut from the same thematic cloth and connect in the end. Behind excellent guitar work, she lays the Southern Delta twang on thick. The songs are about the chaos of love but they are tidily produced. Some, as it turns out, sound even better in future performances, especially with a minimalized band.
Her songs have pieces that can be transformed and unleashed anew.
Her “Essence” album is raw and sensual. The rock elements of blues and hard surf guitar heavy with reverb foreshadow her later days to come with Buick 6.
I like her albums “Blessed” and “West.” They have their own milieu and style, and she explores worlds beyond her Delta roots. She pushes the envelope stylistically without spinning out of character.
She’s a Dylan figure in the sense that she’s an original, the real deal, ragged edges be damned. Her twang is similar to Bob singing though his nose, and similarly her voice was sweeter and less torn up when she was younger. Both are poets (Lucinda’s father, Miller Williams, is a noted national poet and teacher who read at Clinton’s inauguration). They are individualists who eschew the usual media PR mill. Lucinda’s been down the road and has wisdom to add to all that born talent for writing. Just as you can’t lock Dylan into the folk category, you can’t label her either. They never sing the same song the same way twice. They’re artists and rebels.
In the French Quarter one morning I had breakfast at a beer and eggs dive. Someone put Lucinda on the jukebox, and the universe felt complete.
A younger Lucinda performance from 1989.
No one I’ve heard can do a sad songs about love and loss like Lucinda can.
“Copenhagen,” (audio on YouTube)
I’d recommend anyone trying out Lucinda to try the Fillmore concert double album. It has a good cross-sampling of her work, and the band that is with her that night is both sublime and red hot, perfectly in sync with her. She sings the best ever, her twang toned down, and the guitars complement her. Some fans (and she has her own cult) prefer watching her DVD performances. Lucinda on video is okay by me too, but I find it distracting whenever she refers to a three-ring binder for lyrics. Yet who can expect a poet to remember the volume of their work, word for word?
Better yet, follow her tour and get a ticket to see her live.
Reading the last installment of our hero’s late-life adventures, I began to wonder if Duane should have been named Randy. Even in his sixties, the guy seems overrun with carnal needs and therefore has instant relations with horny nymphs and errant lesbians and other fantasy girls.
He’s some sort of graying chick magnet who manages to connect with women even randier than himself. They all talk a good game then tend to become servile to him and romantically turn him lose in all directions. If one leaves, another pops up. He’s bewildered.
Duane’s last hurrah is a deceptive porn star who somehow works in the oil business. She will do anything and everything in explicit detail but no penetration with Duane until he has a vasectomy. Guess what our randy hero does.
Along comes a modest, handy-with-dinner Thai girl who (like Annie in the last book) gets to Duane’s heart through his stomach. And then there is leggy K.K. the ball-busting organizer behind the “save the rhinos” organization. And toward book’s end it’s another pretty young thing in cutoffs who wants to serve him, too. Surprisingly, by this time Duane begins to turn them down. He’s cooked. Put a fork in him.
“Rhino’s” last few pages speed through a series of untimely deaths, depleting the cast. What has seemed like a screenplay is over. We will no longer see Duane. To do so would mean to go back and re-read “Texasville,” the four-inch one I started but skipped past.
With Duane gone, the family future is left to grandson Willy, the only one who has made it in the world of successful and intellectual people, who are oft-alluded to by Honor and K.K. as players in a sort of privileged and venal playground that exists outside the simple limitations of the one blinking traffic light in Thalia, Texas.
Directly following the chronology in “Duane’s Depressed,” this short novel is the Thalia series’ statement book on intimacy. Events are centered on protagonist Duane Moore and extend to all the other characters. By book’s end we know how most of them get along with their mates. The dusty town of Thalia, a place where bed-hopping has long been an accepted sport, is facing obsolescence, as are the sex lives of the aging cast.
The story is slow to launch, like Duane’s middle leg. By the late chapters he is taking the magic blue V pills.The reader wonders why he didn’t think about them earlier.
No matter the storyline, it’s McMurtry on display once again, and he delivers with seamless narrative and superb characterization. We are welcomed and drawn in. Some readers may be repelled by the explicit sex and language. I think McMurtry’s blue prose is under control: vivid and sensory but not sensational or fantasy-driven in a cheapened way.
Sixty-ish oilman and amateur Thoreau Duane Moore is still in love with his psychiatrist. Dr. Honor Carmichael is a fiftyish lesbian who despite her frosty front seems to be more than clinically interested in him. The book is engaging enough (and short with a building sharp pace, as in novella length) to push the reader ahead quickly, providing a few unexpected twists in how that situation between doc and patient works out. That’s the by far best part of the novel.
Unfortunately the story loses this interesting dynamic when Honor vanishes again and McMurtry brings young oil surveyor Anne into the action. Annie is a precocious and improbable Texas brat who is, as they say, all hat and no cattle – she’s sexually hung-up and can’t back up her flirty ways. Nevertheless our hero gets entangled with her, and (even if the author wishes us to feel otherwise) their encounters are insipid and sad. Anne is no Karla and definitely no Honor. They don’t seem to go together. We are left with a dumbed-down Duane & Annie romance that seems to exist by default.
The town of Thalia is fading fast and has no purpose, giving way to a cluster of WalMarts and Targets. Its local fixture convenience store and Dairy Queen are now run by Sri Lankans. Duane sells his house, abandons his cabin, and relocates to Arizona with Annie. Their relationship continues apparently on the mythical premise of “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
Which leads to his long-postponed coronary bypass surgery. Duane sits on the veranda and looks out on the desert landscape to ponder what may be next in his life. We’ll find out in the next book, “Rhino Ranch.”
In the original Thalia trilogy sequence, this is novel 3, released after “Texasville” and “The Last Picture Show.”
This is the story of Duane Moore at 60-something and how he steps away from his traditional life, en route to self-discovery and potentially a nervous breakdown as well. It’s a quest and at the same time an abandonment. It’s a rarity in popular fiction books these days: a thorough examination of how an aging male tends to think, change, shed, yearn. The novel has aspects similar to Updike’s later-years “Rabbit,” but the angst and manners are Southern.
Despite occasional scenes of tedium and redundancy, the narrative is enjoyable and well presented. McMurtry’s perceptions and humor are always cooking underneath. In novel series mode, there are a lot of accumulative characterizations and brief summaries of history. It’s all concise and good – we are kept in the loop with longtime Thalia cast members Bobby Lee, Jacy, Sonny, Ruth, and Lester.
When McMurtry brings what is pertinent to the foreground, it is all the more amplified by the generous existence in his narrative of what is not pertinent. This is a key element in his writing style.
Duane looks for some way to see the world other than from the cab of a pickup truck and becomes a dedicated walker and bicyclist. In between he experiences the difficulties of busting loose, the joys and challenges of solitude, new ways to regard the world, and so on. By book’s end he has lost his wife, given away his dog, built a garden, and fallen in love with a lesbian psychologist. Eventually he is broken down emotionally and collapses. He hastily regroups and in his last act of escape, he hurriedly enlists a travel agent and flies away to exotic places abroad.
McMurtry is never better. Actions are emblematic and open to interpretation. In the novel’s final chapters, he weaves in elements of his own experience with reading Proust (the author read the volumes during recovery from heart surgery). Duane’s psychologist, a sophisticated woman named Honor, asks him by way of a prescription to read the Vintage three- volume set (about 3,000 pages) of “In Search of Lost Times.” Duane, who is a simple yet smarter-than-most Texas dude, works his way through it over a year’s time. Honor invites him to a book discussion, and McMurtry creates an electrifying chapter where surprises abound. In his subsequent next-day session at Honor’s office, the book’s climax takes place.
How did I miss out on her all this time? Who do I read that does short stories any better?
The first story in the newer stories section (“Brass”) begins with a portrayal of a family’s wayward son. It is exemplary of technique, and Williams has quite an arsenal of skill. In “Brass,” factoids are mixed into the narrative, a contrast of reality as opposed to the misguided opinions stated by the boy. The author’s punchlines are sharp, dark, and funny. The ending of is a surprise with a shock effect. We find out who the boy character is supposed to be. Bam, a figure from recent national news. And we wonder how close to reality the author was in her depiction. Not that it matters. Crazy dangerous is crazy dangerous.
Williams can place characters inside a crucible in a story without us even noticing. Every story reveals her mastery of the form, and each has its own set of themes, mysteries, and nuance. Unlike many of today’s hailed and awarded stories that are too often mere cleverly phrased throwaways, Joy Williams’ collected stories are solid and meant to be re-visited and enjoyed over time.
Her writing is a reflection of our privilege to be cogent, alive visitors on Earth. Her book allows us the privilege to share in her observations, many of which are poetic and visionary. Let’s hope her work lands permanently in the study books for classes of American Literature: Modern Short Story.