Month: December 2013

McGuane’s Short Story Book “Gallatin Canyon”

mcguaneFurther evidence that persistent ole fiction writers keep on rolling and can get even better with age.

My notes about some of the ten stories:

“Cowboy” – Familiar tale where a roaming cowpoke gets a job for nothing to prove his mettle, faces resistance, learns to be good at it, and eventually supplants those who hired him (young sumbitch becomes old sumbitch). Narrated in Festus vernacular, funny at times.

“Old Friends” – a visitation format in which a former college pal on the lam (Erik) returns to see an old pal (Briggs). Briggs’ life is solitary and rural, but in good order; Erik’s life is fractured. A distant alumni gossip writer and the pal’s mean-spirited ex-wife are external haranguers who further upset Brigg’s tranquility. Oh, and also the loose gal Marge who Erik brings along, a pickup who can’t resist the degenerate Erik but decides to slap Briggs for being, we suppose, polite. There’s a denouement to all this when Erik’s gig is up. His life and Briggs’ life are forever affected.

“North Woods” – A drug-addicted couple hike the deep woods outside Vancouver on a quest to find an object that they can trade for heroin. It’s the new world, and McGuane offers a great line to the effect: if you can look around in the woods up there and see plywood, you’re still an innocent.

“Zombie” – Grim and gothic, a tale of vengeance out in the sticks. Reminiscent of writing by Flannery O’Connor with creepy characters, some who have weird teeth and others far weirder behaviors.

“Ice” – Coming of age story involving a drum major, a promiscuous teacher, and a boy too far out on the ice trying to find his nerve.

“Gallatin Canyon” – The title story indicates there is no escape from business, traffic, angst, tragedy – even in the remote hills out West.

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“mitigating circumstances” by Dawn Corrigan

MGnovelI’ve had the good fortune to read an advance copy of my friend Dawn Corrigan’s debut novel “Mitigating Circumstances,” to be released in January 2014 via Five Star.

Part mystery-part adventure and also humorous travelog of the Florida Panhandle, the novel opens with an engaging scene. The facts and action keep coming. We get to know Gale LaRue pretty quickly and like her as narrator. She’s observant, sardonic, and doesn’t waste words.  She’s got the right mix of personal ingredients, locale, and interesting friends and family that have us already imagining a series.

A skilled fiction writer knows how to use details and make characters particular, and Corrigan gives us that. The profiles of the municipal workers in the home office are spot-on and memorable. We know Karen from her Tevas sandals and the fact that she’d rather take time to eat than try to escape. We can recognize the deep-thinking dude in the office who suggests putting out signs to stop the proliferation of signs. Em’s secret cigarette and call for denial tells us things. All the details paint the canvas: the Whataburger references, the drawling good old boys we can see and hear, the spicy adds Gale makes about underwear and “the girls,” and – terrific stuff – Em and Gale’s use of the names of poets and B-film starlets as replacements for more profane exclamations (e.g., “John Greenleaf Whittier!” or “Sara Michelle Gellar!” instead of “Jesus H. Christ!”). There are lots of references to food as a leveling force. Just as Travis McGee likes his one-inch of Boodles gin on ice, so does Gale LaRue savor her Cukoo Juice smoothies.

Corrigan pushes her story forward in an efficient and suspenseful way. In intervening chapters, the narration switches to third person in order to carry scenes necessary to the plot. It’s a technical balancing act for most writers, yet Corrigan makes the shift in POV almost imperceptible.

What I like most about “Mitigating Circumstances” is the writing itself. The author’s command of the language is original and crisp. And Gale Larue’s delivery is funny.

It’s impressive that Dawn Corrigan can write a debut novel that’s refreshingly free of the self-conscious and cloying prose style we identify as coming from workshop schools. She adheres to Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing and leaves out the self-conscious parts that “sound like writing.” Corrigan writes directly and with spirit, take it or leave it.

Italo Calvino’s “The Castle of Crossed Destinies”

RWS_Tarot_19_SunIn this novella a series of tales are delivered by individual storytellers, each of whom reveals a certain display of tarot cards.  Sequentially, each array of cards offers a type of free-association story.  As characters take their turn to present, the indicated actions and events become interwoven. Cards conjoin and overlap. Destinies cross.

Besides the cleverness and intrigue of the fiction, the stories offer those of us interested in the tarot ways to get more familiar with the cards themselves. The group uses the traditional tarot deck in the book’s first half, then a more modern deck in the latter.

Each card is a poem begging for exposition, illustrated with items that tell and have ranging connotations.

The author presents a revealing afterword section describing his usage of the tarot. Everything is on the table in this book. You just have to join in and piece the meanings together.

“I always feel the need to alternate one type of writing with another, completely different, to begin writing again as if I had never written anything before.” – Italo Calvino