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Two Things I Recently Read and Loved

I am not a fan of the outdoors, camping, nature, or the wilderness even though for the past five years I lived, basically, in a forested wilderness and now I live, literally, in a cornfield. It was with a bit of trepidation that I approached Hobart 11: The Great Outdoors for no reason other than that because I don’t love the outdoors, I am not likely to want to read about the outdoors. Then a trusted friend said you have to read this story, “Evitative” and so I found renewed enthusiasm for the issue, which, conveniently, happened to be next on my To Read list. I’m glad she gave me a kick in the ass because Hobart 11: The Great Outdoors issue is so damn good. (So is the movie starring John Candy.) I never cease to be impressed by how meticulously Hobart is edited.

Evitative by B.C. Edwards is a post-apocalyptic story that isn’t annoying as such stories are sometimes wont to be. There’s a man (JoJo) and a woman living in the trees and the man has lost his words and she has lost her food memories and they are being menaced by men in canoes and she’s pregnant and there is a whole lot going on in this dense and incredible story. What I found even more interesting than the story was how the narrative voice felt very true to the circumstances and made everything that much more believable. Throughout the story there is a yearning for a different life, for food, for normalcy that is tangible.

There are some lines in this story that will make you jealous like:

And the itch at the back of my jaw and the hunger rolling along me like clouds. And I stare at the patch and when the water stills, the reflection that stares back up at me is more terrible than ever, her eyes are wicked but calmer and clearer and I’m so frightened of her.

The story is a journey and it transports you in really interesting ways.

Stories like The Fish by Patrick Somerville and The Lake by Becky Hagenston are expertly written and take unique approaches to relationships between parents and children. In both stories, sons are trapped by obligation in ways with which they are not comfortable. Elise Winn’s Picture Our Mother will just break your heart. It is sensually vivid with descriptions so lovely that you can taste sea salt on your tongue and truly mourn for two girls who desperately want to find their mother and their father who is forever searching the sea for his wife.

Mike Alber’s A Deer Big Enough to Show is about a man who refuses to let go of a relationship with an ex-girlfriend who has moved on. He endeavors to kill a deer big enough to show her how much he loves her. As such things always go, his gesture which is only partially realized through his own efforts, is too little too late and you cannot help but pity him and his small life and the futility of his feelings. In many ways, this story reminded me of Rob McCarthy’s Stag which appeared in One Story in September 2009.

Another highlight was Meghan Kenny’s All These Lovely Boys about a man struggling to accept his cross-dressing son. In the end, that’s hardly what the story is about because the one true thing in the story is that the father loves his boy. The ending, involving ballerinas and skydiving, literally sparkles:

Kirk’s toes were in a perfect point, his goggles sparkled form the sun, and I wondered if he spotted me, my boy, all bright and pretty and lovely, falling from the sky.

In Person, Place, or Thing, by Eliza Tudor, a middle-aged woman is geocaching when she slips and falls, a circumstance that awkwardly magnifies the indignities of aging and elderly parents and adult children. I loved the use of coordinates throughout the story and narrative asides. Person, Place, or Thing was a fine example of how a story can be told in a circuitous way. All of the writing in Hobart 11 is exceptional and never does the theme become more prominent than the prose. Instead, Hobart has assembled an incredibly strong collection of writing that reminds us of the power, beauty, and mystery of the outdoor world in very subtle, original ways. There are some gorgeous hand bound editions of this issue available. You should check that out. There are also some great Extras.

I loved John Jodzio’s If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home (Replacement Press) and have been recommending it to all my friends for the past two days. Jodzio is a writer with whom I wasn’t at all familiar so it was great to read a book I knew absolutely nothing about from a writer I knew absolutely nothing about. This is a collection where every single story had an ending that made me say, “Goddamn.” This book is worth the price of admission for those endings alone because every story comes to such a perfect close and leaves you with a real sense of satisfaction. These stories were my kind of stories–a little weird and magical and bittersweet. A lot of the characters are lost or sad  or really fucked up and dealing with rather impossible circumstances. In Flight Path, a cutter makes out with a comatose man while befriending his pregnant girlfriend at a “spa” which is really an institution. There are unique and hilarious details in so many of the stories. In Flight Path, the narrator has the tattoos of her former boyfriends on her chest. “I tried, with limited success, to cover up their names with a new tattoo of a rose or a butterfly. Now my body looks like an English garden, but one grown only to cover up a tagged-up wall.”

In Whiskers, a man opens a veterinary clinic in his home so he can watch over his suicidal daughter who he keeps chained all day and night just to keep her alive. A man brings his cat to the (not) veterinarian and asks him to attach wings to his cat and when the cat flies, you don’t focus on the improbability of a flying cat, you (or at least I) cheered. Jodzio is able to dance along that line between the possible and the impossible deftly. Every odd thing that happened in these stories feelsutterly believable.

There is a real tenderness in many of these stories, like in Gravity where the narrator has developed a fondness for dropping coins from his high rise office.

“Things falling from above have always perplexed people. Some forget that the sky is an easy option for violence, that the heavens can open up on you at a moment’s notice.”

He has a wife, Jeannie, who enjoys being dropped during sex. One day, she is dropped by the man with whom she’s having an affair, she ends up paralyzed and the narrator, he has to live with her betrayal while caring for her. Somehow, he is able to do this and in one of Jodzio’s perfect endings, he finds some kind of grace.

You’d forgotten this feeling; you’d forgotten how all of these things cradle your body, how they surround you, how they stop you from being pulled into the center of the goddamned earth.

In Alejandra, a woman moves into an apartment that used to be inhabited by a prostitute who likes to be choked and this was one of those stories that reminds me of a word puzzle where everything fits together as it should. The narrator picks up a man on the street who has an STD. This doesn’t faze her. She garners her lover’s attention with a line about having too much food.

It was a vicious cycle, this thing with men and food and desire, one that none of us would ever break no matter how hard we tried.

And then there is an ending that will leave you breathless, literally. Jodzio writes women very well and I always admire that.

My favorite story, there is always a favorite, was the final story in the collection, an ideal ending among ideal endings, The Girl With the Gambling Mother. The protagonist is a grade school teacher with some kind of substance abuse problem fresh out of rehab who has a student with a missing pinky and a gambling mother who might be responsible for that and a married colleague with whom she had an affair and a student’s father who is persistent in his pursuit of her, and her interior life is so complex and detailed so well as to suffocate. I don’t want to give the story away but it is sad, this woman, trying to do something right and getting so many things wrong.

The term “uneven” is often used with regard to short story collections but it in no way can be used to describe If You Lived Here, You’d Already Be Home. This is a finely written collection of short fictions that are both memorable and moving. This book is available at Amazon.com. This book is available at local bookstores everywhere and Indiebound can sort you out.

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