Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Second Person and Other Stories

You baffle me, Ali Smith.

Loved your first novel, "Like." I wasn't fazed at all by the parallel plots. It was clear, even in the beginning, that Ash and Amy would collide, that you were colluding to put these two particles in motion. That they had a future together. Fantastic. Literary. Satisfying.

But then, I blundered into "The Accidental." I floundered in the shallows of your experimentalism. Of your stream-of-consciousness internal dialogue. Of your nonplot. Of characters who did not speak to me.

Your short stories -- "The Whole Story and Other Stories," "Other Stories and Other Stories," "The First Person and Other Stories" -- were a refuge.

Experimental in name only, they are full of your playfulness. They are, across three collections, one story. A conversation between "I" and "you." Two women, in daily life with each other, testing the boundaries of their imagination. And their affection. Every time "you" returns, I know I'm in good hands. I know I'm getting another small piece of a twenty-year affair.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How do I love Aaron Shurin?

Let me count the ways

1. His prose in "King of Shadows," tiny essays of jeweled perfection.

2. His seamless transitions of unrelated ideas: a visit to the ballet blossoming into a meditation on Turgenev's "The Singers."

3. An entire essay inspired by the word "abattoir."

4. His generous love of his adolescent self in the chapter "In the Bars of Heaven and Hell." The way he maps San Francisco in the late 1960s onto his teenage desire. The hidden terror and enormous suppressed joy as he takes the bus to a backroom college student gay bar. The way he's forced to hide his "shtetl hair" through an elaborate straightening regimen that is almost undone by the winds whipping through the city's financial district.

5. "The hair. I will tell you about the hair."

6. The way the chapter begins, random, staticky, invocation of the muse: "A series of false starts, holes, memory in junk mode, flashing signs that won't hold, missing letters: wet pain for wet paint, urn for turn, trance for entrance ... "

7. Nostalgia thick as reduced wine. Sadness, joy, wisdom and late foolishness.

8. "I could grow old in this hammock; I have grown old. I'm not who I meant to be, but not not."