Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reading, Writing, Rehearsing: A Saturday Update

In an effort to make good on my promise to deliver everything I'm reading, writing, and rehearsing, here's today's update:

What I'm Reading:

Just finished Joyce Carol Oates' collection of short stories, The Female of the Species. I love mysteries and creepy stories, and this book did a mostly-good job of satiating my desire to get lost in a good plot. One thing, though: I don't dislike stories narrated by a young child, but when they're written in the present-tense, I think it almost never works. I'm thinking about Oates' story The Haunting. What I dislike is when the narrator, in this case a first-grader, is supposed to be quite young, and says all sorts of cute, young-sounding things, but then, mid-cute, starts making observations that are far too sophisticated and/or dramatic for a child to be making. As if suddenly this six-year old begins looking at the world through the eyes of a much older person. A person that sounds a lot like Joyce Carol Oates. Example: 

"I shut my eyes and rub them. It's like there's woodsmoke in my eyes, they burn and sting. I feel myself freeze like a scared rabbit. . . When Daddy went away, and we were told he would not be coming back, you could see in people's eyes how they didn't know what words to use. They could not bring themselves to say Your father is dead. They could not say like Calvin, Daddy is dead. Dead-daddy. My teacher can't bring herself to say Every morning you look so haunted, for this is not anything you would say to a little girl whose father has gone to hell to dwell with his own cruel kin."

If this were written from the perspective of a woman recollecting an event in her childhood, that's one thing. But this story is narrated by a six year-old. Do you know any six year-olds who talk like this? I don't. 

Just starting Lauren Slater's Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir. So far, it's just lovely. And here's a good example of writing that captures the feeling of being a child but without the cloying cuteness of being narrated by that child:

"My mother believed that will, not love, was what made the world go round, and I agreed. I was a wrong girl but I had always worked hard at what I did. I owned a pair of skates, nubby tights, and a white muff made from real rabbit fur. I had gotten my ears pierced when I was only eight years old, and all dressed up in my skating outfit, I looked like a holiday."

What I'm Writing: Emails. Lots and lots of emails in preparation for the run at Re-bar! A birthday card to my sister, Jill, who turns thirty on the 12th. Also considering editing a chapter of Yoga Bitch in which a Prada bag is an object of erotic interest, but I'm also considering writing nothing creative at all and instead going downstairs to watch episodes of Arrested Development.

What I'm Rehearsing: A memory. For the past few days, I've been thinking about a book I read a very long time ago. Floating in My Mother's Palm, a collection of linked stories by Ursula Hegi. I read it when I was about fourteen years old, while camping out on a couch at my aunt & uncle's house on the Cedar River. It was the end of summer, and I had been swimming in the river all that day, and in the evening there was a fire in the fireplace, and the couch-bed I was lying on was warm, and the house had one of those particular smells-- of the river, of green plants, woodsmoke, and in certain seasons a faint scent of the bloated salmon that had spawned upriver and now lay dead on the banks of the river-- that I can still conjure in my mind. That house is long gone; after the Cedar flooded their house for the second time, my aunt and uncle moved out and now live near the ocean. But I can smell that house when I think of that night, and remember what it felt like to be a kid. 

I've been thinking about this book because it was one of the first books I read that wasn't a sordid young adult novel (I loved the ones where teenagers actually had sex) or an Agatha Christie mystery. It was considered literary fiction, and I had no idea what that meant. The stories in the book centered around a young girl in Germany who lives in an apartment building, and her relationships with her neighbors. I loved it. I'm curious to know if the child's-eye perspective would bug me now, or if I'd still find it as magical and beautiful as I did when I was fourteen. But I don't know if I want to risk a re-reading.

The summer is ending, so the nights are colder in Seattle than they were a month ago. Even though I know I'll miss the sun in a few months, at this time of year I always get excited for the fall, and I always think about that night on the Cedar River, reading what felt at the time like the very first book I had ever read.

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