By Esmeralda Pineda
Lydia Davis, an American writer, brings upon a collection of short stories known as Can’t and Won’t. Davis was born in Massachusetts into a teaching set of parents. Her works have received recognition and have been awarded the Man Booker International Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship, and several other awards. Can’t and Won’t, published on April 8, 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, demonstrates an unusual way to bring about a collection of short stories.
The book provides a nontraditional setup of narratives. There are stories with a different layout than what most readers are used to. For example, in “Her Geography: Illinois”, Davis writes, “She knows she is in Chicago. But she does not yet realize that she is in Illinois.” Part of the style of writing is awkward, like in this example, but it could be related to a way of reading deeper into the words and looking for a hidden message. An example of reading deeper into this short story could have the reader thinking about the bigger picture of a situation or the character not connecting two things that are in common. It could go into several directions of interpretation.
One that stood out was “Short Conversation (in Airport Departure Lounge)”, reading, “Is that a new sweater?” one woman asks another, a stranger, sitting next to her. The other woman says it’s not. There is no further conversation.” There is not entirely a lot in this short story, but it ironically says a lot about people. It could be read to say people notice specific things, but not much follows that sort of conversation into great details. Also, it raises the topic of strangers making connections in any type of place. This was more a relatable story, making connections to things such as clothing items as well as people.
Seeing as how the book jumps around in a nontraditional style of narratives, the collection is diverse in the way it raises many questions after each short story. It does not have a direct answer to them, but it makes the reader think of possible paths the story may lead to. “Random” is a good term to sum up the collection. Anyone who is willing to step out of the traditional style of a reading book would enjoy Davis’s collection to find deeper meanings as well as humor.
By Cole Miller
We Live In Water, written by Jess Walter, is a collection of short stories that was published on February 12, 2013 by the publishing company Harper Perennial. Walter, who is a former National Book Award finalist and winner of the Allan Poe Award, is also the author of six novels and a nonfiction book. Titles of his other works include, Beautiful Ruins, The Financial Lives of the Poets, The Zero, Citizen Vince, Land of the Blind, Over Tumbled Graves, and Every Knee Shall Bow. Walter Lives with his wife and children in Spokane, Washington.
We Live in Water is made up of a dozen different stories that vary in length. Some last only a couple pages while others last up to twenty pages or more. Walter uses these varying lengths of stories and themes like alcoholism, drug addiction, obsession, greed, dishonestly, homelessness, familial issues, abandonment, and poverty to capture the core of human emotion and suggest to the reader that people should not be judged based on their situations. Instead, there should be a level of empathy when considering the events that lead them to where they are now.
I really enjoyed reading this collection of short stories. Walter’s humor, which has been described by Meghan Farnsworth as “dark, witty, and hewn with quiet vulgarity,” is implemented in the stories and made it an interesting read. This stood out to me in his story “Don’t Eat Cat” which he sets in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world with zombified people. While using his sense of humor to drives his writing this story tells us about human nature and American culture. He writes, “Sure, the world seems crazy now, but wouldn't it seem just as crazy if you were alive when they sacrificed peasants, when people were born into slavery… when entire races tried to wipe the other races off the plant?” He combines his message that human beings have been destructive for centuries with a comedic narrative.
This book is for anyone who wants to read about issues relating to poverty, family, and the inner struggles of individuals while enjoying a dark comedic relief. This would be good for students and teachers to read because it gives Walter’s spin on the old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover. Instead he writes, “Whole worlds exist beneath the surface of the water. And maybe you can’t see down there… but there’s a part of you that knows.”
By Matthew Marroquin
The Watch is a collection of fictional short stories created by Rick Bass. This collection was Bass’ debut into his literary career and was originally published in July of 1989. Rick Bass is Texas born and has moved around the south to the west to such states as Mississippi and Montana. He uses the places he has lived and visited as main settings in his story. His fictional writing has won him numerous awards.
The Watch is made up of 10 distinct short stories such as: “Mexico,” “The Watch,” “Redfish,” and “In Ruth’s Country.” Out of all the stories only two intertwined using the same characters in a different timeline, a different part of their lives. This happens to be the first story, “Mexico,” and the last one, “Redfish.” I enjoyed this part of the collection for it gives it a full circle type of effect, ending with the characters one started with. Another part of Bass’ writing that I enjoyed is his description. In “Mexico” the main character describes how he enjoys coming out of the pool, “the way it slips down my calves, around and behind to the insides, down over the heels, splattering.” He depicts how the waters flows off of one when getting out. Another part that uses great description to depict the setting is “In Ruth’s Country, “... we would watch the purple part of the dusk rising up out of the dry valley, moving toward us, covering the desert like a spill.” This was describing the beauty in Utah during the sunset. His time living in multiple different states must aid in his ability to so accurately describe such scenes.
Overall, I believe this collection held great depiction of scenes and description, and even some nice character development, but the stories seemed a bit too over the place for me to handle. I can see where many would enjoy this book, and you will enjoy this book if you like wild, sporadic, stories, but the conflict did not appear immediately and many of the sections within the stories felt like filler. This book has hundreds of wonderful reviews, so try it, even if I, a single reader, am not a fan.
By Dalton Machholz
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of short stories following a fictional narrator named Tim O’Brien before, during, and after the Vietnam War. First published in 1990 by Houghton Mifflin the book contains 22 short stories. O’Brien himself served in the Vietnam War and following his return to the United States began work as reporter and intern at the Washington Post. It was here that O’Brien began his writing career publishing other books such as Northern Lights, Going After Cacciato, and A Nuclear Age just to name a few.
The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories featuring time before, during, and after the Vietnam War. While there is no clear chronological order to these stories, each possesses a quality in them that stands alone as well as assists the others. A prime example of this are the stories “Enemies” and “Friends”. Both revolve around two men of O’Brien’s platoon who are seen fighting and then seen making up. While they complete each other, both are able to stand independently on their own. A reader can easily read one, stop, then proceed to read the other at a different time.
My favorite story, which ties the theme of the book overall, is “How to Tell a True War Story”. In this particular tale O’Brien relates what story fellow soldier “Rat” Kiley tells him during their time on a mission. During this story-telling O’Brien explores the requirements of war literature. Citing how it can’t be believable, or if you feel uplifted by it then you can’t actually believe it. While at first this message is hard to accept the story told by Kiley and for that matter this book itself reflects this one message throughout.
While I find this collection interesting due to its historical value, there are plenty of other reasons to read this nationally acclaimed book. Some may find solace in the writing style of O’Brien or perhaps the philosophy of the Vietnam war will attract others. Nonetheless this is a must-read novel for any age-group as it addresses topics that have been forgotten or lost.
By Jolee Lindin
Gorilla, My Love is a collection of short stories written by Toni Cade Bambara. This collection was published in 1972 by Random House. Bambara is also the author of The Black Woman, Tales and Short Stories for Black Folk, and Junior Case Book on Racism.
Gorilla, My Love leans towards being a feminist collection, with a lot of the narrators being young girls. Throughout the collection Bambara indulges the audience in her female characters by giving them badass personalities and qualities. This includes more than just the narrators as well. Hazel is one of the narrators of the collection and she tells it how it is. One of the most memorable moments of Hazel’s narration is in the short story “Gorilla, My Love”. She emphasizes that if someone says something, they better mean it: “Cause if you say Gorilla, My Love, you suppose to mean it” (Bambara 170).
Another powerful female character, who isn’t a narrator, is Miss Moore from the short story “The Lesson”. Miss Moore is kind enough to take the children to different educational places to teach them different things. Although the children’s parents think Miss Moore is a little strange, they still allow their children to take these wonderful opportunities that Miss Moore presents to them. The children don’t always enjoy where they go, but Miss Moore doesn’t let the children get to her. She continues to use her patience to give the children a great experience.
Because female child narrators seem to be an ongoing theme throughout the collection there seems to be this idea of innocence, but also this feeling of tension between the generational gap throughout the collection. You see examples of both these things in the stories, “The Hammer Man”, “Happy Birthday”, and “Basement.” In “The Hammer Man” there is an incident between the narrator, a young girl, and Manny with the police. The narrator and Manny are at the park shooting hoops when the police come by and ask them, “Who unlocked the gate?” (Bambara 40). Although the narrator and Manny aren’t doing anything wrong the police try to get them to leave. However, the narrator stands up to the police saying, “this here’s a free country. So why don’t you give him back his ball” (Bambara 41). This shows the innocence of the narrator, but it also shows the tension between the generational gaps of the characters as well.
This was a great collection to read and I really enjoyed learning about the cultures of different time periods for different people. Using children as narrators was a risky but rewarding idea. I could really connect to the stories and put myself in the shoes of the narrators. It allowed me to see from a different perspective that I really enjoyed diving into. Although this story collection was “straight-up fiction,” the events that took place and the themes that were present seemed very realistic. They took you for a journey while also staying connected and true to the whole collection. I believe many high school students would enjoy this collection because of the funny but simple stories included within the collection. It is also very focused on the younger generation at this time and the innocence of younger kids to teenagers that kids now might be able to relate to.
By Taylor Hackbarth
Amy Hempel’s short story collection Reasons to Live was published in 1985 by Alfred A. Knopf INC. Reasons to live was the first short story collection that Amy Hempel has published, and she has published other collections like Tumble Home and The Dog of the Marriage. In the setup of this book, Amy Hempel has the stories in no particular order that I could find. All of the stories seemed to be random, and I do not believe that any of the stories are connected by characters. I do believe the stories are connected by the message each story leaves the reader with. In all of the stories, the meanings and messages of the stories are to show the main character’s reason to live. The stories also show the reason for the character’s actions.
One of my favorite stories in the book was the story “Pool Night”. This was my favorite story because I think it shows human nature very well. This story is about a flood that had taken everything from the main character and how she remembers it happening. I like this story because it shows how humans handle a situation in different ways. Some of the characters are sad, some of them are resigned, and some of the characters make the best out of the situation. One of my favorite lines from this story is the line describing the pictures of the character’s family: “They were faded, but the fugitive images remained. Emulsion on others had turned metallic bronze; the snapshots held deep tarnish, like a mirror.” I like this line because it does a wonderful job of describing the pictures and the scenes of her stories. This is just one example of how the author uses descriptions in her stories to help the audience understand the story better. People should read her writing because the stories help show different reasons people keep going. When I was a student, sometimes I just wanted to quit, but having a good reason to continue got me going again. This book can help people find these reasons.
By Emma Bloom
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender, published in 1998, is a diverse collection of short stories that views love through different lenses: of a wife and a husband who was injured in the war, the ups and downs of young love, lasting love in elderly couples, and the struggle of a relationship under peculiar circumstances. The story itself is not the typical take on the classic love story, instead focusing on the difficult truths of each relationship, the reality of each one all the while with an element of the bizarre.
Aimee Bender’s works have been nationally recognized, being published in GQ, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and heard in This American Life. Her works earning credible awards, including the NY Times Notable Book award, SCIBA award, and the LA Times pick of the year. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt would be best suited for high school students and above, particularly those who are interested in romance stories.
A particular aspect of writing that Bender used often was the concept of the “crooked picture,” where the story begins in the middle of an event or dialogue, leaving the reader questioning and curious. The first line of the collection was from the story “The Rememberer,” and began with “my lover is experiencing reverse evolution.” The reader does not know why and what is causing this “reverse evolution” or even what exactly that could be in this case, pulling the reader deeper into the story with interest. Or the way Bender chose to open the short story “Skinless” with “Renny’s phone privileges being revoked when they discovered a swastika carved into his headboard.” Topics like these are not a typical way to begin and would most likely take the reader by surprise.
I deeply enjoyed Bender’s interpretation of love, where it wasn’t perfect and there was always a way that the lovers were different from each other. She was blunt in the reality and detail of each relationship but romanticized the uniqueness and its eccentricates.
By Tanner Jensen
“It’s a small story really, about, among other things:
Written by Markus Zusak in 2005, The Book Thief tells the compelling story of Liesel Meminger and her best friend Rudy Steiner as the two experience the normal trials of childhood during the rise of Nazi Germany. The story itself is told from the perspective of death, lamenting the loss of life and recounting his experiences with the two children over the progression of the war. The book explores the innocence and strangeness of childhood, the development of love between a foster girl and her parents, and most of all the way that words can bring people together and open up possibilities.
Liesel is a young girl adopted by Hans and Rosa Hubermann, a German couple living in Molching, the plot centering around Liesel’s experiences as a young girl in Nazi Germany, experiencing the normal childhood moments of making friends and getting into fights as well as joining the Hitler Youth and watching parades of prisoners marching towards the camp outside of town. As she grows more accustomed to her new foster family, Liesel opens up, connecting in particular with Hans as the two learn to read together using spare supplies from Hans’s career as a house painter. Writing and reading become a window of opportunity for Liesel to explore the world, and kickstart her career as a thief of books: from unattended graveyard manuals to Nazi book burning piles. For Liesel, words become a new way of looking at the world, leading to some fantastic imagery from the author:
It brewed in her as she eyed the pages full to the brims of their bellies with paragraphs and words. You bastards, she thought. You lovely bastards. Don’t make me happy. Please, don’t fill me up and let me think that something good can come of any of this.
It’s a bit of an investment at ~550 pages, and the slow burn beginning might turn some away. Some reviewers also take issue with the relatively slow pacing of the story, which generally follows the daily lives and experiences of Liesel and Rudy, not all of which are intense or dramatic moments. I happen to think that pacing works well as a slow burn that builds a real emotional investment in the characters, one that really pays off in the end. Liesel and her family are some of the most believable and likeable characters I’ve ever experienced, and seeing Liesel and Rudy grow up and deal with both the innocence of childhood and the horrors of Nazi Germany is one of the hardest things I’ve ever sat down to read through.
I can’t recommend this book enough to anyone interested in an emotionally gripping drama with some genuinely fascinating characters, one with some of the most creative use of language and descriptions I’ve ever experienced.
“You cannot be afraid, read the book. Smile at it. It's a great book—the greatest book you've ever read.”
—The Book Thief
Reviewed by Gwen Hart
In her fourth poetry collection, Like (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2018), A. E Stallings uses her mastery of poetic forms to explore subjects as diverse as language use, current events, and the weight of loss.
The title poem, “Like: the Sestina,” is an unusual twist on the sestina form. Usually, a sestina has six end words that alternate in a prescribed pattern (e.g., see Tyler Van Swol’s “Bear Down: A Sestina” and Grant Lenz’s “The Show Goes On” in the third issue of Hot Dish Magazine). Stallings’ sestina, however, uses some variation of like for every end-word in the poem: like, dislike, alike, look-alike, unlike, money-like, I’m like, he’s like, etc.). The acrobatic uses of like are delightful and surprising, even while highlighting what “real speech is like,” as Stallings writes.
Stallings also takes on current events with several powerful poems about the plight of refugees. In “Empathy,” Stallings compares the life of a middle class family to that of a family of refugees setting out on a dangerous journey across water without proper equipment, their “cheap life jackets / No better than bright orange trash.” The contrast between the two families is striking, and the startling ending of the poem cuts right to the heart. The multipart poem “Refugee Fugue” fleshes out the issue even more. The poem contrasts scenes and perspectives, from children on holiday “making their sandy town” of sand castles while “Small bodies” of immigrant children “wash ashore, / Sea-chewed, a few days dead.” Each section of the poem takes on a different form—heroic couplet, rhymed quatrain, list, and so on—emphasizing the many voices represented across the sections.
In a tour-de-force multi-part poem in the middle of the book, “Lost and Found” (linked to here in Beloit Poetry Journal), Stallings describes a mother’s dream journey through “the valley of the moon /where everything misplaced on earth accrues,” from the houses of long-dead grandparents, “letters / we meant to write,” lost hours of sleep, faded beauty, and much more. I heard her read this poem at West Chester University’s Form and Narrative Conference, and the audience was held in thrall at the imagery—and the poignant ending, which I will not ruin here.
In conclusion, anyone who enjoys poetic form, or who is simply interested in the best of today’s poetry, will be well rewarded with a trip through A. E. Stallings’ Like.
By McKeely Tjaden
Becoming jane is a movie based on the life of Jane Austen. Becoming Jane is a Romantic Drama film that was released on August 3, 2007. The film takes place in the late 1700s- early 1800s. It is not common for women to wed for love. They don’t get a choice in who to marry. Becoming Jane is available on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and DVD.
Jane Austen is played by Anne Hathaway, as a young English writer. Janes parents have nothing to give her financially. Jane needs to wed to make it in life. Her parents find a wealthy and fitting man for her. Jane is worried if she were to marry him, she would lose her creativity in her writing. Jane writes about her life experiences and her love story. When she feels something for someone, she feels the need to write it down and tell people about it. Jane wouldn’t have anything write about if she didn’t love the man she marries. Jane doesn’t want to marry for money, she wants to marry the man she falls in love with. Her parents want what’s best for her. Jane’s mother married for love and they don’t have a lot, and the last thing she wants for her daughter is to end up like her.
Tom Lefroy is a bright young man. He is a lawyer, but he doesn’t like to follow the rules. His uncle sends him away from the city out to the country to straighten up. He believes this works until his uncle finds out the truth about Jane’s marriage offer. Tom Lefroy is played by James McAvoy. Tom has no money or property.
Becoming Jane was a very interesting movie, there were things that I loved about this movie. I really enjoyed the rebelliousness that Jane had towards her family. She knew what she wanted in life and she was not going to let anyone tell her what to do. I think other people would enjoy this film because it’s not just about Jane’s tough times in her writing, but it also shows us the struggle of her love life. I think Highschool kids will really enjoy this film. In the world now teens are always looking for love. This movie is a perfect example of not letting your parents tell you who to marry and marrying the person you love.