Friday, October 01, 2010

The Dungeon Master by Sam Lipsyte

New Yorker short story “The Dungeon Master” illustrates the playfully funny yet sometimes seriously dramatic journey from a difficult childhood to a perhaps more complicated adulthood. In this piece the main character bares witness to a troubled friend whom he accompanies with other peers through the imaginative world of Dungeons and Dragons as they struggle with their insecurities by waging imaginary wars and stealing dragon's treasures. The insecure dungeon master consistently overstepping his claims of power and control by bullying both the narrator and his peers through the game forces the narrator to finally rebel and break free of his control.

Having broken away from the unstable group he struggles to find his own identity in the world. These adult struggles provide him with some maturity and enough distance from his former friend to see the issues that plague him. At the end of the story the Dungeon Master asks “No hard feelings?” to which the other puzzles at the stupidity of the comment when he contemplates how difficult feelings really are. It is clear that the Dungeon Master has failed to successfully develop into adulthood by refusing to confront his own feelings namely about his being kicked out of his house and his precarious future living arrangements. The strange question jars the narrator into realizing that his friend has graduated from troubled child to possible future suicide and that his own prospective is perhaps not much brighter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Warm Fuzzies by Chris Adrian

The Warm Fuzzies, a short story about finding finding one self through love in the confusing circus of life.

Peabo waltzes into Mollies heavily confining world, dancing to his own beat, untethered by the family's stern judgements and controlling behavior, sauntering strait into her bed.

Molly suffering her extreme family environment with bouts of an cynical alter ego voice finds a momentary escape with Peabo who mesmerizes her by rocking to his own beat remaing serenely impervious to the insanity around him. The family's music stops but he continues to hear own music, create his own verse, making his own rythms and rules so that when the father karate chops his family into silence Peabo not noticing continues happily to groove on. He is not dependent on them to keep his behavior in check or to be happy. He is free.

By the end of the story Molly loses the cynical alter ego voice through which she unwittingly sought independence from her controlling family because she too has learned to be free of them, making her own dance and music long after her family has stopped playing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Landlord by Wells Tower

“The Landlord” is a story of astonishingly stubborn passivity in the face of situations which necessitate decision and action. The theme if not common in contemporary literature is relevant as reflection of the complacency that plagues modern culture today.

Lord of the manor, lord of the castle, landlord, alas the narrator is none of these. He is fact tottering towards peasant-hood, having owned 52 properties but which has now precariously dwindled to a mere nineteen by his apparent inaction. These few properties, including the house in which he lives, are also threatened to be seized so that he is forced to envision selling the cottage his parents left him and which he had hoped to retire to.

Enmeshed by his inaction with comically troubled characters that take over his lifeless life as he simply follows the direction they push him sending him to and fro like an empty bag caught in the wind. Berated by his worker, manipulated by his tenants, chastised by his daughter, he accepts everything meekly trudging day by day in the decadent growing squalor which threatens to swallow him while never once rebelling.

From the first paragraph is another character with this passive tendency, a tenant who is waiting for life to knock on his door as he sits around reading motivational books from which he quotes to his landlord while accepting his lot of living in one of the most filthiest apartments. The tenant owes three months rent which instead of paying he has the audacity to tell the landlord that a man like himself should wear tailored shirts. The landlord instead of growing understandably angry at being told what to do with his money by this tenant who owes him thirteen hundred dollars and threatening him with eviction allows the conversation to drift casually.

Todd Toole, his employee casually and systematically bombards him with a flow of rude insults which he accepts as his due. His daughter who has moved back home and apparently has the means to help her father does not but instead obliviously humiliates him as a way of expressing herself. Then there is the tenant, Connie, who does not do her part at keeping her apartment pest free but orders the landlord to fumigate which might not be a necessity had she keep her food in a more sanitary manner. She then brazenly takes this moment to explain to him that she legally does not have to pay rent which she declares is her right covered by the constitution. After claiming this absurd idea she foists food on him which he doesn’t want, doesn’t like, but meekly accepts and just as he is about to escape her presence, she makes a date with him which he feels obliged to go on.

Finally at the end of the story, grasping at some initiative much too late, he arrives at Armando’s apartment to find it entirely empty and stripped of all hardware including fridge and stove with only a small note which the tenant had evidently left to himself. The note explains the key to all this complacent thinking, a self deluded dream that no action is required for success.

“Money comes easily and frequently”

The narrator puts the note in his wallet demonstrating his belief in this illogical idea while bringing our attention to a wallet we fear will soon hold nothing but the note if he does not abandon the foolish notion. ♦

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

An Arranged Marriage by Nell Freudenberger

“An Arranged Marriage” singles out that brief moment in life when children abandon safe hand-holding parental guidance to reach for their freedom to create their own world.

Amina who considers her mother a partner is wrong in this assessment, the mother holds a more powerful influence then a simple partner which implies that decision are shared, which is not the case here where her mother makes the most personal decision for her. Like a child she allows her mother to select her husband by following her strict list of requirements even though she doubts she can find one that will fulfill them all thus risking never marrying and most likely never going to America. Amina then also dutifully submits to her mother a perspective mates shortcomings based on her mothers requirements risking his disqualification. He enjoys Heinkens but "together" mother and daughter decide that he is "still a good man". However if the requirements and the value system being used is that of the mothers, then the judgment that he is “still a good man” is that of her mothers. Her mother is selecting her daughter’s husband.

This control over her daughter is again witnessed by Amin’s desire to put her picture online but patiently succumbing to her mothers refusal even though she knows it is likely to leave her with a smaller pool of perspective husbands to the very few unlikely men who do not care about looks.

Then even as her daughter is in America, her mother attempts to control the wedding while in India via telephone, insisting that she wear a sari though he daughter who has Western taste and who is being married in American to an American would obviously prefer a western styled dress.

Now she is in American and if the marriage was somewhat arranged by her mother’s stipulations of who Amina’s husband she be, Amina now has the freedom to decide what kind of relationship they will have. On just her third night in American deciding to use her newly found freedom she disregards her mothers orders not to have premarital sex and is completely unrepentant the next day when she explains her surprise at waking up next to George and not regretting it.

The phrase in the last paragraph stresses the theme of gaining independence well when Amina says “In Desh, you can make your plans, but they usually do not succeed.” What Amina is describing is in her own country, under her mothers dominance, plans can be precarious because her mother has power to cancel them and Amina must acquiesce. This is also explains why once married she is “dumbfounded” to the point she forgets to kiss her husband during the ceremony by her sudden realization that she does not need her mother and is entirely free to make her own decisions from then on.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Science of Flight by Yiyun Li - New Yorker Fiction

"The Science of Flight" is a touching portrait of a woman whose difficult past has created a desperate fear of intimacy coupled with a conflicting desire to have friends which drives her to invent stories to hide behind, to preserve her few weak relationships through and to dream with.

Zinchen was born out of wedlock to spite her father, kept by her grandmother to spite her daughter while being reproached her existance by all. Forbidden to exist, she secrets her self away into fragments of other peoples memories and assumptions about her to be snagged by the sharp edge debris of her memories.

The title, the study of flight, denotes the manner in which Zichen survives her past to build "a life of flight, of discarding the inessential and the essential alike, making use of the stolen pieces and memories, retreating to the lost moments of other people’s lives."

The word Flight in the title describes someone soaring, victory, leaving the nest, surpassing difficulty; yet it also has the more troubling meaning of fleeing, "to take flight", to escape. The title uses both positive and negative connotation of the word in that Zichen manages to escape to a better life in a another more prosperous country but she is always trying to escape her past, never landing, never still, never allowing herself to be herself. ♦

Read more

blueseaurchin at g-mail

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Second Lives by Daniel Alarcón

“Second Lives” is the oil / water separation between starting a new life and being tied to an old one through family responsibility. Families hold the key to our history and ultimately to our identity while starting a new life forces us to adapt and reinvent ourselves. The two situations never blend but remain separate leaving the main character to abandon his family in the middle of a revolution and a neighbor to leave his wife to the neighborhoods ridicule of her situation.

The main character illustrates this idea through his older brother, Francisco’s whos first letters describes the weather as a bather might notice the pools temperature while not committing to dive. Then by the fourth letter, immersed in his new life “he omits to ask the family how they are instead focusing the content on his developing social life at school.”

Then a again a few line down the main character notes “We did eventually get a photo of the few American friends Francisco acquired in those first months, and perhaps this could have clued us in about his eagerness to move on.”

The name of the family Francisco stays with is, Villanueva, means new house. Francisco who no longer shares his family’s experiences, instead lives in a new house, with a new family, in a new culture. The word “new” itself seems to imply a relacement of that which can now be considered old which in his case is his past, his family, his origins.

Francisco having completely acclimated to his new life continues to move from area to area even though this makes it difficult for his parents and brother to get their visas through him enabling them an escape from a difficult revolution. The main charactuer surmises that Francisco’s attitude must stem from him wanting to forget where he had come from in order to be american. After all, this is what the Villanueva’s children were attempting in their refusal to learn the Spanish language and which was stressed again when they warned Francisco immediately upon his arrival that they didn’t speak his language even though their father was Spanish and a Spanish teacher.

The younger brother soliloquizes that he understands the need to have a second life which he compares to peoples interest in avatars and virtual realty. He himself imagined an American life for years bolstered by his brothers experiences, and pictures as well as through his attempts to learn American culture.

Then their was another character that underwent this transition as well. The neighbors husband who left his wife to live with a mistress is another way of starting a new life. The writer draws out the treachery the wife suffers of being left behind which forces her to evaluate how well we know each other and perhaps who we really are.

She asks the mother “where are your people from?” then she continues “How well do we know each other, really, Monica? Do I know what you do?”

In the end, we comprehend this need to adapt and shed an old life but we are torn because we also cannot help but feel compassion for those left behind just like the little brother who hurt and bitter attempts to forget Francisco but fails.

Read more

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Train of Their Departure by David Bezmozgis

The Train of Their Departure by David Bezmozgis describes a powerful and unavoidably common theme found in society and literature today, a disconnected impersonal isolation from ourselves and those we should be closest to.

All of the main characters appear to have little emotions for themselves or those around them starting from the very beginning where it is explained Polina did not fall in love for Maxima but allowed him to pursue her into dating, sex and eventually marriage based on curiosity over his impersonal and "robotic” advances.

Even the secondary characters we never meet seem destined with the same fate: “her friends did not fall in love but descended into infatuation.”

Maxim, her futures husband is not immune from this disconnect isolation from feeling as he is described being attracted to her as one might a future business partner citing her hard working and serious minded attributes. Even when it describes how he brings her flowers it is viewed a perfunctory act by both Maxima and Polina with the phrase “he had established a habit of bring her flowers once a week.”

During abortion procedure, which is perhaps one of the most personal procedures one can have it is described by a physical sense of disconnectedness: “Like a magician’s assistant, Polina felt as if she had been split in two. The doctor and the nurse pretended that her top half didn’t exist and dealt only with her bottom half.” Her top half, her self is divorced from the operation.

During the operation she also describes focusing on only her top part pretending that what happens below is very far away as if the operation isn’t happening to her but a remote situation unconnected to her.

Then when she wages a bet with Alec to determine whether or not they would see each other again Polina makes an effort to shoot well “as if to win” as if to avoid seeing Alec again but not because she did or didn’t want to see him but simply because “she could not perform otherwise”. She should be able to make a decision whether she would like to see him or not and moderate her efforts towards those ends to win or lose but instead she explains she has to perform well as if she is at work and the outcome of the bet are of no consequence to her.

Later Polina discovers she is pregnant and confronts Alec tht she is “almost certain” the child is Alecs and not her husbands. “Almost certain” indicates she continued to have martial relations during her relationship with Alec just as Alec had keep himself occupied when he did not see Polina. This is not a story of passion and love but of people in the motions of doing things as one might find in a factory which appropriately enough happens also to be where they both work.

Although Polina is upset with the situation she isn’t passionate or even remotely emotional about where this might leave her relationship with Alec. When questioned by him about her plans she explains she can raise the child with her husband, alone or with someone else. The very possibility that she can think of someone else at this moment signifies that she is not overly attached to her relationship with either her husband or her lover or even a desire to be alone.

The ending is quiet ironic, as the one thing Polina seems to want vehemently is to avoid a 2nd abortion and the only thing Alec appear to care somewhat about is the welfare of the unbord child yet they decide to have the abortion anyway to preserve a relationship which seems at best based more on companionable convenience then about deep feelings.

This idea can be witnessed in the last few paragraphs when Alec decides to offer her to come with him out of Russia as a conciliatory/consolatory gesture for having the abortion which she responds to in kind by cautioning him not to “try to hard next time he will be telling her he loves her.” The title “The Train of Their Departure” can be viewed as a departure from the only thing both main characters hold dear, the unborn child which in the end, they don’t feel strongly enough about to keep.

New Yorker:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blue Water Djinn by Téa Obreht

Blue Water Djinn

There is a sense of pervading isolation in this story starting with the main character a young boy named Jack. Little Jack is left alone at a hotel in an Arabic country . He is placed in a context of a foreign country, immersed within a foreign culture amid a hotel with foreigners from different countries all as displaced and separate as he is but perhaps more so because he is the only child. He lives in the hotel alone with little supervision from adults which enables him to slip in and out at night and witness the drowning of one of characters labeled the Frenchman. Unable to make sense of this adult drama he keeps this secret to himself as he watches everyone search for the disappeared man whose clothes have washed up on the shore. The secret further separates him from those around him and weighs heavily on him.

The Frenchman like Jack is also isolated by being in a foreign country, but also being set apart from everyone by his substantial weight. When they find his clothes washed ashore they laugh at the size as they lay it on the sand, he is considered more of a joke then a person. The Frenchman does not have a real identity or a name and is instead referred to solely by humorous references to his portly size and his nationality.

The Frenchman’s drawings of things caught in the fisherman’s net is a symbol of creatures pulled out their habitat similar to the plight of the main characters: the boy and the Frenchman. It also speaks of the creatures final separation from earth, death. The Frenchman is aware of what they symbolize as the author describes him “There was something cowed and lonely in the Frenchman’s face when he looked at the things that came out of the water.” Then later again he is confronted by a turtle which has been hurt and pulled out of its habitat which it struggles with great effort to return to as it takes eight men to hold it in place. Again the Frenchman is aware of the turtles isolation as the author describes the scene through Jacks eyes. The Frenchman clearly wanted to touch the turtle, but the struggle on the beach made that impossible. The phrases bespeak of isolation of being ripped from the familiar but also the isolation found in death when the Frenchman questions the hotel employees about the crack on it’s back. He experiences a sense of lonely association with this suffering animal but even here he cannot touch it or connect with it because of the situation.

In the last scene the child is again alone on the beach at night looking through the port hole of sunken boat for the Djinn that the hotel employees have told him reside there which is off limits to all guests because of the dangers it represents. He is able to access the boat because of the low tide and we wonder if the tide will come in seperating Jack from the living like the Frenchman.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Dredgeman’s Revelation by Karen Russell

This story seems to investigate the strangeness of life and death, being and not being, living and not living. The main character, Louis is born dead to a dead mother and then as if he reverses his decision to be dead decides to live. Unfortunately for him he is sent to a family where he describes his escape from them as a coming alive, while also alluding to having killed his adoptive father. Simple put he has killed not to save his life but in order to live.

Louis later signs up for work on a barge where the crews lives our put on hold so that they are waiting their return to land in order to live again while Louis wants to avoid this return to land and perhaps to living to the point he fantisizes about sabotaging the ship.

Then, the end of the story, the ship does not return to land but instead catches fire which kills a crew member attracting scavenger birds. Louis discovers before being killed by these birds that he does in fact want to live just as death is at his door step and it is to late for him to do so.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

An Honest Exit by Dinaw Mengestu

An Honest Exit by Dinaw Mengestu

There are two exists in Dinaw Mengestu's story in which both man intentionally leave something behind to take back their identity and through this their dignity. Their exit is described as honest since it is departure from their compliant roles.

The son who teaches at a prestigous class leaves behind a job he feels he has unwittingly played the part of a trained monkey teaching class concerning a history which is not his own effacing his own identity as a black man. His father's death acts as a catalyst for him to grasp at his own immigrant history to reaffirm who he is.

Then there is his father who is forced to play the compliant puppet obeying Abrahim in order to leave Africa but who once in Europe rebels reassuming his independent identity and his desires.

Then their is also the fact that there is something not so honest about either mans exit from their former behavior. The father is breaking a pact he agreed to maintain with Abrahim, and the son has invented parts of his father's history. In order to be true to themselves, as adults, they realize that things are not so simple as the son students beleive them to be and that sometimes being honest is not a luxury we always have.

New Yorker: Lenny Hearts Eunice

New Yorker: Lenny Hearts Eunice
by Gary Shteyngart

The Game of Love is the salt on the twisty pretzel knot of life demonstrating how a little love helps us to endure the meadering knots we all work through which also perversly make us appreciate life, love, and pain all the more.

Lenny knows he will struggle, fail, lose his job, be abandoned by new generation and suffer their redicule but will hold on to love and savor the moments he has.

The salty pretzel is appreciated because of it's twists, gaps, and finite quality. Enjoy it now, it's almost gone.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gossip Girl: I want my friend back this will be easier done with serena out of the picture.

Chuck: I want my friend back - this will be easier done with Serena out of the picture.

He's not referring to Nate. He can always be friends with Nate even with Serena in the picture. It makes more sense that he is speaking of Blair.

He needs Serena to stay away in order to win her back. Chuck knows that if Serena returns she will act as a moral compass guiding Blair to stay away from the "bad" influence Chuck is based on her decision to trade a night with Jack in exchange for the return of his hotel. In order for her to stay in Florida Chuck is encouraging a rift between her and Nate so that she won't have any reason to return to quickly giving him time to get closer to Blair.

Blair's Moral Compass: I feel as if Blair is playing the part of Scarlett in the movie "Gone with the Wind" where she is attracted to good morals in an esthetic sense, while not truly believing in them. Blair and Chuck are not bound by the same morals as everyone else, it's what makes them so similar and spectacular.

Blog Directory - Blogged