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Rear Window

Saturday June 5, 2010

You’re about to enter the restaurant when you happen to glance up at a nearby building—and see it happening through the window.

Glancing down at her phone she realized it was only 7:30, but it felt like midnight.  Here in the elevator, with the office becoming more distant with each floor she passed, she could finally take a deep breath.  How long had it been?  Could a person survive meeting after meeting without breathing?  The growl of her stomach let her know that it was quite possible, as here she was after all; evidently both alive and hungry .

The deli on the floor of her building was usually unappealing, but tonight she didn’t need appealing.  She needed a comfortable chair, a glass of wine and something warm that included both bread and cheese.  Grabbing a menu from the basket by the door, she settled herself into a small booth in the corner and leaned her head back into the cushion.  After a few deep breaths, she felt calmer than she had felt since checking her email more than eleven hours earlier.  She was going to survive this, she had to.  She needed this job and competition made you stronger, right?  Isn’t that what her Father had always said?  One thing she was sure of was that her Father would have had a LOT to say about her bosses’ latest brilliant idea.

Tucking her legs warmly beneath her, she could imagine the scene.  “Are you kidding me?  That bastard wants you to audition for your own job?  Alotta nerve on that one.  Stella, you hearin’ this?  These advertising geniuses have decided to make the kids fight it out among themselves because none of them got the balls to let one of em go.  You gotta cut somebody because business is slow, you cut the weakest one and wash your hands.  You don’t make it a game.  Sick bastards.  You’re better than that Gina.  They don’t deserve you.”  Thinking about her parents made her laugh, and that brought her back to herself.

By the time the waiter arrived with her Chianti and pasta, she had convinced herself that she would be fine.  She had spent the afternoon crafting the perfect pitch and she felt confident that her idea was good enough to keep her around.  The idea of competing with her colleagues  to avoid layoff was just plain weird and stood as further proof that reality television was having an alarmingly pervasive impact on American culture, but she was good and she knew it.  She would make the cut.

Pushing through the door and out into the windy night, the flicker of the deli sign caught her eye and she looked back just long enough to catch it.  A flash of light coming from her window.   She was sure she had turned the light off when she left.  Moving closer to the curb, she could see the outline of someone’s head cast in the light of her computer.  Someone was in her office, after hours, working on her computer!

It was Tim.  The weak link.  It had to be Tim.  He was scheduled to make his pitch just before she made hers and now he was in her office, stealing her ideas, and if he got away with it, her job.


The Kiss: A Memoir (Kathryn Harrison)

Friday June 4, 2010

It’s short, but certainly not sweet.  Darkly honest and terrifying, The Kiss is the story of a woman whose father enters her life for the first time in her early 20’s and makes her his lover.  I had never heard of this book until the author appeared on Oprah  to discuss incest when Mackenzie Phillips published High on Arrival.  The story was so unreal that I didn’t know what to expect.  Kathryn Harrison appeared poised and together on Oprah, but the pieces didn’t fit.  How could this seemingly normal woman have, by her own admission, fallen in love with her father?

If there is an answer to this question, The Kiss offers it.  Kathryn Harrison writes emotion brilliantly.  The reader inhabits the world of this story from the first page.  It is impossible to stand at the periphery.  Her writing has a percussive, poetic quality that makes such stark emotion feel safe and accessible.  We move forward and backward in time easily as Harrison creates connections between all three members of this desperate family.  It is hard to imagine a story that could be harder to tell, but Kathryn Harrison has done just that with grace and integrity.

In the Flesh

Thursday June 3, 2010

You see him in a café and decide to follow him. Two hours later, you’re sure—it has to be. It’s a character from one of your favorite books, in the flesh.

It was a  morning like so many others.  At least it started that way.  Laptop on the table and coffee by my side, deep breath in …… and then I heard that voice.  It wasn’t familiar, but it broke through my concentration.  Rung some forgotten bell in my mind.  Where did it come from?  Could it really be who I thought it was?  I had never even heard his voice.

The cafe was crowded and my table was wedged into the back corner.  Leaning and craning my neck was getting me nowhere.  I had no hope of matching the voice to a face from my vantage point.   Sliding my laptop into my bag, I eased out from the corner, walked towards the counter and there he was.  Red running shorts, sweaty grey t-shirt and a coffee to which he was adding lots of sugar.  Even without the voice, I was sure it was him.  There was simply no one else that it could be.  It was Garp in the flesh, ordering a post-run coffee at my cafe.

It wasn’t possible, but it seemed to be true.  In the  midst of a stall in my own writing, a character from a book I read fifteen years ago walked into a cafe in Oregon (where I was fairly certain he didn’t live) and ordered coffee.  As I was trying to find some thread of logic, Garp looked over his shoulder, smiled and walked out into the sunshine.

The Lace Reader

Tuesday March 30, 2010

The shoelaces – they weren’t meant for that at all.

“How do you keep your shoes on your feet?”

Only the slightest tilt of his head indicated that the boy had even heard the question.  The slow plodding of his pace continued down the hall.  Like no words had been spoken.  In truth, the white circle of shoelace that held up his Levi’s was hardly the most unusual aspect of his bearing.  But, you can’t exactly start a conversation by asking about the offensive statement emblazoned across someone’s chest.  Easier to admire his facility with a pair of shoelaces.  Rib the boy a little.  Wasn’t that they way to deal with teenagers?

“Hey, buddy.  You got a second?”

The plodding slowed and then stopped until the boy was leaning into one of the lockers that lined the hall.  He still didn’t turn around although the tilt of his head suggested he was listening.

********************Can’t seem to go any farther with this one *************************

Story Update

Monday March 29, 2010

There isn’t one.

How’s that for brevity?  In spite of my attempt at renewed focus last Monday, not one page was written in the days that followed.  That’s not entirely true.  Many pages were written, but none had a thing to do with the novel.  I guess that’s kind of like partial credit.  Progress was made, but not in all areas.  I would like to make an aggressively optimistic statement about my plans for this week, but I don’t work the “tail between the legs” look well.

Better to keep it real.  This week, I’ll see what I can do.

Breaking the Rules

Saturday March 27, 2010

Write a story about unknowingly breaking a rule, in 500 words or fewer. (Feel free to break some “rules” in writing it, too.)

“The moment I realized it?  I couldn’t tell you that.  I don’t even know that there was a moment.  It was more like an accumulation of moments.  I guess I don’t really know what it’s like, I just know what it is.  I know what it feels like to me.  Or what it felt like.”

The tremble in her voice rippled around the room.  She could feel that ripple in her own body.  What was she doing here?  Why had she even agreed to this in the first place?  Yes, she could see that gay folk sharing their stories with a bunch of straight folk was somehow useful and progressive and “opened the dialogue”, but why her story?  At this moment, she didn’t even really feel like she had a story.  She was, as her Mother would say, dropping the thread.

“Ok, well yeah.  Maybe that would be a better approach.  OK, well her name was Alison.  I thought she was the most unbelievably cool person I had never met.  Within days of meeting her, I was consumed.  Entirely.  Sixteen years old and wholly overtaken.  She occupied me completely.  Seamlessly really.  It was all ‘Alison this’ and “Alison that’.  Crazy as it sounds, it happened so totally that I never saw it at all.  I guess you don’t always see everything at sixteen though, do you?  Although my parents seemed to see plenty, or my Mom did for sure.  You know,actually, maybe there was a moment after all.  Or at least the start of one.  She was driving me to school.  My Mom I mean.  It was just the two of us and I was rattling about a movie that Alison had raved about that I just had to see.  Going on and on without any awareness of how quiet my Mom was being.  How she wasn’t really participating in the conversation.  We slowed for a stop sign and I glanced over to her side of the van.  She was just looking through the windshield, but I could see something in her face.  It surprised me, made me aware of myself somehow.  Like she snapped her fingers and everything came into focus.  That face told me that I had gone off the track.  Until that morning I didn’t even know I was playing a game, but the set of her jaw let me know that I was breaking the most important rules”.

Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris)

Saturday March 27, 2010

This is the kind of writing that I love.  Dark, smart and clever, with a heart.  The world that Ferris creates in Then We Came to the End is alive from start to finish. I haven’t read a funny book in a while and after reading a post over at Book Snob I decided to move this one up on the list.  Katy was most certainly right about this one.

As the yellow Post-it’s on the cover indicate, this is a book about an office.  An advertising agency to be specific.  The New York Times review remarked on how the characters could have walked out of The Office in either it’s US or BBC versions.   As a fan of the show, it should be no surprise that one of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the characters.  From enigmatic Lynn Mason to wildly inappropriate Tom Mota and chatty, do-gooder Benny Shassburger, each of the characters felt familiar.  Ferris chose just the right details to reveal their inner lives.

It’s not just the characters that draw the reader into this world, it’s also the voice with which Ferris has chosen to write.   Although there are small segments of the book that don’t adhere to this, much of the story is written in first person plural.  The book opens with the lines, “We were fractious and overpaid.  Our mornings lacked promise”.  Immediately the reader is drawn into this world, actually becoming a part of it.  The language is familiar and when it’s not familiar it’s funny.  After becoming bored with all of the traditional ways to refer to getting laid off, the group adopts a new phrase.  The next one to go is suddenly “walking Spanish down the hall” and making sure that you are not the next one to be walking Spanish is all that really matters.

If you are looking for something that will make you laugh out loud, Then We Came to the End is your book.