The World Needs More Wizard of Earthsea and Less Harry Potter

1 Jun

Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, though influential and well-received, is an underappreciated literary masterpiece. The reason it is underappreciated is the same reason it is great: its seriousness. We live in a dangerously unserious time, a Brave New World in which comfort, convenience, and amusement have become our all-consuming objectives and our unexamined reasons for existing. The consequences of this intellectual and spiritual vacuousness can be gauged in the last presidential election, in which over fifty percent of eligible voters couldn’t be bothered to exercise their franchise, even as a clearly deranged man, with open authoritarian and white supremacist tendencies, not only ran but won. Meanwhile, many of those who did vote treated it like a reality television show or sporting event. Our fifth estate, the news media, helped fuel the frivolity of the campaign, and indeed, helped elect our current president. The function of art has always been to counter the self-congratulatory groupthink of any society, the propaganda, that is, but sadly, our art too has been consumed by our collective demand for comfort, convenience, and entertainment. Harry Potter, adored by millions of readers and movie audiences, sadly does nothing but reinforce the status quo, comforting us with the myth that everything is just dandy as is. A Wizard of Earthsea on the other hand, published in 1968, asks hard questions and tells uncomfortable truths, ultimately demanding that we change. We need it, and books like it, now more than ever.

To illustrate and support the statement above, I will fall back on the old “compare/contrast” essay formula, limiting myself to first book in each series for the sake of space.

The comparison:

Both books, written for a middle-grade audience, are about a boy with a gift for magic, who finds his way into a prestigious wizard school, and grows into his power while confronting a dangerous nemesis.

The contrasts:

  • Audience:

A Wizard of Earthsea is considered a classic fantasy novel, but in my experience, hardly anyone younger than me has read it, or even heard of it. Harry Potter is perhaps the most culturally influential “publishing event” that has occurred over my lifetime. Harry Potter’s audience is huge; A Wizard of Earthsea’s is relatively tiny. Make of this what you will.

  • Heroes:

Harry Potter is a white boy born into celebrity and wealth. He did nothing to earn his fame or his money. Powerful people help him get into the land’s most prestigious school, where he is beloved before he even arrives by everyone except the followers of his nemesis. In school, he’s a talented athlete who doesn’t like to study but who gets by academically by leaning on a smart friend. He never does anything wrong and has no flaws.

Earthsea’s Ged is a brown-skinned boy born poor, abused by his father and sold as an adolescent into indentured servitude to a blacksmith. He runs away, and because of his verve and talent, is noticed by the village witch, who takes him under her wing for one reason: to use him for her benefit. Immediately, she tries to cast an enslaving spell on him, but he resists her magic, and, frankly frightened by his latent power, she sends him off to the regional wizard, and that’s how he eventually gets to college—a college where he is seen as a poor, backward rube, to be ridiculed or avoided. In essence, he’s the black kid from a traumatic and impoverished background who, because of undeniable academic gifts, gets admitted to Harvard. Like many kids in that position, Ged is far from perfect. He is insecure, angry, prideful, and envious of all the rich kids surrounding him.

In short, Ged is real; Harry is a storybook character.

  • Monsters:

Voldemort is pure, uncomplicated evil. He and his minions embody everything that’s wrong in the world. If only they can be eliminated, the world (i.e. England) will be “great again.”

Ged’s nameless, faceless, silent demon springs from his own weakness. Giving in to the urge to show off and show up the smug rich kids, he does the one thing he knows he’s not supposed to do: he casts a spell he doesn’t fully understand. The earth splits, the demon emerges, and pounces on Ged in a terrifying scene I still remember decades after I read it as a child. Ged is mauled, his face half ripped off, and he’s permanently maimed, walking with a limp for the rest of his life. His mentor is killed saving him, and the demon, his responsibility, is unleashed to wreak havoc across the land. Ged is left ugly to look at, permanently wounded. Compare his deformed face to the adorable lightning bolt scar on Harry Potter’s forehead.

In Earthsea, mistakes carry consequences. While Harry Potter never makes mistakes, and even if he did, they’d be quickly forgiven and fixed by his powerful handlers.

  • Magic:

Sorcery in Harry Potter’s world is treated lightly, and the study of it seems to consist of a series of kinesiology-like courses designed to train students to twirl their magic wands just so. The author shows more interest in the gimmicks of wizardry—the pets and capes and flying brooms and custom made wands—than in the source of magic.

In Earthsea, magic is a combination of knowledge, wisdom, and native talent. Broken up into specialties clearly borrowed from academia, the study of magic involves years of work in dusty archives. The wizard in Earthsea is something like a public intellectual, an old professor who is called upon when special knowledge is needed. Power comes from knowing a thing or person’s true name, which is to say, knowing its true nature. To learn the deepest truth is to achieve mastery. Wizardry and education are practically synonymous.

  • Final Showdown:

Harry Potter vanquishes Voldemort in the end. Not permanently of course, because if you get rid of the Evil Other you have no one left to blame your troubles on. Why do you think Trump and the GOP have never actually done anything to improve America’s outdated immigration system? Harry’s temporary but decisive victory was never in question. Anyone old enough to read a sentence can sense from the beginning that he would win it all in the end. Rowlings’ omniscient, authoritarian narrator does not shy away from telling her reader whom to root for, whom to laugh at, and whom to hate. She assures the reader early and often that everything will work out just fine in the end. No need to fret. Not only does Harry beat Voldemort, his “frat” also wins the trivial frat of the year award, gifted them by a deus ex machina move by the schoolmaster.

The results of Ged’s final confrontation with his demon are far more complicated. As mentioned above, Earthsea magic relies heavily upon the learning of a thing or person’s true name, and thus true nature. Knowledge of this true name gives the scholar/wizard mastery over the subject. For this reason, everyone guards their true name, and the sharing of it is a great intimacy and moment of vulnerability. Throughout the novel, Ged chases and is chased by the demon across the land until they come face to face, where Ged finally names the demon, and the demon’s name, of course, is Ged. It was always him. Reading the first time as a kid, I didn’t see it coming, but it was so perfect and so powerful I had to get up and walk around for a while to put everything into place. After the naming, I fully expected Ged to slay the monster; it was time in the story for the revenge I so passionately wanted. But Le Guin, unlike Rowling, was more interested in telling the truth than satisfying her readers’ blood lust. Instead of killing it, Ged acknowledges the demon, and compels it into himself. You might say he forgives it. This product of envy, anger, and insecurity, has not disappeared. It will remain in Ged forever, his burden, because the only way to control evil is to recognize that it belongs to us, to keep it inside and in check, or else it runs rampant under the guise of the Evil Other. This is an utterly profound truth, one that we have for the most part forgotten.


Harry Potter is a perfectly entertaining exercise in simple wish fulfillment. I bear it no ill will. A Wizard of Earthsea, however, is art of the highest order, the sort of work that can save us, philosophically weighty and yet simple enough for a child to understand. To read better books, to tell better stories, has become a matter of survival, I fear. I hope you’ll help spread the word about this great story.

Quit Sharing Political Memes on Facebook

21 May

dumb meme

Most of my Facebook friends agree with me ideologically. This is because we self-select each other, because most of us are writers, educators, and scholars, and these professions tend to lean leftward, and because I have unfollowed, unfriended, even blocked most of the active right wingers that have shown up in my news feed over the years. I’ve seen right-wing memes over time that I can’t unsee, gobs of hateful stupidity that sends my heart racing and kills my faith in human beings (never very strong to begin with). I don’t have the time, inclination, or emotional energy to fend off that kind of thing–and since I don’t have to, I don’t. I try to ignore the occasional troll popping up in one of my friend’s posts–and if they pop up on one of my posts, I simply delete them. They’re probably Russian-bots anyway, so why bother engaging?

Having solved the problem of right-wing nonsense in my little virtual cockpit, however, hasn’t flown me to paradise. Far from it. The problem is left-wing nonsense. Every time I open Facebook, I’m exposed to memes whose political ideas I for the most part agree with, or at least tolerate, so I keep the Facebook friendship intact, and keep myself open to more of these memes. What’s been grinding on me lately is the amazed thought that so many of my Facebook friends–smart, thoughtful, educated people in real life–post and share and like and comment favorably upon memes of dubious origin, memes that make claims with no sourcing, present no evidence for their infuriating claims, memes whose ultimate purpose–the same purpose of all political memes–is to make one group of Americans hate another group of Americans. The argument in favor of these memes is that these groups deserve to be hated. I refuse to think this way and live this way. I refuse to be lumped into a group and set to oppose other groups. Scoundrels earn my scorn one individual at a time, not in giant demographic clusters.

You may have seen the meme, several schoolchildren sitting on a bench beside a great master painting in a museum, each kid’s face buried in a phone screen. The idea is simple: Young people today are terrible. This meme’s been around for years, coming back to life even after being discredited as fraudulently misleading. The story behind the meme is that the kids were on a school field trip, and their assignment was to look at the paintings, and then, using the museum’s own app, research information on that painting–an excellent use of educational technology. Two of my Facebook friends over the last month have posted this meme along with some grouchy line about kids today, and even after being informed by their commenting friends about the meme’s essential falseness, both refused to concede that they’d been conned, refused to remove the meme, apologize for it, turn the lens of their scorn around on themselves. No, they dug in, defending their support of this baloney with statements like: “Regardless of where it came from, the picture speaks for itself…” These educated adults have internalized and are actively spreading the meme’s central claim: Young people today are terrible.

You know what’s actually terrible, or at least terribly ironic? Old people with tenuous grasps of technology getting duped by the very technology they think they’re critiquing, into hating the very generation that can save us from ourselves. See how easy it is to lump people into categories, to support one group while denigrating another? While it’s true that white people over sixty have–as a sociological cluster–benefited from economic policies that have protected their investments at the expense of wages and job opportunities (not to mention the safety net) for everyone who has come after, many of the members of this group have devoted their entire lives to fighting such policies. Even a blog post like this one struggles to find the nuance of truth when talking about people as groups. Memes, on the other hand, are simplistic to the point of worthlessness. Memes are lies. When you spread them, you spread lies.

What to do? Simple. Quit posting, sharing, liking, and commenting upon memes, unless they are funny or adorable. If you have something to say about politics, do the work. Use your own words. Write your ideas out. Check your sources. Just like in real life.

Looking for a Few Good Podcasts

6 Jan

It seems my corral of podcast subscriptions can’t quite keep up with  my post NYE, pre-going-back-to-work gym routine, so I’m in the market for some new stuff. Yesterday I looked at a “best of” list of podcasts online, and chose two promising shows. The first was WTF with Marc Maron, a comedian. I like to laugh so I went into it with high hopes. Jesus Christ, who is this guy? I had to stop mid-run and turn him off he irritated me so much. No offense to his 4 million listeners, but his brand of person-ness is not for me. Listening to him felt like being trapped in an elevator with a guy chosen “class clown” in his ninth grade yearbook who had just done two fat rails of crystal meth. He was ramping up to interview Bruce Springsteen but I couldn’t get through the preamble.

Next I turned to someone whose name I can’t remember but whose podcast is about panning bad movies–called something like I Can’t Believe They Made That. I love mean-spirited reviews of movies. It’s easy material to wring comedy from, but this guy didn’t seem able to handle the job. There’s a fine but crucial line between being funny and trying (desperately) to be funny. Running around the track while this guy shouted into my ears, I felt like visiting someone whose large, enthusiastic, and smelly dog won’t quit jumping into my lap and licking my face, all while its owner stands by smiling at my misery. What I learned about myself after those two attempts was that I require my podcasters to have the ability to chill out.

I should also say I’m not a fan of the super-produced NPR style podcast. The Sporkful? No thanks. (Sorry Adam.) I found the one episode I listened to dull, saccharine, bogged down by unnecessary cuts and sound effects, a lot of flash trying to cover an essentially dull story. (Let’s follow around all day a guy who sells truffles for a living. Wow, they’re really expensive. Wow, they’re really perishable. Will he sell them all before they go bad? Maybe we’ll find out after the break! …zzzz….)

My favorite podcaster is Dan Carlin. I’d even pay to listen to him if he put out an episode more than once every several months. I also like the Stuff You Should Know guys okay. I’m never excited about their latest episode (two per week), but I find them a solid backup plan in case nobody else has anything going on. The funny fellows at Worst Idea of All Time are definitely my speed, unpolished, goofy, smart. I balance their silliness with Dear Sugar. Sure, Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayd can get a little…a little what? Too much the cliche of the bleeding heart liberal? Too accepting and too sweet? I’m not sure, but overall I enjoy losing myself in other people’s problems, often finding they are a lot like mine.

I don’t think I’m hard to please. I just want something like the interesting, occasionally witty conversations I have with my drinking buddies. In fact, I listen to podcasts mainly to recreate the feeling of friendship while I’m sweating on a treadmill or puttering alone around the house. My real life friends are smart and funny, sure, but they aren’t exceptional, nor am I. We’re regular people who can talk about something that interests us without trying super hard to impress. We don’t require elaborate sound engineering to make ourselves understood. That’s what I’m looking for in a podcast. Is it too much?

Recommendations most welcome.

Your Pal,


Reviews of Books I Haven’t Finished: A Girl Named Zippy

17 Feb

Source: Reviews of Books I Haven’t Finished: A Girl Named Zippy

Reviews of Books I Haven’t Finished: A Girl Named Zippy

17 Feb

Nothing alienates quite like a generally well-loved book that you dislike so much you have to put it down. What do they see that I do not? I find myself wondering. Am I crazy? Are they crazy? Finally, we have to agree to disagree, to dispel the mystery of our great differences with a cliche: it takes all kinds; there’s no accounting for taste; etc.

I pretty much knew I’d hate A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel. Its cover hits all the wrong notes for me. I’ve never read a book with “girl” in the title, not Gone Girl, or Girl Interrupted, or The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, or Girl Raised by Wolves; I once bought a story collection called Out of the Girl’s Room and Into the Night for a girlfriend and she hated it. I didn’t much care for This Boy’s Life, by the way, but I suppose that’s a story for another day. I’m sure some of those “girl” books are good, but I object to the labeling aspect of it, the marketing code, the literary agent and editor and publisher and the marketing guru commanding them all who’ve agreed that if you put “girl” in the title, it will reach a certain audience, and so by all means one must put “girl” in one’s title, no matter how stupid it sounds. I like to think such marketing techniques don’t work on me. I switch deodorant and toothpaste and cereal brands every few months because I get bored with the same old thing and also because I hate the idea of loyalty to a corporation. I eschew rewards cards, regardless of what they promise to offer. I hate every airline equally. Online ads never reach me. Once I was trying to write a novel, and I thought one of the characters should wear a cowboy hat. For half an hour I looked at cowboy hats online, partly to procrastinate but partly to get a sense of the character; the novel was never published, but for over a year after that Amazon pestered me with cowboy hat ads. At first the constant ads were funny. Then the whole situation turned pathetic, like having some love sick stalker following you around every day, always trying to fix you with his sad but hopeful expression, begging for a bit of eye contact. Amazon, you just don’t understand me, and you never will, I wanted to explain. I think it’s best we just stay away from each other. Anyway, the other thing I disliked about the cover of Zippy was the picture of the baby. I actually like babies in person, sort of, but not on covers of books. This particular baby was kind of homely/cute, and the intent seemed to be a plea for sentimentality, pity, and a kind of guilt-inducing condescension. Aww, such a goofy-looking baby!

So why did I read it? My intentions were largely noble. I wanted to branch out, to learn something, to experience life as others do, to break out of what the kids call my “comfort zone.”

The truth was that I had always disdained memoirs, and then I wrote one. During the editing process, my editor actually asked me a read a few memoirs to make mine more like them and “less like a novel.” And so I read The Glass Castle, which I liked, a lot. And then The Tender Bar, which I liked less but still liked. And then I launched into a great autobiography kick that completely rejuvenated my love of stories, for by then, and without quite noticing it, I’d begun to tire of novels, and had already written off stories and story collections as mere showcases for MFA techniques. Fiction had simply become too fake-seeming to me. Please note, I don’t care at all whether a story is “true” or not, but I’ve grown lately to crave the illusion that they are true, and most of the recent fiction I’ve been reading seems to telegraph its artifice too clearly for my tastes. I’m now one of those people whose favorite writers are Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante; their books seem honest in ways that make other writers seem posturing. I also discovered Milan Kundera over the past couple of years, and though his stories may seem intentionally artificial, the ideas behind them, and the author’s voice, are authentic. I take books like The Book of Laughter and Forgetting as essays that use thin fictional stories to illustrate their points. So that’s what led to my experiment with A Girl Named Zippy.

Its marketing pitch was twofold: Zippy was funny, but more importantly, it was something rare if not unique: a memoir about a happy life. What can I say? Though Amazon wasn’t able to figure me out, this particular angle got through my defenses. I was intrigued.

I didn’t get far though. I don’t remember the final page number, and I put the book on a “free books” shelf, so I can’t pick out quotations to bag on–and I have to say I have no desire to insult or poke fun. I don’t recall anything about the first twenty or so pages worth ridicule. The writing wasn’t terrible or embarrassing, like the kind of stuff you see excerpted from Fifty Shades of Grey and the like. I just wasn’t into it. The “happy memoir” thing didn’t catch my interest, nor did I believe this particular claim of happiness. What I read didn’t strike me as funny either, though I could tell it was supposed to be. Reading it reminded me of a young guy I once met in a youth hostel, a twenty-something American who wanted to be a stand up comedian. He had the delivery down, but no jokes, nothing funny to say. Even so, he sometimes managed to get people laughing, at least late at night when everyone came back from the bars, drunk. The would-be comedian and Zippy shared this sense of someone working hard to be funny, begging for laughter in the absence of genuine humor in a way designed to guilt trip us into pretending to be amused, and perhaps even fooling ourselves into thinking we are amused, which introduces questions about authenticity, questions about the definition of “funny,” and “happy.” If we are laughing, we must be happy, mustn’t we? I get the feeling that maybe we’re not, at least, I certainly wasn’t happy or amused reading Zippy, so I closed the book, wished the author and her readers the best of luck, and moved onto something else.

Reviews of Books I Haven’t Finished: George Saunders

15 Jan

Title: Pastoralia
Last page reached: 32

In my defense, I tried very hard, putting the book down and picking it up again twice before resigning myself to failure. Still, 32 pages isn’t much of an effort, especially for someone like this author. I bought the book because of, one, the general buzz about the author, and two, a short story called “Puppy.” I read the story in an edition of The Best American Short Stories, where it stood out among the other selections, not just for its basic excellence, but because it bucks the current trend of realism in the published stories we are pleased to call “literary.” Saunders is a throwback in terms of technique, to the sixties, seventies, and eighties, the so-called post-modern era of fiction, when authors started with an assumption that readers were too smart for conventional narratives, and so their stories would mock themselves, winking at the wise readers as they moved along toward their fabricated conclusions. Some of that stuff is pretty fun to read and intellectually gratifying if you get the joke (which pretty much everyone does), but that stance, that smartass voice, grew tiresome after a while, and it was replaced by a return to various attempts at the illusion of authenticity. Saunders updates this post-modern mood in one important way: he is, essentially, a moralist. Instead of using the tongue-in-cheek, cartoonishness to discuss the limits of storytelling and literature in general, he’s here to tell us about right and wrong. Good for him. “Puppy” (not in Pastoralia, incidentally) is about a confluence of two women. One is a wealthy housewife with a spoiled son and a hard working but absent husband. The other is an impoverished “redneck” with a mentally disabled son and a hard-working but abusive husband. The characters are flat, stereotypes, but the final message is devastating. In short, the wealthy woman, who means well and who most of us would consider a “good” person, ruins the lives of the poor woman and her son, even getting a puppy killed along the way. Her problem is an old one: pride. Or to put it another way, a sense of superiority (the word “privilege” is the current term) that she isn’t aware of makes it impossible for her to empathize with the poor woman. It’s a great story.

Pastoralia is the titular novella that opens a collection of short fiction. It’s the first-person account from a man who works–in a curious alternate universe, it seems to me–in a kind of museum populated with live humans. His job, and his less-enthusiastic partner’s, is to act like pre-verbal cave man and woman in a little exhibit that gets pretty much zero visitors. They aren’t allowed to speak English, and spend their time hopping around, making fires, honking and grunting and roasting fresh meat. It’s a strange world and not a happy one. I was into it for a while, but then I wasn’t. It seems to me, the story–a thin conceit really, without what we’d call “characters” or setting for that matter–just goes on too long. Whatever dystopian message is on the way just doesn’t feel worth the trouble of forging on. So far I get that corporations are soulless. Our jobs are pointless. Soon we’ll be obsolete. We’re all probably doomed.Tell me something I don’t know! I just wished he’d got on with it.

Or perhaps my rejection of the book is more personal. At the point that I finally lost all patience, the female character’s drug-addict son arrives. In that comic-strip technique, the character shows himself to be utterly selfish, utilizing the psychologizing-victim-babble of the day to justify his horribleness, to demand more privileges and deflect all responsibility for his own horrible acts. I sense the author is going for laughs, but for me, whose brother is a deeply troubled addict, it just wasn’t funny. Perhaps others disagree.

In closing, I’ll likely give this book another try sometime, probably skipping ahead to the next short story in the collection. I have found that the skills it takes to write a novel and a short story aren’t as overlapping as most assume. Some writers just don’t do long very well, and others aren’t very good at short. And hey, there’s no shame in that. Most of us aren’t too good at either.

Reviews of Books I Haven’t Finished

13 Jan

A friend of mine shocked me one day by proclaiming that once he starts a book he always finishes it. I’m just not like that. When I begin to hate a book, or lose trust in the author, I toss it aside, perhaps too hastily in some cases. The result is that my house and office are cluttered with cast-off novels, story collections, memoirs, and so on. They oppress me, these books that I usually have paid good money for, lying about or taking up shelf space, giving off this one message: you are a loser, a quitter, I was just about to get good when you gave up. Sometimes I actually do pick them up again, and on one instance–the only such in memory–the book proved my initial instinct wrong. Every other time it’s been the same thing, more angry reading, boredom, and finally defeat.

I hate the waste of it all. The wasted time, the wasted money. I also feel weird, off kilter, because pretty much every book I begin starts with full-throated recommendations from smart friends or, more often, literary consensus. I should like such and such. Everybody else does. Why can’t I? Am I stupid, still a plebe with greasy fingernails even after decades of education meant to transform me into something better, more delicate, sweeter smelling?

To try to answer this question, and to recycle, in a sense, the time and money wasted on these many books, I thought I’d go public with some of my efforts. Here will follow some recently abandoned books, how far I made it and why I gave up. I’m curious to hear your reactions. I’ll start with a controversial one.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.
Last page: 96.
I expect some blow back on this one. The winner of the Pen Hemingway. A “modern classic.” One of the best writers I know commanded me to read it. It’s the kind of book that blows people away, changes their lives. I hated it, at least the one-third I read. The language is what’s most praised about it and it’s what I hated most. I kept hearing the voice in the lilting tones of a poetry reading. I actually like poetry readings and I like reading poetry, but the thing with readings is that you aren’t compelled to pay attention the whole time. A few images impress you, a few complete poems make sense. Otherwise, you watch the poet, look around the room, and know whatever poem is happening will soon end. Likewise for reading poetry. Read one, take a break. Read another tomorrow, or next week. Go crazy and read three in a row. Whatever you like. When I read a  novel, I settle in for at least an hour in the world the author has created, and being subjected to hyper-artificial-sounding language for that long is taxing and irritating and distracting. To my ears, this author/narrator sounds pretentious and full of shit. I feel like I’m being lied to, conned in a way.

Other than the language, the story is about two girls in a small town, their troubles basically. The setup is quite similar to another book I’m reading right now, and LOVING: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. The difference between Ferrante’s and Robinson’s characters is that Ferrante’s girls are in constant conflict, with each other and with the world around them. They love each other, need each other, but also desperately want to destroy, to defeat each other. Their desires are huge and electrify the narrative. Robinson’s characters are lifeless observers in comparison, sitting around waiting for (mostly bad) things to happen to them. Robinson’s outsized language, it seems to me, is meant to make up for this lack of narrative drive. In short, choose twenty pages in Housekeeping and you’re likely to get eighteen pages of the author/narrator’s flowery observations on, for instance, the wind rushing through the town and animating the leaves, and two pages of people doing stuff. Those numbers need to be reversed.

“Rose Wept,” by William Trevor

14 Feb

After the last two stories under discussion, this one may seem downright conventional, and yet, its shape is quite distinctive. Let’s try to get to the bottom of this rather understated, curiously affecting story, by discussing the following questions.

Why do you suppose the author chose to tell the story from Rose’s point of view? How would it have been a different story from Mr. Bouverie’s point of view, or his wife’s, the lover’s?

Speaking of point of view, how would you describe the narrative voice? The point of view is certainly Rose’s, but the narrator looking over her shoulder seems to be another presence entirely.

The conflict, of course, is the ongoing affair, but most of the story barely confronts this painful happening. Why should the author concern himself with the coffee house, Rose’s house, and the tutor room, instead of the bedroom where the real action is taking place?

Describe the “weave” pattern. What are the threads? How do they “tie” together?

Much of this story’s power, or charm at least, rests on allusions. Can you find any famous allusions here?

How does the final paragraph justify the rest of the story, link all the various aspects together?

“Keith,” by Ron Carlson

13 Feb

Here we have a story that combines–to unusual effect–lightness of tone and heart-wrenching pathos. It’s quite funny throughout and, finally, sad as hell. Taken in the context of our textbook chapter on revision, please consider the following questions.

How does “chemistry” function in this story, both metaphorically and practically? To put it another way, how would the story change if they’d met in, say, history, or English, or whatever? Surely any of those other classes might assign students to be partners.

How has the author prepared us for Barbara, against most common sense, actually going out with Keith in the first place? Why does she do it?

Do you feel sorry for Brian? Why or why not?

What role does Trish play? Why is she vital to the story? (Or is she?)

Usually stories are either funny or sad. Not too many of them are both. Why is this, and how has the author managed to have it both ways in this story?

Look at the earlier draft of “Keith” in your text, and read the penultimate section. In the earlier version it takes place while Keith is washing his truck. The final version is set in the airport. Why did Carlson make this change?

“Father Returns from the Mountain,” by Luis Alberto Urrea

12 Feb

Here we have a lyrical, genre-blending story/essay/prose poem. A lot going on here, formally. And underneath it all rests an ancient story about a son losing his father. Consider the questions below.

Having just read Rick Moody’s “Boys,” we can’t help but see some similarities, as well as important differences. Please compare these two stories.

Surely we have a conflict here. Father has died, and the son is shocked, wounded, and must deal with the death, both physically, intellectually, and spiritually. But is there a crisis, or climax? If so, identify it.

How does the metaphor of truth being a broken mirror work for this story? What is its message?

In your opinion, did the writer get away with turning his father into a ghost? What’s your criteria for making this judgement.

Is this more a story, poem, or essay? Surely it blends all three, but does one genre carry most of the weight?