Young Bill Young here. English classes in my high school were broken up into four different nine-week sessions. One of the sessions I attended was on the Short Story, and each student had to read x-number of stories and do brief reports on each. We turned our collected reports in at the end of the session, and I’ll never forget my teacher’s written comment on my report folder. Next to the letter grade, she wrote: “You read weird stories, Bill.”
I still read weird stories. Case in point: Pastoralia, a collection by George Saunders. For me, this author’s talent is addressing both the insanity of modern life and the heartbreak of the human condition. In the first two stories, the despicable (inept corporate managers and a narcissistic self-help guru) are depicted with some of the best fall-down-laughing prose I’ve read in some time. Meanwhile, the protagonists struggle with real hurt and isolation, looking for a ray of light that never arrives on the horizon.
Two other stories are more hopeful. In Sea Oak, the matriarch of a hardscrabble family returns from the dead. She is no longer her sweet self. The dearly departed has some unfinished business, and she goads her family to work toward a better life. In The Barber’s Unhappiness, an unattractive middle-aged man finally has a chance at love, despite his obsessive emotional ruminations and unrealistic expectations.
You don’t leave Pastoralia feeling uplifted. In fact, you feel a little dirty and disoriented. Perhaps this is because the author’s perverse picture of America is closer to reality than we would wish.
Read an excerpt from Pastoralia
On the Okie bookshelf, we just received a copy of Two of the Deadliest, edited by Elizabeth George. One of Oklahoma’s best known and read mystery/cozy writers, Carolyn Hart has a short story, Your Turn, in this new volume of “Outstanding Women of Mystery”. You’ll also find some more of your favorites, including Nancy Pickard, Laura Lippman, Elizabeth George and many others. Carolyn’s story has a little of everything; greed, infidelity, twists & turns, and a keep you guessing ending.