alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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What do these 3 books have in common?

common

For starters, they all have covers that I am embarrassed that anyone would see me walking around with. Maybe not the Raven so much, but that loopy red yarn ‘love’ that echoes the nauseating ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ and the wholesome mother (in nurturing Earth Tones) embracing her cretinous kid (also in a The-Kids-At-School-May-Spit-At-Me-But-At-Least-My-Mommy-Loves-Me palette of contemporary greige).

But what they really have in common is a great big FAIL that only I can see. At home I have this bookshelf. Okay, maybe two bookshelves. And that pile on top of the recycling. At my library, you can check books out indefinitely, so I’ve had some of these books 2 or 3 years. I promised myself that I would start reading them, and I’ve been pretty good about it. But I also promised myself that I would not, would NOT, check out a single other book from the Lenient Library until I had read and returned every last one. Guess where these 3 books came from?

These are (probably) not good books. I would never pay money for these books. But I was meeting someone at the library today and was 10 minutes early. So I maybe just kind of sort of wandered to have a look at the ‘New Arrivals’ section, and half a sentence browsed here and a page turned there and why not take them home. It’s hard to have shopper’s remorse about things that are free.  I console myself that 2 of them are short story collections, so I can read one story from each, feel virtuous (hello Try Something New mini-challenge), and return them with a clear conscience.


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Fat, by Raymond Carver

I read this story because Robb insisted. He thinks Carver is good. I think Carver has the sheen of cool around him so much that he’s gone a little greasy. The last time we had this discussion about 6 months ago, I dragged out one of my undergrad anthologies and started reading the one about the blind man (‘Cathedral’). I didn’t finish it. But now I’m all resolved, what with mini-challenges and all. I got specific. I said, What story? And he said, Fat.

I got ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” out of the library on Saturday morning, and finished my current novel Saturday afternoon, which meant I didn’t have any more excuses. I was thinking maybe I would read it over Sunday morning pancakes or something, and I cracked the cover to see exactly how much I was in for, and….six pages. That didn’t seem so bad. Even I can handle that.

So now I’ve got Reason #1 to read short stories. It’s called ‘Fast-Track To a Sense of Accomplishment & Triumph.’ In no time at all, I had finished what I set out to do. And you know what, Robb? You were right. I did like this one.

Since the story was so short I hesitate to do a normal summary. What could I say without giving it all away? A list instead, I think:

–There is a waitress.
–There is a fat man.
–The fat man would like the Special, but we may have a dish of vanilla ice cream as well. With just a drop of chocolate syrup, if you please.

The story is so compact that anything else I could say would either be wrong, or give something away. It is so tight, and so seemingly matter-of-fact that certain lines ring and ring with significance. The bit I liked best of all, was the last 3 lines, mostly because I wouldn’t have thought to put them there. Because I didn’t expect to find them there. The story had already closed, and those 3 lines opened. Suggested a whole different story had taken place before I joined the story on the page.

I was so reconciled by this point, that I even read the next story in the collection, ‘Neighbors.’ It was seriously weirder. And I kept wondering what would happen to the Kitty.


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My Book Cover

City of Shadows, 1992-1994

City of Shadows, 1992-1994, by Alexey Titarenko

A popular game with, well, pretty much everyone I’ve ever known, is “When I Have A Band It’s Gonna Be Called____.” Fill-in anything from “Dog Turd Minefield” to “Kung Pao Chicken.”

This is my pathetic writer’s version. When I have a book, this is going to be the cover. I love this so much it makes me want to write a book just so it can deserve the cover. My other book cover (the good thing about books is that you can have more than one, it just makes you cooler) is going to be something custom by Irina who did the header for this blog. What is it about Russian art? Why is it so good?


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The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue – Manuel Muñoz

This is the first book of stories in my personal short story challenge. I have long suspected that the brain-parts that allow one to *enjoy* a short story rather than just appreciate it at a slightly perplexed distance are deeply missing from my literary make-up. It’s very possible that I will read what is someone out there’s favoritest story in the whole word and dismiss it with a mild “eh” and a shrug of the shoulders. If that should happen, remember –before you throw soft fruit–that I’m the one who’s missing out on things.

That said…(deep breath)

munozI read about half of the stories in The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue. The characters live in a shop-worn California town. They’re Mexican-American. They didn’t spark recognition in me – that’s not my home–but I was comfortable with them, content to rub along with them for a few episodes. But allá–now that was something I recognized.

Allá (‘over there’) is an elegant shorthand for a whole way of not-belonging, of outgrowing your home and your family and your place in the world. Allá is what the father calls where his son lives in Tell Him About Brother John. Allá means: that place I don’t understand, that place I don’t see why you had to go, that place of strangers, that place where I would mean nothing, that place I am so afraid of I’m not going to call by its name.

Everybody who grows up in a small town and goes away to college, has spent time in allá. Anybody who has blue-collar parents and grows up to get a desk job, knows allá. Anybody who falls in love with a boyfriend, when their parents were expecting a girlfriend, is a permanent exile to allá.

In the title story, the one I liked best, Emilio works the 3rd shift at the paper mill. A pallet of copy paper falls on top of him and crushes his legs. After the accident, his father takes care of him — wiping him, turning him, lifting him, dragging him. Emilio has no allá. It’s more of an ‘in here’ than an ‘over there’. But to his father, he is just as inexplicable and just as disappointing as the son who goes across the country to mingle among white Americans in a faceless city, to waste an education writing stories that don’t make any money, to live and love with other men.

Emilio doesn’t in any way choose his fate, but he ends up just as estranged from his father, his family, his community, his own life. He agrees to go to the curandera because his father believes. Because his father wants Emilio to be better more than Emilio wants it. Because he owes his father. He knows the boxes didn’t fall on him because of the evil eye–and yet, and yet.

Does the trip to the witch woman help? The answer is actually in another one of the stories.