Book description

Book info

eBook formatHardcover, (torrent)En
File size5.7 Mb
GanreShort Stories
Release date 02.09.1990
Pages count241
Book rating4.01 (87 votes)
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In another context, the lives of the women in these stories might be called grim.But in a book so saturated with color, I can only call them flamboyantly messed up.

This is what you get.Short declarative,descriptive sentences.Dense, poetic language. Vivid, colorful imagery.Symbolism, ruminations, introspection, meditations. This will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was intrigued by the use of language and mood created by it.

These dozen stories are set mostly in Los Angeles, Hawaii or jungle regions removed from civilization.The protagonists all have in common certain elements in their past or present:drug or alcohol addiction; rehab; awful, awful, outlaw men (or lawyers); loved ones with cancer; fear of poverty; and navigating the impossibly complex land-mined distances between mothers or daughters. They are all travelers, following men or compulsions, and struggling with a sense of resignation about having to adapt to where they are or will wind up. All of these women are damaged creatures not quite sure of the limits of their hopes or resolve.They often descend to new depths of degradation without understanding why, or realize their own dynamics only in retrospect. There is a mood of quiet desperation that is not quite despair.These women keep trying, at least, to understand their lives. Although I cannot say the trying is always an uplifting spectacle to watch, the reading experience is worth having.

In “Squandering the Blue” a woman remembers her childhood with an odd-ball alcoholic poet of a mother whom she, as a girl, treats with contempt and disdain, but bringing an adult’s perspective and understanding and regrets to the tale.

In “Winter Blues” a single mother who is writing a dissertation on suicidal poets (Plath, Sexton, Hart Crane) and trying to keep her young daughter entertained by wandering shopping malls remembers life with her former lover and the many places they wandered:

Erica considers Derek and the hotel rooms that lie between them.Always a shuttered window is opening onto an alley or a plaza with a monument, a bronze soldier school children leave tulips for. There are mountains beyond the city.It is India or France or Peru.Derek has removed the cameras from his neck, the many eyes he thinks justify him.He has fallen across the sofa as if harpooned.He will remain that way indefinitely.In between she will make herself smell expensive.She will put on lipstick, kohl, and high heels. She will put on pearls and a silk scarf at her neck.She will visit doctors and collect codeine prescriptions for him.

Derek will not tour the museum or take her to dinner.Beyond the hotel window, up a hill, are the ruins of a city Homer mentioned.Derek is watching “Hawaii Five-O” on television.It is dubbed in a language he does not speak.He studies the edges of frames, searching for something familiar. He is transfixed, as if he expected to encounter old friends.

And she thinks of Maui, with the ocean blue beyond blue, livid, newly formed.It was on the other side of the lanai.It needed neither purpose nor justification.It was a blue beyond the postcards.The sea and jungle resisted reproduction.The actual colors were an extravagance beyond the camera.Hawaii could not make itself small and conventional enough for the lens.Nothing could accommodate the glare of the plumeria.Or the green in all its permutations, uninhibited, rebellious, startling.

In “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta” the heroine meets an extraordinary creepy character on her way to an AA meeting.The way in which the protagonist reacts to this encounter and the ensuing relationship, commensurate with her own dysfunction, makes this the most powerful and disturbing of the dozen stories.

In “A Touch of Autumn,” creative writing teacher Lauren crosses the Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA on her way to an evening class, coveting a drink after three years of sobriety, bargaining, rationalizing her desire, remembering a former life as a younger, out-of-control alcoholic and drug addict (Derek makes a reappearance in these memories) and considering the meaning of her life as she nears forty.

She is standing in front of an angular configuration that might be a dog from another and more affectionate world.Above the sky is pinching out another meek night blue horizon.The sculptures seem to have shells. . . It occurs to her that the lawn is littered with autopsies under a half moon.Perhaps these figures of tortured metal tell us we are no longer of this world.We are ruins.We have the serenity of the utterly defeated, that which surrenders to the stasis of perpetual geometry.This is all there is, this cemetery of distortion and its hideous implications.

In “Temporary Light,” a divorced mother in extremely reduced socioeconomic circumstances tries to plan a nice Christmas visit with her two children and to relate to her own abusive mother, with varying degrees of success.

In “Over the Hill” privileged Beverly Hills wife Jessica contemplates her rarified environment, where her powerful attorney husband Frank controls her by constantly terrifying her with the prospect of poverty.Jessica is pathetic, but Frank is disgusting.

In “Points of Decision,” Jessica and Frank take a birthday trip to Hawaii.Jessica shares a certain compulsion with the protagonist of the first story, “Squandering the Blue.”

Jessica recognizes this fantasy.For years she has been haunted by the feeling that she must jump ship wherever she is and somehow adapt to the local environment, however alien or hostile.Whenever she changed planes, in Oakland or London, stopped for gas in Spokane or Houston, she was tormented by the sense that she must find a place to live there, a job, a situation. She is aware of the fact that her thoughts are virulent and inappropriate.Still, she finds it hard to stop.

In spite of her desire to escape, she realizes that people’s fantasies are often unrealistic:. . . she knows the secret lives of women who cannot tolerate water stains on their glasses envisioning themselves in Borneo or Java, ridding swamps of malaria, planting the crop.This is what we do, silently, subconsciously, we are lurching enchanted between the implausible.Men wait for their pina coladas, vowing to become charter-fishing-boat captains if the investigation reaches the proportion of a scandal.Men who cannot read the stars or a city map are planning to navigate a borderless green in hurricane season.

The last story, “These Clairvoyant Ruins,” revisits Diana and her eight-year-old daughter Annabell, from a couple of the earlier stories.They are preparing for and attending Annabell’s Christmas pageant, Fiestas de las Luces, where she will play the violin (badly).Diana and Annabell have common mother/daughter tensions between them, but they seem to be trying to mitigate the cruelties to which they subject each other. Diana’s revelations as she contemplates the meaning of ritual and relationships in this season sound a note of hope:

This is why we consecrate the days, Diana Barrington is thinking.Our birthdays and festivals, our rites and gods, these are the notes in the void.This is sacred, the invisible bones of hours and situations, infected with emotion.

We see the curtain close and we stand.We applaud.Our children wear ceremonial garments, velvet and wings.We stand motionless before them.We present them with bouquets.

Several stories end with, if not exactly hope, then something close, the feeling that an alternative may be possible for these women.They may have only glimpses of their own dynamics and the slight possibility of other paradigms, but it is enough to keep them going.

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