Distances Far and Wide
The 2010 issue of Glimmer Train is full of small, distinctive worlds. Through each of these stories, we travel to the East and the West, read about famous and not-so-famous characters, learn of loss, discovery, and danger.
The story "Can We Let the Baby Go?" by Nellie Hermann appears first. Hermann tells about Jack Melfi, who is ambivalent about the prospect of having a baby with his second wife. Jack is tormented by the memory of his first wife, who died in a car accident, pregnant with his child. Compounding the problem is Jack's desire for a female colleague. We might surmise that Jack is merely in the throes of a midlife crisis, yet reading further we understand that Jack's conflict has more to do with his inability to confide in his wife about his past life. Hermann's piece is a clever one, pinpointing the reality that life's circumstances often complicate personal relationships.
Following is an interview with fiction writer K. L. Cook. His insights enlightening as he discusses the core value of MFA programs, a writer's need for space and time to write, the importance of invention in fiction, and the positive aspects of teaching writing. Of teaching, Cook says, "Working with both undergraduate and graduate writers on their stories, novels, and essays makes me think harder about the nature and aim of fiction, and about the practicalities and implications of craft decisions." Cook's views on teaching are refreshing and inspiring.
My favorite story, coincidentally, is K. L. Cook's piece, "Bonnie and Clyde in the Backyard." We might wonder why Cook risks delving into the psyches of these famous killers. What more can be said? Didn't Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty cover it all? Apparently not. Cook's story is wholly engaging, with a narrator who shows us a softer side of Bonnie and Clyde. That Clyde is short-tempered is something we expect, but we also see a Clyde who enjoys laughing and who is excruciatingly polite to the narrator's mother. Likewise, Bonnie is a rather bashful, unassuming figure here. An intriguing piece, this story will prompt some to go out and buy a biography on the real-life figures Bonnie and Clyde.
"Captivity" by Abby Geni concerns a mother and daughter reliving the painful memories of a disappeared family member. Both women have seemingly moved on with their lives when the relative's former girlfriend insinuates herself into their lives via cryptic postcards. This piece is compelling in its treatment of harassment as well as the insights it provides on the aquatic world--the narrator works at an aquarium.
In "Us Hungarians" Stefanie Freele writes about environmental pollution, but never in a preachy way. She unfolds the story of three youth (two brothers and one sister) who live a landfill. Some of her characters are likable, while some are unnerving--one because of his cruelty to animals, another because of her oddness. In the end, this story wraps up on a pleasantly hopeful note.
"Ear to the Door" by Nancy Reisman is an eye-opening exploration of a cancer victim's world. Her Colleen valiantly struggles to maintain the life she had before being diagnosed with cancer. In an interesting twist, her daughter, Gina, must also endure temptation at the hands of her mother's former lover. Gina might do something predictable here, as the stress of the situation mounts. But Reisman surprises.
Matthew Mercier's vista of the Bronx in "Valentine Avenue" is perfect. From the story's start, we sympathize with Martin Ortiz who owns a bodega where he must be on constant watch against a wide array of characters, some more disturbing than others. In the midst of this, Martin must shelter his daughter, Olympia, who at age fourteen sucks her thumb. The stark contrast in how Martin treats his customers and how he treats his daughter ("precious," "[h]is only one") creates a strong feeling of foreboding. Indeed, events unfold to reveal an explosive situation. The final showdown intrigues precisely because Martin is so resilient and unyielding.