“The Third Dumpster”

In her short story “The Third Dumpster” Gish Jen writes about two brothers who decide to renovate a house for their Chinese parents, who refuse to move into a nursing home. Their parents are intent on maintaining their culture and when they go look at the nursing home their main problem is the food. “Western food ever day? Cannot eat, they said.” (85) The brothers do not have a lot of money and so they hire two illegal hispanic immigrants to be workers for them. This raises some issues with Goodwin when Morehouse, the other brother, tells him that the hispanics are cleaning the asbestos out of the house, which is not only illegal but very dangerous. The idea of using immigrants to do their dirty work just seems strange when their own parents immigrated here as well.
The concept of immigration grows even more awkward when the brothers parents come to see the house. “Their father looked as much at Jose and Ovidio as at the house. Spanish guys, he said.” (90) The comment the father serves to distance himself from the spanish workers. The way he thinks of them seems weird since they are both immigrants and may have more in common than others.
The parents throughout the story try to maintain their chinese identity by separating themselves from Americans as well as other groups such as the spanish immigrants. They resist the western culture, even going so far as to call Americans “dump people like garbage” (92).
Taking immigration out of the story the brothers struggle a lot with their aging parents. We see them trying to find a solution for how to take care of them. In a quote about her story the author says ‘”the story behind the story was that I myself had hit some tipping point in dealing with my own real aging parents, where I needed to “throw off the too heavy burden imposed… by life,” as Freud puts it, “and win the high yield of pleasure afforded by humor.”’ (BASS Contributor Note)
This reminded me a lot of what my mom went through with my grandmother. My mom brought my grandmother to many nursing homes trying to sell the nicest ones to her by pointing out every little thing about them, similar to what Goodwin does in the story with “the smooth smooth paths” and “the wide wide doorways” (85) The whole process looking back seems stupid the way you try to sell a place, thinking you can actually convince them to like it when the truth is it will never be as good because its not their home. Gish Jen is right though at some point you just need to laugh. I saw all the stress it put on my mom and all of the frustrations she had to hold in but eventually to make it through you have to find something about it thats funny to make it through.

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troe

November 12th

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Encounters with Unexpected Animals

I found Johnston’s short story “Encounters with Unexpected Animals” to be extremely strange. Everything about the story is unexpected; a macaw on a mans shoulder, zebras with cattle, goats on top of peach trees, peacocks in San Antonio, the geeky son going out with a girl with a reputation, the detour Lambright takes with Lisa in the car, and finally the move Lisa pulls to one up Lambright.
Even though Lambright’s character is supposed be a protective father I found him creepy. Even his name creeped me out, being so different from the others like Lisa and Robbie. Lambright knows that Lisa has “a reputation, a body, and a bar code tattooed on the back of her neck.” which he sometimes notices “when her green hair [is] ponytailed.” We learn that Lambright is aware of his sons 17 year old girlfriends body and sometimes looks at her tattoo all in the first paragraph. We also learn in the first sentence that Lambright will be taking Lisa home after dinner. Maybe if we had gotten to know more about Lambright the first paragraph wouldn’t have seemed so off, but because it starts off with that I immediately got a strange vibe from him. The story grows more uncomfortable when Lambright takes Lisa “outside the city limits” and turns off the car to tell her to stop seeing his son. ”’Lisa,” he said, his tone pleasingly superior. He liked how much he sounded like a father.” Lambright seems to like being dominant and in control over others, especially Lisa. When she scoots towards him he notes that no one is around. He “smelled lavender, her hair or cool skin.” All the little details that he notices about Lisa throughout the story felt inappropriate. A dad shouldn’t notice his sons girlfriends body, tattoos, or the way she smells.
I almost felt bad for him in the end when Lisa runs away, threatening to lie about what happened. Lambright may have had good intentions when he took Lisa out there to lecture her but from the way the story started and how Lambright notices Lisa I think theres more to it. Lisa’s movements “stirred in him a floating sensation, the curious and scattered feeling of being born on waves or air or wings. He was disoriented, short of breath. He knew he was at the beginning of something, though just then he couldn’t say exactly what.” Johnston leaves us hanging with the feeling that something is about to happen. Im almost glad it ended like that, the story was strange enough without the reader knowing what happened, and this causes us to form our own conclusions.

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troe

October 28th

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Book Jacket

It is never easy to love someone who is slowly turning into someone else. As her mothers good days are replaced with bad days Tammy knows it is only so long before Alzheimers will take everything. She watches as her mothers memory deteriorates before her eyes, helpless to the fact that one day she will be left with nothing. Their relationship changes as their roles reverse, and Tammy finds herself struggling to play mother instead of daughter. How do you care for someone knowing that tomorrow could be the day they forget you?

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troe

October 7th

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“Chapter Two” Antonya Nelson

Antonya Nelson had my attention from the start of her story “Chapter Two”. She begins briefly mentioning an A.A. meeting before launching into a ridiculous story about her neighbor, Bergeron Love, who showed up naked on her porch one night. “Her neighbor’s nakedness seemed sad and enervated, breasts flat on her chest, a kind of melted look to her flesh, ankles thick on splayed bare feet. Southern belle in decline, a dismal After picture.” (page 173) The description seemed to depress the absurdity of the story. The image I had of her neighbor showing up naked on her porch is no longer as funny, instead I just feel sad for her.
The tense switches with the scene. The flashback has ended and now Hil is back in her A.A. meeting taking in everyones reactions to her story about Bergeron. The way in which her story starts with a bang distracts the reader from the other story that is being told. Hil likes to tell the story of Bergeron because she is “tired of telling her own story at A.A.” (page 173) Bergeron’s story is meant to take the spotlight off of Hils own life, which seems to be a failure. Bergeron’s crazy personality makes Hil seem more normal. Later she admits that “ It’s good to have someone else’s bad habits around to put your own in perspective.” (page 182) Nelson did a good job with switching from the present to a flashback; I never felt lost or confused about which was the present and which was the flashback.
Hils own life is never fully discussed. At the end of the story we still don’t know what happened between Hil and her husband or what Hil will do with the rest of her life. It doesn’t look too promising though. She leads a double life pretending to be almost a year sober at A.A. meetings when in reality she has not quit drinking. It seems her son Jeremy is supposed to be compared to Bergeron’s son, Allistair, who has grown up and left his crazy mother behind after spending his childhood embarrassed of her. Despite what Hil thinks Jeremy is embarrassed of his mom too. She is divorced, struggling with alcohol, and living with an obese woman. Soon like Allistair Jeremy will move out and on with his life.
At the end of the story Hil ends up finding a different A.A. place so she will be able to keep telling the story of Bergeron instead of her own. She isn’t ready to confront that maybe one day her life will end up like Bergerones with her son gone and no one their to love her.

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troe

October 6th

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“The Chair”

David Means story “The Chair” seems to move along through the main characters head rather than through action. I felt lost in his thoughts, much as I think he is during the day when he watches Gunner. I still don’t know how I feel about the story. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t love it. It wasn’t until Gunner fell from the wall that I felt the story really move. It made me wake up from his thoughts to concentrate on the action at hand, but by that time the story was almost over.
I felt a loneliness for the main character as his wife drifted further from him and more towards “the pull of the city” where she worked. I couldn’t figure out if it is really her job or another man that keeps his wife Sharon so distant, but whatever it is it leaves only him to figure out how to be the parent. At times it seems that he is unsatisfied spending every day at home with Gunner, but he tells the reader “It’s not that I feel sorry for myself in any way, because I cherish these moments with my boy, delight in being with him.” (page 117) However, I didn’t really get this feeling until the end of the story when he holds his son after he’s fallen and realizes what a “pure love” it is.
The first part of the story was more focused on showing the struggles of a parent. “I relish the line I have to walk between being loving and soft and coddling one second, and the next having to reestablish my command” (page 117). We see him trying not to assert himself too much but at the same time make sure Gunner knows he’s still there.
The story would have had a different effect on me if he had not had this moment with Gunner at the end. It meant so much more for him to connect with Gunner, because it feels as if he is slowly losing his wife.

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troe

October 2nd

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Response to Train by Munro

Although I might not have followed everything going on in the story right away I did enjoy Alice Munro’s story “Train”. What threw me off most in the story was the amount of time that passed between each event. As Belle tells Jackson about herself and how she came to the farm Jackson, admits that “He could almost bring himself to regret that he was moving on.” (page 130) Only a page later at the end of Belle telling a story the narrative jumps to Jackson thinking about what he has to do first to make the house more suitable. It was later when Jackson mentioned shopping in town and getting his haircut that I realized time had passed and he had already been on the farm for many years. The story jumped again when he and Belle drive to Toronto for her doctor’s appointment. This was a clear switch until he left Belle and began living in the house of Bonnie Dundee at which point I lost track of time again. When Ileane is introduced we get a flashback of Jackson’s time with her. I understood that her and Jackson had tried to make it work but it made me want to know more detail about what had happened between them. At the end of the flashback Jackson stays in the Bonnie Dundee house before leaving again.
One part I did enjoy about the jumping back and forth was how Munro had to create three strong settings; the farm, the hospital, and the Bonnie Dundee house. I felt the setting on the farm was most vivid for me with the peeling white paint, broken down henhouse, and the planks over the uneven dirt floor. My favorite part about the farm setting was the closeness to the Mennonite people, it made it seem like they were really in the middle of the country. “It chilled him. The buggy in the barn and the horse in the field were nothing in comparison.” (Page 148) Belle lives such a different life, as do the people around her that it gave me a sense of isolation which chilled me a little bit too.
Overall the story left me with a weird feeling. Even though Jackson was the main character, I didn’t connect with him or his story. I felt I connected and felt more for Belle. When Jackson left her at the hospital I was blown that he could spend so many years living on the farm with her only to leave her in a strange place. Later Munro gives a tiny paragraph to Jackson reading about Belles death in the newspaper and that’s it. The story was abrupt in the way it changed but I still enjoyed it.

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troe

September 25th

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setting through a characters eyes

My fingers traced the etches on the tree. KB loves SP. I wondered if SP loved KB or if KB was even still in love with SP. Probably not. Carving your name on a tree one drunken night doesn’t hold things together, despite what all the other initials might think.
I walked down the concrete steps and sat on the edge of the stage. An imaginary crowd stared back. They shifted in their seats and fiddled with their hands. I could tell they were bored. I cleared my throat say something but stopped. I was bored too.
The space was too big and I couldn’t think. I got up and moved into the crowd, squeezing in between a man and woman, but as I sat down they disappeared.
I watched a biker appear and disappear between the trees as he struggled up the hill. If he looked he could have seen me, but he never looked. I was in the middle of concrete surrounded by nature surrounded by more concrete. Close enough to be connected but far enough to be alone.
I got up again and climbed to the top of the steps. I pulled out my pocket knife in front of the tree where concrete meets nature. Layer by layer I chipped off the bark until I hit the flesh of the tree and then I kept digging. I scarred the tree with my initials. JM loves. The knife was light in my pocket as I walked away. I liked it better unfinished.

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troe

September 24th

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Story Fragment Two

Her red acrylics tapped the counter as he stared through the smudges on the glass refrigerator door. He didn’t have a favorite. Beer was beer after all. She watched as he pulled out a six pack of PBR, the can not the bottle. The cold air fogged the glass and she looked away. On his way to the register he grabbed a pack of beef jerky. He placed it on the counter along with his six pack. Her name tag said Candice.
She smacked her bubblegum before asking him if that would be all. He nodded.
“$12.46” she said.
He stuck his hand into his right jeans pocket, the only one without a hole and pulled out some crumpled bills. Candice twirled a piece of her blonde hair around her pointer finger.
She looked like a Candice.
He handed her the bills, not bothering to smooth them out. Money was money.
She left them crumpled in the cash register and handed him some change.
The bell jingled as he walked out.
His car was parked out front. The drivers door was dented shut after someone had run into him a couple weeks ago. He hadn’t bothered to fix it yet. Instead he used the money to pay for takeout and six packs. He walked to the passenger side and climbed in. The stick shift dug into his leg as he crawled over to the drivers seat. He turned the key a few times before the car sputtered to life. As he drove away he watched Candice in his rearview mirror, still chomping on her gum with a piece of hair glued to her finger.
As she watched his car disappear from the fluorescent lights of the Quickie Mart she was reminded how much she hated that car. She hated Rodney too and the way he tried to control her. His temper was wild like him. You could always tell when he was about to go off because the vein in his forehead would appear from wherever it had been hiding. It pulsed alongside his mood, growing and retracting until it had reached the point of burst. The vein never burst, but Rodney sure did. In a violent fury he would take Cynthia by the shoulders and throw her against the wall. She tried to cover the bruises at work, wearing long sleeves and jeans but theres only so much you can do for a black eye. Her manager Dave threatened to fire her. He said her bruises were scaring away customers. She unwrapped a new stick of gum and told him to go fuck himself.
She and Rodney were done. A couple weeks ago they were out at a bar when he slipped into a rage. She saw the vein before he could get to her. As she peeled out of the bar she passed by Rodney’s car. She watched it for a second in her review mirror before slamming on the breaks and reversing hard into his drivers side door.
It was dark in his car as he drove home and for once he was glad it was his six pack and not Melissa riding shotgun. He was in no hurry. He turned down side streets and wound his way through neighborhoods watching time slip by on the digital clock on his dashboard. He hated Melissa, but not really. He hated what she had done. They were in love, or at least thats what he thought. Do you cheat on someone you love? He didn’t think so but now he wasn’t sure. Maybe, Melissa had loved both him and Steve. If he had stayed home from work that day Melissa could have loved him instead, but it was too late.
They didn’t need many people at work that day and so he had come home early. He hung his jacket next to one that was neither his or Melissa’s. He kicked off his shoes in front of the door next to a pair that could have been his, but were not. He heard them before he saw them. He didn’t need to see really so he picked up his keys and left. He ended up at a bar where he wasted the rest of his night. When he came back to his car later there was a huge dent on the drivers side door.
Her shift ended at 10:00. She clocked out, leaving Dave to clean the Slurpee machine by himself. He muttered something under his breath, but she was already halfway out the door. The radio came on when she started her car, but she turned the nob to silence it.
She was thinking about Rodney. As much as she hated him, she still missed him and this made her hate him even more. He had always apologized the day after they fought, asking if she was okay and promising to never do it again. He would say it wasn’t like him to do this and he didn’t know what had come over him. She wanted to believe him and for a long time she tried. She considered going back to him until her thoughts were stopped along with traffic. There was an accident up ahead. The blue lights on the cop cars lit up the surrounding buildings. A bitter laugh escaped from her mouth as she recognized the building on her right. A sign in the window advertised speed dating. How long had it been now since she and Rodney had sat across from each other at a table swapping numbers? A little over a year ago maybe. If only she could redo it all. Who had been sitting next to Rodney and why hadn’t she noticed him?
He was angry at himself for coming this way, but after going down so many side streets he had lost track of where he was. When he had finally popped out on the main road it had taken him here, the last place he wanted to be right now, or ever for that matter. Traffic was at a standstill. Out of the corner of his eye he could see his PBR cans sitting there in his passenger seat. The seat where Melissa should have been. He forced himself to look straight ahead, but it was hard when the place where it had all started was being lit up by the blue strobe lights of cop cars. He couldn’t help it so he turned. Speed dating was still advertised in the window just as it had been a year ago when he met Melissa. Part of him wanted to go back and redo that night. Maybe there was someone he had overlooked. Who had been sitting next to him?
She wasn’t old, but she wasn’t as young as she used to be. She took her job at the Quickie Mart a few years back thinking that it would be temporary. She would get some cash and then move on with her life, but she got stuck. She had seen a sign for speed dating on a building downtown and decided to try it. Maybe this would be her way out.
`His life was going nowhere fast and he knew it. He was lonely. The last date he had been on was years ago. As he drove through downtown one day he noticed an advertisement for speed dating. He had nothing to lose so he decided to give it a go.
There was Sarah who liked cats, Jessica who watched a lot of movies, Cynthia who smacked her gum so loud Nate missed everything she said, and Melissa who was perfect. Melissa had brown hair and laughed a lot when he talked her which he took as a good sign.
Cynthia met Rodney first. He was strong and muscular and told her he liked her blonde hair. After she gave him her number the rest of the guys blurred together. She thought she remembered a Dan who liked to a hike, or maybe his name was Jim. There was a guy named Ben who said he worked in a library and then a guy named Nate who she only remembered because he smelled like beef jerky.
Nate fell in love with Melissa before he even knew her.
Cynthia knew for sure Rodney would be it. He was going to be her escape.

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troe

September 23rd

Uncategorized

Malaria

For me, Michael Byer’s “Malaria” is not about any of the characters specifically, but more about how they affect one another. At first the story seems as if its going to focus on the main character, Orlando, and his girlfriend Nora’s relationship, but from the casual almost irrelevant way Byer describes the way they meet and how their relationship progresses it doesn’t seem important. “I talked to her first at a vending machine where we were both buying coffee, and things progressed in the usual slow ways, we went out one cold night to look at the blurry stars, and that led to some kissing, and from there we started the customary excavation of our families” (p 47). Im uninterested in Orlando and Nora’s relationship which I think is what Byer wants. If not, he would have described it in a creative way. Orlando and Nora could have met anywhere, but they meet at a vending machine as they are both buying coffee. There is nothing special about a vending machine, and a lot of people like coffee so no coincidence there. Things progressed in a slow way (which I guess they would if you met at a vending machine). Byer describes the night as cold and the stars as blurry, two of the most typical descriptions he could have possibly thought of. So, from the first paragraph the reader can assume that there has to be more to the story than this relationship.

It is when Nora takes Orlando to meet her parents, the Vardon’s, that George’s character is introduced and the story begins to have some meaning, even if we might not know it yet. After a game of tennis George tells Orlando that he has malaria. Orlando keeps it to himself until later in the story when George becomes mentally ill. It is George that makes the story, even though the story is not about George. Without George there would be no point to Orlando and Nora’s relationship. Orlando finds ambition in his life through the uselessness of George’s life. Later in his life when Orlando is sick one day he seems to experience the way George must have felt everyday. “I shivered because I felt, as I had never felt in my life, alone in the world- not only alone but as though I were the only human left around.” (p 57) Orlando is not George though because after a couple hours he “returned to his senses” and went on with his life.

Byers story involves the lives of Orlando, Nora, and George. As individuals their story has no significant meaning but together in the ways they affect one another they become important. Through George’s mental illness Orlando finds the drive to do something that will define him as a person unlike George who is defined by whats wrong with him. Even the story is defined or titled by whats wrong with George. The story also confronts how mental illness effects all those involved with that persons life. What is different though is the story tells mostly how it affects Orlando, who is the least involved with George’s life. Through the story Byer shows how the events or people in our lives, no matter how inconsequential, all have a slight impact.

 

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troe

September 15th

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“Referential” Lorrie Moore

What stood out most to me in Lorrie Moore’s “Referential” is her use of detail. The way in which she describes each image is creative. “The thin scars on her son’s arms sometimes seemed to spell out Pete’s name, the loss of fathers etched primitively in an algebra of skin.” (p139) Algebra is such a strange choice in the description of skin, and yet she makes it work. Although, Pete’s physical appearance is never described except for his hands Moore creates a vivid image of the mother and son. The mother’s “graying hair undyed and often pinned up with strands hanging down like spanish moss.” (139) She goes on later to describe the sons acne covered face, and uneven haircut. No feature is just listed, each image is unique.

The story is made up of two stories; one in which the mother deals with her mentally sick son and the other in which the mother deals with her relationship to Pete. I felt lonely for the mother at the end. She lost her first husband, she can’t help her son, and her relationship with Pete has fallen apart. It seems like Pete is just a filler in the story. When the phone rings and the mother tells Pete someone is calling from his apartment he says he has to leave. It’s clear that Pete has a separate life away from the mother, and her son. I felt that Pete still stuck around, because he had been around for so long already and he felt he had some sort of obligation to the mother and son. “The love they had for Pete was long and winding, with hidden turns but no real halts.” (p138) After I read the story and went back to read the beginning I felt like this quote meant that they had loved Pete for a long time now and especially for the mom maybe the love had taken some turns or changed its course, but it never stopped. The fact that Pete is still around even though he doesn’t seem into it anymore makes me feel like this is the way its always going to be. Having a mentally challenged son limits her relationships with others. We see this in the tension that has built up over the years in her relationship with Pete. The mother has grown old with Pete, and it doesn’t seem like she has a lot of other options especially when her son considers him his stepdad.

 

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troe

September 11th

Uncategorized
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