Archive for September, 2014

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.



September 25th


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.



September 24th


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.



September 23rd



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.




September 15th


“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.




September 11th


Story Fragment 1. Tanner Roe

I hold her underwear close to the floor and wait. She sways a little and I reach up to put her hand on my back. I tap her right foot and then her left, guiding each through their holes. I pull the underwear up just above her knee, close enough for her to take over. I look the other way as I hand her a bra. Her hands are shaky and I can hear her as she fights with the clasp. I let her try until she gives up, and then I turn around to do it for her. She sighs.

She sits in a chair now in her white skinny jeans with her leg propped up on the bathroom sink, and the other spread out. She’s waiting for me to do her makeup. I smooth foundation onto her face and watch as it sinks into her wrinkles. She tells me she wants to be as pretty as I am. I kiss her cheek. “Did you know Tom’s favorite color was blue?” she asks. I nod and she closes her eyes so I can dust her lids in blue.

When i’m done I give her a hand held mirror, which she holds in front of her face to inspect her makeup. There’s a slight crack on the right side of the mirror. I watch as she trails her finger over her right cheek in search of the imperfection. It’s smooth. She moves the mirror all around and sighs. “Well, do I look young yet?” she asks me. I kiss her cheek again. “Always.” I whisper in her ear.

She likes to laugh this morning. I listen from the kitchen as I scramble her eggs. The sound floats in and mixes with the hiss of the pan. I turn off the stove and move to the doorway. She’s talking to someone on the phone; every couple of words ending in laughter. I rest my head on the side of the wall and listen. I want to remember how she sounds for later. How many bad days had we gone through to get to a good one? Too many, and more to come.

On days like this I like to trick myself into believing I can still be her daughter, not the other way around. When she gets off the phone we’ll laugh and eat breakfast together. We’ll pretend I didn’t see her naked this morning. We’ll talk about work, because she remembers that I have a job. She has four grandchildren, and she calls them by name as she asks me about them. She reminds me what we have planned for today. When the phone rings after breakfast i’ll call for her to get it. I don’t need to listen, because she’s not going to give her credit card information out to the person on the other end. When we go to the store later she hold’s her own purse. She puts it down on a table to look at a pair of shoes. When she’s done she picks it back up. I never have to say anything.

In the dressing room we pass by a woman who is helping an older woman into a shirt. The sleeves are twisted. The woman tries to fix them, but can only seem to make it worse. Mom squeezes my hand. “Don’t let me get old.” she says. I lean in to kiss a wrinkle on her cheek. “You wont be like that.” I promise.

She wanders in later to eat breakfast. I put a plate in front of her as she sits down. We smile at each other. “Where’s Tom?” she asks. Just like that the day is gone. How do you remind your own mother that their husband is dead, and worse that he has been for months? You lie.

“He went to the store. Im not sure when he’ll be back.” I tell her. She doesn’t say anything, but I know she’s thinking. She’s lost in her head, moving further from me with ever question that ends in a lie.

At night I tuck her into his sheets and swaddle her in his comforter. I curl up beside her and search for her hand in the dark. I squeeze it as she rocks herself back and forth until she disappears from me. Sleep is never a relief. Her foot bangs against the bed all night. Sometimes she cries out for him, but the dark only echoes his absence. Other times I watch as she lets only a few silent tears slide down her face. I tighten my hand around her’s to comfort her, but mostly to reassure myself that she’s still here.

In the morning when she wakes I look to see how much of her has disappeared over night. I am terrified that one night she will lose me in her sleep. Her pupils are dilated; a black hole in the midst of a blue sea. Each night I throw her my hand as an anchor, hoping that when she falls I can keep her from sinking too deep. Now, I stare into her eyes waiting for the hole to shrink. I reach for a tissue to brush the dried up tears away from the corner of her eyes. She scrunches her face as she comes to. The wrinkles on her forehead join and grow into a maze of confusion. She tells me that her head throbs and she wonders why she’s been crying.

She’s bitter this morning, and she doesn’t hesitate to let me know. I pick out her clothes for her, and drape them across the ironing board. The steam from the iron hisses as I drag it across her white pants. One by one, I smooth out each wrinkle. When i’m done I lay them out on the bed, remembering to unbutton and unzip the pants first. I place the shirt face down so that she can slide her arms through on the bed like we practiced. Im picking out her shoes when she walks in holding a blue shirt and a pair of striped blue pants.

“Here you go Mom, lets put this on over here.” I say motioning to the outfit on the bed. She barely glances over, but her nose wrinkles up. “Oh Tammy, I can’t wear that!” she says disgusted. She thrusts the blue outfit at me. “It needs to be ironed.” she tells me. I stare at her, or whoever she is right now, until she turns her back to me. I hang the white pants and shirt back in the closet. They’ll wrinkle before she wears them again.

She struggles to get dressed, but she wont let me help her. I go downstairs to start breakfast. She comes down much later, and I can tell she’s been crying again. Her shirt is inside out and I can see her blue bra poking through the sheer blue fabric. She’s managed to zip her pants, but the button remains unbuttoned. I notice that she’s tried to do her makeup. The orange of the foundation has not been rubbed in, and its sits in blotches smeared around her face. She cant find the gold bracelet that Tom bought her, and so she blames me for putting it away in the wrong place. I burn her eggs.

She goes out to get the mail. I put her eggs in front of her and she pushes them away. I want to push her away, but I don’t. I crack two more eggs. I watch over her shoulder as she goes through the mail. When I see a bill I try to take it from her, but i’m too late and she opens it. She tries to pay it, but she doesn’t remember how. She dials numbers on her telephone hoping that maybe she’ll reach the right one. A dial tone pierces through the speaker, and I rush over to press end while she covers her ears.

She sorts the rest of the mail into strange piles. She thinks that we need coupons so she saves them, and throws away bills. When she leaves I work behind her, redoing all that she has undone.

She comes back in a huff and slams the door. I’m mad and I slam two more. She yells at me, because she’s sick. Im sick to yell back. She’s deteriorating before my eyes. How do you love someone when they’re slowly turning into someone else?

There’s quiet. I hear her heavy breaths from behind doors. Im walking to her now as I hear her cry out. I push through the last door and she screams.

Her eyes are frozen as she stares at me in surprise. She tries to close the door on me, but I hold it open against her. Her arms flail as she backs up looking for something to grab.

“Get out of my house!” she screams.

“Mom?” I whisper.

Her eyes are glazed and her forehead wrinkles. We stare at each other. She doesn’t know me and I don’t know her.












September 9th


Miss Lora

After reading Junot Diaz’s story “Miss Lora” I was left with a strange feeling. In just fourteen pages Diaz has managed to open two heavy topics; the death of a brother and sex with an older woman. Diaz had my attention from the first paragraph in the way he dives straight into the story. His writing takes me by surprise in how open and at times vulgar it is. However, this is also what kept me hooked. I felt for the main character who struggles with the death of his brother and the way he lets it effect some of the choices he makes. He seems confused in life. He has a girlfriend, but she’s not really what he wants so he gets with an older woman to get a taste of sex. He goes through more girlfriends, but ends up looking for the older woman again. At the end of the story I felt an eerie sadness for him in the last line “Both of you blinked.” He could never get it straight after his brother died, and we see that after all these years he questions if he would have still done it if not for his brother.

Along with the attachment to the main character I enjoyed the story being written in second person, once I finally figured out what was going on. The way he was talking to his younger self added to the sadness for me. At the end of the story he still seemed lost and to think about him telling the story to himself again and asking if he would still make the same decisions just seemed hopeless.

Although I couldn’t read the parts of the story that were in Spanish I thought it worked well. It added to the honesty of the story. Diaz is so open with the character’s thoughts and the vulgarity of them that there’s no reason that the way the character speaks shouldn’t be realistic as well.

“Miss Lora” surprised me and I like that. When I started reading the story I definitely didn’t expect the first paragraph to include “I’d fuck her. You’d fuck anything, someone jeered.” As strange as I felt about the ending I wouldn’t want it to be any other way, because the whole story is strange and thats what makes me keep thinking about it.




September 3rd

September 2014
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