Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: A Short Guide to the City" Peter Straub

This story begins by reporting the deaths of six women by a person known as the Viaduct Killer,
the place where the victims were found. But then Peter Straub launches into what appears to be the description of a city, one that might appear in a travel book. 

At first it seems like an ordinary Midwestern city with the typical harsh winters, a vaguely incompetent mayor, the usual distribution of housing, classes, schools, political parties. But gradually we descend into a much more ominous landscape where feral children roam, where ethnic groups clash, where wolves, raised for unknown reasons, by one generation, still exist.  More and more we find traditions, creatures, habits that seem frightening or fantastical. There is a unfinished bridge that no seems to find unusual.

Straub's descriptions are so well done, alternating the real with the surreal that we willingly follow him along. The story succeeds on the evocation of an atmosphere rather than any specific plot. The horror is  palpable if somewhat vague.

In an interview Straub says that he wanted to take his native city of Milwaukee, and exaggerate its weaknesses to the point of horror. 

You can find this story right here.








Steve Lewis

Monday, January 25, 2021

Still Here


There is a scene in Ma Rainey that looks so much like this one of my grandfather's jazz band from 100 years ago. Except the faces here are all white instead of black. This was Al Deisseroth's band out of Syracuse. My grandfather was the drummer. In both, the pianist is standing. I guess that was common then.

Hope that by noon today, I have been inoculated with the first dose of one of the vaccines. I hear some sites are running out of vaccines so fingers crossed. 

The Criterion Channel has some of the films of Bertrand Tavernier this month, which I have always loved. So far I have rewatched A Week's Vacation and A Sunday in the Country. Both were outstanding although certainly not happy films. But thoughtful ones where an old man (Sunday) and a young woman (Week's) examine choices they have made.


Also watched Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which was terrific. Especially Chadwick Boseman. One monologue by him just brings his plight as both a character and a dying man home. It still had the feel of a play rather than a movie, but I love plays so it didn't bother me.

Also finally got my nerve up and started A Handmaid's Tale. It seemed too prescient up until now.

Also watching Flack with Anna Pacquin. Too soon to judge, but I have always thought her an interesting actor.

Reading The Wife Upstairs which is a reimagining of Jane Eyre. I have to assume the author had something specific in mind when two of her main characters are named Bertha and Bea. Very hard to remember which is which. Also reading The Creak in the Stairs, set in Iceland, and I am too lazy to look up the author. 

What are you up to?

Friday, January 22, 2021


(from the archives)

DIRTY WORK is the debut novel from Mississippi writer, Larry Brown, and it seemed appropriate to read it around Veteran's Day since that's its subject matter. I picked it up in Mississippi last month and just wish I had picked up more of them. I have RABBIT FACTORY around somewhere and will dig it out now.

Walter James and Braiden Chaney are two Vietnam Vets lying side by side in a Vet hospital 20 years after the war. Chaney has basically spent the entire time in a hospital since the war left him with no arms or legs. James is newly admitted with some sort of brain trauma from a bullet lodge in his head. He has also been badly scarred from his years in Vietnam. 
The two men eventually trade war stories, but this book does much more than that. It painted the lives of the sort of men who couldn't dodge the war--the down and dirty life they led in northern Mississippi. Much of Chaney's thoughts are dream-induced and almost biblical in theme. Who could spend 20 years in a bed and not retreat to such a place?

The two men do a lot of drinking with the beer Chaney's sister smuggles in.  They also smoke a lot of pot. Their stories are different and the same. It was men like these two who served in Vietnam and never recovered from it. They either died in body or died in spirit. An amazing and thought-provoking book.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Something is Out There" Richard Bausch

Back in 2005, I sent a story to a submission call for a new publication called MURDALAND. It was probably the darkest story I ever wrote and I was surprised when Eddie Vega, the submissions editor, took it and encouraged me to make it even darker. This would be the first issue (there were only ) two and the magazine was the lovechild of two guys named Cortright McMeel and Mike Langnas.  A lot of the stories were from real stars in the field:( Ken Bruen, Mary Gaitskill, Daniel Woodrell) But my favorite was from Richard Bausch, who eventually made this story the title story in a collection.

A family returns home from the hospital where the father is spending some time after falling off the roof after being shot. They are having a rare snowstorm, and the boys begin to shovel the driveway and walk. The women try to piece together what has happened. The man who shot the father has been captured and was a former business partner. They are also waiting for the return of another family member away at college. They are worried about him out on the icy roads.

The dread in this story is palpable: the storm, the fate of the college student, knocks on the door, is the father involved in some crime? And then the power goes out. 

Bausch takes his time to make you feel what they are feeling. In fact, when a knock came at my own door (something very rare nowadays) I almost fell out of the chair. (It was the mailman). 

Bausch understands that the threat of violence can be more frightening than actual violence. He gives you enough information to understand, sort of, what might be going on. The story ends with the woman, standing at an upstairs window, with a loaded gun. The kids wait downstairs baseball bats and knives at the ready. The other woman waits too.

 Superb. There are probably pdf's online if you care to read it. A new copy of that issue MURDALAND lists for almost $800. 

 Kevin Tipple


Jerry House 

Todd Mason

Monday, January 18, 2021

Still Here

Thanks to Jeff, I watched MEKIMI this week. It's the story of a TV performer who falls for a guy who quickly becomes an ultra religious Jew. She follows him down this path much to the anger of  her family and friends. It's a short series, I would have liked to know more

In catching up online with what happened after the series, the couple divorced and he returned to a secular life. Although I do not understand why women live in a sect where they are expected to spend their lives in the kitchen with their many children, I do admire their non-materialistic life.

And I really do find stories about people wrestling with this sort of decision interesting. 

When I was reading the Cary Grant bio, there was a lot of print given to how much he loved Sophia Loren, although she turned around and married Carlo Ponti. So I was eager to see this film with the two made during this time. It wasn't a great movie, but it was entertaining, light, and you could see the chemistry between them. Although he was 30 years older, she seemed older than 23. It had some of the poorest sets and background I have ever seen in a A movie though.  She certainly was gorgeous. I guess they figured that was all they needed.

Reading the Willie Vlautin book still, (THE NIGHT ALWAYS COMES) which is very good. Also a book by Sue Miller (THE LAKESHORE EXPRESS) on audio.  

Although I have put my name on several lists to get the vaccine, I have heard nothing. One more issue blown as we learn Trump did not have any stored vaccine he promised. Remember when we saved Europe after WW2 through the Marshall Plan. Now we can't save anything or anyone. It's a good thing no one is counting on us to do more than destroy ourselves.

What about you?

Friday, January 15, 2021


 I have been in a book group for close to twenty years and this is probably one of our five favorite reads over that period. (Other contenders would be NICKEL AND DIMED, LEOPOLD'S GHOST, and LAB GIRL) 

It is 1959 and Nathan Price, a Baptist minister, takes his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo where he believes he can convert the heathens. He is from the fire and brimstone school of preachers and this does not serve him well with the local population. The family is ill-prepared for the climate. They also are ill-prepared for the unrest they will find as the Congo tries to pull away from Belgian's harsh colonial rule. The novel does a great job of showing the reader how this period played out. King Leopold of Belgian would give a certain president a run for the title of worst person who is not Adolf Hitler.

The first half of the novel documents the many vicissitudes found by the Prices and practiced on the local population by Nathan. It is written from all of their POVS, which gives a pretty full picture of how this affected each one of them. Nathan gives little thought to how this experience will affect his family, reminding me of the father in MOSQUITO COAST and the parents in AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY.   

The second half of the novel details the lives of these seven people over the next thirty years. I have to say that half of the book is not as memorable or at least I don't remember it. It is hard to compete with the fiery Price. But a very good book all in all.