Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Short Story Wednesday, "My Mother's Yellow Dress: Ann Packer from MENDOCINO AND OTHER STORIES

Ann Packer is known for her best seller A DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER, which came after her first collection, MENDOCINO AND OTHER STORIES. 

In "My Mother's Yellow Dress," the narrator, a gay man who has just lost his mother, remembers a party from his youth. His mother, clearly a handful but beloved by him, wears a very short and very sharply yellow dress at a party his father hosted as Head of the English Department. The marriage ends sometime after this and his father goes to California where his son rarely sees him. 

This is a coming of age story, where Buddy is watching the drunkenness and sexual behavior of adults for the first time.  He is embarrassed and perhaps titillated by what he sees.

 A homeless man, hungry, also plays a part in the day. This story could have been an episode of MAD MEN. You have to work a little to put it together, to see what the author is trying to say. It moves a bit through time too with scenes between Buddy and his adult lover who are making their way through the AIDS crisis. The writing is very good but perhaps a bit too many strands for a short story. 

I liked CLAUSEN'S PIER when I read it. An interesting premise of a woman whose fiancee is paralyzed after a dive and the dilemma of leaving a paraplegic. 

Kevin Tipple

George Kelley


George said...

I haven't read any Ann Packer stories, but I'll remedy that after reading your excellent review!

Margot Kinberg said...

Sounds like some really interesting stories, Patti! I've heard of Packer, but not read her before. I see that I should!

Jeff Meyerson said...

Another author I don't know. But I am always looking for short story collections

This week I read Ann Hood's AN ORNITHOLOGIST'S GUIDE TO LIFE, a book I enjoyed more as I went along. The title story (last in the book) is narrated by Alice, now grown but 11 when the story is set, in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1974. She is interested in birds, which she watches from her window while recovering from frequent bouts of tonsillitis, waiting to heal so she can have her tonsils removed. She also watches the adults, especially her mother, who she hints might be having an affair with one of their friends.

In "Inside Gorbachev's Head", the protagonist is Elliot, a 20 year old boy, home from college for Thanksgiving, to a very messy home scene. His mother has divorced his father (who lives in the city with his new girlfriend) and married the man next door. She is also pregnant. Apparently, unbeknownst to him, the mother has been carrying on with the neighbor for three years, according to the man's daughter. The title comes from the guy's ex-wife's obsession with all things Russian. She had a large set of nesting dolls, the biggest of which was Gorbachev. Elliot takes Gorbachev's head and fills it with the bottles of vodka she has left in her freezer. The damage divorcing parents can do to their children is nasty here.

"Dropping Bombs" concerns Jim's attempt to tell his timid, conservative mother that he is gay, upon her long-delayed visit to Los Angeles. This has a happier end than you'd expect.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have a collection or two by her but not that one.
You never hear about tonsillitis anymore. Or at least I don't. I had it all the time as a kid.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Me too! My brother had his out when he was about 10, but I didn't. Then I had to have them out when I was older - maybe 17. The doctor was a real sadistic SOB. First, he insisted I had to have it under a local anesthetic (why? ask him). Then he told me (exact quote), "Don't move or you'll bleed to death." !!

I hope he is rotting in Hell.

TracyK said...

I have had A DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER on my shelves for years and should read it. And try to find a copy of her book of short stories also.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I had my tonsils out a six and got pneumonia. Was in an oxygen tent in the hospital for ten days and was sick for months. The hospital didn't charge my parents for the surgery.
So many books waiting for us, Tracy.