Anna’s Song

Amy Lemoine Stout

“Anna! Stay with your mother! Stay with your mother!”

The panicked shrill of a woman’s voice outside her window awoke Ms. Anna Braun of 37 Pine Street as if God himself had spoken into her ear. Heart beating wildly, she leaned up against the window. At the corner Anna could see the little girl who shared her name, dressed in a pink jumper, bouncing off of the city bus and skipping along the sidewalk while her mother scrambled to hold her hand. In her raven hair the little girl wore a blue bow that was faded and frayed and with every bounce it was slowly falling out of her sea of curls. [Read more...]

Aftermath

Fiorella de Maria

He could still hear the sound of her screams. It had been the day the long nightmare had begun, but he had not known it as he strapped her into the pushchair and took her out for a walk. It was a warm spring day and he had not bothered to fight with her to get her mittens on–there was really no need for them now–and they had walked towards the seafront because little Liljana liked looking out to sea at the distant boats and the little white tips of the waves when the wind ruffled the surface of the water. It had been mercifully quiet, too early in the year for the tourists who would soon invade the beach like giant, beer-scented lobsters, and too early in the day for the children to start pouring out of their classrooms. [Read more...]

The Short Life of a Bird

Amy Kopecky

Yesterday I saw a baby bird. I was sweaty and hot because I just got out of gym class and we had played my favorite game—dodgeball. I’m the best in the third grade! Except for Brian. Brian’s even better than I am and pegs me in the head every time. The teacher never gets mad at him, even though head hits are illegal.

Gym is the one thing at school that I’m good at. Everyday I hear, “Conner, you could be getting A’s in all your classes if only you’d stop talking!” I don’t know why teachers don’t want me to talk. On TV kids always talk in class and the teacher never notices. Actually, teachers are a lot dumber on TV. [Read more...]

The Painted Veil

It took me a long time to warm up to this book, about 90 pages, in fact. As it’s not even 250 pages long, that’s a sizable warm-up period. I suspect that the original editors didn’t do such a good job, but, since it is at this point a book with a history, their original mistakes were left (lots of run-on sentences, a word missing from a sentence here and there, you get the idea). Also, it struck me as a trashy romance novel with no admirable characters. I was dismayed, as I generally trust recommendations from Heath Misley, a compatriot from my Wasting Time in the Western Tradition days in Manchester. So, I gritted my teeth, and pushed on. And I’m glad I did.

I know a movie was made based on this book. I think I even saw it a long time ago, but I don’t remember much of it. Do yourself a favor, though, and read the book, even if you have already seen the movie. I don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t want to give anything away (there were a lot of things that surprised me as I was reading, and I want you to be surprised, too). But, why should you read it? It admirably handles the problems of human weakness, pettiness, silliness and selfishness. All of the characters are real, and uncomfortably so. It’s never pleasant to realize that a writer so clearly understands human failings. It’s like when you go to mass and come away with the sure knowledge that the sermon was written with your unholy soul as a target. But, it’s also comforting to know you’re not the only one who’s ever been an idiot, to whatever degree that might have been. Maybe we’re not all so tortured as the whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory, but a failing is a failing. So, with that vague summary in mind, read it and prepare yourself to become attached to some less-than-worthy fictional characters.

The novel is set in the British Empire during the 1920’s. It’s primarily about the development of one Kitty Fane. Out of boredom and some curiosity, she acquaints herself with the Mother Superior of a Catholic convent (she herself is not Catholic.) As she leaves the convent for the last time, the Mother bids her goodbye. I’ve truncated the scene:

Kitty had a wild impulse to shake her, crying: “Don’t you know that I’m a human being, unhappy and alone? Can’t you turn a minute away from God and give me a little compassion?” To Kitty’s surprise the Mother Superior took her in her arms and kissed her. She held her for a moment. “Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty; the only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding.” (Vintage, 204-06)

Kitty is deeply flawed in many ways, but her biggest problem is that she is incredibly selfish. I suppose one might say that the book is really about her learning what it means to love. She goes through the paces of a few things, even marriage, because they are what she is expected to do. But, never having received real love from her parents, and being encouraged in a solipsistic existentialism, she’s a brat. The mother superior has told her exactly what she needs to hear, and, really, exactly what all of us need to hear.

If we gracelessly go through the paces of life, grumbling as we take out the trash, swearing at other drivers during the morning commute, blandly reciting our prayers, impatient at having to change yet another diaper, angry at disruptions of our dutiful routine, we’ll be utterly miserable, and so will everyone with whom we come in contact. It is far better to be 5 seconds later to work than to cut off someone trying to merge onto the highway. No one will be thankful that you took out the trash if you guilt-trip them about how much work you do around the house. A grumpy recitation of a 20-decade rosary has less merit in it than a 2-second shout-out to God of sincere gratitude for a piece of chocolate. And if you resent every diaper you have to change, or even every other diaper, don’t think your child will grow up unaware of that resentment. Kitty isn’t perfect at the end of the book; she does progress, but boy, she sure slips up pretty horrifically. Sadly, so will you and I (as we’re both already aware, I’m sure). I know it sounds trite and corny, but at least try to love people, really love them and be kind to them, as you go along making mistakes and inadequately performing your duties for them. Love covers a multitude of sins, and leads you to that happiness which surpasses all understanding. So go have some chocolate, or, better yet, buy chocolate for someone else, and thank God you can.

The Game of Sean McTeague

Eleanor Bourg Donlon

Sean McTeague was the sort of fellow who used righteous anger for everyday occasions. Had he lived in epic times, Sean McTeague certainly would have been an epic hero…or perhaps an epic villain. The trouble with epic times is that the difference between heroes and villains is sometimes rather vague. Take Achilles, for example–a more sorry excuse for a human being has never lived. One treasures the knowledge of his heel and waits with bated breath for the moment when someone will have the inspiration to tap the blighter’s hamstring. [Read more...]

499

Enrique García Máiquez

Translated by David Alexander

To the 498 Spanish martyrs of the 1930s and all those who suffered religious persecution during the 20th century.

The militia men shoved him out of his house, ready to make him the 499th martyr for some future beatification. Don Bartolomé let himself be pushed along, knowing that he had few hopes. Just the same as always. When he discovered that the leader of the so-called Death Squadron was Manolito–the kid from las Tejas–he thought maybe all was not lost. He had been Manolito’s teacher in the town’s school and he knew well that the boy’s brute force was matched only by his pride. [Read more...]

What He Heard

C.M. Schott

Dear God,

Bryan says he doesn’t believe in you anymore. I think he’s just trying to be tough. Please don’t be angry with him. I still believe in you. Amen.

~

Dear God,

This is Leanne. Well, I guess you knew that. Uh, I haven’t talked to you in awhile. I guess you knew that. Look, this is how it is: I really, really need this job. If you help me get it, I’ll do anything. I’ll even go to church again. I’ll quit smoking. I’ll quit drink—Well, you get the idea. Look, I just need this job. Please, God. Uh, thanks. Amen. [Read more...]

The Salvation of Glorianne

Dena Hunt

Brother Bob stood behind the pulpit and read the Scripture slowly and sorrowfully: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up, so the golden curls covering his thin arms showed when he raised the open Bible. He had been preaching for over an hour. The shirt was wet almost all over with sweat. His red curly hair was combed back into an oily ducktail with curls on top and a single small corkscrew curl falling down on his forehead. His eyes were light blue, and they could look icy mean sometimes. That’s why Glorianne thought he must be a good preacher. [Read more...]

Hemingway Fan Fiction

Over the last few years, there’s been a surge of interest in Lost Generation writers and artists. I, of course, am a little annoyed by this, as my previously held and possibly unhealthy fascination with that lot now seems to be merely a part of the cultural shift in attention back to the days of flappers, gin fizzes, and desperation. But, I’ll have you know, I owned the book Gatsby Cocktails long before the Baz Luhrmann movie came out, and I was positively stuck on Hemingway’s stark prose—and dark machismo—eons before Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. (“Your blood coagulates beautifully.”) But really, I can’t actually be as snobbishly annoyed as I might wish, because this widespread interest means I get company in nerding out, and I get to read and watch the fan fiction and movies that have sprung up around those stories and their authors.

A few months back I was in an airport bookstore. They are, as you well know, horrible places. As I scanned the shelves of trade paperbacks, tried not to be sick all over the harlequin romances and the popular selections for today’s teenagers, I prepared myself to leave with the aloof sense of intellectual and moral superiority that customarily and scantly comforts me in lieu of a good book in such scenarios. But, my preparations were all for naught. Somehow, my eyes got around a slightly corny cover (yes, I do judge by them), complete with “artistic” scroll work, and saw “A beautiful portrait of being in Paris in the glittering 1920s.” ‘Nuff said.

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, is a novel about Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. It begins with their meeting and subsequent courtship, and follows their story through their years in Paris until their separation. From Hadley’s perspective, we see Hemingway’s emergence as a young novelist, insecure and raging and eager as he rubs shoulders with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and, of course, the Fitzgeralds. In one of my favorite passages of the book, Hadley is awake, pregnant and hungry in the early morning:

I wanted muskmelons and a really nice piece of cheese, coffee and good jam and waffles. I was so hungry thinking about this I couldn’t sleep.

“Waffles,” I said to Ernest’s curled back near dawn. “Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

When he didn’t rouse, I said it again, louder, and put my hand on his back, giving him a friendly little shove.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” he said, rolling out of bed. “It’s gone now.”

“What’s gone?”

He sat on the edge of the thick mattress, scratching one knee. “The right words for the sketch.”

“Oh, sorry then,” I said.

I watched him dress and move toward the kitchen. Within minutes I could hear the coffee boiling and smell it and it made me hungrier. I heard him get his coffee and then heard the chair squeak back as he sat at the table. Silence.

“Tiny?” I said, still in bed. “What do you think about the waffles?”

He groaned and pushed his chair back. “There it all goes again.” (161)

Somehow, Paula McLain manages to write about famous writers without sounding like she’s writing about writers. She’s a good writer on her own merit, and doesn’t skate by merely with writing about people whose lives are already popular. Also, even though Hemingway was an indisputably flawed, oftentimes selfish and arguably morally depraved man, and even though the story is told from the point of a view of the wife whom he cheats on and ultimately leaves, McLain somehow manages to keep him a sympathetic character. Though his faults are blatant, they are nonetheless understandable on some level. And while she paints the characters admirably throughout, makes them real and believable and even lovable, she has also done the research to make her story historically accurate.

Be warned, however, that since most of these characters are artist-y sorts of “liberated” people, there’s a fair bit of promiscuity, some of it less licit than desirable. (See what I did there?!) That being said, none of it seemed gratuitous or written lasciviously or salaciously. So far I’ve lent my copy out to three people. All of them, readers and writers themselves, have loved it. I imagine you will, too.

Carla and Jaime

Arthur Powers

“Carla and Jaime” is an excerpt from my novel, Shadow Companion. In 1965, in a period of rampant inflation and weak democracy, the Brazilian military seized control of the government. After General Castelo Branco’s death in 1967, the hard-line wing of the military assumed control of the government. In 1968, there was a particularly severe crackdown. [Read more...]