Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Antrim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Antrim. Show all posts

14 November, 2014

Donald Antrim, "Another Manhattan"

Another story from Antrim includes a suicidal man, Jim, in "Another Manhattan." Two couples have affairs with each other's spouses. They all know but no one acknowledges it in the open. The most unfortunate aspect is that Jim suffers from mental illness. He goes into a flower shop and designs a monstrously large bouquet or arrangement for his wife who he is supposed to meet for dinner, along with the couple with whom they are cheating. Lots of POV shifts and activity simultaneously occurring keeps this story moving with a fast pace. It is really heart breaking the way Jim's illness is so believable and out of his control. He can't seem to do anything quite right and he's been treated for suicidal thoughts and actions several times already. Despite the complicated twists and turns in the short plot, it is the characterizations of the people, especially Jim, that is the strongest aspect of the story.

"Another Manhattan" is included in Donald Antrim's collection, all first published in The New Yorker, The Emerald Light in the Air.

a great review in The Guardian about Antrim's collection

Donald Antrim, "The Emerald Light in the Air"

The opening line of the story is at least 200 words long consisting of two semi-colons and many commas. It reads wonderfully fast and creates the narrator's desperate voice. The next line is equally engaging, "...he'd come across them [comics] on a dusty shelf at the back of the garage, while looking for a carton of ammo." There is no way a reader would stop at this point.

Next we see the narrator driving an old Mercedes, 1958 220S with a white roof and gray interior,  where he grew up, near Crozet, Virginia, and he has in the car with him a hunting rifle, a very specific rifle. And here's a jolt. He is not a hunter and claims not to be a "gun nut" but is a sculptor and a "middle-school art teacher." But he's not a stranger to guns, he likes to shoot cans off of the fence posts and often does on his way home from school.

It's a Saturday morning and he's planned a dinner with a woman, Mary Doan, he'd known in high school and had recently run into. This is the girl to whom he'd lost his virginity. On his drive to the dump the road is blocked by a downed tree limb. He attempts to move it and just makes enough room, he thinks, for the car to pass. He wants to get rid of Julia's drawings. She'd left him two years before and he finally was ready to throw out her abandoned drawings and paintings.

His car is stuck and it starts to rain. Here the title is used. "An emerald light was in the air." He thinks about Mary. Then we read again that he has considered suicide. "He'd had the Browning loaded. He'd had it ready and at hand, a few times." Despite the fact that his car is now in the ditch, he's able to drive it slowly in the ditch or trench. Then there is some backstory about vacations with Julia and the paintings they'd seen and loved. Tiepolo's Bacchus and Ariadne in D.C., at the Galleria dell'Accademia, The Rape of Europa. In some of the car description, it reminds me of the painting where Zeus is in disguise as a white bull on the shoreline.

Then he has memories of his time in the hospital and there are some descriptions of the types of art, sculpture, Billy makes, found object installations. There is some backstory about Mary and her father, an old-fashioned country doctor. Billy's doctors at the hospital seem to him as though they are coming down from the heavens to save him, rescue him.

Then a boy finds Billy and takes him for the doctor that he needs for his mother. Billy goes along. The boys, Caleb and his brother go to retrieve Billy's car while he is to tend to the mother sick with cancer. The man realizes Billy is not a doctor but Billy offers his anxiety medicine to the woman, in a sense, rescuing her. Then he must get home to prepare dinner for Mary.

"The Emerald Light in the Air" is the final story in Antrim's collection of the same title. All of the stories in this collection were first published in The New Yorker magazine.

New York Times interview by JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN