Short Stories All the Time

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

28 August, 2016

Molly Giles, "Pie Dance"

The story, "Pie Dance," was read on Selected Shorts by Cynthia Nixon. It's told in first-person point of view and takes place within a short space of one day, mostly on the front porch between two women, the ex-wife and the current wife. It seems Pauline, the new and much younger wife, appears for no reason, and has several times before, on the porch, refuses to enter, doesn't knock, just sits on the porch. Some discussion goes back and forth, small talk, between the two women, the ex-wife never leaving the doorway. The dog, Stray, is the ex-wife's companion and in the course of the conversation between the two women, the ex-wife admits that Stray is a good dancer when asked if he can perform any tricks. "So when Pauline says, 'can it do tricks?' I try to keep the rush of passion from my eyes; I try to keep my voice down. 'He can dance,' I admit."  There's a twist; Konrad, the protagonist's ex-husband appears as do the three young daughters, and the story ends with reggae music starting to play that is a particular strength of Stray's.

I think, for me, the theme of the story is that once a person sees a situation from a different viewpoint, he or she can make a decision to move on and find purpose and strength in doing what is best. Her husband was not much of a companion, nor was he much of a principled man, that he is so easily replaced with a dog. Or, dog is sometimes woman's best friend. Or, wisdom will come, eventually, and that comfort in wisdom is possible.

I enjoyed hearing this story again. It's included in Giles's collection, Rough Translations which was the winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction in 1985. "Pie Dance" was first published in the journal, North American Review.

06 September, 2015

Molly Giles, "Creek Walk"

Ann is at her parents' house cleaning out her mother's bedroom and bathroom. The mother, Lila, died just the day before. She'd been ill a very long time with many ailments, most brought on herself, according to her doctors. "She would recover from one ailment only to come down with another. Part of it, the doctors said, was her own fault." The story portrays a woman who is happy that her mother has died but is also grieving. She never liked her mother until right at the end when Ann could see some kindness in her mother that had never been available to the daughter or grandson, for that matter. The last sentence Lila said to her young grandson was that he shouldn't kiss her until he'd washed his face. The story shows the complexity of emotions and ideas about how to live and what's important. It's not always so clear even when we think we know how we feel. "But losing Lila was not that important. After a certain age, no one needed a mother."

One of my favorite sentences, "But it seemed to her that for most of his life her father had been struggling to capture the same woman she had been struggling to escape. She had a daughter's history of resistance that he, as a husband, lacked." We can also discover and remember in this story how different each relationship is within a family.  "Mama. Who was Mama? Lila wasn't Mama. Lila was a tall blond in glasses."

"Creek Walk" is a fantastic story and deserves multiple readings. I've read it three times back to back and have only mentioned a few of its themes and ideas here. The story is written in third person point of view but is so close and limited that it feels almost like a first person point of view story.

Molly Giles collection, Creek Walk and Other Stories was published in 1996 by Scribner Paperback Fiction, Simon and Schuster. It was a New York Times Notable Book. "Creek Walk," the short story first appeared in the Marin Arts Review in 1988. Giles received a Commonwealth Club of California Award for Creek Walk and the Boston Globe Award, Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction for Rough Translations, her first collection of stories.

Molly Giles's web page

03 September, 2015

Molly Giles, "Beginning Lessons"

Harriet and Ben are on a trip to Mexico and riding in a minivan to the airport. Ben tried to encourage Harriet to learn some Spanish beforehand, but she didn't. She was having an affair instead of spending the time on her lessons. A woman gets on the minivan and engages in conversation with Ben and tries with Harriet. Harriet is hateful and spiteful and miserable and doesn't really want to put any effort into being happy. Ben is the opposite. Then the woman brings up Jesus and God and that she'd had "many problems with her nerves. A scar is obvious across her neck. Details of that are never revealed. Anyway, by the time for the flight, Harriet speaks kindly to the woman and learn to speak her name. Once the woman mentions Jesus, Ben's attitude shifts and he's no longer interested in her nor does he find her very intriguing anymore. Maybe there is hope for Harriet but not for them as a couple.

"Beginning Lessons" is one of the stories in Giles's collection, Creek Walk and Other Stories. The story is told in 3rd person point of view and present tense. It is only about eight pages long. Giles pokes into a situation, digs around in it with an awl then removes it quickly to see how the situation is going to scab over. I think Harriet's attitude is going to heal and improve.

31 August, 2015

Molly Giles, "Smoke and Mirrors"

"Smoke and Mirrors" illustrates a person's, Pierre's, passive dependency. He is so annoying I wanted to jump in the pages of the story and give him a good slap. Suzanne, on her fourth marriage, is aggravated at Pierre's seemingly depressed mood. Someone has to cajole him into doing anything, even eating. Suzanne played with fire when she arranged for her third husband to find her in bed with Pierre. There are five children, Pierre, and going out of her mind with frustration and jealousy, Suzanne in one household. At one point, a large costume party is going on and Pierre is laying in bed waiting for someone, the narrator, to encourage him to join the party. I was thinking that he was just some sort of martyr but Giles gives us the name of his disorder. I looked up some of the symptoms and sure enough that's exactly who he is. The narrator has an affair with Pierre even though she realizes that "It's just a crush, I told myself. Smoke and mirrors--nothing more." She's immature and after four years of marriage to Carter, "I saw for the first time that the little house around me was neither a jail nor a haven but a place I could leave."

"Smoke and Mirrors" is included in Molly Giles's collection, Creek Walk and Other Stories.

29 August, 2015

Molly Giles, "Cruise Control"

One of the things I love about short stories is how an entire life can be revealed during breakfast in a rundown cafe between a mother and a daughter about to go off to college. Barbara and Kim, the daughter, have breakfast while waiting for a car rental place to open. While they eat, their relationship is revealed as well as the history of Barbara's two marriages. We also see the types of marriages she's had. We see a mother who is a bit dismayed with her daughter and her daughter's choices in friends and boyfriends. The mother is revealed as being materialistic and more worried and concerned about appearances than her daughter's feelings. Although, we can tell that she loves her daughter and worries, like all mothers do, about her safety.

This line reveals an abundance about the mother. "She smells her own perfume--Kim must have used it again this morning--and thinks with apprehension of Kim's thick pink lipstick mouthing so close to the heart of her blouse." Then she reveals her shallow personality when she's concerned and "I hope not" that a man across the aisle might think that they are lesbians rather than a mother comforting her daughter.

This is such a great story. Every single sentence appears on the surface to be a simple story about a mother and her daughter having breakfast. However, each line reveals a wealth of information and with each reading more can be mined from it. Also, with great skill, an entire adult life of Barbara is exposed, from the time Kim as a toddler was lost in the street and the drunken first husband to the second husband who purchased, for her wedding present, "the solid grey station wagon."

Molly Giles is one of my favorite authors. I was lucky to have the opportunity to hear her speak in 2008 at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshops. "Cruise Control" was first published in Zyzzyva in 1986 and then included in her collection, Creek Walk and Other Stories.

Molly Giles's web page
an interview with Indie Bound

06 June, 2010

Marylee MacDonald, "Finding Peter" and Molly Giles essay, "Odds on Ends"

Marylee MacDonald's story published in the 20th anniversary edition of the American Literary Review. This short story was the 2009 ALR Fiction Contest winner with the final judge, Molly Giles. In this story, Anna Ringaard's Eastern European adopted son, runs away to Amsterdam from their home in Boulder, Colorado. Anna tries to track him down and befriends a poor young woman and her son, also named Peter.

From Giles's essay, "We are told plot is linear--conflict leading to crisis leading to resolution--but the perfect geometry for plot is actually the circle." I recalled this from her essay after reading, "Finding Peter," as the plot is circular in this story. Anna has been abandoned by the death of several newborns and then her adopted son runs away. And, the circle comes 'round when Anna abandons the young Dutch infant of Neeltje, also named Peter.

05 June, 2010

Molly Giles, "The Language Burier"

This story, "The Language Burier," pits an American mother-in-law against a French daughter-in-law, Colette. Language, zenophobia, jealousy. Mrs. Ardis is a horribly controlling woman and convinces her sorority friends from college to learn French from Colette all the while hiding her own fluency with French. Kiki, the baby granddaughter is so cute that Mrs. Ardis seems to love her but is unconcerned when the infant nearly chokes to death. The play on the sound of the two words barrier and burier is significant. This is the fifth story in Creek Walk and Other Stories. This is a haunting story; I need to think about it for a bit.

02 June, 2010

Molly Giles, "Odds on Ends"

Molly Giles has an article, “Odds on Ends,” in the February 2010 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle. In it she describes writers’ difficulties with endings and some possible solutions and approaches. Here I’m going to list some of the endings she’s named: joke endings, surprise endings as in “The Gift of the Magi,” ironical endings as in “Hills Like White Elephants,” lyrical endings as in “The Dead,” surreal endings as in “Goodbye, My Brother,” seeded endings, as in “Bullet in the Brain,” symmetrical endings and jump forward endings as in “Where I’m Calling From.” She suggests some exercises for writers having difficulty with an ending. Overall, a helpful article as well as written with that wonderful Giles bite.

27 May, 2010

Molly Giles, "Talking to Strangers" and "The Writers' Model"

In this first person POV story, a young female doctor tells the story of her own murder to another young woman, like herself, hiking on the mountainside.  The killer, cuts open the body apparently "searching" for another woman. While the story tells a gruesome event, it is ultimately about women killing off their true passions in order to "serve" their "masters." Another fabulous story by Giles. This is the 3rd one in Creek Walk and Other Stories. The story is just 6 1/2 pages long.

The next story in the collection, "The Writers' Model," a mere 3 pages long, puts a young woman in an interviewee seat and she answers any and all questions a group of stodgy, male writers ask of her. [listened to "The Writers' Model" on Selected Shorts Feb. 19, 2011] This is a funny story and quite an indictment for men, especially male writers!

I listened to this story again, August 18, 2012, on Selected Shorts and I like it even more now. The young woman model does in her real life what a protagonist should do in a story, grow.

25 May, 2010

Molly Giles, "Leaving the Colonel"

What a crazy, wonderful story. I don't know if anyone could write a story where an old, alcoholic woman's imagination/hallucinations are any better portrayed. The main character has an ongoing conversation with her imagined interviewer complete with diatribes against the colonel. The rhythms of the sentences and word repetitions in the biting commentary about her husband, the colonel sitting in front of the television with his water pistol, are, to say in the much over-used term of our day, priceless.

"Leaving the Colonel" is the second story in Giles's collection, Creek Walk and Other Stories.

24 May, 2010

Molly Giles, "War"

Divorced woman, peace activist, mother of 8 year-old daughter, Cass, leaves child with ex-husband. Upon her return from Nicaragua, we see the negativity between her and ex-husband played out on the palette of the daughter's life. Death everywhere, death of a marriage, death in a war riddled country, death of the plants the ex failed to water and the symbolism of a vulture waiting for its prey to die. Self-loathing begats death in this wonderful story. "War" is the opening story in Molly Giles's collection, Creek Walk and Other Stories.

The story is written in 1st person, limited, POV and past tense. It's 8 pages of succinct storytelling and, although, sad, the wry sense of humor with which Giles embues her characters makes it seem like we know these people intimately and are possibly spying on them from above and they just happen to be interestingly flawed folks.

28 January, 2010

Molly Giles, "Odds on Ends" essay

Made some "final" edits to "Them and Me."

Read Molly Giles' essay, "Odds on Ends," in the February 2010 issue of The Writer's Chronicle. It is about story and novel endings. One thing I want to remember is, "Just getting your character up and out the door is often enough, and stories that end with an action that steps toward the future almost always work."

I have Giles' collection of stories, Rough Translations. I simply adore it. Now that I'm thinking about it, I want to read it again. She was one of the teachers at Squaw Valley, not mine, however. I was able to attend her lectures though.