Short Stories All the Time

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

02 October, 2011

Dylan Landis, "Jazz"

Rainey, thirteen, grapples with her burgeoning sexuality and her power to seduce boys as well as grown men. While she's anxious for something, "she still wants to go too far but she is not sure how far is far," illustrates just how vulnerable

and young she is. She tries to convince herself that she is not being raped but she is being raped by her father's friend, Richard, and fellow professional musician. They are by the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park where the water is controlled but Rainey is not in control. In the back story, Rainey is in a rushing stream, uncontrollable, and she's in control, sort of.

Today, in pop psychology we would say that because Rainey's mother has moved to Boulder to join a cult, Rainey feels abandoned and is acting out. This is probably part of it.

The story weaves music, specifically jazz, school, adolescence, Greek mythology (Oedipus Rex in which Rainey plays Jocasta) seamlessly to give a glimpse into Rainey's life and her immature attempts to deal with oblivious parents (although the father evidently warned the mother about Rainey's behavior) and youthful yearnings.

Even the name of Rainey's bra, Miss Debutante, reminds us of her youthfulness and her "debut" into the adult world of sexuality and power. Rainey's debut is not what we wish for any young woman.

"Jazz" first appeared in Tin House in 2003 and subsequently included in the collection, Normal People Don't Live Like This.


"She thinks how this is one more interesting thing a man can be reduced to."

"Andy Sakellarios, who might or might not be her boyfriend, has smooth hands."

"She wants to set fires and she wants to control how they burn." I think this sentence might be the theme of the story. We want control and power but once power is unleashed our control is gone and the forces of other people are in play.

"She loves that he is a grownup and yet he seems to have no choice."

20 September, 2011

Dylan Landis, "Normal People Don't Live Like This"

Helen appears to be losing her controlling grip on her fifteen year old daughter, Leah. Newly divorced (recently widowed actually, I think, I'm reading the collection out of order), Helen and her daughter live in a building with a door man, for appearances but their view is of the air shaft. Cigarettes and scanty underwear are found in Leah's dresser. Helen collects the offending garments from her daughter's dresser and marches over to the building where the "Prideau girls lived."

With some discussion about their daughters, Helen attempts to obtain a home decorating project which for a few minutes appears to be the only thing capable of taking her mind off of her daughter's behavior.

The scene where the three girls enter Bonita's living room and unexpectedly find Leah's mother is rife with two generations of tension. The girls lusty and sensual while Helen feels she's losing her power and control and that her daughter is not keeping up appearances. Bonita is oblivious and selfish under the guise of being cool. Bonita goes about her business and admits that Pansy, "is lost." She appears to be a cutter. (I think.) Or she's attempted suicide several times. The saddest sentence of the story is: "Helen looked back at Bonita and saw in her eyes a familiar irony, metallic, but also sad, and beneath that a letting-go, a relinquishing, as if Pansy were slowly sliding off a roof."

However, Helen comes to realize that her daughter, Leah, is not "lost" and that all will be okay after all, "She was merely trying all sorts of stunts."

Favorite sentences: "She wore mascara, lipstick and Estée Lauder foundation powder, always. She regarded powder as an item of decency, like the wearing of underclothes."

I've read this story three times and it just gets better and better. References to Hemingway are always fun. Now, I want to re-read "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."

Every sentence contains so much information in a sly way. On first read, everything seems pretty straight forward and the more you read, the more nuances and references and layered meanings appear and they feel so effortless.

Landis's website
Fictionaut site
an interview
The Short Review site
blog, r.kv.r.y.