Short Stories All the Time

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

30 November, 2012

Nancy Packer, "Saturday People"

This is the 1st person story of Emily and her daughter, Stancy, after Emily's divorce. Her bitterness and anger are shown in realistic dialogue and carefully doled out bits of spite.

Stancy becomes friends with a girl, Karen, from the playground as Emily becomes friends with Karen's father, Martin. After one missed weekend of playing together Karen finds another friend, Mary, which illuminates little Stancy's insecurities and frets.

During several phone calls Emily reveals her anger towards her ex-husband, Ralph, and his new girlfriend (or wife) Ruth.

Once again, I'm in awe of such a story that is seemingly simple in idea and structure but complex in character development.

27 November, 2012

Nancy Packer, "Making Amends"

Gordon has called and invited Ellen to dinner after some twenty years. She arrives, looking chic. He admits that since he left for Paris his life has gone asunder. He just divorced for the third time and thinks that if he goes back to where he made his first blunder that he can make things right. Well. Packer handles the nuances of two people seated after some twenty odd years and the woman was evidently jilted or flat-out deserted with a deft but sure hand. Surgically precision with not only how she handles the writing but the characterizations as well.

This story has a fun ending and one of those YAY moments when we see what Ellen decides to do. It's not simply revenge. I love this story.

11 November, 2012

Nancy Packer, "The Waiting Game"

This very closely told 3rd person point of view story captures the paranoia and uncertainty of a hoping-for-tenure assistant professor. Kincaid waits for the promotion and tenure committee to render their verdict over the course of a school day and his emotions are on a roller coaster. They run the gamut from braggart and over confidence to feelings of failure and self-deceit. "The Waiting Game" reveals the pressures a professor feels even as outsiders and Kincaid's father think his university position "The Easy Life."

The author, Nancy Huddleston Packer, and her husband were both part of academe so I'm sure she was able to utilize her own personal history--as we all do--in this story.

I do not see that "The Waiting Game" was published first in a literary journal but it may have been. It is part of Packer's collection, The Women Who Walk, published in 1989 by the Louisiana State University Press. I really like the pinpoint focus Packer's stories exhibit. While they reveal a significant amount of human foibles and emotions, they are razor sharp in their analysis of the characters.

07 November, 2012

Nancy Packer, "Homecoming"

"Homecoming" was first published in Sewanee Review in 1983 and is about family and grief. Two women have just lost their mother who had struggled financially to put them through private colleges. Leonora, a banker, and her sister, Joan married to a stockbroker. Money is no longer an issue but the hurt from history and familial betrayals is evident.

I really like the way Packer reveals those injustices and little jabs sisters make at each other and how they can still love one another.

26 October, 2012

Ann Packer, "Molten"

In "Molten" Kathryn and Dave have lost their son and Lainie has lost her brother. We eventually learn how Ben was killed. It has only been six months since Ben's funeral and Kathryn's grief is still huge. The story is written in a very close 3rd person and is about 24 pages long. Themes of grief, anger and difficulty of sharing feelings with others. It is interesting how Packer uses Kathryn's incessant listening to her son's music as a way to grieve and feel connected to him. She also faces her regrets for the way in which she responded to his music while he was alive. She had not understood how much the music meant to him until he was gone and she took up where he left off.

"Molten" was first published in the online literary journal Narrative Magazine and is the second story in Packer's collection, Swim Back to Me.

My favorite part, "A song was a dream. That's what Kathryn thought now. A song was someone else's  dream, and when you listened to it you became part of it, and you were linked to all the other people who had listened to it and all the people who would listen to it in times to come."

New York Times book review
San Francisco Chronicle book review
Wikipedia page about Ann Packer
Book Browse page about Packer
Book Browse interview with Packer
New York Times article about Packer
link on Amazon page to book
Utah public radio, interview

02 October, 2012

Nancy Packer, "Jellyfish"

Rarely do I begin a short story collection with the first story and continue on in sequence. But I am compelled to do just that with Packer's, The Women Who Walk. "Jellyfish" is the 4th story and tells of an alcoholic mother and her two children, Sarah and Preston.

The first paragraph is a scenic beach description and the reader is lulled into a sense of shoreline bliss and I thought I heard the sound of "water sucked softly at the shore." Then boom, the next word jolts the reader. And, we know we in for a story.

29 September, 2012

Nancy Packer, "The Day the Tree Fell Down"

Carrie and Frederick's marriage is stripped bare by the event of a tree falling down during an overnight storm. We see the passive aggressive way they deal with each other and their grudges and bitternesses. However, they recognize them and somewhat move forward by the end of the story. Everyone deals with life and marriage and children and jobs in individual ways. Though this might not be the healthiest manner it seems to work for them, at least for now.

This story is included in Packer's collection, The Women Who Walk, and is an excellent story. I've read it three times now and each time I feel like I get closer to what the truth of their lives might be but it is still somewhat fleeting and this is what I love about short stories. They are never completely ingested or consumed.

If you are lucky enough to live close to Stanford, California you can hear Packer read Oct. 10, 2012.

Old Ladies: A Reading & Signing with Nancy Huddleston Packer

Wednesday, Oct 10 6:00p
at Stanford BookstoreStanfordCA
Wednesday, October 10, 2012. 6:00 pm
Stanford Bookstore 519 Lasuen Mall (White Plaza)
The stories in Old Ladies center on women of a certain age. They are widows, divorcees, the happily married, an artist, a cleaning woman, a professor, the leisurely rich, and the working poor. Whatever their life condition, all the protagonists are decidedly individual.

23 September, 2012

Nancy Packer, "The Women Who Walk"

Marian supported Malcolm during his graduate school. They have two young kids, about ten years old. Malcolm leaves Marian and we see that she had become a non-person, invisible, with nothing for herself. She has lived vicariously through her husband and children.

The story is written in third-person POV but is so close it feels like first-person POV. Packer does a good job with the point of view.

Marian sees "women who walk" around town. At first, a woman wears black, then another wears white, then pink and white. Sometimes it seems as though Marian is actually imagining that she sees women walking, that they are motifs representing Marian. However, once the children do catch a glimpse of one of the women so I think they really do exist. I like the mystery that sometimes it seems as though the women may not really exist. These walking women appear either ashamed, secretive, invisible or almost ghosts, like Marian.

The close 3rd person POV leads the reader to wonder how reliable the narrator is. And, that is what I like most about this story is the different ways it can be read. That either the husband did indeed diminish Marian's self-esteem over time as he criticized her in front of other people. Or, was he merely trying to help her. Did she allow herself to become invisible because she didn't continue to pursue her own passions. Did she have any passions? Was she was one of those people who let themselves be of use to others to such an extent that he/she disappears? Or, was the husband very calculating and selfish?  Did he have another woman on the side? Is the woman who cooks the orange chicken a lover or perhaps a housekeeper? I love the questions raised and enjoy reading the story again and again and realizing how my own mindset at the moment "finishes" the story.

So far the two stories I've read by Nancy Packer are awesome and I will be studying her.

I just read that Ann Packer is her daughter. Wow! And, George Packer too, who I have not read, is her son.

20 September, 2012

Nancy Packer, "Breathing Space"

First published in 1982 in Sewanee Review, this story shows the difficult relationship between a smart but depressed, suicidal teen and her mother, a pushover and a liar. Claire is having an affair with Lucy's friend's father. Phil, Lucy's father, an alcoholic, is still involved in Lucy's life even though Claire and Phil are divorced. Claire has sent Lucy to an expensive private school to give them some "breathing space" which was suggested by Claire's counselor.

I like the story and what it does best is stay on point and examine the relationship between daughter and mother. And, while I've made it sound cut and dry, I think it is anything but. There is enough meat that allows different ways to read the story. It is intriguing enough to read again and again.

I only became aware of Nancy Packer a couple of weeks ago when I listened to her audio interview on the Stanford University, How I Write series. One thing that struck me was that at some point in her early writing life she realized that a person who was not a genius could still be a writer and that gave her freedom and took away some of the pressure. I understand that because the stress we place on ourselves that we are never genius enough or brilliant enough to deserve success can be debilitating which is not to take away from the few who really are genius.

"Breathing Space" in the first story in her collection, The Women Who Walk published in 1989 by Louisiana State University Press.

Stanford page
Sewanee Review page
Stanford page, Packer's Lesson Plan
bio page on Alabama Literary Map page
Louisiana State University Press page
Packer's book at LSU Press

10 July, 2010

ZZ Packer, "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere"

"Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" by ZZ Packer is the title story of her debut short story collection. I was encouraged to read this story by Charles E. May's blog as well because Packer also has a short story, actually a novel excerpt, in the summer fiction issue of The New Yorker. The story, "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere," is written in 1st person POV and tells of a black woman attending Yale and her isolation, self-inflicted, from all other students except for one lesbian white girl. I enjoyed the story very much and it moved very quickly. The writing style is realistic and the story contains some nice visuals. For example, "He wore an Exeter T-shirt and his overly elastic expressions resembled a series of facial exercises." Even though both girls experience the deaths of their mothers, that fact is not used in developing the relationship between the two.

29 June, 2010

ZZ Packer, "Dayward"

"Dayward" by ZZ Packer takes your breath away as you're concerned for the safety of Lazarus and Mary Celeste. Lazarus, rises again but not before losing his hand, runs away from his slave owners with his younger sister Mary Celeste, heavenly, deaf, and only nine years old. This story is included in The New Yorker's summer fiction issue. I like that the ending keeps me wondering and worrying about the future events awaiting for Lazarus and Mary Celeste. However, it reads as the novel excerpt that it is.

I wish The New Yorker was publishing actual short stories in this fiction issue.

22 June, 2010

Ann Packer, "Things Said or Done"

"Things Said or Done" written by Ann Packer and included in the Summer 2010 volume of Zoetrope: All-Story is written in a close first person POV. A middle-aged divorced woman with no children is attending her brother's wedding where the divorced parents, Daniel and Joanie, will be thrust together after thirty or so years. It's a great psychological study in a dysfunctional family after a lot of time has passed since the initial wounds. We see  the scars and the long-lasting traits of people hurt by family members. The brother, Peter, is marrying much younger Cressida, the name of a Trojan woman who was part of a hostage exchange during the Trojan War.  The story is also about family history and role playing. The daughter has become the caretaker of the father and the buffer of his temper tantrums. The only real change that happens, I think, is that the daughter learns that Joan, her mother, had wanted to divorce Daniel three years earlier than the protagonist knew as a teenager. This alters her perspective of the family's history. The story takes place the evening of a wedding rehearsal and the day of the wedding but we learn an entire marital history and see the consequences for the two children, now middle-aged people.

Ann Packer's web page