Traditionally, short stories are birthed out of what-ifs.
What if you go to Mars and find dead relatives? What if a sea monster confuses a fog horn with a mating call? Both of those examples, by the way, are from master short story writer Ray Bradbury.
In Donald Lystra’s latest story collection “Something that Feels Like Truth,” he does something very different from Bradbury. In many ways, his Michigan short stories are not what-ifs but episodes. They are brief glimpses into the lives of real people, and each is at a turning point or a moment of self-realization. These are character studies focused more on the emotional impact of a moment than on a surprising plot twist.
In Michigan one of the things we all accept are the supposed differences between the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula. The stereotypes haunt the residents of both regions: rural versus urban; those who are stressed versus those who are relaxed; those happy with money versus those happy in long underwear.
Yes, books are printed out of dead forests and each story comes with its own customized ending or demise, but that is never really the end. Mythologist Joseph Campbell used to argue that all stories are variations on one story, what he called the hero’s journey. I always thought of that as a beautiful theory, creating a nice feeling of unity to all tales, everywhere, no matter the culture of origin.
I like to picture literature as a great tree with hundreds of branches. If one of the branches on that literary tree was Charles Dickens, the next one branching off from it would be Donna Tartt.
We live in a loud world. Our movies are loud. Our TV shows are loud, and the commercials are even louder. And sadly now, even our books are loud, filled with as many explosions and gunshots as any blockbuster film could ever hope to have. So in a bombastic world like ours, how does a quiet book like “Our Picnics in the Sun” by Morag Joss find publication?
Barack Obama was just elected, those on the left were ecstatic, the right was growing in anger, everyone was concerned about the financial crisis, avatars and transformers were in the movie theaters, and everyone was listening to Beyonce.
Author Wally Lamb hasn’t forgotten that lost year and tries to capture the essence and feeling of the country during 2009 in his new book, “We Are Water.”
Picture a bookstore as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Can you see it? There is the salad bar, the pasta, the breakfast area with the waffle maker, the giant slab of ham or beef. Okay, let’s skip all the healthy things and aim for the dessert table. You know how at every buffet there is that one enormous piece of chocolate cake? Well, for me, Mitch Albom’s books have always been that piece of cake.
Today on Current State: the "Pure Michigan Waste" campaign; a review of Dave Eggers' "The Circle"; an American Indian Tribe and the wolf hunt in Michigan; a one-woman play on bullying; and live Turkish music.
Christmas has "A Christmas Carol", "It’s a Wonderful Life", "Miracle on 34th Street", Halloween has… Yes, Halloween has a collection of monsters stolen from black-and-white horror movies and a long history with witches and the like, but when it comes to an actual story, a fable to be brought out each year with the pumpkins, the holiday is sadly lacking.
Today on Current State: Lansing's 'Marketplace Project'; HIV in Ingham County; what deregulation could mean for Michigan; environmental changes effect on Isle Royale; and a review of "The Ocean at the End of the Lane".
Today on Current State: Cristo Rey Community Center's new Executive Director; Public Poetry Announcement; MSU Symphony opens new season; Voices of Experience series with 'Eternal General' Frank Kelley; and Banned Books Week.
Today on Current State: August's biggest's stories in review; Chicago-based "Wavelength" trains Lansing teachers using humor; 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice; Michigan railroads; and a film commentary on End of the World films.
Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, once wrote, “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” The her in that sentence is, of course, author Jane Austen.
This wasn't the only time Twain complained about Miss Austen. Here is another gem: “It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”
Now, I don’t normally disagree with Mr. Clemens, but here, I have to take an exception.