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Blog Post Catch-up

Oct. 18th- “Mid-Autumn” by Butler

This story was at first a little difficult for me to get a grasp of because it’s got so many narrative layers to it. Having a story within a story within a story isn’t terribly strange for this collection, though, as the majority of these stories are told to us by the narrators as something they’re recounting from their own lives. Still this story is particularly remarkable in the sense that it takes it a step further; admitting to us at the beginning that the main character isn’t even speaking English, rather she’s speaking Vietnamese to her unborn child. This is interesting because Butler is obviously extremely skilled at deftly handling writing for characters of a different culture, so good, in fact, that it seems not stretch of our imagination that she could be speaking in another language.

The decision to make it Vietnamese also brings us much closer to the narrative, layered as it is, because we understand that she is speaking to her unborn child in the language of her homeland, because the feeling she is trying to express are too complex for her to do them justice in her poor English.

 

 

Oct. 25th- “Ghost Story” by Butler

“Ghost Story” is, so far, one of my favorites in this collection. This is because it does something that I’ve always loved books and stories to do: scare me. Even as a kid, I was always fond of stories that can raise the hair on the back of my neck with their eerie images. This is perhaps a little unsophisticated, now that I know how much more of an accomplishment it is to successfully conveying complex emotions like pain, love, and sadness, but I can’t help still having a particular fondness for “Ghost Story.” In particular, the ending scene stayed with me for a long time.

Because, as I sat in the darkness of the limousine and it drove away, I looked out the window and saw Miss Linh’s tongue slip from her mouth and lick her lips, as if she had just eaten me up. And indeed she has.

Nov. 1st- “June” by McCracken

I likes “June” because it surprised me by breaking away from the cliche I thought it would be conforming to. Instead of this being just a typical story about a girl suffering from child abuse as witnessed by her neighbor, we see June as a three dimensional character with her own vices and faults in the context of her tragic circumstances. And the character of June isn’t the only way through which this story is in keeping with McCracken’s themes of outsiders. The decision to have the narrator mirror June’s actions and take the fall for them herself sets the two up in complicated contrast–as two sides of the same coin not only in terms of family backgrounds, but in terms of their fate at the end of this story.

I admire this as an example for how to avoid being typical about how writing should portray times of hardship and personal struggle.

Nov. 8th- “Relic” by Butler

I love “Relic” for its strangeness. It took me a moment after finishing it to sit back and consider the fact that this story really is just about a man putting on a dead man’s shoe. I know that’s not really what happens and that reciting the plot of this story doesn’t do justice to the depth of it, but I think, sometimes, it’s probably good to appreciate a story like this for it’s sheer bizarre simplicity. If  I were setting out in my writing, as I sometimes do, with a deeper meaning in mind, before even developing a plot, I would bet that I wouldn’t end up writing about a man wearing John Lennon’s shoe because he believes it to have some sort of power. Its just so creative (not one of my favorite words ever, but it works well for what I mean here… in a vapid way that I’m regretting already).

There are so many layers and undertones of meaning in this story, my particular favorite of which was the titular running theme of relics, Catholicism and superstitions. On that note, I think it’s a testament to how well Butler is able to project his voice into the shoes of Vietnamese refugees (no pun intended!). The whole mindset of this character is very convincing as a successful Asian man with a closet obsession for good luck charms. I love how this character quirk is then translated into a sense of displaced loss for the character all leading up to a finishing line that I think will have to be marked down as one of my favorites:

“Then I will put both of John Lennon’s shoes on my feet and I will go out into the street and I will walk as far as I need to go to find the place where I belong.”

Nov. 29th- “Preparation” by Bulter

I love the tense, complicated emotion that courses through this story and the skill with which Butler crafts it to encompass all of the difficult and painful feelings of love and bitterness that the narrator feels for her dear, dead best friend. The effortless way the the narrator’s memories are stitched into the story is something that I really admire.

In class, we’ve spent quite a lot of time discussing the importance of fleshing out a character; filling their lives with rich detail so as to make their experiences and emotions all the more complicated and compelling. However, in my own writing, I’ve found the the “weaving in” of these memories is the most difficult part of the process. Thinking them up is a challenge in it’s own right, but having them flow smoothly into the narrator’s consciousness is really difficult for me. I often lapse into a sort of default mode: breaking the page and setting the memory as a flashback independent of the rest of the prose.

This story has inspired me to avoid that default setting an work harder to achieve the same subtle and delicate flow that Butler has here in “Preparation.”

Dec. 6th- “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain” by Butler

I think that this story is the most beautiful of the collection. I loved the scenes where the narrator encounters the ghost. The writing is so beautiful that my mind illustrated those scenes with dusk blue shadows and soft, pale moonlight coming in through the narrator’s bedroom window. These impressions of color and value were, I think, born around the exquisite detail of Ho Chi Minh’s hands covered in silvery, crystalline sugar.

Sugar, like milk and honey, has always lent a strong sense of simple–and yet also rich– purity to whatever artwork or piece of writing in which I see it used. I am in particular, reminded of Wolfgang Laib’s Milkstone (pictured), a slab of marble made into a very shallow basin which is then filled to the brim with milk every morning and then emptied and cleaned in the evening. I think the same powerful purity is present in both this piece and Butler’s story, though it has another twist to it in the story. Having Ho Chi Minh’s hands covered in the sugar is a powerful and moving way to show the torment of his soul seeking peace, but even more so when you consider it as a replacement for a more traditional bloody hands motif.

This is a perfect example of the delicacy of Butler’s hand used to inspire complex emotion. I hold it as inspiration for my own work in the future where I try my hardest to do the same, though I never manage to do so quite so expertly.

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