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Short Stories, Long Payoffs II

9 Feb

The Hangover is pleased to announce a new addition to its fiction section, Fisher of Men by Joe Ricker.   Ricker’s story is a glimpse at the damaged underbelly of American society.    You might have passed the characters of Fisher of Men on the street; you were glad you kept walking. 

Esquire referred to Ricker as “a man of letters who’s gentle in the way that only the toughest hard-asses can be.”   If you are a fan of Tarantino films, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, or film noir, it is a piece you won’t want to miss.  Check it out here.

Hangover Blog on Hiatus

21 Aug

The Hangover is officially going on hiatus.  Faithful readers have surely noticed a considerable slowdown over the past six months.  This is one thing in contemporary America that can’t be blamed on the economy, however.    There is a novel to be completed and The Hangover is going to be totally immersed in full-contact fiction-writing.    Outside of a possible music post or two, The Hangover will resume when the manuscript is complete.

However, we do reserve the right to comment if some act completely egregious to common sense raises our ire.  This could include:

  • Health Care “reform” that doesn’t do anything except create mandatory customers for insurance companies–who are obviously the root of the problem (along with their lobbyists).   Count us among those who would prefer our health care decisions be made by a bureaucrat, as opposed to a “fat-assed” CEO or corporate drone whose bonus is tied to the greed-driven profit of a health care conglomerate.   (And why do our prescription drugs cost more than those in Canada?  Our beer doesn’t cost any more money, and isn’t alcohol a drug?)
  • Corruption in Congress that blocks common sense legislation.  Those who have the most lobbyists with the deepest pockets win.  It’s disgusting, as are our elected representivives as individuals.  None of these clowns would ever get laid if they didn’t have their government jobs.
  • A car industry that continues to build Hummers for non-military use.   Yep, that will lead us to energy independence.
  • Less prison time for a football-playing, drunk-driving, people-killer (Dante Stallworth) than for a football playing dog-killer (Mike Vick) or a football-playing dumbass  (Plexico Burress), who shot only himself in a nightclub. 

If The Hangover continues to dwell on these subjects, the long-awaited novel will never be completed.   Unfortunately, with a country like this, The Hangover could be pulled back into action tomorrow.

Eat, Pray, Love, Frozen Waffles, Supermarket

21 Feb

As the Hangover careened down the frozen food aisle with a full cart, little did he expect to find a cardboard display selling Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.  How does a writer this good wind up just past sub-zero waffles, pancakes, and breakfast sandwiches?

It’s obvious as to why a supermarket would be an effective spot for selling the biggest and best piece of chick lit written this century.   The Hangover bought the book for the missus two Christmases ago.  She loved it.  And it has to have been read by every women’s book group in the country by now.  But to reach the five or six females in every town who  may have somehow missed it, the grocery store seems a dream venue.

Gilbert is no Michael Crichton or Nora Roberts, whose trashy paperbacks formerly comprised the top echelon of supermarket literature.  Gilbert can write–extremely well.  That she has to be placed in the vicinity of  TGI Friday’s jalapeno poppers and Jackie Collins’ Fabio-covered drivel is unfortunate.  On the other hand. while the rest of the economy is tanking, Gilbert’s personal GNP continues to rise.

Although The Hangover has not read  Eat, Pray, Love (yet), I have read and enjoyed her fiction.  Stern Men, set in Maine, is a rollicking, funny novel with depth.  It’s John Irving-lite, and that is meant with no disrespect.  Pilgrims,Gilbert’s short story collection from 1997,  is brilliant. Gilbert’s a sharp, incisive writer and her stories are tough, humorous, and engaging.

While eschewing Oprah-ness, Pilgrims should still appeal to the same women who enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love.  Here’s the opening from the story, Landing:

“I lived in San Francisco for three months and only slept with one person, a redneck from Tennessee. I could have done that back home and saved myself a lot of rent money. A city full of educated, successful men and I went after the first guy I saw wearing a John Deere hat.”

Or how about this one from, Come and Fetch These Stupid Kids

 “Margie and Peg were arrested after they got drunk on the chef’s cooking wine and went into the parking lot and rubbed butter on the windshield of every car parked there.  It was late at night.  It was also late in September, and long past the end of tourist season.”

The Hangover can live with the shock of seeing Gilbert placed in the neighborhood of French toast, onion rings, and Danielle Steele.  Now if the powers that be could only see fit to add Pilgrims and Stern Men to the kiosk, they’d be doing their customers a real service.

Warren Zevon’s Not So Quiet Normal Life

24 Nov

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, the 2007 Warren Zevon biography penned by Zevon’s ex-wife, Crystal, is a remarkable book.   A reader will experience moments of awe, disbelief, elation, and horror. When Zevon was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, he asked Crystal to tell the whole truth in writing his story, “even the awful, ugly parts.”  She did not flinch.  The book presents a view of Zevon that could not possibly be more honest.    Sharing traits with many of his characters, Zevon is at times genius, drunk, twisted, and hilarious.  To paraphrase one of his own songs, his shit was fucked up.

Crystal Zevon interviewed eighty-seven people for the book.  Their accounts are presented in the first person, as are her own remembrances.  Excerpts from Warren’s journal are also shared.   The reader sees hardships and challenges on every page–some external, many emanating from within.  But as Zevon careened through drug, alcohol, and sex addiction, one thing remained constant:  He never compromised his musical integrity.  And that cost him.  He did not achieve the financial and popular success he felt he deserved.  In a 1998 letter to Hunter S. Thompson, Zevon described his career as “about as promising as a Civil War leg wound.”  For Zevon fans, that was all right with us.  To hell with those who didn’t get it.

Bonny Raitt knew:  “There’s no way the mainstream could be hip enough to appreciate Warren Zevon.  He was our everything, from Lord Buckley to Charles Bukowski to Henry Miller.”  When Jackson Browne introduced Zevon to an audience as “the Ernest Hemingway of the twelve-string guitar,” Zevon later corrected him claiming, no, he was “the Charles Bronson of the twelve-string guitar.”  They were both right.  As Browne said, “Warren didn’t have literary pretenstions.  He had literary muscle.” 

The Hangover got on board with Zevon’s ’78 Excitable Boy album.  Although he never became a chartbuster, each previous and subsequent album delivered full tilt Zevon:  originality, a writer’s eye, and an outlaw’s attitude.   All one has to do is turn on a radio today and listen for an hour to realize that Zevon was a unique talent.  It is bitter-sweetly ironic that The Wind, recorded after Zevon’s cancer diagnosis (with the clock ticking loudly during the sessions), led to recognition in the form of two Grammies.   The Excitable Boy wasn’t around to see it happen.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead will hit Zevon fans hard.  He paid a high price to create his music–and live his life.    As honest and uncompromising as his songs were, so is his biography.  It is a fitting tribute.  No doubt, the Zevon’s will continue to deserve more credit that they will receive.  

{All quotes taken from I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon.}

Until I Find You–Amazed and Confused

11 Aug

Once someone has read an 800-plus page book, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they should know exactly what to think of it.  Well, after completing John Irving’s Until I Find You (848 pages), The Hangover is at a loss.  Was it a brilliant Irving look at family, sexual mores, memory, and modern society, or a slightly off-target rehash of Irving’s usual subjects?  The Hangover leans toward the former, but it’s easy to pitch a tent in either camp.  Even at its best, Until I Find Youis no Garp

Irving once again takes a unique character, Jack Burns, and sends him off on a life that would be hard to imagine, but is nevertheless compelling.  There is plenty of Irving wit, humor, and insight scattered throughout the work, but the author also revisits some of his subjects like a ’78 Town and Country station wagon pulling into a family reunion at a run-down Hotel New Hampshire.

The main character is somewhat fatherless, attends prep schools and the University of New Hampshire, wrestles, has sexual quirks, and a wacked-out family.  If you are a reader of Irving, that should sound familiar.  The book does have plenty of merit, however.  Irving keeps a reader engaged from start to finish, even if he does resort to such odd tactics as a relentless string of exclamation points. 

The Hangover couldn’t figure out if this was another classic (that I had missed something was entirely possible) or a literary train wreck.  A google search for reviews proved to be no help:  As a group, the critics were no more certain than I.  At complete-review.com, a list of compiled reviews assigns a grade reflecting the critic’s interpretation of the book.  There are two A’s, an A-, three F’s, and a D+, and a smattering of grades in between.  There are valid points made in nearly each of the pieces, whether praising or burying the book.  

The Hangover was left with questions.  Is Jack Burn’s passivity as the novel approaches its climax a result of the events of his life or an indication that Irving was pitching with five-miles-an-hour off his fastball?  The Hangover would like to believe the former,  but doubts linger.  And that shouldn’t be the case, not with John Irving.

In Praise of Andre Dubus

19 Jun

Andre Dubus is considered by many (myself included) to be one of America’s greatest short story writers.  So why haven’t you heard of him?  Precisely because he was a short story writer.  While some novelists sell millions of books and become known figures, those working in short fiction are almost always ignored by the greater public.  It’s unfortunate, but it is reality.   The sad thing is, with Dubus, it’s the greater public who is missing out.

In the July/August issue of Poets and Writers, Joshua Bodwell contributes an essay, “The Art of Reading Andre Dubus:  We Don’t Have To Live Great Lives.”   The title indicates much of a what a reader needs to know about Dubus:  real people, real situations, real emotion–and tough writing.  Dubus may have been a writer, but he lived in the same world that you do.  His work reveals the gravity found there.

The Hangover grew up in Plaistow, New Hampshire, just across the state line from Haverhill, MA, where Dubus taught at small Bradford College.  The local paper, The Haverhill Gazette, frequently mentioned publications of and readings by Dubus.  I was a somewhat well-read youth, but as foolish as any teenager.  I saw that French name and pictured a Euro-weenie in a beret writing about wine-drinking fops.  I wondered, “How good can this guy be if he’s teaching at Bradford?”  I never bothered to pick up one of his books.   

I finally read Dubus as an adult when Tom Bailey assigned “A Father’s Story” for a writing class I was taking.  I went out and bought Andre Dubus: Selected Stories.  After that first story, I started at the beginning and whipped through the collection.  Dubus’ characters were people I knew.  Both literally and figuratively, they drove down streets I’d traveled, lived in houses I recognized, and drank in bars I’d frequented.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been a supreme jackass. 

The Hangover urges you not to make the same mistake.  If you’ve read Dubus, pick up Poets and Writers and read Bodwell’s essay.  If one of Dubus’s books hasn’t made it onto your shelf, go out and get Selected Stories.  That you’ll be entertained is an understatement.     

 

The New Yorker: Still Champion of the Short Story

1 Apr

Since its inception in 1925, The New Yorker has published some of America’s best short fiction.   That legacy continues today despite trends to the contrary.  Many of the magazines once featuring short stories have ceased to exist, such as Collier’s and Story.  Others like Esquire have lessened their commitment to the form, cutting back in fiction print pages while shifting that emphasis to their web sites.  Meanwhile, the New Yorker continues to place contemporary stories in its issues–and amazingly, as the fates of other periodicals might suggest–the magazine has not suffered. 

The New Yorker has even deepened its commitment to the form by reaching back into its history while embracing modern technology.   Through I-tunes and newyorker.com, the magazine offers a series of podcasts featuring some of today’s best writers reading their favorite stories from the magazine’s vast catalog of published fiction.   It is a deep and wide-ranging collection of homage.  One can find Jonathan Lethem reading James Thurber’s “The Wood Duck” and Richard Ford choosing John Cheever’s “Reunion.”  The Hangover highly recommends TC Boyle’s interpretation of Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.”  (Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” and Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” are two of The Hangover’s favorite short stories.)  All are considered classics.

In addition to the story itself, New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman hosts a discussion of the piece with the selecting author.   The views expressed are always enlightening, as the selector speaks as a fan as well as a fellow writer.   Consistent with The Hangover’s “short stories, long payoff” philosophy, the podcasts usually run less than 20 minutes.  

The podcasts are available on the New Yorker web site and the I-tunes Store (go to podcasts, search for New Yorker: fiction).  The best part:  They’re free.