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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.

Bar-Naked Cover: Esquire’s Best Ever

8 Jun

The cover of Esquire’s July 2009 issue is striking:  Bar Refaeli wearing nothing but lines from Stephen King’s short story, “Morality.”  Yes, it’s taken a naked supermodel and one of America’s literary giants to bring The Hangover out of its spring hibernation.

Read Me, Baby (Esquire, July 2009)

Read Me, Baby (Esquire, July 2009)

In the past, this space has admonished Esquire for its seemingly fading commitment to the short fiction it once championed.  But the editors have just taken a master stroke.  A painted, unclothed super model will catch the eye of most men.  Then, hopefully, the twisting language of King’s sentences will spur those potential readers to search out the story (page 57) in the magazine.  If this kind of heat can sell beer on television, why can’t it work for fiction in a glossy?

The pairing of King and Refaeli is genius.  The accompanying photos of the word-paint-splattered supermodel, July’s Esquire “Woman We Love,” speak for themselves.  And if there were a statistic that somehow averaged “book sales” and “literary quality of writing,” it’s likely that Stephen King would sit atop those standings.  Make no mistake, his story here is a contemporary, relevant monster.    

Now if we could only get some aspiring model to volunteer to be painted in the words of a Hangover Post, cultural satire would reach heights previously considered unattainable.    Applications for the position will be gladly accepted.

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.

Celebrity Sex Scandal: 1 Winner, 300 Million Losers

19 Aug

John Edwards.  Rielle Hunter.   Jay McInerney.  The latest celebrity sex scandal being reported on in the American press was 25 years in the making and includes a would-be President, a once-famous, sometimes decent writer, and a coke whore “media expert.”  Who needs the Lifetime Channel when we have this? 

After intrepid reporting by the National Enquirer (I can’t believe I just wrote that), Edwards admitted to having an affair with Rielle Hunter in 2006.  Edwards confessed:

“In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.”

Edwards, honestly, admits to becoming a fathead.  This is the same thinking that regularly leads others to cheating, including professional athletes, actors and actresses, and politicians.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone, unless one investigates the history of his paramour, Rielle Hunter.

Rielle Hunter was formerly called Lisa Druck.  She was a noted coke-snorting, bed-hopping (not that there’s anything wrong with that) 80’s New York party girl.  In fact, after a liaison with McInerny in the post Bright Lights, Big City era, she became the inspiration for the main character of his forgettable second novel, Story of My Life.  Mysteriously, the book was about a trampy, coke-snorting New York woman who was trying to find her way in life.  The character based on Hunter, Allison Poole, was also skewered in two of Bret Ellis’s novels.  That indicates one of two things:  either she was incredibly loathsome or Ellis was one celebrity Hunter wouldn’t give it up for. 

Twenty years later, Hunter became a public figure again, initially for filming campaign “webisodes” for Edwards’ failed 2008 Presidential bid.  In an interview with “Extra,” Hunter admitted:

“I’ve never really been interested in politics in my life.  I voted twice.”

Perhaps this explains why her webisodes proved to be tremendously ineffective.  And while she found politics “a gross environment,” Hunter did find Edwards to be “interesting,” “real,” and “authentic.”  Apparently, she also found him steamy, and really, really hot.

The sole beneficiary of this scandal is McInerny.  He’s got a 2007 book, The Good Life, to publicize and the press is knocking on his door again, if only to ask about Hunter.   However, thanks to the scandal, Story of My Lifehas just been reprinted.  While The Good Life is ranked 80,125 in book sales on Amazon, Story of My Life has climbed to 1,828. 

It’s the rest of us who are the losers here.  And not because the Hangover-endorsed Edwards has skuttled his chances for future public service.  At this point, it’s impossible to care about a full-of-shit politician, no matter what his (or her) message.

The more serious problem exposed by this scandal is the tabloid culture that owns America.  As citizens, we should have more important things to think about than a failed politician hooking up with a bottle-blonde scratching and clawing for another Wharholian 15 minutes.  And the Hangover is not suggesting that we spend time considering Britney’s recovery, Brangelina’s kids, Bigfoot, or Christian Bale’s belief that he’s Batman, dammit. 

The Hangover apologizes for even bringing up the subject here.  As punishment, I’ll force myself to watch an hour of Entertainment Tonight.  While it might be painful, at least I’ll be made fully aware of the issues considered important by the vast majority of Americans.

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.