Wednesday, February 16, 2011

J. G. Ballard

I've been reading short story collections lately. I read The Stories of John Cheever and then Donald Barthelme's Sixty Stories. These two books have literally been sitting on my shelves for thirty years. Well, was it worth the wait? The Cheever contains some great stories ("Goodbye, My Brother," "The Enormous Radio," "The Swimmer," and my favorite, "The Music Teacher"), but when you read them in total as I did the similar themes tend to blur together. I also got the sense (and I may be completely wrong here) that Cheever knew The New Yorker audience and wrote stories with middle-class themes that he knew would resonate with that particular audience. His stories just didn't feel as heartfelt as, say, the stories of Richard Yates that cover similar territory. There's only so much urban/suburban angst and adultery a person can take, so I had to lighten things up pronto which is why I turned to Donald Barthelme. I had never read anything by him before but he was supposed to be funny and witty. I soon learned that what went for funny and witty in the 70s isn't quite holding up today. Of the sixty stories, only one honestly made me chuckle: "The Death of Edward Lear." The rest were sometimes clever, but more often silly or silly bordering on completely meaningless. He was like a more uptight Richard Brautigan, but with less laughs. After these two reading experiences, I needed to return to more familiar territory. J. G. Ballard is one of my favorite writers, but I had never read any of his short stories. With the arrival of The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard after his recent death, I felt like it was time to remedy that situation. I thought I'd start off slow with The Terminal Beach collection, which I had acquired a while ago, mainly because it didn't weigh 10 pounds. Almost immediately I was asking myself why I had deprived myself of such pleasure all of these years. The second story, "The Drowned Giant," is already one of my favorite stories of all time. And in "The Reptile Enclosure" there was this wonderful description of a day at the beach: "Without doubt, he reflected, homo sapiens en masse presented a more unsavoury spectacle than almost any other species of animal. A corral of horses or steers conveyed an impression of powerful nervous grace, but this mass of articulated albino flesh sprawled on the beach resembled the diseased anatomical fantasy of a surrealist painter." Ah, it doesn't get much better than that!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The New Thing

My new thing is racing to get my pants on before I drop dead suddenly so that I'll escape the ridicule of the police or any other stranger who happens to discover my body. Dying alone is one thing, dying alone with your pants around your ankles is something else. I have even considered wearing bathing trunks in the shower for similar reasons.

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